By Steven Cenname
Cennamology Chief Editor
Warren Buffett is a very wealthy man, the wealthiest in the world. Yet, despite his wealth he believes that he should pay a higher tax rate. Contrast this to many in the Tea Party, who are wholly opposed to any forms of progressive taxation, even though if the United States actually adopted a progressive tax system, most of those "grassroots" Tea Partiers would see their taxes go down, not up.
So why does Buffett support this country adopting a more progressive tax system even though it would lead to him paying higher rates while many who oppose the transition would not see their rates go up? In other words - why do some of the rich support raising taxes on the rich while many vocal opponents are not rich themselves? This question inspired me to look into what factors, other than income level, lead one to support progressive taxation.
After conducting a survey of about 50 people (a small sample size I know, but keep in mind that this was a college research project with limited resources) for my methods of empirical political analysis class at Salisbury University, it was found that respondents who agreed with the statement "The poor have nobody to blame but themselves for their situation," were less likely to agree that the wealthy Americans should pay a higher tax rate than the poor and middle class Americans. Those same respondents were also less likely to agree that the government should play a role in easing income inequality, another major tenet of progressive taxation, as shown by the chart accompanying this article.
Surprisingly, one variable that was not found to be significantly related to support for progressive taxation is political ideology. While a slightly higher percentage of conservatives than liberals disagreed with the statement that the rich should pay a higher tax rate, the chi-square test found that the relationship between that question and political ideology was not statistically significant.
However, it should be noted that in the survey, I made a point of avoiding the use of the word "progressive," as that word has be commonly used as a synonym for "liberal." The intention was to eliminate any possible buzzwords that would have led respondents to choose one answer over another without thinking. It would be interesting to see if using the word "progressive" would have made political ideology statistically significant to support for higher tax rates for wealthier Americans.
Therefore, this study shows that one's views on the poor is arguably one of the most important factors that influences one's views on taxation. This also suggests that the use of labels in describing taxation policy - like "liberal," "progressive," or even "flat," are what may be closing peoples' minds to possible avenues of tax reform.
With the negative effects of rising income inequality becoming more and more evident every day, the transition to a truly progressive tax system is essential for effective tax reform. As this study suggests, if policy makers need to gather support for a government role in easing income inequality and raising taxes on those who can most afford to pay, they must first pursue projects that encourage people to become active in their communities by helping the poor and downtrodden.
Community service projects are one of the most effective ways to see firsthand just how hard the poor and marginalized in our society have it. While some media outlets (*cough* Fox News *cough*) may portray the poor as lazy moochers who game the system by making it by on everybody else's money, the reality of the situation is far from what is often portrayed.
In order to close the cap between the typical American's common perception of the poor and reality, policy makers and political leaders must encourage their constituents to help at a soup kitchen, volunteer at a homeless shelter, or even take the SNAP challenge and try to live for a week on food stamps.
Americans must learn first hand about the plight of the poor and just how difficult it is to get by in this country on so little. Only then may lawmakers supportive of progressive taxation confidently pursue progressive tax reform ensuring that the public is on their side.