The Middle Class Argument Map

08 Mar

Trying to have a political discussion about Issue Five, the showdown in Wisconsin, or the general  idea that the wealthy ought to carry the tax burden as we’re making our way through this historic economic crisis – well, it’s like playing Whack-A-Mole.

It happens in sound bites – on both sides really. It’s a complicated issue and so people approach it from a point-scoring perspective.  Two people argue, and whoever zings the other one the most wins. 

But this isn’t about sound bites, it’s a real issue and the whole argument can be laid out flat where we can all look at it, and until you do that, it’s really not very easy to claim that you know what you’re talking about.

I mean, that’s how you prove it, right?  You say, here’s what I think, here’s why I think it, and here’s my response to every objection I’ve heard since I started thinking it.

Short Attention Span Politics.  I’ve been examining this topic from all sides lately – to the point of beating a dead horse, some would say – but that’s how it must be done.  To achieve clarity on an issue, we have to shine a light in every corner of it.

And of course our current methods of gathering political information are completely counterproductive to those ends.  We tend to get our information from whomever already agrees with us, in convenient Talking Point Form, so we can toss out glib sound bites, bully and insult each other, and generally do everything BUT lay out exactly why we think what we think.

So here’s my map, my point-by-point stroll through this issue, and it seems to me that if I’m wrong on something here, someone ought to be able to point to where that is.

There Is Plenty Of Money.  The first thing that struck me was, we extended a tax cut for the wealthy, and then we shrugged and told middle class teachers and firefighters and cops that there was “no more money.” 

So my point is, if there’s “no more money” then the rich aren’t paying enough in taxes.  You can call that socialism if you want, but that’s a weird thing to think, since from the 40’s through the 80’s, millionaires were paying 50-60% in taxes as compared to 32.6% now.  So we must have been socialist as hell back then.

Either way, my first point was, I don’t care what you call taxing the rich – it needs to happen. (How About A Nice Tall Glass Of Socialism). 

Oh, So You Want Me To Pay For It.  And then predictably, the most common response is The I’m-Rich-And-You’re-Not Argument, which isn’t really an argument at all, but more of a strategy to get middle class people to shut up.  Basically, the amount you personally pay in taxes is irrelevant to a political discussion, here in this free country of ours where the Golden Voice guy gets the same vote as Bill Gates.

The Tax-Cuts-Encourage-Growth Argument.  Then there is the standard theory that raising taxes on the wealthy will cause them to invest their money elsewhere, and while I understand that in general, I can’t help but notice that the tax cuts have been in place for ten years.  If they’re supposed to be so good for our country, then why aren’t they working?  (Think Of It As Mandatory Corporate Patriotism)

That link also deals with the notion that middle class people who have a problem with the current set-up should love it or leave it.  Not quite true of corporations, though, is it?  They get to slap patriotic acoustic guitar montages of the American midwest all over their commercials and sing songs about America and their products, but sure, raise their taxes and that’s just capitalism – off they go, and we’re fine with it.  Why?

The Lazy-Union-Workers-Ruin-Everything Argument. Sometimes the nastier conservative elements in this political discussion begin accusing union workers and teachers in particular of being lazy.  Presumably they are also talking about cops and firefighters, but you rarely hear them use such language against those two occupations, though they certainly are going after their rights to organize as well.

That notion is dealt with here in Teachers Do Not Engage In Marketing.  Basically, the more economically dynamic your occupation is, the less you see the need for labor unions, because your pay is based on sales.  But we’re not a nation of salesmen – we have to protect the people who have consciously chosen a route which sinks their roots firmly in the middle class.

The I-Don’t-Trust-The-Government Argument.  A more understandable and benevolent response is that we can’t trust the government to use the money it would bring in from taxation, because the government is incompetent and unreliable.  But the alternative is trusting the rich or trusting the corporations to do the same thing – and so far I’m not too impressed with their efforts. 

I think it’s clear that The Government Is Us, The Corporations Are Not.  We can change the government.  We can fire people in the government.  We can appoint people to the government.  If we can’t trust the government, then we either change it or give up, plain and simple. 

I’ll keep building this map as I go, and I think it will be handy for people who are looking for a real overview of the discussion.  Too often, a single, irrational sound bite ends a productive political discussion, and not because of any logical or rhetorical merit, but merely because people don’t know what to say or how to articulate it.

Also, I’d welcome any new responses, any point on either side that I’m missing.  So far a few open points that I’ll be dealing with in the next week or so are:

The Merit-Based Pay System

And the notion that The Old System Isn’t Going To Work Anymore.

Those topics will be linked and summarized when I get the posts up. 

Comments?  Questions?  Threats?  Accusations?  I’m all ears.


Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Issue 5, News/Commentary


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3 responses to “The Middle Class Argument Map

  1. Robert

    March 8, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Just a couple thoughts for you to consider,

    “extended tax cuts for the wealthy” was a National issue, the Wisconson teachers are a state issue. I agree that giving tax cuts and then saying we have no money for you is disingenuous, but this is apples and oranges.
    “tax cuts encourage growth” argument presupposes that corporations and individuals invest more with lower taxes. You say it hasn’t worked for the last ten years, but if the alternative is to raise those taxes, I guarantee you won’t see any growth or investment.

    • Tom Chalfant

      March 8, 2011 at 10:42 pm

      I am definitely saying that federal money needs to go to the states, in the form of some kind of subsidy for education at all levels. I admit I don’t know much about the mechanism, the way that would manifest, but if we just bailed out Wall Street for 600 billion, then I’m sure we can find a way to use federal money to subsidize education at state and local levels.

      In fact, that’s the investment that would occur with increased tax revenue. If it’s not occuring now, and you’re sure that it wouldn’t occur if we raised taxes, then doing nothing and raising taxes both result in not much growth or investment, but if the money is instead collected in the form of taxes and then invested in education from inner cities to college grants, then the return on that investment would be a workforce that didn’t need a return of a fifties manufacturing base, but instead a population more prepared for whatever new system is going to replace the old one.

      Also, the money invested at that level would definitely remain in the U.S., in that it goes to schools and universities that are right here. The teachers they hire, the contractors, the education dollars then stay here, fueling our economy.

  2. bex

    March 11, 2011 at 2:06 am

    great argument map, Tom, very well-thought out. you know this kind of map is exactly what i wish people running for office would create rather than just spewing sound bites.

    the other day as i was walking up the stairs from the subway there was a guys whose jacket said “Revolution” on the back.


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