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Activist #MMT - podcast


Jan 29, 2020

Welcome to episode twelve of Activist #MMT. Today is part one of my two part conversation with historian, author, and Harvard Law graduate Camille Walsh (Twitter/@redheadmenace) about her 2018 book Racial Taxation. Racial Taxation thoroughly documents how the idea of a taxpayer and taxpayer money is actually coded language for whiteness. It promotes the false belief that only wealthy white people pay substantial amounts in taxes and are the only real source of government funding; funding that is necessary to provide basic services for all citizens, particularly education. Conversely, less wealthy minorities are therefore “taxeaters,“ who only consume services as provided and funded by wealthy whites, who are the only true and "legitimate" taxpayers.

The truth, however, is that the levers of power have historically been dominated by wealthy white landowners, who systemically sabotage, undermine, and brazenly steal from minorities, making it impossible for them to ever accumulate enough in assets, income, or station – exactly those things upon which tax rates are based. All of this is used as further justification to withhold education, and preventing the disadvantaged from getting anywhere near the levers of power.

Modern Monetary Theory undermines the concept of taxpayers and taxeaters by demonstrating that the federal government could easily fund all education, from preschool through postgraduate school, for the entire country. They can do this without the financial need of funding via taxation or borrowing. In other words, the fact that public education is not funded by the federal government (it currently funds only about 8%) is revealed to an arbitrary and convenient political choice, not a financial necessity. Wealthy whites therefore have a strong interest in preventing the federal government from funding education and other services, in order to prevent their legitimacy as taxpayers from instantly disappearing.

Finally, I want to mention how before the music you heard a portion of President Lyndon B. Johnson‘s 1964 speech to Congress, introducing the Civil Rights Act. Johnson’s statement about taxpayers and taxeaters is in direct contradiction to the spirit of the act he is introducing. It is also another example of how our government once again declares racial discrimination to be illegal, but will do little to nothing to cure its underlying causes. It also alludes to the additional discrimination minorities can expect to revive for the very fact of needing services from the government at all. This, despite the massive systemic disadvantages they have endured for centuries.

Background information on Rodriguez versus the San Antonio Independent School District

As background, I’m going to read a few paragraphs from the book in order to summarize the case Rodriguez versus the San Antonio Independent School District. You will find this on page 142, in the section called “Intersectionality, Property Taxes, and the Constitution":

Demetrio Rodriguez was a 42-year-old veteran who would work for more than 15 years at Kelly Air Force Base outside San Antonio before he signed on as the lead plaintiff in the 1968 complaint against San Antonio and Texas officials. Three of his four sons attended Edgewood Elementary school in San Antonio, where the “building was crumbling, classrooms lacked basic supplies, and almost half the teachers were not certified and worked on emergency permits." Over 90% of Edgewood students were Hispanic and 6% were African-American. Students in Edgewood district had 1/3 as many library books, 1/4 as many guidance counselors, and classes that were 50% more crowded than those in neighboring districts.

...the central legal issue was the state financing system which enforced local caps on taxation. If property values in an area were low, as they were in Edgewood, voters were simply barred from taxing themselves at a higher rate. So they cannot even choose to fund the schools at the same level as Alamo Heights, a wealthy, overwhelmingly white school district only 6 miles away that frequently serves as a counterpoint to Edgewood in the litigation. Consequently, despite their comparatively high tax rate, Edgewood schools raised only $26 per child, while Alamo Heights raised $333.

[...]

The financing differences were repeatedly framed by opponents and, later, justices as a matter of private choice in marketplace decision making. Even without the taxation caps the choice of the local Edgewood community was largely illusory. As one of the co-counsels who worked with [the lawyer] on the case later said, poor districts do not choose to spend less for education. It’s like telling a man who makes $50 a week that he has the same right as a millionaire to send his son to [an extraordinarily expensive private school such as] Exeter.”

Other Resources

  • Audio of Camille's full presentation and Q&A at the 2019 MMT conference.
  • My thoughts on a related paper called Black Debt/White Debt by University of Iowa assistant professor Louise Seamster.
  • OSHA history of school funding
  • Kamala Harris, CA District Attorney in 2016, her administration fighting against early release of non-violent felons from overcroweded prisons, for fear of reduced labor, including for fighting forest fires. Articles one and two.

#LearnMMT

For an overview of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) with many reliable sources to learn more, here is a good place to start:

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