A Level Gaze

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Monday, December 16, 2002
Rising tax burden on the rich? What about tax benefits?

Via Atrios, this article in The Washington Post, in which Bush & Co. lament the “rising tax burden on the rich and a declining burden on the poor.”

Early this month, J.T. Young, the deputy assistant treasury secretary for legislative affairs, lamented in a Washington Times opinion article: "[Higher] earners cannot produce the level of revenues needed to sustain the liberals' increasingly costly spending programs over the long-term. . . . If federal government spending is not controlled, then the tax burden will have to begin extending backward down the income ladder."

The “[higher] earners” do not include corporations, which are not mentioned anywhere in the article, and which are certainly capable of producing high levels of revenues, and whose share of tax revenues has fallen over recent decades.

[Rep. Jim] DeMint [R-SC] and his allies have called for a national sales tax to replace the income tax. For those below the federal poverty line, sales taxes paid would be refunded, but under the system, at least they will have seen the cost of government, he said. The working poor would accept a higher tax burden because they would be relieved of the need to file a tax return.

Really? Ya think? Steve Forbes proposed a 17% flat tax rate in 1996. That would equate to $3,077 for a family of 4 at the 2002 poverty line of $18,100, which they would get back at the end of the year. In return for the convenience of not having to fill out a 6-entry 1040EZ form, such a family would be giving the federal government an interest-free loan of $3,077. I suppose the private sector will step in and grant them interest-free credit to tide them over. Such families would still have to absorb Social Security, disability, state, and local taxes.

A shift in the tax burden toward the poor carries with it no incentive for employers to increase wages, and so will increase poverty. Having larger numbers of people living in poverty isn’t good for anyone, rich or poor. It brings about higher violent and property crime rates, increased civil unrest, worse public health and deterioration of property values.

Likewise, a reduction of middle class net income isn’t very helpful, either. Dollar for dollar, members of the middle class are far more likely than the rich to consume, start small businesses, and invest in education for themselves and their children.

An examination of who is paying for the federal government is disingenuous at the least without an examination of who benefits from its activities.

We’ve got (minimal) health care for the poor who, as defined in the programs themselves, cannot pay for it. I’m waiting to hear a republican get on the soapbox and tell the public the sick among the poor should be allowed to suffer and die untreated. If health care is further reduced, the labor supply will decrease, poverty will increase, crime will increase (to pay for medical care), and communicable diseases will spread further. Who benefits? Everyone equally. Additionally, we as a society will retain the ability to look at ourselves in a mirror.

We’ve got the civil judicial system, which functions mostly to protect the assets of individuals and corporations. Who has the vast majority of assets? The rich.

We’ve got the criminal judicial system, which functions to protect our persons and to ensure domestic tranquility. Who benefits? Everyone benefits from the former, and the benefits of the latter skew towards the rich, as it enables them to carry on the commerce and production from which they disproportionately benefit.

We’ve got national defense, which, in addition to protecting the life and liberty of all American citizens, is also deployed to protect American commercial interests and property. Of the second and third of these, who has them? The rich.

We’ve got the national network of roads and transit. The rationale for federal subsidies is that they enable the movement of goods and labor. Who owns the goods? The rich. Who gets the benefits of the labor? Split between employees and their employers.

We’ve got the Federal Reserve, the chief function of which is to keep inflation to a sustainable minimum. Inflation reduces the value of money. Who keeps money? The rich.

We’ve got funding for education, which benefits the poor and middle class, but also gives (rich) employers a pool of skilled labor with which they can make profits. Both rich and poor benefit.

We’ve got the drug war, which keeps illegal drug prices high (benefit: rich high-level drug dealers, who don’t even have the decency to pay taxes), throws largely poor drug users and low-level dealers in jail (benefit: nobody), and contributes to crime (benefit: nobody).

The entirety of the premise that the poor do not pay “their share” of taxes is a crock of shit if implicit in it is the idea that all should be obligated to pay equally for unequal benefits.

Edit: I forgot, criminal courts also protect property. Advantage: rich.