Dave Johnson's blog
Are you concerned about the country’s large budget deficits? Are you wondering how we are going to pay for two wars, bank bailouts and economic recovery projects while continuing to maintain our roads and bridges and pay for our schools and police and firefighters? Are you wondering what we can do about the great concentration of wealth and income into the hands of a very few at the top?
There are so many budget problems. It would be so nice if we could just go back to a simpler time.
Well there is something we can do to solve most of these problems in one fell swoop. We really can just go back to a simpler time. Why don’t we just go back to the income tax structure that we had back when budgets were balanced, our infrastructure was maintained, our schools were good, the economy grew at a nice, fast clip and the middle class knew that their incomes would grow steadily? What I am suggesting is that we just return the income and corporate tax rates to where they were during the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.
(This article originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News)
While America has always been a place where a person could get rich, it used to be that you got rich a bit more slowly, and everyone benefited in the process. This is because we used to have very high tax rates at the top.
A person could do very well, but income that came in above a certain level was highly taxed and used to pay for the teachers, police, courts and roads that enabled businesses to thrive. Just how high were taxes? During America's "golden years" of 1951-1963, tax rates were over 90 percent on income over $400,000. Then through the 1960s and 70s, they were 70 percent on income above $200,000.
This had many beneficial results — especially for the people who paid higher taxes. Back then, government could afford to invest in programs that improved everyone's standard of living, including health, knowledge and technology, all without borrowing.
Do we really want government making decisions? I hear the same question repeated a number of different ways: “Do we really want government making decisions about our health care?” “Do we really want government deciding how banks should be run?” “Do we want government making decisions on whether drug companies can release new products?” “Do we want government telling businesses what they can and can’t do?”
The immediate, emotional reaction is, “Of course not!” But what happens when these questions are examined more closely?
Health care reform is in the news so let’s look at decision-making in health care first. Currently insurance companies make decisions about our health care – not government, not doctors, and certainly not us. They make these decisions based on whether a procedure or drug will be expensive. But “companies” don’t make decisions, people do – not to maximize benefits to the patient but for their own financial gain.
Progressives believe in a “we’re all in this together” philosophy while conservatives follow a “you are on your own” philosophy. The differences between these approaches can be clearly seen in the battle over how we share the benefits of our economy.
Conservatives encourage people to take “personal responsibility” rather than to rely on each other for support and guidance. When it comes to things like negotiating for pay and benefits this approach limits each of us to the power and resources that we have alone as individuals.
But big companies are not “on their own.” They are legally allowed to concentrate resources and power that dwarf anything an individual could muster. Companies might have thousands, even tens of thousands of employees who have to do what they are told. They have top legal teams at the table across from you. They can place advertisements and hire PR firms to spin false stories that turn the public against you.
I have questions about the bailouts and I can’t seem to get answers. This by itself means there are big problems with the bailouts and the rest of this effort to restore the economy. I am a citizen in a (supposed) democracy and I am not getting enough information to allow me to do my job. As a citizen I’m in charge of all of this, yet I don’t know where my money is going, how it is being used, what alternatives were considered, who is profiting, who is gaming the system, and I can’t find out.
Why are recipients of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) – better known as the Banking Bailout – allowed to continue to lobby? Taxpayer dollars should not be used to influence our government. We, the People should be telling them what to do, not the other way around.
TARP recipients spent $114 million on lobbying last year as the financial crisis emerged. In just the last quarter of the year eighteen bailout recipients spent $14.8 million to influence the government, as the TARP funds were distributed.
The lobbying has paid off. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “The companies' political activities have, in part, yielded them $295.2 billion from TARP, an extraordinary return of 258,449 percent.”