Many on the left are befuddled by the American public’s staunch resistance to taxes— a seemingly irrational hostility that often paralyzes public policy. Americans are convinced that they are overtaxed, although their tax burden is lower than those of other major industrialized nations. Health care reform was stymied in part because of unreasoning opposition to expansion of any government program—there’s a (perhaps apocryphal) story of the senior citizen who protested to President Clinton about his plan for a “government takeover of Medicare.” Even Clinton’s plan to “end welfare as we know it” has floundered because of the political impossi- bility of raising new taxes for child care, training, and public service jobs.
Americans’ feelings about taxes are fed by our culture’s deeply-rooted individualism and anti-collectivist impulses, but they are not entirely irrational. They are based on real economic phenomena that a...
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