Paul Krugman's column in the NYT Sunday was entitled "Things to Tax," and I thought it was a bit broad-brush.
"Let me suggest two areas in which it would make a lot of sense to raise taxes in earnest, not just return them to pre-Bush levels: taxes on very high incomes and taxes on financial transactions."
I don't disagree with either of those as a starting point, but neither goes to the root of the problem, which I believe to be the sorts of privileges we have given out, or somebody's ancestors put in place and we've not even thought about questioning. They are so familiar to us that we don't question them any more than we think about breathing. So (switching metaphors) we find ourselves barking loudly up the wrong tree -- while the critters in the other trees are smiling broadly!
The best answers I know to which tree we ought to be barking up come from the writings of Henry George. Several speeches were what I was first inspired by:
Whether or not your own orientation is theological, I think you might appreciate these.
We ought not to be taxing indiscriminately. What we tax matters greatly. Some provide Natural Public Revenue -- and we ought to socialize that revenue -- and other possible objects of taxation ought not to be taxed at all -- privatize them!
Which rich should we tax?
- Should we tax the ones who have bought or inherited or otherwise acquired our very choicest land -- that in our biggest cities, well-served by taxpayer-provided infrastructure and services?
- Should we tax the ones who, in effect, own our most valuable natural resources, or have access to resources we send our military to protect on our behalf?
- Should we tax those who benefit from monopolies of various kinds, such as owning our water companies, our electric utilities, our cable-tv companies, or monopolies of their own creation?
- Should we tax those who benefit from privileges of various kinds, such as the possession of our airwaves, landing/takeoff rights at busy constrained airports (think LGA at rush hour)?
- Should we tax those who benefit by taking some fraction of every financial transaction, even if that transaction doesn't create additional value for the economy as a whole?
- Should we tax those who benefit from the activity or inactivity of the FIRE sector, which Joe Stigitz says is creaming 40% of the profits made by the productive sectors of the economy?
- Or should we just tax all the high-income people, without going to the root of the privileges which produce undeserved wealth for some at the expense of the rest of us.
The answers to these questions matter.
Go to the root. Understand what is privilege, and what is an actual contribution to the economy. Understand what is someone's free lunch, paid for by the labor of others. Understand who reaps what they haven't sown. Correct these things.
An old idea. Look up Henry George's writings from the late 19th century, which kicked off the Progressive movement and still inspire many of us.
Short term, maybe, changing the income tax brackets is appropriate. But it doesn't get at the root of the problem.
Be radical. Go to the root.
For more information, see http://lvtfan.typepad.com/ or http://www.wealthandwant.com/, or look up Henry George's ideas.
As an afterthought, I'll add that you might want to check out Mason Gaffney's website, at http://www.masongaffney.org/; Fred Foldvary's writings, including "The Ultimate Tax Reform," and Walt Rybeck's book, "Re-Solving the Economic Puzzle."