|By Tony Russell|
A number of years ago, I became head of a small project.
There were only three of us working as full-time staff-a director
(myself), an assistant director, and a secretary. The secretary had
been with the project from its beginning, and-like many
secretaries-she did the bulk of the work in the project. She knew the
project inside out, and worked with intelligence and good judgment.
I found myself frequently dependent on her to teach me how to perform
It was obvious to all three of us that our salaries were out
of line. (The figures I'll use aren't imprecise because of my faulty
memory, but are close enough to the truth.) As secretary, she was
making $8,000 per year; as director, I was making three times as
much--$24,000 per year. So I did a lot of huffing and posturing about
how unjust that was, and about how I would address it at budget time.
She was impressed with my empathy and crusading spirit.
I cringe to relate the next part. When I drafted the budget,
I gave her a 5% raise, and myself a lesser 4% raise, and then gave it
to her to type up. With considerable heat and remarkable restraint,
she pointed out that the 5% raise amounted to $400 for her, while the
4% raise amounted to $960 for me. So where the gap between our
salaries had been $16,000 a year before, it would be $16,520 under the
new budget. I was actually widening the income gap-to my
I wouldn't embarrass myself by revealing this shabby moment
from my own history if it didn't help account for the embarrassment I
feel at Mr. Bush's tax reduction proposal, which has all the same
features-the air of self-righteousness, the shell game with
percentages, and the ultimate, self-serving unfairness. His proposal
is wrong, it's unjust, and I know because I've been there and done
Under his proposal, which changes the percentage of taxes and
creates three tax brackets, people with the lowest incomes might find
themselves saving from $2 to $20 per year, while people in the highest
bracket might find themselves saving from $20,000 to $200,000 or more
per year. At first glance, the percentages look good. But when you
do what the secretary in our project did-work out the consequences in
dollars-, the gross unfairness of the tax reduction screams out at
This is the same shell game we've been playing for the past
twenty years. Almost every major change in policy has been designed
in such a way as to benefit the well-to-do and to widen the gap
between those at the bottom and those at the top. When the rich get
richer and the poor get poorer-as they have been-, it's not just
something that happens. It's a deliberate choice, made by people who
know what they're doing. They reshape tax codes and fiscal policies
and government spending to their own advantage. This tax reduction
proposal by Mr. Bush is nothing new, in that respect. The big
winners, as usual, would be the wealthy, who also happen to be big
contributors to political campaigns.
But it doesn't have to be that way. If-as Mr. Bush and Mr.
Greenspan now argue-we actually need a tax cut, let's do it the
American way. Let's do it fairly, in such a way that the benefits
fall equally upon rich and poor alike, upon black and white and red
and brown, upon male and female, upon old and young. Everybody
treated equally. No discrimination. In short, let's give everyone
the same dollar amount as a tax break.
I'm not an economist and don't have current economic data at my
fingertips, but let's just look at approximate figures to get an idea
of what I mean.
Say, first, that you want a tax reduction of $1.5 trillion
over 10 years, or an average of $150 billion per year. (That's
actually a little less than Mr. Bush's most recent proposal.) And
let's say you want to spread that out equally among all our taxpayers
and dependents-we'll say among 300 million people, just to make the
calculations easy. That means that each year, each person would pay
$500 less in taxes. If you are a family of four, you would pay $2,000
less per taxes.
That's a hefty chunk of money for most of us, isn't it?
Friends, if your family isn't going to get its $2,000 tax reduction
under Mr. Bush's proposal, you've been cheated. You've been