That is how the Tea Party Republican astroturfers describe unemployment benefits. So today, I want to find out just who wants to pay people not to work. I intend to prove that it's the conservatives and right wingers that want to pay people not to work, but as you might guess, it's not the unemployed they want to help.
They document their contempt for the American worker in pieces like this one by FreedomWorks, the astroturf group founded by former Republican House leader Dick Armey:
Following Nancy Pelosi’s logic, she should be thrilled to hear that the number of first-time filers for unemployment insurance rose to 500,000 last week—the highest in nine months. However, paying more people not to work will not stimulate the economy or create any jobs.They are talking about this clip from Speaker Pelosi's news conference on July 1, where she defends American workers and this social contract by pointing out that unemployment benefits are one of the most stimulative actions that can be undertaken in a shaky economy.
Freedumb-Works needs to be reminded that unemployment benefits are not some sort of a giveaway. These are insurance payments made to individuals whose employers paid into that insurance by the virtue of them (the employees) you know, working. As for its economic impact, in a study I covered thoroughly by Mark Zandy and Alan Blinder, the economists found that unemployment benefits clock in as the third best economic activity generator, behind only food stamps and federal Work-share funding. Every federal dollar spent in unemployment benefits, the economists found, generates $1.61 in terms of economic activity (i.e. boosts the nation's GDP by $1.61).
But if the Tea Party Republicans and FreedomWorks really want to talk about paying people not to work, we can do that. The conservatives are constantly advocating for paying people not to work through their tax policies.
Paying People Not to Work: Ending the Trust Fund Baby Inheritance Tax.
The most heinous of those policies? Calling for an end to the inheritance tax. This year, there isn't an inheritance tax. Beginning in 2011, the inheritance tax will apply only to those who inherit more than $1 million in estates. President Obama is proposing raising the exemption to $3.5 million to ensure family farms do not get affected, and capping the top rate to 45%, which would make only 0.2% of inheritances taxable.
But what do the Tea Party Republicans want? They want the ultra rich to be able to inherit daddy's money tax free. They want the Paris Hilton tax break. This would be trust fund babies that have never worked a day in their lives. You know, like the Koch brothers. Letting them inherit billions that they never worked for - that's paying people not to work.
Paying People Not to Work: Tax Giveaways to the Super Rich
The Republican Tea Party not only wants to make permanent the Bush tax giveaways to the top 2% of US income earners, they want to cut their taxes even further. They want to slash the top tax rate from 35% to 25%, ensuring that the ultra rich have to pay even less of their fair share. A while back, Ezra Klein showed us just who the Republican party was interested in enriching through their tax policies - the rich. Here's Ezra's chart on both party's tax proposals and the tax cuts received by taxpayers under both plans:
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to note that the Republican Tea Party is interested in giving tax breaks to the ultra rich, and they would do so by raising the retirement age and privatizing Social Security and Medicare.
Massive tax giveaways to the rich CEO's and Wall Street ne'er-do-wells, that's paying people not to work. Hell, that's paying people to screw others.
Paying People Not to Work: Eliminating the Capital Gains Tax for Wall Street Tycoons
Capital gains is a fancy way of saying "using money to make money." It's the money one makes from investments on wall street - i.e. the money one makes specifically without working, for the most part. President Obama's budget has a sensible proposal that eliminates the capital gains tax on small businesses, but keeps and increases it on Wall Street tycoons, including hedge fund managers (from the current 15% to 20%). Republicans? They wanted to ax the tax on tycoons altogether, at least through this year.
Eliminating taxes on Wall Street speculators and Hedge Fund managers, that's paying people not to work.
Paying People Not to Work: The Flat Income Tax
The "flat tax" is the dreaded idea that would tax all income (in some cases, above certain amounts) at the same rate, with no action-based exemptions. Other than the income tax, we have a regressive tax structure throughout our system. As Clemson University economist Holly Ulbrich explains, flat tax is class warfare.
[T]here's no concealing that the flat tax would radically redistribute the tax burden. Adam Smith, to whom economists always turn to for economic wisdom, observed, "It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion." [...] Sales taxes are regressive—they take a higher share of low incomes than higher incomes. [...] Payroll taxes are moderately regressive because they fall on only wages and salaries and only up to a maximum of $106,800 in earnings. [...] State and local governments also depend on fees and charges for services, which fall heavily on lower-income households, for 44 percent of their revenue.A flat income tax would make our entire taxing system regressive - the more you make, the less your share of the tax burden would be as a share of your income. And who would that benefit go to mostly? The rich - people who make their money not by working but by incomes derived from their financial assets. Prof. G. William Domhoff of the University of California at Santa Cruz notes this point:
[I]n reality those at the very top of the wealth distribution usually have the most income. (But it's important to note that for the rich, most of that income does not come from "working": in 2008, only 19% of the income reported by the 13,480 individuals or families making over $10 million came from wages and salaries. See Norris, 2010, for more details.)In 2007, the wealthiest 1% of Americans owned 43% of the nation's financial wealth, and the top 20% owned 93% of it. What's worse, nearly 50% of investment assets of this country are owned by the top 1%, and top 10% owns 88% of all investment assets, leaving the bottom 90% of us with just 12% of the investment assets (and thus, investment income).
A flat tax would redistribute the tax burden to the rich and the ultra rich, who make their money, once again, from financial assets (they own disproportionately vast amounts of it), not from working. A flat tax is paying rich people not to work.
This Debate Makes Our Choice Clear
If the handmaiden of the ultra corporate rich, the Tea Party Republicans really want to talk about paying people not to work, we can do that. It is their tax policy that cries out to pay people not to work - paying millionaires and billionaires not to work. But don't you tanning, golfing buffoons dare try and tell us that unemployment insurance benefits that people have paid into by working and need when they fall on hard times is "paying people not to work." You want to have a debate about paying people not to work? Fine. We'll clean your golden parachuted clock. But don't you dare attack working Americans who built this country, who keep it going every day when they need a little help. Don't you dare.
My fellow progressives, this is what is at stake in November. This is what this election - and every election - is about. The Tea Party Republicans will always fight for the moneyed interest, and in the process, insult everyday Americans. The question is, will we stand up for ourselves? Will we make the choice to reject paying rich people not to work (as Republican policies would do)? Will we choose to continue moving forward, albeit on a difficult road? I believe that we will, and that is why I believe that November, too, will be our time.