There’s been a lot of talk lately about class and income. Perhaps no one has talked about the issue more than President Obama.
Speaking to lawmakers in Washington and to crowds around the country, his message has been remarkably consistent. We must raise taxes on those who are successful in our society, he implores – not because it will raise a lot of revenue, but to make sure everyone pays their “fair share.”
Never mind that the top 5 percent of taxpayers already pay nearly 60 percent of income taxes in the United States. The implication here is that there are some in our society – an aristocratic “class”– who must be torn down so that other “classes” can succeed. It implies that there is a rigid, hierarchical structure in the United States, that some people were born innately superior to others – and that where you are born is where you stay.
That’s not what we believe in America. It’s certainly not who we are.
We don’t have a fixed class system here. There are no noble bloodlines. We don’t have an aristocracy or commoners. There are no oligarchs, there is no bourgeoisie, no discernible class distinct from We the People. Those who achieve success in our society are rarely the heirs of centuries-old fortunes, as in Europe. In fact, successful Americans often come from humble beginnings; a survey of more than 500 successful entrepreneurs found that 93 percent came from middle- or lower-income backgrounds (the majority were the first in their families to even launch a business).
This social mobility is what has always set us apart from many older societies.
In our country, we believe that everyone can achieve the American Dream, regardless of their background. Think of all the people who had a big idea and then built something that changed lives: a company that employed others, a product that made day-to-day life easier or more enjoyable. We all have different talents to offer, and we all have different definitions of success and ideas of what we want to do.
It’s all part of the American story. Our story.
Yet, spreading economic resentment as the president has done weakens these American values. It also ignores the uniquely meritocratic basis of our society. Generations came to our shores specifically to escape the backward class-based societies of Europe. They wanted the chance to make it on their own in the land of democratic determination, equal rights, and opportunity. They wanted to work, compete, and build something that they could one day pass along to their children.
And millions have.
As Americans, we know that we do not live in a zero-sum society. One person’s gain is not another person’s loss. Oftentimes, in fact, another person’s gain becomes our gain as well – through new jobs, through better wages and benefits, through innovative new products that improve our lives, and through enhanced economic growth.
Instead of policies that favor politically connected entities and take even more money from successful Americans, let’s clear the way for more opportunity and mobility in a true free-market system. Higher taxes and more government are not the answers. Such policies would do more than just hurt Americans of all income levels and worsen our economy today; they would also slam the door of opportunity on our children and their children.
We owe future generations better than that. We owe them the chance to live their dreams, to be successful, and – most importantly – to achieve true happiness by their own efforts.
That, after all, is what the American Dream is all about.
Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his website at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/senjonkyl.