Tuesday, September 18, 2018

“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)

-Apocryphal (often spuriously attributed to Mark Twain)

Three assertions:
  • There is no such thing as “taxpayer money.”

  • Taxes do not pay for government spending. (Nor does debt. No revenue is needed.)

  • Leftists who continue to talk as if “taxpayer dollars” must be collected to “pay for” government programs are undermining Medicare-for-all and every other progressive policy initiative. 

I know these assertions run counter to an economic ideology that has been ingrained in us as obvious and irrefutable, known for sure. And I know how easy and seemingly effective it is to say things like: “Look at all the taxpayer dollars going to the military. We should spend some of those taxpayer dollars on healthcare instead.” But I want to show, with specific examples, why using this language is a bad idea—a really bad idea.

Maggie’s Farm

There are two reasons why it's important to stop talking like this: 1) Because it's not true, and 2) Because it perpetuates an ideology of how money and public financing work that is not only false, but profoundly reactionary and politically damaging—that is designed to, and will, impede achieving the most basic progressive goals.

Let's deal with the second point first, since I know a lot of leftists won’t overcome their resistance to understanding and promoting an economic proposition that runs counter to the common wisdom unless they can see the political point of it.

Consider the logic of this language: If government spending depends on tax revenue, if the government—the public authority—is an empty pocket that has to be filled with dollars that originate in the private pockets of “taxpayers,” that means public wealth depends on private wealth. That means private wealth is the source, the wellspring from which the public treasury draws; It means that, without large concentrations of private wealth (which are subject to the highest rates of taxation), the public authority cannot function.

Is that not precisely the theoretical grounding of capitalist socio-economic theory in its most regressive Thatcherite form?

If that's true, we are then in a polity where those who pay more dollars in taxes have a prima facie credible claim to demand more influence on the use of those dollars by the public authority—i.e., more political power. After all, the government depends on them; they are its donors, the breadwinners of this household, the source of its wealth. In a taxpayer/donor-financed polity, you can debate whether "taxation is theft" and to what extent “winners”—i.e., meritorious taxpayers—are paying for “losers” and “moochers”—i.e., “undeserving” non-taxpayers. It’s a polity where social programs of universal benefit exist at the sufferance—whether forced or voluntary—of the wealthy, subject to constant negotiation about how far that should go.

This is the paradigm of noblesse-oblige, welfare-state capitalism, whether more or less “generous,” where the public authority—the federal government—must go hat in hand to the wealthy to pay for public services.

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