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Getting the Ideology Out of Tax Policy Debates

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After reading this anti-Republican rant from David Sirota, I’m going to make a bold suggestion: can we stop talking about which class is stealing which other class’ money and start addressing our tax code without the ideological blinders on?

Sirota makes the typical and typically contorted argument that the Republicans have let the rich steal from the middle class. This requires some sleight-of-hand number crunching that “proves” middle-class Americans suffer under a higher tax burden. Even if that was 100% true, the rich aren’t stealing money from the rest of us. They are simply holding onto greater percentages of what they’ve earned. Unless you believe being wealthy is inherently immoral, you can’t call a successful man a thief for wanting to hold on to his own income.

Sirota’s class warfare rant is, of course, in response to the Republican class warfare rants about Barack Obama being a socialist who will steal your money and give it to those who are earning less. While it’s true that Obama’s tax plan does involve some minor wealth-redistribution trickery, it is not some twisted scheme designed to sap America’s prosperity and turn us into the second coming of the Soviet Union. It’s a mainstream Democratic tax policy that, if the polls are to be believed, is acceptable to around half the nation.

Both sides are getting overheated and are in danger of missing the point. At the end of the day, a tax policy should do two things. 1) collect enough revenue to pay the government’s bills. And 2) spread the burden fairly so that no one’s tax liability inhibits their ability to improve their life.

That’s it. You can bring all the ideology you want to the equation, but I think that tends to make the issue harder to address and the real problems harder to solve.

So I ask of the middle class: do the taxes you pay under Bush inhibit your ability to improve your life? Are you giving so much back to the government that you are left with no money to invest and no money to spend on bettering your competitive edge (via schooling, relocation, job training, etc.)? And mind you, it doesn’t count if you decide to spend your money on a plasma TV or a trip to Las Vegas rather than investing in a class at the local community college. If your answer is an unqualified yes, then I’d suggest we need to look at ways to alleviate the tax burden. If your answer is no, then stop being jealous of the wealthy.

Now, let’s ask the wealthy: is there anything in Obama’s tax policy that would inhibit you from investing in your future or would realistically burden your ability to better your competitive edge or improve your career/business? It doesn’t count if the slightly higher taxes merely cause you to fly business class instead of first class. If the answer is yes, then, by all means, oppose Obama’s plan and, if he’s elected, push him to revise that plan so it is not unnecessarily burdensome. If the answer is no, then suck it up.

This is America. There is more than enough wealth for anyone committed to earning it. But no one wins when we start accusing each other of stealing wealth. Tax policy has become too infused with partisan ideology.