About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Don’t Fear the Tax Man, Unless He Only Comes For Thee


In my last blog, I examined how Democrats work their payouts to their supporters, so that they can retain, and hopefully expand, their winning collation.  As I explained in that post, Social Safety Net programs like Social Security and Medicare, are specifically designed to help large swaths of the population in the hope that people who need those programs will support the party that created them, in other words, prompt them to vote for the Democrats.

And the Republicans, to combat this, must engage in a strategy to make people believe these programs are not sustainable, and then they must offer an alternative carrot to the voters.  The one that they have fixated on is “Lower Taxes.”  Their point behind this is that if taxes were lower, people could put money aside for their own old age.  It stresses personal responsibility over shared burdens.  And honestly, like all public policies, it has both a good side and a bad side, some truths, some lies.  But at the end, it is simply an alternate vision, designed to woo voters to their side.

Or, I should say, it was, until the administration of George W. Bush.

Now it is a harbringer of a sea change in American politics, one that can be read to show that democracy is no longer really needed or desired.  Until “W,” tax cuts were either targeted to the poor, as in the Earned Income Credit (a Gerald Ford policy) or an across the board tax rate reduction, as in the Regan Tax Cuts.  These tax policies benefited a wide swath of voters, and could be viewed as a way for the Republicans to combat the social programs of the Left and draw in voters.  This actually worked for Reagan, who won re-election by an astounding margin.

But, with the Bush II tax cuts, something seemed to change.  Although taxes were still cut across the board, the bulk of the tax cuts were targeted to the super wealthy.  In fact, the richer the person, the better they did with the Bush Tax Cut.  Since 2008, the Republicans across the country have doubled down on this policy, and the bulk of the tax cuts have benefited multi-millionaires, basically the 1% Club.  Although crumbs are still thrown at the Middle Classes, many, and sometimes most, people actually see their taxes go up under current Republican policies.  The only uniform beneficiaries are at the top end of the tax rates.

At the moment, people are still accepting this, because the story has been sold, and bought, that the rich pay far more than their fair share.  Even though this is true on a certain level, progressive tax policy recognizes that Bill Gates can afford a 5 million dollar annual tax bill far better than a minimum wage earner can afford a 500 dollar one.  I should note here, progressive in this usage does not refer to the political left, it simply refers to the idea that taxes increase the more money you make, and go down the less you earn.  Regressive taxes are the opposite, and hit poor people harder than the rich.  Sales Tax, which is uniform, regardless of your income, is an example of a regressive tax.

However, the tax changes currently under consideration by Trump bring regressive taxation to the fore.  Two policies especially are extremely regressive; removal of the child deduction and elimination of the mortgage deduction.  These two policies are among the most progressive tax exemptions, as poor and middle class people spend a lot more of their income, percentage wise, on children and interest.

It’s almost like Trump could care less about using tax policy to win voters.

In fact, this becomes very similar to the payouts that you see in dictatorships and monarchies.  This is because this payout affects only a tiny percentage of the voters, and screws over the rest.  In fact, from a political standpoint, this would be very, very stupid, as the last thing you want to do in a democracy is piss off a sizable percentage of the population.

Unless you no longer care about democracy.

And this is where these policies begin to terrify me.  If Trump was concerned about winning elections in the standard method, i.e. winning the popular vote, he would want to make sure his agenda benefited the widest swath of people.  But what if he didn’t care about that?  What if he, and the Republicans in general, were no longer interested in paying off a large segment of the population?  What if they were only worried about gaining the support of a small, but very powerful, segment of the population?

In that case, their policies would look a lot like these; screw the bulk of the voters and further enrich the already rich and powerful.  That is not the pattern of behavior in a democracy, where you have to please wide swaths of the population, that is the behavior of a party unconcerned about democracy.

In a democracy, you have to get 51 percent of the people, or at least the voters, to vote for you.  This doesn’t matter in a non-democratic country, where the leaders are selected through some other method.  And here, I would like to point out, despite a earning 3 million vote margin, Hillary Clinton is not the president.  So the finger of inequity is already on the scales.

So, tax cuts that are specifically targeted to the richest segment of society are casting light on a real problem, one that may grow, unless we do something about it.  Up until recently, these massive tax cuts for the rich have gained widespread approval because of the aspirational nature of American Society.  We all expect to be rich someday.  In fact, most people consider themselves to just be “temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” to quote John Steinbeck.

However, income inequality is beginning to raise its head, as many, maybe even most, people begin to recognize their children will do no better in life than they did.  Worse, many people have to face the fact that their children will not do as well.  The aspirations are more and more becoming obvious pipe dreams. This very well grounded concern is what actually pushed Trump into the White House, at least if post election surveys are to be believed.

However, the actual policies being enacted don’t follow from addressing the concerns of the constituents.  The actual policies are very much those of an oligarchy, where the “peasants” have no voice.  Why would this be?

Perhaps it is because they know that they can ride this wave for a couple of elections, get their policies enshrined in such a way that they will be hard to undo.  Possibly they think that they can say that the opposition to helping the poor was “too great,” and use that to fuel outrage to gain even larger margins.  Perhaps this is simply a bait and switch operation, where they feel that they can con the voters into voting against their self interest for years to come.

Or it could be a much darker reality.

Perhaps they have decided that we are moving down a new path, one that doesn’t need millions of voters.  Possibly they no longer care if people are happy, now that they have the majority.  Maybe they think that democracy is a bad idea, and they want to shift to something new, something that will pay off fabulously for them at the expense of the rest of us.  It is possible they believe the democratic experiment has run its course.

If this is the case, the rest of us need to show them just how wrong they actually are.

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