My Point of View: It’s time to stop protecting wealth over wages

Published 7:15 pm Monday, April 22, 2019

My Point of View by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson


The average American has every right to be mad about the unfairness of tax collection.

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This, however, is a flawed argument: “No matter what one’s position on taxes, we must never forget that taxation is, in essence, the government taking money that belongs to someone else. It either takes more or less from people, but it is still money that belongs to the people who have earned it.”

Rep. Bennett’s rhetoric in this newspaper is extreme and libertarian. Saying that the government is taking money that belongs to someone else implies that it is doing something illegal — committing a theft. She is insinuating the government is not legitimate.

When the Founding Fathers declared independence from Britain, they freed themselves from taxation without representation, not from taxation itself.

Thirteen years later, here is what became the law of the land in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution: “The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States;…”

Government has legal authority to levy taxes. Not paying taxes owed to the government is theft, not the other way around.

Pay close attention to the second part of Bennett’s quote: “…it is still money that belongs to the people who have earned it.” Here is the keyword: earned.

The tax code favors unearned income. That’s why billionaire investor Warren Buffett can famously pay a lower overall tax rate than his secretary.

Sixty percent of wealth held by Americans is unearned. Kind of mind-blowing, isn’t it? And in the past 30 years, 92% of wealth gains in the U.S. went to the top 20% of households.

Inequality is so severe that over 40% of wealth in the U.S. is now held by just 1% of households.

Rep. Bennett wants to protect those estates, stuffed with unearned assets, from being taxed when people die.

American workers, despite having huge productivity gains and working longer hours, haven’t seen a proportional boost in their incomes during most of my lifetime. The Reagan revolution was a revolution for the rich.

Giving tax breaks to wealthy people does not create jobs. Demand creates jobs. Demand that is generated by workers who have money to spend on items from clothing and restaurant meals to cars and home remodeling. These are the kinds of things that drive our small-town economies, not yachts, Klimts on auction at Christie’s, and million dollar political donations.

Doing taxes is as painful as a bad molar, but for most Americans, the IRS could do our taxes for us and send us the paperwork to sign off on. This is what countries like Sweden already offer. The IRS has all the information it needs to do this.

So why doesn’t it? Because the tax preparation industry’s paid lobbyists are blocking it. In fact, Congress is currently considering legislation that would prohibit the IRS from ever offering this service.

We do not have a government operating in the people’s interest. Its goals have been distorted by money saturating elections, further aggravated by the disastrous Citizens United decision in 2010.

No wonder people are mad. No wonder people are looking for somebody who promises to make big changes and “drain the swamp.”

Trump, unfortunately, has done no such thing. The “tax reform” Congress passed in late 2017 gave huge tax cuts to corporations and wealthy people and has driven the deficit to levels unparalleled in non-recession peacetime. The national debt has grown more than $2 trillion since Trump took office. It’s an absolutely unsustainable cash grab by wealthy people.

The tax act preserved the “carried interest loophole” that Trump promised to eliminate, and it cut millions of dollars from Trump’s personal tax bill. On the other end of the income spectrum, it didn’t add one penny to the Earned Income Tax Credit that benefits low income workers.

Meanwhile, Trump still won’t release his taxes so that people can see the full extent of the ways he has benefited his businesses while in office, and he refuses to place them in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders went so far as to say that she doesn’t “think Congress, particularly not this group of congressmen and women, are smart enough to look through the thousands of pages that I would assume that President Trump’s taxes will be.”

I don’t agree with Congressman Hagedorn on a lot of issues, but I certainly think he’s smart enough to wrap his head around Trump’s taxes. Congress has every right, by law, to look at them. Sanders is helping Trump hide them, and she has resorted to insulting the intelligence of Congress to do it.

Weak excuse.

Make taxes fair again. Stop protecting wealth over wages.

Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.