Monday, September 19, 2011

Class Warfare

Well, it appears that President Obama is accepting one of my suggestions. To communicate that the government is taking the issue of the national debt seriously, he is proposing more than than the $1.5 trillion in cuts that the budget supercommittee is supposed to come up with.

From what I have read, his proposal will be for $3.5 trillion in budget cuts and additional revenue. Of this, $500 billion will be used to pay for his jobs package. Thus, the recommendation provides $3 trillion in net deficit reduction.

(See Obama to unveil $3 billion in debt cuts..)

Some of this will come from additional taxes on the wealthiest Americans. It's a move that many Republicans are calling "class warfare".

(See GOP calls Obama's tax plan 'class warfare'.)

So - let me make sure that I understand this. We have a deficit problem. Some sort of change is required. If we divide the burden up so that the poor and middle class shoulder 100% of the weight, that's fine. But if we divide it up so that the poor and middle class shoulder 99.9% of the weight and the rich get 0.1% of the burden, that is a declaration of war on the rich.

Obama's plan divides the burden more fairly than this, but I am interested in the principle here. What counts as "class warfare"? Many Republicans insist that the percent of the burden that shows up as increased taxes on the wealthiest Americans be 0% - that 100% of the solution must be found someplace else. This is their position.

This view is entirely incoherent. If putting 0.1% of the burden on the wealthy is a declaration of war against the upper class, then reason would seem to require that putting 0.1% of the burden on the poor and middle class is a declaration of war against the poor and middle class. And yet the percent of the burden that these Republicans insist be put on the shoulders of the poor and middle class is 100% - that this somehow avoids class warfare.

Somebody needs to explain how this can be made coherent.

Another argument that some Republicans are using us that the tax will cost jobs - that if the super-rich shoulder even 0.1% of the burden that this will cost jobs, but if the poor and middle class shoulder 100% of the burden this will not cost jobs.

I have a few points to make on this issue.

First, the rich have the money, and they are doing a horrendous job of creating jobs. In fact, if they were actually creating jobs we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Second, why is it that $1 in the hands of the wealthiest 1 million Americans "creates jobs", but that same $1 in the hands of any of the other 299 million Americans does nothing?

Third, a substantial portion of the economic stimulus that has driven up the deficit has consisted of tax cuts. So, while these Republicans are saying that increased taxes are economically harmful, they are also saying that tax cuts are economically impotent (Obama's stimulus package will fail). Again, this seems a bit inconsistent. Politically useful, perhaps, but intellectually bankrupt.

Fourth, what about the "economic stimulus" the Republicans passed when the economy turned sour during the Bush administration? The government literally wrote checks and mailed them off to people all in the name of stimulating the economy. Yet, I have not heard any of them apologize for what they must now consider to be their earlier mistaken beliefs - or what caused them to change their minds.

Fifth, if tax cuts for the wealthy is such a great way to stimulate the economy, why are we not swimming in new jobs right now? This was supposed to be the payoff from the 2001 Bush tax cuts. Where are those jobs?

Ironically, it is not the upper class that is actually making these arguments. Many are quite willing to have the upper class take on a fair share of the burden. They have a basic sense of fairness some Republicans seem to lack. The real perpetrators of this incoherence is not an economic class - but a political class that has learned over the years how to package this bundle of inconsistent rhetoric and turn it into votes.

These are scare tactics. "If the super rich shoulder even the slightest bit of the burden, you life if ruined. Your only hope for a better life is to do 100% of the work yourselves!" If enough people can be made to believe it - or to cower in fear over the possibility that it might be true - then we actually get 100% of the burden as our reward, and the wealthy get to keep everything they have.

Apparently, if we (those who make less than $500,000 per individual or $1 million per married couple) were to accept only 99.9% of the burden instead of 100% of the burden, we are declaring war on the class being asked to take up that 0.1%.


Tom M. said...

Great points! Paragraph breaks would have made it easier to read, though.

Mike Gage said...


I hate to do it this way, but I'd like to hear your feedback on something if you have time. If not, I understand. I tried using your contact link on the page, but it doesn't seem to work.

Anyway, I've listened to your podcast interviews with Luke a few times and have been trying to spell out a coherent defense of secular morality using a contractarian framework. You said in one podcast interview that it's problematic because there is no impartial observer or social contract. I argue, though, that it can be grounded in the propositions that would be true if there were such things. I've made a brief argument here and would appreciate any feedback:

It might even be the case that what I've described reduces to desirism, but I haven't decided yet.

You can also email me at Or if someone else has a comment on that they can email me or comment on the site. I'm hoping to solidify (or reject) my reasoning, but it's hard to get all the details clear without hearing other opinions and objections.