Majority backs higher taxes on the rich

A recent Washington Post poll found that 44 percent of registered voters approve of the “fiscal cliff” deal struck New Year’s Day. Additionally, the poll found that 67 percent of Democratic voters approve of the deal, and that 52 percent of Americans approve of President Obama’s handling of the deal.

While these statistics are informative on the surface, they also allude to a much larger substantive point. That point is: Increasing taxes on the rich is a majority sentiment, has been for a long time and is good for the economy.

By digging a little deeper into the polling data and other statistics we find a few interesting facts that have been largely ignored.

First, according to the poll, 42 percent of registered voters disapprove of the “fiscal cliff” deal, but they do so for different reasons. Many – a significant portion I would argue – disapprove of the deal because it does not increase taxes enough on the wealthy. This is partly the reason why some progressive democrats in the House and Senate did not support the deal.

In other words, it is not necessarily increased taxes they disapprove of. It’s that taxes weren’t increased more.

Second, while moderate Republicans in the House and Senate did eventually join with the President and back the “fiscal cliff” deal, it is widely understood that it was their intransigence that brought us to the “cliff” in the first place, which may be why House Speaker John Boehner has a 31 percent approval and a 51 percent disapproval rating in his handling of the deal – the exact opposite of President Obama’s.

Keep in mind that during the “fiscal cliff” debate Boehner and the right wing of the Republican Party demanded cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and job-creating infrastructure programs, while refusing to even discuss increasing taxes on the rich.

The disapproval rating reflects a widely understood consensus that the Republicans are NOT serious about deficit reduction, but ARE serious about continuing tax breaks for the rich while throwing seniors, the poor, the unemployed and students under the bus.

Third, according to the Economic Policy Institute, “the Fiscal Cliff exposes that big budget deficits and rising public debt have sustained the economic recovery, and the pace of deficit reduction must now be slowed to keep the economy growing.”

In other words, cutting public spending – the Republican plan – would harm the economy and possibly send the fragile recovery into a nosedive. So the main task ahead isn’t deficit reduction. It’s job creation by-way of increased public spending, which will spur private sector confidence as consumers begin to spend more money. The time to focus on deficit reduction is after the economy has recovered.

Fourth, the tax increases won by the Obama Administration are a huge victory for the working class. The tax increases on individuals making $400,000+ and families making $450,000+ demonstrate a willingness to impose a little sanity in an otherwise insane situation.

What do I mean? Historically, our economy was at its best when taxes were at their highest – the post-WWII period through the mid-to-late 70’s. It is no coincidence that living standards, wages, benefits and pensions have all decreased as taxes have decreased.

The recent tax increases won in the Fiscal Cliff debate return the rich to about the same tax rate of the late 1970’s. While I would agree that the tax increases on the rich do NOT go far enough, I do think they point us in the right direction.

If we can begin the process of increasing taxes on the rich – similar to the post-WWII period – maybe we can also begin the process of returning hard-won gains back to the working class.

Contrary to popular belief tax increases have historically led to higher wages and better benefits.

Sanity in this context means shared sacrifice. The Working class has given and given over the past 30+ years. If we are serious about economic recovery and deficit reduction, it is time that the rich sacrifice more.

In summary, increasing taxes on the rich is a majority sentiment, has been for a long time and is good for the economy. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t serious about economic recovery or deficit reduction.

Photo: CC BY NC 2.0. Madison Guy



Tony Pecinovsky
Tony Pecinovsky

Tony Pecinovsky is the author of "Let Them Tremble: Biographical Interventions Marking 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA" and author/editor of "Faith In The Masses: Essays Celebrating 100 Years of the Communist Party, USA." His forthcoming book is titled "The Cancer of Colonialism: W. Alphaeus Hunton, Black Liberation, and the Daily Worker, 1944-1946." Pecinovsky has appeared on C-SPAN’s "Book TV" and speaks regularly on college and university campuses across the country.