The growing antagonism of the super-wealthy toward Obama can seem mystifying, since Obama has served the rich quite well. His Administration supported the seven-hundred-billion-dollar tarp rescue package for Wall Street, and resisted calls from the Nobel Prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, and others on the left, to nationalize the big banks in exchange for that largesse. At the end of September, the S. & P. 500, the benchmark U.S. stock index, had rebounded to just 6.9 per cent below its all-time pre-crisis high, on October 9, 2007. The economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty have found that ninety-three per cent of the gains during the 2009-10 recovery went to the top one per cent of earners. Those seated around the table at dinner with Al Gore had done even better: the top 0.01 per cent captured thirty-seven per cent of the total recovery pie, with a rebound in their incomes of more than twenty per cent, which amounted to an additional $4.2 million each.
Notwithstanding Occupy Wall Street’s focus on the “one per cent,” or Obama’s choice of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars as the level at which taxes on family income should rise, the salient dividing line between rich and not rich is much higher up the income-distribution scale. Hostility toward the President is particularly strident among the ultra-rich.
This is the group that has benefitted most from the winner-take-all economy: the 0.1 per cent, whose share of the national income was 7.8 per cent in 2009, according to I.R.S. data. Moreover, even as the shifting tides of the global economy have rewarded the richest while squeezing the middle class, the U.S. tax system has favored the very top, as the tax returns of the Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, have illustrated. In 2011, Romney paid an effective tax rate of just 14.1 per cent, and his income of $13.7 million places him in the 0.01-per-cent group.