Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Taxing Proposal Where a "Buck is a Buck"

In 1962, then prime minister, John Diefenbaker, established a Royal Commission on Taxation, and appointed a Bay Street accountant, Kenneth Carter, to head it up. What Carter discovered was that under the existing system the poor paid more than their fair share, while the wealthy avoided taxes through various loopholes.

Carter and the rest of the commissioners proposed a complete overhaul with a view to fairness. And if the recommendations had been implemented, 50% of taxpayers would have their taxes reduced by more than 15%; 10% would face increased tax liabilities of more than 15%, and the remaining taxpayers would notice little change. The wealthy, paying more taxes, would nevertheless share in the benefits of an efficient taxation system*.

After all, Carter said, "a buck is a buck".

In 1969, a White Paper was released proposing the necessary changes, and the opposition was almost immediate, especially from oil and mining companies, as well as assorted business groups. As a result, while Pierre Trudeau implemented a few exemptions and incentives, the corporate sector won.

And because Trudeau would even consider going after them, this pulled many corporations away from the Liberals, as "lower taxes", not "fairer taxes" became the new battle cry.

This paralleled a similar pattern in the United States, giving birth to the neoconservative movement.

For several years, Canadian governments were hammered with lists of demands, until the corporate world decided to start their own party, and approached one of their own, Preston Manning, whose father had been the best friend that the American oil and gas industry ever had. And what Manning created with the help of his lieutenant and policy chief Stephen Harper, was a top down party, posing as populism.

They shored up a noisy base and kept them loyal with the right rhetoric: guns, crime, 'commies", gays back in the closet, women in their place .... They didn't even have to believe it, they just had to sell it.

And it worked.

The wealthy didn't have to sell their case to us, and risk boycotts of products. They had this noisy base to attack the poor as lazy and greedy, always wanting to feed from the "public trough".

They started the Fraser Institute, the National Citizens Coalition and several other "think tanks" to push through reports and feed the media with nonsense.

Meanwhile, the rich kept getting richer and the poor kept getting poorer.

Janet Bagnell wrote recently for the Montreal Gazette: Income inequality is reaching dangerous proportions
In 2008, the top-earning one per cent of Americans collected 24 per cent of the national income. The last time income was distributed that unequally in America was 1929. Tax rates play a critical role in allowing the wealthy to keep their money ... In the 1920s in the U.S., when a small, superrich coterie held sway over government, the top marginal tax rate was just 24 per cent. After the convulsions of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 raised the top rate to 79 per cent, part of a largely successful effort to create a more equal society. With the advent in 1980 of Ronald Reagan, the top rate dropped back down to 28 per cent, an unmistakable sign that the New Deal was over.
And as Stephen Harper is suggesting that public healthcare is too expensive to maintain, Jim McQuail suggests that our costs aren't too high, but our problem is under-taxation.
Maintaining social programs through deficit financing, so long as the rules invite the rich elite to evade taxation, means that the programs we receive today will be paid for by tomorrow’s working people. Sustainability and social equity require that government tax the rich, not defer collecting the necessary revenue indefinitely (and tax working people to pay the interest on the public debt).

Governments should raise enough money to maintain and expand social spending, at least across the business cycle, by taxing it where it lies – in the pockets of rich people and corporations. We do not have a problem of over-spending – our health care and education systems are not over-priced. Our problem is under-taxation.
And the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, gives us a glimpse of what a no-tax system really means. We have to be careful what we wish for.
When you think about taxes, do you think about the $10,000 having a baby could cost if you lived in the U.S. and didn't have health insurance? Do you think about an education system that allows even the children of poor families to become doctors, teachers, or engineers? Government inspectors who make sure highway overpasses are repaired before they fall down, that meat packing plants don't poison their customers, that a city's water is safe to drink?
They say you have to hit bottom before you can bounce back, and when I look at the Tea Party in the U.S. I see that as hitting bottom. That country has had a psychotic break, but will they continue the craziness or try a little therapy?

And in a case of history repeating itself, just as the oil and gas sector helped to kill the Carter Report. they are now serving Texas Tea. Yep. They are helping to fund the Tea Party anti-tax, anti-sanity movement.
The Tea Party movement, poised to help shift the U.S. legislature to the right and stymie President Obama's green agenda, has financial and organizational ties to Koch Industries, one of America's biggest processors of Alberta oil sands crude.
And now we have Stephen Harper boasting that once he's completed his fifty billion dollar corporate tax cuts, Canada will have the lowest (corporate) tax rate in the world.

Think about what that really means.

*Recommended reading: Behind Closed Doors: How the Rich Won Control of Canada's Tax System, By Linda McQuaig, Viking Press, 1987, ISBN: 0-670-81578-7

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