Posts Tagged ‘taxes’

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toles20140717 Steve Bell 17.07.14

corporate religion

150727_600 Steve Bell cartoon 9/7/14

 

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I’ve written more than a bit over the years about taxes, distribution (including predistribution), and Modern Monetary Theory.

But I’ve mostly treated them as separate issues (except here). Randall Wray [ht: br] has brought those issues together, building on Rick Wolff’s argument against raising taxes as the solution to inequality.

Rick is absolutely correct that when the public begins to see taxes as a payment for services rendered, then they start trying to calculate whether their own payment is “fair”.

That is a primrose path to hell so far as government services are concerned. Since around 1970 that is exactly what has happened to state and local government finances. In the economics literature it is called “devolution”—moving provision of most government services to the state and local government level, and forcing them to pay for it with taxes.

It encouraged the “donut holes” that devastated cities as the more affluent whites ran off to the suburbs.

With new infrastructure and higher income and wealth in the ‘burbs, relatively low tax rates could provide good services. The cities that were left behind had to raise tax rates on an ever-shrinking tax base to try to provide even basic services.

Witness Camden, NJ, which has essentially abandoned large swaths of its jurisdiction to “Escape from New York” dystopia.

This “stakeholder”, “taxes pay for the goodies I get” view has already reduced much of America to third world living standards. No wonder that Regressives pushed the devolution that wiped out cities.

Now the Progressives want to do the same at the Federal level.

The notion that you’ll significantly reduce inequality through taxes on the rich is a pipedream. How high would taxes have to be on the top few tenths of a percent? 50%? 75%? Forget it. They’d still be filthy rich and you’d be poor by comparison.

As I said in the first instalment [sic], we don’t need taxes for revenue. We can justify taxes on the rich not for revenue purposes but as sin taxes. Look at it this way. Let’s raise sin taxes on the rich to reduce the sin of ill-gotten gains.

How high? 100%? Nay, 1000%. Take everything: all their income, all their wealth, the house, the car, the dog. Don’t let crime pay.

Wray and Wolff agree there are far better and more effective ways to solve the problem of inequality in the United States today than to tinker with tax rates.*

 

*I’m pleased to see a first step toward an alliance between the views of Modern Monetary Theorists and Marxists (which apparently I was accused of back in 2011). But for that theoretical alliance to develop, we’re going to have to convince Marxist economists to give up their view that “taxes pay for government services” and MMTers to consider the significance of the processes whereby the surplus is produced and distributed.

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It’s tax-paying day for most of us. But, according to the Americans for Tax Fairness, it’s tax-break-and-subsidy day for Walmart and the Walton family.

Walmart and the Walton family receive tax breaks and taxpayer subsidies estimated at more than $7.8 billion a year – that is enough money to hire 105,000 new public school teachers.

Which means Walmart gets higher profits and the Walton family more income and wealth—while we get higher taxes and fewer public services, including fewer public school teachers.

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There’s no doubt that Paul Ryan’s recent comments on the problem of poverty in America (which you can listen to here) were imbued with more than a small hint of racism. And, as Paul Krguman has argued, “today’s G.O.P. favors the interests of the rich over those of ordinary families.”

But what’s been overlooked in the recent furor of Ryan’s racism and the tax-cutting measures favored by Republicans is another dog-whistle theme: working-class sloth. Both Ryan and conservative commentator George Will can talk all they want to about the “culture of poverty” but what they’re most concerned about—which, in this political culture, they do nothing to hide—is the need to force workers to have the freedom to sell their ability to work to employers. That’s the real cultural problem they’re focused on.

Here’s Will, backing up Ryan:

To say that poverty can be self-perpetuating is not to say, and Ryan did not say, that poverty is caused by irremediable attributes that are finally the fault of the poor. It is, however, to define the challenge, which is to acculturate those unacquainted with the culture of work to the disciplines and satisfactions of this culture.

OK, then, let’s focus on the culture of work. Let’s talk about the injustice of not being able to find decent jobs at decent wages. Let’s discuss what it means to be dependent on the whims and wishes of employers, who can choose to hire (or not) workers if and when they want to—and then impose the conditions under which that work will be performed. Let’s take seriously the idea that workers, if they’re lucky, manage to find a job only to have a large portion of the value they produce appropriated by someone else.

Because, in the end, that’s all Ryan, Will, and the other “culture of poverty” commentators are worried about: that if a large portion of the population isn’t acquainted “with the culture of work to the disciplines and satisfactions of this culture,” the tiny minority at the top won’t be able to get theirs.

You want to talk culture of work, then? Let’s imagine and enact a culture of work in which those who do the work actually have a say in how much work there will be, under what conditions that work will be performed, and what will be done with the value that is created above and beyond what those workers need to reproduce their social existence.

That’s a discussion worthy of our attention.

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