Ten p.m. may be an awkward time to be at a campus bar, but it is a ripe time for deep conversations. A few weeks ago I found myself in such a conversation with a close friend about the upcoming elections. What I noticed, though, is that a few drinks are just enough to drop political correctness and to say, with deep conviction and passion, exactly how you feel.
“Ari,” my friend said, “You know exactly what this election comes down to for me: Which candidate will let me keep the most money?”
Though the answer to my friend’s question was perfectly clear in his mind, it wasn’t so clear in my own.
At our core are we really single-issue voters? How can we be so selfish?
After some more thought and research, I realized how repulsed I was by this voting style. It is our responsibility as both students and citizens to elect the most holistically outstanding candidate, and not just the candidate who best fattens our wallets.
Though not all students share my friend’s sentiment, I wonder if those who do have actually looked at the specific tax brackets and the marginal increases (or decreases) of the candidates’ policies?
If you think John McCain will cut your taxes and Barack Obama will raise them based purely on partisan ideology, you’re wrong. According to the Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, any family earning less than $600,000 per year will receive tax cuts if either McCain or Obama is elected.
To specifically address my friend’s question, let’s think about where we, as students, might be after graduation. Right now our economy is bleeding, and there are two ways to clean it up: Either with strong, tangible government intervention or with Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Whichever method works, and ideally one will soon, we still aren’t likely to earn more than $600,000 per year after graduation.
It looks like my friend was wrong.
Now, some students argue that they aren’t necessarily voting for themselves; rather, they are voting on behalf of their families. And it’s true: Families who make more than $600,000 per year will pay significantly higher taxes under Obama than they would under McCain. It may be the least that a good son or daughter could do to thank their parents — especially parents who pay for tuition, food and housing. But is it right? I would venture to say that most, though not all of these parents are maybe, possibly, (hopefully) thinking about the future of our country as a whole and not just their checkbooks.
But even wealthy families are struggling because of the current financial and housing crises. For them, voting on behalf of America’s welfare is clearly ideal, but it is an impractical solution. I understand that. And I respect that. But sure enough, American citizens have a responsibility to help the incoming administration restore America’s prowess in diplomacy, finance and many other important arenas. Funding for these goals must come from somewhere, and it probably won’t come from low-income families.
So my friend may have been mistaken about his financial future relative to this election, but he did have an interesting point about the future.
“The beauty of the American Dream,” he said, “is that if I make the right decisions, and I enter the right field, and I work harder than my coworkers and even my boss, then I will be rewarded.”
If Obama wins the presidency and passes his policy to exorbitantly tax the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, what does that say about the government’s incentive for its citizens to earn? Do young minds then withhold patent registrations for brilliant ideas, simply because if they make too much money, it will disproportionately go to the government? Or maybe they would even leave the United States and move to a country with more favorable high-income tax laws. That would be disastrous.
It’s clear, then, that though Obama’s tax policy might bolster the economy right now, it has little chance for long-term survival. If the United States destroys its tax system with inequitable tax brackets, we shouldn’t expect to emerge from our financial crises any time soon. Patience here is crucial. We must first solve (and fund) this crisis, and then figure out how to equally share its responsibility.
As a first step, let’s take the initiative in voting for the candidate who will best restore America’s reputation and economy. Whether you vote for McCain, Obama or even Ralph Nader (yikes), make sure you do so for the right reasons.
Ari Parritz can be reached at email@example.com.