Taxes are, woo-woo...
"Taxes are woo-woo-woo..." lisegagne/

I have written elsewhere that humans should be less political than chimpanzees. My reasoning is that the human, as an animal, is really about equality; therefore, a human group or society in such a state—one of general fairness (the most natural state for our kind of animal)—has no need for politics (or the police for that matter). Chimps, on the other hand, have a sociality that recognizes and directly rewards sheer strength—pure muscle-power—and such an arrangement necessitates politics, which is nothing but a system of alliances.

Humans become sharply political only in specific cultural conditions. Though power in such conditions is not in the muscles, it is very much in signs. True, this form of power is abstract, but that doesn't mean its effects are not real. The homeless on the streets of Seattle, for example, may not be poor in a natural sense. They are indeed surrounded by terrific surpluses of food and housing. But the culturally imposed scarcity they experience in the city is often as real as that which a chimp might experience in the jungle.

But if a chimp were brought to our city, and had the ability to make sense of our form of politics, it might easily recognize the racket that the proposed head tax (or Amazon tax) has detonated. And if it formed an alliance with the anti-tax faction, it would not, of course, write op-eds and the like. Chimps can't even talk, which has its benefits (it means they don't have to worry so much about choking on food like we do). But they could contribute to the anti-tax hysteria in their own way, which would be to jump up and down and bang on things. This is what the Dutch-born primatologist Frans de Waal calls "chimpanzee politics."

Yesterday, Seattle Times ran an op-ed by two geezers (former mayors) who claim the "jobs tax will harm workers," and also a story about how the tax will have a huge impact on the family-owned grocery Uwajimaya (putting some color into this very white issue). Last week, Amazon threatened to pretty much pull the plug on Seattle if the tax passed. Another op-ed, this time in the Puget Sound Business Journal, screams: "Our city and region are on the brink of economic disaster if common sense is not applied at City Hall." We can agree that this is a bit much. But who authorized the hysteria? And why is it permitted now and not at other times or for other political issues?

The Seattle Times op-ed by Tim Burgess and Charles Royer, "Tax on jobs a terrible idea, say two former Seattle mayors," begins on a respectable note. There is, according to the two, hard "academic research" that has (you will not believe this) confirmed something that the rich have always said and keep on saying: taxes are very, very, very, very bad. (We must rule this finding as a coincidence.) But like a gorilla in a handsome suit, the buttons on the op-ed's respectability soon begin popping, and the howling and banging breaks out: "[The] people of Seattle are growing increasingly frustrated with city government’s inability to control the trash, dirty needles, illegal encampments, crime and disorder associated with some of the individuals living outside across our city." (Apparently, "the people of Seattle" can only be white and NYMBYs.)

All of this hysteria, however, obscures one obvious fact about Seattle's boom: It's not benefiting the poor. They can't afford to live in the city because rising rents, which are tied to rising house prices, are claiming more and more of their hard-earned, but still low, wages. Indeed, a recent article by Puget Sound Business Journal's Marc Stiles reports that though there is more supply in the local housing market, prices are still going up and up. He also reports that, according to Northwest Multiple Listing Service, the "median sales price of houses in King County hit $725,000, up 16 percent over a year ago."

This is all that the boom has meant for most people in Seattle who, even if they find employment, are unlikely to earn enough to meet the ever-rising costs of living in this city. For them, the boom has been a crisis that's only getting worse. Officially, we haven't been in a recession for most of this decade, and in an economic boom for half a decade, and yet, IRS data from 2015 (a full two years into the boom) shows half of the people who live in Seattle earn less than $50,000. The five-year boom has, for many in this city, done more harm than good; this we do actually know. But what the anti-tax op-eds and stories in this city's leading papers are saying is that the head tax will be even worse than the continuation of a boom whose benefits have yet to be shared in any meaningful way. So, even if you do not agree with raising taxes, you have to admit that what all of the anti-tax people are offering as a solution to a brutal housing crisis is more of what has, for the most part, caused the crisis.

And it is exactly here that the noise about the taxes is revealed to be atavistic rather than edifying. Those who authorized the current hysteria are from a class that, since the birth of the market-centered society, has hated taxes (the rich). And with good reason. Taxes hit them the hardest. And with good reason—they have most of the money. So, it's not a matter of the head tax being right or wrong, good or bad, fact or fiction, science or religion. What the chimps must do is bang and jump when any talk about raising taxes emerges from the foliage.