Saturday, December 21, 2002

The Wall Street Journal's recent editorial expressing concern that too many non-affluent Americans may be playing too little in taxes--and hence lacking in tax-cutting passion--has understandably come under fire from liberals like Tim Noah, E.J. Dionne, and (of course) Paul Krugman. They quibble with the math (low-income people pay lots of tax, even if most of it is not income tax), condemn the mean-spiritedness of the idea, mock the irony of Republican "class warfare", and write ominously of the potential for this "meme" to take off, with predictably awful consequences.

What they (again, understandably) seem to have missed is the bigger picture: the obvious sheer desperation infecting ideologues like the WSJ editorialists that has them actually hoping for a major political setback, just so that they can recover their lost feeling of gaining momentum and making progress. The simple fact is that anti-tax fervor has won in America; it is a universally accepted conventional wisdom, it can command automatic, overwhelming political support, and no politician dares raise a firm voice against it. In other words, it has peaked, and has nowhere to go but down.

Over time, segments of the public that once reflexively opposed taxes will inevitably start noticing attractive governmental opportunities missed as a result of this dogma, and anti-tax zealots will find themselves fighting rearguard holding actions against popular measures to raise revenues for particular widely-supported government expenditures (or simply to preserve popular current ones, in the face of mounting deficits). Tax-cutters will at that point have morphed from impassioned revolutionaries into beleaguered defenders of the status quo, just like the tax-and-spend liberals whose barricades they once stormed. The wheel will have come full circle.

In their hearts, I believe that the "preserve the poor's tax burden" set subconsciously understand their problem; they dread their inevitable fate, and are frantically trying to preserve the last vestiges of their beloved insurgent status. Their efforts, of course, are doomed to failure.

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