How OWS is winning

In one of my more prescient bits of political analysis recently, I weighed in on an on-line discussion for my public policy class about Occupy Wall Street.  The gist of the discussion was that the movement was a loser because they could not agree on concrete proposals, much less push them through to actual policy.  I argued that the movement would have it’s greatest chance for success by simply changing the political narrative in this country.  Dare I say, “Mission Accomplished.”  When Paul Ryan feels the need to give speeches defending the Republicans on the issue (naturally, the only way to do so is with lies and half-truths), OWS has already won.  Here’s EJ Dionne on the matter:

But what’s most instructive is that Ryan would not have given this speech if the Republican Party were not so worried that it is losing control of the political narrative. In particular, growing inequalities of wealth and income — which should have been a central issue in American politics for at least a decade — are now finally at the heart of our discourse. We are, at last, discussing the social and economic costs of concentrating ever more resources in the hands of the top sliver of our society.

Ryan offered the classic defense of inequality, arguing that what really matters is upward mobility, and that the United States has more of it than those horrible welfare states in Europe. “Class is not a fixed designation in this country,” he declared. “We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.”

The only problem is that upward mobility has declined as inequality has grown, and social mobility is now higher in Europe than it is in the United States. That’s shameful. And don’t believe me on this: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum brought this up at a recent debate, backed by a study from the Economic Mobility Project.

It’s hard to justify more tax cuts for the wealthy in a country that is becoming more rigidly stratified by class. And if it is class warfare simply to acknowledge the facts, does this make Santorum a class warrior?

Yep.  Santorum is basically an idiot, but you know what they say about broken clocks.  Nonetheless, good for him.   Regardless of anything else, shifting our larger political discussion from short-term deficits (which really aren’t a big deal– I did say short term) to structural and growing inequality (which is a big deal) is a huge victory for the OWS movement– whether that’s what they intended or not.

Bad polling and the estate tax

For some odd reason, the “Under the Dome” column in yesterday’s N&O went ahead and basically printed a press release from the Pope Foundation’s Civitas Institute.   Anyway, it was really just absurd Estate Tax Spin.  Via Civitas:

Two-thirds of voters oppose the estate tax in North Carolina, according to a new poll released today by the Civitas Institute.

When a North Carolina resident dies, the state government levies a tax of up to 16 percent on assets above $5 million and everything else the deceased owned. The tax is levied in addition to the Federal estate tax of 35 percent.  Sixty-six percent of voters oppose this practice while 25 percent said they support it.  Seven percent said they do not know or have no opinion.

Civitas tries to (or at least typically, it seems to me) play themselves as a fair-minded polling organization, but yet we get this:

“Voters across North Carolina widely recognize the inherent immorality of turning revenue department officials into grave robbers [emphasis mine].  Hopefully, state lawmakers will recognize the near-universal opposition to the state death tax and act to end this gruesome practice,” said Civitas Institute budget and tax policy analyst Brian Balfour.

Yowza– that’s strong language.  Not exactly designed to place a lot of confidence in Civitas’ polling.  Need I mention that 2/3 while a strong majority hardly represents “near-universal” opposition.  More importantly, though, I strongly, suspect that if voters actually understood what was going on with the estate tax, the numbers would look like this.  The polling question:

“When a North Carolina resident dies, the state government levies a tax of up to 16% on assets above $5 million which includes businesses, homes, farm animals, bank accounts and everything else the deceased owned. The tax is levied in addition to the Federal estate tax of 35%. Please tell me if you support or oppose this practice?”

My guess is that most people here something like, “North Carolina resident…dies… tax…homes… bank accounts… everything else(!)”  What if you asked a question and laying out the tax and said quite clearly: “this tax would only apply to North Carolina residents who have more than $5 million when then die.”  Or better yet, “the less than 1/4 of 1% of NC Residents…”  I’m confident the poll results would be dramatically different.   It’s also worth noting that a very substantial portion of the estate tax captures unrealized Capital Gains that would otherwise never be taxed.  If you bought $1000 of Apple stock in the 1990s’s that was worth $100,000 today, you’d owe taxes on it if you sold it.  However, if you never sold it, but passed it on to your heirs, that $99,000 capital gain is untaxed.   Taxing such gains is mostly what the estate tax is about.  There’s plenty of myths (you’d simply never believe which political party tends to spread them) about the Estate Tax and the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities nicely takes on the key ones, if you are curious.


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