“It’s OK if it’s impossible; it’s OK! Now I’m going to speak to you as organizers. Listen carefully. The object is not to win. That’s not the objective. The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide not to do anything, because it’s too hard or too impossible, then nothing will be done, and when you’re on your death bed, you’re gonna say, “I wish I had done something. But if you go and do the right thing NOW, and you do it long enough “good things will happen—something’s gonna happen.”
– Former farmworker and labor organizer Baldemar Velasquez (As quoted by Bill Moyers – “Welcome to the Plutocracy“).
As yesterday’s release of “Texas on the Brink” started to sink in, thoughts turned to a question. What can we do to get off the brink? There’s a simple answer, and then a little nuance has to be put to it. The simple answer, which some believe is impossible in Texas, is to tax the rich.
Now for the nuance. Texas has historically had low taxes on it’s residents, and was able to get by for a long time without a modern tax structure and a part-time legislature, because of the money it brought in from oil. Of course how well some got by depended on one’s vantage point, the more wealthy and white that person was the better they got by. Of course that has changed somewhat since the 1960’s and 1970’s as the federal government put an end to legal discrimination and the oil bust hit Texas. Our divides have changed from racial, to rural and urban, and class struggles.
But as public school lawsuits became the norm, Texas began to cut back on many other things to make up for them. Infrastructure spending and adequate spending social services for the needy never came about before the oil bust hit. There have been several tricks and traps devised to make up for the lack of taxation, and to keep from raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations especially. Parimutuel betting (horse racing), a lottery, and tax swap schemes – but those usually wind up bringing little if any of the promised benefit. Sometimes they even make the problem worse. What has seemed to work over the years, as crazy as it may sound to some, is raising taxes.
It’s easy to say what Texas should do moving forward. We should finally commit to adequately funding the needed services of our state government. And that would start with a progressive state income tax. It would be small, percentage wise, but ask more from those with higher incomes then it would form those at the bottom. It would attempt to make Texas a more equal state for the first time in Texas’ modern history.
There’s a reason why issues of income inequality and unfair taxation rarely come up. As this post shows, It’s a Myth that Conservatives Accept Rampant Inequality.
Renowned behavioral economist Dan Ariely (Duke University) and Michael I. Norton (Harvard Business School) recently demonstrated that everyone – including conservatives – thinks there should be more equality.
Their study found:
Respondents constructed ideal wealth distributions that were far more equitable than even their erroneously low estimates of the actual distribution. Most important from a policy perspective, we observed a surprising level of consensus: all demographic groups—even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy—desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.
Taken as a whole, the results suggest to us that there is much more agreement than disagreement about wealth inequality. Across differences in wealth, income, education, political affiliation and fiscal conservatism, the vast majority of people (89%) preferred distributions of wealth significantly more equal than the current wealth spread in the United States. In fact, only 12 people out of 849 favored the US distribution. The media portrays huge policy divisions about redistribution and inequality – no doubt differences in ideology exist, but we think there may be more of a consensus on what’s fair than people realize.
How could the media portrayal regarding this issue be so wrong?
Well, for one thing, as a study the Pew Research Center found, the corporate media tends to take Wall Street’s view on economics. Indeed, the media is largely set up to spout propaganda which supports the view of the powers-that-be. The financial sector has been by far the biggest beneficiary of government policies over the past 10 years or so. So the media tends to defer to Wall Street’s own arguments against equality.
Many conservatives are, of course, opposed to a redistribution of wealth via raising taxes on the wealthy. The conservative argument is straightforward: people who have worked harder should be able to earn more money by the sweat of their brow. If we tax the wealthy in order to redistribute wealth to help the poor, then no one will be motivated to work hard, as the wealthy will be penalized and the poor can sit back and take hand-outs.
Whether you agree with that argument or not, everyone agrees that a system which uses the power of the state to reward the fraud and gambling of the largest banks and biggest corporations through socialism for the rich and capitalism for everyone else is not free market capitalism, and is downright anti-American.
It’s stunning. The consensus almost all Americans have toward wanting a more equal distribution of wealth then we currently have. But as Moyers also said, in that speech linked above, “Money fights hard, and it fights dirty. Think Rove. The Chamber. The Kochs.” This is also a great video of the current state of affairs, Jeffrey Sachs on the Budget: “Do we really have to have our own Egypt here in the United States?”.
But the last paragraph of the study sums it up where the American people and Texas are pretty well – still waiting for a leader.
Given the consensus among disparate groups on the gap between an ideal distribution of wealth and the actual level of wealth inequality, why don’t more Americans – especially those with low income – advocate for greater redistribution of wealth? First, our results demonstrate that Americans appear to drastically underestimate the current level of wealth inequality, suggesting they may simply be unaware of the gap. Second, just as people have erroneous beliefs about the actual level of wealth inequality, they may also hold overly optimistic beliefs about opportunities for social mobility in the United States, beliefs which in turn may drive support for unequal distributions of wealth. Third, despite the fact that conservatives and liberals in our sample agree that the current level of inequality far from ideal, public disagreements about the causes of that inequality may drown out this consensus. Finally, and more broadly, Americans exhibit a general disconnect between their attitudes towards economic inequality and their self-interest and public policy preferences, suggesting that even given increased awareness of the gap between ideal and actual wealth distributions, Americans may remain unlikely to advocate for policies that would narrow this gap.
What that says is that Americans are unaware of the massive gap in wealth inequality, many don’t care about it because they falsely believe they’ll be rich some day and benefit from it, we disagree about the causes (this is where the corporate media comes in and stirs the pot, misinformation, the myth of the welfare queen, etc..), and they don’t see a policy proposal coming from the government that will fix this or benefit them.
Seems impossible, right? Well as the quote above says, it’s time to start fighting for the impossible and something good will happen. Any plan must start with showing Texans how unfair taxation is in Texas, and how unequal income is in Texas. Once that is done, we must offer a clear policy for making our state more fair through a progressive state income tax, (talk about impossible!!), along with funding an equal education for all, which is the great equalizer.
Maybe, as Texans start realizing that they’re finally getting what they’ve been voting for for the last 30 years, they’ll be more willing to see this reality. Maybe then this will be less impossible and some real good things will happen.