The right and wrong way to think about taxes

Damn, this piece from Eric Levitz is really, really good.  I need to make a point to read him more consistently.  Anyway, it looking at Joe Biden’s recent attack on Warren’s support of “Medicare for All” for raising taxes, Levitz makes some great points about how we conceptualize private versus public expenditures and how it leads us astray.  Really worth reading the whole thing, but, since you are mostly here for the excerpts…

Under the norms of mainstream political journalism, costs imposed on the American people by the private sector require no justification or defense; only costs imposed by the public sector do. [emphases mine] If you are committed to abetting the meteoric rise of private health-insurance premiums, a debate moderator will not ask you to level with the American people about how much your approach to health-care policy will cost them. If you are committed to reducing overall health-care costs by expanding the public sector’s role in medical provision, you will be ritually scolded for the extraordinary (and extraordinarily decontextualized) fiscal price of your program.

As the party that favors higher levels of taxation and public provision, Democrats have an interest in contesting this norm. Biden’s agenda may be less ambitious than Sanders or Warren’s. But he still (officially) aims to raise taxes and increase spending by trillions of dollars. A political discourse that treats taxation as presumptively suspect (even as it treats private rentierism as presumptively legitimate) will not be a favorable one for any Democratic president. Amy Klobuchar, who criticized Warren for her secret middle-class tax hike Tuesday night, is a co-sponsor of the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, which would finance an entitlement to paid family leave with a small increase in payroll taxes. When the Klobuchar administration pushes for that law’s passage, it will want its policy to be judged on the basis of its impact on the median family’s overall costs, not their overall tax bill. And yet, in attacking single-payer Tuesday night, Klobuchar implicitly endorsed the opposite criterion. Equating support for middle-class families with opposition to increasing their tax rates is a conservative project. There is no reason for any Democratic candidate to be advancing it — no matter their position on single-payer.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to The right and wrong way to think about taxes

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Opposition to taxes is another one of our Republic’s early sins. We started off by opposing British taxes in colonial days as we had no representation in imposing taxes in the Parliament. “No taxation without representation” was a battle cry in the early days but the “without representation” words were dropped quickly. There’s even on old folk song from Whiskey Rebellion days “We ain’t paid no whiskey tax since 1792”. Opposition to federal taxes in particular has been strong.
    Of course no one wants to pay taxes that are unwisely, unfairly or corruptly spent but, let’s get real, some taxes are necessary and beneficial to the public good. If our reflex is “no more taxes” many farsighted policies will never happen. Politicians should not be able to destroy programs using just the “no new taxes” slogan.

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