In What the Social Classes Owe to Each Other, Sumner analyzes the relationships between each class and poses the question: Is it the duty of the upper class to appease the social burdens of the poor? Sumner hypothesizes that those of a lesser social position will always feel that people of a higher social position owe them. This is all due to the allusion that as one class wins (one group of people earn money and become wealthier) the other is doomed to lose at their expense (the poor stay poor). Sumner tramples this idea and goes on to say that not only is the plight of the impoverished, or rather, the underachievers not caused by injustice, but that in a free nation, no class is indebted to another. In a nation that believes the contrary, “poverty is the best policy” and this could never lead to a successful nation, therefore it is best left to the individual to determine their own social standing as opposed to “think[ing] they have a claim to the aid of other men”.
Today, the income tax is the single most important tax in the United States of America, making up forty seven percent of federal revenue. However, according to the Tax Policy Center, 45.3% of American households pay no federal individual income tax. In fact, on average, those in the bottom forty percent of the income spectrum end up getting paid money from the government. Meanwhile, those Americans in the top twenty percent pay out over eighty seven percent of the total income tax collected. Even more shocking, the top 0.1% alone pays around twenty percent of the total income tax. Just for reference, this means that one out of every five Americans pays, on average, $50,176 every year in income taxes alone while two out of five Americans are being paid by the government. The top twenty percent is not an exclusive tax bracket. It is estimated that 61 out of 100 American households reach the top twenty percent (making about $111,000 annually). Based off of these facts, is it fair to ask if Sumner was right to say that every individual should depend on his or herself instead of awaiting the charity of others? Bernie Sanders, and many other left wing party members, would say no.
Bernie Sanders makes the point that “we live in the richest country in the history of the world, but that reality means little because much of that wealth is controlled by a tiny handful of individuals”. He is not wrong. The number varies from study to study, but about 19-22.8% of total income is earned by only 1% of Americans. In stark contrast to this abundance of wealth, statistically, 20 out of 100 American households fall into poverty for at least two consecutive years.
In the end, we are forced to ask ourselves if this concept of taking from the rich to give to the poor is justifiable for the sake of morality or if it is simply a legal and modern form of theft.