For the past five years, there's been a lot of argument over progressive policy proposals in the U.S. Free college! Free healthcare! Free tickets to Ariana Grande! If you've decided that "progressive" is some kind of dirty word that represents the fall of America, you've likely responded negatively, probably with a "Well who's gonna pay for it? BOOM. Won that argument forever." However, when you dig into some of these policies and how they're implemented in the rest of the world, you find that they're a lot more achievable than many pundits make them out to be. For instance ...
It's often been said that the only things certain in life are death, taxes, and writers opening articles about taxes with that line about death and taxes. Except if you're rich enough, taxes are less a certainty these days and more of a cute optional feature of life.
It's not hard to see why, then, that hiking taxes on the rich has become a popular idea among progressive politicians. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to increase the marginal tax rate to 70%, Elizabeth Warren wants to implement a "wealth tax" on families with assets worth over $50 million, and Bernie Sanders wants to drop the threshold at which the estate tax becomes due to its previous level. And as you can probably guess, the political elite, media, and the temporarily embarrassed millionaires who stan Elon Musk have reacted by losing their absolute shit, as if Sanders will personally drag them to the guillotine on Inauguration Day.
But public opinion is firmly on the sides of "Fuck the rich" and "Un-fuck the poor." In 2019, a poll by Morning Consult found that 45% favor AOC's tax proposal (compared to 32% who don't), while Warren's wealth tax has 60% approval, even including Republicans. The same poll also found that 57% of respondents believe working-class families pay too much in taxes, 58% think the same about middle-class families, and 63% think the rich don't pay enough.
And for much of the 20th century, we had policies like these, and they worked perfectly fine. The last time America had a marginal tax rate like what AOC proposes was 1981, and before that, it got as high as 92%. Warren wants to tax the mega-rich anywhere between 2-3%, but elites in the 1950s paid 6% more in local, state, and federal taxes than they do today. And Sanders' aim to drop the threshold at which the estate tax becomes payable to $3.5 million (compared to the current threshold of $11 million) puts it back where it was in the ancient days of 2009.
And then there's the enormous benefits to the country. Warren's proposal would affect around 75,000 families but bring in an additional $2.75 TRILLION over the next decade, while Sanders' estate tax plan would raise $300 billion. Just think of what public services we could have with that. Free childcare? Public transportation that doesn't reek of piss? This shopping list is well within reach.
And it's not like the rich would feel the effects. Under the plan that'd deliver the most benefits (Warren's), a family worth $60 million would pay an additional $200,000 on top of their preexisting income tax obligations -- or to put it another way, 0.3% of their fortune. "But higher taxes would stifle the economy and deter entrepreneurship!" Yeah, possibly. We had high marginal tax rates in the past, and the economy grew, stagnated, and crashed, in that order, several times. And after Reagan slashed marginal tax rates in 1981, the economy grew, stagnated, and crashed, in that order, several more times. It tends to cycle regardless of what we do with it. But you know what else harms the economy? Wealth inequality. It's hard for anyone to get ahead or succeed at literally anything when the top 1% are wealthier than the bottom 90% combined. So maybe tax Jeff Bezos a little more. I assure you, he'll be fine.
The vast majority of states take away prisoners' right to vote -- a form of disenfranchisement that affects over 6 million citizens. As part of his election platform, Bernie Sanders has pledged to overturn this policy, arguing that voting is an "inalienable and universal" right, and that "once you start chipping away at people's rights, that becomes a slippery slope."
Inevitably, a lot of people -- including many Democrats -- got angry about this suggestion, particularly after Sanders said (in response to a question) that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (the Boston Marathon bomber) would get his voting rights restored. Fortunately for us, the prison system isn't stuffed full of terrorists, so we can ignore this bad faith argument and instead ask ourselves "No really, what's the harm?"
For starters, a lot of countries -- France, Israel, Japan, and Sweden, to name a few -- let prisoners vote while serving their sentences, and to our knowledge, none of them have devolved into Escape From New York. And it doesn't seem too unreasonable to let the people most heavily impacted by criminal justice policies have a say in which policies are implemented. And we're not talking about proposals like "Let everyone in prison out," or even "Free candy." We're talking about banning solitary confinement, reforming drug sentencing, or no longer shackling pregnant prisoners to beds while they give birth.
The restoration of voting rights to prisoners would also be a tacit acknowledgement that the criminal justice system is massively, disproportionately biased against black people, and that the current system of disenfranchising criminals is consequently a throwback to laws out of the Jim Crow era. "We use our criminal justice system to label people of color 'criminals' and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind," says Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow. "Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans." Basically, if there's anything that's even slightly reminiscent of Jim Crow, that shit needs to die pronto.
Imagine if, every week, the government cut you a check for you to do whatever with. It wouldn't be "Quit your job" money, but maybe "Quit your third shift at the gas station and have something left over for groceries" money. In political parlance, this is a universal basic income (UBI). It was a mainstay of Andrew Yang's platform until his recent dropping out of the Democratic presidential primary. He wants to give people $1,000 a month just for existing. Balls to the walls, right? Not really! See, while a lot of economic types criticized his specific plan for rolling out UBI, the underlying concept is sound, and there's a lot of evidence that if UBI were ever implemented, it could do a lot of good -- and not just in terms of addressing poverty and inequality.
Yang would've financed his UBI -- which he called the "Freedom Dividend," the fucking dork -- through cuts to welfare and social programs, health initiatives, and law enforcement, under the presumption that the payments would not only reduce demand for each of these services, but also boost the economy. That's supported by a paper by the Roosevelt Institute, which says that if UBI were implemented and not accompanied by tax cuts, the economy would be boosted by virtue of people having more money to buy stuff with.
You know that old adage about spending money to make money? This is that, but all 'roided out. And the benefits aren't just based solely around giving you a fat-ass wallet. Across the several countries that have experimented with UBI, including Canada and Italy, one recurring find is that alongside economic and social benefits, it also increased people's happiness and well-being.
Between 2017 and 2018, for instance, the Finnish government gave 2,000 unemployed citizens a no-strings-attached check for $635 a month in order to see how it affected their willingness to find work. The results were inconclusive at best, but the researchers did find that the recipients had "better well-being in every way." They were less stressed, more confident, and experienced fewer health problems than a comparison group that didn't receive UBI.
This conclusion, that UBI can help people's mental and physical health, tracks with the conclusions of another experiment conducted in Manitoba, Canada in the 1970s, wherein giving the residents of a small town UBI caused admission rates at the local hospital to drop by 8.5%. The radical conclusion we should take home? Having money makes people less stressed. There are different ways to judge a policy's success, and it's sometimes important to remember at the end of the day, our purpose on this planet isn't to feed the snarling beast of the economy until we die. It's to be happy and healthy at least some of the time.
At the time of this writing, the total amount of student loan debt in America stands at $1.5 trillion. So it's little wonder that most Democratic presidential candidates have something in their plans for students, from free two-year community college (Biden and Klobuchar) to student debt forgiveness (Warren) to cancelling all debt and making all public college completely free (Bernie Sanders, the absolute lad).
Sanders' College-for-All program is simple: If states vow to scrap tuition fees at public colleges and universities, the federal government cuts them a check for two-thirds of everyone's tuition, and the states cover the remaining third. That's it. If they don't want to participate, they don't have to. And for good measure, the same proposal also caps student loan interest rates at the same rate that the federal government pays on its debt. And honestly, what jerk could disagree with this?
The most popular argument against this policy is that alongside subsidizing the college education of children who come from poor, working-class, and middle-class families, it'll also cover children of rich families. This is something Hillary Clinton made a big fuss about during the last election. Which is fair. Why should rich children get a free education? The fairest way of doing things is to make sure that no one gets anything for free, and that everyone has an equal chance at financial misery. Besides which, we could never afford such a prog- Wait, we could? Huh. Oh right, we forgot we were taking policy advice from someone who lost an election they'd been planning to win for the better part of a decade to a reality show host who speaks only in riddles and slurs.
Aside from the fact that we already spend $91 billion a year subsidizing public college against a projected cost of $79 billion on free college, both Sanders and Warren's plans would be funded by their aforementioned wealth taxes. Remember that ol' chestnut about how the wealth tax would stagger economic growth? If free college became a thing, we'd be freeing up a lot of people to be all they could be, including students who would otherwise be unable to attend.
In addition, taking away the crush of student debt means that when they graduate, students are free to live their best lives. They don't have to rush into bullshit jobs because their first installment is due in two months. They could buy homes with the money they're paying Betsy DeVos! They could start a business that has nothing to do with their degree and is an app, probably! So many possibilities!
In the last 30 years, the cost of attending public college has increased 213%, and at current rates, it's inflating 8 times faster than wages are. Something has to be done, and while we know we're having a whole thing re: our relationship to the rich, it seems a little short-sighted (read: rock-stupid) to cut off the noses of prospective students everywhere just to spite the well-off into cutting a check they can easily afford every semester. And for the love of god, stop listening to Hillary Clinton.
For more, check out How Gun Control Made Australia Safer Than America:
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