Skip to content

Classical War!

© Ed Stein

[commentary from Ed Stein]

You knew this was inevitable. The Republicans have fallen back on their tried-and-true talking point, the one they use every time anyone asks for some simple fairness in the tax code. It’s class warfare. Never mind that the wealth of the nation has shifted dramatically to the richest Americans, that, in fact, America now boasts an income inequality that would make a Third World despot blush. One of the reasons we’re mired in this recession is that the middle class has lost so much economic clout it can’t spend what it used to, and it’s getting worse day by day. In saner times, politicians understood the value of a progressive tax structure. Now one party fights like a cornered animal to protect the assets of those who need the least protection, and ignores the needs of the rest of us. They call progressive taxes, derisively, “redistribution of wealth,” as though that’s a bad thing. Redistributing wealth is what governments do, at least when they’re doing their job. They take our tax money and give it to soldiers, policemen, firemen, sewage workers, trash collectors and the others we hire to keep our country functioning, and we take slightly more from the wealthy because, well, they can afford it, leaving the rest of us with enough to buy a few luxuries and keep the economy humming. When things get out of whack, as they are now, and we ask to restore what’s worked in the past, and it’s “class warfare.” As Warren Buffet famously noted, it’s a war the rich have already won.



  1. TENTHIRTYTWO wrote:

    I was asked once on a forum to defend progressive taxation. Why was it not fair that everyone paid their share?

    The issue at hand is that we are not talking about people attending a party. When people attend a party and you collect money to help pay for the festivities, and we would probably consider it fair that everyone pay the same share.

    But this same simple analogy does not extrapolate to taxation. And the reason it doesn’t is that we are no longer talking about parties; we are talking about survival. Every human being requires some amount of money to survive. This money must cover food, water, shelter, etc.

    Once you have breached the survival level of income, you are now in luxury level. Now you can afford to do things like buy a bigger house, a nice car, and invest your money.

    With the exception of medical conditions, the survival amount is approximately the same no matter who you are. What changes is the luxury level. Rewording the “fair share” argument, I believe that most people would agree that it is actually quite unfair, as well as unethical:

    “I believe it is better that a poor person sacrifice to taxation $500 that they need in order to survive, in order to prevent a billionaire from sacrificing $50,000 to taxation that they will never miss.”

    Put more bluntly, it is wrong to ask someone to give money that they need to eat so that a rich person can afford to purchase a 15th helicopter.

    This is a simple idea that should resonate with most Americans. Democrats will never be able to fully sell the “it’s not class warfare” argument due to the size of the right wing loudspeaker, and I wish I heard more of them attempting to push some of these ideas.

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 5:11 am | Permalink
  2. Jeff wrote:

    The problem is that the GOP has successfully infused these buzz words into the debate: socialism, class warfare, redistribution of wealth, communism, and fascism. They use these words, and only these words, to describe increasing taxes on the wealthy. They bemoan the fall of the small business owner, neglecting the fact that their own policies have done more to hurt small business than what the Dems have put forth. People have begun to associate things like higher taxes on the rich with negative, anti-American ideas, even though that’s not accurate, and so are fighting against the idea they have formed in their own minds, even to their destruction.

    What makes sense is for America to try and redistribute the power and money in this country so as to return our economy and people to a more balanced and productive state. As Robert Creamer recently posted, it’s the GOP that have been stoking class warfare, though in their case they are looking to destroy the middle class. Their policies have directly and negatively impacted the middle class, which is the best indication of our nations health, wealth and prosperity. When the middle class does poorly, so does America. Our middle class is shrinking and being systematically dismantled, and our economy is rocky.

    It’s time to get things back on track. Balancing taxes, whittling away the power and influence of the wealthy, and re-establishing a strong middle class will do more for our economy than all the deregulation and tax cuts in the world.

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 6:11 am | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    I think Jeff’s line of thinking will work better than the fairness argument put forth by 1032. Given the current level of discourse, saying that it is “fair” that the rich pay a higher percentage of their income may not work very well. But it is a much better argument to point out that when we have a strong middle class, everyone, including the rich, do better.

    Also crucial is opportunity. That’s the American dream — the land of opportunity. Anyone willing to work hard and take risks should have the same fighting chance to succeed; not just the rich or well connected. These are the foundations of America, which we seem to be losing.

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink
  4. Dan wrote:

    Class warfare is real, my class won- Warren Buffet

    Elizabeth Warren said it very well.

    I posted Warren on facebook, and a friend commented; “Sorry….guess I have to disagree…..I hope she never gets elected…just another Obamanation socialist sycophant”
    In the words of Jon Stewart- Do these people even know the definition of socialism? (after Fox News called Buffet a socialist)

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 7:39 am | Permalink
  5. H. Rider Haggard wrote:

    If the rich aren’t paying at least 30% of their income as taxes, they’re being unpatriotic.

    How so? Tea Party guru Dick Armey posited years ago that there’s an optimum government spending rate, as a proportion of GDP, which maximizes economic growth. That rate is in the range of 30-33%. Less than that tends to anarchy and chaos, as in present Russia. More than that tends to starve the economy.

    So a Randian enlightened self interest dictates that taxing at the Armey optimum rate is a moral imperative for the rich. As for the poor, well, you can’t squeeze blood from a rock.

    And a hedge fund manager being taxed at 15% is not pulling his own weight. Why does he hate America?

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  6. ebdoug wrote:

    So far no one is mentioning that Truman and Eisenhower put a special tax on those over 1 million to finance World War II. This is special tax is to finance Baby Bush’s mess. His friends made it, his friends should pay for it “you break it, you pay for it.”

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 8:30 am | Permalink
  7. Arthanyel wrote:

    Republican statements are based on conservative talking points, not economic analysis. “Taking money out of the hands job creators” is a talking point. How about “paying for the government services that we AS A NATION have decided to implement”? Because all of that “spending” was generated by our own elected representatives, elected in a democratic and open process, to implement the will of the people.

    Unrestrained capitalism doesn’t work any better than unrestrained socialism – both systems assume that human beings won’t act like human beings. For all the Republicans screaming about “stop taxing job creators” we have steadily lowered taxes on them for 13 years and we have produced a net NEGATIVE job growth. So it is simply insane to believe if we just cut taxes more things will get better – they HAVE BEEN getting better, MUCH better, for the top 5%, at the expense of the bottom 95%.

    And conservatives mostly try to avoid articulating exactly what their ideology means in pratical impacts. Do they really believe we should take food out of the mouths of hungry children, throw the poor out in the streets to be homeless, take away medical care from the old and sick, and borrow money from China so that billionaires can make even MORE money? Because that is EXACTLY what they are suggesting.

    We have to cut spending. We have to systematically go through EVERY government program and eliminate those that the majority of the country believes are no longer desired – like paying to station 55,000 soldiers in Germany, paying government benefits intended for citizens to non-citizens, or rewarding teachers that are non-performers while firing good performers just because of low seniority. We have to restructure our safety net programs (especially Medicare and Medicaid) to stop medical cost growth at 3 times the rate of inflation and insure that retirement actually is self-sustaining. Anyone that says otherwise (and I am talking to the left wing extremists) is living in a fantasy. We MUST do ALL of these things to prosper in the future.

    And we have to raise taxes, and eliminate unnecessary subsidies and corporate deductions. We have to turn the curve of the last 30 years around, where the rich get richer at an ever increasing pace while the middle class and the poor are stagnant or lose ground. We need to have a curve like we had the PREVIOUS 30 years, from 1950 to 1980, where everyone’s wealth was increasing, and about evenly across the board. During which we had marginal tax rates on the rich as high as 91% – and no one today is even considering over 40%. Anyone that says otherwise (and I am talking to the right wing extremists) is living in a fantasy. We MUST do ALL of these things to prosper in the future.

    And so we need a government that will ACT and make major changes, because major changes are needed. I don’t like the idea of living in the Democratic Party’s vision of the future, but if the choice is that or the Republican’s vision, I would rather have Democrats – or, to put it in the “127 Hours” context, I would rather sacrifice my arm than my life.

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  8. Jeff wrote:

    Arthanyel, what you say sounds great. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees on how to accomplish all of that. Some of what you say is in direct conflict with the established beliefs of some politicians. I agree with just about everything you have to say, but I also value diversity of opinion. No one group has the perfect solution; Democrats challenge the authority of private business and Republicans challenge the authority of government. When they work together, the American People win. Unfortunately, they aren’t working together right now.

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  9. “They take our tax money and give it to soldiers, policemen, firemen, sewage workers, trash collectors and the others we hire to keep our country functioning, and we take slightly more from the wealthy because, well, they can afford it[.]” I hate the last part of this argument, and I hear it all the time.

    No, we don’t take more from the wealthy simply because “they can afford it”. We take more from them because they are benefiting even more than the rest of us from the stable economy and solid infrastructure that enables them to run their business/manage their investments. It is because of the redistribution of wealthy that we had the boom in industry and technology that they then got rich from. It is because of the redistribution of wealth that our currency is the default, and our treasury bonds the “safe” place to run to. It is because of the redistribution of wealth that they can make secure, long term projections about future spending and investments, because we live in a stable society.

    Or we did. And it will be because of the failure to successfully redistribute the wealth that the wealthy, with their businesses, will need to either completely offshore themselves or ride out the internal disruptions that plague countries that don’t successfully maintain the public good.

    We don’t charge the wealthy more than they are already benefiting from our society. In fact, we charge them way too little. And they will see the results of that failure to charge them accordingly when it becomes clear that they can no longer thrive in the US.

    So, yes, I hate that argument. It makes it seem like the policy is unfair to the wealthy, when the opposite is the truth. It’s unfair to the rest of us to let them get away with not paying their proportional fair share.

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  10. Arthanyel wrote:

    Jeff – agreed on all counts. A diversity of opinion, with all parties at the table, fighting for their beliefs but being willing to work together and compromise for the greater good is how the system is SUPPOSED to work. But as you say, that isn’t working now, so what do we do? I joined No Labels to work for a bi-partisan solution, but it has become strikingly clear that as long as there are Republicans that refuse to compromise under even the most bizarre circumstances, we will not be able to get anything done – and we are running out of time.

    Yes, some of the things we MUST do are directly in conflict with the belief of some politicians (and citizens). That said, to paraphrase Obama’s last sound bite – “this is not about ideology. It’s about math.” Although there are solution sets that are mathematically possible without doing all of these things, they would require drastic changes that (based on many polls) the significant majority of Americans refuse to accept, or lead to problems that make the “cure” worse than the disease. Of course there are things individuals don’t agree with – even at the best of times, 20% to 35% of the citizens disagree with whatever is proposed. But that doesn’t mean what they want is workable – or logically possible.

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  11. Reed Elliott wrote:

    By the way – that’s “share the burden” like they used to do prior to the past 20 years of almost continuous “favored” status under one Republican(‘t) President after another – especially including Saint Ronnie!

    Friday, September 23, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink
  12. Sammy wrote:

    I choose to applaud (standing O, in fact) both 1032’s fairness commentary and Jeff’s analysis of GOP-infused talking points equating to economic analysis.

    Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink