Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “whining”

Our Real National Pastime – Tom Rossi

Here in the United States, whining about taxes is probably more popular than all of the major sports, combined. Forget about baseball – tax-whining is our true national pastime.

What’s amazing is that the distribution of whining, like so many things, is so illogical. In fact, tax-whining is positively correlated with a person’s or a corporation’s wealth. So, the more you have, the more you whine. It’s sort of like a team in Major League Baseball complaining that, in their run up to winning the World Series, too many strikes were called on their batters.

The favorite topic of tax-whiners is that the top income brackets pay all of the taxes while the bottom half of the so-called “middle class” (nobody want to be labelled “poor”) pays nothing. They love to go on about the 47% – the “takers.” That number was made up, by the way.

As justification, the tax-whiners always point to one statistic… the statistic that makes them look right. Here it is, in graph form:

Income_and_Tax_Shares_TPC_2010

But this is only part of the tax story. People pay taxes on much more than income. They pay taxes on property, gasoline, and sales tax on purchases of goods. The truth is that, when you add all those taxes up, the bottom 20% of earners pay about 17% of their incomes in taxes, while the top 20% of earners pay about 29%. That’s a significant difference, and I’m sure it frustrates those who live inside a calculator.

total-tax-bill-income

But it’s nowhere near the claims that are made, usually by Republicans and Tea Party types. And we should pay close attention to the effect that these percentages have on people. For someone who makes $250,000 per year (for example) paying 29% in taxes means that they are left with $177,500 to live on.

taxday2012table

For someone earning 13,000 per year, paying 17% in taxes means that they are left with $10,790 to live on. That’s less per year than what the $250,000 earner has left per month. And, as I’ve argued before, the more money a person has, the more benefits he or she gets from taxes.

To the whiners, I say this: I realized that the prospect of paying an extra $500, or so, in taxes for a year might mean you have to put off buying a house for another month. Or it might mean that your kids actually have to go to public school. Or it might mean you have to buy the Lexus GS instead of the LS. But a difference of even $100 to a family on the receiving end of this shotgun economy might mean that their kids get “new” shoes (maybe from the Salvation Army) when their toes poke out through a hole. Or it might mean that they can afford to heat the house to above 55° in the winter. Or it might mean that they can pay the electric bill for another month or two.

These are two different worlds. What I’m talking about is called “Marginal Utility Theory,” and it’s a part of standard, old-fashioned, neo-classical economic theory. It just gets ignored because it is essentially an “inconvenient truth.” Without putting you to sleep, what this boils down to is that $1000 means nothing to the well-being of a millionaire, but it could mean the world to a poor person, or a poor person’s children.

President Obama and others are in the process of attempting to re-balance the tax code which has, in recent decades, come to favor the rich and the corporations. And now, we have an influx of veterans that often have an incredibly hard time finding a good job – or sometimes any job, for that matter. This is happening while government programs are being cut left and right.

If you really want to “support our troops,” if you are really “pro-life,” then realize that your tax dollars are helping people who really need it. And their health and well-being will come back to benefit you in ways you may not be able to imagine.

stop-whining

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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Do Progressives Want to Punish Success? – Tom Rossi

If you denied a request by your ten year old son for permission to buy a CD or go to a rock concert with his older brother or something, and then he went and asked your spouse and he or she said yes, you would probably punish your son for gaming the system. Your son would probably say, “But Mom said it was okay!” But you would know what was really going on.

The argument against taxing the (very) rich is most often that it would be “punishing success.” Well, we do punish some kinds of success in this country. We punish successful (and unsuccessful) burglars, bank robbers, drug dealers, con artists, murderers, embezzlers, and many other criminals.

Some of today’s wealthiest people fit into one of those categories, certainly. But many more, often acting through corporations, fit into the “play one parent against the other” archetype. What corporations do is lobby our government, often in ways that closely resemble bribery, to change the law more to their liking.

Tax laws, for example, are a favorite target of corporations and the super-rich who run them. They left the official rate high, (so they could continue to bitch, whine, piss, and moan) but they created a wonderful set of loopholes that mean that practically no corporation actually pays that rate.

In fact, the whole purpose of a corporation is to absolve the executives of any responsibility for its actions. A corporation legally insulates its operators, as long as it doesn’t violate what’s left of the law. But there is no law against creating ridiculously risky financial instruments and artificially inflating their value, essentially riding updrafts of hot air while pretending it’s solid ground.

Why is this not illegal? Because corporations and associations of very rich investors spend millions to kill financial reform. This is why nothing has really changed since the crash of 2007. The people calling for the heads of bankers and hedge-fund managers are the powerless – people whose net worth is measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars or less.

So, do we want to “punish” success? We absolutely want to punish the con artists who sent America into this pit. We also want to punish the success of those who have bribed their way out of paying for the function and infrastructure of the very country that has allowed them to become rich in the first place.

The success that allowed these corporations to become big and rich enough to sell out our country cam during the decades when the taxes they and their investors paid much higher taxes. Those taxes allowed America to become what it is – a land full of healthy, well-educated (on average) people with the means to physically travel to the places they are needed.

A lot goes into these factors, especially the health part. But taxes aren’t really punishment. As I’ve said before, it’s simply a matter of paying for what you get. You want a great country? Pay for it. It doesn’t come free. Conservative dimwits are fond of saying, “Freedom isn’t free.” Well neither is greatness. And private enterprise just isn’t effective at providing certain things like public health and education – two keys to a successful society.

The other side of the “punishing success” hogwash is that progressives or liberals want to “reward losers.” Let’s compare these punishments and these rewards… The punishments we’re talking about might mean buying a smaller yacht. The reward might mean paying the rent for a couple more months on the two-bedroom apartment where your family of five now resides.

So, to paraphrase what I’ve said before, please stop whining. If you’ve lost your job, been foreclosed on, and have to eat dog food to survive, you’ve got lots of good reasons to whine. It’s your right. But if you whine because you only get to keep $35million after taxes, kindly do us all a favor and shut your ridiculous, spoiled cake hole.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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