Is Warren’s college plan progressive?

by Harry on May 6, 2019

Ganesh Sitaraman argues in the Garun that, contrary to appearances, and contrary to the criticism that it has earned, Elizabeth Warren’s college plan really is progressive, because it is funded by taxation that comes exclusively from a wealth tax on those with more than $50 million in assets. Its progressive, he says, because it redistributes down. In some technical sense perhaps he’s right.

But this, quite odd, argument caught my eye:

But the critics at times also suggest that if any significant amount of benefits go to middle-class or upper-middle class people, then the plan is also not progressive. This is where things get confusing. The critics can’t mean this in a specific sense because the plan is, as I have said, extremely progressive in the distribution of costs. They must mean that for any policy to be progressive that it must benefit the poor and working class more than it benefits the middle and upper classes. This is a bizarre and, I think, fundamentally incorrect use of the term progressive.

The logic of the critics’ position is that public investments in programs that help everyone, including middle- and upper-class people, aren’t progressive. This means that the critics would have to oppose public parks and public K-12 education, public swimming pools and public basketball courts, even public libraries. These are all public options that offer universal access at a low (or free) price to everyone.

[click to continue…]