Hitting Back


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This morning, Bob Herbert issues an incisive accounting of what he sees as a fading American Dream.

If his language sounds harsh, it's still got nothing on the narrowly focused economic agenda that the Bush White House and Republican Congress have wrought upon this country for the past four years. Herbert takes the wide view and shows how they made taxes much less progressive even while economic mobility is on the decline and wealth is becoming ever increasingly concentrated among the richest Americans. He mentions our low national minimum wage. You could add to that the deficits that have been racked up year after year and the way this Congress is giving them lip service by cutting food stamps, Medicaid and veterans benefits, while serving up even more tax cuts aimed mostly at the wealthy (or entirely, as per the estate tax).

If critics will accuse Bob Herbert of class warfare, it's obvious that he didn't throw the first punch. We need, so badly, to get back to an economic agenda that helps everybody. Politicians need to stop imagining this as a zero-sum game.

Update 6:57 PM: Mickey Kaus takes issue with this NYTimes Article that is part of the basis for Herbert's OpEd. Of the super-rich, Kaus contends the article only "shows (a) they've gotten richer and (b) they've gotten big tax cuts." But skims on "the important question on the relationship between (a) and (b), namely how much richer would they have gotten if they hadn't gotten the tax cuts?"

But I think Kaus is missing the point. He seems to be asking 'well, if the rich are doing well anyway, why be concerned about their cuts?' This, however, implies that the sole purpose of taxes is to redistribute wealth. Clearly, that is not the case. The key purpose of taxes is to adequately fund public services. The question Kaus shoud be asking is: since the wealthiest Americans have done so well over the last decade and a half (and he argues, would have done just fine with or without Reagan- and Bush-era high-income tax cuts), why has it become a national priority to disproportionally lower their taxes? Presumably, tax cuts could have been better targeted towards those wage-earners towards the lower end of the income spectrum. Also, Kaus implicitly argues that cutting taxes for the wealthiest has no necessary impact on the economy, so they get thousands and thousands of dollars in tax cuts, while lower- and middle-income Americans get less services and higher local property taxes as a result of the federal government shifting revenue burden onto the states, and then on down onto counties and cities and towns.

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