Folbre blogs, “The Art of Tax War”

Nancy Folbre

Nancy Folbre, economics professor, writes her weekly column in the New York Times Economix blog about the debate over whether Congress should allow the tax cuts passed under former President George W. Bush to expire, or whether only those on the highest income individuals should be allowed to lapse. Folbre argues that while the debate is heated, it generally isn’t based on facts or sound data but rather on ideological perceptions. She notes that many voters believe President Obama has raised taxes, even though that’s not true, and that more than 60 percent of Tea Party activists believe this. (New York Times, 8/2/10)

August 2, 2010
The Art of Tax War

In my view, Citizens for Tax Justice, which describes itself as an advocacy group that strives “to give ordinary people a greater voice” against the “armies of special interest lobbyists for corporations and the wealthy,” offers the most specific and well-documented analysis of the two competing approaches to the Bush tax cuts, those of President Obama and the Congressional Republicans. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have gotten much attention from the news media.

Another strategic goal of opponents of the tax increase is to split and weaken the coalition favoring it. In this context, it is advantageous to label those receiving public assistance (including unemployment insurance) as slackers and cheats. About 47 percent of Americans owed no federal income tax in 2009, which you might think people opposed to federal income taxes would consider good news. Instead, the conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh characterized this as a form of fraud, “worse than anything Bernie Madoff ever thought about doing.”

On the battlefield, in the fog of war, it is often difficult to know exactly what is happening, and why. But those resisting change have the most to gain from fog – or even from blowing smoke – because uncertainty often works in favor of the status quo.

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