Reverting to the Mean

If you lived in America before 1913 and weren’t rich, you were paying a whole hell of a lot more in taxes, proportionally speaking, than the men and women who, for all intents and purposes, owned the country.  Through a system of excise taxes, tariffs and fees, the bulk of which fell disproportionally on the working, middle and agricultural classes, the government financed its rather limited aims.  Throughout most of the course of the century after 2013, American politics moved steadily towards a more progressive model of taxation.

It was nearly a century ago now, on February 3rd, 1913, that the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified and the federal government (and subsequently, the states) then had the power to directly tax income.  It was around this time that the country was beginning to want more government (a movement that, somewhat counterintuitively, was started by progressive Republican Teddy Roosevelt).  The federal government and most states, one by one, instituted an income tax.  This had the effect of both providing more money for governments to use as they saw fit (wars, healthcare, infrastructure, etc.) and also had the added bonus of taxes, for the first time in the US being apportioned according ability to pay.

And for years, that model worked.  The further up the income chain you go, understandably, the less popular it is.  Because the more money you earn, the more you pay in taxes.  And while nobody likes paying taxes, as Oliver Wendell Holmes acidly noted in an opinion from about a century ago, they’re the price we pay for living in a civilized society.  However, a trend is accelerating, one that began, I think in the 1980s.  Some states are looking to get rid of their income and corporate taxes entirely (or at least greatly reduce), and replace them with, you guessed it, sales taxes, user fees and a myriad of other charges that let the wealthy escape entirely undertaxed.

Their argument goes something like this: tax the job creators less, and we’ll have more jobs, more growth and more revenue, which means that we’ll have even more revenue, eventually.  The problem with this policy is that the country’s been trying it since it was first proposed by Ronald Reagan, and the revenue hasn’t materialized.  Statistically, mathematically, politically and economically, it just boils down to a massive tax break for those that need tax relief the least.  It’s the economic equivalent of hallucinations or paranoid delusion: magical thinking at its worst.

This is a mistake which comes at a particularly damaging time.  In the first place, the US is barreling towards a self-inflicted fiscal crisis, which, if ignored, will decimate our economy.  Republicans say we just have a spending problem, but as nobody seems to agree on what to do with those entitlement programs we ardently adore (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid), and we’re not going to either get rid of those programs, or cut them to the point where they’re fiscally sustainable.  As a country, we’ve already decided that we’re going to keep the programs, which means as we’ve already decided what we want, means that we have a taxation problem.  And the second part of the problem is that if we revert to a program of taxation that falls disproportionally on the middle and lower classes, that’s just one more thing that they can look forward to, on top of spiraling grocery, healthcare, college and housing bills.  That’s bad politics, bad for the economy and it’s just wrong.

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Gaming the System

Out of the past six presidential elections, Republican candidates have lost the popular vote five times.  Party identification is declining.  The party is getting much older, and much whiter, than mainstream American society.  The base demands policies that run counter both to common sense and empirical sense.  And so, instead of demanding change in the form of a fundamental overhaul as to what modern American conservatism should look like, Republicans have begun the process of tampering with the way that presidential elections are won.

In short, we don’t have a single presidential election in America, we have fifty separate elections, each conducted by the states, and with the electoral votes being allocated according to state laws.  Historically, the understanding of this is that when a candidate wins a majority of the vote goes to a candidate, the electoral votes do as well.  However, two states, Maine and Nebraska, use a different system.  The electoral votes are apportioned according to the winner of each Congressional district.  Meaning, if Mitt Romney won Nebraska by a landslide, he’d get the electoral votes in those districts where he won, but not in the district that covers Omaha, traditionally a Democratic stronghold.  Maine has had this system since 1972 and Nebraska since 1996.

Now, measures are before state legislatures in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia.  All are states voted for President Obama in the past two electoral cycles.  The move is not being considered in any traditional Republican strongholds in either the west or the south.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has said that he’ll keep an open mind if a bill passes through the state legislature.  Given his waffling on right to work legislation and his sudden about-face on that issue, his current verbage all but assures that he would indeed sign it.  And if states in the Great Lakes region did so, it would become nearly impossible for a Democratic candidate to ever set foot in the White House for generations.

This is not hyperbole.  This is not lefty handwringing over an imaginary issue.  This fundamentally affects each and every single one of us for many reasons.  Namely, it is yet another attempt on the part of the troglodytic GOP to resort to ever more corrupt tactics in trying to force their agenda down the throat of a country that does not want it.  And you can be sure that if this bill comes to a vote in Lansing, the demonstrations that we saw over RTW would look like a walk in the park.  See you in Lansing.

From the Professional Left: Barack’s Binders

From time to time, it occurs to me that certain segments of the Democratic party love to bitch.  Who doesn’t, but the manner in which some of the more sanctimonious liberals do so is idiotic.  The topic is of minor significance, but there’s just got to be some bitching.  Specifically, I’m referring to the allegations that the President second term cabinet picks aren’t ‘diverse’ enough.  Ahem.

Bullshit.  For starters, let’s look at the overall administration that’s making the appointments: it’s headed by A BLACK PRESIDENT.  I’m not going to bother with a regurgitation of all of the women and people of color in positions of authority, but they’re there, and there’s lots of them.  Not to mention far more than have been included in any Republican administration.

What I find particularly striking about this little pissing match is that it’s self-inflicted.  The loudest whines are coming from the ‘professional left’ segment of the Democratic party.  Their goal is it ‘out-left’ your average Democrat so as to assume a veil of moral superiority.  They can’t move a legislative agenda, and they can’t get much of anything else done, but they are very, very adept at bitching.

In the coming months are fights about spending and taxation that will define the landscape of American political and economic geography for a generation to come.  The very idea of what government does and how it’s going to pay for it, along with the shaping the contours of our economy are up for a fight, and it’s going to be a tough one against the most obstinate political opposition this country has seen since the 1960s.

And here we are, reverting to the failed mindset of the Democratic party of 1984.  This is the kind of antics that makes most of the country collectively sigh and roll their eyes, assuming that they’re even paying attention in the first place.  It may well be that this is just a headline driven forward by media that needs something to fill the void that the fiscal cliff left us with.  But if we Democrats start to get too concerned with who is doing the work rather than actually concerned if the work is getting done (let alone being done well), well, then we might as well just nominate Jimmy Carter again, because that’s about as likely a candidate as we’d be able to get back in the White House if we keep up the bitching.