Why conservatives need to listen to Bill Maher

Even the politically incorrect liberal knows that taxes on the rich have gotten out of hand

Bill Maher
(Image credit: HBO/Janet Van Ham)

For all of the Republican Party's recent introspection and ideological invigoration, conservatives can't simply look in-house to find solutions. We need to breach the bubble and listen to others. For an unlikely starter: Bill Maher.

Recently, Maher shocked his HBO show's audience (and Rachel Maddow) into silence when he declared that liberals might lose his support. Why? Punitive taxes.

"Liberals, you could actually lose me," Maher said. "It's outrageous what we're paying [in taxes]. Over 50 percent. I'm willing to pay my share, but yeah, it's ridiculous."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up


This is not just a rich guy whining. These comments represent a growing problem for liberals.

Faced with a choice between smaller government and an expansive government with higher taxes, Americans are increasingly choosing smaller government. It's not hard to see why.

At the federal level, where the highest tax bracket is nearly 40 percent, the "rich" provide over 70 percent of all income tax revenue. That's a big number.

And it doesn't end there. Consider state taxes. In California, the top rate (on earnings over $1 million) is newly increased from 10.3 percent to 13.3 percent. In New York, similar tax increases have recently been entrenched. High-income residents in these states are now regularly giving more than half of their income to the government.

I don't like the easy conservative rhetoric surrounding Marxism. But when you pay more than half your income to the government, that's socialism.

The high-tax lobby likes to pretend that marginal rates have little impact on residency and economic activity. But they're wrong. In the 21st century, capital, especially at high income levels, is highly moveable. And economic opportunity and amenities are diversified across multiple locales. (It's not just New York that has high-end restaurants). As a result, individuals and businesses are deciding to relocate to the place of best return.

Consider a 2012 study from the Manhattan Institute. Between 1990 and 2010, the five greatest net-loss domestic migration states were California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey. All high-tax, big-union Democratic states with major debt problems.

The five net-gain domestic migration states? Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona. All low-tax Republican (or Republican-leaning) states.

Of course, not all Americans share the foundational conservative aversion to high taxes. After all, taxing the rich offers the ultimate "tax the man behind the tree" scenario. However, when the man moves out from behind the tree (i.e. relocates to Florida or Texas), everything changes. Now someone else has to pay the bill. Take California, where already-high taxes were just increased on those in the $250,000 to $300,000 income bracket. "Rich" is a subjective term and one that begets a confiscatory system without end.

The lesson for conservatives is clear. Across America, the GOP dominates state legislatures. Why? Because when the liberal governance model hits home, it isn't pleasant.

We must offer an alternative. We must show Americans that tax confiscation isn't positive and that it won't end with the rich. Math is a science to which government expenditures must ultimately reconcile. If conservatives don't rise to this challenge, we know where it'll end: With a generation buried in the grave of a bloated, economically stagnant and morally unjust welfare state.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.