The Economy and Taxation

Article excerpt

I hope the events of September 11 have produced a watershed change of perspective in the United States about civic responsibilities. If they have, then Osama bin Laden will have done us a vast, if unintended, favor.

We had forgotten that we are a society that prospers and lives in secure conditions only collectively. We had forgotten that our fates are entwined and that we have responsibilities toward each other that transcend our private fortunes and ambitions. Recognition of such salient facts are in sharp contrast to the nation that had all but abandoned its founding ideals, the spirit that built the nation and its industrial base, and the love of freedom that led it to shed its blood in defense of freedom at home and abroad, leaving in their place a self-centered, celebrity-fixated culture.

What would a return to fundamental American ideals have to do with taxation? There is a strong faction in the Republican Party that believes progressive taxation is unfair because only taxation in strict proportion to earnings is just. Although I am an opponent of excessively high tax rates, both because they can be unfair and because they can impact on our efforts to protect and support our families, there is ideological tunnel vision in this right-wing, libertarian Republican position.

Yes, success is in part the result of hard work and ability, the rewards of which are deserved. But I know that my individual success is also in part the result of good luck and support from others. Even more important, it could not have been achieved in the absence of the society of which I am a member. I have an obligation to respond more than proportionally because I have profited more than proportionally.

Recognition of such obligation is part of what I was taught as a child. It is essential to being a mensch: literally being a "man" but figuratively being a "human being." I admit that I wish my top tax rate were lower. But when the recent tax reductions were enacted, I would have voted instead for decreases in the regressive Social Security taxes for lower income brackets. These are the brackets in which rent is a huge burden and in which medical and dental care is most difficult to afford.

I know something about this because we were very poor when I was a child. Yes, I succeeded nonetheless, and I am grateful. However, as a supporter of family values, I know the price my family paid. I would rather see my taxes remain high than to lower them at the expense of the poorest among us.

Moreover, as, I hope, an intelligent citizen, I know this is also in the interests of my society and not merely of the poorer among us. The less income the lower classes have, the poorer their health and the less they achieve educationally. …