Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 17, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

TAXING THE POOR....Jacob Levy, in an apparent effort to be contrarian, has for some reason decided to use his space in The New Republic this month to defend the Wall Street Journal's infamous "Lucky Duckies" editorial from last year. You remember, that was the one where they complained that the poor don't pay enough income tax, and suggested that if only we taxed them more maybe they'd become a rich source for new recruits in the Republican war for endless tax cuts.

Jacob argues that the Journal has a point:

The general form of these arguments ("lucky duckies" as well as the arguments from the left) is: If we subject everyone to the same rules, institutions, or conditions, then there will be political demand to make them fair or otherwise tolerable. If we only subject some people to them, then some may be unfairly singled out or burdened; there will be opportunities to divide the citizenry, play the interests of some against those of others, and to undermine the overall desirable outcome.

But in making this rather rarified argument, Jacob completely misses the real criticism that liberals have of the "lucky duckies" thesis, and I can't tell if this is deliberate on his part or if he genuinely doesn't understand it. Here it is:

The poor already pay a lot of taxes. The Wall Street Journal is completely full of shit.

Between sales taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, and payroll taxes, the poorest 20% of Americans pay about 18% of their income in taxes. You can quibble with the exact numbers, but it's plain to everyone that the poor, in fact, are already pretty heavily taxed.

That's the reason for liberal outrage against the Journal's egregiously dishonest argument, and it's a very down to earth one. The WSJ editorial page is written by very smart, very well informed people, and since they know the real tax burden on the poor perfectly well, it is only their distinctively radical brand of intellectual dishonesty that allows them to pretend otherwise.

Low (or nonexistent) federal income taxes on the poor are the only thing that keeps the American tax system from being downright regressive, let alone flat. I suspect the Journal might not mind changing that, but surely Jacob doesn't agree?

Kevin Drum 4:04 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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