Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The 47%: We Pay for Our Benefits and Would Pay for More

While reading a Thomas B. Edsall post entitled "Is Rush Limbaugh's Country Gone?" I had a sudden revelation: taxpayers get what they pay for, or should anyway.


I could care less about whether Rush Limbaugh's country has left him behind -- it's only shrinking -- but the stats in the article were key to my new thinking. The shrinking hard right favors capitalism, lower taxes, lower social benefits (for everyone else), and expensive international adventurism (wars). They are taxpayers. The growing hard left favors socialism, higher taxes (especially on the wealthy), more social benefits, and a smaller national defense. They are tax consumers.

Tax consumers.

This dichotomy should display the unfairness of our tax system, but it doesn't. It shows the exact opposite, including the various conflicts inherent in our system, and it shows the inherent incoherence of positions on the right. For example, the right wants, in general, more defense spending, or at least no reductions. But they gladly embrace lower taxes. That's incoherent. The left favors higher taxes to pay for more social benefits and wouldn't mind a decrease in defense spending to help pay for them. That's coherent. It makes sense.

Now, I performed a bit of a sleight of hand there by leaving out that the right prefers to reduce social benefits (I refuse to call them entitlements because they're actually earned benefits), which they can then balance against lowering taxes. The reason it's incoherent is that the earned benefits are paid by a different tax stream, FICA and Medicare taxes. You don't hear the right screaming to eliminate FICA and Medicare taxes, do you?

Here's where the 47% comes in. There are, whether you like or dislike Mitt Romney, a large class of people who don't pay much, if any, in income taxes -- I don't think they amount to 47%, but why quibble -- and mostly because they are poor or are in low-wage jobs. But they do work, and they do pay every month of their working lives into Social Security and Medicare. It says so right on their pay stubs.

How much should this family pay in taxes?

So when they don't pay much, if any, in federal or state income taxes, it doesn't mean that something improper is taking place. It means that there's nothing on the 47%'s pay stubs that includes "big-ass, stupid wars" or "bail-outs of the already stinking rich" or "subsidies to megafarmers and oil barons." You're damned right they don't pay those taxes, and that's the way it should be. What the poor and lower middle classes pay for are the social benefit programs they need, like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Hey, where'd all the money go?

Of course, on most of their sales receipts, there's a line where sales taxes are paid. In my state, that's 9%. That goes to state and local spending, like schools and roads and bridges. That's also the way it should be because those of us who pay those taxes get immediate benefits such as public schools for our children to attend and the roads and bridges we need to get around, plus police and firemen and yada-yada-yada.

What doesn't make sense is that the Villagers in Washington DC should sell out to the wealthy and provide them with tax cuts and any number of subsidies to business while Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity (and the entire Fox News propaganda machine), scores of local radio talk-show hosts, and evangelical hucksters preach that the country is going to Hell and we should lower taxes on the job creators, while most of the schlemiels in their audience don't realize that they've just been mugged by the Villagers in Washington DC as they happily waste their tax money and steal their earned social benefits. Now that's incoherent.

How much should these guys pay in taxes?

If what Edsall is pointing to is that the audience that is preyed on by Limbaugh et al is shrinking and the audience that eats up socialist doctrine is growing, then I say the sooner the better. The capitalist system that lets the top 1% have 40% of the country's wealth should be replaced by a system where the 47% get the chance to pay higher taxes through higher wages as long as the system allows for that hopefully declining 47% to get the right bang for their tax bucks, and that means expanded social benefits, paid for by more progressive tax rates.

It works in the rest of the developed nations. It surely can work here, too. It had better.

Bonus thought: If you needed a reason to dislike people who favor raising the eligibility age for Medicare, here's a coherent argument you could make. Another here.

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