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“#TaxMe” Movement is Needed if We Ever Expect to Stem Inequality

May 17, 2018

Five years ago I attended a week-long session at Chataqua on the impact of technology on our culture. The talks were compelling, the music performed by symphony was beautiful, and the environment was reminiscent of the campus at Penn where I attended graduate school. One of the souvenirs I brought back from the week was a pin that read “Tax Me”. It conveyed a powerful message: it showed that the wearer was willing to have their taxes increased in order to provide the government services needed to ensure that all citizens had an equal opportunity: that children would no longer be raised in poverty; that everyone would have the health care they need; that everyone would experience the same services as those who lived in the most affluent communities.

Our local newspaper, the Valley News, features an article by Megan McCardle titled “A Reckoning is Coming for the Blue States” that describes the need for a “Tax Me” movement among idealistic liberal voters. In the article, which originally appeared in the Washington Post, Ms. McCardle describes how our tax policies before the GOP passed its reform package a few months ago favored the upper middle class, a structure that was effectively reinforced by both political parties. She writes:

Over the past few decades, the United States has undergone “the Big Sort,” the clumping of the electorate into demographically, professionally and politically homogenous neighborhoods. Clinton voters have their ZIP codes, and Donald Trump voters theirs, and ever more rarely do the twain meet. Democratic voters have crammed themselves into a handful of the most economically successful counties, heavily concentrated in narrow strips along the coasts. There they’ve formed a coalition of affluent, educated professionals and lower-income minorities. That coalition used its prosperity to fund expensive, intensive state and local governments.

Ms. McCardle doesn’t explain how the tax code enabled the “affluent, educated professionals” to deduct state and local taxes helped them use their “…prosperity to fund expensive, intensive state and local governments”, but when the tax reform package was being considered the impact of the cap on state and local tax deductions was widely covered in the media. Here’s the way it works for the “affluent, educated professionals“: when those who earn in the top 20% pay higher state and local taxes to provide themselves with better schools, better parks, smoother roads, and better police and fire protection, those tax payments were deducted from their gross earnings when they calculated their federal taxes. This lowered the federal taxes they needed to pay and that, in turn, reduced the federal funds available. Those federal funds could arguably be used to help underwrite the kinds of expansive government programs the “affluent, educated professionals” who live in Blue states desire, programs like single payer health insurance, a more secure safety net for those who are disadvantaged, and improvements to the national infrastructure. Thus, progressives, all of whom are presumably “affluent, educated professionals“, are in a bind: 

Thanks to the Big Sort, those folks are now concentrated in coastal cities where competition from others like themselves, and blue-state taxes, raise the cost of living sky-high. Compared with their neighbors, they don’t feel especially rich; they feel as though they’re struggling just to pay for the basics. Eventually, however, Democrats are going to have to either give up their big dreams or hand those voters the bill, because they’re the ones with most of the money. This creates a certain cognitive dissonance for progressives.

I know I would need to pay more taxes if a progressive tax plan like Bernie Sanders advocates was put in place. Based on my personal income and the amount I currently pay for health insurance and based on an algorithm on Bernie Sanders’ web page the amount would be somewhere between $700 and $1500. I’m OK with that if it results in everyone getting health care.

In the past several months, we’ve seen the emergence of the #MeToo movement by women who have experienced discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace. At some juncture those of us who are willing to pay more for better government services, which includes those of us who have sorted ourselves into “economically successful counties” need to launch a #TaxMe movement, for, as Bernie Sanders acknowledged, everyone is going to have to chip in a little bit in order for us to gain a lot as a nation. 

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