At a dinner Wednesday night thrown by the conservative American Spectator magazine, America crazy-person flavor-of-the-month Ted Cruz reportedly uttered something rather surprising. According to the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein, the Republican senator from Texas said that the top one percent, in Klein’s Twitter-filtered paraphrase, “has higher concentration of wealth than any time since 1928. Blames Obama economy.”
Cruz doesn’t have it quite right. He was almost certainly relying on a prominent study released last month that considered income rather than wealth. But still. It found that the 19.3 percent of income collected by the top one percent of earners was the highest such proportion since 1928.
Particularly since a great way to gain income is to engage in the sorts of activities—owning things, executing lucrative financial transactions—that also lead one to accumulate wealth over time, it is safe to say that Cruz’ broader point about inequality is an accurate and apt one, even if Cruz here made an error more suited to a graduate of a lesser Ivy than Princeton and Harvard.
As for blaming the Obama economy, one could stick in various quibbles here, such as the fact that since 2011 a small obstructionist caucus representing a relatively small percentage of the U.S. population has used its control of one half of one branch of government to forestall any attempts at policies that might aim to redistribute wealth along slightly less inequitable lines—which, given that the present inequality has resulted in part from a particularly unequal recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-9, is a pretty big obstacle to addressing inequality. But it is true that Barack Obama has been president for the past four-and-a-half years, during which time the economy has gotten this way, and this must be his fault because leadership.
In fact, Cruz’ statement represents a vindication of Occupy Wall Street (seriously), the allegedly brief and rudderless movement whose clearest—or, better to say, least-unclear—goal was precisely to make inequality a part of the political conversation, as most conveniently manifested by the divide between “the one percent” and “the 99 percent.” If Cruz is anything, he is a demagogue; he wouldn’t be making these noises if he didn’t believe his listeners wanted to hear them. And why shouldn’t they? By definition, most of his supporters are in the 99 percent.
On a slightly less serious note, I think others whose concern for income and wealth inequality in America matches—or even exceeds!—Ted Cruz’ should welcome him into their fold with the same earnestness with which he has endeavored to join it, and should extend him the same solidarity he appears to wish to extend to them. In that spirit, here are a few modestly submitted things Cruz can do in order to address the issue he has raised:
• Stop trying to discredit the Affordable Care Act, which among other things is significantly redistributionist, levying an average $52,000 tax increase on the aforementioned one percent in order to subsidize the health insurance of the less-well-off. And try to resist shutting down the government in an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act again.
• Abandon your advocacy for a flat tax. True, the American taxpayers might save a little money once they no longer have to fund the Internal Revenue Service (although it isn’t clear why you wouldn’t still want adequate enforcement of this tax, but never mind). But since the flat tax would impose the same rate on everyone, it would definitely be worse for after-tax wealth and income inequality than the current progressive income tax system the federal government runs.
• Endorse Bill de Blasio for New York City mayor. There’s still time—the election’s not until next month!
• Maybe stop opposing raises of the estate and capital gains taxes, both of which are disproportionately paid by the high-earning and wealthy.
• Relatedly, don’t take hundreds of thousands of dollars from the financial services industry, whose light regulation enables it to focus obsessively on profits and thereby turn out a lot of people whose stupendous wealth is disproportionate to their contribution to the economy.
• Finally, don’t tell your wife about your new beliefs. After all, as a managing director at Goldman Sachs, she benefits from the same laissez-faire positions that exacerbate all this confounded inequality.