In 2001 and 2003, the Bush administration engineered two enormous tax
cuts primarily benefiting very wealthy taxpayers. Most Americans supported
these tax cuts. I argue that they did so not because they were indifferent
to economic inequality, but because they largely failed to connect
inequality and public policy. Three out of every four people polled said
that the difference in incomes between rich people and poor people has
increased in the past 20 years, and most of them added that that is a bad
thing—but most of those people still supported the regressive 2001
Bush tax cut and the even more regressive repeal of the estate tax.
Several manifestly relevant considerations had negligible or seemingly
perverse effects on these policy views, including assessments of the
wastefulness of government spending and desires for additional spending on
a variety of government programs. Support for the Bush tax cuts was
strongly shaped by people's attitudes about their own tax burdens,
but virtually unaffected by their attitudes about the tax burden of the
rich—even in the case of the estate tax, which only affects the
wealthiest one or two percent of taxpayers. Public opinion in this
instance was ill informed, insensitive to some of the most important
implications of the tax cuts, and largely disconnected from (or
misconnected to) a variety of relevant values and material interests.
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