In the last thirty years, the idea that taxes should be progressive has disappeared from public discourse. Robert Reich writes that the father of free market capitalism believed that nations should institute progressive taxation:
Even Adam Smith, the 18th century guru of free-market conservatives, saw the wisdom of a graduated tax embodying the principle of equal sacrifice. “The rich should contribute to the public expense,” he wrote, “not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more in proportion.”
Last week, Mitt Romney offered the bromide that he was not going to release his tax records.The public could take his word that he had never paid less than 13% of his income in taxes. It was a remarkable moment. When most Americans deliver roughly 30% of their income to Uncle Sam, Romney claims that his 13% is worth so much more because he earns so much more.
What Romney doesn't understand, writes Reich, is the notion of equal sacrifice:
Equal sacrifice means that in paying taxes people ought to feel about the same degree of pain regardless of whether they’re wealthy or poor. Logically, this means someone earning $20 million a year should pay a much larger proportion of his income in taxes than someone earning $200,000, who in turn should pay a larger proportion than someone earning $50,000.
But Romney’s alleged 13 percent tax rate is lower than that of most middle class Americans who earn a tiny fraction of what he earns.
And that's the point. Neo-conservatism has no room for the notion of equal sacrifice. It has been replaced by the notion of get as much as you can.