A reader makes the best case I know of for progressive taxation at this present time:
We have seen during the Bush and Reagan eras the negative effects of a more regressive tax policy. The gap between rich and poor widens. The middle class stagnates, while incomes for the top 10% explodes. Crime rates rise, families crack under the strain, whole communities undergo upheaval, the wealthy separate themselves in gated communities, and on and on. If Burkian conservatism is based on a respect for societal traditions and community institutions, one of its greatest adversaries must be unencumbered market forces and the "creative destruction" it unleashes. Have you read your "Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism" lately? I'd say if you want to avoid a future of wholesale class conflict and radical socialism, the smart thing to do would be to keep the gap between the rich and the poor from becoming a chasm.
This is also why Ross and Reihan may be ideologically difficult for me to agree with but are making an important contribution. Conservatism is defined, to my mind, by a respect for practical wisdom, the knowledge of when to abandon certain principles in the face of emergent realities. It is a perfectly conservative worry to follow Aristotle in hoping for a strong middle class as a bulwark for a stable mixed regime. If global economic forces shred that class or drastically exacerbate social and economic inequality so as to threaten the stability of the polity, conservatives should be open to some measure of redistributionism as a palliative. Not as a general principle - but as a temporary pragmatic response to a social danger.
The question then becomes one of whether progressive taxation is the right way to go - or whether raising exemptions, expanding the EITC, investing in public education are not better routes. Where Obama has made me pause is his assertion that we need some re-balancing after the last twenty years. I'm still skeptical for all the reasons I stated here. But it would not be a conservative thing to dismiss the argument at the present time. And the need for greater fiscal responsibility might push some Obamacons toward gritting their teeth and accepting a more liberal Obama administration than we'd like.
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