David Koch Theater; formerly the New York State Theater

There are many positive arguments, most of them valid, for steeply progressive taxation: reducing corrosive inequality, funding needed programs for health, education, welfare, and infrastructure, etc.  But to my mind, the most pressing need for high taxes at the top could be accomplished even if revenues gained were simply flushed down the toilet; America’s hyper-rich are just to insufferable need to be punished, severely.

Sure, it’s bad when they price normal people out of everything from apartments to cab rides.  Yes, it’s annoying when the New York Times runs its umpteenth bizarre “lifestyle” piece about their habits.  And no one could deny that it’s pretty infuriating to hear how they treat everyone they encounter.  But all these petty indignities stem from the simple fact that they measure their worth to society by how much cash they’ve filched from it.

Back in the days when CEO’s made a mere 50-100 times what their lowliest minions made, they perhaps could have reasonably argued that they were “worth” that much more than the less “successful” of their fellow humans.  Debatable, but not absurd on its face.  Now, when in the US they “earn” closer to a thousand times more, and preside over global empires where to bottom rungs make less in a year than they make in a nanosecond, their personal calculations of their relative value to all humanity has marched along in lockstep.  This is a problem because no human being is worth so much, or so little, and yet they believe it with all their rotted hearts.

Once a supposedly “free market” system has priced human beings so perversely out of proportion to their actual contributions to humanity, the negative effects are equally detrimental to those at both ends of the scale, but it’s only those at the top that can make such a bad situation worse, and unsurprisingly that’s exactly what they do.

That our political system is still tethered to a more rational distribution of wealth is revealed in the salaries of our political leaders: the President makes a little under $500,000 per year, a mere ten times the median income.  More boorish Senators and congresscritters are constantly heard whining about making only four or five times as much, and why wouldn’t they?    The donors who control them and the pancaked know-nothings who flatter them on TV make many times more.  In our bizarre economy, the most powerful people in the land rely on others to pick up the check, and act accordingly.  They’ve utterly internalized their relative worth, and it’s closer to the maid than say, a Koch or Walton.

Worse, the Kochs and Waltons simply glory in this fortuitous imbalance.  For them, a recalcitrant President, Senator, or Governor is just a slightly more costly manifestation of the evergreen Servant Problem; more problematic to the bottom line than an uppity gardener, but only in degree, not in kind.  To a billionaire, a state legislator is barely an impulse purchase, a Governor can be pricey, but still a steal, a Senator an enviable luxury like a place in Aspen.  So far, you need a few pals to chip in to own a President, but they seem to be okay with sharing.

We can fret all we want about getting money out of politics, but as long as rich people are so disgustingly, unimaginably, well, rich, nothing will ever come of it.