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This whole tax debate has eclipsed a central progressive tenet. Hey Democrats, if you want to win the white vote back, why don't you help poor people for God's sake, instead of glossing over their existence, patronizing them and lying to their faces? How about some integrity and some compassion? But hey, it could only give you landslides, so don't treat this seriously.

But... you know what really lacks seriousness? The poverty level defined by the government. Talk about a joke. At least the Soviets let themselves laugh about the propaganda.

US poverty level by number of persons in household:

1 $10,830
2 14,570
3 18,310
4 22,050

The same people that believe a family of 4 can survive on 22,000 in near any state probably also believe that the reason the unemployed can't get work is because they're just too lazy.

And you know the problem with giving these poor people belated tax refunds or tax credits? It's too damn complicated. More than a few of these people can barely even read--somehow we're still highly productive as a national workforce, yet still humbled and frightened enough to be, in the words of the polemicist blogger Joe Bageant, "America's invisible and non represented people, the ones who shovel the shit and seldom complain." But you expect them to comprehend the tax code? Why, when most Americans can't? A heartland lawyer chimes in:

If you wonder why I sometimes have a bewildered look when you ask a tax question, here is a clue: In her 2008 Annual Report to Congress, the National Taxpayer Advocate, Nina Olson, complained about the Tax Code’s complexity including (among many other examples) “at least 16 separate incentives to encourage taxpayers to save for retirement. These incentives are subject to different sets of rules governing eligibility, contribution limits, taxation of contributions and distributions.” She also criticized the constant changes, pointing out that amendments to the Tax Code were made at the rate of more than one per day in the five years from 2003–2008. Read her report: [Vol. 11, No. 1 Choate’s Notes Spring 2009]

I don't have very much good to say about the Reagan Administration. If you want to see where our federal debt trouble began look there. However, one of the things it got right was the Internal Revenue Code of 1986. It closed a lot of loopholes and greatly simplified our income tax. It was far from perfect, but it was a great leap forward. Since then, we have lost a lot of ground.

Basically, a lot of poor people get screwed while the rich more than manipulate the system. There are two kinds of tax payers: those who play the game and those who don't. Those who don't must think it's for serious. And hey, this system's great for employing accountants if not so great for the people in vests at Wal-Mart, the people who fix your cars, your johns and serve your fries. You know, the meek and the lowly? Those who shall inherit the earth?

This country's so far rightward that ideas Nixon once entertained with some consideration, like a guaranteed national income, seem an attempt at humor. But we are in changing times. The world of the 20th century is finally dying an ugly death a decade too late, every day around us. Thank God, for it was a classist and divided world.

At this point, with decades of stagnation, decline, and inaction on wage inequality, the poor are not in any position to be paying federal taxes. The minimum wage was only raised in the most bare-bones manner, and the $7.25 level, at the time, did not "bring the minimum wage to its level of 1968." Grossly disproportionate health insurance cost continues to put the lie to that family-of-four poverty level. The economy had its worst decade since the 1930s. Wages either stagnated or, according to Kevin Drum, grew so poorly that debt overtook wages for the poor.

Eliminating taxes for the poor to a higher level is a political win-win for Democrats, who can garner more than enough revenue from the rich. Pullitzer-prize winner David Cay Johnston:

And at the top? Now, that’s a different story. The average income for the top 400 taxpayers rose over the 45 years from $13.7 million to $263.3 million. That is 19.3 times more.
The income tax bill went up too, but only 7.8 times as much because tax rates plunged. Income tax rates at the top fell 60 percent, three times the percentage rate drop for the vast majority. And at the top, the savings were not offset by higher payroll taxes, which are insignificant to top taxpayers. ...

What is the social utility of creating a society whose rules generate a doubling of output per person but provide those at the top with 37 times the gain of the vast majority? ...

Is a ratio of gain of 37 to 1 from the top to the vast majority beneficial? Is it optimal? Does it provide the development, support, and initiative to maximize the nation’s gain? Are we to think that the gains of the top 398 or 400 taxpayers are proportionate to their economic contributions? Does anyone really think that heavily leveraged, offshore hedge fund investments are creating wealth, rather than just exploiting rules to concentrate wealth, while shifting risks to everyone else?

[edited] If you re-instituted the tax rates of the Eisenhower Administration and adjusted them to inflation, guess what--there's no evidence that it would destroy jobs! We would love the unemployment rates of the 1950s and 1960s. With real money coming in, the feds would have more than enough in the coffers to hire 1 million workers and lower the unemployment rate, and fuel a cycle of increased spending that would improve the wider economy. We have no shortage of ideas except when it comes to ideas specifically, explicitly for the poor. This is a rich country; the salt-of-the-earth have offered enough blood, sweat and tears at the altar of Baal.

Raising taxes on the rich is necessary to address income inequality, the debt and the deficit. But it is only half the equation, and unfortunately, it does not provide near the political benefits that actually being the party of the working people in a both deeper and more vocal sense would be. Why not? For years we've heard every politician throw around the phrase "middle class" like they actually meant it. For the white poor, the middle class don't seem to care much about them, and unfortunately are most often experienced as rude customers and people who lay them off. And we have heard of the need for change, even Republicans have latched on. But for the white poor, change is historically an omen of bad a'coming:

Maybe if the Democratic Party (4+ / 0-)
Recommended by:
Meteor Blades, badger, Litvak36, ban nock
was really a people's party and was willing to show face enough to stop groveling at the extinct "middle class," but instead started talking about how much the boss sucks... it could get somewhere. Maybe if it related to how a lot of change has screwed the poor over, either directly or implicitly, and pressed things specifically about them, in their terms, instead of things for those who have college loan payments and nice parking spots... with crumbs on the side...

Maybe if the Democratic Party's advocates clearly saw working people as brothers and sisters instead of obstacles, white trash, hicks, and stopped addressing them with patronizing cliches about "voting against their self-interests," working class people might be surprised enough to listen. It's not that they believe Republican professional assholes like [John] Boehner are on their side, it's that they find his message clearer and less insulting.

by Nulwee on Sun Nov 21, 2010 at 10:04:40 PM PST
[ Parent ]

"The rich pay their fair share, but if you're poor, you won't pay income tax" gets somewhere. The Republicans can't lie that it's going to promote laziness, because those who don't work aren't getting any direct benefit. Democrats are so afraid on tax issues that they always let a crumb for the poor equal a feast for the rich, but there's no reason why that need be. On its own this won't prove enough, but it does serve as the critical beginning of a new relationship between the Democratic Party and the working class.

More government data on poverty, health insurance, et cet. at:

Following the logic of the diary, you have to revise upward the poverty level and tax accordingly. The idea that the poor "pay no tax" already is, to me, what's disingenuous. There's also the value of time, and many people, rather than risk trouble with the IRS, put off their income into tax refunds. Government doesn't give interest.

Marginal Tax Rate[4] Single
10% $0 – $8,375

Married Filing Jointly
$0 – $16,750

Married Filing Seperate
$0 – $8,375

Head of Household
$0 – $11,950

Obviously ideas like taxing more fairly on social security and lowering payments from the poor are also valuable. These are not exclusive suggestions.

UPDATE: Chart I saved is somewhat old, originally from the Washington Monthly.

Originally posted to Nulwee on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:00 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Income taxes are irrelevant to the poor. (9+ / 0-)

    The poor don't pay income taxes.  If we fill out our W-2s right, we won't have any withheld in the first place.

    But the poor taxes--oh, do they pay:

    1. FICA--comes right off the top, and if you're self-employed, it's a double hit;
    1. sales taxes--these take a big hit;
    1. personal property taxes--if you're going to have any kind of car, you're going to take a hit here in most states;
    1. "fees"--public education isn't free any more, there are fees up the wazoo and these are really taxes
    1. real estate taxes--if you're still one of those able to hold on to your house, these take a big chunk every year
    1. excise taxes--like those on telephone service.

    When the Republicans rail against taxes, it resonates because the poor pay plenty of taxes--and a higher percentage--than the rich.

    Pitching "no income taxes for the poor" is really disingenuous because that's not the tax that hits the poor.

    •  You sure about that? (4+ / 0-)

      Marginal Tax Rate[4] Single
      10% $0 – $8,375

      Married Filing Jointly
      $0 – $16,750

      Married Filing Seperate
      $0 – $8,375

      Head of Household
      $0 – $11,950

      Of course, you would have had to read the diary, with the preface about the poverty level, and no one ever said we shouldn't look at the other taxes, like FICA, which employers shift onto the poor despite a fifty-fifty facade.

      Mel Gibson makes movies that look like snuff films shot by Abercrombie & Fitch's photographer. -9.38, -5.18

      by Nulwee on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:15:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yep. (4+ / 0-)

        Just because there are taxes to pay, doesn't mean there is actually money paid out.

        As someone making 21,800, under the current tax code, I'm required to pay $2167 as head of household. If the tax cuts expire, I'll be required to pay $3270.

        However, when you go through the deductions and HOH status, etc, here's how it works:

        If tax cut remains:

        $21,800 tax $628

        If tax cut expires:

        $21,800 tax $928

        That doesn't even take into account any other deductions. No EITC. Etc.

        By the time I'm done, I'll still get money back. I'll have reduced my return by another $300

        I'm okay with that.

        Rand Paul- He won't let you down. His supporters won't let you up

        by second gen on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:29:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  That's after deductons and exemptions. (6+ / 0-)

        Standard deduction for head of household is $8,350.  Married filing jointly in $11,400.

        Add in personal exemptions at $3,600.

        A family of four with two adults would have to make around $26,000 to pay any income taxes.

        A family of three with a single parent would have to make $19,000.

        Those are above the poverty levels you listed in this diary.

      •  Here is an example of how 50k income for (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cardinal, Nulwee, nextstep

        a family of four could pay no income tax.

        But income tax rates were lowered at every income level. The changes made it relatively easy for families of four making $50,000 to eliminate their income tax liability.

        Here's how they did it, according to Deloitte Tax:

        The family was entitled to a standard deduction of $11,400 and four personal exemptions of $3,650 apiece, leaving a taxable income of $24,000. The federal income tax on $24,000 is $2,769.

        With two children younger than 17, the family qualified for two $1,000 child tax credits. Its Making Work Pay credit was $800 because the parents were married filing jointly.

        The $2,800 in credits exceeds the $2,769 in taxes, so the family makes a $31 profit from the federal income tax. That ought to take the sting out of April 15.

        Yahoo Finance

        I don't belong to an organized party, I'm a democrat.

        by thestructureguy on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:36:08 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm talking about de jure, you're talking about (0+ / 0-)

          de facto. I'm also talking about political marketing.

          If you really think the poor get excited about MWP and the taxation of the last two years, well, there's more elections to get slaughtered in, in the future.

          Mel Gibson makes movies that look like snuff films shot by Abercrombie & Fitch's photographer. -9.38, -5.18

          by Nulwee on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:38:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  This is why we need voter registration (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, ban nock

    The poor are ignored because they don't vote in the same proportion as the rich.  Elected official only respond to active constituents.  Even the most well-intentioned Representative has to stay elected to achieve what little good he or she can.

    Unfortunately, it's a vicious cycle.  As the poor are ignored because they don;t vote, and they sere the fact that they are ignored as a reason not to vote.

    Active voter registration, education and organization is the way to break this cycle.  And it doesn't have to start at the federal level.  There are votes for official at every level of government and neighborhood.  Any small victory there builds confidence for larger victories later.

    Recommended reading for radicals:

    The incomparable Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. Online preview here  

    Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. by Robert Cialdini. This is the single most valuable book I have read on how to persuade and how to avoid being persuaded.

    Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives, by George Lakoff. See also: Cognitive Policy Wonks and The Progressive Strategy Handbook Project

    Frank Luntz: everything he’s written.  He's a conservative message master, and you have to know the enemy.    Remember the great scene in Patton, when the victorious general shouted: “Rommel! You magnificent son of a bitch!  I READ YOUR BOOK!”

    Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits, By Jason Salzman

    The Campaign Manager: Running and Winning Local Elections, By Catherine Shaw

    How To Win A Local Election

    Guerrilla Marketing


    Build Infrastructure:  Volunteer!  List of State and Local Democratic Parties

    Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. -Frank Zappa

    by TheGrandWazoo on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:09:37 PM PST

    •  How many Democrats (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wader, Magnifico, ban nock

      are willing to offer a standalone bill that cuts taxes drastically for poor families? Or one that revises upward the poverty level?

      Not many.

      Any roughly similar legislation is laden-down long before it becomes law.

      Mel Gibson makes movies that look like snuff films shot by Abercrombie & Fitch's photographer. -9.38, -5.18

      by Nulwee on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:16:53 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You did just what the post said don't do. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      goinsouth, JG in MD, ban nock

      And I mean that in a constructive way.  I'm only bringing it up because of the irony of speaking of needing to educate people ahead of all the links about messaging.

      I'm a poor black -- so -- I know all about the patronizing language mentioned in that highlighted comment.  A large part of my mission on political forums is to try to increase awareness of the effect of the language activists use.

      I promise you -- that many poor people don't get involved often has less to do with them not knowing as much as "you" do and more to do with "your" belief that they need to be "educated" by "you."  Now -- that comment didn't mention that -- it referred to the way we talk about them "voting against their own interests."  But -- that comes right back to the implication of talking about educating them -- the effect of the "voting against your own interest" is to say "you're too stupid to know what's best for you."

      Being poor or having fewer academic accomplishments are by no means reasons to assume people are ignorant and unaware of what they're voting for.  Poor folks do just what you do -- vote (or not) according to their own priorities.

      I ignore the offensive language and participate -- anyway -- because I've never been very sensitive to other people's opinions of me.  I stay focused on my aims and the people in the party who don't speak that way.  Many other people don't find it so easy to do that.  Many other people would rather suffer than swallow their pride and ally themselves with people who speak insultingly of and to them.

      We need to learn to ask people to be equal partners with us instead of telling them "follow me."

      •  My apologies (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        for being patronizing.  And I mean that.

        I should have been very specific about my use of the word "educating", because I believe that a vast cross section of potential voters at all income levels have little knowledge of the political process, and that this lack of knowledge leads to a lack of interest.  This is reflected in the poor turnout we see compared to other nations, and is unrelated to race.  The wealthy, who are very well educated in holding on to their cash, are the exception; they make sure to vote to protect their money.

        I should have written this:

        "Elected officials respond to votes and voters. But potential voters need reasons to get involved.  

        Right now there seems to be a vicious circle:  low income citizens are completely ignored despite their numbers, and no one is offering the same people any reason to become involved in the political process.

        Elected official need to know that any effort on behalf this ignored constituency is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do, because it will not only give more Americans their rightful share of what belongs to us all, but it will also help keep them in office"

        Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. -Frank Zappa

        by TheGrandWazoo on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 03:04:41 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  timely diary (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassandra77, Nulwee, DWG, TomP, tardis10

    Another amusing tactic is to try to raise the age at which people start collecting social security benefits, because rich people are living longer than they used to.

    "Moral high ground, meet mountain top removal." - David Kroning II

    by Miep on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:11:33 PM PST

  •  Tip'd Rec'd for that graph (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    very nice work if you made it yourself.

    no tax cuts for the wealthy. period.

    by The Clevelander on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:12:49 PM PST

  •  False Comparison (0+ / 0-)

    You could reinstitute the tax rates of the Eisenhower Administration, adjust them to inflation and guess what--there's no evidence that it would destroy jobs!

    This is a false comparison for the very reason that you reference in your diary. The Internal Revenue Code of 1986. If you wish to "return" to the past then you will have to undo 1986.

  •  I'm fine with this, (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, Magnifico, Nulwee, kareylou

    but I do disagree with this as a throw away line:

    Hey Democrats, if you want to win the white vote back, why don't you help poor people for God's sake, instead of glossing over their existence, patronizing them and lying to their faces?

    The "white vote", like others is split by a number of factors, but poor (and other) whites who left Dems for the Republicans often did because of race and racism.  

    I think here it is better to just say, if you want to win votes, do this.

    Trumka: "Absolutely Insane" to Extend Tax Cuts for Millionaires

    by TomP on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:15:53 PM PST

  •  Everyone should pay taxes. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wader, Nulwee, Azazello

    Even if it's just a penny, everyone should pay their share to the government.  It help makes a good citizen.

    Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you what you are.

    by Musket Man on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:17:02 PM PST

  •  Where does "think they can survive" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, JG in MD

    come from?

    My impression was that "poverty" meant they really can't survive...I don't think the poverty levels mean that's where the US gov thinks people can survive.

    Donk is a poker term for someone who is really bad at "the game". Still, a poor choice in name I guess.

    by DonkSlayer on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:25:15 PM PST

    •  Poverty levels don't mean anything (0+ / 0-)

      They're based on an arcane formula that hasn't been changed nearly enough since it was established in 1964.

      Mollie Orshansky probably took a lot of grief from friends, family, and total strangers during her lifetime.

      These are a few of my favorite things.

      by JG in MD on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 02:47:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Top marginal rates -- your chart -- are (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, Nulwee

    MEANINGLESS without also considering the level of income upon which those rates are imposed.  And, as the diary indicates, that changed DRAMATICALLY in 1986, so that a lot of upper income professionals I knew (including my accountant father) paid more in income taxes in 1987 than they did in 1979, before the Reagan tax cuts.  

    Though not perfect, a far, far, far better indication of what the rich are actually paying are effective federal income tax rates.  The CBO has been keeping those numbers since 1970.  The CBO numbers are here.    An easier to read chart is here.    PLEASE NOTE:  federal income taxes are the SECOND chart on that page.

    When you talk only in terms of top marginal rates and then equate that with what people are ACTUALLY PAYING in federal income tax, that just shows a lack of understanding of income tax policy and effects.  

    •  Correct. (0+ / 0-)

      Thanks for posting the CBO data.  I teach this stuff -- and I've spent countless hours putting CBO, IRS, and Census data into pretty PowerPoint charts.  It's worth it, though, since misunderstandings about brackets, marginal/effective rates, etc., are nearly universal -- and a disproportionate number of the misunderstandings work to the disadvantage of progressive arguments.

      In Rand McNally, they wear hats on their feet, and hamburgers eat people!

      by cardinal on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 01:03:13 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  During the Nixon years, the negative income tax (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, tardis10

    almost made it through Congress. Paying people under a certain level of income with federal funds, imagine that.

    "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."

    by the fan man on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 12:29:32 PM PST

  •  I agree with most of the diary (0+ / 0-)

    so I'll just mention the one place I sort of disagree.

    I think everybody should pay federal income taxes. I know about all the other taxes that the poor pay mentioned in a comment above, but I still think everyone should pay federal income taxes. I also think the amounts on the low end should be minimal - $10, $100, whatever, based on income level.

    There are two reasons I favor that. The first is that it forestalls the criticism that some people are getting a free ride by not paying any taxes. I know this is a stupid claim, and idiots already think things like unemployment compensation or Social Security are a free ride, but I think it's important to be able to say "everybody is a taxpayer".

    The second is a matter of pride - I think it's good for self-esteem to know that you've made a direct contribution to the operation of the government. It's good for self-image, and it also motivates people to say "I paid taxes - I'm entitled to [this benefit, or a say in this policy, or education for my kid, or whatever]"

    I wouldn't be heart broken if lower income people paid no federal income tax at all, but I think it's better if everyone pays at least a small amount, and much better if those who can afford it pay a large amount.

    We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

    by badger on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 01:21:29 PM PST

    •  Good points! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Another point about paying even a $1 is what the taxes go for.

      IF you believe what we are told, the government colects taxes at multiple levels for specific reasons. Local, state, FICA, Medicare/caid, property,sales, excise, transfer,federal, etc are levied and spent according to law.

      To excuse an individual from paying Federal Income Tax is to excuse that individual for responsibility for anything that Federal Income Taxes pay for.

      No Fed Income Tax means you don't need to be responsible for Defense, any program by any department of the federal government, the EPA, USDA,
      NIH, CDC, and the whole XYZ of the feds.

      In effect, you get all of these government services for free.

      If on the other hand, the government is not being straight with us, and it is just one big pool with a lot of hoses filling it, then we have other problems.

    •  how about a wage? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      badger, Ana Thema

      income taxes were begun as a tax on the rich, not the poor.

      How about a minimum wage that works out to 40K then we all pay taxes?

      "slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

      by ban nock on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 04:51:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  If I were king .... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ana Thema

        (and it's good to be king) I'd go farther. I'd like to see some combination of guaranteed employment, guaranteed income, health care, food, shelter and other necessities. Explicitly.

        But at any rate, a right to life (as in the Declaration of Independence) implies a right to employment at some decent level of income in this society as we've structured it. That, instead of paying people for not working, implies that everyone is making some kind of contribution to the social order (through their work), and has the ability to make some financial contribution via taxes, in line with ability to pay, as well.

        We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. - John F Kennedy

        by badger on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 05:47:51 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  another good one Nulwee (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nulwee, Ana Thema

    I really miss Acorn, more than anyone I can think of they registered not rich people to vote. The right wing knew where to attack, doesn't matter true or fabrication they killed Acorn.

    "slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Sat Dec 04, 2010 at 05:18:59 PM PST

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