Wednesday, May 17, 2023

#137 / Taxing The Rich


That is Dan Walters, pictured - and NOT the baseball player Dan Walters. Dan Walters the baseball player, apparently, played for the San Diego Padres. The Dan Walters I am thinking about has been a journalist for almost sixty years, writing for The Sacramento Union before that newspaper became defunct. Walters was covering the Capitol, and writing for The Sacramento Bee, when I showed up in Sacramento in 1995, to lobby for the environment on behalf of PCL, The Planning and Conservation League
I would frequently see Walters in committee hearings, and in the Capitol hallways. He was a curmudgeon-type figure, and I think his right-leaning tendencies, and his dyspepsia when contemplating our state's ever more left-leaning politics, seem to have become more pronounced with the years. Walters is no fan of what author Curt Gentry once called "the late, great State of California." At least, he is no fan of our current Governor, or Legislature, or our politics in general. Walters now makes speeches and writes for the online news source, Cal/Matters. I am reporting, today, on one of his opinion columns, published by Cal/Matters, and reprinted in my local newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The column that got my attention appeared in the edition of The Sentinel that was published on Saturday, April 15, 2023 (the date that has traditionally been recognized as "tax day," though not this year). Walters' column was titled, "Battles over taxing the rich abound in liberal California." Click that link to read his column, if you'd like. 

Walters' argument is clear: "In deeply 'blue' California, there's never a shortage of efforts to raise taxes on the state's wealthiest residents or corporations to support expansions of government programs." Walters does not, generally, think that this is a good thing. However, he is comforted, clearly, by the following observation: "There's no shortage of efforts to impose new taxes on the wealthy or corporations in California, but few of them survive the political process." 
While Walters doesn't write this out, I think it's pretty clear that the following text would describe his reaction to the situation he describes: "THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT!"
Not too long ago, I wrote a blog posting about "Mind Models." That blog posting appeared online, as it turns out, on April 14th, just one day before the date that Walters' column on "taxing the rich" showed up on my front porch, along with the Sentinel, sometime before 5:30 in the morning. That may be why I took notice of Walters' column, which I think reflects one view (but not the only possible view) of how we can think about taxes. 

If our "mind model" is basically "individualistic," a "mind model" in which the "individual" is the most important thing, and the source of everything good that happens, then legislation by a majority, to take away money from certain individuals, smacks of a kind of oppressive behavior. It is actually close to thuggery. Luckily, says Walters, the rich are able to fight back, and prevent too many occasions of what amounts to "theft" of their individual economic winnings.

Still, what the majority wants to do is obvious. Having greater numbers, the "less rich" voters, in "blue" California, are constantly trying to take away the earned wealth of those who have made themselves wealthy through their individual efforts, and those "less rich" voters are using methods that amount to government-sanctioned force. As I said, above, the implicit comment that Walters makes on this situation is that we can be thankful that the "less wealthy" aren't successful too often in pulling off this "tax the rich" robbery. 
Suppose, though, we don't have an individualistic "mind model," but conceptualize our existence as one that emphasizes the fact that we are "all in this together"? How, then, should we think about taxes?

If we give some primacy to the need for our greater community to achieve important objectives, from public works projects to supporting individuals who may need health care, housing, education, and even food, then "taxing the rich" amounts to finding ways for those who have the ability to do so to contribute to our overall, community goals. 

For me, at least, it's pretty clear that there are some important truths to be discovered in both "mind models." 

Personally, I'd like to see more attention paid to achieving our "community" objectives, which means that those who have the greatest ability to help finance our community efforts do need to contribute "more" - more than those who have a lesser ability to contribute, and more than they have already contributed.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, mentioned in the biographical information about Walters that I linked above, and will link again, here, used to describe the kind of politics he advocated as "paddling a canoe." 

Maybe we need a "mind model" that lets us put the paddle in on the "right," and then in on the "left," too. All so we can go straight, of course!

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