An article in Le Monde today, (“Immobilier : riches Américains à Paris et riches Français à New York”), highlights a growth industry: the super-rich acquiring second homes in Paris and New York City. There is apparently no rational limit to what people will pay for a prime location with a spectacular view. In the art world, we learned a few days ago that the perceived value of a photograph can be extraordinary, as well. Richard Avedon’s print of the model, Dovima, in a Dior evening gown with elephants on either side sold at Christie’s for $7.4M. These über-purchasers and sellers of real estate and other collectibles operate in a market that is pure supply and demand, unrelated to the cost of production or comparable value.
It reminds me of a blown-out photograph. When a photographic scene needs to be protected from blazing over-exposure, the three on-camera adjustment choices are ISO, aperture and shutter speed. The off-camera option, of course, is to reduce the amount of light falling on the subject.
Three “third rail” items in our national budget are social security, Medicare, and defense. These are sacrosanct; a legislator who reduces one of them usually gets voted out of office. Curtailing spending on one of these “sacred cows” to bring a budget back into balance is like adjusting one of the camera settings I mentioned to make a picture darker and more visible. The other way to fix the problem is to raise taxes. In photography, the analogy might be doing something outside the camera to control the amount of light falling on the scene.
Let’s get back to the super-rich. They are like the extreme edge of an “economic” photograph’s tonal range, where all you see is pure white. In this national time of debate about perpetuating Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, we see the rich wanting to continue minimizing their own taxes. (Actually, they always want that, don’t they?) It is an influential group because they control a substantial percentage of our national wealth, and contribute such a disproportionally large amount to political candidates compared to the rest of us. But the Battery Park co-op and Avedon picture buyers have so much cash available to spend that what they pay for things often bears no relation to what the purchases are worth. Couldn’t they pay more Federal taxes?
I read recently that in Finland, traffic fines vary according to the defendant’s income. This sounds to me like “need” and “ability to pay”, the sliding scale we utilize in setting spousal and child support, except that here I am talking about the needy party being the U.S. Government. We should figure out a way to reduce taxes for people who are barely making it; and raise taxes on people who have so many millions or earn so much that they may hardly notice.