Taxation and Greed

Leftists are fond of asserting that those who oppose their tax-and-spend agenda are motivated by greed. Let's put aside for now the question of whether it's "greedy" to object to having the fruits of your labor forcibly confiscated. The biggest problem with this assertion is that it's flat-out illogical.

The only proposals really on the table nowadays with respect to tax hikes are to raise taxes on a fairly small number of high-earning taxpayers. Let's say those in the top 5%, though it's probably an even smaller percentage than that. Really, when was the last time you heard calls for the middle class to start paying their fair share? What this means is that 95% of people will be the ostensible* beneficiaries of tax increases, with 5% bearing the cost.

So for the vast majority of people, opposing a tax-and-spend agenda means turning down the opportunity to enrich themselves at their richer countrymen's expense. Conversely, supporting a tax-and-spend agenda amounts to reaching into someone else's pocket and grabbing a handful of cash.

The logic of this assertion—again, setting aside the dubious moral judgments—applies at best only to the small minority with incomes high enough to be hit directly by the proposed tax increases. For the rest of us, it's completely backwards: The greedy thing to do is to support tax and spending hikes, and the magnanimous** thing to do is to oppose them.

*I say ostensible because increased government spending makes us all poorer in the long run.

**Relatively speaking, anyway. Simple refraining from unilaterally deciding to grab someone else's money is a pretty low bar.

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But all libertarians are

But all libertarians are filthy rich. Didn't you know?

Left wing assumptions

That is a good thing to throw in the faces of leftists supporting the agenda, because it applies their own assumptions. However their assumptions are false. For one, taxes leak. Supply and demand ensure that both the seller and buyer of a taxed good or service will share the tax burden even if only one nominally pays the tax. Second, taxation harms the economy and thus imposes an additional economic burden and loss of wealth on us all. Third, it has always been and is also now a transparent lie that taxes will not be directly taken from much more than the tiny percentage of high earners. It is not the first time we were promised no new taxes. We were not born yesterday, unlike apparently the leftists were who have attacked the tea party protests.


The only proposals really on the table nowadays with respect to tax hikes are to raise taxes on a fairly small number of high-earning taxpayers.

This is...really just not accurate. I seem to recall something about a cap-and-trade bill. I believe the CBO scored it mainly as being passed along to consumers.

There was an increase in the cigarette tax a couple of months ago. A possible soda tax is being considered.

There is discussion of an increase in the Medicare tax or possibly a small VAT. And, of course, there's California's proposal to legalize and tax pot.

These are all pretty clearly not taxes that would apply only to the top 5%. In fact, a bunch of them would probably have a much bigger impact on lower-to-middle income folks. And this is just a handful of proposals I can remember off the top of my head. But it's not as if any of this stuff has been flying under the radar.

It'd be really awesome if we could leave aside the the demolishing of the straw men. Or, at the very least, it'd be nice if said demolishing were at least grounded in something bearing a rough resemblance to facts.

No straw man

As I read it it is no straw man. First and most importantly, we had Obama's repeated campaign promise to raise taxes only on incomes above a quarter mil. Second, we had liberals repeatedly bashing the tea party protestors on the basis of that same promise. Now here you are claiming it was never promised, never said, a straw man, more right wing dishonesty. Seems blatantly partisan of you, especially given your aggressive tone.

Since when are facts partisan?

The entire logic of the objection rests squarely upon the claim that "The only proposals really on the table nowadays with respect to tax hikes are to raise taxes on a fairly small number of high-earning taxpayers." The entire objection lies in showing that it's inconsistent to charge those who object to such proposals with being greedy. Which would be a fine objection if it were actually true that the only proposals really on the table were to raise taxes on a fairly small number of high-earning taxpayers.

But that's just flatly false. If Brandon had wanted to target Obama's campaign promises, I assume that he would have done so. But he didn't. He explicitly claims that the only proposals out that are taxes on the wealthy. That just isn't true. There are all sorts of proposals on the table. They're all being discussed in pretty public fora. One of those is to raise taxes on high-earning taxpayers. The rest are aimed at a huge cross-section of the public. Indeed, the various consumption taxes will fall most heavily on the non-rich.

So, as I see it, the logic of Brandon's post is:

  1. Blatantly false claim.
  2. Blatantly false claim combined with a particular objection is internally inconsistent.
  3. Snarky conclusion.

I'm of the (I think not unreasonable) opinion that when one reaches a snarky conclusion based on a blatantly false claim, it's deserving of a smackdown. It's unclear to me how that's particularly partisan. I wasn't aware that facts had a political persuasion. Or are you perhaps suggesting that Colbert is right about facts having a well-known liberal bias?

Now, if Brandon would like to go back and make the narrow claim which you attribute to him -- but which he clearly doesn't make himself -- then that's reasonable enough. But as the post stands, it's based on a completely false opening premise. And one that's obviously false to anyone who is more interested in getting at truth than in smearing straw men.

Blatant lies

Brandon wrote,

The only proposals really on the table nowadays

and you paraphrased him as:

He explicitly claims that the only proposals out that are taxes on the wealthy

That is a blatantly false paraphrase, since you didn't include "really", which isn't a meaningless insertion.

The entire logic of your objection rests squarely on your paraphrase.

Actually, I'm making a mountain out of a molehill here. I'm stating facts, but I'm greatly exaggerating their importance. The point is to illustrate what you did. And yes, it can very well be partisan to do that sort of thing. Other ways of dealing purely in facts while being supremely partisan are to cherry pick the facts, and to quote people expressing the views you want to convey (your quoting them is factual - they actually said those things - but the effect is to convey the things they said, which may be opinion or may be false).

Ignoring Facts

See, this is what happens when you decide to chop logic rather than taking the time to figure out whether or not you know what the hell you're talking about. If you'd actually followed the links I put in my initial comment, you'd have seen that one of them comes from an article that discusses three tax proposals that are actually being discussed in the Senate as ways of funding a health care bill. Of those three measures, one is increasing income taxes on the wealthy. One is an increase in the Medicare tax. And one is a consumption tax on soda.

So the claim is just as false with or without the "really" part added in. There are lots of proposals that are really on the table. It's false to say that there aren't.

You're not actually stating facts or anything like facts. You, like Brandon, are saying things that simply aren't true.

I am not cherry-picking my facts. I am pointing out that Brandon (and, given this last comment, apparently you as well) seem to be ignorant of the facts. And it will generally make for crappy arguments when you rest your case upon "factual" claims that turn out to be false.

There's a certain delicious irony in your accusing me of partisanship for pointing out only part of the facts while resting your objection on the same false claim I already pointed out. I would have thought that not letting facts get in the way of a clever put-down of my opponent was a pretty clear instance of "partisanship."

Incidentally, I'm not sure why you persist in thinking me somehow partisan. I'm not in favor of any of the health care plans being floated right now, and I'm certainly not a cheerleader for Obama or the Dems in congress. I do, however, chafe at intellectually dishonest arguments.

Your response nonsensical

If you'd actually followed the links I put in my initial comment, you'd have seen that one of them comes from an article

Please point out where I made a false statement concerning your links.

So the claim is just as false with or without the "really" part added in.

That is irrelevant to the point I was making.

You, like Brandon, are saying things that simply aren't true.

Please quote my false statements.

Incidentally, I'm not sure why you persist in thinking me somehow partisan.

As I mentioned, largely your aggressive tone. You came in swinging. I myself stated, long before you posted anything, that Brandon's argument rested on three false assumptions. But I did not treat my critique as a "smackdown" of his post. "Smackdown" is language I would reserve for a fairly hostile situation. In my view, you have portrayed yourself as hostile.

Your argument is that my

Your argument is that my objection rested upon misquoting Brandon by leaving out the word "really." My response is that your objection is incorrect -- i.e., with or without the addition of "really," Brandon's claim is false. And my earlier link -- this one -- contained evidence for my position. Since you seem unwilling to click through, I'll quote it here:

Earlier this afternoon, a Senate source let me look at the revenue options being considered by the Finance Committee. Some of them look pretty good. Some of them seem pretty small. And some seem downright strange.
The biggest-ticket item under consideration on the health side is an increase of 0.3 percent on the employer and employee Medicare tax.
The next category is "consumption." The big-ticket item here is a 5 percent value-added tax that exempts food, housing, and medical care.
The final category is, simply enough, "income taxes." A 2 to 5 percent tax on high incomes...

There's actually a fourth possibility discussed -- capping employer health-tax exclusions -- but that same Senate source says it's an unlikely possibility, meaning that it's debatable to what extent it's "really" on the table. The other three, however, are live possibilities.

IOW, the Senate Finance Committee -- i.e., the group that is actually working on crafting legislation to raise funds for the various health care proposals out there -- is explicitly considering three (or four, depending on whether you want to count the one they say is unlikely) different tax proposals. That, to me, seems to count both as "being considered" and "really being considered."

So, to state the point again, quite simply, Brandon's claim is false with or without the modifier "really." Ergo, your objection to my point is also false, seeing as how it rests upon my supposed misquoting of Brandon. I did in fact leave out the word "really." But Brandon's point is equally false with and without that modifier. Hence, your objection is (a) nitpicky and (b) false on the merits even if it were substantive.

You, of course, would have know that it was false on the merits had you bothered to read my links. Clearly you didn't. And clearly you didn't bother to go back and read them before accusing me of nonsense. It's not really possible to have a debate with someone who is both ignorant of the facts and who, in the face of being shown the door to said facts, remains willfully ignorant of them.

Of course, when the facts don't line up with your arguments, you can always just fall back on turning the discussion into some sort of meta-conversation where pesky things like facts don't really apply.

Okay, sure. There are

Okay, sure. There are Pigovian tax proposals on the table. But the "greedy" label is, by and large, reserved specifically for those opposed to income taxation.

Actually, I think the cap-and-trade proposal reinforces my point. Why is it cap-and-trade instead of a direct carbon tax? Because cap-and-trade is easier to sell as something whose cost will be borne by the wealthy.

A quibble

You clarified your point, in effect modifying the argument slightly, escaping the objection. This is what makes an objection a quibble: the fact that the original argument can be slightly clarified or altered to sidestep the objection. It is not appropriate to present quibbles as if they were devastating refutations, or as C. J. Trillian puts it, smackdowns.

There is much that can go wrong even if a person sticks to facts. Here's another example: Chomsky reviews a book whose conclusions he despises. So what he does is comb through the book looking for errata here and there, which he is sure to find, this being the nature of the beast. He then describes these errors and blows them up out of all proportion, and implies that the book is filled from beginning to end with nothing but error. And thus he trashes books he despises. And when someone objects, he has a defense. E.g. "since when are facts partisan", and the like.

It of course couldn't have

It of course couldn't have anything to do with the fact that cap-and-trade is a way of letting markets help us price externalities. And surely it has nothing to do with piggybacking on fairly successful cap-and-trade programs for other types of pollution.

What, precisely, is the world coming to, anyway, when libertarians decide to find reasons to bash liberals for proposing slightly more market-friendly proposals rather than straightforwardly advocating for more central planning?

Hostile spin

when libertarians decide to find reasons to bash liberals for proposing slightly more market-friendly proposals rather than straightforwardly advocating for more central planning?

That is pure hostile spin. And you wonder why I perceive you as partisan.

It of course couldn't have

It of course couldn't have anything to do with the fact that cap-and-trade is a way of letting markets help us price externalities.

Probably not, because I don't think that's true. With cap-and-trade, the government simply places an arbitrary limit on emissions. Now, this limit may be informed to some extent by science, but as far as I can see, it simply isn't true that it facilitates market pricing of externalities. The externalities and private costs and benefits of burning fossil fuels are both estimated by experts (with the estimates then distorted by the political process).

With a carbon tax, on the other hand, the government still estimates the magnitude of the externalities, but it doesn't attempt to estimate the private costs and benefits. That's left up to individuals who choose whether or not to use fossil fuels and pay the tax. As best I understand it, a Pigovian tax leaves more, not less, up to private choice than a cap-and-trade system does.

Actually, I don't think market pricing of externalities is even possible. By definition, externalities are things that happen to people who do not choose to participate in the transactions that cause them. Without voluntary exchange, there's no revealed preference, and no market price can be determined.

fruits of whose...

"Let's put aside for now the question of whether it's "greedy" to object to having the fruits of your labor forcibly confiscated."

This statement assumes that top-of-the-ladder folks actually sweat in proportion to their income. If a hypothetical "worker" earning $600,000 per year actually swung the hammer 600,000 times in relation to another worker making $60,000 who swung the hammer only, say 60,000 times--you would have a point.

In reality, the $600,000 wage earner succeeds by being in control of capital. He profits from the fruit of others' labor.

Pop marxist theory fails

Nobody sweats very much in an air conditioned office, and a bottom level American office worker typically puts in far fewer hours per dollar than an average third world worker. Is that because the American worker controls capital? Or is it because the American worker's productivity is enhanced by things like division of labor?If that worker, then why not the one making half a mil? What principle says that the power of division of labor only works so far and no farther? If the average American can make a hundred times as much as the Cuban farm slave without owning capital, then why can't the high-earner make a thousand or ten thousand times as much?

This statement assumes that

This statement assumes that top-of-the-ladder folks actually sweat in proportion to their income.

No, it really doesn't, and I'm not sure why you think it does.

not a marxist

Well, your foreign comparison complicates it too much. There are other factors involved. Cuba suffers from a U.S. boycott, as well as the 1989 collapse of the soviet trade bloc. And I think we can agree that the cuban worker is in much less control of his situation, as compared to the American. Do you honestly suppose the reason a Cuban cigar factory worker earns only $30 per year is due to low productivity?

That aside, I think what you're saying (correct me if I am wrong, I'm not trying to build a straw man) is this: productivity through division of labor allows us all to have higher standards of living, even if that rise is not distributed equally.

My response would be: Yes, but that's not my point. I am not a marxist. I have no problem with the existence of people who make $600,000 per year, and I would very much like to be one. My point is these people do not succeed by doing more physical or mental labor than anyone else. There is a limit to how much a person can actually do in a year with their own body or mind. Control of resources and capital is what buys the equipment that increases productivity. And since it is not the fruit of their labor that gives them an edge over the rest, I don't think it is unfair for them to pay a higher-than-average tax.

If you don't like the Cuban

If you don't like the Cuban example fine. Do you dispute the point that people in the third world are supremely unproductive compared to people in the first world? Not through any personal fault of course. Your productivity is enhanced by division of labor among other things, which third worlders have less of. My point is to refute, by counterexample, your implicit claim that variation in income is a product control of capital. Not true between third worlders and first worlder. Not proven true between poor and rich first worlder but merely asserted and repeated ad ad nauseam.

It is true that the rich American worker depends for his productivity on the poor american worker. But it is also true that the poor american worker depends for his productivity on the rich American worker. Your case, insofar as you have one, applies either way; you merely are choosing to apply it in one direction and not the other.

Now, you could of course argue that certain professions are highly paid because of government licensing which raises barriers to entry. There is, indeed, a case to be made against some highly paid workers. But you didn't make that case. Instead you unknowingly repeated familiar Marxist analysis. Apologies for typos.

A leu error of yours is the implicit assumption that some workers produce wealth intrinsically, not benefiting from the work of others. You treat the highly paid worker as an aberration on account of depending on others. Truth is, this applies to all workers, and if you were consistent then you would apply your analysis evenhandedly, stating of every worker that his income is not truly earned by him but rather by someone else and somehow captured by him. The end result of a consistent application of your case against the highly paid would be that most wealth is produced off-planet, by non-humans, humans having been identified as somehow capturing outside production. You avoided this ridiculous conclusion not by legitimate means but by applying your analysis one-sidedly, implying that the wealth of the highly paid is really produced by the low-paid. Consistent application of your analysis would force you to recognize it's inadequacy.

I believe your analysis is a species of zero-sum argument. You are misconstruing the mutual benefits of cooperation as if it were some sort of fishy transfer of wealth from one party to another.

Jesus H. Christ

WTF? I'm trying to make some ravioli and this is what I find on the blog?

C.J. - In this case, you're overreacting. Perhaps Brandon was overzealous in his generalization about taxation, but if so, the verdict about his appraisal is a judgment call, not an open-shut case. Different people can disagree about it. During the election, Obama sold his tax increases as being only on people earning >$250K. The "surtax" he links to is the latest version. Anytime a tax cut is proposed, there's an outcry about how it benefits the rich (because the "rich" pay most taxes). Yes, I've been accused of selfishness when I write out my wishes for tax cuts on various forums. Brandon reads a bunch of lefty blogs and often shows me what he reads. I don't think he's mischaracterizing the sentiment that if you support tax cuts, you're solely doing it for self-interested reasons. Heck, a similar sentiment was found on various lefty blogs to our Secession Week posts: that to break away and form a different country is to be selfish (which actually makes more sense than someone accusing another person earning $50K/year as being selfish for opposing tax increases on people making >$250K/year.)

Constant - C.J. is not a troll and any honest evaluation of his posting history will reveal that. He's a friend of the blog and has made significant contributions to it. Policing trolls is my job, not yours.

Now, can a brotha make some butternut-squash ravioli in peace???

I'll write what I please

Jonathan, I'll write what I feel like writing. If you don't like it, cancel my account. I'm not a big fan of taking orders.


There are no orders being barked about here. This isn't the military.

It's about social norms. I'm not sure why I have to analogize this situation to you, but here it goes. This blog is my house. I own it. Everyone else is my guests.

If you do not like what another guest does in my house, you may politely suggest him an alternate course of action. If that doesn't work, you bring it to my attention.

Ask yourself, "If I went into someone else's house, would it be acceptable to insult the owner's friends?" Anyone with any sort of social tact would readily arrive at the answer of "Of course not!" That is all I am asking of you: do not call my friends names in my house.

Rich people don't pay income taxes

because they don't have taxable income except for their pocket change. They pay a max 15% capital gains on the small portion of their assets which they choose to cash in and spend.

And now I ask you for some accuracy

The uber-rich like the Forbes 400 don't pay income taxes, at least not to the extent one would imagine based on tax rates written in law. But the everyday rich - doctors, lawyers, successful small business owners, etc - pay most of the taxes the government collects.

The poor and a large part of the middle class don't pay income taxes.

You're ignoring double

You're ignoring double taxation. People who derive all their income from investments pay corporate income taxes in addition to personal capital gain taxes.

Taxes theoretically go for goods and services

Some things are better done by the government, other tasks are more efficiently done by private corps. Anyone out there want Blackwater to run their local police department?

Blackwater is a government

Blackwater is a government contractor responding to government incentives. I do not want a government, so that the local police department responds to market incentives.

Arthur B. already hit the

Arthur B. already hit the main point, which is that Blackwater is hardly a good example of the private sector. But in response to what you presumably intended as a "gotcha" question, my answer is "probably yes." If the money to pay off lawsuits resulting from police misconduct came out of Blackwater's revenues, there would actually be people- the owners- with both the incentive and the ability to discourage it. Also, a private for-profit firm would not enjoy the ludicrous degree of mindless trust the government police get- the standard "we bravely sacrifice ourselves for you ungrateful bastards every day out of the goodness of our hearts" nonsense that gets used as a shield every time some cop beats an innocent person to a pulp would be less convincing coming from professional mercenaries.

I'm an anarchist, so I hardly consider this an optimal solution, and there are some obvious public choice problems that would arise. But, given how many police already seem to think of themselves as soldiers among an occupied foreign population anyway, I doubt it would be any worse.

If Blackwater was running my local police department

I would want to hire one of their competitors to protect me from their possible abuse.

The problems are 1) monopoly, 2) funding by extortion, and 3) widespread legitimacy in spite of demonstrated criminal behavior. Blackwater may be nominally private, but any organization--government, mafia, or other gang--with these three characteristic is bad news.