Conservatives have run on an economic message of tax cuts for a long time. Keep more of your hard-earned money, they say. I would like to discuss two issues around the policy of tax cuts and then look at their implications. Given what I am going to say about tax cuts in this piece, I believe a disclaimer is in order. Please do not take this to mean that I oppose all tax cuts. I simply believe that they should be targeted and done in a fiscally responsible way. I insert this disclaimer both to provide context for what follows, and to avoid potential charges of being a conspiracy theorist.
Part One: The Targets
The first is the fact that the tax cuts rarely, if ever, apply to the peasants. The tax cuts offered by conservatives are very often for the rich and corporations. This is, simply put, because conservatives believe (or are paid to believe) the great lie that is ‘trickle down economics’. This policy is the con that more money in the hands of the rich will result in job creation.
The fact that the last forty years of reality has shown that this does not work means that the decision to keep going back to this well is ideologically driven and not about actually helping people. Two examples will illustrate the point. First is Trump’s tax bill, in which 83% of the benefits went to the top 1%. Second is the Australian Liberal Party’s attempt to pass tens of billions of dollars in corporate tax cuts. I do not believe it is conspiratorial to suggest that conservatives seek to create a feudal society of lords and serfs.
Part Two: The Hidden Agenda
The second aspect of tax cuts as an ongoing economic policy is what I see as the truly sinister element. Tax cuts as a policy plays on the natural human impulse to benefit from your work. Cynically put, it plays on human greed, something that is never in short supply. However, what the wider society is seemingly too blind to see is that tax cuts, while benefiting the (rich) individual, deprives the government of revenue. This is what American Republicans in the 1990s called ‘starving the beast’. You deprive the government of money so it is unable to provide those pesky unprofitable services for the peasants. This is an example of what Noam Chomsky referred to as ‘the standard technique of privitisation: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital’.
The argument here is that tax cuts, when done irresponsibly, can be (and indeed have been) used by conservatives to justify massive cuts to government services. We cannot afford this, they screech. But you will notice that they are hypocrites on this issue. The services that they cut are only ever things that matter to the wider society, including the ABC (NPR in America), medicare (pick your country), the NDIS and other things that help the disadvantaged. There is never any talk of cutting defence (again, pick your country), or politicians’ pay, or corporate subsidies. There is seemingly unlimited money for these things, but the government seemingly has no money when it comes to services for the peasant underclass for which they have already paid. Spare me.
This playing on human greed, intentional or otherwise, allows conservatives to present themselves as an ally to the everyman. It is, of course, a lie, but it serves as effective propaganda for Sky so-called news to disseminate to the masses. They believe this allows them to portray the left, who often want to actually pay for their policies, as ‘tax and spend’ radicals. Indeed, the very notion of tax, and especially tax on the rich, has been demonised so effectively that the idea of government services is something to be decried. The fact that the left (or even the centre-right) actually wants to pay for their government policies, which requires taxation, is bad by definition (or, if you prefer, because reasons).
Consider the recent example of the Liberal Party criticising ‘Bill Shorten’s $200B is new taxes’. This number, like so much propaganda, lacks vital context. Indeed, a google search for ‘Bill Shorten tax’ brings up as the initial result a website devoted to ‘Labor’s (insert issue here) Tax’. In Liberal propaganda then, Labor is associated with tax, and tax bad, ergo Labor bad. This is hardly a recent invention: recall the ‘carbon tax’ and ‘mining tax’ against which the LNP moved so vociferously. Essentially, for the conservatives, tax is bad because it funds government services. However, this is only a problem when it funds government services they do not like. See how consistent their ideology is?
We need to set this anti-tax nonsense aside. Tax is how government pays for itself. Indeed, it is necessary to fund all the crap that conservatives love. On a wider scale, tax is citizens contributing financially to their society. This in turn pays for the government services those citizens enjoy. This is Rousseau’s social contract. In the modern world, this means that everyone contributes to the cost of, and enjoys, health, education, infrastructure, transportation and other essential services. But that’s communism according to conservatives. My response to that is if you hate socialism so much, resign from office immediately and claim not one penny of that big, fat pension. As I have said previously, conservatives do not hate socialism per se, they hate certain recipients.
The anti-tax propaganda needs to go and we need to, as the line goes, be a society, not just an economy.
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