Sunday, April 19, 2009

Immature Politics

While I try to remain optimistic about the political landscape and the possibility that Americans are capable of understanding complex issues, something like the "Tea Party" protests come around to shake that optimism. I am a huge fan of populist anger and outpourings of that sentiment, however these recent protests don't meet those standards. The intellectually lazy and misguided protests were organized around an extremely wide range of issues, some more disturbing than others.  Some issues (though the whole thing lacked a coherent message) included socialism (seriously, are you kidding me), communism (where are you people getting this), big government, and the always easy target "high taxes." The protests seemed less like a coherent statement and more like a temper tantrum for an increasingly marginalized and powerless wing of the Republican party.  It is pretty easy to have a protest against such strawmen and pretend that it moves any discussion forward. I am always amazed by the people protesting these issues and how little they understand about the role of public spending in all aspects of their life. Everything from the safety of our food, to our education system, to the roads we drive on are all dependent on government subsidies. Many often pretend that it is the market that allows this to happen, but there is no part of the market that is not dependent on government regulation and subsidies, either directly or indirectly. Taxes are a necessity and the best we can do is ensure the accountability of the spending and push for more transparency. Working to assess the quality of the spending and adjusting public policy accordingly allows for a more coherent and effective system. 

However, as people who actually study these issues will tell you (as opposed to those taping tea bags on a hat), much of the problem of the perceived "high taxes" is a result of the increasingly regressive tax system in the U.S. As a result of tax cuts and increased legal loopholes, the wealthy in the U.S. are paying less in taxes than they did during the Eisenhower administration. By one analysis, reverting to a more progressive tax system would bring a net revenue of $450 billion dollars a YEAR. While raising taxes during a recession is not a good idea, it is something that will have to be addressed at some point, hopefully in the near future. A more progressive taxation system would benefit all Americans. Decreasing the massive inequalities in the U.S. would do a world of good in a variety of areas. Inequality negatively affects things like health, anxiety, social activity, political involvement, and social well-being. A real tax agenda would work to create a tax code that is fair for all but progressive in focus. However, my optimism for such a system is extremely low. Tax issues are complex and I don't hold much hope that the public will come up to speed quickly (or at all), particularly given the media's lack of complexity on the issue (given their barron's are among the wealth elite that benefit from the current system).