Compromising One’s Taxation

Monday Obama and the Republicans reached a deal on how to extend the Bush Era tax cuts. They put together a bill that would extend them all, including those for households with incomes over $250,000/yr.—much to the chagrin of progressive Democrats. On the upside for liberals, however, all of the other things that the Republican caucus was holding hostage, including the continuation of unemployment benefits, are also rolled into the bill . In my opinion, the tax break for the wealthiest Americans is unhealthy for society on the whole. Unlike many liberals who are lashing out right now, however, I think that the compromise Obama struck was politically savvy, and expedient in serving the interests of the American people, and I hope that it passes. This post and those that follow it, though, detail a rejection of these tax cuts that incorporates an understanding of the evolved human being.

To begin, let’s establish what effect these tax cuts have on the income structure of the country. This is just the next in a long list of policy decisions, mainly supported by conservatives and the Republican party, that reinforce vast income inequality in our country. By stating it is unfair to have the wealthiest pay greater taxes on their upper levels of income is endorsing their access to greater resources. In fact, it does more than that. It endorses the grand disparity between them and everyone else.

Over the past thirty years, there has been an impressive shift, with the wealthiest 10% of the country putting more and more distance between themselves and the rest of society, particularly the lower classes. We pride ourselves on being the land of opportunity, and a land where there is a “chicken in every pot.” On the contrary, America currently has the highest poverty level of any industrialized nation, and has income inequality similar to that of developing nations. In fact, our level of inequality is about that of the military regimes and autocratic despotisms that our country holds up as the symbol of all that is wrong with the world.

This hypocrisy aside, I want to focus on the basic facts and consequences of the situation, the most salient being that an environment characterized by extreme income inequality breeds all sorts of pathologies. It is an environment in which behaviors that are damaging to society are actually the most beneficial for individual actors. Thus, we are creating a Catch-22 that we’re destined to lose: when the immediate interests of the individual are pitted against the long-term interests of the group, the individual interests will most likely win out, and society will suffer.

Tomorrow I’ll begin to go through evidence that the arena created by income inequality is one that promotes self-interested, unsustainable behavioral strategies. And where there are unsustainable behavioral strategies, there is the potential for collapse.


About Dan

Daniel Tumminelli O’Brien, PhD, is the Project Manager of the Harvard Boston Research Initiative at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. He is also a Visiting Assistant Professor at Binghamton University where he has been a key player in the development of the Binghamton Neighborhood Project. Both projects bring together academic and city agencies in the development of innovative solutions for the everyday challenges of urban life. Amidst these efforts, his own research focuses on urban social behavior. As an educator, he has concentrated on pedagogical techniques that bring evolutionary theory to classrooms outside the biological sciences.
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