Freedom Fighters or Freeloaders?

I am a thief. A thief and a socialist. A thief, a socialist, and a dread scourge on our freedoms.

I say this because I favor – hisssssssss! – the redistribution of wealth, and I’ve just spent the last few minutes surfing "tea party" websites hoping to get my oolong on, only to find naught but the exalted ruminations of hardworking, fierce, rugged, independent patriots who live in their parents’ basements.

Apparently, redistribution of wealth is one of the worst things there is in the universe, lying somewhere on the yuck spectrum between selling your labradoodle for medical experiments and being forced to work as Carrot Top’s personal bathtub attendant.

One button I found for sale on Zazzle.com that seemed representative of this line of thought declared, "Earned Money = Wealth, Redistributed Wealth = Theft." I thought that one was particularly clever.

Of course, this "redistribution of wealth" meme is likely to show up again and again throughout this political season, as Mitt Romney vies to dethrone our socialist-in-chief.

Michele Bachmann signaled the continued relevance of the tea party and the "redistribution of wealth" boogeyman earlier this year on Face the Nation: "The tea party has been only a force for good in Washington, D.C.," she said. "Because otherwise we continue to go further and further to the left, which is redistribution of wealth."

It makes for a handy applause line, of course, but does ragging on the redistribution of wealth really make all that much sense? After all, doesn’t pretty much every move the government makes amount to redistribution of wealth?

Well, let’s just start with the most basic government expenditure – one that pretty much everyone (particularly tea partiers and other conservatives) agrees on: funding our military in order to protect our country.

The government estimates that in 2012, $688.2 billion will be spent by the Department of Defense alone. (That doesn’t include expenditures for FBI counterterrorism, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, or various other military-related programs.)

There are approximately 236,680,000 adults in the U.S. Since our military protects us all more or less equally, it stands to reason that tea partiers, who hate redistribution of wealth like Rush Limbaugh hates fiber and leafy green vegetables, should prefer to see that bill split evenly.

If you support any other solution, you’re advocating the confiscation of one citizen’s hard-earned money in order to meet another citizen’s obligation to help defend our country.

Okay, let’s calculate.

If you divide $688.2 billion by 236,680,000 adult Americans, you get $2,908. Let’s call it an even 3,000 bucks (after all, we didn’t include all military-related expenditures).

According to the Tax Foundation, the effective tax rate for those making less than $50,000 a year is just 3.5%, and their share of total taxes paid is 6.7%. (That’s because we have a progressive tax system, which I also support.)

According to a Gallup poll from April 2010, 45% of tea party supporters make less than $50,000 a year. In fact, 19% make less than $30,000 a year.

Of course, $0 to $50,000 is a wide range, and not everyone at the upper end is going to be paying 3.5%. But folks in the next highest tier aren’t paying that much more in federal income taxes, relatively speaking. According to a January CNN/Money story, "families making $50,000 to $75,000 [have an] effective tax rate [of] 5.7%." Even assuming that’s the effective rate for someone earning just $50,000, you only get $2,850. (As a taxpayer, your results may vary.)

So clearly, lots of tea party supporters aren’t even paying enough in federal income taxes to meet their military defense obligations. Hey, even the most rock-ribbed libertarian would say we must protect our shores.

Then there’s the budget for the Centers for Disease Control (controlling diseases we could all get), transportation (taking us places we all go), the court system (maintaining the rule of law so society doesn’t devolve into chaos), air traffic control (keeping planes from hitting each other), etc.

All that stuff is pretty important, wouldn’t you say?

So what’s it going to be, then, banshee-screeching tea partier? Gonna write that check to the federal government so that you’re finally paying your way? Or are you simply going to tone down your rhetoric?

Never mind, Che. Somehow I already know the answer.

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.