More Momentum For Progressive Populism?

Posted by Bob Lord

It's not all good news on the progressive populist front, but it's mostly good. This week, the NY Times indulged the zero corporate tax rate crowd with this piece by economist Laurence Kotlikoff. When economists with little knowledge of how our tax system works spout off, they tend to get it wrong, as Citizens for Tax Justice makes amply clear here. I'll be writing more on Kotlikoff and the zero corporate tax rate in the near future.

But Kotlikoff is a lightweight, and his insipid op-ed is small stuff.

It's a bit more troubling that Andrew Cuomo is looking to slash New York's estate tax rate. More on that soon as well.

But the larger developments are going in the right direction. From Salon yesterday: Move over de Blasio: Meet the Big-City Mayor Vowing to Get His City a $15 Minimum Wage. The "big city" would be Seattle, and Mayor Ed Murray seems dead set on implementing his plan to pay city workers no less than $15 per hour.

So, what's going on? Paul Krugman sums it up well in The War Over Poverty:

At this point, the rise of the 1 percent at the expense of everyone else is so obvious that it’s no longer possible to shut down any discussion of rising inequality with cries of “class warfare.” Meanwhile, hard times have forced many more Americans to turn to safety-net programs. And as conservatives have responded by defining an ever-growing fraction of the population as morally unworthy “takers” — a quarter, a third, 47 percent, whatever — they have made themselves look callous and meanspirited.

You can see the new political dynamics at work in the fight over aid to the unemployed. Republicans are still opposed to extended benefits, despite high long-term unemployment. But they have, revealingly, changed their arguments. Suddenly, it’s not about forcing those lazy bums to find jobs; it’s about fiscal responsibility. And nobody believes a word of it.

Meanwhile, progressives are on offense. They have decided that inequality is a winning political issue. They see war-on-poverty programs like food stamps, Medicaid, and the earned-income tax credit as success stories, initiatives that have helped Americans in need — especially during the slump since 2007 — and should be expanded. And if these programs enroll a growing number of Americans, rather than being narrowly targeted on the poor, so what?

So guess what: On its 50th birthday, the war on poverty no longer looks like a failure. It looks, instead, like a template for a rising, increasingly confident progressive movement.

Hard to disagree with Professor Krugman on that one. And who'd want to? 

I'm  wondering if we're about to see the result in that great experiment in which we've been forced to participate: How much wealth and how much income can we jam into the top 1% before the bottom 90% explodes? Looks to me like 50% of the wealth and 25% of the income is about the flash point. I sure hope so.

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