Sunday, March 6, 2011

Taxation with Representation Should be Representative

Once again, Michael Moore may have hit upon the right diagnosis,  As BBC News reported yesterday, he addressed a rally in Madison, Wisconsin, both opposing the efforts of the state government to undermine the collective bargaining rights of state employees and providing moral support to the AWOL Democrats whose absence has blocked a quorum for a State Senate vote on a measure already approved by the other house of the State Legislature.  Moore’s bon mot for the occasion was:

The rich have overplayed their hand.

Whether or not this is strictly true, it should serve to remind us about what is really at stake in all the budget battles taking place at both state and federal levels.

Let us begin by recalling that the “Tea” in “Tea Party” is actually an acronym for “Taxed Enough Already.”  There is nothing new about populist uprisings over taxation.  Were is not for such uprisings, we might now be part of the British Commonwealth.  However, it is one thing for people struggling to make ends meet to complain about being overtaxed.  It is quite another for the rich to make similar complaints, particularly that sector of the financial elite whose “nimbleness of mind” led to extraordinary levels of personal gain while fomenting an economic crisis that came close to crippling the entire industrialized world.  (That quote comes from Plato, by the way, when he makes the case that those who make our laws should be selected for the quality of their values, rather than their “nimbleness of mind.”  Unfortunately, such texts have been readily embraced by neoconservatives, whose own “quality of values” do not necessarily align with those of either Plato or their contemporary compatriots.)

“Taxed Enough Already” is not the formula that will lead to economic recovery or restore jobs to those who have given up looking for them.  Rather, we need a formula under which individuals are taxed according to the resources they have to pay them, otherwise known as a fairly graduated income tax.  (This happens to be that part of Karl Marx' "Critique of the Gotha Program" that is most consistent with the motives behind the American Revolution, the part about “From each according to his abilities.”)  The irony, of course, is that the rich will throw all sorts of lobbying money to prevent such a formula ever progressing to the point of legislation, when that money might have been better spent (for the rich, as well as for the rest of us) paying the taxes they are so desperate to avoid.  However, since this formula does not have a snappy acronym, it is unlikely to receive much attention from the media, which means that, for the American public at large, it will be kept safely “out of sight, out of mind.”

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