Monday, October 24, 2011

The Age-Old Conservative Crusade To Guarantee The Rich Pay Less


Conservatives never give up-- even if they have to go to extremist and radical means to achieve their ends-- and Monday is always a good day to mull over a bit of Corey Robin's book, The Reactionary Mind.
There's a fairly simple reason for the embrace of radicalism on the right, and it has to do with the reactionary imperative that lies at the core of conservative doctrine. The conservative not only opposes the left; he also believes that the left has been in the driver's seat since, depending on who's counting, the French Revolution or the Reformation. If he is to preserve what he values, the conservative must declare war against the culture as it is. Though the spirit of militant opposition pervades the entirety of conservative discourse, Dinesh D'Souza has put the case most clearly.

"Typically, the conservative attempts to conserve, to hold on to the values of the existing society. But... what if the existing society is inherently hostile to conservative beliefs? It is foolish for a conservative to attempt to conserve that culture. Rather, he must seek to undermine it, to thwart it, to destroy it at the root level. This means that the conservative must... be philosophically conservative but temperamentally radical."

How else could you ever explain a Timothy McVeigh or a Glenn Beck or a Jim DeMint? And how else could you ever explain why the conservatives never stop peddling their rejected wares year after year after year. Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio may not look like dried up, selfish, bloated, old vampires yet but their inherently anti-social message of greed and egoism, their hatred of the concept of equality and their vehement disdain for accepted American institutions like Social Security and Medicare, are the same old conservative message in superficially new packaging. Predictably, both also support the age-old flat tax schemes that are never far from the surface of any right-wing movement anywhere. As Robert Reich explained last week, flat tax schemes always mean the rich pay less. Under Cain’s gimmicky 9-9-9 "plan" (a marketing stunt more than a thought-through serious fiscal proposal), almost every family with over $1 million in annual income would get an average tax cut of $487,300. Capital gains would be tax free... free, free at last-- the dream come true.
Herman Cain’s bizarre 9-9-9 plan would replace much of the current tax code with a 9 percent individual income tax and a 9 percent sales tax. He calls it a “flat tax.”

Next week Rick Perry is set to announce his own version of a flat tax. Former House majority leader Dick Armey-- now chairman of Freedom Works, a major backer of the Tea Party funded by the Koch Brothers and other portly felines (I didn’t say “fat cats”)-- predicts this will give Perry “a big boost.” Steve Forbes, one of America’s richest billionaires, who’s on the board of the Freedom Works foundation, is delighted. He’s been pushing the flat tax for years.

The flat tax is a fraud. It raises taxes on the poor and lowers them on the rich.

...The details of flat-tax proposals vary, of course. But all of them end up benefitting the rich more than the poor for one simple reason: Today’s tax code is still at least moderately progressive. The rich usually pay a higher percent of their incomes in income taxes than do the poor. A flat tax would eliminate that slight progressivity.

Nowadays most low-income households pay no federal income tax at all-- a fact that sends many regressives into spasms of indignation. They conveniently ignore the fact that poor households pay a much larger share of their incomes in payroll taxes, sales taxes, and property taxes (directly, if they own their homes; indirectly, if they rent) than do people with high incomes.

...[W]hen Barack Obama calls for ending the Bush tax cut on incomes over $250,000, he’s only talking about the portion peoples’ incomes that exceed $250,000. He’s not proposing to tax their entire incomes at the higher rate that prevailed under Bill Clinton.

Republicans have tried to sow confusion about this. They want Americans to believe, for example, that if the Bush tax cut ended, small business owners with incomes of $251,000 a year would suddenly have to pay 39 percent of their entire incomes in taxes rather than 35 percent. Wrong. They’d only have to pay the 39 percent rate on $1,000-- the portion of their incomes over $250,000.

Get it? We already have a flat tax-- flat within each bracket.

The real problem is the top brackets are set too low relative to where the money is. The top-most bracket starts at $375,000 a year. People with incomes higher than that pay 35 percent-- again, only on that portion of their incomes exceeding $375,000.

This is absurd. It means a professional who’s making, say, $380,000 a year pays the same income-tax rate as a plutocrat pulling in $2 billion or $20 billion.

Our current flat tax at the top is treating the nation’s professional class exactly the same as it treats super-rich plutocrats. My doctor pays the same rate as Steve Forbes.

Actually, it’s worse than that because the plutocrats get most of their income in the form of capital gains, which are taxed at only 15 percent. That’s why America’s 400 richest people-- who earned an average of $300 million last year, and who have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans put together – now pay at a 17 percent rate (according to the IRS).

The Republicans’ push for a flat tax masks what’s really going on.

Remember: The top 1 percent is now raking in over 20 percent of the nation’s total income and owns over 35 percent of the nation’s wealth. Under almost anyone’s view of fairness, these are grotesque portions. They’re especially large relative to what they were as recently as thirty years ago, when the top 1 percent raked in under 10 percent. And these huge portions at the top continue to increase.

Meanwhile, the top tax bracket is now 35 percent-- the lowest it’s been in three decades. Between the end of World War II and 1980 it never fell below 70 percent. 

Simple fairness requires three things: More tax brackets at the top, higher rates in each bracket, and the treatment of all sources of income (capital gains included) exactly the same.

Not only fairness demands it, but also fiscal prudence. A truly progressive tax would bring in tens of billions of dollars a year from the people at the top who are in the best position to afford it.

Regressives are pushing the flat tax as a smokescreen. They’d rather not have anyone talk about the unfairness and fiscal absurdity of the current system.

Rather than merely oppose the flat tax, sensible people should push for a truly progressive tax-- starting with a top rate of 70 percent on that portion of anyone’s income exceeding $5 million, from whatever source.

And any semblance of economic fairness has been as far from the top of Mitt Romney's priorities list as giving up his ambitions to become the first Mormon president.
In his quick, casual reply—corporations are people—Romney had seemed to give something away, though it wasn’t immediately clear what. The press chose to play the episode as a “gaffe,” as ABC’s Jake Tapper described it, a moment in which the weakness in Romney’s political pitch, the gap between his own privileged experience of the world and that of working-class voters, had been exposed. ­MSNBC, in a spate of giddy incredulity, seemed to keep the clip on loop for a week. But Romney’s own campaign managers did not try to obscure the episode at the state fair, to say he had been misunderstood or to secret it away. Instead they promoted it, as an advertisement of principle, and made the confrontation the centerpiece of a solicitation to supporters. A few days later, Romney’s communication director, Gail Gitcho, told the press that the exchange had raised $25,000 within 24 hours.

The incident, in retrospect, did less to peg Romney as a creature of privilege than it did to reveal something deeper. For Romney, the corporation has long been an object of a certain idealism. It is something he has spent much of his adult life—first as a management-strategy consultant, then as CEO of the private-equity firm Bain Capital—working to perfect, to strip of its inefficiencies until it might function as a perfectly frictionless economic unit.

The political genuflection to businessmen is so gauzy and generic that praise for a candidate’s private-sector acumen can often sound phony. But Mitt Romney is the real thing. He was, by any measure, an astonishingly successful businessman, one who spent his career explaining how business might operate better, and who leveraged his own mind into a personal fortune worth as much as $250 million. But much more significantly, Romney was also a business revolutionary. Our economy went through a remarkable shift during the eighties as Wall Street reclaimed control of American business and sought to remake it in its own image. Romney developed one of the tools that made this possible, pioneering the use of takeovers to change the way a business functioned, remaking it in the name of efficiency. “Whatever you think of his politics, you have to give him credit,” says Steven Kaplan, a professor of finance and entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago. “He came up with a model that was very successful and very innovative and that now everybody uses.”

The protests going on at Zuccotti Park now have raised the question of whether that transition was worth it. What emerged from that long decade of change was a system that is more productive, nimble, and efficient than the one it replaced; it is also less equal, less stable, and more brutal. These evolutions were not inevitable. They were the result, in part, of particular innovations developed by a few businessmen beginning a quarter century ago. Now one of them has a good chance of becoming president.

...By the time Mitt Romney left Bain Capital for good, in 1999, American CEOs looked very different from the predecessors he had met in the seventies—the genial paternalists, spending their careers at a single company. More and more, they were pure meritocrats—well-educated, well-compensated, moving frequently between jobs and industries, trained to look ruthlessly for efficiency everywhere. They look a great deal more, in other words, like Mitt Romney.

...[W]hat separates Romney’s plan from Obama’s—and gives some clues about his potential presidency—is its almost-accidental origin. Romney did not begin with a philosophical quest to improve American health care. He began with the idea of himself as a problem solver and asked those around him for a problem that he might usefully solve. I remembered, when I was told this story, an anecdote I’d heard from a former political staffer of Romney’s. On even basic philosophical questions like abortion, the staffer said, Romney did not try to resolve the question in the abstract, as a matter of principle, and would consider instead various hypothetical cases—for instance, a late-term abortion—and build from them a politics. The line that Romney is a flip-flopper may vastly understate the depth of the condition.

It is arresting to imagine a Romney White House, inevitably filled with as many former Bain colleagues as each of his other public ventures have been: The ­PowerPoints, the 80-20 jargon, the clinical separation of decision-making from ideology, the detachment of those decisions from moral consequence, a persistent blind spot for people as people. It would represent the final ascension of a perfectly American type, one that has already remade the culture of business. I once asked a Bain colleague of Romney’s how Romney thought of his own core competence. “I think Mitt thinks he’s good at being Mitt Romney,” the colleague said.

But Romney’s career-long commitment to his own particular brand of impersonal decision-making might suggest something personal after all. One great mystery about Romney has been where his Mormonism comes in and what it explains. Maybe the clearest answer comes from taking at their word the businessmen with whom he came up, who say they never saw its influence. Romney’s religion constitutes a minority set of beliefs. Poorly understood and widely mocked, it can provoke suspicions about his motives. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that he has adopted a public persona that contains no detectable motives at all, one that is buried in objectivity, in data, in process. The best evidence of how important Romney’s religion is to him could be how far he has kept it from view. But the character that remains visible is at once uniquely American and a little strange: a perfectly objective efficiency machine.

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At 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Corporations are people and pet rocks are pets. Queen Elizabeth gave us the limited liability corporation and its been down hill ever since.

At 10:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only reason poor countries are poor is because the rich make all the money. And America will become a poor country. It is only a matter of time.


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