I was having lunch the other day with about six other people. We included professionals in law, accounting, public relations, bookkeeping, business insurance, healthcare insurance and real estate. We all shared several characteristics. We all are white and all have small businesses that put us in the shrinking echelons of the upper middle class. And all of us work extensively for non-profit organizations. All except me live in the suburbs.
Naturally the topic turned to the funding problems that our non-profit clients are suffering, all because of budget cuts by local, state and federal governments. Everyone knew at least one non-profit on the verge of shutting down.
After a few minutes of this commiseration, I stated firmly that the reason for the budget cuts is that taxes are too low and that we have to raise taxes, especially on the highest incomes.
Everyone else at the table had a look of horror, but as I continued to make my points, the expressions on the faces of most began to soften. I explained that taxes are historically low on the wealthiest Americans, and that we wouldn’t have to make these budget cuts if you went back to the taxes of 1979. When someone uttered, “90%,” I replied that the 90% rate was in the early 60’s, but forgot to mention that it was only paid on the incremental income over a certain amount that was in the millions.
I could see by the approval on their faces that I had turned the group, but the epiphany that taxes are too low was shattered when a lawyer and an accountant started chanting, “No new taxes…taxes are too high…no new taxes…taxes are too high.”
These people are not rich. If Congress did the right thing and rescinded the Bush II tax cut for those earning $250,000 or more, some of my friends might have to pay more, but not that much. Remember, that the tax rates are assessed incrementally, which means that if the top rate is $250,000 and you earn $290,000, you only pay the top rate on $40,000.
It is now well documented that the extension of the temporary tax cuts for the wealthy was financed the $38.5 billion of budget cuts ripped from educational, social service, mass transit and other important job-creating programs. A lot of that money went to non-profit organizations, and not getting it is why many non-profits depending on government contracts are suffering everywhere.
And yet my friends blindly follow the “no tax” line, even as it probably hurts them more than it helps them, because it hurts their client base. These true believers seem to forget that the government can’t tax your income if you don’t make it.
These are all good people who truly care about their communities and our futures. They vote and they participate in community activities.
But they have been sold a bill of goods by right-wingers to think that they are not suffering from the 30-year transfer of wealth up the ladder from the poor and middle class to the wealthy, or not to understand that regressive tax policies have been one of the primary factors in the movement of wealth from the pockets of practically everyone into the pockets of the rich.
I want to point out that one lunch only provides one anecdote, but we have seen middle class suburbs voting Tea-publican recently.
Perhaps that will change when automation and a hyperactive educational system complete the process of slashing the salaries of upper middle class professionals. In the news recently is the fact that one-third of all law school graduates this year can’t find a job as a lawyer. Another article pointed out that many lawyers (some of whom used to make $200 an hour) are working for $20 as outsourced professional labor. Once the upper middle class starts to take as many economic punches as unionized and middle class workers have over the past 30+ years, maybe they’ll understand that lower taxes have helped to lead the United States into a debt-ridden decline