ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A View of Taxation - From the "Reality Based Community"

Saw this hilarious post over at My Direct Democracy (MyDD) and had to fisk it:

Paying for America
by Matt Stoller, Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 10:51:58 AM EST

I just paid my taxes, and I have to say, I always take pride when I do so. I don't like having less money to spend, of course, and the complexity of the process is really upsetting. But I am proud to pay for democracy, and I feel when I do send money to the DC Treasurer and the US Treasury that that is what I am doing. The right-wing likes to pretend as if taxes are a burden instead of the price of democracy. And I suppose, if you hate democracy, as the right-wing does, then taxes are the price for paying for something you really don't want. Personally, I find banking fees, high cable and internet charges, health care costs, and credit card hidden charges much more abrasive than taxes, because with those I'm just being ripped off to pay for someone's summer home.

Paying for "democracy." It's great to see the mind of a nutroot in action as it can remind you of yourself when you were in first grade. First, democracy (ie, the act of people voting) does not cost a dime. Second, we don't live in a democracy. Third, if I were paying for "democracy," I'd be tickled pink. Instead, we're paying for a lot of pork from Congress (such as an additional 20% of domestic pork on a Iraq funding bill, the bridge to nowhere, any of the projects named after Robert KKK Byrd, ad infinitum), retirement programs that were supposed to end decades ago, and dictates from federal judges.

Back to our nutroot's love for taxes:
Patriotism is about recognizing that we are all connected in a fundamental moral and physical sense, that the war in Iraq is our war, that poverty in New Orleans is our poverty, that public funding to cure cancer comes from each of us and not just the scientists who have made it theirs. The tax burden we face is a very small price to pay for the privilege of taking responsibility for our own freedom and our own society. And the hatred of taxes on the right comes from a hatred for this responsibility. It's childish and immoral and unAmerican.

Ahh, we're all connected. Yes, I suppose that's correct, since we're all one nation. But, am I really responsible for the poor choices that you make regarding raising your children (ie, buying flat screen TVs, cable service, etc instead of buying them food)? I suppose that if I'm subsidizing the food for your children so you can buy a big screen TV, we're more connected that I'd care to be.

Interesting that Matt chooses to include the Iraq war in this post and refer to it as "our war." This is one of the few times that I've seen ownership of the war in this way. Mostly, all you hear from the Left is Not In Our Name or illegal & immoral war.
Now, what is a problem is the complexity of our tax system. Complexity is a tool that powerful elites can and do use to intimidate and control people without access to capital and connections. With modern technology, there is just no reason for this complexity anymore except the business coalitions that push for specific tax breaks and the politicians who love them. This complexity not only upsets and disempowers people like us, it empowers the powerful to skip out on their tax burden.
If, by "powerful elites" you mean liberal democrats, I agree wholeheartedly. You see, it's the conservative camp which has been pushing for a simplified tax system - one which you could use a 3x5 card to file your taxes with. It's the progressives which have pushed for the tax withholding system, which hides the true nature of the taxes we pay in each paycheck. If you got paid your gross salary and had to detach & sign a payment coupon that you had to send in to the Feds, I think the view of taxation by many Americans would change dramatically.

It's Steve Forbes that pushed a Flat Tax proposal, with one simple rate for everyone. It's Neil Boortz who's pushing for the elimination of an income tax and to replace it with a national sales tax (taxing consumption instead of income is probably the best way to get at those wealthy folks who are sitting on loads of cash, ie Ted Kennedy). It's the Dems that want to retain the inheritance tax, which complicates decisions at the end of one's life.

And yes, it's the wealthy (individuals and corporations) that can pay for tax attorneys and accountants to find loopholes in the tax system. That individuals and corporations are willing to spend money on tax attorneys and accounts to find these loopholes is not only an indication that the code is too complex, but (more importantly) it points out that the rates may be too high. It's sad when one of your company's competitive advantages in the marketplace is your Tax department.

If the rates were simple and viewed as a "good value," "Mom & Pops" private concerns, "evil" corporations, and wealthy individuals would not pay people to avoid tax liabilities.
It's not a coincidence that Grover Norquist, the architect of the right-wing ascension to power, runs an organization called Americans for Tax Reform. People like Norquist, who are charlatans at heart and deeply unpatriotic and immoral, use the complexity in the tax code that they help to create to persuade Americans that taxes are bad. This is also true in states all over the country, where it is the unpredictability of property tax burdens and not the amount that causes schools to go wanting for funding.
Many on the right have fought to eliminate property tax as a funding vehicle for schools. Many on the right would like to introduce some market forces into the school system to improve the ROI of the school system. (ROI = Return On Investment... I suspect that you are not familiar with the term.)
Our tax code is the DNA of our nation's moral compass. I am proud to pay taxes because I take pride in America, and paying some tiny burden to keep our society running is an extremely small price to pay for being able to call myself an American citizen. The old expression 'you get what you pay for' is apt for all sorts of situations. People tend to express what they value in how much they are willing to pay for it. I am willing and feel privileged for the right to pay for my country. The right-wing is embittered to do so, if they do so at all. And that, more than anything, says something about how much they value this experiment called America.

Yes, you do get what you pay for. Unfortunately, with government programs (which oftentimes are more about perpetuating the bureaucracy that manages them instead of delivering the intended services), you get less than what you paid for. I think a more apt phrase is "There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch." You can apply those principles to any government program, from health care to "free" drugs to education to welfare, etc, etc.

Finally, let me point you to this site called Many Eyes, which will allow you to drill down (in excruciating detail) to the various things that our Federal government spends its money on. It's a very cool tool and can be used for a variety of different data sets. It just so happens that government expenditures have a long enough history in substantial detail that it's useful to look at.

Take a look at the (relatively) constant defense spending over the generations. Note that the huge increase is in a broad category called "Human Resources." Go the Many Eyes website and check out what constitutes this category. Note that the Common Defense is the first priority of the government, as all other categories are not possible if we are not safe & secure (see the current situation in Iraq if you have any questions about what lack of security does to your economy).

Click the image for a larger view, but you should really go to the Many Eyes website for more detailed info.

Note that under George W. Bush, education spending skyrocketed, from $60 Billion in 2000 (that's approx. $200 per man, woman, child) to almost $90 billion in 2002 (that's approx $300 for every man, woman, and child), or a 50% increase - and that doesn't even show increases from 2002 to 2006, nor the spending on education by the States (which account for the lion's share of funding).

As you click through the categories, note that while the other major categories (Defense, Physical Resources, General Government, Net Interest) fluctuate from decade to decade, the one category that increases dramatically each year is the Human Resources category (income security, health care, social security, etc). And all of the subcategories under HR increase consistently...

You may feel patriotic to pay taxes. Bully for you... but, many in American wonder whether we are getting what we are paying for - and realize that, due to basic economic principles (check out Econ 101 or this book by Thomas Sowell), that we are not.

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler

Comments (2)
pst314 said...

"Interesting that Matt chooses to include the Iraq war in this post and refer to it as 'our war.' This is one of the few times that I've seen ownership of the war in this way. Mostly, all you hear from the Left is Not In Our Name or illegal & immoral war."

Including from Matt. A quick google search of that website reveals that he has written innumerable postings opposing the war and calling for defunding.

St Wendeler said...

True. It seems that in order to make his "Paying Taxes is Patriotic" pitch, he has to pay lip service to the war which his tax payments are helping to fund.

I frankly was surprised that commenters didn't rail on him for claiming some portion of ownership for the war.

One of the most surprising comments was from Lex, who provides some political insight which few Dems & "Progressives" will understand:

I'm surprised so many people here are so happy to be forced to pay for a federal government that's twice as large as it was in 1994 when the Republicans took over (look it up -- $2.9 trillion vs. $1.46 trillion), and that includes being forced to pay hundreds of billions yearly for an illegal war of aggression.

The right doesn't hate taxes -- they're collecting more of them than ever before. They cut tax rates a little to dupe the libertarians (who were once naive enough to believe that the left was the greater enemy of freedom) into staying on their side.

I agree with a lot of people here on a lot of issues, but high taxes is not one of them. Democrats could make huge electoral gains if they would become the party of less expensive government. Since George Bush is now outspending Bill Clinton by 62%, there is a lot of room for a Democratic presidential candidate to campaign on cutting the federal budget, while still supporting progressive priorities.

Of course, he's pilloried by dataguy as some Republican troll who fails to see that the huge federal increase in spending was for the military - despite the evidence provided here in this post and in the federal budget data. Dataguy does not appear to like data...