The worries for the tender sensibilities of the rich has been a hallmark of conservative American politics since time immemorial, but the current gag-inducingly lickspittle levels of it are a bit much. Among other culpable parties, I lay some blame for this at the altar of Ayn Rand, who imagined a world in which the titan of industries “go Galt” in the face of creeping socialism. Over time the rather silly book this scenario plays out in has been confused by the greedy and clueless (and cynically touted by the greedy but somewhat more crafty) as a reasonable simulacrum of the real world, to the extent that I think there’s a genuine fear by the credulous — which unfortunately correlates to the most vocal elements of both Republican primary voters and politicians today — that if the state moves to raise taxes on the wealthy, the lot of them will flounce in a huff, taking their money with them and retiring to a crevasse where they will await the end of the world. This sort of madness is gussied up and made slightly more respectable by rhetorical feints, like calling the very rich “job creators,” as if the investment bankers profiting by passing off crappy mortgages as AAA investments ever created a job, or the folks who increase shareholder value by laying off ten of thousands of workers are job creators.
Leaving aside the fact that raising taxes on the capital gains that people accrue by pushing around electrons in a financial system that ultimately is not tied into any tangible measure of value is not the same thing as nationalizing real-world industries, in the same way that being tickled by a feather duster is not the same thing as being attacked by a large flock of angry geese, this misapprehends the psychology of those who desire to become very very rich, or who are already very rich and wish to be more so. The sort of person who is very rich does not become so by flouncing when the rules of the game change, to sulk in a gully. The sort of person who is very rich becomes so by understanding the rules of the game and leveraging them to their maximum benefit. This is why there have always been the ridiculously rich, even in times when the top marginal tax rate in the United States was 92%. They very rich don’t flounce, they fiddle. They always have. They always will. The fantasy of the enraged rich packing up and going is just that, a fantasy.
The idea that the rich will stop trying to make money because taxes go up is just ridiculous. Like Scalzi, I place a lot of blame on Ayn Rand. The first political discussion I ever had where I was actually left speechless with my mouth hanging open due to the sheer stupidity and cruelty of the position being argued, was with my former boss, and it was based on Ayn Rand’s philosophy. But I don’t want to talk about her because I would just get mean.
What this post inspired was a rather silly way of looking at things that I think explains the fallacy of the idea that the rich will stop working if we raise their taxes. Think of it like a video game. The people with the skill and mentality that would allow them get rich in the real world, can be seen as the Achievers and Hardcore players.
When a game has a Hard mode, they usually play that mode first. If a game has a Impossible mode that unlocks when you beat Hard mode, they’ll play the game again. If a game has Achievements, they’ll have to get all of them. If you add one that seems impossible and requires thousands of hours of play, they’ll work until they get it.
In the real world, these people make money. If you raise taxes, that is not going to make them want to stop making money. They are just going to have to work harder. They’ll do it. It would be like putting a ultra-hardcore raid at the end of the game. Many people won’t play it, but it will be a challenge for some that they have to defeat.
Raising taxes won’t stop people from trying to make money. It won’t make the rich and powerful quit the game. It will just give them another challenge to overcome. Deregulation and lower taxes are like cheat codes, they just make the game to easy and therefore no fun to play.
This is an unorthodox and highly suspect analogy. It doesn’t address the debt issue which needs to be fixed by raising taxes (hardcore mode) and cutting spending (removing welfare epics). But it amused me.