The Dues We Pay

Dear Group,

The dues we pay for our membership in society, the money that city, county, state, and national governments gather, those dues fund goods and services from which we all benefit. We can (and do) argue about exactly what that funding should be used for and whether it is being spent wisely. We wince when we pay our property taxes and sales taxes, we grumble as we file our income tax, but without these dues most of the physical and societal structures on which we all depend to one degree or another would not exist (or might exist only for use by the monied few, e.g. toll roads).

Roads, railroad rights-of-way, airports, air traffic control, shipping ports, fire protection, education, the public health system, sewers, sewerage treatment, drinkable water, the judicial system, the police all function to one degree or another on the dues we pay to cities, counties, states and the federal government. No wealthy person anywhere in the world (and certainly no wealthy person in this country) made their money without benefitting from these dues. The idea of a pure “self-made man” (or woman) is a libertarian myth. Underpinning every “self-made” wealthy person is a myriad of publicly funded structures, plus the judicial system and law enforcement on which their success depends. The richest among us have benefitted the most. It is only fitting they pay back a much higher portion of their monetary winnings as the dues that hold together the fabric of society upon which we are all dependent. (Elizabeth Warren makes this point better than I in a 2 minute 2011 youtube video you should watch.)

The Republican/Libertarians, including our very own McMorris Rodgers, tried to sell us on the idea an even greater reduction in the dues the wealthy pay to live in the society would benefit everyone. The bill was called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Among its many provisions was a reduction of the top income tax bracket from 39.6% to 37% for tax year 2018. The Republicans crowed about the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, how it was going to be “money in your pocket,” Did you notice as the November elections approached “money in your pocket” dropped out of McMorris Rodgers’ rhetoric? Did her messaging prowess help her keep her supposed position of power as Chair of the House Republican Caucus? No. Her message fell flat. She and her cohort abandoned talking up their signature achievement. Instead it was properly framed as a tax giveaway to the wealthy. 

McMorris Rodgers does not clearly say she advocates for “trickle down economics” but her rhetoric is clear: give the titans of industry, the movers and shakers (like her “positive disruptor,” Mr. Trump) more money and they will expand the economy and we’ll all be better off. OK. There are more jobs now in our wobbly, overstimulated economy, but the wealthy have become wealthier and the gap between them and the average worker continues to grow, fueled by a massive increase in national debt. 

Have the Republican/Libertarians overreached in their effort to make toxic the very word “tax”? Perhaps. We all need to pay our dues, but “To whom much is given much is expected.” We the People have given much to the wealthy and too little of it trickles down. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the progressive dancing firebrand newly elected to Congress from the Bronx is openly advocating a 70-80% tax on very high incomes. Is this nuts? Well, consider: “…it’s a policy nobody has ever implemented, aside fromthe United States, for 35 years after World War II — including the most successful period of economic growth in our history.” [the bold is mine.] I urge you to read the opinion piece in the New York Times by Paul Krugman, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics (2008), from January 5, 2019 from which I took that quote. Ocasio-Cortez is no dummy. The top income tax bracket topped 90% for several years between 1940 and 1965. Of course, the wealthy did not like 90% then any more than they like 37% now. 

With a widening income gap, growing national debt, and crumbling infrastructure it is time to change the narrative around taxation. Taxes are the dues we pay to be citizens.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. “Trickle down” economics descended from what’s been dubbed the “Horse and Sparrow Theory” of the late 1800s: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.” Providing the rich and corporations with more money in order to better the average person is an economic theory worthy of the vehicle in which the half-digested oats reach the sparrows. 

P.P.S. A much less emphasized part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubled the inheritance tax exemption to 11.18 million dollars, enabling the wealthy to pass on untaxed more than twice the previous amount without even bothering to engage in the fiscal shenanigans the Trump family engaged in. The bogus Republican messaging about the “death tax” and bankrupting “family farms” was nowhere to be heard. That messaging, pushed by “think tanks” had served its purpose…in the glee of the Republican Congress the doubling passed with no fanfare. No doubt there was quiet celebration among some of the uber-wealthy.