Guest column: Progressive no longer

The Democratic Party’s failure to defend a progressive tax policy has resulted in rampant income inequality, writes Don Herbst.

The current debate over raising the minimum wage has a long and contentious history. Since the first federal minimum wage law in 1938, we have raised the minimum wage 22 times. Republican arguments that raising the rate kills jobs and hurts the poor have been trotted out on each one of these occasions. Certainly if these dire predictions had any merit, wouldn’t there be some clear evidence to support their claims?

The fact that raising the minimum will not exclusively benefit poor people isn’t really a valid excuse in an economy where even the middle class hasn’t seen a significant pay raise in 30 years. Thirty-four states and numerous cities are currently considering or have raised the minimum wage. The last time this many states had rates higher than the federal amount was in 2007 when 23 states were higher and the federal rate was raised. Even if we raise the minimum to the proposed $10.10 an hour, it would still be less in constant dollar value than it was in 1968.

Republicans have a long history of being on the wrong side of important issues. Among other radical liberal proposals opposed by conservatives are:

n The eight hour work day, 40 hour work week and overtime pay.

n Child labor laws.

n Antitrust legislation.

n Social Security.

n Food and drug safety regulation.

n Women’s suffrage and anti-discrimination laws.

n Federal insurance on bank deposits.

n Bank and securities regulation.

n Clean air.

n Clean water.

n Civil rights.

Over the years, Democrats have more or less successfully defended Republican attempts to roll back these achievements with one major exception. One of the most important achievements of the Progressive Era was the progressive income tax. In 1982 top marginal tax rates were lowered from 70 percent to 50 percent. In 1987 they were lowered again to 38.5 percent and in 1987 still lower to 28 percent.

Tax policy designed to make rich people richer has been very successful over the last 30 years. So much so that it prompted Warren Buffet to observe “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

The question is, how can there be warfare of any kind when one side fails to fire a single shot and then rolls over and plays dead? Democrats have completely failed to make any serious attempt to defend progressive taxation and we now have run-away income inequality to show for it.

The result is an economy where only the rich are benefiting while everyone else has stagnant or falling incomes. The proportion of our people living in poverty is higher than almost any other developed country and poverty is increasing. The American middle class is no longer the most prosperous in the world.