Saturday, September 19, 2009

Revisiting the "Lucky Ducky" mindset

"Lucky Duckies" may seem like old news, since the term came about in 2002, but I think it's vital that we revisit it at this very moment, because we need to be reminded exactly what we are up against. We need to always keep in mind that the neocon point of view is horrifically sociopathic, and that we are dealing with people who are so mentally ill that they believe people who live below the poverty line are fortunate to be doing so. This may seem ludicrous to you, but it is not a joke, and it is terribly, disturbingly unfunny--made even more so by the fact that this point of view actually instigated policy changes. - Lucky duckies is a term that was used in Wall Street Journal editorials starting on 20 November 2002 to refer to Americans who pay no federal income tax because they are at an income level that is below the tax line (after deductions and credits). The term has outlived its original use to become a part of the informal terminology used in the tax reform debate in the United States.

Here are some excerpts from articles about the "Lucky Duckies" discussion that came about when the term was coined:
Carping critics of the conservative movement have been known to say that its economic program consists of little more than tax cuts, tax cuts and more tax cuts. I may even have said that myself. If so, I apologize. Emboldened by the midterm election, key conservative ideologues have now declared their support for tax increases ? but only for people with low incomes.

The public debut of this idea came, as such things often do, on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. The page's editors, it seems, are upset that some low-income people pay little or nothing in income taxes. Not, mind you, because of the lost revenue, but because these "lucky duckies" ? The Journal's term, not mine ? might not be feeling a proper hatred for the government.
The Journal considers a hypothetical ducky who earns only $12,000 a year ? some guys have all the luck! ? and therefore, according to the editorial, "pays a little less than 4% of income in taxes." Not surprisingly, that statement is a deliberate misrepresentation; the calculation refers only to income taxes. If you include payroll and sales taxes, a worker earning $12,000 probably pays well over 20 percent of income in taxes. But who's counting?
Chait and countless others pointed out that the Journal's argument was both factually wrong -- it considered only the federal income tax, not all the taxes that poor and middle-class people pay, in particular hefty payroll taxes like Social Security -- and culturally out of touch. Had the editors ever met a person of little means? Did they realize that being poor, while perhaps an attractive tax shelter, tended to come with such hard-to-bear downsides as not knowing where your next meal will come from?
Buchanan makes a GREAT point here:
Unfortunately, because tax issues are all about numbers, it is far too easy to introduce confusion into the debate. And conversely, it takes a bit of effort to unsnarl the arguments. But when the facts are laid bare, the brazenness of this new attack on fundamental American notions of fairness is simply stunning.
Indeed, the proponents of "Lucky Duckies" will hurl numbers right and left, but can we honestly say that we need to "unsnarl" those numbers to understand that it sucks to be poor? That having food security and shelter is better than not knowing if you'll have enough to eat today, or whether you'll be evicted from your home at the end of the month? That Joe being able to keep his modest roof over his head is more important than George buying a fifth Mercedes? And, probably even more importantly, that George's fifth Mercedes was paid for by laying Joe (and fifty of Joe's coworkers) off?

Buchanan continues:
The zero bracket is simply a matter of humanity. If someone is working but unable to earn above a basic minimum, then they should not pay income taxes.

EXACTLY. Humanity--the keyword here, and what the neocons seem to be sorely lacking.

He continues, with some more common sense:
in reality, are we anywhere close to such a situation? In 2005, total income reported to the IRS rose by nine percent, but all of the gains went to the richest 10% of the population. Incomes for the remaining 90% actually declined. Every day brings news of ever-greater income inequality, with measured inequality reaching levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties and the Gilded Age.

If we have a redistributive system, therefore, it is not having any noticeable effect on the party in the penthouse. Any concern that our political system is somehow excessively responsive to the poor, and deaf to the cries of the rich is, moreover, hard to take seriously.

Finally, this Ruben Bolling cartoon is an eloquent illustration of the neocon point of view regarding how "lucky" people living in poverty are. I just wish there were some way for Bolling to illustrate how long Ducky had to stand in line at government offices and agencies to receive the meager benefits he got.

No comments: