Students preparing to file their taxes for 2018 should prepare for an unpleasant surprise in their return numbers. For the 2018 tax year, those taxes filed now in early 2019, all U.S. college students are currently (as of February 8th) unable to deduct the tuition they paid from their taxes. The deduction of tuition was meant to expire in 2016, but was extended for 2017 by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. This bill has not been extended into the 2018 tax year, and no student, of any standing or economic status, can currently write off tuition costs in their tax returns.
Mark Jaeger, director of tax development for Tax Act, a tax return software, warned in an interview with U.S. News that “it’s not looking like it’s going to be passed” in time. It is yet another setback for working class college students, who have seen the inflation-adjusted cost of college increase 213% since 1987, forcing 70% of students to take out student loans, for an average of nearly $30,000. Now, those students who work while going to school, an exhausting and often economically unrewarding task given the nature of work available to those without a college degree, have to bear a more substantial tax burden. As a graduate student worker who makes less than $30,000 a year, I had to pay $500 to the federal government this tax season.
This burden is not experienced by the capitalist class. Netflix, after posting its most profitable year ever, received a $22,000,000 return. The anti-union, hyper-exploitative Amazon similarly paid no income tax in 2017. The Trump Tax cut saw an immediate surge in corporate profit, with no gain in full-time worker wages. It is very clear what the Trump presidency intends with this tax cut and inaction on student tuition deductions: to make the rich richer, and the working class poorer. In the recent debates surrounding the Social Democratic plan to re-institute a 70% marginal tax rate, we have heard the old Reagan myth, that if the rich are richer, their wealth will trickle down to us as workers. But the stats speak for themselves: the richest companies have “repatriated” only 164 billion dollars of the 2.5 trillion (6%) they have overseas in tax-free accounts.
The responses to tax-season injustices often come most vocally from arch-reactionary Libertarian and Anarcho-Capitalist circles that have made “taxation is theft” their motto, but as Marxists, we ask “theft from who, and for what?” While the very same capitalists that libertarians worship and wish to see totally unrestricted in their exploitation of working class people pay no taxes while recording soaring profits, hard working students trying to move up the social ladder are punished with a greater financial burden. Many other working class people, even Trump voters, have similarly ended up paying more than what they expected.
While the libertarians use taxation as a way to propagate the empowerment of the capitalist class and put more of our money and labor into their pockets, socialists, like Enver Hoxha in Socialist Albania, removed taxation all-together in 1969. It was an era that saw the electrification of all of Albania 15 years ahead of schedule, and produced a robust education system that saw 15.1 times as many women attend eight-year schools than in 1938 and 175.7 times as many women attended secondary schools (this information is taken from The Family in the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, Ksanthipi Begeja, 1984). If we want to fund education, rebuild our infrastructure, and prepare for climate change, taxing the rich in a still capitalist society, as the social democrats argue, will not be enough. A revolutionary society, in which workers control their workplaces, educations, production, and state is needed to address the problems we face.
Students have been on the front-lines of the bipartisan empowerment of the capitalist class in the United States for many decades. This added tax burden is just the most recent attack by capitalists on those striving to attain a better life for themselves and their families. But just as this latest injustice reinforces the fundamental truth of Marx’s analysis of capitalist society as divided into two classes, it should also underline that the noble goals of the emerging socialist movement in the United States needn’t proceed from a demand for increased taxation. We do not intend to have a piece of the rich’s pie as they maintain exploitative control over our educations and work lives, we intend to control those things ourselves, democratically.