Friday, June 10, 2005

Progressives and Taxation

Matthew Yglesias questions here whether Americans will ever choose to make up the taxation that Bush has taken away from the government. He has no answers. And the question is, how can progressives make taxation less unappealing for people. I believe that this is one of the most important long-term projects for progressives. I see little hope that we can significantly increase our tax base anytime soon. Maybe if a major depression came on and social services such as roads, maybe the one social service that Americans really do care about, were cut, we would vote to increase taxes some. But short of that, it's unlikely.

But in the long term, the need to convince people of the positive effects of taxation is one place where we can learn from the conservative movement. Conservatives have passed things through over the last 4 years that we, or they, never thought would have been possible 15 or 20 years ago. Repeal of the estate tax, the Patriot Act, the rollback of innumerable environmental regulations, etc. In the 1960s, when liberalism was at its height, conservatives asked themselves whether the nation would ever return to their values. And it has. Through 40 years or organizing, conservatives have overturned much of what progressives find invaluable to a functioning society. At the same time, progressives became more interested in individual rights and identity politics than organizing large segments of the population around issues huge swaths of Americans were concerned about.

Where does that leave us? With a lot of work to do. The only short term solution for more taxation that seems even remotely possible is the idea of a "patriot tax" that I've heard thrown around. But not only would such a tax likely have to be used for things that I would make less than a priority, such as on the military, it resorts to base patriotism and I feel very uncomfortable with such a thing. More realistic to me is to copy the conservative movement and make pro-tax candidates who discuss taxes in terms of services that you and I receive everyday a priority in elections. That starts with the school boards and with county and city offices. I don't see how we will be able to expand the national tax base anytime soon. But by starting at the bottom, I do think that we can make a serious difference in maybe 20 years. That's a hell of a long time. But I think that's the best we can do and that it's important that we do it.