Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tax Policy Made For A Weaker Commons

Taxes are our collective investment in the Commons. They provide for our public services, programs and benefits, protect our natural resources, and fund the development and maintenance of our nation’s infrastructure. So taxes are a good thing from a Commons-based perspective. But the thing about Americans is that we’ve been bombarded with anti-tax, anti-government ideology for generations, such that people resent paying taxes and idolize tax cuts, even while they want more/better public services.

The tax-cutting zealots are at it again right now, because the Bush tax cuts are set to expire. These tax cuts first passed in 2001 when the government had a surplus. So while the strategy of cutting revenue was short-sighted at the time, now that we’re in the midst of the worst recession in nearly a century, doing so again seems like insanity. Some experts have estimated that if the tax cuts hadn’t been enacted, the public debt – which conservatives wring their hands over, when not pushing tax cuts for the rich – would be more than $2 trillion lower than it stands now.

Not only did the 2001 tax cuts cost the government a lot of money, but they overwhelmingly benefited the super-rich in our nation. In fact, extending those tax cuts would mean cutting “checks averaging $3 million each to the richest 120,000 people in the country.”

So extending these tax cuts would both starve the Commons of needed revenue and contribute to the huge chasm between our nation’s mini-minority of haves (roughly 2 to 3% of the population) and the super-majority of have-nots. Sadly tax policy has been used to undermine social equity for generations in this country … from the special taxes heaped on Chinese miners that accounted for 25% of California’s taxes during the Gold-Rush, to property tax schemes designed to keep Black schools under-funded in the South.

Even though this kind of anti-Commons tax policy isn’t new, the need to oppose such tax cuts has never been more important. Commons-advocates need to be having honest conversations about why our taxes are both necessary and good -- and why we should be paying more, especially the super-rich.

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