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Washington and Lee Expert Examines Historical Connection Between U.S. Tax Policy and Spending

Released: 11/27/2012 9:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Washington and Lee University
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The controversy over United States tax policy is hardly new. As the current debate over the "fiscal cliff" rages, a Washington and Lee University historian can address the historical connection between taxes and government spending.

Molly Michelmore, associate professor of history at Washington and Lee, is the author of "Tax and Spend: The Welfare State, Tax Politics, and the Limits of American Liberalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, February 2012).

Her book not only helps readers think more clearly about taxes and government spending but also to re-think their ideas about what exactly constitutes welfare.

In the book, Michelmore traces the development of taxing and spending policy, two areas not usually examined together, from the New Deal of the 1930s through the Reagan revolution of the 1980s, providing a new interpretation of post-New Deal American liberalism in the process.

Drawing archival evidence from Congress, the White House, federal agencies and grassroots organizations, Michelmore demonstrates that Democrats — even at the height of their power in the mid-20th century— adopted a political program that essentially hid government benefits from the people who received them.

Michelmore says that one of the stories she tells in the book is how "the American Right has managed claim this mantle of defenders of the taxpayers, how that happened and what its consequences have been. A lot of people in the 20 to 30 age demographic today don’t feel as if they’re getting anything from the state, even if they are. They feel that they are being sucked dry and getting nothing back.”

She adds: “We need to think more clearly about connecting what we pay and what we get from government, because the invisible financing of certain benefits has made politics really difficult. For example, a few years ago it was fairly common to see people at Tea Party rallies arguing to ‘get the government’s hands off my Medicare.’ It doesn’t make any sense since Medicare is a government program and wouldn’t exist without the government. Connecting taxes and spending more clearly by throwing some sunshine on these issues would help us make more informed and coherent policy choices about what we do want from government."

To arrange an interview with Michelmore, contact Sarah Tschiggfrie at stschiggfrie@wlu.edu or call (540) 480-4888.

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