Press Release Government Inequality United States

What Illinois’s Tax Ballot Vote Reveals About Systematic Inequality

November 19, 2020

Contact: Karen Conner, 202-281-4159Mail_Outline

Washington DC — In Orwell’s doublethink, war is peace and freedom is slavery. Now, Illinois voters have illustrated that inequality is fair.

In Universal Lessons from Illinois’s Fair Tax Failure: How a Rich Minority Wins the Majority Vote, published today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), author Sepideh Jessica Vasseghi uses the story of Illinois’s tax ballot referendum to draw universal lessons on how to decipher the doublethink inherent in US democratic elections.

“What happened in Illinois can be distilled into broader political factors that are applicable across the country,” said CEPR researcher Vasseghi. “These factors come together in a way that protects the enormous wealth of a small minority, at the expense of everyone else.”

Illinois intended to replace its unfair, statewide flat tax with a graduated “fair tax” that would levy a 3 percent tax hike to Illinois’s richest taxpayers but not for the 97 percent who make under $250,000. The fair tax required a statewide vote to amend the state constitution, which failed hands down. 

How did the wealthy minority, which tends to be disproportionately white, convince the overwhelming majority to pay a greater share of taxes, including low-income voters, which tend to be disproportionately nonwhite? 

Vasseghi found three themes at work in the Illinois case that can be seen repeated at the national level: the distortion of information, a vocal minority, and the phenomenon of voting against self interest. To change the inherent biases and inequities in the system, Vasseghi suggests, “We have to actively create change and educate our populous on political matters. Such matters are the pinnacle of our fundamental notion of democracy and who we are as a nation. What could possibly be more important to fix?”

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