Josh Heath | The ‘Taxation Is Theft’ Nonsense

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

One of the most tired arguments I hear on the right goes something like this — to raise taxes on the rich in order to pay for new government programs is immoral, because you’re stealing their money, in the same way a bandit robs some helpless woman on the street.

When you examine this position critically, however, it quickly falls apart. Let me state my case plainly: The facts show when the wealthy pay more taxes they are not being robbed, but rather making an investment toward a better society, one that will pay dividends for themselves and everyone else.

As an example of this truth, take one of the most popular ideas in politics today: tuition-free college. This program would cost $70 billion a year and could be paid for by imposing a 50 percent tax rate on millionaires and billionaires, which was the policy during the Reagan era.

Here’s why that would be a killer investment for the wealthy, not a robbery: First, college graduates pay a lot of taxes — $563,000 more than their less educated peers — precisely because they make good incomes in the job market.

Consequently, in a world with tuition-free college, and the new revenue it would bring about, Congress could then afford to reduce taxes on the rich, who at present provide most of the funding for government services.

Furthermore, a college-educated populace would provide critical support for our two most expensive programs, Social Security and Medicare. The baby-boom generation is quickly descending into old age and will be using these initiatives en masse, a change that will cost the government trillions over the long term.

An educated workforce paying high taxes will help shoulder the costs of this critical safety net for our seniors.

Second, the United States is going through a crisis in its labor market, as we do not have enough skilled workers to perform the complex jobs of the 21st century. Employers have nearly 6 million unfilled positions because of this fact and complain about being unable to operate at peak productivity.

Allowing every child to go to college and get the skills they need for these jobs would reverse this troubling status quo, and increase corporate profits in the process.

And, you would see additional economic growth in the housing and automotive sectors, as tuition-free college would enable millenials to graduate without student loans, and be able to afford mortgages and car loans. That would be a huge stimulus for the broader economy, with benefits accruing across class lines.

Lastly, the wealthy would benefit from tuition-free college, because it will help create a more stable society. Currently, the biggest divide in our country is between college graduates and non-college graduates. Those in the former category largely enjoy a middle-class status, stable marriages, greater longevity and overall life satisfaction. Those in the latter group are experiencing some of the worst of this nation’s ills — high rates of suicide, opioid addiction, divorce and chronic poverty.

Making college free would allow every citizen to access the benefits that come with education, and end the second-class citizenship those who are lesser educated often endure. Inequality will greatly lessen and every community will be more peaceful as a result. The fat cats would able to sleep soundly without worrying about a revolution boiling outside their gilded estates.

In this sense, taxation is clearly not theft, as conservatives envision it. When someone is robbed, they are victimized, without seeing any benefit. By contrast, if the wealthy paid for tuition-free college, they would make feasible a reduction of their own taxes, enable their companies to operate at full strength, create a labor force that can support our most cherished social programs and bring about a more stable society.

That’s a sweet deal for the rich, as well as young undergraduate snowflakes like myself.

So please reject the narrow-mindedness of certain far-right characters today. America is not a zero-sum game, in which helping out others means we lose ourselves. By contrast, the facts show when we work to create more justice in the world, more opportunity, everyone benefits — morally and financially.

Joshua Heath is a Valencia resident and a political science student at UCLA. He has served two terms as a delegate to the California Democratic Party. Democratic Voices runs every Tuesday in The Signal.

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