The “Millionaire’s Tax” is being seen as a fight that has national and international implications. As austerity policies spread throughout the world, very few states or countries have tried to reverse the course and raise taxes to support needed public programs. In response to the global financial crisis of 2008-9, the general consensus has been that one must bailout the wealthy, while one cuts governmental services for everyone else. For instance, as the US Federal Reserve continues to give trillions of dollars of no-interest loans to banks and investment firms, almost every state has cut its funding for higher education. Also, as state cuts result in larger tuition prices, students are forced to take out huge loans, while universities and colleges increase class sizes and reduce enrollments.
At the heart of this push for austerity is a conservative revolution based on a tax revolt. Starting with Prop 13 in California, rich people realized that if they wanted to increase their income and decrease their taxes, they would need to demonize government and equate it with welfare for minorities. In other words, the major way that conservatives have justified tax cuts for the wealthy is by arguing that we do not need taxes to support Big Government, and how they make this anti-government rhetoric work is by connecting symbolically Big Government to minorities. In turn, to show that minorities do not need our help, and in fact these minorities on welfare are the victimizers and not the victims, conservatives had to convince people that minorities are no longer the victims of racism, sexism, and classism. Thus, according to this logic, if we live in a post-racial and post-gender society, there is no need to help out disadvantaged minorities through welfare, and therefore we do not need Big Government or even taxes.
Of course, it does not matter that welfare makes up a small part of the federal budget, and most people on welfare assistance are white; what matters is that by conjuring the image of the Welfare Queen or the Food Stamp President, conservatives are able to access the part of our brain that is structured by unconscious, symbolic associations. For example, in a study of word associations, it was found that conservatives often associate the words crime and welfare with black people. This type of automatic, intuitive, unconscious association is often in conflict with the conscious ideas that people hold. Therefore, people may think that they are color-blind, but a part of their brain color codes social representations, and this is why the conservative use of coded attacks is so effective. For instance, when New Gingrich uses the phrase “our Food Stamp President,” he is not only saying that Democrats like to give food stamps to poor people, but the President himself is imagined to be a black man on food stamps.
In terms of the Millionaire’s tax, the reversal of this unconscious conservative cultural revolution will entail re-educating people about what the government can do, while we also reverse the reversed racism that sees poor people, immigrants, and public employees as the victimizers and rich people as the victims. Instead of pitying the billionaires, we have to get people to see that we are all part of the 99%, and the 1% should pay their fair share. In fact, the Occupy Wall Street movement has helped to create a new set of unconscious associations that link the wealthy to the exploitation of everyone else. Let us wok together to push for the Millionaire’s tax and a reversal of the conservative revolution. We will have rallies on the UC campuses on March 1st, and then we will occupy Sacramento on March 5th.