Are You a Sell Out?

Over at Campus Progress, Jesse Singal reviews Daniel Brook‘s The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America. The book is about progressive young Americans’ conflicting desires to make a difference, but also to be able to afford health care, a decent place to live, and a high-quality education for their children. As Jesse writes, the system that makes all this so difficult is based on the conservative movement’s amazing success "at exploiting the specter of excessive taxation against middle-class people whose most pressing economic concerns—the spiraling costs of education, health care, and housing—are in fact exacerbated by tax cuts at the top." But Americans have "radical, right-wing views on taxes," Jesse points out. "Only 1 percent of Americans think that taxes are too low (compared to 62 percent of Britons)."

That’s a staggering statistic indeed: Even though most Americans support cheaper health care and college tuition, just 1 percent of us can articulate that the way to achieve these goals is to increase the revenue of the federal government. A political science professor of mine once said that a majority of American voters have a fundamental disconnect: They don’t understand that taxes directly pay for services — the services they so desperately want and need.

But in January, TAP-er Mark Schmitt wrote in The Washington Monthly that this "tax revolt" is drawing to a close. He pointed to several popular governors who have raised taxes, and polls showing that prior to the 2006 midterms, Democrats were the party most trusted on taxation, even though voters understand that Democrats are more likely to raise taxes.

To fully capitalize on these trends, progressives should foster a sense of fiscal crisis, Schmitt writes, to get Americans behind fully funding programs such as health coverage and caring for an aging population. I think Michael Moore’s "Sicko" is one attempt to up the sense of crisis, and Democratic presidential candidates talking about the impossible costs of higher education are doing their part, as well. Whether the choice to become a corporate lawyer or a muckraking journalist resonates as a crisis for young progressives, as Brook writes, I’m less sure about. I think many people who choose highly-renumerated professions are doing so not only because of the financial lures, but also because they haven’t found their passion. And working for non-profits or in the arts or journalism isn’t as simple as determining you’re okay with earning $30,000 a year instead of $100,000. Those jobs are intensely competitive and have their own entry barriers, many of which involve working for free or less than a living wage in order to pay your dues.

-cross-posted at TAPPED

3 thoughts on “Are You a Sell Out?

  1. Steve

    I think many people who choose highly-renumerated professions are doing so not only because of the financial lures, but also because they haven’t found their passion.

    I’m pretty sure that I haven’t found my passion, but even if I did, it’s hard to see how I could ever give up my highly-paid job now that I have a family to support. Maybe my kids can find their passion.

  2. Joseph

    I tend to agree with Steve. Not that I’ve ever been very highly paid (nice salaries, but nothing jaw-dropping), but ever since I stepped up my activism and freelance work, I’ve come to view my “day jobs” as only a means by which I can pursue what I really want. Knowing how the progressive infrastructure works versus the conservative, my dreams of finding my passion in my day job for a truly living wage are as far off as ever, sadly. Plus, moving to where better progressive-allied jobs are and leaving where I am now – at least for several years – is out of the question, so I’ve got to strike that balance between pursuing my passions and finding jobs here that will allow me to do so.

  3. Chris

    How much is enough and who’s responsibility is it to ensure you and your family have it? I’m not making a flippant point, I’m genuinely asking.
    In my experience while your morality can lead you to refuse or at least not demand a higher standard of living it’s human nature to assume your current standard of living as a “god given” right and any circumstance which would deny this as a huge and obvious injustice. This said, western society allows a duality which I do not consider a hypocracy, such as accepting a highly paid job and stymieing parts of your personality which, while integral, would harm your success within a company while at the same time voting for a candidate advocating higher taxes for your wage bracket and ethically motivated legislation which may harm the bottom line of your business.
    This said, voting is anonymous wheras the open discussion required for true democracy is not.


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