It may simply be elitism rather than an actual conspiracy, but the way the news media covers the Alternative Minimum Tax, it might as well be one. The final straw for me was when the PBS Newshour, normally a paragon of objectivity, followed the media herd. Below the fold is the angry letter I fired off to them:
I’m very disappointed by your recent piece concerning the Alternative Minimum Tax. You had two guests on to discuss it, which is a good practice in general to present opposing viewpoints. But in this case, both guests went on and on about how the tax should be repealed! One guest took the claim, oft-repeated in the news media, that the AMT now affects “middle class households”, and went even further, saying that it has begun to affect “the lower end of that range”. Since the median household income in 2005 was $44,389, and the AMT generally only affects households with at least twice that income, this is a completely spurious assertion–but it was not challenged by the other guest or by the moderator (Gwen Eiffel, as I recall). Reality check: if “middle class” is to have any sensible meaning at all, it should not be used, as it often is, to refer to everyone between roughly the tenth and ninetieth percentiles. Logically, it should probably represent at most the middle third of the population (those from the thirty-third to the sixty-seventh percentiles), but it might plausibly be stretched to the middle half (from the twenty-fifth to the seventy-fifth percentiles). To go further is absurd and semantically untenable.
I’ve grown used to the unanimity of judgment among the news media that the AMT is a looming disaster, poised to destroy the middle class. But I expected better from the Newshour. Since no one disputes that repeal of the AMT (without massively raising taxes elsewhere) would explode an already gigantic deficit, and since Republicans have already given upper income households big tax breaks, why not leave well enough alone, or just index it for inflation starting with 2005 as the baseline? At least allow someone with a less elitist perspective to have a voice on your program. I currently make nine dollars an hour as a substitute teacher, and this is the best paying job I’ve ever had. I can’t imagine ever reaching the threshold where the AMT kicks in, and neither will most Americans reach it. But if I do, if we do, I’ll pay it gladly. I’ll count myself fortunate to be doing so well, and count my country fortunate to have the tax revenues to, hopefully, do something about the deficit, about national health care, about education, and/or about our deteriorating infrastructure.
I know the AMT is sometimes called the “blue state tax”, so my opinion may not be that popular in these parts. But what’s the alternative?