We received an email from a friend who wanted to know if hr4646, a bill that would place a 1% transaction tax on almost all exchanges of money, really existed. Someone had sent her an email saying that Nancy Pelosi and “President Obama’s finance team” were the source of the horrible Socialist bill, and said it was introduced by Democrats DeFazio and Harkin. She wanted to check it out before forwarding it. Here’s a sample:
“One percent transaction tax is proposed President Obama’s finance team is recommending a transaction tax. His plan is to sneak it in after the November election to keep it under the radar. This is a 1% tax on all transactions at any financial institution i. e. Banks, Credit Unions, etc.. Any deposit you make, or move around within your account, i.e. transfer to, will have a 1% tax charged. If your pay check or your social Security or whatever is direct deposit, 1% tax charged. If you hand carry a check in to deposit, 1% tax charged, If you take cash in to deposit, 1% tax charged. This is from the man who promised that if you make under $250,000 per year, you will not see one penny of new tax. Keep your eyes and ears open, you will be amazed at what you learn…”
Following is more or less what I replied to our sensible friend. It rambles a bit because I wrote the first draft after my bedtime, but here goes:
OK, let’s see if any facts at all are involved. Yes, such a bill exists, and it’s called the “Debt Free America Act”. I’ve seen crazier ideas, and the public will have to pay for our national debt one way or another, sooner or later. It has some serious proponents which you can look up for yourself if you’re interested. But the bill was introduced by one Congressman, who suddenly found himself standing alone. Yes, it’s in committee right now but there’s as much chance of passing it as there is of repealing the law of gravity.
(And by the way, 95% of Americans have realized a tax cut in the last two years. That’s a fact. Aside from this alleged issue, all the fuss has been simply about letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, expire on-schedule.)
Also, the bill has some specific exemptions, including one for stock transactions, which tells me that the congressman in question is in the pocket of investment firms that practice robo-trading which makes the market on which your pension and mine depend, less stable. (75% of all stock purchases are re-sold within 11 seconds by the computers that bought them, no humans involved. It’s computer-driven parasitism on the stock market, and certainly an argument for a small transaction tax, at least specifically on stock transactions.)
But here’s the thing: that panicky email you received, describing it as a “stealth Socialist takeover” directly from The Mind Of Obama (or Pelosi, depending on the version) may very well have come from the strategy room of a PR firm. The folksy style is part of the presentation. These emails follow a predictable trajectory wholly orthogonal to the facts and all in one direction – to the right. There’s the conspiracy angle (Directed by Obama! Pelosi! Soros!), and the plea to “send this to everyone you know!” They want you to do their distribution work for them.
Remember that since the Citizen’s United decision, a tsunami of money has been washing in from the cheap-labor conservatives to make it possible for corporations to write the laws that apply to them. These are the guys who want to abolish the minimum wage, or who promise to be really, really careful to keep salmonella out of your eggs if only the pesky government would stop bothering them.
Of course they dress it up as grassroots organizing, heroic small businessmen (instead of the giant corporations that actually proffer the $2bn so far this election cycle) and someone’s grandma who has put it all together and emailed it straight to you.
When people like Sharon Angle, Michele Bachmann and Christine O’Donnell suddenly start getting 8-figure donations from anonymous organizations, you have to wonder; who benefits? What does it mean?
It means that people with more money than God want to write the laws for their own benefit, that’s what it means. These are the one-tenth of one percent of Americans (and foreign individuals like Rupert Murdoch) whose income equals that of the bottom 120 million of us. Seriously.
30-second political ads, talking-points on that faux-news network, and pretty-but-crazy (or maybe stupid) candidates are not a sound basis for political decisions. Start by simply ignoring all political ads, and be sure to read serious journalists from both right and left ends of the political spectrum. That means The Economist and Mother Jones, not Communist Voice and World Net Daily. Look for “cherry-picking” and outright lies (like attributing one congressman’s work to a whole administration.)
Finally, look for the politician who is willing to give you the bad news. Tax rates will probably have to go up. There probably isn’t a practical way to fix the deficit without some tax increase. Luckily the current rate is at historic and international lows.
If they say; “We’ll cut taxes and cut unnecessary spending”, make them tell you exactly, specifically what they plan to cut, and be ready to add up exactly how much that really means, deficit-wise. If they can’t do that, or if they won’t admit that tax cuts affect the deficit the same way that spending does, they’re lying.
Of course, hardly any politicians are that straightforward: this is a better filter for deciding who to vote against than who to vote for. Just be very, very suspicious of the ones who are telling you what you want to hear. Make them spell it out, piece by piece. And good luck. I have a hunch all of us will have a bad taste in our mouths after this election, but at least we can try to avoid the outright poison.