cover image The Power to Destroy: How the Antitax Movement Hijacked America

The Power to Destroy: How the Antitax Movement Hijacked America

Michael J. Graetz. Princeton Univ, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-691-22554-8

How did the U.S. economy go from its post-WWII prosperity to decades of increasingly burdensome personal and national debt? In this insightful and disturbing analysis, Graetz (Death by a Thousand Cuts), a law professor at Columbia and Yale universities, links that decline to increased hostility toward taxation. The 20th-century antitaxation movement first began to see results in California, with the passage in 1978 of Proposition 13, which limited the taxation of property; the law was estimated to have cost California’s state and local governments over half a trillion dollars by 2000. Antitaxation sentiment was further fomented by Ronald Reagan in his 1980 and 1984 presidential campaigns, and by other Republican politicians, including Newt Gingrich. Despite growing evidence that the very rich often paid little to no tax—2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump touted his low tax bill as evidence that he was “smart”—antitaxers continued to demonize the IRS and oppose sufficiently funding the agency’s pursuit of tax cheats and evaders. Through his accessible presentation of recent decades of political battles over interconnected issues, such as the right’s fight for the tax-exempt status of religious schools and its pushback against the IRS’s 1971 policy that tax-exempt schools must be racially nondiscriminatory, Graetz effectively makes the case that antitaxation has been “the most overlooked social and political movement in recent American history.” This is a must-read for those concerned about the U.S. economy’s growing reliance on debt. (Feb.)