I often talk, through this blog, about a concept that I call "democratic egalitarianism". I see tax at the center of our attempt to create a sustainably functional democratic society that works inclusively for all of us. If we don't make that the focus of our tax policy decisions, we will ultimately fail. So I often speak out about the short-sightedness (to say the least) of putting "efficiency" at the center of all tax decisions, and the need for a new progressivism that recognizes the importance of using tax policy to ensure that we are all, truly, in the same boat and pulling in the same direction.
I believe, in fact, that most Americans view the tax system in this way. You'll recall that when the Bush administration and the Republican party generally adopted as its primary focus tax cuts for big business and the rich, most Americans did not rank tax cuts at the height of their list of priorities. Yet somehow reading most of the rhetoric coming out of the Bush agencies and the Republican think-tanks, you'd think that tax cuts for investment gains was the most important point on everyone's minds. And the politicians--even those who didn't really believe it--started to act as though it was true. A number of usually reasonable Democrats went along with the Republican tax cut program. And a number still have trouble not caving to the next tax cut whim. Witness the tomfoolery of another $5 billion in tax cuts for business, purportedly to "compensate" business for paying a still-too-low minimum wage rather than continuing to exploit their workers for the benefit of their owners. (Witness, also, the Democrats seeming inability to understand that they were elected to office to end the policy decisions that most Americans see as ruining the country--from favoritism for the ultra wealthy to disregard of the environment to continued stubborn support for a unilateral war without reason that is creating the very terrorist problem that the regime claimed to be addressing and costing maybe a trillion dollars or more borrowed now and to be repaid by future generations.)
So why do politicians continue to act like Americans don't support progressive taxation, when a substantial majority has always done so? Why does Congress continue to favor investment returns, when there is no proof that such policies benefit ordinary Americans--and in fact a good deal of evidence that broad-based taxation is better at promoting broad-based growth?
Mark Buchanan's column about the media's failure to provide genuinely useful information on many substantive issues and the resulting "pluralistic ignorance" (otherwise known by most of us as herd thinking) may shed light on the problem with inside-the-Beltway thinking about taxes as well. See this link to "Our Lives as Atoms: The New Silent Majority" and the substantial commentary that accompanies it.