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Paying Nothing, Conservative Style

By Matthew Yglesias on October 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm

"Paying Nothing, Conservative Style"

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Here’s Matt Labash and the Weekly Standard trying to mislead you about taxation and the income distribution:

You’re either part of “us,” the “99 percent” (as all the surrounding signage identifies us), or you’re part of “them” — the rapacious 1 percent, who are purportedly strangling our nation by holding roughly one-third of its wealth, even if they also pay 38 percent of all federal income taxes while the bottom 47 percent of the population pay nothing (a Revolution is no place for facts and figures).

You might as well say that the 20 percent of Americans who smoke cigarettes regularly pay 95 percent of federal tobacco excise taxes while 70 percent of the population pays nothing. Does 70 percent of the population really pay nothing to maintain public services? Of course not. They pay income taxes and payroll taxes and property taxes and sales taxes and alcohol taxes and all the rest.

The genius of the conservative rhetorical move here is that most people think of the taxes that you pay when you “do your taxes” in April as being your income taxes. It is, in fact, a consolidated income tax and payroll tax. Thanks to some temporary tax cuts implemented during the recession, a very large share of American workers currently have only payroll tax liability rather than income tax liability. So through sleight of hand, you can convince many more than 53 percent of the people that they are part of the put-upon “53 percent” forced to bear the burden of a nation of slackers. It’s clever. But don’t fall for it, and don’t let your friends and family fall for it either.

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