Every time American conservatives talk about taxes, I think back to the story of Monsieur Jacques de La Palisse, the fifteenth century French aristocrat who became famous for the epitaph on his grave that says: “Here lies Monsieur de La Palisse, the man who, had he not died, would still be alive”.
This funny historical fib is actually due to a calligraphic mistake since the inscription on the grave reads: “Ci-gît le Seigneur de La Palisse: s’il n’était pas mort, il serait encore envie ” meaning: “Here lies the Lord of La Palisse, who, had he not died, would still be envied”.
Unfortunately, a misreading occurred during the following years, mistook the word “envie” (envied) with “en vie” (still alive) giving rise to the famous tautology that the French aptly named a lapalissade: a synonym for something that is completely obvious and self-evident to the point of being ridiculous.
A new version of the lapalissade resurfaced during a press conference a few weeks ago when the White House spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, tried to defend the current Republican tax reform proposal from the accusation of being skewed in favor of millionaires and big multinational corporations.
For her explanation, Huckabee Sanders employed a convoluted metaphor involving journalists, beer and the method used by these journalists to pay their beer check.
“Let’s imagine – the spokeswoman said – that ten friends, let’s say they are journalists, get together every week for beers at the same bar and that their check always comes to $100. If this hundred dollar bill was to be split among the ten friends according to the current tax rates, the first four persons would pay zero, the fifth would pay $1, the sixth $3, the seventh $7, the eighth $12, the ninth $18 and the tenth would pay $59”.
“Now let’s say” Huckabee-Sanders continued, “that one day the bar owner (who, in her example represents the government cutting taxes) decides to thank the group of friends for their loyalty by offering a 20 percent discount, thus reducing the total of their check from $100 to $80.
If this $20 discount were to be shared among the ten journalists using the same percentages, the number of people drinking for free would rise from 4 to 5. The amounts due by the next four people would be reduced by one or two dollars while most of the rebate ($10 of the $20) would go to the tenth reporter, who would see his contribution shrink from 59 to 49 dollars. “
“Let’s say that, at this point – concluded the spokeswoman – nine of the friends start recriminating and protesting for the unequal distribution of the discount, pointing to the fact that $10 of the $20 saved, ended up in the pockets of the tenth journalist whom in turn, offended by his buddies’ resentment, the following weekend decides not to attend the weekly appointment.
The nine remaining journalists get together again and drink without him but, when the time comes to settle the check, they realize that, among all nine of them, they don’t even have enough money to cover half of the balance due”.
This clever metaphor is what American conservatives like to pull out of their rhetorical hat every time the political debate focuses on tax policy in order to point out that the wealthy already pay the vast majority of taxes. Therefore, if their tax burden is not decreased, they may decide “to leave” meaning to move their productive activities overseas or to give up on new investments, causing massive job losses and a disastrous increase in unemployment.
And this is where our lapalissade comes back.
What is self-evident to the point of being ridiculous, yet Republicans conveniently fail to mention and, incredibly, American voters do not seem to grasp, is that the American tax system, just like those of all developed countries, is progressive, meaning that it proportionally reflects the wealth of taxpayers. So, if the rich pay the vast majority of taxes it’s because they have the vast majority of wealth!
The differences in American tax contributions is nothing more than a reflection of the social inequality that, in this country, has already reached Third World levels. Social inequality that conservatives, with their proposed tax reform, will only exacerbate.
To justify the upward re-distribution of these tax cuts by saying that the wealthy already bear the overwhelming majority of taxation without talking about the cause that lies behind it (the enormous concentration of wealth in their hands) is comparable to a physician who talks to her patient only of the symptom bothering him without any mention of the disease that causes it.
Regardless of economic circumstances (recession or expansion) the Republican Party’s economic policy is always centered on cutting taxes for the most affluent individuals and big multinational corporations. The justification is that only by “freeing” big industry and entrepreneurs from the double yoke of taxes and government regulations can we encourage the “productive class of job-creators” to invest and create work for all of us ordinary mortals.
The idea implicit in this statement of course, is that only these few “chosen ones” are able to create jobs and to expand the economy and therefore all forms of support in the form of tax breaks should be granted to them, and to them alone.
However, taxes also make it possible to do many other things such as undertaking public works and infrastructure development programs in order to build ports, airports, roads, bridges which, in addition to creating immediate wages for those who build them, in the long run also play a key role in the growth of the economy.
Additionally, let’s say that these same taxes that Republicans want to leave in the hands of the richest among us, are used to cut public university tuitions or make them completely free, allowing thousands of kids who currently cannot afford it, to get a degree.
Is it not reasonable to expect that at least some of these future doctors, scientists, computer programmers will also have the entrepreneurial skills to start a business and create jobs?
Even if we accept the premise that only the slim minority made up by the rich are able to increase economic activity wouldn’t it be appropriate to make sure that all this money they are going to save in taxes will be actually reinvested to create jobs?
One of the main factors that is changing the global work landscape is the dramatic increase in automation. In an increasing number of industrial sectors, robots and electronic machines are now able to replace the jobs of thousands of workers.
What happens if companies decide to use all the money saved with their tax cuts to buy new robots and hiring fewer workers?
Or if they choose to use the money to artificially increase the value of their stock by buying back their own shares on the financial markets? How does that create a positive economic downfall for everyone?
If, as conservatives claim, rich people and big corporations are the only ones able to create jobs and wealth for everyone else and therefore it is necessary to cut their taxes without any guarantee and without any financial, social and moral consideration, then how about reintroducing slavery?
Slavery after all, has been proven in the past to be a very effective “productive strategy” based on a brilliant business model that allowed a few “enlightened people” to create enormously successful enterprises and to increase, over time, the Gross Domestic Product.
It’s so obvious it almost looks like a lapalissade…