Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Populism of the Privileged"

E.J. Dionne has an excellent opinion piece on the actual constituency of the Tea Party:
Their [the NYT and CBS pollsters] findings suggest that the Tea Party is essentially the reappearance of an old anti-government far right that has always been with us and accounts for about one-fifth of the country. The Times reported that Tea Party supporters "tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45." They are also more affluent and better educated than Americans as a whole. This is the populism of the privileged. ... The poll found that while only 38 percent of all Americans said that "providing government benefits to poor people encourages them to remain poor," 73 percent of Tea Party partisans believed this.
And, of course, a populism of privilege is no populism at all. Tea Party politics would hurt the condition of the poor and disadvantaged. Take, for example, the Tea Party's "Contract From America". There are some universal principles there, but there are also several principles that betray the privileged status of its constituency.
3. Demand a Balanced Budget: Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike. (69.69%)
A two-thirds majority would make tax increases extraordinarily difficult at a time when the top marginal income tax rate is very low compared to its post-war high (which was also the time when income inequality was at a low point, "The Great Compression"). The privileged, not the poor or middle class, would benefit the most from a required supermajority for tax rate increases.
4. Enact Fundamental Tax Reform: Adopt a simple and fair single-rate tax system by scrapping the internal revenue code and replacing it with one that is no longer than 4,543 words—the length of the original Constitution. (64.90%)
A flat tax is inherently regressive (as opposed to progressive, where the rich pay a higher percentage than the poor). Granted, certain flat tax systems could be more progressive than others, but in the end all of them would have the rich paying much less tax than they do now.
7. Defund, Repeal, & Replace Government-run Health Care: Defund, repeal and replace the recently passed government-run health care with a system that actually makes health care and insurance more affordable by enabling a competitive, open, and transparent free-market health care and health insurance system that isn’t restricted by state boundaries. (56.39%)
Health care reform has been debated endlessly at this point. What I'd point out is that it is the working poor and lower middle class who stand to benefit the most from the recently passed health care reform. To defund and repeal it would be to take away from them guaranteed health care insurance and lower their standard of living. It would benefit, of course, those who already had enough money to carry health insurance under the pre-reform system.
10. Stop the Tax Hikes: Permanently repeal all tax hikes, including those to the income, capital gains, and death taxes, currently scheduled to begin in 2011. (53.38%)
This is a blatant give-away to the privileged. Capital gains tax and the estate tax ("death tax") are the most progressive taxes we have. Only about 5,500 estates pay any estate tax (contrast this with the 70% of individuals who owe income taxes). Seventy-five percent of those estates come from the top 10% of wage earners. One-third come from the top one percent. The top ten percent of wage earners pay 94% of the estate taxes. (Source.) A decrease in the estate tax would be a major boon to the rich. This would also be true of the capital gains. See "What is the effect of a lower [capital gains] tax rate?".

Now you may believe in trickle down economics, that policies favoring the rich will somehow benefit everyone else. There's plenty of evidence that it doesn't. Google it if you want all the numbers and charts. What I want is for people to be honest about this. Quit pretending that these policies are anything but defenses of the wealth and status of the privileged. Quit misleading voters who would not benefit from your policies by wrapping them in patriotic language.

For myself, I agree with Matthew Yglesias:
Conservatives side with business over unions and environmentalists, with police and prosecutors over criminal defendants, with nationalists against cosmopolitans, with majoritarian ethnic and religious groups against annoying weirdos, and with the military against peaceniks.
And, I should add, with the rich over the poor and the powerful over the weak. It is for that reason that I am not a conservative.

About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.