The Los Angeles Times has a really strange opinion piece up this morning. Written by two distinguished college professors, Jacob Hacker and Daniel Markovits, the column examines the implications of the tax cut bill rewarding the wealthy for being wealthy and suggests an appropriate action for the rest of us.
The first part they got right:
This is bad policy. The outsized tax cuts for the richest Americans and their heirs subvert the principle that those who benefit the most from the American project should pay the most to carry it forward — "not for class warfare reasons," President Clinton reminds us, but "for reasons of fairness and rebuilding the middle class in America."
These "reasons of fairness" apply especially in hard times, when those with the biggest cushions should take on a commensurate share of the burdens. When political institutions use taxes paid by all to bail out institutions that are perceived to benefit only the wealthy few, our sense of shared fate is threatened. The economy looks less and less like a common project and more and more like an exclusive party to which only some Americans are invited but for which all have to pay.
The second part they got dreadfully wrong. Hacker and Markovits suggest that we offset the action by taking the "tax cut" the rest of us got via a payroll deduction holiday and donate it to charitable institutions that can deliver what the government now can't.
Don't get me wrong. I am not opposed to donating money to charities that do assist people when they need help. I donate regularly to such organizations as the Red Cross and local food banks. I support church efforts to provide emergency shelters for the homeless. I think we all need to recognize that we belong to a larger community than just our families and charitable giving is one way to actualize that concept.
What I vehemently disagree with is the suggestion by the authors that this will somehow ease the burden and provide a symbolic gesture to our politicians. While private charities can raise money to support medical research, they can't repair roads, provide the mechanisms for clean air, clean water, and a safe food and medicine supply. Nor can they build public schools and pay for the teachers, librarians, and nurses needed. The can't pay for a functioning police and fire department. They can't plow the roads after a snowstorm. Those are all the functions of government at its various levels.
Hacker and Markovits come close to recognizing this, but, sadly, they back down:
Nothing can take the place of a just tax policy. But political philanthropy can provide immediate help to struggling families. And through its public purpose, it can serve as a form of protest that reclaims American ideals from a legislative process that has squandered them. By putting our money where our mouths are, perhaps we can light a path to better policies — and a better American politics.
If we learn anything from the past three years, I hope that it is that we cannot count on the wealthiest among us to assist us through hard times. We can expect that most will want more and will want to keep it. There are few Bill Gates and Warren Buffets.
The pittance tossed our way, even if enough is left over at the end of the bill paying session to send to charity, cannot possibly offset the damage done by the passage of this tax bill.
And our owners know it.
Labels: Our Owners