Sunday, October 10, 2010

100% of Tea Baggers Don't Understand Taxes (or Justice)

Warning! Turd-Polishing Alert!

Tell me if you've witnessed this kitchen table kitsch before...

Tom Tea-Bagger [harrumphing indignantly while rattling the pages of his Rupert Murdoch-produced local screed publisher]"Listen to this Gert: 'Nearly half of all Americans pay NO taxes at all!?!'"

Gertrude Gadsen-Flag-Maker:  "Oh... My... GAWD!"

Tom Tea-Bagger:  "Friggin' lazy liberal layabout leeches! How much more of my money do they want me to pay?"

I hear this all the time.

Not as much lately as, say, around April 15th earlier this year when the cacophony from the blathering talking heads on Fox News & the oligarchy-cheering pundits funded by the Koch Bros. reached a truly fevered pitch. A shrill din surely not heard on this planet perhaps since Joshua brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down with his trumpets.

The volume & frequency seems to have diminished - a bit - over time, but the song remains the same. So oft repeated now, by so many nattering nabobs of negativity, and in so may venues, that it seems to have achieved status of something like commonly accepted wisdom. Like an Urban Legend... which, as it turns out it is (read on). 

I hear it mostly from Tea Baggers and similarly enraged ultra-right wing conservatives. But also even from otherwise reasonably rational & intelligent center-right leaning people who should know better. The implication is, of course, that there is something horribly unjust with our current tax code: Half the country [they think] is doing all the heavy lifting, and the rest of the country is little more than a parasitic leech.

The Tea Baggers et al, I won't waste my breath on, as their faculties of discernment & analysis have been long shuffled off to retirement at The Villages. Their minds, such as may still be retained subsequent to such eager self-atrophy, are closed & they cannot be persuaded by reason or fact to grasp any Truth that does not fit within their gut-wrought [but brain-evading] worldview.

So this is for my center-right friends who are still sufficiently in control of their mental facilities as to be able to give a fair shake to reality:

As reported by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center way back in July 2009, it is estimated that 47% of all non-dependent tax units in the U.S. will not pay federal income tax for tax year 2009. [link here]

[Side Note: I wonder about the lengthy delay between the publishing of the report and the emergence of public outcry from the right? But then I realize that the torpor stemming from their mental declension requires substantial additional time to gestate & take hold. So, I'll move on, and ignore my instinct to explore conspiratorial theories about the motive & timing of the far right's ravings.]

There are many important qualifiers to this estimate that make it much less inflammatory than it appears at first glance, for instance:  federal and income

[Never mind that the report's definition of tax units includes only individual income taxes, and completely excludes corporate (incl. certain types of trusts established by wealthy grantors to benefit their issue & other beneficiaries) income taxes altogether.  Nor the fact that the report also excludes dependent households.]

Republicons and Tea Baggers conflate & obfuscate the issue by acting as if federal income taxes are the only taxes that exist - conveniently ignoring the fact that federal individual income taxes are only one portion of the tax equation. And they mistakenly assume that this 47% is entirely constituted of low income groups - the lazy, layabout, liberal, welfare-dependent poor (more on this later.)

At the federal level, individual income taxes levied on households are not the only taxes to be paid.  Federal revenues include, for example:
  • Payroll taxes (e.g., Social Security, Medicare & Unemployment), 
  • Business taxes (e.g., corporate income taxes, excise taxes, highway use taxes, telecommunications taxes, insurance premium taxes, customs duties & tariffs), and 
  • Investment taxes (e.g., capital gains, estate & gift taxes). 
Individual income taxes constitute roughly only 45% of all federal government receipts, a proportion that has remarkably stable over time considering the dramatic reforms to the tax code over the last 50 years. [The Tax Policy Center has a nice summary here.]

Further, for a fair analysis of tax burden, State and local taxes of all kinds also need to be factored into the equation. Again, not only state and local income taxes, but also:
  • Gross receipts taxes, 
  • Annual business licenses, 
  • Unemployment insurance, 
  • Sales taxes, 
  • Excise taxes,
  • Property taxes,
  • Hazardous waste taxes... 
  • ... and on and on it goes. 
These sources account for roughly half of the total U.S. tax burden. [Again, our friends at the Tax Policy Center thoughtfully summarize this point here.]

The obvious, self-evident implication of all these qualifiers should be, to anyone with half a brain, is that the 47% number is verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry misleading.  Perhaps the greatest understatement since Noah said: "I think it's going to rain."

Still not convinced that the 47% statistic is not all that it's cracked up to be?

Here, let's condense it all down to a nice, neat, easy-to-digest bar chart to facilitate understanding:

The foregoing bar graph comes from a report by Citizens for Tax Justice, and compares the share of the total  tax burden -- that means income taxes, payroll taxes, state and local  taxes, capital gains taxes, and so forth -- with the share of the total  income for different groups.

Not exactly the maddeningly disproportionate & infuriatingly unjust result the turd-polishers at Fox & Friends would have us believe, n'est-ce pas?

[Full disclosure here:  Citizens for Tax Justice is an acknowledged liberal-leaning organization that right wing ideologues dismiss out of hand as biased.  This criticism does not at all refute the factual basis of their report, nor of the policy implications therefrom.  Otherwise, how do they explain the profound effect that the organization had on their professed spiritual guru & political hero, Ronnie Ray-Gun, whose 1986 tax reforms were based precisely on CTJ's research?  Don't believe me?  Check here.]

At the same time as Republicons & Tea-Baggers focus on the headline 47% statistic, they completely ignore other, more insidious implications about tax avoidance by the wealthiest segments of our society from the very same source.  Where is all the right wing outrage over, for instance, the fact that the very same report concludes that fully 1.5% of all non-dependent households ("tax units", in the report's parlance) making more than $1 Million in cash incomes pay no individual income tax at all, either?

Or, how about other outrageous tax injustices completely unaddressed by the report... such as the fact that corporate giants like ExxonMobil (among others), which earned more than $35 Billion in net profits (a significant chunk on U.S. soil, from U.S. customers), paid exactly zero in U.S. corporate income taxes?

Oh, I forgot: that is their very own constituency.  Or, at least, what they wish for themselves...

We live in a sound-bite world, surrounded by a sound-bite culture of shallow-thinking and/or disingenuous lemmings who would rather bark at the moon & divide our society into "Us" vs. "Them".  And make phony arguments to try to hoodwink the American public to support their worldview.

If it weren't so sad, I would have to laugh.  I think I will anyway:  link

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