By now you’ve heard the bitter, widespread debate over whether giving the wealthiest Americans fat tax breaks will ever create jobs.
But everybody agrees on one thing – we shouldn’t just give rich people tax breaks so they can have even more money to do whatever they like with.
That’s why I was intrigued by this proposal that would tie tax breaks to the actual creation of jobs.
The proposal was floated by Benjamin Barber, a Democratic theorist writing on Huffington Post.
Barber suggests a system of vouchers to make sure they’re creating jobs with their tax breaks.
“Conservatives should certainly welcome the principle of vouchers, which they have been proffering for a long time to the poor for education, groceries and housing – and now, courtesy of Mr. [Paul] Ryan, for Medicare too,” Barber writes, referring to the Republican vice-presidential candidate’s proposal to have the government give future Medicare recipients cash to buy insurance instead of health care. “The premise has been that a voucher prevents "irresponsible behavior" by those being helped, like buying drugs instead of groceries or a golf caddy instead of private schooling for the kids. It's a way to prevent the poor from getting all that "free stuff" Mitt Romney thinks they are always conniving to acquire.
Basically, it’s so simple I’d be surprised if someone hasn’t suggested it before: If you create real jobs, you get a tax break. No job creation, no tax breaks.
While Barber appears to suggest granting the tax cuts first and taking them away if the tax break doesn’t lead to jobs, I’d flip it: base the tax cut on hard proof that the jobs have been created.
Proponents of this latest version of the trickle-down theory should have no problem with the wealthy actually having to prove they’re creating real jobs to earn their tax breaks.
Because nobody wants to give away money for nothing, right?
I think the proposal could be refined to link the quality and number of jobs to the size of the tax cut.
For example, buy a yacht: no tax cut. Enjoy your yacht.
But prove you created a significant number of high-wage jobs with health care benefits and pensions, get a bigger tax cut.
Extending the logic of Barber’s idea, if you outsource jobs, shouldn’t your taxes increase?
Barber has hit on an issue that extends beyond just tax cuts – government officials have been extending all kinds of subsidies to business owners for creating jobs without ever requiring proof that the business owners actually create the jobs, or requiring that the subsidies be returned if the jobs are destroyed.
The very notion that we’ve allowed these huge tax cuts for the wealthy without demanding proof that they lead to real, not just theoretical, job creation, suggests how far we’ve moved away from the sensible fact and data-based world into a realm based on wish fulfillment for the wealthy who dominate our politics. The notion that proponents of the tax cuts want to pay for their extension by eliminating tax breaks that help the middle class, like the home mortgage tax break, also suggest how far our political debate has gone astray. Barber’s proposal suggests a way to get it back from fantasyland.