Jamelle Bouie has a smart piece about the tactical and budgetary problems with Barack Obama’s pledge against any tax increases on people earning less than $250,000. Something about this that I think often goes overlooked is that the “middle class” tax cuts Obama is defending are sharply regressive in their distributive impact:
But I also think there’s a serious conceptual problem here. I think of progressive budget policy as having three planks. One is that budgeting should be counter-cyclical rather than pro-cyclical. The tax structure issue here isn’t very important. A second is that budgeting should be redistributive—we need to put money into the hands of people who need it. Clearly this leg of the stool depends on a progressive rate structure. But the third is that public services are valuable. That we “win the future” with investments in education, science, and infrastructure. That single-payer is a more efficient way of organizing health insurance markets. Whatever you like. Thus it’s somewhat odd, in terms of long-term movement-building, to be running around the country arguing on the one hand that public services are valuable but on the other hand that the genius of public services is that only the super-rich have to pay the bill. A little redistribution (take money from those who have a lot, give to those who have a little) is great, but public services worth having are worth asking middle class people to contribute to.