Ignorance gives politicians a free hand to exploit the politics of envy. Our education system creates a growing surplus of that ignorance. Politicians like Richard Gephardt (D. Missouri) and John McCain (R. Arizona), who see high income earners as "winners in the lottery of life" carp that Republican tax cuts will be on the backs of the poor to benefit the rich. You'd think a media person might query: How much taxes do the rich pay and how much do the poor pay?" But media people are also products of our education system.
"Okay, Williams," you say, "how much taxes do the rich and poor pay?" Using preliminary 1997 data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation reports that the top one percent of income earners are people with adjusted gross incomes of $250,000 and over. These people earned 17.4 percent of all reported income. So what's their "fair" share of federal income taxes? I don't know what's fair but the fact is they paid 33.2 percent of all federal income taxes. By the way, earning $250,000 is nice but it's hardly what you'd call rich; it's not even yacht money.
What about the lowest 50 percent of income earners, people with adjusted gross incomes $24,000 and below? Gephardt and McCain call these the "working class" people upon whom's backs George W. Bush's proposed tax cuts will rest. It turns out that the lowest 50 percent of income earners earned 14 percent of all income and paid 4.3 percent of all federal income taxes, a trifling part of the cost of government. Percentage-wise the top 5 percent of earners (income over $108,00) paid 52 percent of federal income taxes, the top 10 percent (income over $79,000) paid 63 percent, and the top 25 percent of income earners (income over $48,000) paid 82 percent. I'd like one of these Americans, who might be paying a mortgage, a car note and college tuition for one or two youngsters, to stand up and say, "I'm rich!"
After playing the envy game, presidential contenders call for health care reform. That translates into more government control. Before we buy into their promises of better health care with greater government control we ought to look around. Politicians used to sing the praises of Britain's National Health Service (NHS). A recent study by David Green and Laura Casper, "Delay, Denial and Dilution," written for the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, concludes that the NHS delivers health care services that are just about the worst in the developed world. The head of the World Health Organization calculated that Britain has as many as 25,000 unnecessary cancer deaths a year because of underprovision of care, 12 percent of specialists surveyed admitted refusing kidney dialysis to patients suffering from kidney failure because of limits on cash. Waiting lists for medical treatment have become so long that there are now "waiting lists" for the waiting list.
You say, "Williams, Canada's government health care system is what we should have!" Canada's government system isn't that different from Britain's. For example, after a Canadian has been referred to a specialist, the waiting list for: gynecological surgery is 4 to 12 weeks, cataract removal (12 to 18 weeks), tonsillectomy (3 to 36 weeks) and neuro-surgery (5 to 30 weeks). Toronto-area hospitals, concerned about lawsuits, ask patients to sign a legal release accepting that while delays in treatment may have jeopardized their health, they nevertheless hold the hospital blameless. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why Canadians flock to American hospitals and Americans don't flock to Canadian hospitals.
Walter E. Williams
March 1, 2000
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