The study, by sociologists Cristobal Young at Stanford and Charles Varner at Princeton, studied the migration patterns of New Jersey’s millionaires before and after 2004, when the state imposed a “millionaire’s tax” that raised rates on those earning $500,000 or more to 8.97% from 6.37%.
The study found that the overall population of millionaires increased during the tax period. Some millionaires moved out, of course. But they were more than offset by the creation of new millionaires.
The study dug deeper to figure out whether the millionaires who were moving out did so because of the tax. As a control group, they used New Jersey residents who earned $200,000 to $500,000–in other words, high-earners who weren’t subject to the tax. They found that the rate of out-migration among millionaires was in line with and rate of out-migration of submillionaires. The tax rate, they concluded, had no measurable impact.
In other words, once you’re rich as hell, taxes just aren’t that big a deal. If you live in a half-million house, one would imagine you’re not so completely in hock that a $34 annual increase in your taxes so that schoolchildren in your town can have textbooks that don’t refer to the USSR won’t ruin you. If you have a yacht somewhere, you can probably take a $15 hit to provide clean water to those of us who don’t sail to the Virgin Islands every autumn.
Yet every tiny increase in dollar amounts is treated like you, personally, you one homeowner over there, are expected to fork over the entire $6 million for the school district your own self by eating ramen for the rest of your life. The anti-tax stories that appear around mid-April would have us believe that we’re all in such a precarious economic state that a few more bucks is going to kill us all.
I had a boss who used to have a theory about why news reporters always covered weather stories. I mean, in January in Chicago, it is EXPECTED TO SNOW, so why treat every mild snowstorm as if it was the second coming of Christ? Why is every summer thunderstorm breathlessly narrated by some ponce standing out on an overpass? My boss’s theory was that the weather is something everyone, no matter location or economic stratum or occupation, can talk about as equals. It’s universally accessible and therefore perfect for a lazy news director who needs something to bring in responses to an online poll or fill a hole on the front page.
I’m starting to think bitching about taxes is the same sort of thing. Everybody pays them, so everybody is vulnerable to the argument that they suck. “Fuck taxes” isn’t exactly a controversial statement. That people don’t actually live in a constant state of uproar over them, and aren’t about to yank their kids out of school and head to Wyoming just because the political winds blow in a different direction once in a while, is not something that feeds into the laziest possible narrative.
Therefore it’s not likely to make much of a dent anytime soon.