What Do You Mean “Us,” Kemosabe?

Crain’s New York Business jumped into the Obama news fest today with an article on what his presidency will mean for us, New York City. Notwithstanding the balance-for-balance’s-sake subhead (“Barack Obama’s urban-centric policies will be a help to the New York area, but his tax plan could more than offset the potential benefit from some of his other policies”), the article by Erik Engquist actually lays out the counterarguments to the conservative “if you take a walk, he’ll tax your feet” argument:

E.J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, calculates that over two years, the Obama tax cuts would be worth $13 billion to some state residents but increases would cost others $16 billion.

“The income redistribution would bleed off $3 billion to other states,” Mr. McMahon says. In 2007, New York sent $86.9 billion more to federal government than it got back, the largest discrepancy of any state.

Democratic officials predict that even if the tax outflow increases under the Obama plan, the local economy will gain because people with lower incomes will spend their tax breaks here. The rich “are not folks who were putting money back into our economy necessarily,” says Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-Brooklyn.

There’s a problem with McMahon’s argument, though, that even Rep. Clarke doesn’t quite get into. The Manhattan Institute line essentially comes down to: New York has lots of rich people. Rich people will pay more in taxes under Obama’s plan. Therefore, Obama is bad for New York. But why should it help non-rich New Yorkers (“non-rich” here defined as earning less than $250,000 a year, the cutoff for Obama’s repeal of Bush’s upper-income tax cuts) if rich New Yorkers have more money? Not only do the rich spend a greater share of their income on vacation homes in the Caribbean rather than cans of soup from bodegas, but when they do spend locally, they often use their cash to drive up the price of local commodities beyond what regular folk can afford – as you’ll know if you’ve tried to find an affordable apartment or an affordable restaurant in Manhattan the last ten years or so.

When McMahon complains that “we” are sending more money to the government than we’re getting back, he’s appealing to us to think of ourselves as fellow New Yorkers, getting it stuck to us by The Man. If we think of ourselves as fellow non-rich people, though, the repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the rich (coupled with new tax cuts for everyone else) would ensure that more of the money they are sending to Washington would come back to us. Conservatives believe in class consciousness after all, apparently – they just want to be the one to pick which class to be conscious of.

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