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Posts Tagged ‘estate tax’

Snooki is overtaxed. MTV

One of my favorite shows on television (let’s be fair, 50% of what I watch on TV) is “The Soup,” with Joel McHale, the kind of show that the brilliant (if right now sadly ill) cultural critic Christopher Hitchens might call “low humor,” but one that actually gives its viewers a way to deconstruct the shows that currently pass for cultural communication–mainly the malady of reality TV for which there seem to be no antibodies. For some reason, these shows fulfill a need in our psychology to watch a lot of emotionally limited and brutish people fight, fuck, fall in love, and get drunk without ever having to balance a check book or pay the cable bill. Why do we watch? Maybe it’s because we know that the sloe-eyed, pneumatic, contumacious and inebriated Snooki is slowly (very slowly) gaining the path to wisdom. This makes her picaresque journey useful to us in invisible ways. We now know how not to behave and hopefully not to hit a lady in the face, even if we think she has it coming.

There is another conversation going on in America that’s not on cable TV, but you are likely familiar with it if you have a living grandparent with access to e-mail, a back channel of communication where Americans buy their penis creme as well as similarly specious topical anodynes from anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist. Often these e-mails are spiced with the names of legitimate news organizations so that they look like properly vetted journalism. But they aren’t. In reality, they are usually written directly by special interest groups and are meant to fool the rank and file into making Chicken Little decisions about their money. My late mother, a tax preparer and bankruptcy attorney, told me that people were coming to her asking to irresponsibly liquidate their holdings because of what they read in these e-mails (and saw on Fox News)–decisions that could have destroyed them financially.

Thursday an e-mail came across my desk talking about the expiration of the Bush tax cuts in 2011. The e-mail informs the reader that marginal tax rates are set to rise and that folks at all income levels will see increases next year, that their family farms will all of a sudden be subject to a 55% estate tax, that normal folks will see penalties for being married, having children and owning businesses. In other words, we’d be going back to the tax schedules of the Clinton era. Advertised as one of the largest tax hikes facing average Americans in U.S. history, these increases promise a new recession because they will overburden U.S. businesses, murder stock prices, kill investment and strangle innovation.

In other words, all the stuff that happened during the Internet boom. And who should you blame for the new recession? That’s a no-brainer. Democrats! They tax and spend, after all.

Or do they? The Democrats actually have a bill to continue the Bush era cuts–at least for 98% of us. It would keep marginal tax rates at the same level for all but the top two brackets, the highest of which will go back up to 39.6%. In fact, the rich will still see a small tax benefit because of the way income margins are staggered (they see the cuts at the lower rates, too, until they reach $200,000).

The Republican version of this bill extends the cuts for everybody, of course, which increases the deficit by more than $36 billion and relinquishes almost that entire amount to millionaires, according to a report by the Joint Committee on Taxation. If you are a millionaire, I respectfully say to you that you are sitting on this money these days anyway more than you are investing it, and you don’t need it.

You don’t hear much about the Democrats’ extension from your grandparents because Americans tend to hew to the prevailing political narrative the same way they do to Snooki’s progress through the vomit-skinned hot tubs of Jersey and Miami. It is much easier to repeat the meme that Democrats tax and spend. It is a story line that writes itself in our heads and thus we fail to break down the numbers, even when they show the story is patently false. The Democrats are your mother. They want to save the world but can’t. They are idealists who will spend your money for failed ideas of the public good. They are the reason for the recession. (Hopefully you don’t remember back that far.)

Storytelling is one of the quickest ways people learn. But it also allows people to program us. What if I told you that I knew for a fact Snooki, in her darkest moments, turns to quiet contemplation and reads Baudelaire; if that were true, you would likely not accept that news, and MTV would fire her. We all need her instead to be drunk, vulgar and provincial because then it feels better when somebody hits her in the face. Two thousand plus years ago, we were the same way, only we wanted to hit that smack-talking bitch Antigone. These days, we want to smack Barack Obama in the face. We want to punish him for his eternal ideal of commonwealth. The desire is so strong we aren’t even smart enough to notice that the freakin’ taxes haven’t even risen yet. We argue smugly that the stimulus package failed because that fits the welfare mother storyline but we don’t acknowledge that obscenely low tax rates haven’t helped either.

The truth of Grover Norquist’s statement, cramped as it is, is that the Bush tax cuts, if left to expire, would indeed bring us back to Clinton-era tax levels. What he won’t tell you, obsessed as he is with chimeras, is that Bush’s tax cuts mostly helped the wealthy in the first place. What he won’t tell you is that Clinton-era taxation helped us balance the budget. What he also won’t tell you is that most of what we have to pay for is two wars that Americans overwhelmingly approved in 2001 and 2003. The U.S. government is not taking YOUR money. The U.S. government is asking you to pay for something you already bought. OK, to be fair, maybe it has put one other item on layaway–better health care. Why? You said for years you wanted that too.

But nobody can deny that your taxes will definitely rise if a gridlocked Congress cannot come to agreement. And it’s not because of oppression but because of game theory. Republicans themselves have a vested interest in killing the Democratic version of the tax cut extension. Because then they can claim it was an example of Democrats taxing and spending, which you know, is as true as the story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree or Jesus walking on water. They only want you to go along with the Republican version, which will require the government to keep borrowing from the Chinese to pay our teachers, repave our roads and keep former employees of our nation’s manufacturing base from living in Hoovervilles. Why do Republicans want to keep borrowing? Because they like unsustainable short term solutions and because Americans don’t really understand what their economy is made of right now: credit based on past economic strength. Sooner or later, Peter Luger is not going to take our white credit card.

If you don’t believe,  you have only to realize that some roads in this country are going back to dirt, teachers are being laid off, and unemployment benefits are being threatened.

If you do understand this, you must be able to fight this storyline wherever you encounter it (from Republicans or “centrist” Democrats alike): “Your tax bill is not going up under Obama, Grandpa. But frankly, it should.”

If you don’t understand this, there’s a crab lice infested hot tub I’d love to sell you in Little Silver.

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