The Golden Circlet

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Thinking About Ike’s Tax

Paul Krugman’s musing on the Twinkie era has me thinking about 1950s politics.

Let’s just get clear that even though I wasn’t alive in 1952, I am confident that I would not have “liked Ike.” I’m a hardcore lefty, my family campaigned that year for Adlai Stevenson,  I’ve read some of Stevenson’s essays, enough to get a sense of both his personality and his politics, and whatever: I’m pretty sure I’d have been an eggheaded Stevenson voter in 1952.

But even Truman hoped Eisenhower would run as a Democrat, so there must have been something to the guy. He was no Ronald Reagan, that’s for sure, that horror show of a president whose half-remembered, handsome movie-star smile seems to have rendered amnestic half the nation to the fact that he wrecked the farms, destroyed the unions, and impoverished the country for the next generation and beyond.

A quick look at the Wikipedia table with the history of U.S. income tax rates adjusted for inflation  makes clear just what legacy Reagan left us. In 1965, before the Reagan era, the top tax bracket (folks making, in 2011 dollars, $1.42 million a year or more) paid a marginal rate of 70%. By 1988, the end of the Reagan era, the top tax bracket included anyone making, in 2011 dollars, $56,000 a year or more, and everyone from there on up paid a marginal tax rate of 28%. And tax rates have stayed ridiculously low and ridiculously regressive ever since.  That giant sucking sound Ross Perot heard had nothing to do with NAFTA — it was the sound of money being sucked away from the public good and into the dragon hoards of billionaires.

But in Eisenhower’s era, taxes on the rich reached their apex, and Krugman points out that CEOs were feeling the pinch. He links to this fascinating article, which gives the impression that most presidents of corporations circa 1955 lived delightfully small, bourgeois existences, paying their taxes, avoiding politics and culture,  skippering their  Chris-Crafts on fishing expeditions and saving carefully for their children’s educations.

I might consider selling my soul if my government would tax David Koch into such a station in life.

However, until an underdemon comes calling with an offer, I felt compelled to make tea towels. A little playing around with my knockoff-Photoshop-for-dummies transformed this wonderful image from a mid-century clothing catalog into a broadside for tax relief, like so:

Using Zazzle, I put this little poster onto tea towels, which — if they turn out — may make it into my Christmas presents this year. (I think you can use the link to get a taxation tea towel for yourself, but I don’t get any kickback from that if you can. I assume this image may still be under copyright. I consider my playful use of it for political activism to be fair use, and if you do too, feel free to use the image widely for your own personal enjoyment as well, but this image isn’t for anyone’s commercial benefit, including my own.)

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