Preferental option “against” the poor

It’s no longer enough to try to pay for massive upper income tax cuts by gutting the social programs that help the poor. The latest front in the war on the poor revolves around taxes. An obnoxious group is prancing around claiming that they are part of the 53 percent that pays taxes, and they want to raise taxes on the other 47 percent, the “freeloaders”. Yes, the cat is out of the bag! Republicans want to raise taxes on the poorest, to keep low (or cut further) the taxes on the richest. Obscene?

But let’s break this down. This notion that 47 percent do not pay taxes is simply false. People are looking only the federal income tax. They ignore payroll taxes, which raise about as much in revenue, and tend to burden poorer people more. They ignore the state and local taxes which also tend to be regressive. They ignore a lot. Jonathan Chait presents the the total picture. The bottom line is that taxes are really not that progressive at all. The richest one percent gets about 20 percent of the income and pays about 20 percent of the taxes.

Let’s go back to the federal income tax. The fact that so many people escape this particular tax net is because their income is low, and because they have allowances for dependents (otherwise known as “families”). There was once a time when real conservatives supported things like the negative income tax and in-work benefits like the earned income tax credit as a way to help the working poor avoid poverty without contributing to a cycle of dependency. That was when they thought about these things seriously. That hasn’t been for a while. Instead, we have descended into an infantile Ayn Rand charade, in which the poor are attacked at a time when inequality is the highest since the gilded age. Should we laugh or cry?

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  • Mark Gordon

    We can fight.

  • digbydolben

    No, you can’t “fight”; instead, you need to stand back and take a look at the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the culture: Americans believe more in the “myth of Horatio Alger” than they do in the “myth of the Virgen of Guadaloupe,” or the “holy poverty” of Francis of Assisi, which STILL influences the political cultures of Latin countries or of Europe. “Social Democracy” as a neo-Christian concept is actually LOATHED by the majority of Americans, who are shamed by even the MENTION of the “working poor,” whom even the Christian kings of ancient Europe acknowledged to be the backbone of their societies. (And THAT, more than anything else, is the reason for the decline of the unions in America: Americans are actually ASHAMED to have solidarity with the working poor.) Give it up: social darwinism is the fruit of American Protestantism.

    • Mark Gordon

      Yes, we can fight. You know, digbydolben, if anyone lacks solidarity with the working poor in America, it’s you. As you never fail to remind us, you have decamped. Walked away. Abandoned not only an unjust system but the people burdened by it. Thank God others are made of sterner, more stubborn stuff.

      Servant of God Dorothy Day, friend of workers, defender of the poor, pray for us.

      • digbydolben

        Mark Gordon, I lived, years before this, among the ordinary people of Sri Lanka and India. I found them to be more unselfish and emotionally richer than the people of the West. They are my people now, I love them and am proud to be permited to live among them. Not all people belong, by natural affinities, to their homelands, and I don’t belong, at least not anymore, to the people of America.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    This is a slam-dunk. At ALL historical periods in the West the thrust of societal order has been to get the poor to people to pay increasingly more, and the rich to pay nothing, or maybe less. Sorry my dear Catholic friends here, the Church was a huge part of this for most of its history. But in most periods it meant rich people paid nothing NOTHING (except maybe requisite military service, not negligible at some periods one must say. War has always been a stupid drain.). With this grid in mind we should not be surprised that Fox News creates one fantasy after another by which poor people should be forced to pay more, and rich people less. We have libraries filled with books attesting to this, and yet people don’t get it. It is all a boondoggle. (I love how they always leave out that poor people pay more at the grocery store than rich people. Groceries in poor areas have prices!!) Always has been, and will be, unless savvy people fight it. The cover of the New Yorker said it all: Daddy Warbucks with a sign: “Keep things exactly as they are!” Use Santayana’s famous insights as an antidote!!

  • bill bannon

    Excellent graphs in the link and I wish the wall street stations showed this aspect of total tax. Thanks….good job.

  • Cindy

    You have to fight :) Thank you for the link. I think it’s fantastic and I’m putting it on my facebook page.

  • Agellius

    Very interesting info in the link, MM, thanks.

    Does anyone know if someone has critiqued these figures at all? Not that I disbelieve them, but I would be more prepared to accept them as true after having heard both sides. Or, possibly no one has any serious quarrel with them…

  • Sam Rocha

    Or as I put it recently, “the preferential option for the rich.”

    Great post!


  • Sean O

    We should laugh and cry.

    The top richest 400 families have more wealth than the bottom 150 MILLION Americans. Insanity. Handwork, smarts, diligence, creativity or capitalism cannot account for the ODERS of Magnitude imbalance. It is really beyond words. The chasm of disparity is a result of flaws in the system, imbalances created by globalization, corruption, clubbiness among elite at the top and of course just plain colossal greed and arrogance.