A hard hat hard at work!
A hard hat hard at work! Charles Mudede

Before I start this brief criticism of a Crosscut piece by the conservative columnist and radio personality John Carlson, "Workers of the world, unite — against Kshama Sawant," I must remind the reader of the first half of a sentence on page 56 of Adam Smith's The Wealth Nations, a text many on the lettered right (a dying breed for sure) consider to be the founding document of the free-market economy. Smith writes: "The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily..." This, as he later points out, is not the case for those below them. Combining (forming alliances, unions, voting blocks) is much more difficult for the left because the poor, working class, and middle classes are more numerous and diverse. Let's hold that fine piece of 18th-century economic reasoning in our heads as we make our way through a very mean piece of writing that, among other things (blame the homeless for homelessness), claims "Seattle's long infatuation with leftist politics may have ended last week."

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Carlson asserts that the "angry construction workers" demanding "no tax" completely caught the left by surprise. Obviously, he has not read the first and most famous apologist of his way of thinking, Adam Smith. Many in the lettered left have. But a socialist (or me, a post-Keynesian/eco-econ/Marxist) only needs experience to know that workers do sometimes align their interests with those of their bosses. This, however, usually occurs with shallow or evanescent issues. Unions in the food and drink industry, for example, sided with their bosses to oppose Seattle's soda tax. In this case, construction workers are aligned with their bosses because Amazon threatens to stop building if the tax is passed. The hard hats have an obvious reason to break with the standard leftist position, which always and profoundly concerns the fair distribution of wealth produced by the whole society. On other and much deeper issues, such as wages and health care, they will certainly side with Sawant. In fact, even their right to exist, to unionize, would find little political support from those who fervently oppose taxes and hate Sawant, socialism, Keynesianism, Marxism, and ecological economics.

Adam Smith, in this regard, is again informative: "We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work; but many against combining to raise it." To combine as workers is to unionize.

Also, it's nothing but bizarre or myopic for Carlson to see a sea-change in Seattle politics by connecting the anger of the NIMBYs in Ballard with the anti-head tax hard hats. Those groups are more often at odds than in harmony. If the NIMBYs had their way in this city, a lot of future construction projects, and the jobs they promise, would be tossed in the bin without hesitation or thought. In fact, the developers (the men and women who pay builders) frequently turn to leftist urbanists for political support. This is HALA in a nutshell. Those on this part of the left want developers to increase the number and height of buildings in all neighborhoods. Their program is to increase density by sharply decreasing single-family zoning, which presently commands over half of the city's land. This urbanist program, which has gained political support in City Hall over the years, must certainly keep many NIMBYs up at night; and I would not at all be surprised if a study found that the fear of upzoning was the leading cause of death bed in many single-family homes in North Seattle.

But more broadly, history tells us that taxes have never crashed the US economy. Not once. All of the crises that have destroyed American middle- and work-class jobs have been caused by the hyper-value inflation of assets owned mostly by the rich. This is a fact. This is how things have actually gone down in the past. Taxes did not cause the crash of 2008 (which resulted in millions of ordinary Americans losing their jobs and homes), the crash of 2001, the currency turbulence of 1997 and 1998, Black Monday in 1987, the long savings and loan crisis. The US indeed had almost no crashes during the period of progressive taxes (1947 - 1971). The crash of 1929? Was it taxes that obliterated the wealth of a whole generation? No. It was a small group of people (less than 0.5 percent of the population) buying stock on margin (after the bust, unemployment soared to nearly 25 percent). And yet, despite the lack of any evidence that taxes harm business, we still have to hear, over and over and over, from conservatives like Carlson that taxes are anti-business, that they kill jobs, and destroy the economy.

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My point is not that the head tax is good or bad. It's a complex issue, and it may or may not work—that is the post-Keynesian in me. Uncertainty must always be factored into any economic reasoning, socialist or capitalist. Economic factors are not natural but cultural. Even so, the past still fucking matters. We have a hard historical record of economic events. We can read it, interpret it, and make informed decisions or policies. This is all I'm saying.

Now, with the past in mind, let's look at the present conjuncture and ask this simple question: Are taxes on large businesses more likely to crash the economy than the continued (and seemingly endless) inflation of housing values (which are now "appreciating more than 3.5 times faster per working hour than [what] minimum wage workers earn")? You already know the answer. It's so obvious. And yet, no one in Seattle is deeply worried about our economy's increasing exposure to the real and proven dangers of unchecked asset inflation. We're only hearing lots of noise about taxes.

I will conclude this post with a brief breakdown of my economics: From the post-Keynesians, I take the idea of uncertainty; from Marxists, I take the idea that much of history only makes sense in the light of class struggle; and from ecological economics, I take the idea that, for the protection of our only environment, the economy must be de-linked from the bad infinity of growth in the form of money making more money forever.