Ben Stein: Raising My Taxes Is a Punishment

The debate is heating up over whether the Bush era tax cuts should be continued, but only for individual incomes under $200,000 and family incomes under $250,000. Our contributor Ben Stein joins the fray.


I am a fairly upper income taxpayer. Not anything even remotely close to sports stars or movie stars or financial big boys. But I am above the level Mr. Obama says makes me rich. So, in the midst of a severe recession, I am to have my taxes raised dramatically.

I am not quite sure what my sin is.

I worked for almost every dollar I have, except for a small percentage my parents left me by virtue of hard work and Spartan living, and most of that was taken by the federal estate tax. I have a hell of a lot less than I did before the stock market and real estate market crashes. I didn't get a bailout or any part of a stimulus program, except for traffic jams as the roads in Beverly Hills got worked on for the 10th time in the last 10 years (or so it seems).

I pay my income taxes, and after them and the commissions I pay my agent, I am left with about 35 cents for every dollar I earn.

I own some real estate in California and Idaho and the District of Columbia. Naturally, I pay property tax, supposedly mostly to educate local children. Not far from me, the city of Los Angeles just spent about $600 million to build the most lavish school in America for about 4,000 children. That's my money. Naturally, I had no say in it. My wife and I have no children in public schools and only did for about eighteen months long ago. I still pay my school tax ever year.

I am not asking for any tears. I live a great life, have a fabulous wife, a great son and daughter-in-law, four wonderful, furry dogs and six cats, all adopted. I have more than enough to eat.

But what I don't get is this: There is no known economic theory under which raising my taxes in the midst of a severe recession will help the economy recover. It isn't part of any well known monetarist or Keynesian theory. So if it does no good to raise our taxes, I assume we are being punished.

But for what? I don't own slaves. I employ a lot of people full- and part-time and they are all happy with their pay. When charity calls, I almost always write out a check. I don't have a yacht or ponies or a plane. My wife doesn't wear a tiara. I don't gamble.

What did I do wrong? I know I have often lost my temper with my wife and the cats, but that's not a crime, yet. I tried to be successful, which is what I thought I was supposed to do. When did it turn out that was a crime to be punished? Maybe when the economy recovers, raising my taxes makes sense, but for now, it's just punishment, and I can't figure out what for.

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