It’s Not Time to Vote for the Rich or their Apologists, It’s Time to Tax Them

by on December 16, 2019 · 2 comments

in Economy, Election, Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

There’s been a wave of pushback of late against progressive calls for big structural change.  Corporate media pundits and neoliberal Democrats alike have been raising the alarm that America is not ready for bold policy when it comes to economics, healthcare, the environment, or anything else.

At the heart of much of this is the contention that it’s all too expensive and the Republicans will scare suburbanites into voting for Trump with cries of socialism and high taxes.   Whatever we do, the argument goes, we need to beat back Warren and Sanders so Mayor Pete, Joe Biden, or maybe even Michael Bloomberg can come in and save the day with a healthy dose of “centrism.”

Regale the nervous “middle” with fantasies of mythical bipartisanship and the promise of a return to pre-Trump “normal” rather than frighten them with angry, divisive rhetoric about the sins of the “billionaires.”  Class warfare, this line of reasoning goes, is for losers.

Surely, we are told, in between Trump’s angry rightwing populism and the angry populism of the left there is a reasonable position that can play to the blander angels of our nature.

But what if the real story is not one about divided ideological camps but of a real, existing economic divide?  What if the truth is that the class war has been going on all along, and the rich have been running up the score and laughing all the way to the bank?

A new analysis by Gabriel Zucman, reported by Greg Sargent at the Washington Post, shows precisely that.  As Sargent notes:

The top-line finding: Among the bottom 50 percent of earners, average real annual income even after taxes and transfers has edged up a meager $8,000 since 1970, rising from just over $19,000 to just over $27,000 in 2018.

By contrast, among the top 1 percent of earners, average income even after taxes and transfers has tripled since 1970, rising by more than $800,000, from just over $300,000 to over $1 million in 2018.

Among the top 0.1 percent, average after-tax-and-transfer income has increased fivefold, from just over $1 million in 1970 to over $5 million in 2018. And among the top .01 percent, it has increased nearly sevenfold, from just over $3.5 million to over $24 million.

The central take away from Zucman’s research is that this upward redistribution is no accident.  In fact, “The idea is to show the combined impact of both the explosion of pretax income at the top and the decline in the effective tax rate paid by those same earners — in one result.”  Translation: as economic inequality has reached historic levels, the taxes on the rich have gone down for them while not so much for the rest of us.

Thus any serious discussion about how to cure what ails us as a country should have this real, decades-long massive redistribution of wealth (and with it, political power) at the center of it.  Those who suggest otherwise don’t just have a different approach, they are denying the central economic and political fact of our era—that the rich and corporate interests have so much economic and political power that it is a threat to our democracy.

If we don’t reverse this shift to plutocracy it will be impossible to find the resources to address the climate crisis, serve the pressing needs of the majority of the population, or do much of anything else other than appease the comfortable.  Proposals like a wealth tax or returning the tax rate on the rich to mid-twentieth century levels are not so much radical as they are reasonable solutions to the rot at the heart of American democracy.

Now is not the time to pity the billionaires.  It’s time for some economic justice.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar retired botanist December 16, 2019 at 12:13 pm

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Mr. Miller. I try to explain to people that unless we address wealth inequality and corrupt corporate business models, all the other issues will be moot points. Health care, environmental issues, taxes, drug costs, politics, lobbying, national deficit, homelessness- all of these problems have wealth inequality as a cornerstone.
Centrist= more of the same. And we’re SERIOUSLY running out of time, while everyone waffles around avoiding big change. If we take much longer, there will be big change regardless, but it won’t be a positive one.

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sealintheSelkirks sealintheSelkirks December 16, 2019 at 5:01 pm

Just in case nobody is paying attention to WHERE the billionaires are giving their money:

https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/12/13/will-the-democratic-presidential-nomination-be-bought/

This year, Buttigieg’s vaguely progressive rhetoric has become more and more unreliable, most notably with his U-turn away from supporting Medicare for All. Meanwhile, wealthy donors have flocked to him. Forbes reports that 39 billionaires have donated to the Buttigieg campaign, thus providing ultra-elite seals of approval. (Meanwhile, Biden has 44 billionaire donors and Warren has six. Forbes couldn’t find any billionaires who’ve donated to Sanders; he did receive one contribution from a billionaire’s spouse.)

Vote Bernie.

sealintheSelkirks

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