FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Incomes, Not Taxes, are the Real Issue

Every year Tax Day, the income tax-filing deadline in the U.S., brings out the usual assortment of right wing cranks and pleading liberals who agree in principal that capitalism, such as it is, is the greatest economic system among the one that they know of but differ on the issue of the redistribution of income. The right-wingers argue that taxes are misappropriation of private property and liberals agree that the property is indeed private but argue that the role of society’s successful is to throw a few coins in the direction of those less fortunate.

Were it one day to be discovered that society’s successful are successful because the less fortunate are less fortunate the terms of this discussion would stand a chance of being relevant. And no infinite regress is required to get there, just one small step back to the distribution of income. For if the initial distribution of income is debatable, then why not debate the issue there?

America is indeed a capitalist nation if capitalism is a system of connected insiders arranging circumstances for their benefit and to everyone else’s detriment. A quick perusal of Fortune’s (the magazine, not the fate) richest has tech pirates who have misappropriated the labor of others; inheritors of big box retail fortunes built also on stolen labor, if second order by choosing low cost suppliers who have themselves stolen the labor; financial tycoons who have profited from stolen labor (corporate profits) and looted banks; and various other lay-abouts and ne’er do wells who did do well when they chose their parents.

Practically speaking, any discussion of redistribution faces the burden of incomes already having been distributed. The natural question from there is: why was income distributed the way that it was if there was something wrong with it? And if there was nothing wrong with it, why should it be redistributed? This logical sequence leaves liberals begging and right-wingers self-righteously apoplectic. So why not cut to the chase?—the  social struggle is over income distribution before it is about  redistribution.

Without being naïve, Americans will probably need to endure a bit more economic hardship at the hands of their political and economic masters before their plight finally sinks in. Polls suggest that somewhere between 11% and 20 % of the population believes that their incomes and hedge fund tycoon Steve Schwarzman’s are approximately equal (top 1%). Another 20% believe that they will one day earn an income equivalent to Mr. Schwarzman’s. To put this as gently as it can be put, these folks’ incomes are a drop of piss to Mr. Schwarzman’s Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

One way to understand the specifics is to spend time with income distribution data. Economist Emmanuel Saez of UC Berkeley has a downloadable data set that shows that today’s large incomes come from the combination of corporate executives who have been given the right to pay themselves in money and company stock as they see fit and a runaway financial system that has corrupt insiders also paying themselves as they see fit on threat of setting off the financial doomsday machines that they have spent the last forty years building.

So again, why does it make sense to ask the gentle souls who have come by their fortunes in these ways to part with a bit of it through taxes when all evidence points to the fact that if they gave a crap they wouldn’t have come by their fortunes in these ways in the first place? When Steve Schwarzman (hedge fund tycoon referenced above) complained that being forced to pay a tax rate on his income like it was “ordinary” income was comparable to the Nazi invasion of Poland, a gauntlet was thrown down.

As income distribution data is relatively common and easy to find, information alone will obviously not be the singular force of change. Another, possibly more constructive, way of moving this conversation forward (a euphemism, possibly for a guillotine) is to reframe the issues so that clarity abounds. Were we, the people, to simply not go along by having a national general strike on May 1st, 2012 to shut down key infrastructure then possibly the idea might begin to occur that rich folk aren’t islands. Were the strike to continue until the idea has been firmly planted, that would be even better.

The annual parade of screamers and beggars on Tax Day should end. Discussions of taxes mis-locate the points of contention. Misinformation about income distribution—who it goes to, where it comes from, and in what amounts, is the currency of this misguided debate. Action for social justice should focus attention where it belongs. Occupy Wall Street and a coalition of unions and immigrant rights groups have called for a national General Strike on May 1st, 2012 to bring attention to social justice issues including income inequality. It probably won’t be an end, but it will definitely be a beginning.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.

More articles by:

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

June 20, 2018
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Are Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail