Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Millionaire’s Tax and the Reversal of the Conservative Revolution

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.

14 comments:

  1. I'm not sure how to swallow this pro-tax blather after reading all of the great stories on your blog about the rich folks at the University of California. Aren't more than 4200 people making more than $200,000 each year? That's what I read here.

    Yet you want to raise taxes by getting rid of Proposition 13. Property taxes are flat and paid by the rich and the poor. (Non owners pay through rent.) The vast majority of the state don't come close to making $200,000 each year. Many are lucky to hit $50,000. Yet you want to boost their property taxes just so the rich folks at the University of California can have fancier labs and do less teaching? Come on. Go back to your sensible arguments about boosting enrollment and cutting the plush salaries enjoyed by so many.

    And get a clue. Welfare has nothing to do with it. It's all medicare and medicaid costs that are bankrupting California. And the pensions too. Do you realize that regular taxpayers don't have anything that begins to approximate the plush retirement pension promised to University of California professors? Yet you want to boost taxes on everyone so you can enjoy it.

    Face it, many of the fattest cats work on college campuses now. And many of the successful ones in Silicon Valley don't even have college degrees and so they don't need your blessing. Yet it's all about sending the state to force us to pay for an education that people wouldn't buy on their own.

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  2. It is clear to me that this comment above did not understand my post. I did not say anything about property tax or getting rid of Prop 13. This is about a tax on millionaires. Also, currently, the state does not fund the UC pensions. While UC has its own internal problems, this post is about the need for tax revenue to increase vital public services. I agree the cost of healthcare is a major budget issue for the state, but I was talking about the unconscious association people now make between the government, welfare, and minorities.

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  3. Anonymous 1 is drunk on Howard Jarvis koolaide and missing reality. Your post (and blog) have done fine (though often unpleasant) work in outlining the decline of Californias higher education system. Although you did not say it, Prop 13 has to be recognized as the beginning of the end as higher education budgets have trended downward since its passing and taxes rarely (never) pass with its 2/3 legislative requirement. Which has placed pressures on the CA general fund to fund all of CA needs (higher ed, prisons, parks, medicaid, etc.) that are not funded by past ballot box referendums (k-12). Anon 1's response and tone are indicative of the lightning rail response you get from property owners (50+ percent of the population and demographically the voters) when you touch this issue, if politicians touch prop 13 they die and they know it. Even though its poorly written and unfair- it would seem to appear that it is here to stay. So some other revenue must be raised unless someone wants to get electrocuted and nobody does. The millionaires tax or Browns millionaire tax/sales tax increase seem to be the all in bet for stabilizing (not improving) CA higher education at this point.....lets work and pray that they pass in Novemeber. What will happen if they don't? (More decline). It is unfortunate and shortsighted that the greatest generation and their children after enjoying the opportunity provided by free higher education are unwilling to pay it forward to the current generation of young Californians.

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