April 30, 2017

I have many times said that the one set-in-stone rule in politics is he who frames the issue wins the debate.

For too long, we have ceded the debate on taxes to the Republicans. If I hear one more Democrat on a Sunday news show say, "Well, no one wants to pay more taxes than they have to..." I'm gonna scream. Even Bernie Sanders, when he speaks to increasing social programs, only speaks to raising taxes on the top 1 percent or corporations.

If we're going to have the post-election discussion of how the party is going to go forward into the midterms, I suggest right here and now that we regain the framing on taxes. Especially in the age of Trump, we need to make tax evasion to be the act of someone who hates this country, not of being "smart."

And there's plenty of evidence around us that paying taxes--not lowering them for the wealthiest--actually makes for a happier populace. My own bias is to Denmark, the birthplace of my husband and a place I've spent significant time in, and one of the nations with the highest "happiness index" on the planet.

All of the other countries in the top ten also have high values in all six of the key variables used to explain happiness differences among countries and through time – income, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on in times of trouble, generosity, freedom and trust, with the latter measured by the absence of corruption in business and government.

But really, look to all of Scandinavia for proof of a happier populace despite the dreaded high taxes. Ted Heberlein in Vox describes his experiences living in Sweden:

US critics say that Swedes pay 56 percent — so the government takes over half of your money. This is not true — 56 percent is the marginal tax rate, i.e. what high earners pay on income over a certain amount in both state and local taxes. Only 15 percent of Swedes pay tax at this rate. It turns out the average Swede pays less than 27 percent of his or her income in direct taxes. As I've written elsewhere, my wife and I pay about 22 percent of our US income in taxes. Our Swedish income tax was 31 percent. So, yes, our income taxes in Sweden were higher than in the US, but we still paid less than one-third in tax.
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David Brooks, in a New York Times editorial, argues that if Americans paid European-style high taxes, it would "weaken the ability of members of the middle class to make choices about their own lives."

Maybe Brooks needs to live abroad. Guys like Brooks seem to be proud that tax revenues in the US are only 26 percent of GDP (the third lowest of all countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) while in Sweden they are 43 percent.

But tax dollars are not burned — they are used to provide collective goods that are beyond the reach of any individual and that benefit everyone. These collective goods give the middle class more choices, not fewer.

Not having to pay for college gives the best and the brightest the opportunity to attend any school they choose — equalizing opportunity on merit, not parents' wealth.

Taxes are the costs for living in a society. We should want to make this nation a stronger society, not begrudge our contribution to the nation's collective happiness.

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