In this post, I'd like to summarize the connection between the gender stereotyping in federal tax and benefits policy and the $17 trillion federal debt (as of the end of 2013).
First, let's look at a chart of the aggregate federal debt over time.
Here's a look at what has happened since 1980, when Ronald Reagan took office.
These charts were prepared by FactCheck.org in Februrary 2012.
What were the background policies of these Administrations related to gender stereotyping?
All of these Administrations have been functioning under a basic federal template of assessing lower tax rates on sole breadwinners and the greater earners in two-earner marriages, higher tax rates on the lesser earners in a marriage (or stay-at-home parents who try to enter the market for paid work) and distributing extra benefits to sole breadwinners and stay-at-home parents, albeit with some adjustments or reinforcements in each Administration that I'll outline below. The template also, generally speaking, charges higher taxes to two-earner marriages and single people and gives them less in benefits. The primary components of this template, as I explained in more detail in earlier posts, such as this post, this post, and this post are:
(i) The practice of fictionally merging earned income of two partners
to a marriage into one aggregate fused earned income for the purpose of
measuring taxes, thus in a system of progressive tax rates creating a
"marriage bonus" or reduced tax rate for the greater earner in a couple,
a "marriage penalty" or increased tax rate for the lesser earner in a couple, and a
requirement that people in couples with incomes closer to equal each pay
a "marriage penalty". The opposite effect on each spouse in a marriage of two people with different levels of income is sometimes called the "stacking effect problem." This policy of "income splitting" was introduced
in the United States in 1948, when a post WWII Congress imposed it,
over two vetoes by President Truman, in an effort to displace women from
the paid employment they had pursued to support the WWII effort and
back into unpaid or lower paid work, especially of the home and
children. Paradoxically, it was also an objection to states with
community property laws fictionally splitting earned income in
(ii) The practice of assessing the payroll taxes that support Medicare
and Social Security on the basis of individual wage income only, but
distributing benefits based on marital status and in a progressive
means that a sole breadwinner pays the same payroll tax rate as a comparably
earning single person or person in a two-earner marriage, but s/he and
his spouse receive substantially more in benefits. Many of these sole breadwinner/stay-at-home parent benefits are unfunded, a problem that has become worse with the fact people are living longer and the Baby Boomers are a large demographic group. This policy was
instituted in the 1935 Social Security Act in connection with other New
Deal policies, including those that prohibited married women from earning income, built
around a concept of men holding first entitlement to paid work and
women holding primary responsibility for unpaid or lower paid work of
the home and children. It was adopted with slogans such as "a working wage for the working
(iii) The practice of assuming that women are the only parents responsible for meeting children's needs personally and that they are the only biological parents of children. Especially for parents of children under the age of 5, this leaves women unable to earn income and creates demand for welfare programs. It also hides information about the effect of paternal neglect in creating developmental distortions and problems in children that are expensive to remedy. This in turn creates demand for expensive federal spending, both during the child's childhood and later adulthood, including spending on wars of aggression, as one commentator I'll mention below has illustrated. And, as more studies increasingly indicate, the effect of men's health on the DNA quality of the sperm as well as paternal age effect on the DNA quality of sperm, becomes hidden, thus preventing men from making informed choices about when in their lives they conceive their children and preventing problems resulting from these uninformed choices. This has been a continuous policy at the federal level in health and human services programs during the 20th Century and has recently become reinforced in the Affordable Care Act. Some of this may have been reinforced by a faulty "mother's choice" model for bringing a child in to the world that became popularized in the 1970s in connection with the Supreme Court's 1971 decision Roe v. Wade, rather than a "two-choice" model involving both parents, including recognition of fundamental rights of the child (a topic I'll discuss in an upcoming post). Some of the problem may derive from the Roe v. Wade decision being based on the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and not the equal protection clause as well.
(iv) The practice of reinforcing biases against male preventive care in the health care system and of pathologizing women in the health care system. These biases not only reduce men's longevity, by five years on average relative to women, but increase costs of caring for older men, who have accumulated chronic and other diseases that are preventable. They also make women feel they are sicker than they are, causing them to overconsume health care resources, and fail to catch communicable diseases, such as sexually transmitted diseases, by treating only 50% of the population that is contributing to such disease. This policy has been a problem for many years, but has recently become reinforced in the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
(v) An "intermediate scrutiny" standard for sex discrimination established by the Supreme Court in a series of decisions, beginning with the 1972 Reed v. Reed decision, rather than a higher standard such as "strict scrutiny". This "intermediate scrutiny" standard has also become eroded to "rational basis" or less by some sitting Justices, such as Antonin Scalia. Justice Scalia was appointed by President Reagan. These lesser standards for evaluating sex discrimination have then made it more difficult for the electorate to recognize tax discrimination against women, health care discrimination against men on preventive care, and retirement benefits discrimination against both women who earn income and men who take personal responsibility for their children.
How do these policies correlate to the federal debt? How do they cause the federal debt? How was the federal debt increased or decreased during the Presidencies of Reagan to Obama in connection with modifications made to this template?
First, what happened prior to Reagan:
1. The Civil War increased the federal debt substantially, as this historical chart by the Congressional Budget Office shows.
(Unlike the FactCheck.org charts, this chart shows only debt held by the public, an omission of
inter-governmental borrowing, which will become relevant for Clinton era
policies discussed later.) As I noted in a previous post, in the lead up to the Civil War, while some states were seeking to secede, some states that stayed in the Union, such as Kansas, perhaps in frustration with unconstitutional decisions made by the Buchanan Administration and the Taney Supreme Court, made gender stereotyping decisions in their state constitutions that conflicted with the United States Constitution, that in turn may have led to the heavy expenses of the Civil War rather than less expensive (and less lethal) methods for eradicating slavery.
2. As the CBO historical also shows, the 1935 Social Security Act, in connection with other New Deal spending, correlates with an increase in the federal debt. Whether the Social Security Act caused an increase in the federal debt in the years prior to 1980 is more difficult to see. Countering any view of causation is the fact the federal debt has returned to pre-1935 levels in some limited years since then, falling below those levels from the late 1960s until 1980, albeit still being relatively large on a historical basis.
3. The CBO historical chart also shows WWII spending increased the federal debt enormously, but this debt was worked out or worked off precipitously from 1945-1950, and significantly from 1950 to the 1960s, with ever more reduction, at a lesser rate, from then until 1980 when it began to rise again. [A relevant aside: Hitler was elected in newly democratic Germany after the Weimar Republic established equal rights for men and women, but not equal responsibilities, and after the Weimar Republic was only partly successful at dealing with big debts from reparations and other costs of World War I. The Weimar Republic had also had destabilizing problems with intense attacks from both right wing and left wing extremists. One of Nazi policies was "income splitting", mentioned above at item (ii)]
Next, what happened in each Administration after 1980, starting with Reagan, as the debt began to climb precipitously to today, with a small break in the late 1990s?
1. During Reagan's Presidency, he cut some income tax rates and increased others, principally payroll tax rates. [War spending?] Nothing was done about the fiction of "income splitting" or the problem of the unfunded sole breadwinner/stay-at-home parent subsidies in Social Security and Medicare and the overtaxing/underbenefitting of two-earner couples.
2. During George Bush's Presidency, he initiated the Gulf War.
3. During Bill Clinton's Presidency, substantial tax reform in 1996 involved Newt Gingrich's Contract with America reinforcing these policies. While this was largely driven by Gingrich, at least one Clinton Administration tax advisor, Michael Graetz, has acknowledged that a "mistake" was made in not getting rid of the fiction of income splitting, according the book "Taxing Women" by McCaffrey. The Clinton Administration also took the surplus in the Social Security Trust Fund that had been generated particularly by so many Baby Boomer and younger people being in two-earner marriages or being single, and lent it for general spending, with no plan for paying it back. This is why the CBO chart above that only shows debt held by the public, rather than intergovernmental debt as well, can understate the problem.
4. George W. Bush was elected on a platform of opposition to egalitarian marriage (usually associated with the issue of "same-sex marriage" although "same-sex marriage" equality currently just involves same-sex couples being subject to all the same tax and benefit distortions mentioned in this post) and reinforcement of patriarchal marriage (euphemistically labelled "traditional marriage", although it is not "traditional" for many in the United States, even tracing back to the founding, as this post discusses). During his Presidency, he initiated a war of aggression, the Iraq War, and other military efforts that are estimated to have cost $4 trillion. He also initiated tax cuts that substantially reduced taxes on sole breadwinners, particularly at higher levels of income, although he also (i) reduced one aspect to the "marriage penalty" problem for married
couples with incomes between $30,000 and $130,000, and (ii) he partly reduced one aspect of
the "marriage penalty" problem for families receiving the EITC. Neither of these reforms addressed the "stacking effect" problem, however, that imposes a "marriage penalty" on the lesser earner and gives a "marriage bonus" to the greater earner. He increased benefits in Medicare through the brand name prescription drug benefit. He also initiated the process of big bank bailouts, shifting bad debt held by banks to the federal debt.
5. During Obama's Presidency, in conjunction with the House Tea Party coalition, first he reinforced the Bush tax cuts that (a) substantially reduced taxes on sole breadwinners at higher levels of income and (b) the part-reforms of the (i) "marriage penalty" problem for 2-earner married couples with incomes between $30,000 and $130,000 and (ii) "marriage penalty" problem for 2-earner married couples receiving the EITC. He initiated a capital-earner tax to support the progressivity of benefits in Medicare. After the voters chose him over Mitt Romney, he made federal rates more progressive for those with incomes over $200,000 (thus increasing the "marriage penalty" and "stacking effect" problem for 2-earner families above that level because nothing was done about the fiction of joint earned income). He initiated a payroll tax cut (since repealed). He also continued and reinforced the process of big bank bailouts, shifting bad debt held by banks to the federal debt. He ended the Iraq War. He passed the ACA, with its bias that women are the only biological and psychological parents of children and against male preventive care. He has made no effort to eliminate the fiction of joint earned income for tax measurement nor has he made much effort to deal with the debt-financed extra benefits payments and low taxes to sole breadwinners in Social Security and Medicare. The Social Security Administration did release a proposal of moving to a "shared earnings" model for benefits, which would better recognize the higher payroll taxes that 2-earner families pay. [The Senate Finance Committee is considering reform to tax policies that affect families, and has included removal of the fiction of "income splitting" in their discussions, along with other policy reforms that recognize women as earners but this reform still assigns a primary parent with responsibility for child care (while paradoxically given the child care tax credit to the higher earner), rather than modeling this on a concept of child care as the equal responsibility of both parents.]
[To be completed.]
As I discussed in an earlier blog post, the conflict in the United States regarding gender stereotyping goes back to the founding days of the country and our Constitution is built around the the term "Person" (rather than "Man") in order to prevent such stereotyping.