Myths That Just Won’t Die

Yesterday was Columbus Day, the day that the federal government recognizes Christopher Columbus as the first European explorer to set foot in North America.

Over the last fifty years, we’ve seen the day’s celebration change dramatically as Native Americans have told their stories about what happened in their communities in the half millennia after Columbus sailed the blue in 1492. But still the myth that Columbus was the first European to encounter the Indigenous Peoples of North America has lingered on.

The reality is that Columbus wasn’t the first European to set foot in the “New World.” Leif Erikson and his Viking comrades landed in northwest Newfoundland at a place now known at L’Anse aux Meadows (“Land of First Contact”) in the year 1003. After three years, conflicts with the Peoples there before the Vikings arrived, led them to retreat to Greenland, rather than fight and expand their territories.

Myths are powerful things in our politics as well. Take the “Tax cuts create jobs” myth. In most voters own lifetimes they can remember the robust economic and job growth that followed the Clinton tax hike of 1993, and the surplus-turned-deficit and economic collapse that followed the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, and yet the myth that tax cuts creates jobs continues to animate even voters who didn’t wind up with many of those tax cuts.

Add to this last month’s powerful report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) that concluded that over the last 65 years, tax rates played no discernable role in job creation or job loss, but the myth continues to be repeated unchallenged in Presidential debates and mainstream news.

Job growth won’t follow another round of tax cuts, but increased social conflict will. For cuts in taxes will surely heighten the calls to even more aggressively reduce government investment in everything from social support programs, to infrastructure, education and basic research. Tax cuts, especially those which reward the wealthiest at the expense of all other members of society, seek to take the wealth created by all those who have worked to create it, and ship it back to the Kings and Queens who have financed the tax cutting voyages of Members of Congress supporting these plundering policies.

It’s time to bury both the Columbus myth and the “tax cuts create jobs” myth, and to tell a new story about taxes fostering investment in shared opportunity and a fairer economy.

Author: Scott Klinger, Policy Director of Wealth for the Common Good