Virtually nothing of what you’re about to read survived the final cut of “Sacred Texts, Social Duty.”
In editing any documentary, you have to cut – a lot. And you have to cut lines, explanations and scenes that you think are important, even terribly important.
Sometimes you cut them because you’re cutting for a certain mark and therefore something has to go. Sometimes you cut them because, try as you might, you just can’t make the edit work. Sometimes you cut them because content gatekeepers make you cut them. Sometimes you cut them because you know they won’t go over well with viewers and you have to pick your battles.
In our new hour-long documentary on faith and taxes, which features roughly two dozen people from the Abrahamic faith traditions, one theme we basically cut (for a number of reasons) had to do with “trickle-down economics.”
The economic theory known as trickle down has been associated with everything from supply-side economics to Reaganomics and voodoo economics.
The general idea is that corporations and wealthy individuals receive tax breaks. They then invest more of their wealth, which “trickles down” and creates jobs, thereby creating more folks who are gainfully employed – and taxpayers themselves.
“Well, that hasn’t happened,” Tami Sober told us during interviews for “Sacred Texts, Social Duty.”
Sober, a Presbyterian, formerly taught economics, government and history in Virginia high schools and is now assistant director of the office of teaching and learning for the Virginia Education Association.
“Now we’re at the point where we have the results of that grand experiment,” said Sober, “and it didn’t work.”
Ralph Martire, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago, echoed that thought in his documentary interview.
“There is no data to support the stance that the way you grow the economy is to cut taxes on the wealthy and support corporate giveaways,” said Martire, a Catholic. “In fact, all the data runs the opposite.”
“Trickle-down has never worked,” he continued. “The data are compelling.”
“Our economy grew its best late ’40s, after World War II, ’50s and ’60s, up until 1970, when low-income working families and middle-income families had their greatest growth in income,” Martire said. “In real terms, after inflation, these families were getting paid more every year. And by getting paid more, they could spend more in the local economy and in the national economy.”
Martire added that with the U.S. economy being nearly 70 percent consumer spending, growth in the bottom and middle sectors of wage-earners meant that “the entire economy took off.”
Sober couched her analysis in historical terms, saying there was a concerted effort to build the middle class after the Great Depression. Part of that effort included a more progressive approach to taxation – meaning that those who earned more tended to pay proportionately more of their income in taxes.
With a more progressive tax structure in place, more income groups saw their standard of living increase. Even the top income brackets, which paid a higher percentage of their income in taxes, still saw their incomes increase.
“Contrast that from 1970 going forward,” said Martire. “In 1970 going forward, from that time period, 60 percent of our country – the bottom 60 percent of income earners – have actually seen their incomes decline. Our economy has fallen off, and there’s been a massive growth in income disparity between the top and the bottom and middle.”
Ali Faruk, a policy analyst at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, spoke of the effects of bad tax policy in Virginia alone.
Interviewed at VIC headquarters in Richmond, Faruk said over the last two decades, the top 10 percent of Virginia’s earners have seen their incomes rise while the bottom 10 percent of the state’s earners have seen wages remain stagnant.
“So we have not seen tax cuts for the rich rain down prosperity on all of us,” said Faruk, a Muslim.
“You’re talking about hard-working folk who really have had their living standards practically decrease even though their incomes may have remained stagnant,” said Faruk. “Because the cost of living has risen steadily, their living standards have pretty much gone down steadily.”
The issue, however, is not centrally one of cost-of-living increases. Rather, it’s about policies designed to further enrich the few at the expense of the many.
“Even though in real terms it’s only really the wealthiest 20 percent of this nation that has done well since 1970,” said Martire, “their taxes have been reduced significantly more than taxes have been reduced at the bottom and middle since 1970.”
Martire called that fact “the scariest part.”
“So both at the state and at the federal level, tax policy is contributing, significantly now, to the growing wealth gap and income gap between them that have and pretty much everybody else,” said Martire.
Faruk suggested that policy problems may have a deeper, moral component.
“I think for the past several decades unfortunately, we’ve been celebrating greed. – the fact that greed will bring you prosperity, that if you’re greedy, it’s good,” said Faruk. “I think we’ve really crossed the line. Of course, self-interest is important. It’s important to think about yourself and work hard and understand that if you work hard, good things will happen.
“But it’s quite another thing to say that greed will make the whole country better,” he added. “And I think that’s what we’ve been celebrating, and I think, unfortunately, we’re suffering from being proven wrong.”
Cliff Vaughn is managing editor and media producer for EthicsDaily.com.
Editor’s note: To learn more and watch the documentary “Sacred Texts, Social Duty,” click here.