No representation without taxation

Amity Shlaes


Kai Ryssdal: Those famed secret Swiss bank accounts are going to be getting a little less secret. The Swiss finance minister said today he's going to loosen up secrecy laws to keep Switzerland off a European black list of tax havens.

Back here at home it's not tax havens so much that politicians are worried about, it's tax increases. President Obama's going to have to deal with criticism from both sides of the aisle in Congress as he works out his budget plan for next year. Commentator Amity Shlaes says the discussion can't forget the lower ends of the tax charts.

Amity Shlaes: Taxation without representation. That's what our nation's founders rebelled against. Subjects in the colonies were sending money home to the crown without getting say in their own government. The course of U.S. history can be seen as progress by those who are taxed to get representation. Think of women with the 19th Amendment.

Along the way we began to pay out money to groups that paid no income tax at all. There's Medicare, of course, for senior citizens, even if they never worked; welfare for the poor and struggling, at least through the 90s. And, more recently, there's the earned income tax credit, a break for low income workers. The credit was designed to make people want to work and to offset their heavy pension payments for Social Security. The result of expanding it, however, is that many people who work don't pay income tax. Instead, they get money back.

Do we want to help weaker citizens, especially in downturns? Totally. In fact, both parties have plans that relieve yet more taxpayers of their burden. Republicans like payroll tax holidays. And the Obama administration is zeroing out the income tax obligations of yet more citizens.

But a tipping point does come when too many are paying out and too few are paying in. Maybe that tipping point is now. Today, households in the bottom half of earners pay only 4 percent of the income taxes. One tiny group, the top 1 percent, pays close to 40 percent.

This can slow the economic recovery we're waiting for. Top earners won't want to keep producing if their burden gets much heavier. But the more important problem is a problem of civics. All presidents talk about the need for community. We strengthen that sense of community when everyone has to pay some taxes. Like jury duty, paying taxes reminds you that you are part of something; it reminds you of what you owe, not just what's owed to you.

The mood of the skeptics today is just the reverse of the mood at the Boston Tea Party. Then, we said no taxation without representation. Today, try flipping that line: No representation without taxation.

Kai Ryssdal: Amity Shlaes is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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I am very disappointed in Marketplace and its producers for giving a right-wing hack like Amity Shlaes airtime to peddle her intellectual dishonesty. Other posters here have already debunked her commentary of today far better than I could do, so I will only add that Shlaes is among the cadre of revisionist historians with books out trying to prove that Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" policies not only didn't help alleviate the Great Depression but actually prolonged it and/or made it worse. I can understand your wanting to be fair and providing a range of viewpoints, but if you must have a conservative on your air, you can do far better than a Republican Party/conservative movement sock-puppet like Amity Shlaes.

If I remember my high school history, there was an earlier time when the poor didn't pay taxes. It was called something like "The Dark Ages", I think. I guess the only difference is that the poor nowadays are called freemen instead of serfs. Oh, and nowadays the rich make their wagers on Wall Street instead of in the parlor.

Thanks for putting it all in perspective, Amity! I wonder what tax bracket you fall in...?

For the past three decades, income disparity has been increasing, see http://www.epi.org/economic_snapshots/entry/webfeatures_snapshots_20080618/
The economic regime has not only given the rich the rewards of their labor, but also a good deal of the rewards of everyone else's labor. At the same time, the marginal rates in the upper brackets have been reduced, as well as the capital gains rates, which mostly benefits the higher-income strata. "Top earners" have seen their burdens become lighter, not heavier.
As far as the sense of entitlement, nobody can top those Wall Street and executive-row suits who have been defending their perks and staggering bonuses, despite having brought ruin on their firms.
Meanwhile, the rest of us did our civic duty and voted for change, in an election with the highest turnout in 40 years.

This woman has a beguiling voice and delivery, and a totally dishonest premise.

In the last ten years, that same 1% of the population that she bemoans may pay so much in income taxes -- and to which I presume she and her best buds belong -- has reaped virtually 100% of the increase in personal income in our entire economy.

When Ike was president, the president of Sears made, oh, 100 times what a salesman made. Today, the CEO of Walmart makes $1500 for each dollar made by one of his line employees. But that same line employee pays payroll taxes, sales taxes, real estate taxes, and personal property taxes. Gee, if that line employee paid income taxes even at the rate of the CEO, he might be able to contribute about $20 to the income of the US government.

Poor Ms. Schlaes, she might have to pay more taxes. All those geniunely poor folks she thinks are dispensable are still paying payroll taxes that are greater than any income tax they might be liable for.

My heart breaks for Ms. Schlaes' crocodile tears

Amity Shlaes' publicist must have a direct line to half the producers in public radio--I can't swing a cat without hearing a segment of her Limbaugh-approved talking points. I'm happy to hear from serious opponents of the current administration's fiscal and monetary policies, but can we keep the Randians out of it?

Amity Shlaes? Marketplace, where did you find this person? For my 2cents I'd like to point out the greater burden of state and local taxes paid by the other 99% of us thanks to fewer federal dollars being made available since the 80s due to the Reagan (should I say Gramm?) tax cuts. For all the wealth destruction the 1%'ers have visited on everyone in the last year they should be forced to pay everyone else a surtax. Let's leave the "fair and balanced" reporting to those corporate shills CNBC and FOX, OK?

Amity Shlaes spoke about the upper 1% of earners paying the lion's share of taxes, glossing over the fact taht very 1% owns 90% of the wealth in America! Does it not stand to reason that those that have benefited most from the American Dream should be happy to put back into the system for the next dreamer? There is recent evidence that tax cuts do not stimulate the economy, yet that is has been the Republican platform for 30 years! It has been ineffective and harmful to the economy as a whole. Ms. Shlaes premise is intellectually dishonest, and does not account for the tax burdens placed on that 99% comprised of FICA and Social Security, They may receive refunds but their taxes are used.

I’ll just add that the folks on the lower end of the wage scale should not be punished for this sad economy. And weren’t our economic problems exacerbated by the fact that some individuals made millions while others only the Federal minimum wage of $5.85? What does that say about “we the people”?

Of course, immigrants - both legal and otherwise - pay taxes without representation. Do you really want to go there?

It was hard to believe what I was hearing Amity saying.We're reaching a tipping point? I'd say we've toppled.The
time has come for the top 1% to stop evading their share of taxation & finally start paying their fair share,and to actually pay it!My husband &I have owned a small restaurant for 22 years,the amount of taxes we have & will pay have kept us from ever having the slighest savings & you won't hear us whining over spending to save those who are being left homeless & jobless! It seems figuring out that we're all in this mess together because of the top 1%
will continue to evade those greedy and
uncaring individuals such as Amity until
they are forced to be on the receiving end of the majority of Americans who have hearts and compassion!


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