Take Back the Center
Progressive Taxation for a New Progressive Agenda
Reality-based arguments against right-wing fantasies: the case for reducing income inequality, rebuilding our infrastructure, investing in education, and putting people back to work.
Midcentury America was governed from the center, a bipartisan consensus of politicians and public opinion that supported government spending on education, the construction of a vast network of interstate highways, healthcare for senior citizens, and environmental protection. These projects were paid for by a steeply progressive tax code, with a top tax rate at one point during the Republican Eisenhower administration of 91 percent. Today, a similar agenda of government action (and progressive taxation) would be portrayed as dangerously left wing. At the same time, radically anti-government and anti-tax opinions (with no evidence to support them) are considered part of the mainstream. In Take Back the Center, Peter Wenz makes the case for a sane, reality-based politics that reclaims the center for progressive policies. The key, he argues, is taxing the wealthy at higher rates. The tax rate for the wealthiest Americans has declined from the mid-twentieth-century high of 91 percent to a twenty-first-century low of 36 percent—even as social programs are gutted and the gap betweeen rich and poor widens dramatically.
Ever since Ronald Reagan famously declared that government was the problem and not the solution, conservatives have had an all-purpose answer to any question: smaller government and lower taxes. Wenz offers an impassioned counterargument. He explains the justice of raising the top tax rates significantly, making a case for less income inequality (and countering society's worship of the wealthy), and he offers suggestions for how to spend the increased tax revenues: K-12 education, tuition relief, transportation and energy infrastructure, and universal health care. Armed with Wenz's evidence-driven arguments, progressives can position themselves where they belong: in the mainstream of American politics and at the center of American political conversations, helping their country address a precipitous decline in equality and quality of life.
Occupy Wall Street may have 'changed the conversation,' as any number of commentators have said, but it fell well short of articulating a clear diagnosis of the problems at hand, to say nothing of credible remedies for these ills. Enter Peter Wenz. In this lucid, hopeful book, Wenz offers both a nuanced critique of the anti-egalitarian, non-democratic state of the contemporary U.S. and, more important, a pragmatic vision for how a return to progressive taxation could substantially redress these ills. Let the conversation continue.
Doug McAdam, Stanford University
Peter Wenz has written a compelling new book on how to save America's system from the political right wing and its extremist anti-government, anti-tax ideology. Wenz reminds us that an active citizenry can press upward for a more progressive tax structure, greater investments in education and infrastructure, and other tried and true reforms that promise to restore fairness and sanity to our social milieu. This thoughtful and well-written book should be read by activists, political leaders, or anyone who is interested in preserving true democracy.
Joel Magnuson, author of Mindful Economics
For over a generation now, U.S. society has been plagued by rising inequality and diminishing opportunity. Peter Wenz argues forcefully that what lies behind these dismal trends is the growing political influence of the extreme right. Take Back the Center is a practical guide for reviving an egalitarian foundation in the U.S. Wenz describes clearly a range of realistic proposals, including raising taxes on the affluent and ending corporate welfare, which will enable us to pay for good schools, decent incomes for all workers, and a green infrastructure.
Robert Pollin, Professor of Economics and Co-Director, Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), University of Massachusetts, Amherst