Monday, October 11, 2010


There's a whole interweb kerfuffle right now over the comments of Todd Henderson, U of Chicago professor, whose household income exceeds $250k. He argues that after expenses (taxes mortgage, childcare, student loan repayments), he has little discretionary income left. He says he's not "superrich", and thus shouldn't be asked to pay more in taxes under Obama's plan.

He's getting flamed by a lot of people, but even liberal voices have made his point. However, I wanted to weigh in:

Mr. Henderson, you are superrich. I understand how frustrating it must be that your income is not more flexible than it is. I don't doubt that it can be hard to make the choices you do. But that you have choices is itself a luxury. You have the choice to pay back $250k in student loans. You have the choice to search out day care, a cleaning service. You have the choice for both parents to work, to afford cable. You can make the mortgage on your house in an expensive place. I'm guessing you have the choice to get your kids in decent schools, pay health care.

For most of the world, you're wealthy beyond imagination.

My question is: how has our expectation in the US gotten so skewed that being "wealthy" means that you don't have to make choices with your wealth? When has wealthy become being able to afford anything?

Sorry, Mr. Henderson. I'm not unsympathetic. What month do I not look at our budget and think: but only if we had X more dollars here? Limits can suck. And paying taxes sucks. I'm not convinced that $250 k is truly a fair designation for "super-rich", but please don't complain about your lack of discretionary income. So much of our lifestyle is discretionary--it's just an attitude adjustment to see it as such.

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