Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #76 - Part 2

Outrage of the Week: Poor should pay federal income taxes to have "skin in the game"

Unfortunately, I missed this when it happened, so this is a week old, but still it deserves notice and the appropriate sneering.

It happened on Meet The Press on September 23. The right wing has been hyping the statement that about 46% of taxpayers pay no federal income tax (while still, as they never mention, paying a host of other taxes, both state and federal, such as payroll taxes, excise taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, state and local income taxes, and so on). Apparently suckered in by the right wing, Meet The Press host David Gregory, who would without doubt be a prime contender for media clown of the year, asked Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick if poor people should be required to pay federal income tax. That is, no matter how low their income, they should have to owe something; that there should be no level of poverty too severe to be below a taxable income.

Patrick, obviously caught off-guard, lamely and rather stupidly answered "Maybe," saying this was the first time he'd heard the idea. Gregory, apparently unwilling to let Patrick think about something he said he'd just heard of, pressed. He wanted to know if poor people - indeed, even the poorest people - should, in his words "have some skin in the game."

What? "Skin in the game?" Is he joking? What kind of nonsense is this? Wanting the poorest among us to have to put out more of what little they already don't have in order to have "skin in the game?" Well, maybe they should because they sure as hell have nothing else to put in. Maybe instead of "skin in the game" Gregory should have asked about "a pound of flesh."

Oh, but it's only a little bit of taxes, just like, you know, maybe a dollar or something. Just so you can have some "skin in the game." We know you don't have enough money for food. You don't have enough money for adequate shelter. That clothes from Savers is a real treat. That you haven't been able to see a doctor or a dentist since who knows when. But that's not what's important, what's important is that you have "skin in the game." And if that means you have even less for food, for shelter, for heat, for health care, for all the things you already can't afford, well, that's the way it goes. At least you have a dollar's worth of "skin in the game."

But of course it's not just a dollar, it never is. It's a lot more; for some families surviving just above the poverty line it could be thousands of dollars more. Putting this sort of "minimum tax" into effect would require eliminating, among other things, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, those two programs "lifted 9.2 million people above the poverty line in 2010."

And by the way: that poverty line? It's ridiculously low. For example, imagine you're a couple. No kids, just the two of you. Could you survive on a gross income of $290 a week? Remember, that's for everything: Rent, heat, utilities, phone, food, clothing, health care, gasoline, everything. Could you do it? You better be able to: According to the federal government's guidelines for 2011, you're not poor.

Finally: Yes, I know what the term "skin in the game" means. And it doesn't mean what the right wing and highly-paid cement heads like Gregory think it does. It referred to top executives of a company investing in their own company's stocks, taking some actual personal risk for its performance. What we're seeing here is not executives sharing the risks on their own companies, it's the rich trying to suck money - money that could fairly be called blood money, considering the effect it would have on many people's lives - out of the poor in order to protect their own tax breaks.

That is disgusting, it is immoral, and it is an outrage. The Outrage of the Week.


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