Posts Tagged ‘taxes’

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Back in 1939, John Steibeck wrote (in chapter 14 of The Grapes of Wrath):

One man, one family driven from the land; this rusty car creaking along the highway to the west. I lost my land, a single tractor took my land. I am alone and I am bewildered. And in the night one family camps in a ditch and another family pulls in and the tents come out. The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. Here is the anlage of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. For here “I lost my land” is changed; a cell is split and from its splitting grows the thing you hate—”We lost our land.” The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one. And from this first “we” there grows a still more dangerous thing: “I have a little food” plus “I have none.” If from this problem the sum is “We have a little food,” the thing is on its way, the movement has direction. Only a little multiplication now, and this land, this tractor are ours. The two men squatting in a ditch, the little fire, the side-meat stewing in a single pot, the silent, stone-eyed women; behind, the children listening with their souls to words their minds do not understand. The night draws down. The baby has a cold. Here, take this blanket. It’s wool. It was my mother’s blanket—take it for the baby. This is the thing to bomb. This is the beginning—from “I” to “we.”

If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know that Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results, not causes, you might survive. But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezes you forever into “I,” and cuts you off forever from the “we.”

Today, we have the spectacle of a major U.S. political party that puts forward a series of budgetary proposals that couldn’t be more obvious in attempting to freeze the “I” and cut themselves (and, if the proposals pass, the rest of us) off from the “we.”

As Teresa Tritch explains,

This week, House and Senate Republicans will be working on a final budget plan. They are operating from templates that call for cuts of about 40 percent on average by 2025 in programs for low and moderate income households — things like food assistance, college aid and tax credits for the working poor.

The damage would be severe. For starters, sixteen million people would be pushed into poverty, or deeper into poverty, after 2017.

At the same time, the Republican plans leave untouched nearly $1 trillion worth of annual tax breaks that overwhelmingly benefit the top 20 percent of households.

If that’s not flabbergasting enough, there’s this:

Separate from the budget plans, nearly all House Republicans and seven Democrats passed a bill last week to repeal the federal estate tax on inherited wealth. Repeal would benefit the 5,500 wealthiest families in America each year and would do nothing for everyone else, because the estate tax applies only to those at the very top of the wealth ladder. For estates valued at $50 million and up, for example, repeal would save the heirs about $20 million per estate, on average, in 2016.

Update

For more on the estate tax, see this piece by Edward Rodrigue and Isabel V. Sawhill, in which they take up and challenge the usual claims for repeal. Their conclusion (against the “I” and in favor of the “we”):

The estate tax is one of the most progressive aspects of our tax system. In a time of increasing inequality, it provides a way to counteract the formation of a “permanent ownership class.” If anything, we should consider raising the rate and lowering the exemption to pay down debt and invest in opportunities for the unlucky children at the bottom of the wealth ladder.

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Yesterday afternoon, the House Rules Committee took up H.R. 1105, the “Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015,” with plans to bring it to a vote on the chamber floor later today.

As Dana Milbank explains,

That’s a tax break for only the 5,500 wealthiest households in the country each year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. Of those, the 318 wealthiest estates each year — those worth $50 million or more — would see an average windfall of $20  million each. . .

And this at a time when the gap between rich and poor is already worse than it has been since the Great Depression? Never in the history of plutocracy has so much been given away to so few who need it so little.

Here, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities [pdf], are the ten facts all of should know about the federal estate tax.

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There are two different ways of reading the information in the chart above.*

One way is that the various programs associated with the War on Poverty have succeeded, at least to some extent. That success can be seen in the difference between the “market poverty” rate (technically, the pretax/pretransfer anchored supplemental poverty rate) of 28.7 percent in 2012 and the “poverty rate with government programs” (technically, the anchored supplemental poverty rate) of 16 percent. Many fewer people are living at or below the poverty line with government transfers and tax credits than if those programs had not existed.

But there’s a second way of reading the chart: capitalism in the United States produces poverty at just about the same rate today (at 28.7 percent) as it did back in 1967 (when 27 percent of the U.S. population lived at or below the market poverty rate)—which makes it all that much more difficult for government transfers and credits to “solve” the problem of poverty. Thus, the War on Poverty still leaves 16 percent of Americans in poverty.

The conclusion, if we combine the two readings, is that the publicly provided social safety net (which lowered the poverty rate by some 40 percent in 2012) is actually a subsidy to large corporations, which continue to pay very low wages to millions of American workers and thus to generate enormous profits they alone appropriate and decide how to use.

The real War on Poverty will only begin when we decide to change how the economy itself is organized.

*The chart is from a column by Thomas B. Edsall, based on data presented in a paper by Christopher Wimer et al. (pdf).