I was so busy making plans to celebrate Scott Brown’s victory over what’s-her-name — you know the lady who likes to jail innocent people — in the Massachusetts Senatorial race next Tuesday that I neglected to catch news of President Obama’s latest plan to tax success. It’s a doozy.
You have to hand it to Team Obama. They do have a sense of humor. Just as Obama called his preposterous budget “A New Era of Responsibility” (since when did we start giving titles to budgets? This one ought to have been called “Gone with the Wind”), so he calls this plan to impose a new tax on the nation’s 50 or so largest financial institutions “a financial crisis responsibility fee.” George Orwell, where are you?
“We want our money back,” the President of the formerly free world said, “and we’re going to get it back.”
Golly gee. Tough talk, what? None of that “monitoring the situation” or “isolated extremists” here. No siree, when it comes to putting it to Wall-Street fat cats Barack Hussein Obama gets down to business.
The money in question, of course, is the $700 billion appropriated by President Bush to help out major financial institutions that were teetering on the brink of collapse in the fall of 2008. It wasn’t long, however, before big gobs of that dough were shoveled to other institutions — Government Motors, for example (formerly known as General Motors).
As for getting his money back, he pretty much has — from the banks, that is. Many refused assistance in the first place. Most who took it have paid the dough back. Doesn’t matter. Obama still wants to tax ’em to put a dent in what he calls “massive profits and obscene bonuses.”
What about the car companies that lined their pockets with the people’s pelf? Have they paid the government — i.e., you and me — back? No. What is the president, who is Oh-so-concerned-about-the-American-taxpayer, what’s he going to do about that $66 billion? How do you spell “United Auto Workers”?
The president’s plan is bad from just about every point of view. For one thing, as Nicole Gelinas points out in a characteristically percipient column in The New York Post today, the tax won’t even have the chastening effect on banking practices that the president claims to be interested in. “All imposing this fee will do,” Gelinas observes, “is hammer home the idea in bondholders’ minds that the firms — reportedly the nation’s top 20 financial companies — are too big to fail, that the government will bail them out again the next time they screw up.”
But I’d like to come back to those “massive profits and obscene bonuses.” I first heard about Obama’s latest plan to raise taxes from a friend over lunch. He made the interesting observation that penalizing a company for “massive,” i.e., large profits was like penalizing someone for “massive,”i.e., robust health. Generally, large profits are an outward sign that a company is doing well, just as physical robustness is an outward sign that all is well in the personal health department. Obama is constitutionally an egalitarian. Like the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, his position is “prizes for everyone.“ He looks at excellence of every kind with suspicion, because excellence is by definition discriminatory. If Sally excels in relation to John, Dot, and Timothy, that means that Sally does better. Is that fair? And if John Doe, who works for Acme Bank and Finance, has a great year and is rewarded with a fat bonus, that means he does better than Jack, George, and Aloysius, whose bottom lines were not so cheery this year.
Capitalism is all about competition. When there are competitions, there are winners and losers. The great thing about capitalism is that it is such an efficient engine for the production of wealth that everyone benefits — though some, of course, benefit more than others. The alternative, as we know “par expériences nombreuses et funestes” universal immiseration. You might have thought that the President of the United States would have taken that elementary economic fact on board. Think again.