Class warfare from the Bush administration

Remember how the Bushies denounced any attempt to determine the allocation of the Bush tax cuts among the income percentiles as “class warfare”? Turns out Republicans don’t believe in preaching class warfare; they just go ahead and practice it. As in all wars, truth is the first casualty.

The Treasury Department and the Council of Economic Advisers are hard at work on increasing taxes for the non-rich. First step: redefinition. Let’s make the current system look more progressive than it is, so we can then make it less progressive without feeling guilty.

[The convention of ignoring the regressivity of state and local taxes, and treating the federal system as if it existed in a vacuum, is too well established to be worth mentioning, so I won’t. But Timothy Noah at Slate does, with links to the numbers.]

Since the payroll tax for Social Security is the federal tax that hits the non-wealthy hardest, the folks at Treasury have now decided that — could I possibly make this stuff up? — they’re not taxes after all. Why not? Because the people who pay them later collect benefits. (No one who pays income tax, of course, gets any benefit at all out of the programs the income tax supports.)

Isn’t that a pleasant surprise? Of course, if they’re not taxes, than the payouts from Social Security aren’t “government spending,” either. Can we expect that from now on the estimates of the share of government spending in GDP are going to be adjusted accordingly?

A few weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal had an editorial lamenting that lower-income Americans didn’t carry their fair share of the tax burden. It was carefully weasel-worded to avoid drawing the obvious inference, but the distance from saying that someone’s taxes are too low to proposing that they should be increased isn’t really very great. However, when Paul Krugman reported that the WSJ was urging a tax increase for the poor, he was promptly called a liar by the usual claque: Andrew Sullivan for example.

I’m waiting to hear some apologies to Krugman.

…I’m still waiting….

Hello? Hello?

Oh, forget it. How about a little outrage on the substance, though?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com