Damaging Head Linesby Daniel R. Hirtler on 05/24/11
I saw a Prius with a bumper sticker which read, "Tax the Rich", and it occurred to me how much damage has been done to our society by over-simplifying our public discourse to headlines and battle cries.
Tax the Rich. Do they mean that the rich should be taxed instead of taxing the remainder of the citizenry? Do they mean that the rich should be taxed too, as if they do not now pay taxes? Neither of these things are the initial intent of that battle cry, but they are expressed in the statement anyway, and a rational discussion following such a statement is unlikely, since an antagonistic choosing up of sides is implicit in it.
The Republican method of turning all of public life into a war of the rich against the rest of the country, in order to shift our country's resources into the control and benefit of fewer and fewer of us does not work in reverse, unless the rest of us want to resolve this problem in the style of the French Revolution.
The issue of paying for the society we want starts with stopping and really thinking, using the best part within us, realizing our true relationship to one another, and what it could be if we developed a trust in each other. That would give us a basis to discuss our public expenditures. Would we then choose to invest so heavily in the military, and so lightly on the care and development of humanity?
The second part of paying for the society we choose, is to understand that the economic burden of the society is not as easily borne by all of us, although we all have a responsibility to help keep our society going. "Tax the Rich", leads one to think that the burden of paying for government should be borne by the rich alone. This might be possible in a society that has allowed the distribution of wealth to concentrate in so few hands, but even if that were functional, that scheme leads to a worse society, not a better one. Tax each citizen what each can citizen can afford equally, in other words, tax progressively in light of social and economic inequalities. That bumper sticker on the Prius meant to say that, but the all the words wouldn't fit, and we are left with a call to meet unfairness with compensatory unfairness.
During the "discussion" about allowing the Bush Tax Cuts expire, such oversimplification lead to the inexplicable resolution we experienced. Somehow, although the government's deficit and the public debt were considered to be ultimately imprtant public issues to resolve, letting the tax cuts expire on excess income was untenable if the tax cuts for initial income were left in place during the extreme recession we are experiencing. That proposal was, in fact, not taxing the rich, but taxing excess income at a rate that was considered, in more conservative times to be sustainable. Leaving the tax cuts for initial income made sense in light of the dramatic hard times the economy is demonstrating, however, if that seems too hard too think about, I would have imagined that all the tax cuts would have been allowed to expire, so that the government could start on the track to sustainability. I believe that that did not happen because the "discussion" never progressed beyond the catch phrases offered by both sides.
Each day, the societal construction we were born into seems to crumble further through the willful neglect of all its participants, perhaps in the hope of a brave new world, presented to us in shining completeness. I would suggest, that there is much in the battered old world that is great, and that it is worth looking at it seriously and to renovate it consensually using what is best of us. That brave new world may present itself to our human detriment.