TIMOTHY NOAH MAY 17, 2012
I've written a lot about the push by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other conservatives to raise taxes on the poor for the express purpose of lowering taxes on the rich. Writing in the Nation, Barbara Ehrenreich points out that local governments have been soaking the poor for years. In some jurisdictions you can get charged for occupying a jail cell; in 2009 one homeless woman in Michigan was incarcerated for falling behind on her $104 monthly payment for her 16 year-old's incarceration and was thereafter required to pay jail fees for her son and herself. Ehrenreich calculates that local governments are in various ways "using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor." It is now, for instance, against the law to put your foot on the seat of a New York City subway car, though you probably won't get fined for it if you look affluent enough to hire a lawyer. In addition, employers and lenders extract more than $160 billion a year from the poor through wage theft and predatory loans. Being poor, it turns out, is very expensive. Or as a Portuguese proverb favored by Henry Miller put it: "When shit becomes valuable, the poor will be born without assholes."