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Assignment: In the fourth workbook essay, you learned about the way in which the wealth gap between
the very wealthy and the middle class has grown since the Reagan years. Immediately after that
paragraph, there is a poll question asking your opinion about taxing and spending priorities: whether
you would support raising taxes on the wealthy, lowering taxes on the low- and middle-income
Americans, spending more money on social welfare programs, or maintaining the status quo.
In this short essay, restate the position you took in the poll and justify it. In other words, move your
position from opinion to sound policy. Why would the policy be the best choice in addressing income
inequality (or why is income inequality acceptable)?
Make sure you provide at least two points in support of your position and counter at least one of the
other positions. Your writing should be thorough but concise; you should limit your surface errors as
much as possible. Your report should be approximately 250 â?? 350 words in length.
IV Policymaking involves tradeoffs, which may
affect perceptions of fairness and inequality.
Identify the influence of government spending and taxation policies on
INVESTIGATION: POLICY TRADEOFFS
Read the following scenario and answer the questions.
As a legislative aide, you assist a U.S. representative in making decisions
concerning all manner of public policy. As surely as the seasons change, it is
now time for Congress to debate the annual budget, to decide how much
government should spend and on what programs, and whether to increase
or decrease taxesâ??and on whomâ??to fund these programs. Lately, the
American people (your bossâ??s constituents included) have expressed
interest in seeing sizable reductions in the federal budget deficit. As you
advise, you must consider the competing (and sometimes contradictory)
impulses of the American people to prefer more spending, fewer taxes, and
a lower budget deficit.
As you are well aware, this area of domestic policy is known as fiscal policy.
Fiscal policyâ??manipulating taxes and spendingâ??is the primary way that
Congress and the president affect the economy. If the goal is to encourage
consumers to spend more money, Congress may reduce workersâ?? payroll
taxes, which has the effect of increasing their weekly paychecks. Congress
can offer a tax rebate, meaning that you would receive your tax refund this
month, not after you pay your taxes next year. Congress can also increase
spending to fund public works projects that would increase employment in
the construction sector of the economy. Conversely, if the goal of fiscal
policy is to reduce the federal budget deficit, Congress may elect to raise
taxes or cut spending.
You must decide how to advise your boss in the face of many
considerations. First, what do your constituents want? Polling data, letters
from citizens, and talks at town hall meetings back home indicate a
complicated citizen wish list. On the one hand, they would like to see
additional federal funding for education, a large employer in the district.
On the other hand, they would like to see some additional tax breaks that
include small businesses and middle-class income earners. They also want
to see a reduction in the federal budget deficit, which may not allow for
satisfying all requests for tax cuts and increased spending.
Second, who are the active voters in your district? You know, for example,
that the older citizens in your district are very likely to turn out to vote and
that younger citizens, many of whom may not even be registered to vote,
tend to avoid participating in elections. Thus, college students in your
district might like for you to increase spending on federal tuition assistance
programs, but you may be less willing to listen to them, choosing instead to
respond to older constituents who would rather see their taxes decrease due
to less government spending, even on college education programs.
Third, what is the demographic makeup of your district? Your boss
represents a higher median income district. Your constituents may not be
among the superwealthy, but a sizable percentage of them make over
$250,000 a year. This figure is often the cutoff for what is considered to be
a high income bracket. Indeed, recent budget deals have attempted to
balance increased taxes on this group of higher-income earners with
lowered taxes on the middle class. Although you know such a proposal will
be preferred by many of your colleagues, you worry that you could isolate
some important voters in your district by singling them out for tax
increases while others receive tax cuts. What do you advise your
representative to do?
Considering that your constituents appear to want lower taxes, increased spending, and a
reduced budget deficit, but you may not be able to achieve all three of these at the same time,
which consideration will you prioritize?
a reduced budget deficit
No problem. We can do all three!
Which set of voters are you likely to advise your boss to prioritize in making decisions?
Considering the distribution of income earners in your district, on whom will you raise taxes?
I will not raise taxes on anyone!
How will you decide which policy choices to advise your boss to support?
Itâ??s all about reelection. Figure out who votes and give them what they want.
Itâ??s all about doing the right thing. Select the policy that will do the most good at the least cost.
Be strategic. Figure out how to increase spending on some programs and cut taxes on a few
earners to help reduce the budget deficit without making any one group particularly angry.
Donâ??t worry about solving these complex problems. You didnâ??t create the problem, so just talk a
good game to stay in office.
Which of the following policy decisions do you think is most likely to have an impact on the
issue of inequality, particularly as it concerns income inequality and the increasing gap between
rich and poor in the United States?
raising taxes on the wealthy
cutting taxes on the middle class
cutting taxes on the poor
increasing spending on programs for the poor and the middle class
By most accounts, income inequality began increasing in the early 1980s,
when the Reagan administration reduced the top individual tax rate from
50 percent to 28 percent. The gap between top and middle-income earners
continued to grow during the 1990s and again after the 2001 Bush
administration tax cuts, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By
the end of 2007 (before the financial collapse), the top 1 percent of income
earners in the United States had seen its after-tax income since 1979 grow
by over 250 percent more than that of middle-income earners.
How does this information affect your spending and taxing priorities (as expressed in your
previous answers) as a way to address income inequality?
Raising taxes on the wealthy may be an appropriate way to reduce income inequality in the
Raising taxes on the wealthy is not appropriate, but lowering taxes on middle- and lowerincome earners will give those individuals more money to spend, thereby increasing their
Changing the tax code is not the issue. Congress needs to spend more on programs to benefit
the poor and middle class to combat income inequality.
Thereâ??s a problem with income inequality? Not in this country!
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? â??Fiscal, tax, and spending policies of
the federal government since the Reagan administration have unequivocally and unfairly
benefited top income earners.â?
neither agree nor disagree
Is it even possible to address income inequality through fiscal policy and the federal budget?
Yes, higher taxes on the wealthy can fund programs that will produce benefits for lower-income
groups, thereby reducing income inequality.
Yes, lower taxes on the middle and lower classes can significantly reduce differences in income.
No, the current tax systemâ??and, generally, lower taxes for allâ??is the best way to grow the
economy and give more earners the opportunity to change their income status.
No, the income gap has little to do with fiscal policy but rather is an inevitable outcome of a
Which policy type do you think is most unfair?
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