The Tax Relief Act of 2001 will return $1.6 trillion to taxpayers over a ten-year period of time. Yahoo! We're rich! I'm going to Disneyland! With my tax savings I can afford a park ticket, a Mickey Mouse hat and an all-day sucker. If tax relief is retroactive I'll take a Greyhound Bus. To hell with the national debt. I'm going to visit Goofy, Space Mountain and that funny duck with no pants. You think the economy is bad now, just wait until it's stimulated with my $10 of tax relief each month.
How much is $1.6 trillion, anyway? It's way more than a few billions and mere millions. It's 1,600 billions, which are one thousand millions, which are one thousand thousands. If you started counting to one trillion right now you'd be done in 310,000 years. Read one million books and you will have processed one trillion characters. Stack one trillion kids on each other's shoulders -- and they'll reach the rings of Saturn. Give most of a $1.6 trillion tax cut to the wealthy who don't need it and plutocracy will further displace what's left of our democracy. As fun as these math games might be, they can be hazardous to play.
Bush's tax plan gives 44% of $1.6 trillion to the wealthiest 1% of Americans. Meanwhile, 80% of the nation's families -- 217 million people -- take home less money today than they did 20 years ago. And corporate CEOs have seen their salaries increase by an incredible 1,884% during that same time. If an average worker making $1,200 a month in 1995 had the same wage increase as the average CEO through 2001, the wage earner would now be making $7,870 a month. At this rate increase (based on data from 1995 to 1999), in 2004, that same worker would be making $19,359 a month. Now that's stimulating the economy.
Tax savings for the wealthiest will most likely find its way to some dreary investment firm that will stimulate the economy of shareholders and large corporations, but in reality, little will trickle down to middle America. If we're going to give away $1.6 trillion, let's give it to those who will spend it in their communities. Instead of markets and mergers stimulating Corporationland, the majority of taxpayers would be stimulating the economy on America's Main Streets. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan would have told this to Bush but he wanted to keep his job.
What possibly could the wealthiest 1% still need to buy? A little more of everything perhaps? Proponents of tax cuts favoring the super affluent assure us that financial rewards will trickle down to low- and middle-income workers. But there are only 12 ways this can happen to us. If we:
1. have the wrong organ transplanted during surgery.
2. merge with Time/Warner/AOL.
3. fall and break some bones while visiting Bill Gates.
4. claim to be Bill Clinton's illegitimate child and tell our story to the National Enquirer.
5. pour hot McDonalds' coffee on our heads.
6. drive a Ford Pinto with Firestone tires.
7. drive a Ford Pinto with a gas tank.
8. sell gossip to celebrity magazines after rummaging through movie stars' trashcans.
9. have a whiplash while we're in Beverly Hills.
10. rob a bank.
11. buy a politician.
12. choke on a finger swilled from a beer bottle.
But extreme measures as these, prison or a possibly a straight jacket could be avoided: If instead of waiting for economic relief to trickle down from the wealthy, we simply let it trickle up. I've been waiting 20 years for a dribble from President Reagan's tax cut. Let's try it upside-down this time and relieve the low- and middle-income families who need the money and let it trickle to those who don't. Unfortunately, my tax plan will never pass muster with the oil industry in the White House.
So, if you decide to go to Disneyland with your tax relief and can afford to take the kids, don't let them know that the trip is being paid for with projected budget surpluses from Tomorrowland. And instead of paying down the national debt, which carries a total interest payment of one billion dollars a day and the average family's personal share is $91,276, the kids can ride on Dumbo. Tax relief for the average family will scarcely buy a trip to the "happiest place on earth," which should keep us content long enough to pass a happy tax for the wealthy.
In the other magic kingdom, King George II is busy paying off his debts to those who financed his campaign and post-election battle: the millionaires who are suffering without "tax relief." Nationwide polls indicate that most Americans favor tax cuts if they are tied to annual budgets, rather than to the optimistic projections of $5.7 trillion in budget surpluses through 2011. But Bush opposes any "trigger" that would require tax cuts to be contingent upon actual surpluses rather than tenuous estimates. He did indicate some flexibility, however, as reported in the Washington Post. "I am willing to listen. There's a lot of opinions. There are a lot of opinions. There's a hundred opinions." Bush's message is clear. He is working hard on subject-verb agreement.
Meanwhile, the richest 1% of US households now have more combined wealth than do the entire bottom 95%. And as a percentage of gross income, workers are earning less, adjusting for inflation, than they did when Richard Nixon was president. So unless six or seven digits are required to report our annual income, we can cash in on tax relief in Fantasyland.
Mark Harrison is a writer in Colville, Wash.