In the middle of my morning routine of flipping back and forth between Sports Center and Squawk Box on CNBC while nursing my second cup of coffee, I listened to Wilbur Ross and Joe Kernan discuss the pros and cons of the Bush tax cuts. This wasn't the first time I heard the argument from wealthy conservatives that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire was akin to starting a new "class warfare" pinning the so called rich against the very people they help by creating jobs - but something about the way it was being discussed this morning made me mental.
What is debatable about this issue is the effect the change in tax rates might have on an economic recovery. But because economists and policy makers are uncertain about the effects, given the already uncertain state of the economy, the discussion has disintegrated to guilt, blame, and fear - things our politicians and news media outlets are good at creating and disseminating. I'm not surprised, just depressed.
It truly amazes me to hear wealthy business owners, like Wilbur Ross, argue the class warfare angle as the reason to extend the tax cuts when the majority of the people who helped him become a billionaire make less than $20 per hour. In fact, income inequality has never been higher in the US. The Bush tax cuts actually created a significant amount of the inequality we have today. Ending the tax cuts for the wealthy won't create class warfare, the class warfare started in 2001 and 2003 with the tax breaks for the wealthy (see "How Progressive is the U.S. Federal Tax System? A Historical and International Perspective" by Emmanual Saez and Thomas Piketty in the Journal of Economic Perspectives; Winter 2007, Vol. 21 Issue 1).
Let's get back to debating the economic merits of tax cuts but if, as many economists are saying, the expiration of the tax cuts will have little effect on the pace of the recovery, then maybe we should look at this issue as an argument for improving equity instead of projecting the decision to end the Bush tax cuts as a personal attack on "freedom, free enterprise, and success".