LJWorld.com weblogs Southern Perlo

Are We Dwarfs Standing on the Shoulders of Giants?


“No taxation without representation;” the cry of the founding fathers now stands on its head. Now the governing representatives simply proclaim, “no taxes.” The caveat in the fine print seems to be “except for the middle class.”

The thirty or so daily media commentators, none whose best sellers have produced lasting works with the embedded brilliance of our constitution, or the patina of the writings of Madison, Jefferson, Paine, loudly commit an error first observed in the Roman senate by Cicero: they put the cart before the horse. The causes they shrill for are put ahead of the problems to be solved. Even in the recent election's Pyrrhic victory, the problems didn't go away. We are on the verge of offering or extending tax cuts that will not reduce the debt, deficit, or growth jobs. The cuts only certify rights to protect the private wealth of the 1% of individuals who control 24.3% the nation's net income. As others have observed, we are becoming a “kinder, gentler, banana republic. http://www2.ljworld.com/users/walterr... But the argument against taking $700 billion (the portion of aggregate tax on incomes over $250,000) out of the Treasury for schools, roads, health care, defense, deficit reduction, and legitimate government services is not simply emotionally biased or anti-rich. It is rooted in the base of American democracy. American democracy presumed the ideas of Jean Rosseau of a social contract based on an egalitarian democracy and of Adam Smith who decreed labor to be property, and of Thomas Hobbes who argued for, “giving to every man his own.” These ideas and others shaped the early absence of an personal income tax, but brought into debate the conflicts of interest and differences of means that rest in society between the poor and the rich.

Ironically, Alexander Hamilton, a pioneer of American capitalism who leveraged advantages under law, sounded a warning against his interests at the New York Ratifying Convention in 1788: “As riches increase and accumulate in few hands, as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard."

The common good doesn't depend on giving the rich a raw deal. Their earned income is not a national trough for big government welfare. But it has been a principle of American democracy that those who have more give more. It is a historic part of the government's “execution of its trust.” It is an old saw and staple that those who enjoy “the vanities of life,” pay more for the privilege. In America's tax system, people pay in proportion to their means.

SC's governor-elect plans to cut business taxes (2.7% of state revenues) while adding a tax on groceries. The justification for adding a burden to poor and working class families? Cutting the former grocery tax, she asserts, "didn't create one job." Her tax plan adopts feudalism at its ancient best. A world where the benefits of the manor go to a glided class and the burden is carried by those who toil on their behalf.

Republicans should not be allowed a soft sale of the hard and fast principle of progressive taxes. Progressive taxes should not be framed as a civil rights issue of fairness, or a principle of equity. SC's John C. Calhoun got it wrong in his famous “Disquisition on Government” when he breaks the contract for taxes into two antagonistic halves and ignores benefits to the whole. To the contrary, a progressive system reduces inequities and creates opportunities.

Calhoun was right in his idea that democracy can't be done by polls; it requires a concurrent majority, groups from all spheres of interests and incomes to agree. How else can we account for or address the disparity of income and services in South Carolina, with 12.2% unemployment, producing the world's convertible BMW's and soon, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner? Barack's idea of consensus or compromise doesn't rise to the challenge, since it weighs process as being more important than results.

The Dutch flipped Cicero and got it right, “harness the horse after the wagon.” Despite the pundits and Republican shrills, or Obama's seductions of compromise, we must maintain the fairness and historic principle, the social value and political trust of the progressive tax. It is the first step in reducing the deficit and the debt, restoring confidence and growing jobs.

Thanks for reading! /wr. Please stir the Perlo, add a comment. Images and photographs from the Library of Congress archives; no restrictions.


ksriver2010 7 years, 6 months ago

"To the contrary, a progressive system reduces inequities and creates opportunities."

Baloney. A progressive tax system only reduces inequities in income and creates opportunities for government. The progressive tax system holds one truth to be self evident - that your money, whether you are rich or poor, is not essentially yours; it is the property of the government or society.

I am impressed with your quoting or invoking the classical giants. But at the same time you ignore much of Madison's writings. Madison was even sorely against spending gov't money on war veterans!

All men having power ought to be mistrusted. ~James Madison

mrf3114114 7 years, 6 months ago

Before we have a meaningful discussion of the tax system in this country the rhetoric has to become more honest.

Our middle federal income tax rates are as low as they have been for the last 68 years. Upper income rates are at a 79 year low. Upper income rates are lower now than in 1917.

Our federal rates are among the lowest amongst wealthy nations.

Tax rates have gone down during the Obama administration, not up.

The next time you talk to a tea-partier ask whether they want to go back to the tax rates of their great-grandparents. Well guess what? They were higher than the rates we are paying.

We can have an honest debate about our economy, but lets try to be a bit more honest. If you want to go back to James Madison-era taxes then we need to plan for a pre-industrial agrarian economy that has no need for modern infrastructure. If you want our country to go there, I think that is a worthy debate to have.

Also when we talk about tax cuts can we acknowledge that any federal tax cuts and associated service cuts always have a way of being supplemented at the state, county, and city level. This happens regardless of whether these governments are in the hands of republicans or democrats. They absorb any drop in services. Local governments are the ones that have the most day-to-day influence over our lives. They are the ones that keep raising our taxes. They are the ones that often are the most tyrannical. Why don't we hear more from tea-partiers about that?

mrf3114114 7 years, 6 months ago

Correction: Upper income tax levels were lower than now for a brief period during Reagan administration.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.