Many regard the United States Constitution as one of the greatest documents in the history of political thought. Indeed, it has a lot going for it. Not least of which the brilliant separation of powers, checks and balances, the Bill of Rights, and the insurance of popular sovereignty. Continuing to this day, they have rendered America the oldest existing Republic in the world.
TJ Roberts | United States
It is a popular lie that tax deductions are nothing more than subsidies. Advocates of this idea claim that the state funds certain behaviors by eliminating taxes on such actions. The problem, however, becomes apparent when one asks whose money is on the line. It should be abundantly clear that they are not subsidies because tax dollars do not belong to the government. Rather, they belong to the people the state forced to pay.
Former Governor of Massachusetts Bill Weld announced today he is running for president against Donald Trump, hoping to secure the Republican nomination.
Jack Shields | United States
Ben Franklin once said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Indeed, since civilization formed, they have been a part of life. Today, taxes are everywhere: we have income, sales, and estate taxes, tariffs, and many more.
Despite most people thinking they pay enough or more than their share, many are quite happy to raise taxes on others in the name of ‘paying their fair share.’ And now, with the Democrats in control of the House Representatives, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is already proposing a top rate of 70% to fund her radical agenda.
Which Form of Taxation is Best?
It is important to note that after the Trump tax cuts, the Feds collected a record amount of revenue. Moreover, the 1% who supposedly don’t pay their fair share already contribute 43% of the collected revenue. Meanwhile, the top 20% contribute 87% of the total income tax revenue. Rightfully, some conservatives and most libertarians despise the current state of high taxes. Because of this, Republican administrations and red states have slashed them when they had the opportunity. But in their noble goal, they have neglected the fairest one of them all.
When examining which taxation method is best, the valid questions of whether there should there be taxation or should the government be spending this much are irrelevant. As of right now, there is spending and there is taxation. I will give neither justification nor disapproval for either. Rather, I will present the best possible situation in the status quo by examining all possible taxes. Obviously, we may need some other forms of taxation to fund all our spending, but we should still strive towards the most moral system possible.
Property Tax: Immoral and Harmful
Perhaps the most popular alternative method for red states without an income tax, such as Texas, is the Real Property Tax, a tax on real estate. In principle, a property tax may be on any good someone owns, not necessarily just land. This is immoral in principle and detrimental in practice. One of the most important rights an individual can have is the right to property and the fruit of one’s labor.
Placing a tax unrelated to the actual acquiring of such property effectively makes it not your property. Rather, the government owns it and you may rent it as long as you can pay for it. As soon you are unable to, you must give it back up to those who really own it.
If you work your entire life to pay for something, it ought to be yours entirely. When the transaction is complete, the government should not be involved, save cases of illegal misuse and other abnormal instances. No government should allow itself to take property that you worked hard to attain.
Tariffs and the Sales Tax
Among the protectionists of the Republican party such as President Trump, tariffs have been supported. Tariffs, however, act essentially as just another tax against the American people. They make better products cost more and lose us thousands of jobs.
Economically, they are a complete disaster. Free trade, which requires no tariffs, is the best way to improve the lives of Americans. Any economic system which places protecting the worker over pleasing the consumer is doomed to fail, and tariffs are a means by which protectionists hope to achieve their flawed economic system, and they should receive support.
The sales tax is also a popular idea among conservatives and libertarians as a way to get rid of the income tax. On the surface, this is a very appealing option. No income tax. No IRS. Seems quite nice. However, the problem is this is regressive and unfairly impacts the poor.
Take two individuals that live in a city with a 5% sales tax. Person A makes $20,000 a year and Person B makes $100,000. Person A has to spend all of their $20,000, essentially giving them an income tax of 5%. But Person B spends $80,000 of their $100,000, saving the rest. This effectively gives them a rate of 4%, as they pay nothing on what they saved. We should strive for the fairest rate and the regressive sales tax is not the best choice.
Taxes that Unfairly Harm the Rich
Just as we shouldn’t have a system that unfairly harms the poor, we should not have a system that harms the rich. But unfortunately, this idea is quite popular in two very immoral ways. The first of these is the estate tax, perhaps the most immoral one out there. The idea that when someone dies, the government gets to go in and take some of their stuff, is truly horrifying. It is one thing to tax someone as they earn income or are in the middle of a transaction. The idea, though, that a death initiates a need to take from the family is just wrong.
One of the biggest incentives for earning is to care for your family. One of the marks of a truly successful life, at least from an economic perspective, is having your family be financially prosperous because of you, even when you are long gone. The fact that this only targets the richest of the rich is irrelevant when looking at it from a moral perspective. When someone dies, there is no moral reason to go in and take their stuff.
The Progressive Income Tax
The next favorite policy against the rich is the progressive income tax. The idea, of course, is that as you make more money, you can afford to lose more of your income. There are already a plethora of economic reasons why this is a terrible idea, and Thomas Sowell writes particularly well on the issue. The economic side has already seen lengthy discussion.
However, just as with the estate tax, the immorality of the system has seen little public examination. If an individual obeys the law and earns a sizable income, what right do you have to use the government to steal the money and use it for your own ideas? The idea that these rich people are evil and have no idea how to help people with their money is just wrong. Practically, do you really think Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi are smarter with money than Bill Gates, who is using his billions to cure AIDS, or LeBron James, who is using his millions to send underprivileged kids to college? Of course not.
Morally, if your neighbor disapproved of the way you spent your money so he took 70% of it and spent it how he wished, we’d call it stealing (rightfully so). When the government does it, it is still stealing and still wrong. The point of taxation is to give the government a stream of revenue to properly execute its powers. If at any point taxation deviates from this goal in the name of any other, it is immoral. Surely, this is the poster child for this immoral practice.
Its Cousin: Sin Taxes
Special taxes against things which present a supposed moral problem such as alcohol or marijuana (sin tax) are essentially the cousin of the progressive income tax and are just as immoral. Taxing something, whether it be a whiskey tax or carbon tax, is just another way to legislate morality. Just like the progressive tax, this deviates from the goal of bringing in revenue.
The Flat Tax: The Most Moral System
With prevalent practical and moral issues with all the taxation methods listed above, the flat income tax stands alone as the most moral tax system. Of course, it is not perfect; any type of taxation is a necessary evil, after all. By definition, necessary evil is still evil. Nevertheless, it solves the moral and practical issues of the other systems.
Unlike the property tax, this only occurs right as you acquire money, and then you’re done. You don’t have to keep paying it every year. Unlike tariffs, it in no way interferes with free trade. Unlike the sales and progressive income taxes, it does not disproportionately affect the rich or poor. It is an equal percentage across the board, making it fair by mathematical law. Unlike the estate tax, it will not immorally take money from a family dealing with the loss of a loved one. And unlike the progressive income or sin taxes, the flat tax does not legislate morality.
If you raise the rate on one group, you have to raise it on all, making rate increases much more difficult and unpopular. This will help to ensure that taxation only funds the government’s enumerated powers. Thus, it will be moral (assuming, of course, that the enumerated powers are moral).
Because it is both moral and practically capable of raising a reasonable amount of revenue; the flat tax is clearly the system conservatives and libertarians should advocate for in their quest to end limitless taxation and government spending.
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Luke-David Boswell | United Kingdom
Only two decades ago, any mention of ‘socialism’ in American politics as a potential governing ideology would have been met with extreme backlash and cries that communism had come to destroy America. However, in modern times (at least among younger generations), the stigma surrounding socialism has largely evaporated with a University of Chicago survey finding that from a pool of 18-to-34-year-old Democrats, 61% “expressed favorable views towards Socialism.” One Gallup poll from a few months later also reported that more Democrats hold “positive views” of socialism than of capitalism, at 57% versus 47%. Compare this to the post-World War II era where, for example, only 15% of Americans wanted to see the country “go more in the direction of socialism”, according to a 1949 Gallup poll.
Why the Shift?
This new shift in favor of socialism in America could be boiled down to the essential need for a radical change in politics after the once inconceivable idea of a President Donald Trump became a reality. Many Americans are currently finding their voices in politicians like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Julia Salazar, who are seen to argue for the working class and those without the ability to speak up. All three are associated with Democratic Socialism, especially Ocasio-Cortez and Salazar, who belong to the Democratic Socialists of America.
Despite being written off as a joke in politics, the party membership had leapfrogged from only 6,000 to nearly 50,000 people in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. This was largely because of political figures like Sanders, whose ‘radical’ views promoted a new way of doing politics and a credible alternative choice for those tired of the controversies of both Republicans and Democrats.
With the reintroduction of socialism into America, there comes confusion and ignorance in relation to the objectives of democratic socialism and exactly what it means to be a democratic socialist. Upon hearing the dreaded s-word, people tend to link it to the totalitarian dictatorship of the USSR, a fake socialist country hiding behind the word to achieve the government’s own goal of a single party for a single state, with no other options. In reality, the USSR was a Communist state, an ideology which democratic socialism opposes entirely, hence the ‘democratic’.
However, due to the moral panic caused by the anti-Soviet propaganda of the Cold War, socialism couldn’t take off in America, thanks to being labeled with the red brush of Communism despite vehemently disagreeing with the USSR’s practices. From one perspective, the view of socialism relating to the USSR and the Cold War remains in the USA as a deterrent from understanding the benefits. People may even say that someone can’t believe in both democracy and socialism, but the two go hand in hand perfectly.
What Does It Mean to Be a Democratic Socialist?
Essentially, democratic socialism is socially responsible, ethical capitalism. It means affordable education, healthcare for all, and a suitable living wage, whilst still spending money on anything we choose. Those who follow democratic socialism believe in a moral, yet wealthy America; an America where no person is too poor to live. Yet, Republicans and Democrats constantly attack the ideology, trying to ‘rein’ in its speakers. Trying to silence anyone with a socialist viewpoint, like the “Communist Control Act” under President Eisenhower, is a direct breach of the 1st Amendment and, no matter how radical the belief, a person shouldn’t be silenced for their opinion.
One of the main missions for the democratic socialists in the USA is to achieve free education and healthcare. As someone from the UK, where both of these systems are open to every person in our society, it astounds me as to how some members of the right, particularly in Trump’s administration, can argue against universal healthcare when the introduction of the NHS system in the UK has led to equality. The idea that someone has to pay for a physical injury or mental help is incomprehensible to me.
Although the NHS has had troubles with funding recently, these issues are down to the conservative government, who want to see the return of privatization. During the years of the socialist Labour government (who introduced the NHS), the system ran efficiently and most importantly assured the poorest that they wouldn’t be in debt to the government for their own misfortune.
The Failure of the Opponents of Democratic Socialism
Opponents of democratic socialism in the USA seem to counter points with the state of the nation in Venezuela. In arguments that I’ve had with individuals who have different ideologies, this has been a response word for them whenever I mention socialism. Opponents citing any governments run by a dictator, where the seizure of private property occurs only shows how misunderstood democratic socialism is. The cry of Venezuela is immediately supposed to invalidate socialism, as a corrupt system that looks good on paper but in practice, fails on its promises. I point to a quote from The Guardian which sums up the argument: ‘Republicans go completely Caracas at mere mention of the s-word’.
The comparison between the potential for democratic socialism in one of the richest countries in the world and a ‘socialist’ third world country, that has always struggled economically is incredibly stupid. Any comparison with a leading country like the USA is unwarranted, as a socialist system being implemented in a third world country without infrastructure, is a key to disaster, but a socialist system in a first world country is proven to succeed. Notably, in the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Finland. These countries are models for democratic socialism in the world and are among the places with the highest quality of life.
Another view of democratic socialists is that the rich must be taxed exceedingly higher than they are currently. The taxing of the rich, in order to achieve a just and equal society, is a must. Any mention of further taxing seems to make the people on the right believe that if in power, socialists would forcibly take all wealth from the rich. This is simply not true, only higher taxing, which the rich can afford (whilst still living in mansions, sipping wine) would be implemented. Chiefly, a 70% top marginal income tax rate would be put into law, which would not only benefit society as a whole but also not decrease the quality of life for the rich. Meghan McCain screeching on The View at any mention of democratic socialism really shows how terrified Republicans are of the notion that they’ll rightly get forced to pay extra taxes if they’re substantially richer than the average population. This system results in the rich still being wealthy but the wealth gap closing, with the poor being given a better chance at success.
Looking at the beginning of democratic socialism in the USA, it can be traced back to those who wanted to incorporate the interests of the women’s movement, civil rights movement, gay rights movements and other social movements born in the 60s into a single cause. In fact, the founder of the Democratic Socialists of America, Michael Harrington became one of Martin Luther King’s informal advisors after they met on a picket line protesting the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, and he advised the civil rights leader on writing the manifesto for the Poor People’s Campaign.
The combination of these movements and economic fairness is central to a democratic socialist, with a summary of items on their agenda being:
- labor reform
- pro-union policies
- tuition-free public universities and trade schools
- universal healthcare
- federal jobs programs
- fair taxation that closes loopholes that the wealthiest citizens have discovered
- taxes on the rich and corporations to pay for social welfare programs
- reducing classism within society
- eliminating the threat of price fixing
- equality in society
- reducing the threat of economic cycles
- efficient economy, with the input of the people
- increased room for value judgments, not based on finances
One of the keys to understanding democratic socialism is, instead of focusing on private profit or an attitude that rewards those who are able to survive, the focus should be on a humane vision where everyone has the chance to share their view and contribute.
In the UK, openly socialist Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn visits colleges where queues of people await him and is the most followed political leader in the UK, despite not being in power. This, I predict, will soon change on the next election and the world will have one more socialist country. Perhaps, in another two or three elections, a Democratic Socialist may be the leader of the USA. At the rate in which the popularity of Sanders, Salazar, and Ocasio-Cortez is increasing, it isn’t an impossibility. Nothing seems impossible after Donald Trump.
List of Notable Figures Who Support Democratic Socialism
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York)
Bernie Sanders (Vermont)
Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts)
Carolyn Maloney (New York)
Julia Salazar (New York)
James Thompson (Kansas)
Sarah Smith (Washington)
Summer Lee (Pennsylvania)
Sara Innamorato (Pennsylvania)
Elizabeth Fiedler (Pennsylvania)
Kristin Seale (Pennsylvania)
46 Democratic Socialists won their primaries in 2018.
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