Friday, November 12, 2010

Stupid Poll

From CNN's home page, this has to be one of the stupidest polls ever published:

Would you support a 15 cent per gallon increase in the federal gasoline tax to help rein in the U.S. debt? [Emphasis added.]

Think about that: Someone is pushing the idea that "to help rein in U.S. debt" we should add a 15 cent per gallon tax to gasoline? I'll give CNN the benefit of the doubt and assume that this proposal was advanced by someone outside of CNN, and that CNN is simply reporting it as a poll to gauge popular sentiment.

Whichever the case, is that the most idiotic proposal you ever heard to help rein in the U.S. debt?

At a time when Congress is pushing for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% in America, someone thinks that we should be increasing gasoline taxes by 15 cents per gallon.

The problem with this country is that few understand the concept of regressive taxation v progressive taxation. Taxes that apply indiscriminately to everybody take a bigger toll on the poorest amongs us. They should never be implemented as a means to primarily increase revenue.

Use of regressive taxation should be limited to cases in which the government (local, state or federal) is trying to discourage a particular elective behavior, for example a cigarette tax aimed at discouraging smoking is still regressive (it impairs the ability of the poor to smoke more than it does the very rich) but it is an understandable compromise to discourage an undesirable behavior. Likewise, a gasoline tax aimed at discouraging gasoline usage for environmental purposes, while hitting the poor harder than the rich, is an acceptable use of regressive taxation IF the region where it is implemented already has adequate transportation alternatives.

Note that the key for acceptable uses of regressive taxation should be directed not only at undesirable behaviors, but elective ones. In other words, you can choose to smoke but don't have to, and you can choose to drive everywhere but don't have to. On the other hand, taxing milk, toothpaste or bread should never be entertained (and in fact sales taxes does not apply to certain basic items in most states), because such items are not elective in nature, but basic needs of human beings in a civilized society.

This kind of reasoning touches on a larger topic, that of flat taxes. I have a couple of very good friends who say they support a flat tax. I doubt that they understand the basic unfairness of a flat tax system (one in which everybody pays the same tax rate, regardless of income level), and I strive to explain it to them every time we discuss the subject. One of the most underappreciated effects of a regressive tax system, such as a flat tax system, by those who support it is the rise in income inequality, the level of which has already reached unseen proportion in over one hundred years.

FYI, the NOs are prevailing on the YESes by a 23% margin (63 to 37%). But the fact that 37% of the people support the regressive proposal suggests that a fairly large portion of the American public has accepted as valid a rhetoric that rewards interests opposed to its own (the super rich v. the poor's). Therefore, educating the public should be the top priority of progressives in this country.

If progressives spent as much time educating the public on important issues such as the unfairness of flat or regressive taxes as they spend on making and counting get-out-the-vote calls before election day (not to mention the time they spend patting each other on the back), we may see a public opinion shift in battles that we should be winning resoundingly, and which we are losing instead.

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