What Does It Mean To Be Wealthy?

It's hard to work up much sympathy for the people in this Wall Street Journal article complaining that $400,000 a year doesn't make you rich.  The complaint is sort of legitimate, in that the tax code doesn't account for geographic diversity--$400,000 a year in small-town Tennessee is "set for life", while in Silicon Valley it means "I can barely afford a starter home".

But even in Silicon Valley, $400,000 means that you earn more than most of the people living in your area.  The subjects of the article seem to be complaining that all their hundreds of thousands in income have gotten them is a nice house in a good neighborhood, upscale cars, nice clothes, and a thousand dollars or so in disposable income each month.  To most of America, that's rich.  If you don't have to worry about making ends meet, count your blessings.

That does not mean that I am in favor of raising their effective marginal taxes paid to north of 50%.  The legitimate claim that wealthy people do have is that no one should have to spend more time working for the government than for themselves--and as any moderately successfully self-employed person can tell you, this is all too possible in a place like New York or DC, especially with all the deduction phase-outs.  The wealthy largely get that way by working more hours than the rest of us; they shouldn't have to work those last 10 hours more for other people than themselves.  I don't think that wealthy people have a right to complain that they shouldn't pay more than the middle class--but there's some justice in asking that they get to keep more of their income than Uncle Sam.