History Buzz February 14, 2012: Molly Michelmore: New Book by Washington & Lee Historian Examines Tax and Spend Politics


History Buzz



New Volume by W&L Historian Examines Tax and Spend Politics

Molly Michelmore, assistant professor of history, Washington and Lee UniversityMolly Michelmore

Molly Michelmore, assistant professor of history at Washington and Lee University, hopes that her new book Tax and Spend: The Welfare State, Tax Politics, and the Limits of American Liberalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, February 2012) will not only help readers to think more clearly about taxes and government spending but also to re-think their ideas about what exactly constitutes welfare.

Michelmore traces the development of taxing and spending policy, two areas not usually examined together, from the New Deal of the 1930s through the Reagan revolution of the 1980s, providing a new interpretation of post-New Deal American liberalism in the process.

According to one review, “This most important book has the potential to transform how we think about the historical origins of the current crisis in the welfare state.” Another review declared that the book “shows why many Americans have come to hate government but continue to demand the security it provides.”

“Nobody ever talked about how taxes pay for the welfare state,” said Michelmore, “but it seemed that taxing policy and spending policy should be examined together. It’s impossible to talk about any kind of American political debate without thinking about how you’re going to pay for the things that people want.”

Drawing archival evidence from Congress, the White House, federal agencies and grassroots organizations, Michelmore shows how Democrats –even at the height of their power in the mid-20th century—adopted a political program that essentially hid government benefits from the people receiving those benefits.

“One of the things I point out in my book is that there has been a timidity on the part of liberals, including Roosevelt, the New Dealers, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and John F. Kennedy, to really embrace the idea that the state can be good,” said Michelmore. “Instead, they have done their best to obscure what it is that they’ve achieved. As a result, few Americans realize that, if you look beyond Cover of Tax and Spend, W&L History Professor Molly Michelmore's bookthe obvious programs that we call welfare, the middle class is quite dependent on federal assistance. It’s not simply the poor.

“But we have this erroneous idea as a nation that welfare is an illegitimate give-away program that taxes hard-working people in order to give money to irresponsible people who don’t want to work, can’t take care of themselves and make bad choices.”…READ MORE

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