21 February 2012


Following are exerpts from a superb article by Jeff Strabone, entitled Tax Justice: The Next Great American Movement ~ see the full article for a more thorough analysis.

"Brown v. Board of Education.  The Voting Rights Act.  Miranda v. Arizona.  Roe v. Wade.  Texas v. Johnson.  The Americans with Disabilities Act.  Same-sex marriage.  Looked at one way, the past several decades in the United States have been an almost uninterrupted series of victories for the American left and its activist model of advancing civil rights and civil liberties through litigation and legislation.

"Looked at another way ~ in terms of tax justice, financial regulation, and income disparity ~ the economic right wing has dominated American politics for the past thirty-plus years.  In the face of little popular resistance and with assistance from both major political parties, the richest Americans and the most powerful corporations have had a free hand to rewrite the tax code and the banking laws to enrich themselves, endanger the world economy, and deprive government of the revenues it would need to, as the Constitution puts it, 'promote the general welfare'.  As income equality in the United States approaches banana-republic levels [see chart above, click to enlarge], Americans are finally having a long-overdue national conversation about taxes, banking laws, and economic justice.

" .... The reason that twenty-first century tax rates constitute a political failure is that for most of the twentieth century tax rates were not what they are now ~ the rich were taxed more, much more, and the United States managed, despite high taxes on the rich, to become a world economic power.  Those tax rates changed because one side, the rich, wanted them lowered and the other side, the rest, did not put up a commensurate fight.

"Tables comparing the year-by year highest tax brackets, like this one from the National Taxpayers Union, have been making the rounds on the Internet lately.  Here are some highlights:

  • From 1954 through 1963, income above $400,000 was taxed at 91%.
  • from 1965 through 1978, income above $200,000 was taxed at rates that varied from 70 to 77%.
  • From 1982 through 1986, the income bracket varied a bit from $106,000 to $171,580, but the top marginal rate plummeted to 50%.
  • When Reagan left office in 1989, the highest marginal tax rate was only 28% and it applied to everyone who made more than $30,000 a year.  In essence, progressive taxation vanished.
  • George H.W. Bush raised the top marginal rate to 31%.
  • Bill Clinton raised it to 39.6% on incomes over $250,000.
  • Finally, George W. Bush lowered it again to 35%, where it remains under President Barack Obama.
" .... Were Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon communists for presiding over tax rates of 91% and 70% respectively?  Hardly.  The 1950s and 60s were decades of prosperity for American businesses and working people alike.  Then Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980, and the tax rates for the rich began their dramatic decline.

"What happens when governments cannot collect enough revenue because they have lowered taxes too far?  Services break down, public investment comes to a halt, and civil society declines .... Class time in public school [is] cut and the school year shortened due to budget constraints .... domestic violence laws [are] repealed in order to save the money it would cost to enforce them .... state judges are reported to have quit after years without a pay raise .... the total balance for all outstanding student loans is $845 billion.  Tuition is lower in every other country in the world ~ all the comparable industrialized countries subsidize tuition more substantially from tax revenues than the U.S. does.

"Some say it can't be done, that the economic right wing has unmatched amounts of money and power to spend on promoting its agenda.  Let's turn again to the example of civil rights, where we have seen, over and over, the powerless and the outcast rise to victory.  In our own times, in just one generation and against unlikely odds, opinion has swung in favor of same-sex marriage .... This rapid turnabout in national opinion is the result of three things ~ organizing, organizing, organizing.

"Surely, we could mount a comparable effort on behalf of taxing the rich like we did in the 1970s so that good schools could be built.  The fact that tax rates were much higher in living memory should make this not a hard case to sell.  Public schools open five days a week versus more tax breaks for billionaires?  I think we can find at least 53% of Americans to choose schools.

"The left has powerful, expert voices arguing for tax justice ~ Paul Krugman, the Center for American Progress, and on and on .... The teams of anti-tax, anti-regulation experts at ATR and elsewhere need to be met pound for pound with comparable levels of expertise, rhetoric, and advocacy in the opposite direction.  A movement for greater tax justice would need tax lawyers, former Congressional staffers, professors and others united for the difficult, technical work of writing new tax laws and regulations.  What is surprising is the absence of a strong movement for greater tax justice, one that will take its place alongside the great civil rights movements and restore the opportunities that make it possible to enjoy one's rights in a sane, healthy society that believes in itself.  The time for such a movement is now.  May the next several decades of American history be the story of sanity and justice restored to our tax code."

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