If you think grown men fighting on the Internet is worth your time then, by all means, keep reading. Be forewarned, though, that whoa boy is it tedious, and you could be watching cute animals falling asleep instead.
Those still with me: to the pissing match!
In a piece that I published yesterday, I wrote that, while journalist Radley Balko is great when writing about the drug war and police brutality, he’s not so great when he devotes his time to economic issues. In particular, I took issue with his rather frequent complaint that poor people ought to bear a greater economic burden for the cost of government, a complaint he bases on a fear that said poor people will otherwise keep voting themselves government services for which they need not pay. While I tried to stress how useful I usually find his writing to be, Balko nonetheless appeared in the comments and accused me of engaging in, well, “personal attacks” — I wish all my critics started out by saying how great they thought I was — before engaging in a few of his own, suggesting I was too lazy, or perhaps illiterate, to read past the headline of his writings on the dire threat to the republic of poor people not paying enough taxes. (Ironically, his comment maintains that I accused him of backing the Iraq war and liking Glenn Beck, which itself suggests he didn’t read my post all that closely.)
[T]here’s a real danger when nearly half of income earners pay no federal income tax at all. A near-majority and growing portion of the population can now vote for politicians to enact expensive policies that are paid for by an increasingly small percentage of earners. You don’t have to be an apologist for the aristocracy to see the problem, here.
A negative income tax that fluctuates when government spending increases and decreases gives many more people skin in the game. And not just so that they’re helping pay for the game – they’re not, after all, if they’re getting money back in the form of a negative income tax – but rather so that they can be aware of the consequences of government action. If you’re getting $3,000 back from the government each year and then we embark on massive spending increases, maybe launch a couple new wars or whatever, and now suddenly you’re only getting $1500 back – well I’d notice. And noticing is half the point of representative democracy, because then you can get pissed off about it.
Of course, as I noted yesterday, the entire premise of this reform is bogus, which is why I originally didn’t delve into the specifics of Balko’s proposed policy change. Those government services that do nominally benefit the poor, like Social Security and Medicare, are paid for through direct, regressive taxes that even the poorest workers pay; in other words, they’re aware of the cost. The majority of the federal income tax, by contrast, goes straight to the military-industrial complex, which unlike social services is the one area of government no politicians are seriously suggesting ought to be slashed in this glorious age of austerity, political gimmicks aside.
Reducing the amount that poor households receive in tax rebates so that they “at least feel the bite of” of any future growth in government spending, as Balko writes in his tax day post and which Kain supports in his comment above, is asking them to feel the bite of spending that won’t actually benefit them. And while I’m all for awareness raising, those households poor enough to qualify for a tax rebate are the least able to afford a $1,500 reduction in their income, especially in a time of high unemployment and stagnant wages. So yes, let’s make Social Security and Medicare taxes more progressive, as both Kain and Balko would like to do, but let’s not play games with the rebates poor households receive. The vast majority of Americans already oppose America’s wars and asking poor people to share the pain of such government spending that, again, doesn’t benefit them — to say nothing of the vast majority of “government services” that serve the rich, from intellectual property to corporate personhood, but don’t show up as budget items come appropriations time — strikes me as a pointless and potentially harmful attempt to address a problem that proponents of the reform haven’t really demonstrated exists.
At the risk of making a personal attack, what if not “superficial” can you call the belief that the state invades countries and gives corporations billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded welfare because that’s what voters — poor voters, no less — want? Balko’s a good guy, and is easily one of the best chroniclers of the abuse of state power in the U.S., but the idea that, of all things, we ought to be fearful of poor people who don’t pay federal income taxes bankrupting those who do — as opposed to bankers and bomb makers — is, well, bullshit.