Summary List Placement
Once again, the “who’s really rich?” conversation has reared its head.
It was kicked off over the weekend by MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, who said many people who make $500,000 or more in income don’t consider themselves rich — a claim that is true, in my experience. After all, a few hundred thousand dollars isn’t a lot of money after you’ve spent it.
Journalist Matt Zeitlin can’t believe we’re still doing this, arguing over whether making a half-million dollars — higher than 98% of American families’ incomes — makes you rich, as President Biden proposes to raise taxes on families at this high point on the income spectrum.
The reason the “are these high income earners really rich?” argument is a perennial because it’s so easy. Unlike thornier economics questions everybody is qualified to have an opinion and these views vary because everyone seems to define “rich” as starting at an income somewhat higher than their own.
I think the issue is that people define “rich” as meaning your choices are not constrained by financial concerns, but of course, everybody’s choices are constrained by financial concerns. There’s always a bigger, more expensive thing you could buy if only you had more money. Even if you’re a billionaire with a private island, there’s always a bigger island.
This conversation is fun but it’s a little divorced from why we talk about what it means to be rich. In the context of politics, we have this conversation when people are talking about raising taxes, and the real question is: Who should we collect more taxes from? The idea is that someone needs to pay more in tax, because there are important things the government should be doing and someone needs to pay for them.
So who is it fair to collect that money from?
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Source:: Business Insider