At the turn of the 20th century, the progressive movement was in its heyday. Under avuncular Teddy Roosevelt, a patrician with social consciousness, great strides were made in food and drug safety, workplace-labor, and electoral reforms. To the outrage of and everlasting disdain by his Republican Party, he took on and broke up trusts and monopolies.
Roosevelt, however, was no secular saint. A racist and imperialist, he had little regard for the wild kingdom, despite his legacy as conservationist, finding it curiously manly to trophy-hunt, to slaughter large animals, including bears, elephants, rhinoceroses, lions by the hundreds, for sport.
Despite his dark side, the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party nominated Roosevelt as their standard bearer in 1912. He/they lost, but by 1920 progressives ushered in several constitutional amendments: graduated income tax, popular election of senators, women’s suffrage.
For the next half century through FDR and LBJ, progressivism’s economic and muscular foreign policy strain held sway. But with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, it began to focus more on human, civil, women, and LGBT rights, environmentalism, public education, and equal opportunity. Its core value: Hope.
With today’s new-age conservatism no longer conveying a message of hope and given its descent from a principled, intellectual, moral philosophy into a race-baiting, fear-mongering, xenophobic, and wealth-worship ideology, progressivism is being restored as the dominant social-political philosophy.
Contributing to progressivism’s ascendancy is the ever-widening income-wealth disparity, exacerbated by Trump’s and congressional Republicans’ obeisance to and obsession with the welfare of the plutocratic rich at the expense of everyday people. That fixation on wealth inequities has in turn reinvigorated progressivism’s economic strain.
The recent teacher rallies in support for their schools’ and their personal economic survival are offering a lesson about the relationship between wealth and taxes.
Conservatives, as is their wont, paint the relationship between wealth and taxes simplistically as the more government takes in the form of taxes and fees means not only means less in your pocket but that there are no corresponding benefits. While that’s true for uber-wealthy fatcats whose mega-wealth sets them apart from ordinary people, that’s not the case for those who work for a living.
Economic fact: Historical evidence clearly shows tax cuts neither substantially boost the economy nor become a financial boon for working people and small businesses. It’s also true the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights—TABOR—and its cousins in other states such as Oklahoma and Arizona, which strictly limit their legislatures’ power to raise taxes, have had corrosive effects first on public services and then in places where the opportunity for profit is marginal: local economies, which are very dependent upon government spending from schools to roads.
Progressives, given their propensity for understanding life’s complexities, understand that while anachronistic conservatives hide behind the redistribution-of-wealth, soak-the-rich as socialism shibboleths.
During the Eisenhower years of the 1950s, unions were at the pinnacle of their power, and the top tax-rate for the uber-wealthy was 90 percent. The economy boomed as did the portfolios of the super-rich. But economic fairness had no place in the conservative Calvinistic credo that preaches a black-and-white, good-and-evil world in which economically there are only winners (good) and losers (evil), producers (good) and takers (evil).
Corporate and CEO salaries and compensation packages have soared to the stratosphere since the rise of Randian economics. Simultaneously, teacher incomes in tax-limited states have declined when adjusted for inflation.
The teacher rallies across the nation have shone klieg lights on the inadequacy of funding in tax-limited states, schools deteriorating, particularly in rural communities that have been in the vanguard of the tax-cutting push.
The late Senator Paul Wellstone spoke about government being a force for good. That’s true. Under the right administration, it can be. But it’s more: Government spending is an economic necessity as well as a moral imperative.
The reality is there is only one way to address that economic necessity and moral imperative: Higher taxes, my friends. It’s time to bite the bullet.