The rich get richer, the rest of us can… eat cake?

George Bush cut tax rates for everyone early in his presidency, cuts due to expire on December 31. The current debate centers around whether they should be allowed to expire for everyone or only those making over $250,000/year.

Conservatives running back to Congress to eviscerate the health care bill as an exemplar of federal spending gone wild, ignore the fact that during the Bush years they cut taxes and dramatically increased spending on two wars without giving an apparent hoot in hell where the money would come from. Deficit spending on a war of choice apparently fits with their fiscal conservatism. Health care doesn’t.

Now deficits matter, but apparently not enough to allow the cuts to expire on Americans making more than $250,00 per year – a move that some estimate would generate over $700 billion in taxes over the next decade.

The argument for not eliminating the tax cuts for those making over $250,000 is that it’s the people with money who have the ability to create jobs and help pull us out of the recession. That argument would carry a lot more weight if someone could explain why this group sat with those tax cuts for ten years while the economy tanked and didn’t use the money to create jobs.

It was the manipulation of the market by these same high-income earners using financial instruments too bizarre to ever be explained in plain English without engendering laughter that created our financial implosion. You’d think they’d feel some obligation to help those they screwed. You’d be wrong. They took their bail out money and ordered another $3000 shower curtain.

So exactly why am I supposed to believe that if we allow their tax cuts to stand, the wealthy will suddenly do the right thing and create jobs with that money?

A family making over $250,000 a year will not have to choose between food and shelter if their taxes are raised. A family making $60,000 a year may find themselves facing exactly that. For one family, it might mean the difference between a two or three week European vacation. For the other, it might mean the difference between living in a car or being able to afford rent for an apartment.

Some people feel that paying taxes at all is against their belief that what you earn is yours and any redistribution is simply wrong. But history is strewn with the gory aftermath of great nations that clung to that belief. From Rome to France to Russia to China, history teaches us that a nation that does not care for its less fortunate while allowing its top layer to wallow in luxury is a nation that will soon be in serious trouble.

America has been very lucky because it has had a very solid middle class that kept society balanced. The great middle kept us from tipping too far in either direction. But that great middle is shrinking with frightening speed. How many of us really think our children will have a better life than we will? How many are just hoping that their children can cling to some rung on the middle class ladder and not fall off into the abyss of unemployment and dramatically lowered expectations?

I don’t see the rich – except perhaps for Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and their close circle – falling over themselves to help those less fortunate. I see the government bailing out financial institutions too big to fail only to have those institutions stash their money without using it to stimulate the economy. I see friends still searching desperately for jobs while the Wall Street billionaires who created this mess are giving themselves huge bonuses… bonuses that do not translate into jobs for the great middle of America as much as they pay for a third home or fourth yacht for the rich.

So I still find myself asking the question. If we can’t tax the rich because they need the money to create jobs that will stimulate our economy, why haven’t they already done so? What are they waiting for?

Meanwhile, the echo of “Let them eat cake” plays over and over in my brain. I know what happened to the woman who purportedly said that. Not a pretty history lesson but one we would be wise to heed.