Monday, October 27, 2008

Progressive Income Taxation and Socialism

Professor James Edward of Mauled Again has posted his take on the “progressive tax” concept. Below is a quote from the entry, but you can read the full text by clicking here.

Perhaps we interpret Obama's statement differently. I did not read it as revoking the tax cut on the wealthy in order to give cash to the poor and middle class. I read it as revoking the tax cut on the wealthy so that the government did not need to rack up deficits to provide the health care, school lunches, head-start education programs, and other benefits that indeed give opportunity to people who otherwise would be stuck in poverty.

This nation has been doing that for decades. It's socialism, perhaps not as far along the spectrum as Sweden's version, but it's socialism. When the administration refused to raise taxes to finance the war, it ended up cutting benefits to those in need. Obama seeks to fix that problem. That problem is exacerbated by the impact of cutting taxes on the wealthy, who didn't trickle much down to the poor other than short-term smoke and mirrors and longer-term financial distress. The poor and lower middle class will suffer far more from the present and continuing recession (depression, perhaps) than will the wealthy.

What I think underlies these charges of socialism is fear. It's fear, not of millionaires paying another fifty or a hundred thousand dollars in taxes, not of government taking over ownership of all assets, but of change. For quite some time, the economic and tax arrangement have favored the wealthy. They created this arrangement by persuading the middle class and even the poor that life would be better if income taxes were cut, particularly income taxes on capital gains and dividends. Yet when all was said and done and the policies advanced by the tax cutters played out, the nation ended up in what may be the worst economic catastrophe it has faced. While wages barely kept pace with inflation, and in some instances fell, while jobs were outsourced, while the quality of products and services suffered, while health care became less affordable and less available, while resources allocated to education continued to be insufficient, the percentage of wealth owned by the wealthy increased. Because the sales pitch worked in the past, they expected it to work again, but to their surprise, the track record of the don't-tax-but-spend crowd has turned out to be no better than, and in most respects worse than, the track record of the tax-and-spend crowd. With that taking the wind out of their economic policy sails, they turned their focus on a broader question, using terminology designed to spread their fear throughout the electorate.

The answer to Joe the Plumber's question was honest. It might not be something with which people agree, but at least it's not the misleading promise that cutting taxes will make everyone economically secure. And underneath this trumpeting of the "socialism" warning cry is an unarticulated lack of faith in America, a notion that somehow citizens will sit back and do nothing if it attempts to fix the economic mess turn too sharply to what genuinely is socialism rather than returning the country to the path which uses economic policy to promote fairness, affordable health care, improvement in children's education, and the other characteristics of high quality of life that were promised but not delivered by the merchants of tax cuts for high income taxpayers. I don't see the appeal in continuing to do what has been done, when what has been done is what brought us to where we are.

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