Demonizing Taxes, Heightening Inequality

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Demonizing Taxes, Heightening Inequality

Yesterday was Tax Day in the US, and that's almost universally greeted with groans and complaints. That tax word's been so effectively demonized that it may be there's no coming back. Is it time for a new word?

Some research by Duke University's Dan Ariely suggests it might be.

Ariely's study showed that Americans actually want a more equitable society—in fact, they think they have one.  When asked to identify their homeland from a list of nations described only by their level of equality--a majority of those polled picked Sweden, thinking it was the US. When asked to create their ideal society, Democrats, Republicans, men and women, the rich and the poor all created a distribution of wealth that is much more equal than the one we've got.

All that "social mobility, low inequality" stuff--Americans love it. They just don't have it. In fact, social mobility here's been shrivelling, as the wealth gap's been opening up.

There are only a few ways to get that more equal distribution: government investment (benefits and services) corporate action (paying people more) or redistribution: taking from each according to their means, to help the whole.  We call that tax.

Yet according to Ariely, the very same people who expressed an ardent wish for an equal society have an highly averse reaction to the word tax.  Why, he wondered, recently, to National Public Radio.

It's not so hard to figure out. Day in day out, when you hear taxes mentioned, what's the context? Social citizenship? Tools of an equal society? Or is it rather all about how heavy the burden is, how overtaxed Americans are. The Taxman, the IRS--the first public workers our media teach us to hate.

There are taxes to hate--taxes that go to give a blank check to the military, or tax credits for corporations that export American jobs. But the truth is, taxes on the rich have done nothing but fall since the Reagan years. And inequality's only gotten bigger.

What's the money media's stake in all this? It's hardly hidden. Remember that GE tax refund for $3.2 billion? The co-owner of NBC and MSNBC isn't alone either. Time Warner and News Corp, owners of CNN and Fox, are also on a list of the biggest corporate tax avoiders.

When you hear that news story about how tax day is no fun, remember that you're actually paying more than the company behind the news. And remember who it was who taught you to hate taxes. And if you come up with a new word, let us know?

Laura Flanders

Laura is YES! Magazine's 2013 Local Economies Reporting Fellow and is executive producer and founder and host of "GRITtv with Laura Flanders." Follow her on Twitter @GRITlaura.

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