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We couldn’t help but laugh when we saw the title of last week’s Wall Street Journal editorial. For those of you that have followed the “millionaire migration” debate, it should be a very familiar one.
First, a little background: Over the last couple years, the Wall Street Journal has run three editorials claiming that state income tax hikes in Maryland and Oregon were major factors in the shrinking of those states’ millionaire populations. According to the Journal, while the recession did reduce the number of rich folks in those states, the tax hikes enacted by the “redistributionists” and “class warriors” (to use their words) just had to have something to do with it as well. No self-respecting rich person would sit around and pay more in taxes when they could quit their job, pull their kids out of school, and move to a state with lower taxes on the rich – like South Dakota.
Our sister organization, ITEP, went to great lengths to point out the problems with the Journal’s migration theory, responding to those editorials in three separate reports, one letter to the editor, and a Huffington Post piece. All of those publications analyzed official state data and reached the same conclusion: there’s no evidence to suggest that the shrinking of Maryland and Oregon’s millionaire populations was anything other than a predictable result of the recent recession.
That’s what makes last week’s Journal editorial so amusing. It’s been a little over two years since the Journal first popularized the Maryland millionaire migration myth with a 2009 piece titled “Millionaires Go Missing.” Apparently, members of the Journal’s editorial board have short memories, because they’ve recycled that same title, but used it to argue the opposite point (and the one ITEP insisted was the case all along): new federal tax data shows that the recession caused a huge decline in the number of millionaires all across the country. “Told you so” just doesn’t seem sufficient.
Looking back, it’s really unfortunate how much influence the Journal’s made-up story about “Maryland’s fleeced taxpayers fighting back” (as the sub-title of their 2009 article read) actually had. It resulted in countless misinformed debates about a “millionaire migration” phenomenon that never even existed, and played no small role in the eventual defeat of efforts to extend a very good tax policy in Maryland.
But even against that backdrop, perhaps we should all feel just a bit relieved right now. At least the Journal opted not to use the new federal data to concoct a fiction about wealthy Americans migrating to low-tax Mexico. Well, at least not yet.