This morning on my way in to work I heard a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition featuring the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel, talking about tax fairness and the deficit. It started out fine, but then became a radically conservative editorial with Wessel arguing that there are lots of people out there who are upset because a small portion of the population, the very poor, pay no federal income taxes (though they do pay payroll taxes) and another portion which is even more poor that they pay neither income nor payroll taxes. Wessel doesn’t say he’s talking about the very poor, but that’s who he’s talking about. Dean Baker notes that this is a position which Wessel also does not provide evidence for anyone actually holding:
The segment also included the bizarre claim that there is widespread resentment against low and moderate income people who do not pay income taxes. It would be interesting if it presented evidence that supported this view. It is undoubtedly true that many people resent millionaires who use tax shelters in order to pay very low taxes, it is not clear that there is widespread anger over the fact that families earning $20,000-$30,000 a year are not paying income taxes (they do pay payroll taxes).
When this is applied to a conversation about the budget deficit, Wessel goes to the extreme implication that if we want to reduce it, we will need to raise taxes on the poor. Baker notes that NPR and Wessel’s entire framing around the budget deficit is wrong:
The first sentence of the piece refers to the “ballooning deficit.” In fact the deficit is actually shrinking. While NPR can argue that the deficit is larger than it would like it to be, the direction of change is wrong. It cannot accurately be described as “ballooning.”
There’s lots of deficit hawkery, but little of it is grounded in reality.