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The Wall Street Journal and the “Pigs”

How did the Wall Street Journal manage to turn 95% of U.S. taxpayers into pigs?

January 24, 2002

How did the Wall Street Journal manage to turn 95% of U.S. taxpayers into pigs?

The word “pig” is typically associated with the rich — which is by no means a nice way to refer to them. But on January 22, 2002 — peculiarly, the day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the United States — the Wall Street Journal puts this idea on its head.

The ostensible subject of a Journal editorial, titled “A Rich Tax Debate,” is a proposal by Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy to put further cuts on federal income taxes on hold. But in essence it is an attack on the progressive income tax system in the United States. The newspaper laments that the top 5% of taxpayers, who earned 34% of all income, paid 55.5% of the nation’s federal income taxes.

The Wall Street Journal, needless to say, ignores the even more astonishing fact that 95% of American households earned only 63.8% of income. Or, for that matter, that the bottom 50% earned just 13.2% of income. This is evident from the table included in the paper’s editorial — which shows the top 1% earn 50% more than the bottom 50% combined.

And yet, it is the shameless soaking of the rich that the Journal is concerned about. The newspaper goes so far as to call any attempt to make the rich pay more “a progressive pig heaven.”

Pig heaven, of course, is that idiomatic place in the English language reserved for wallowing in a luxurious greed.

Etymology aside, the Journal’s statement begs a vital question: Just who are the pigs in the Wall Street Journal’s mind? The only logical conclusion we can come up with is that the paper implicitly considers those other 95% of American taxpayers — an overwhelming majority of once admired middle class and working class families — as “pigs.”

These masses are evidently crowding around the trough — which is kept full by transfer of income from that well-to-do 5% — and gorging themselves on the goodies.

“What more do liberals like Teddy [Kennedy] want? He already has a tax system in which a mere 5% of all earners pay more than half of all taxes, and he wants to soak them some more? This is progressive pig heaven.”

From: “A Rich Tax Debate,” January 22, 2002
Implicitly calling 95% of American taxpayers pigs should be viewed as a tad inappropriate, even by the Journal’s standards. After all, there is another famous literary reference to pigs, as the Journal should know better than anyone else. In George Orwell’s famous anti-utopia novel, “Animal Farm,” it was the pigs that started the revolution that expelled Farmer Jones and his family.

Come to think of it, preventing a revolution is the entire point of the progressive tax system. The idea is that those who benefit most from the economy — all those billionaires and millionaires in top income tax brackets in the United States — should accordingly give more of it back to society.

To be sure, the top 1% or 5% of richest taxpayers have a huge stake in the continued functioning of America’s economic, political and social model — and are presumably willing to contribute more to preserve it.

In that sense, a progressive tax system is not a “progressive pig heaven,” as the Journal would have it. Rather, it’s a deliberate and time-tested tool to stop the revolution from happening. Surely, anyone other than the Journal would not want most Americans — like pigs — to bottom feed from the scraps left over on the tables of the rich after their sumptuous meals.