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Dan Sweeney

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Want Better Income Equality? Raise Taxes.

Posted: 05/24/11 07:00 PM ET

I flipped through the slideshow on Huffington Post today that ranked the nations with the worst income equality. New Zealand, Italy, the U.K. ... not the countries that first spring to mind. But then I got to the top. The worst countries for income equality: 4. The United States, 3. Turkey, 2. Mexico, 1. Chile.

That stopped me. The U.S., Mexico and Chile. Where had I seen those three countries ranked together recently? I knew it was around my desk or on my PC somewhere, among all the reports, propaganda, white papers, yellowed papers and myriad other political pieces that make up my daily reading, God help me.

Ah, yes! There it was. Mentioned as an aside at the end of this article by Stephen Foster at Thepragmaticprogressive.org.

The fact is, we pay for the lifestyle we expect. Without taxes, our lifestyles would be totally different and much harder. America would be a third world country. The less we pay, the less we get in return. Americans pay less taxes today since 1958 and is ranked 32nd out of 34 of the top tax paying countries. Chile and Mexico are 33rd and 34th. The Republicans are lying when they say that we pay the highest taxes in the world and are only attacking taxes to reward corporations and the wealthy and to weaken our infrastructure and way of life. So next time you object to paying taxes or fight to abolish taxes for corporations and the wealthy, keep this quote in mind...

"I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes

The rest of the article is a summation of various things our taxes pay for, and that therefore the anti-tax crowd should not use -- things like 911 and national parks. But it was that casual aside at the end of the article that stuck with me as I read through the HuffPost slideshow. To connect the dots, then, among developing and developed nations, the countries with the worst income equality are the ones with the lowest tax burden.

This is not a coincidence. The tea party is fond of saying that the government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. This is, as is typical of tea-party "truisms," stupid. Income inequality is the issue of our times, or at the very least, the most important issue that receives next to no coverage in the media. This list of graphs more or less defines the problem.

The Bush tax cuts created gaping holes in America's revenue stream and, as they have since the days of Reagan, Republicans have howled about high taxes and then, once they were cut, howled about our "bloated government" and inability to pay for anything, as though the massive losses of revenue had nothing to do with the fact.

We have a paltry social safety net in this country, and yet when we start talking about tightening the nation's belt, it's that pathetic, threadbare net that gets the closest look. This is not merely stupid. This is insanity. As much as I'm loathe to credit Ronald Reagan with anything, his tax level for millionaires seems about right -- 47.7 percent. The idea that Congress seems unable to rescind the Bush tax cuts and take that level from 32.4 to 36.4 percent is a sad comment on just how utterly in thrall to these moneyed interests Congress is.

What little we do for the poor in this country should be the last thing we look at in solving our nation's fiscal crisis. It's what we do for those who need none of our aid that should receive the first -- and the hardest -- look. End subsidies for profitable industries like oil. Raise taxes on the top 1 percent (who, by the way, own 60.6 percent of all financial securities, including 38.3 percent of all stocks and mutual funds) by 10 percent. End the truly bloated military-industrial complex that now ships our people to about 150 countries, including more than 30 in Europe, and demands ever-increasing high-end defense budgets as though we were still fighting the Cold War.

And then, maybe, we can talk about Medicare.

 

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