I watched yesterday one of those short “debates” on CNN in which a Democrat and a Republican stand around a table and respond to questions by reciting their party’s talking points. On the “Buffett Rule” – which sets a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for Americans whose incomes exceed $1 million – the Republican talked about the “job creators” who would be discouraged from the heroic role they play, while the Democrat talked about the national need for “fairness.” The journalist talked about polls that show 64 percent of Americans favor the Buffett Rule, named for Warren Buffett who noted that he pays taxes at lower rate than his secretary. The journalist also pointed out that the public is all for slashing spending . . . until people start to talk specifically about what programs to cut. Obviously we need to get real about this issue – about exactly where the cuts will be, about precisely what jobs, other than domestic servants, are created by the personal incomes of the very rich, etc.
Lost in yesterday’s discussion was why we pay taxes at all. A tax has become simply a burden, and therefore the lighter the burden the better. What happened to the notion that a tax is an investment in the country and in ourselves – one whose value we can measure by the return that investment brings? Yes, there is enormous waste that needs to be addressed. But there is so much that needs to be built and that we as a society should be building together.