Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I don't mind paying taxes. Really

I get all sorts of cool stuff when I pay taxes. Like roads, free schooling for my kids, money when I retire - even if I don't save up, money when I get laid off from my job, safe workplaces, a healthier environment... And hey, if my taxes help someone else, all the better. I like doing nice things for other people.

But apparently many of my fellow Americans, especially those who are now in control of the U.S. House of Representatives, do not share the same sentiment. The Bush era tax cuts are set to expire soon. President Obama wants to repeal those tax cuts for those dual income households earning more than a quarter of a million dollars annually. But an emboldened right has vowed to keep every penny of those tax cuts in place.

The Washington Post published a comparison of the Republican and Democratic plans for the Bush era tax cuts. Yikes! Check out that bloat in the millionaires club! Ok, I'm biased. I would still get my tax cuts under the Dem's plan. And I'm not saying the wealthiest of the wealthiest shouldn't get a break. But come on! This is ridiculous!

Consider this:

The conditions which surround us best justify our cooperation; we meet in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin. Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the Legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench.

The people are demoralized... The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled, public opinion silenced, business prostrated, homes covered with mortgages, labor impoverished, and the land concentrating in the hands of capitalists. The urban workmen are denied the right to organize for self-protection, imported pauperized labor beats down their wages... The fruits of the toil of millions are badly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for a few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the Republic and endanger liberty. From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.

The national power to create money is appropriated to enrich bond-holders... thereby adding millions to the burdens of the people.

No, this isn't a rant from a political pundit commenting on the 2010 midterm elections. It's the 1892 party platform of the Populist Party. To all the Tea Party people who wanted to take back our government: Congratulations! The regressive conservative economic policies of the Bush era did take back our government - back to the 1890's.

Yeah, yeah. I know the Populists lost, but their efforts ushered in the Progressive Era of the early 20th Century. And guess what, the liberal reforms ushered in during that era weren't all that bad. Some of the reforms enacted as a result of the Progressive Era include the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1916 (I think we can all agree that this is a good one - e. coli is a total downer), the Mann Act or the White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910 (again, I think we can all agree that sex trafficking is bad), and the 19th Amendment (anybody have a problem with me voting????). Ok, the 18th Amendment sucked, but they repealed that one.

And guess what - we survived these reforms! We didn't end up becoming a socialist nation! Children were no longer abused in factories, workers earned a fare wage, etc...

The robber barons of the early 20th century may be gone but we still have staggering disparities in our wealth distribution in this country. What's even more disturbing is that most people don't even realize the incredible gap in our wealth distribution. An analysis of real and perceived wealth distribution was published in Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time, by Michael Norton and Dan Ariely of Harvard and Duke, respectively. Here's a brief summary of their report:
We attempt to insert the desires of “regular” Americans into these debates, by asking a nationally representative online panel to estimate the current distribution of wealth in the United States and to “build a better America” by constructing distributions with their ideal level of inequality. First, respondents dramatically underestimated the current level of wealth inequality. Second, respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution. Most important from a policy perspective, we observed a surprising level of consensus: All demographic groups – even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy – desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.
Here's the pictoral of the authors' findings:

Can you believe it? The Left and the Right actually agree on something! The wealthy and the poor agree! Women and men agree! So why can't we agree how to make things a little more fair?

So Republicans - stop the fear mongering. Tighten that death grip on those tax cuts for the wealthiest of the wealthy, and give the people what they want: a better America.

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