Three Messages to Build a Progressive Tax Majority

November 17, 2010

Shortly after the election, one of our supporters asked me what we as a progressive community needed to be doing now. In addition to things like building capacity to influence the broader media and shape the public dialogue, raising more money for organizing efforts across the nation, and pushing for reform to turn back the effects of the Citizen’s United case, I also suggested three core messages that we need to hammer at every opportunity to build a progressive tax majority. They are:

No man / woman is an island. As communities, our prosperity is bound together and dependent upon each other. The prosperity of others in our community impacts our own wellbeing. The recent foreclosure crisis is a classic example as the collateral damage of large-scale foreclosures in communities took down the value of all the homes in the area, including those who had been paying their mortgage, sending them underwater as well. Similarly, better schools doesn't just help the students, it has positive ripple effects across the entire economy. We rise together and we fall together.

The wealth of the most affluent is because of, not in spite of, the tax system and the public investments it makes possible. As long as people believe that the wealthy in our society achieved their status through hard work, smarts, and entrepreneurship alone, they (including those who are not wealthy) will resist any form of progressive taxation as an affront to their hard work and "American values." We must continually point out the ways in which public investments, including roads, courts, public education, parks, and more, make it possible for businesses in our nation to succeed and the wealth that is created for those at the top. Once this is grasped in a deeper way, people will be more open supporting progressive tax policies.

Inequality is bad for everyone. Our communities are stronger when prosperity is broadly shared. Over the past few years, there has been growing evidence validating what progressives have known intuitively all along, that inequality leads to higher crime rates, disintegration of communities, hopelessness and its spin-offs (poor health, obesity, etc), and more. A more broadly shared prosperity can be achieved on the front end through a higher minimum wage, living wage ordinances, caps on CEO pay, steeply progressive taxes that discourage huge paychecks at the very top, etc. On the back end, it can be achieved through progressive taxation, a strong safety net, etc. However we get there though, our communities will be stronger as a result.

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