Racism and Tax Cuts…Are They Really Peas in a Pod?

One of the angles tax cuts can be attacked at is with the claim that they are racist as leaving more and more funds out of the public sector leads to less wealth redistribution by government. Since blacks have higher rates of poverty than whites, the logic goes, the policy must be racist as it lessens the likelihood of outcomes becoming more equal.  This argument takes a consequentialist view of race and tends to be embraced by the folks who claim “capitalism is racism”. This was the line of thinking of some columnists in regards to the GOP’s tax bill last year, such as Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation (see links at the bottom). What these people and others of their mindset don’t realize, though, is that the intent of tax cuts is not racism, rather less money under political control and more money in the market, which can potentially produce jobs and growth all around. The notion of tax cuts necessarily being connected with racism can be disproven with the comparison of numerous votes of Congress, but for this case I have chosen three votes from 1924. I know I’m going quite far back for this one, but the debate on tax reduction was rather similar then to the one we had last year. One of these is on the Republican proposal for income taxes, one on the Democratic proposal for income taxes, and a segregation vote.

On May 9, 1924, the GOP proposal, pushed by Senator Reed Smoot (R-Utah), would have brought the maximum income tax rate down to 32%. This proposal was defeated 36 to 47, with 34 Republicans and 2 Democrats voting for, while 7 Republicans, 38 Democrats, and 2 Farmer Laborites opposed. The Democratic proposal, pushed by Senator Furnifold Simmons (D-N.C.), brought the top income tax rate up to 40% instead of being 37.5%. This proposal passed 46 to 39, with 7 Republicans, 37 Democrats, and 2 Farmer Laborites voting for, while 36 Republicans and 3 Democrats voted against. For reference to the present, the top rate fell from 39.6% to 37% in the most recent tax reduction bill and the final vote in the Senate was entirely party line. The segregation vote was brought up by Senator William Harris (D-Ga.), who proposed that bathing beaches and bathhouses in the District of Columbia be segregated, with the funds split equally. This proposal was defeated 18 to 35, with 18 Democrats voting for, while 29 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 2 Farmer Laborites voted against. Of the 22 Senators who voted for tax cuts and cast a vote on segregation, only Thomas Bayard (D-Del.) voted for segregated beaches and bathing facilities.

My example demonstrates that the advocates of tax cuts, even a time in which the KKK was at its high peak of national influence, did not support out of racist motives. Rather they voted out of a belief that freeing up more money into the private sector is beneficial for the economic well being of society. While I do not doubt that even those who voted against segregation were certainly prone to certain views about race considering most senators also voted for the national origins immigration quota that year, this comparison nonetheless demonstrates 95% opposition from supporters of tax cuts to a Jim Crow policy. If I were to hold a contemporary progressive or radical view of the world, I would expect much more support of tax cuts from Southern Democrats if their scheming to keep blacks second class citizens were to manifest itself in tax debates.


“To Amend, In the Nature of a Substitute, H.R. 6715, By Making the Maximum Surtax Rate 32 Per Cent”. Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/68-1/s117

“To Agree to the Amendment to H.R. 6715, Which Amendment Provides That the Maximum Rate on Incomes be 40 Per Cent Instead of 37 ½ Per Cent”. Govtrack.

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/68-1/s118

“To Amend H.R. 9559…”. Govtrack. (this is the beach and bathhouse segregation vote)

Retrieved from https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/68-1/s155

Links to articles that make arguments that are or are similar to the one I outlined:





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