The Only Time the Conservative Politicians Ignore Warren Buffett

It’s when he tells them it’s okay to tax the rich more, as he does in this New York Times opinion piece. Indeed, Buffett is not only saying that it’s okay to tax the rich, but that the rich ought to be taxed more, because they are disproportionately shielded from the “shared sacrifice” that the rest of America’s citizens are being asked to shoulder:

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors…

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent…

[T]hose making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

Buffett’s opinion piece does not only suggest raising taxes on the rich; he also and reasonably points out that there is a need to trim back spending, obliquely referring to “promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill.” Fair enough; there’s not a lot of specificity there, but then, the piece isn’t about those things, it’s about taxes. Buffett’s point there is simple: The rich, in fact, will do just fine if you raise their taxes a bit. They will do just fine because, among other things, they are doing just fine already.

The worries for the tender sensibilities of the rich has been a hallmark of conservative American politics since time immemorial, but the current gag-inducingly lickspittle levels of it are a bit much. Among other culpable parties, I lay some blame for this at the altar of Ayn Rand, who imagined a world in which the titan of industries “go Galt” in the face of creeping socialism. Over time the rather silly book this scenario plays out in has been confused by the greedy and clueless (and cynically touted by the greedy but somewhat more crafty) as a reasonable simulacrum of the real world, to the extent that I think there’s a genuine fear by the credulous — which unfortunately correlates to the most vocal elements of both Republican primary voters and politicians today — that if the state moves to raise taxes on the wealthy, the lot of them will flounce in a huff, taking their money with them and retiring to a crevasse where they will await the end of the world. This sort of madness is gussied up and made slightly more respectable by rhetorical feints, like calling the very rich “job creators,” as if the investment bankers profiting by passing off crappy mortgages as AAA investments ever created a job, or the folks who increase shareholder value by laying off ten of thousands of workers are job creators.

Leaving aside the fact that raising taxes on the capital gains that people accrue by pushing around electrons in a financial system that ultimately is not tied into any tangible measure of value is not the same thing as nationalizing real-world industries, in the same way that being tickled by a feather duster is not the same thing as being attacked by a large flock of angry geese, this misapprehends the psychology of those who desire to become very very rich, or who are already very rich and wish to be more so. The sort of person who is very rich does not become so by flouncing when the rules of the game change, to sulk in a gully. The sort of person who is very rich becomes so by understanding the rules of the game and leveraging them to their maximum benefit. This is why there have always been the ridiculously rich, even in times when the top marginal tax rate in the United States was 92%. They very rich don’t flounce, they fiddle. They always have. They always will. The fantasy of the enraged rich packing up and going is just that, a fantasy.

It’s not a particular surprise that recent polls say the majority of Americans would like to see the wealthiest Americans taxed more (pdf link), because most Americans seem to realize that bringing in more revenue is an essential part of dealing with debt. The problem here as I see it is that the majority of people who agree that taxes need to be raised are somewhat squishy on the subject, while the minority of people who are opposed to any taxes being raised ever are very very very very opposed. They are so opposed that there’s little chance of reasoning with them; even Warren Buffett, by many measures the most successful investor of the last half century, is unlikely to get them to entertain the possibility that the very rich will survive a few ticks up on their marginal income rates. They’ll happily take his advice on any other aspect of the business world except for this.

This does raise the question: In matters of governmental fiscal policy, if one is to follow the advice of someone who is not an economist by profession, is it smarter to follow the economic advice of a man who has played the financial world to the tune of $50 billion in personal wealth, or that of a writer who bent her own moral and philosophical rules to take government assistance when it was fiscally convenient for her to do so (although she of course had a fine rationalization for that, which is generally consistent with many how many conservatives square away their use of government services and programs they oppose)? The answer to this question for many conservative folks is not about what is smart, but rather what is politically and philosophically orthodox, so I wouldn’t expect much by way of an answer here.

As someone who in the short term benefits from the current conservative overweening solicitousness for my financial well-being, but who in the long-term would like solvent, financially-stable country with a healthy middle class and solid if basic social net, I find myself generally aligned with Buffett here. Yes, please, raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, and I include myself in that (although I’m definitely waaaaay down the list from Mr. Buffett, and indeed below his suggested cutoff; even so). It’s not the only answer to the financial mess the United States finds itself in these days. But it is part of the answer. You don’t have to be worth $50 billion to see that.

457 thoughts on “The Only Time the Conservative Politicians Ignore Warren Buffett

  1. Quick notes you should read before commenting:

    1. Not every conservative politician/voter is insensible about the idea of raising taxes on the richest Americans, as a glance at that linked poll will show. I concede the point there is some variation in viewpoint even in the most conservative quarters, and indeed would even argue that those conservatives arguing for a sensible rise in revenues may even be more classically conservative than others currently wearing the mantle.

    2. Anyone who posts “There’s nothing stopping Warren Buffett [and/or you] from sending in more money to the government” is going to get The Mallet. Because it’s a stupid, thoughtless kneejerk thing to say, is why. It’s not enough that I/Buffett pitch in at our leisure; others in our fortunate position (his rather more fortunate than mine, I will note again) must do so as well.

    3. Likewise, if you’re dumb enough to attempt a “taxes are theft” argument here, you’re also dumb enough to get The Mallet. Arguing what level of taxation is appropriate for the well-being of the country is one thing. Arguing that taxation is inherently morally wrong means you’re foolish and tiresome. Learn the difference between the two, please. Learn it before you post; you’ll save wear on my Mallet.

  2. As annoying as the current crop of conservatives are, this liberal obsession that if we’d only tax people more somehow we could pay these bills is equally annoying.

    I remember making an offhand comment that we could totally eliminate Defense spending and we’d still be at higher than Bush levels of debt and wanting to check that because it couldn’t possibly be right. If I read wikipedia right (and they use primary sources, assuming those are more accurate than BLS) it’s a true statement.

    I thought you were going to post Buffet’s quote that once debt is above 3% GDP all of Congress was permanently unelected.

  3. Chris Bickford:

    “this liberal obsession that if we’d only tax people more somehow we could pay these bills is equally annoying.”

    I’m not aware of personally making that argument myself.

    Also, nice work making the very first commenter post an attempt to drag the conversation away from conservatives toward liberals. Whether you’re actively attempting a derail there or not, that was very smartly done.

    That said, let us stipulate, as noted in the entry, that raising taxes on the very wealthy is only part of the solution, and that part of that solution will be spending cuts, and stay on topic.

  4. Once again, right on the mark. I see it as greed, pure and simple. We’re not asking people to give back all their money, or even to stop making more, we’re just asking them to participate more in taking care of the problem. But now, “Greed is a good thing.”

  5. This is going to be a hoot. Advocating taxes AND dissing Ayn Rand! {puts popcorn in the microwave}

    Totally on board with Warren’s points btw, and I’m in the same boat as Scalzi vis a vis taxes. More stable economy rather than lowering my tax burden please!

  6. You said, John, that

    the majority of people who agree that taxes need to be raised are somewhat squishy on the subject,

    I would, respectfully, disagree.

    I think that the majority are in fact strongly in favor of more taxes for the rich, but have been led by the nose for so long, they have no idea how to get that done without the acquiescence and leadership of the rich. In other words – they are waiting for leaders to tell them what to do.

    If only we had one of those.

  7. As annoying as the current crop of conservatives are, this liberal obsession that if we’d only tax people more somehow we could pay these bills is equally annoying.

    Except for the part where the obsession is, based on actual factual numbers, depending on whether or not you consider letting the 2003 Bush tax cuts expire “taxing people more.” Those tax cuts (which were mostly on the wealthy) have contributed more to the deficit than every other major contributor put together, including both ongoing wars, TARP, and the stimulus (which almost all reputable economists agree actually staved off a deeper dip in the initial recession). And, yes, this is almost entirely an issue with conservatives.

    That said, let us stipulate, as noted in the entry, that raising taxes on the very wealthy is only part of the solution, and that part of that solution will be spending cuts, and stay on topic.

    Indeed. IIRC, the US spends more on Defense than all of the so-called Axis of Evil combined, for one. And while I’m loath to cut entitlements (as there’s plenty of evidence we don’t do enough for the forcefully unemployed, disabled, and elderly), I see no problem in trying to streamline Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security.

  8. Can we at least define “rich” for the purposes of this discussion. Buffet seems to be suggesting income in excess of a million bucks. That’s significantly higher than $250,000

  9. Frank:

    For the purposes of this discussion, I’m comfortable going with Buffett’s definition. I’ll note I personally would support raising taxes on people below that threshold (including myself, who makes enough that I would have a new top marginal rate if the Bush tax cuts had expired), but that’s an aside to Buffett’s point.

  10. I support raising taxes on the wealthy in principle.

    However, I am concerned about the possible unintended consequences of the country’s budget relying more and more heavily on the incomes of the wealthy, because the incomes of the wealthy can be more volatile; when the economy does poorly, the incomes of the rich drop, and while of course this doesn’t result in serious hardship for them, it might mean a much-less-than-expected revenue at exactly the time when hardship means that more spending is appropriate. Volatile taxable income means volatile revenues. Perhaps a broader tax base is a more stable one.

  11. Addendum: We need to take back the term rich.

    Those of us who earn more than $200k per year are rich. We might choose to live above our means (there have always been such, even in the mega-rich). To do so does not mean we are poor! We can choose to modify our lifestyles, and still be rich (live in a regular house rather than a McMansion, for example. Drive a buick, rather than a mercedes). We’d be even richer!

    [RANT]
    $200k is NOT MIDDLE CLASS! It is NOT WORKING CLASS!
    [/RANT]

  12. tonyC:

    I agree, but for this thread I don’t want to get bogged down in a discussion of who is “really” rich and who isn’t. We can use Buffett’s cutoff here for now.

    bearing:

    The incomes of the rich can indeed be volatile. This point is an argument for better revenue prediction and also not spending revenues until they are in the treasury. It would not be an argument (and I’m not suggesting this is your argument) to hold off on raising top-end tax rates.

  13. bearing:

    Sounds like you’re trying to be subtle and say “but the poor pay no taxes!”, except they do; they just tend not to pay income taxes. Sales tax, social security, Medicare, gasoline, even property taxes are all paid.

  14. bearing@a2

    I am concerned about the possible unintended consequences of the country’s budget relying more and more heavily on the incomes of the wealthy, because the incomes of the wealthy can be more volatile

    I love the smell of straw in the air!

    You have the equation wrong. The burden on the rich has fallen drastically, in real terms, for more than fifty years. A correction is required.

    And you missed the other part of the O/P – A STABLE ECONOMY. Perhaps you can explain to me, or direct me to some research, that demonstrate your premise that HAVING THE RICH PAY THEIR WAY IS DAMAGING TO THE STABILITY OF THE ECONOMY!

    [sorry for shouting]

  15. Arguments like Chris makes are the only ones I ever hear when I try to debate this issue. They hold to the premise that more taxes equals less revenue, and that raising taxes on corporations is a tax on the consumer, not the corporation. They also usually believe that because poor people don’t pay much, if anything, in income tax, they don’t pay any taxes. Every debate ends with a claim that wanting to tax the rich more is just vilification of the rich and class warfare.

    People are rich, who aren’t born that way, because of drive and motivation (with a certain element of luck). Taxing them more is just like cranking up the difficulty level in a video game. It’s clear they’ve mastered making money at the easy level. Now it’s time to take it to Normal Mode. People will still play the game. They are Achievers and this just makes it more of a challenge. Someone who is rich in an environment with no regulation and no taxes doesn’t have much to brag about. But someone who is rich when there is a 90% tax rate and firm stipulations that they pay their workers well, now that is someone to admire.

  16. bearing:
    Interesting point, though the rich appear to be the only ones doing well in the current economy.

  17. Thank you, tonyC.

    I also wish to inform everyone else that tonyC has just used up all the ALL CAPS for this thread (except for the six characters I myself just used).

  18. However, I am concerned about the possible unintended consequences of the country’s budget relying more and more heavily on the incomes of the wealthy, because the incomes of the wealthy can be more volatile; when the economy does poorly, the incomes of the rich drop, and while of course this doesn’t result in serious hardship for them

    At least for the top 400 earners, this isn’t really true.

  19. I think it’s worth noting a couple of perhaps-too-obvious points:

    – conservative Republican, especially at the national leadership level

    – while the Republican leadership is obviously the full-throated choir of economic up-is-downism, far too many in the Democratic leadership are far too willing to at least hum along with the tune

  20. I am also one of those blessed by both fortune and hard work to make significantly more than most Americans. As owner of an international software business with customers in 40+ countries, I encounter lots of companies and individuals doing well with higher tax rates. In my opinion, we should repeal the Bush tax cuts completely. While I understand that such a move would mean higher taxes for many lower and middle class taxpayers, I think that it primarily a political problem, since most didn’t really gain much with the cuts and wouldn’t lose much with the return to the previous level.

    I know I am at the “very comfortable” stage rather than the “truly wealthy”, and I still can’t believe my taxes are as low as they are. In Ohio, taxes have been slashed repeatedly, and now we face a fiscal crisis of our own devising, very similar to that of the country as a whole.

    Certainly, higher taxes are not the only answer, but it seems clear that they are an important, appropriate and reasonable part of the solution. Most of the spending cuts proposed would primarily hit the poorest amongst us, so it hardly seems unreasonable for the richest amongst us to chip in more.

  21. One thing to remember is that yes, even excluding military spending, the government is spending more. The reason for that is simple, there are more people in the USA then there were10 years ago. The 2000 census was 281,421,906; the 2010 is 307,745,538.

  22. Scalzi

    For the purposes of this discussion, I’m comfortable going with Buffett’s definition.

    Which is fine. But to be clear this has not been the number tossed about in the political discussion. And the reason why that’s important is because of the sticking point regarding how the lower number sweeps up a number of small businesses.

    So this is a different discussion, I think.

  23. I would fall under the rubric of “Rich”. The irony is that many of us are quite liberal and happy to contribute more to tax revenues as Buffet alluded to. And at this point many of us realize solving the debt issue will require it.

    There are two problems I see.

    The first is that Obama has not couched the discussion of taxation under a “shared pain” envelope. That is, poor people are going to get less services and rich people are going to pay more taxes and together we will as a nation solve this threat to our country. We rally the populace around fighting wars but not fighting things like this debt. I don’t understand why that key piece of marketing is not being employed by the administration.

    The second problem is that rich people don’t see themselves as rich because there are always richer people. For example middle class US citizens don’t see themselves as rich but they are compared to the vast majority of people on this planet. Rich people compared to middle class citizens think of themselves in a similar light. I’m sure the middle class could afford to be taxed $300 more a year (cut back on Starbucks?) but they would revolt against that. This is how rich people think as well. And what’s worse is that people who are going to be taxed more think two things: 1) no one ever says thank you and 2) the government is just going to waste this additional money rather than reduce our debt so I don’t want to pay more taxes. Again the administration needs to address this. Make people who are going to be taxed more, feel good about their contribution. Thank them. And also assure them that costs are being reduced so the extra money is going to debt reduction rather than funding some boondoggle.

  24. When Arne was running for Gov of California he brought together a team to advise his campaign on economic issues. Mr. Buffet was part of that team until the press asked him for his ideas. He pointed out, because of the insane Prop 13 amendment to the State Constitution, he paid more in real estate tax on his modest home in Omaha that his mansion in CA. He was gone in a flash.

    The fact is we pay less in taxes now than at any time since 1950 and that the rich are paying far far less. We were told these tax cuts would pay for themselves and that they would create jobs but they have done neither. Just going back to the rates before the disastrous cuts of 2000 would wipe out the largest part of our current deficit.

  25. Jesse @ 8:

    The US spends roughly as much on “defense” as the rest of the *world* combined. Much of that goes to protecting “our” national interests around the globe … which is to say the interests of huge corporations and the super-rich. Much of the rest of it is the hog-wallow of the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about.

  26. Frank:

    I don’t imagine that the “who will think about small business” hue and cry would be any less at Buffett’s $1 million personal income level than it would be at $250k, actually. This is because the current tax discussion isn’t grounded in at what level additional taxation is reasonable, it’s grounded in the belief that any new level of taxation should be off the table. No matter what level one instituted the next level of marginal rates, it’s still ideological heresy.

    So, no, it’s not really a different conversation at all.

  27. As an aside at the mention of Randism – There’s an interesting look into Rand’s theoryies or selfishness, freedom and self determinism i the first episode of “All Watched Over by Machines of Ever loving Grace”, a documentary series by Adam Curtis.

    While I’m not sure how totally accurate it is, the theories into Randism and the development of free-market theory and market systems and what grows out of that is utterly fascinating.

    Also I’m English and liberal, so I’m going to leave my politics at the door I reckon

  28. dam how irritating – being solvent is a commendable goal. speaking for myself; i am not against having the rich as buffet describes them paying more in taxes, but i worry about the ends we hope to achieve by spending it, because creating dependency through redistribution is the beginning of the end of a productive and free society. you cannot be free or you will not be free long if you are dependent upon the good will or lack there of, of another for your shelter, food, and education. i do not want to create a great european society out of america, i want an america that is competitive and flexible, because the economic landscape is rapidly changing, and globalization can and will if we let it make us irrelevant.

  29. Which is fine. But to be clear this has not been the number tossed about in the political discussion.

    Wrong. The $1,000,000 cutoff has been the administration’s position for a while.

    And the reason why that’s important is because of the sticking point regarding how the lower number sweeps up a number of small businesses.

    And there has been plenty of meat thrown to the conservatives (payroll tax holidays, for instance) to alleviate this point, but they still refuse to budge. And FWIW, the problems with the “it’ll hurt small businesses” argument seems to be that (a) the small businesses covered by the tax cuts didn’t seem to use them to build up employment, and (b) there are a lot of people/households that make $700k, $500k, or even $250k that aren’t working for small businesses.

    So this is a different discussion, I think.

    Nope.

  30. John – And that is the fundamental problem. When a significant part of the budget process (adjusting revenues to meet expenses) becomes ideological heresy, it becomes very difficult to craft a reasonable response to changing conditions such as an aging population or changing economic relationship with the world.

  31. I remember making an offhand comment that we could totally eliminate Defense spending and we’d still be at higher than Bush levels of debt and wanting to check that because it couldn’t possibly be right. If I read wikipedia right (and they use primary sources, assuming those are more accurate than BLS) it’s a true statement.

    Depends on how you define defense spending. If you simply go with the Pentagon spending, the point would be correct (barely); if you go with all spending related to defense (nuclear weapons program at the DoE, VA budget, pensions for retired veterans from Treasury, and so on), you get about $1 trillion to $1.4 trillion in defense-related spending, which would mostly close the deficit if it was entirely cut.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_budget_of_the_United_States

  32. The average wealthy nation has a tax rate of 36.2% (counting all levels of government, federal and local). If we raised taxes to that level, it would just about wipe out the deficit. That doesn’t mean that we, as a country, can’t choose to cut government instead of raising taxes; we can and probably will. But it’s a preference, not a necessity.

    Personally, I think of taxes in much the same way I think of condo fees. I live in a nice building, and the reason it’s nice is because it’s well-managed and has sufficient fees to pay for nice stuff. I don’t resent paying fees, and if the building ever had a deficit—or even if they didn’t have enough money to fund the capital reserves (for expected future maintenance) properly—I’d advocate for raising fees before cutting services, even though the building spends a lot of money on stuff I don’t personally benefit from.

    Oh, and I strongly support a carbon tax and a financial transactions tax, which have environmental and economic benefits that are as important as the revenue they generate. There’s no reason to look only at income taxes for revenue.

  33. #34 – As an owner of a small business, I resent when people speak for me. I care far less about whether my taxes are increased somewhat than whether the economy is robust enough to support my business. I am fortunate that 2/3 of my business is from other countries, as that alleviates the pain somewhat, but most small businesses don’t have that luxury. We need a vibrant economy, available credit (I don’t use it, but my customers often do) and people working. The small business owners I have spoken with are mostly in agreement that taxes are not close to their biggest issue.

  34. Paul
    Yes God save us from ending up like those hell holes Sweden and Canada. Fate worse than death that.

  35. This year-old paper from the liberallish Tax Policy Center has some nice charts regarding the Bush tax cuts, including how much revenue is foregone by continuing each component of the cuts. It’s worth pointing out that continuing the tax cuts for everyone making under $250K/year is almost as expensive as continuing them for everyone; closing the budget gap will require either some very substantial tax hikes on the wealthy (I don’t know who has run the numbers for such a proposal) or raising taxes on the middle class as well.

  36. Whatever cutoff point is used, $250k to 1 million, it seems to me that part of the “messaging” problem that encourages the “what about the small businesses” counter is sloppy terminology.

    Income of $250k is different that taxable income of $250k. I may be off-base, but aren’t there tax strategies that are available to businesses that are not available to individuals, so that a business income of $250k might be offset by certain abatements and deductions to arrive at a taxable income well below that $250k benchmark. In addition, a business is often judged or referenced in terms of annual sales, which is does not necessarily equal income and is certainly different from profit or taxable income.

  37. Thanks for that tolerant response, you managed to hit my buttons and I responded in the way you asked us not to.

    Anyway…

    Those tax cuts (which were mostly on the wealthy) have contributed more to the deficit than every other major contributor put together,

    Assuming that people’s behavior doesn’t change when taxes change, which is a false assumption. If it weren’t the case, sin taxes would make a somewhat less sense.

    Second, I’d prefer jail sentences in some of the less pleasant jails for fraud. I’ve always thought of the rich as people like Bill Gates, who created a lot of wealth for other people, so I’ve never understood the anger at them. Hearing about the captured reglators and various fraud leading to the collapse I am starting to understand the anger, but I think it should be directed at the criminal conduct in Wall St/Washington and not at the rich in general.

  38. Well, people need to stop voting in politicians, predominantly Republican, that take uncompromising ideological stands then. It might be true that in an opinion poll people support taxing the rich, but they don’t vote that way.

    Until we stop acting like children who want our candy but want someone else to pay for it we’re not solving this. We need to grow up, realize that we have to pay for what we want and vote reasonable people in who can discuss what we DO want and how we should pay for that. Throwing the electoral equivalent of a temper tantrum and voting for people who want to strangle government doesn’t move this forward.

    Personally, I think we should repeal the Bush tax cuts for people over $1m, then $250k, then $125k, then $75k in a staggered fashion so people can anticipate and adjust. As Buffet notes, between 1980 and 2000 we created a net 40m jobs. Since the tax cuts… well… not so much.

  39. As an owner of a small business, I resent when people speak for me.

    That wasn’t my intent, so I apologize for the generalization.

    I care far less about whether my taxes are increased somewhat than whether the economy is robust enough to support my business. I am fortunate that 2/3 of my business is from other countries, as that alleviates the pain somewhat, but most small businesses don’t have that luxury. We need a vibrant economy, available credit (I don’t use it, but my customers often do) and people working. The small business owners I have spoken with are mostly in agreement that taxes are not close to their biggest issue.

    Indeed. But the spending argument has been so tied to the economy by conservatives and libertarians that this point seems almost impossible to make. There’s been little to no actual action from them on providing action on the economy. No serious jobs bills, pushback on any sort of stimulus (again, proven to work), opposition to regulation of the financial industry, to say nothing of outright admissions by conservative lawmakers of economic and political sabotage against the President and his party’s leaders. So how do we get past that when the overwhelming majority of conservative lawmakers won’t even think of anything else.

    Here’s a challenge for Frank et al: Provide post-WW2 examples of the US where at least the following is true:

    1) The tax burden was smaller than it is now and the economy is doing significantly better
    2) Major tax-cut-only policies led to a long-term economic boom
    3) Deregulation of financial institutions allowed them to grow without contraction in the rest of the economy
    4) Top earners had equal or larger profits without wage declines

  40. Frank at 27:

    The million dollar cutoff is a common one in discussions, as is the $250,000 cutoff. In general, I’ve noticed it depends on (1) who’s talking, (2) who they’re talking to, and/or (3) whether they’re trying to hide the Fortune 500 behind the skirts of small businesses.

    Changing a somewhat arbitrary cutoff doesn’t make it a different discussion.

  41. I honestly don’t think we have an issue with taxes. What we have is an issue in how we view our government. When a large enough percentage of our country view our government as “the beast”, then anything that adds taxes is to these people, “feeding the beast.” Never mind that the thing they call the beast may also feed them as well.

    Once someone has reached this position, I don’t think one can have a reasonable discussion with them about taxes. It doesn’t matter to them if you point out there are reasonable reasons why taxes go up in a down economy (largely because the demand for government services increases), or that there is plenty of historical evidence to suggest an increase in taxes will not cripple the economy. To them it is just a question of “more beast” or “less beast”.

    I used to think that one could simply try to educate someone who thinks this way and the problem would be solved. I’m far less inclined to think that now. What we’re dealing with is not a construct of logic or reason, but a believe. In short; a faith, or (hopefully without offending those with strong religious views) a religion. If there weren’t so many of them in our congress I would simply suggest we ignore their whining, and act like adults here, doing what needs to be done. Alas that option may not be viable any more.

    Bearpaw @ 30: I am not a Conservative, nor do I support our massive military spending, but I would like to point out that a healthy percentage of the “hog-wallow of the military industrial complex” goes to homes, families, schools, etc. In short, it is simply more government spending propping up the economy, albeit wrapped in a red, white, and blue bow. From my experience, the term “military industrial complex” is liberal speak similar to the conservative term “welfare state”, and I believe neither is particularly constructive to an argument. Of course, ymmv.

  42. Assuming that people’s behavior doesn’t change when taxes change, which is a false assumption. If it weren’t the case, sin taxes would make a somewhat less sense.

    I’m not sure what this has to do with the argument that the 2003 Bush tax cuts are responsible for a large part of the deficit, nor the non sequiter about “sin taxes.”

    Second, I’d prefer jail sentences in some of the less pleasant jails for fraud.

    The problem is that we don’t have a good and just judicial system where this happens on a regular basis. Sure, every once in a while we get a Bernie Madoff, but he’s just one guy. Chances are that if you’re a criminal and you’ve got his kind of money, but aren’t stupid or egregiously flaunting your misdeeds, you can either evade charges altogether or hire a legal team that gets you off with a slap of the wrist.

  43. I think the more realistic phrasing of the “going Galt” argument is “If we don’t lick the feet of the megacorporations, they’ll go offshore to somewhere with a government willing to make more concessions to them”. Personally I think that this is a) possibly true but b) we don’t need to slobber on their feet quite so much as we do now and c) I regard the super-rich as intrinsically untrustworthy and unscrupulous.

    I think a large part of the problem is that, having adopted the taxation-is-theft mantra, the Republicans cannot now back down from it; partly because they’ll lose votes, and partly because they’ll lose the campaign donations and other bribes that the corporations give them. I’d like to see a drastic limitation on the amount of time election campaigning was allowed to go on for – by restricting it to, say, two months immediately preceding the election you’d cut back the amount of money needed to run a campaign, which would both a) open up the races to people who aren’t super-rich, or at least aren’t *as* super-rich, and b) reduce the amount of money politicians need to borrow, thus reducing the grasp the corporations have upon them, thus enabling them to potentially make decisions more in line with the well-being of the nation than of their corporate sponsors.

    In short, nobody is seriously making the argument that taxes need to be raised on the rich because they’re already in the pockets of the rich.

  44. Jesse:

    Well obviously if those rich job-creators get their taxes cut, then the Invisible Hand of the Market (pbuh) will take over and the pols don’t have to do anything.

  45. JimF at 26: Yes, that’s one of the things that drives me insane: When conservatives point out that in 2000 (or 1990 or 1980) we were spending $x or receiving $x in tax revenue and today we’re spending $(x+y) or receiving $(x+y) without taking into account factors like inflation or population growth.

  46. Ben, people will speak for you the same way they speak for Buffet. What you and buffet are saying doesnt jive with their worldview so they ignore it or day you are an exception to the rule.

    Buffet says raise taxes and *immediately* the first comment on the thread is ‘thats not enough to fix the deficit’.

    notice that? it is not *enough* so lets not do it *at all*.

    Obama proposed a budget that payed for 25% of the problem with tax increases the rest was spending cuts. Repuvlicans countered with 15% tax increases and the rest in cuts. What did we get? zero tax increases and everything handled via spending cuts.

    tax increases are not enough, so lets not do it at all. first argument on this thread. And a major Fox News talking point.

    the next argument? lets redefine rich to mean more than a million dollars a year. because at any point where one doesnt lime a concept or idea, focusing the discussion on where to draw the boundary around that idea is a great way to distract from the idea itself.

    The next argument? that relying on volatile taxable income means volatile revenu for the government. Really? as the economy goes up and down and everyone’s income goes up and down with it, that will affect how much money the government will get through taxes? Well I reckon we might as well not tax anyone based on income then. only way to avoid that crazy rollercoaster of uncertainty.

    the next argument? as Paul says, the big fear is that we will develop *dependency through redistribution*. Taxes are redistribution of wealth, you see, and thats no different than communism. And we dont want to be communists, do we? Or socialists. Or fascists. And using money acquired through taxation could make the government *dependent* on taxes, exactly like a drug addict is dependent on his drug of choice. and we dont want to act like drug addicts, do we???

    every argument thus far has been nothing based on fact and everything based on metaphor. so when Buffet or anyone else for that matter argues to raise taxes based on the facts, that is unable to penatrate the metaphors that insulate the right wingers and tea partiers and libertarians from reality.

  47. Chris at 42: “Hearing about the captured reglators and various fraud leading to the collapse I am starting to understand the anger, but I think it should be directed at the criminal conduct in Wall St/Washington and not at the rich in general.”

    Well, I imagine if anybody in Wall St/Washington was actually held responsible for their crimes, the anger might be directed a little more specifically. Failing that, one wonders how many of the rich — especially Warren’s “super-rich” — are at least guilty of averting their eyes.

  48. In the 1920s there were great arguments over disarmament, since there was a widely-held wish to avoid a re-run of WW1, (the War to End Wars). The arguments were over eg: ratios of capital ships, and people were talking about ratios of 5:2, 5:3 and so on among the “Great Powers”.

    America’s military budget is now roughly equal (2010 numbers) to the sum of the next seventeen countries combined – and a lot of those are in fact American allies. That seems to be over-egging the pudding a little.

    The other major overspend is in health care – America spends about 14% of GDP covering 70% of the population, and the UK about 8% covering 100%. The results are roughly a wash – the UK has lower infant mortality, for instance, and the US better cancer survival rates (probably due to extensive advertising producing earlier detection – the treatment regimes are similar). But no-one lets go of 6% of US GDP with a light laugh and a sweet smile, and I can’t see any way the HMOs/pharmaceutical companies/medics would accept any change to the status quo.

    Add the current political incompetence, and things look to become pretty rough.

    (And if you really want nightmares, check with the actuarial forecasts of population aging
    – I can’t recall the exact numbers, but 100-year olds are going to be a significant proportion of the population in forty or fifty years, and while they are of course lovely people, they aren’t half expensive to look after.)

    Will

  49. as if the investment bankers profiting by passing off crappy mortgages as AAA investments ever created a job

    But they did create jobs — millions of them. Reasonably good jobs, even — construction and all of the industries supplying it and designing houses, etc. Not to mention finance.

    The problem with economic bubbles is not that they don’t create jobs. They do. It is that bubbles pop — the jobs they create are not sustainable. Nobody complains about booms, even though they cause the following bust.

    During a bubble, it is not clear that it is a bubble. This is how it keeps bubbling. (When even the dumb money sees a bubble as such, it pops.) I do not see any way that USG will encode the concept of “creating unsustainable jobs” in the tax code.

  50. tolladay @ 47…

    From my experience, the term “military industrial complex” is liberal speak similar to the conservative term “welfare state”..

    Actually, no. That’s historically inaccurate. The term was coined by Eisenhower and I don’t think one can peg him as a liberal. There relevant quote from that linked speech:

    This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

    In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

    We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

  51. I’m sorry but I haven’t read the responses about, so I am almost certainly duplicating effort here.

    First off, I definitely approve of Buffet’s position. I’ve heard about this before and I salute him for it. I believe he has a good heart and really has a concern for the middle and lower classes, to the extent that any multi-multi-millionaire is likely to. (Unless multi-millionaires spend a year experiencing what it’s like to have an income of $10,000 to $15,000, they aren’t totally going to “get it”.)

    Maybe if Buffet had trillions of dollars rather than “just” billions, he might even try single-handedly to alleviate our debt situation. But he doesn’t have that much and he knows better. Anything that’s within his power to do would be just a drop in the ocean. That’s why instead he’s trying to convince both wealthy and middle class that raising taxes is not going to kill the national economy, but hey, may actually help.

    But let’s look at who he’s trying to convince. Unfortunately, the Murdoch’s and Koch’s and so aren’t going to go along with him and say they wouldn’t mind being taxed a bit more. They’re busily insinuating just the opposite via the airwaves, in order to convince John and Jane Q. Citizen that raising taxes would be a disaster, a job killer. Right now, I believe it would take a massive media push in the opposite direction from Fox etc to convince many non-millionaire ultra-conservatives that, really and truly, the multimillionaires won’t all decamp to the Caiman (sp?) Islands if they have to pay more taxes. Or that all the jobs will go away if taxes are increased on the richest citizens. The jobs have already gone away.

    A lot of middle class and even lower middle class are voting against their own interests when they vote for those who have taken the Norquist pledge. They don’t know any better because they believe everything that they hear from conservative media.

    As for those who have taken the Norquist pledge, are they likely to renege on it just in time for re-election campaigns to gear up? I’m not a conservative politician. I can only guess what each one of them is thinking. But look at the Iowa debate. Every last person on that stage said they would not approve of a 10 to 1 cut in budget to tax increase. They publicly made the promise. The few who may be having second thoughts, if any, are probably afraid to change positions. The Norquist pledge and the less-informed conservatives will force them to keep on keeping on with what they are doing now.

    The way I see it, Buffet is alone. No other millionaires are going to state–publicly and forcefully–what he said. Even if they did, they would have to blanket the airwaves with their position, and it would be an uphill battle trying to counter everything that’s been in the news for a year now. Politicians who took the oath are afraid to switch now. Many middle class and lower class conservative voters are now convinced that increasing taxes would spell the doom of the U.S. economy.

    Who is going to turn around the ship of state? Many Democrats and some independents and a smattering of moderate Republicans will try their best, no doubt. But their numbers and their ability to get their message out are no match to the forcefulness of the idealogues and the greedy on the other side of the debate.

    We’re doomed.

  52. Tolladay at 47:

    The percentage of that hog wallow that trickles down to homes, families, schools, etc, is *not* actually healthy, especially considering the decidedly unhealthy costs borne at that level. And I’m guessing that Eisenhower would have been non-plussed to have been accused of “liberal speak”, though I’m sure he was familiar with similar ways of dodging the actual issue at hand.

  53. rickg @ 57:
    That you for your help. I suspect I might have misspoke. I was not referring to the political affiliation of Eisenhower, but to the modern usage of the term.

    Perhaps we should leave it at that as I do not wish to drag us off topic any further.

  54. We are asking the people who can spare the money to help the US get back on it’s feet. If you can have tax cuts for the rich with an expiration date (that don’t expire) then you can have tax increases with an expiration date that actually do expire.

  55. Caveat: I have not read every comment here, so I apologize if I’m repeating something.

    I’m generally a fiscal conservative guy and don’t really like the prospect of raising taxes. That being said, I’m on board with Buffett’s plan. My problem, though, is that Buffett is not in charge of the national budget. John places a negative connotation on the conservative opposition to raising taxes by talking about how conservatives worry about the “tender sensibilities of the rich” and use rhetorical feints, etc…

    But from this conservative’s perspective, the reason I oppose raising taxes is that historically, for every additional tax dollar raised, we spend somewhere on the order of $1.18. In short, I don’t trust Congress to implement Buffett’s plan, which calls for a tax increase and spending decrease. If, historically, tax increases ALWAYS result in higher spending/debt, why should we pursue that course now?

    Now that we kinda/sorta have a spending decrease thingy on the way, I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to raising taxes on the rich as an independent matter. I’m still a little concerned that this would work though. I’m a pragmatic guy. I don’t mind making compromises here. But I’m having trouble trusting the politicians to handle this right. Buffett knows what he’s doing, but Congress would no doubt distort his plan. If Congress decides to increase taxes while ensuring that the increased funds would ONLY be used to decrease the national debt, I’m on board. If they’re going to use it for some sort of strange “stimulus” package that spends more than we take in, I’m not.

  56. Cyranetta sort of said what I was going to about Frank’s small business comment. I hear that same thing parroted all the time – that increasing taxes on those with incomes over $250,000 will hurt small business. But I don’t think that is true. We are talking about income taxes here. So the $250,000 threshold would apply to those small businessmen who have net profit of $250,000 or more, not businesses that have revenue of $250,000. Any business that has net profit of $250,000 or more is not all that small, as a 10% profit (pretty nice if you can do it) would mean revenue of $2.5 milliion. A more likely revenue target for $250,000 of net profit is $5 to $7 million. So we aren’t talking mom and pop shops here.
    As some others said, I think letting the Bush tax cuts expire is a good first step, but I would also raise the marginal tax rates on all those with incomes of more than $1 million. Some spending cuts are a good idea, but remember that cutting spending cuts jobs and reduces the income tax revenue from those jobs, not to mention the expense of umemployment benefits. So there is not a dollar for dollar decrease in the deficit from cutting spending, as there is in raising taxes.

  57. If I had to choose between Ayn Rand and Warren Buffett to run USG as God-queen or king, I am not sure how I would go. Probably Rand, although there are short-term problems with that. Ideally we could get Queen Rand to dragoon Buffett as her Hand to help manage the transition from red-giant government down to white-dwarf.

    But in any case, neither option is available. No God-king is: we have mass democracy. And this is where I think you underestimate the conservatives. (I am conservative on matters of taxation.)

    See, we conservatives see two features of democracy that you apparently don’t. First, outside of military spending, spending is nearly impossible to stop. The only thing that appears to be able to actually lower spending in a democracy is bankruptcy, or the very-near term threat of it. (I am not talking about Washington-style “cuts” here, which mean: raising spending but less than inflation. I am talking about actual cuts. 50% reduction in spending. Whole Federal departments abolished. That sort of thing.)

    Second, raising taxes is easy, at least by comparison to lowering spending. Even when a man runs on a platform of “read my lips: no new taxes” — he still raises taxes to get a deal.

    So, how can one expect to hold the line on spending in an environment as per the above? You attempt to form a party around the single idea of “no new taxes”. That is, create that political and philosophical orthodoxy that you decry. Part of any kind of party-building is solidarity at the margins. You must not let the other side nickle/dime you. Even then, politicians will still make deals. Again: this is democracy. But by setting up an extremely anti-tax environment at the grass roots, you attempt to hold down the deal-making to a minimum and actually get the fiscal rectitude desired.

    I am sure Democrats do understand this; look at how they act around the issues they care about. I.e.: abortion. Is it really so bad to, say, ban “partial birth” abortions? Maybe so, maybe not, but that’s not really the political question. The political question is, if we let Republicans ban that, if we hand them a political victory, then what do they do next?

  58. “I’m a pragmatic guy. I don’t mind making compromises here.”

    Mark I believe you. I bet that if it was just you and me in a room working out a compromise we could get to some sort of mutually agreeable deal. The problem is that the current crop of Republican Politicians are not pragmatic and they have no interest in making compromises. Did you see the question in the last Republican debate where the candidates were all asked if they would refuse to accept a deal that was 10 dollars in spending cuts for every dollar of revenue increases? Everyone of them said they would turn that deal down. How can there be a compromise when one side refuses to deal?

  59. Mark @62 – well *we* vote for politicians, so that’s on us isn’t it? People have an annoing tendency to complain about politicians and how we can’t trust them, but when asked why they return incumbents overwhelmingly reply with something to the effect of “Oh, MY congressman/senator is fine it’s the others…”

    our argument also completely ignores the fact that we have historically had higher taxes and the economy was better off in general. At the end of the Clinton years we were running a small annual surplus. So it’s hard for me to credit ideologically biases that simply aren’t borne out by those pesky things called facts.

    If you want politicians to only spend for programs that *you* approve of well… that’s not happening. We live in a society where people differ on what government should do so even if we have reasonable and responsible politicians who reflect the values of their constituents in an intelligent manner we’ll still have spending that you’d rather not see and spending that I’d rather not see. This is called compromise. It’s also called reality. I wish more of us, citizens and politicians alike, would visit it more often.

  60. As the owner of a small business that just found work for two new people, Ben @ 38 speaks for me.

    As a member of the class that would see higher tax rates if the Bush tax cuts expired, Scalzi speaks for me.

    Any person who asserts that the US economy can be righted solely by spending cuts alone, does not speak for me. Indeed, I have a hard time mustering the respect for such people to engage in a debate on the topic.

  61. I’m not sure what this has to do with the argument that the 2003 Bush tax cuts are responsible for a large part of the deficit, nor the non sequiter about “sin taxes.”

    Let’s assume I make a million dollars. And let’s assume that my tax rate would go up 10% if the Bush tax cuts expire.

    As far as I can tell, the assumption is that the Bush tax cuts for me cost the country 8 years times $100,000 per year. And I haven’t tried to tell very far since I can’t think of any other way to guiess how much the tax cuts cost, if there is some other methodology I’d love to hear it.

    This assumes that I won’t put my money in tax free munis, or any of the other exemptions I can get from taxes in order to not pay as much taxes.

    The sin tax tie is in the assumption that people won’t change their behavior when taxes change. Sin taxes are designed to discourage behavior by taxing it. So on the one hand you have people discouraging behavior by taxing it and on the other hand you have people waving around large numbers because they assume changing tax rates won’t effect behavior.

    Failing that, one wonders how many of the rich — especially Warren’s “super-rich” — are at least guilty of averting their eyes.

    Probably most of them. They benefit from the system with no real downside, so why complain?

  62. But from this conservative’s perspective, the reason I oppose raising taxes is that historically, for every additional tax dollar raised, we spend somewhere on the order of $1.18.

    Source?

    In short, I don’t trust Congress to implement Buffett’s plan, which calls for a tax increase and spending decrease. If, historically, tax increases ALWAYS result in higher spending/debt, why should we pursue that course now?

    First, separate spending from debt, because otherwise we reach Rand-ian levels of anti-government sentiment. After all, we can have significant government expenditures without debt, or even with surpluses (see also: 1995-2005). And a good deal of government spending is useful. A lot of conservatives like to talk about the welfare state, but welfare as it stands today is largely tied to recipients’ efforts in re-entering the workforce. Just look at TANF, which was a conservative-style program that they now hate because…well they can’t say, actually, although if Mitch McConnell is to be believed, creating jobs means that Obama looks good, which is bad. Yes, he really said that.

    Second, your distrust of Congress’ ability to implement the plan (specifically the spending cuts) isn’t entirely misplaced, but why aren’t you expressing frustration with what’s been put out there? Every actual budget plan we’ve seen from the conservatives has been brutal towards the middle and lower classes, as well as the elderly and disabled, and has shifted more burdens onto the state and municipal governments that are for the most part in worse financial straits than the federal government. You can’t just blame some nebulous definition of Congress in a false equivalency, when one side’s plans are so bad that doing nothing is actually better, often significantly so, than what they offer.

    If they’re going to use it for some sort of strange “stimulus” package that spends more than we take in, I’m not.

    But why is the stimulus program “strange” and bad? Again, economists generally seem to believe that if the stimulus had actually been bigger, then the economy wouldn’t have been so bad. But conservatives watered the amounts and the appropriations down, and as a result, only a fraction of the jobs in much-needed sectors like infrastructure were created. And for the most part, these same conservatives only seemed opposed to the stimulus on TV and radio, but then turned around and grabbed as much money from it as they could for their districts or states. Some even had the gall to complain that they didn’t get enough support, or that Obama’s bad because he didn’t do enough to help their hometowns.

  63. Mark, for every dollar raised we spend 1.18???

    Think about that for even a fraction of a second. Dont just repeat it because thats what Fox or someone else told you. But actually *think* about the math for even a second.

    If that were true in any sense of the word ‘true’ then a when George Washington started collecting taxes, the US would immediately spend even more than it collected. And that behavior would repeat for every president since. And we would have defaulted by the time Lincoln was elected.

    The only way there can be any ‘truth’ in that statement is if you throw on top of it so many exceptions and qualifications that you are no longer making a generalized observation of reality, but rather are attempting to find a way to justify inserting a talking pojnt into the conversation.

  64. Chris @ #2 – As annoying as the current crop of conservatives are, this liberal obsession that if we’d only tax people more somehow we could pay these bills is equally annoying.

    Did you miss the part where liberals already agreed to cut spending? The idea that if we’d only (and I mean only in the sense that that’s all we’d do) tax the rich, we could pay these bills is not one you’ll see from liberals in Congress – Senate or House. Or even from conservative Democrats.

    Scalzi is right to correct you about how his perspective is that tax hikes on the rich are necessary, but he’s also missing out on correcting a mendacious bit of lying propaganda that the Republican party keeps putting out – that they’re somehow willing to compromise at all. They’re not. Obama floated some tax increases that would literally only affect things like tax breaks for corporate jets. Republicans lockstep refused to pass those hikes because of the Norquist pledge (AKA The Americans For Tax Reform Pledge. Google it if you like) – never ever raise taxes, no mater what the cost, no matter what the issue. They don’t even have a clause about paying for wars.

    Norquist, BTW would be malleted here, because every conversation he has about taxes, he compares them to theft.

    Mark @ 62 might have a better point, but in this case, he’s wrong – tax increases, and a willingness to bargain would have resulted in more flexibility in the spending cuts we’re currently making. Republicans were asked repeatedly for any concessions whatsoever, and refusing to make it resulted in a downgrade in the US credit score, and might well again, because they *could* have passed a clean debt ceiling increase. Instead, they decided to hold the process hostage to get what they wanted.

    And, predictably, they did, and now they get to oversee it. And if they can’t make concessions this time, the triggers set into the inability for the super committee to reach consensus, things will get truly awful. And I have no faith whatsoever in their ability to agree with a Democrat that water is wet, fire is hot, or that the moon is not made of green cheese.

    And finally, I too am amused by the “This Will Hurt Small Business” cry. Look,if your “small business” is personally paying you $250,000 a year in salary you’re either doing amazingly well, and I don’t care about you anymore, or you’re such a total buckethead that you’re paying your employees out of your gosh darned salary. Stop doing that!. You generate payroll out of pre-tax profits, not post tax income.

    My CEO earns literally no salary right now because he’s everything into his new business venture. This might change after our second round of funding, but he can live on his savings for now. He lives pretty well too, but he’s certainly creating jobs, and a tax hike won’t affect him at all. Like most real entrepreneurs, he knows that loosing money for a few years is natural for a business, and he can afford to do that. A millionaire tax has no effect on him. He’s remarkably similar to most small business owners.

    The owners of Borderlands Books (Which Scalzi mentions sometimes) gave me similar advice when I expressed my dream of owning a bookstore like theirs – Have enough money to live on for 2-3 years, because you shouldn’t take even a small salary from the bookstore. Plow what you would pay yourself back in and keep going until you don’t have to anymore.

    These people – Borderlands, my company, and other exactly like it, won’t be affected at all by an increase in taxes on millionaires. Millionaires who start small businesses wont be all that affected either. They can pay themselves zero salary just like a real entrepreneur and live off savings for a few years, and nothing changes

    For the rest of us, let’s all stop buying the lie that taxes on millionaires and billionaires has any effect on small businesses.

  65. Whenever I hear talk that raising the top rates will cause these titans of industry to scale back and not do some things lest they have to pay more tax I think just one thing:

    Okay.

    I mean, when did we lose faith in the ability of the average American to innovate? If the top ranks are going to decide to withhold their efforts and concepts because they feel like paying an extra couple % out of that 9th million is just too much then FINE. STAY HOME RICHIE RICH. There’s plenty of new people out there who want to work hard for a buck and don’t mind sharing an extra dime out of that millionth dollar in profit.

    There’s plenty of smart and hungry folks out there to take the place of folks who Go Galt. The only thing we protect when we allow the top earners to keep more of their bucks is a monopolostic stranglehold on the economy. I’d love nothing more than to see some of these folks decide they’re big and rich enough and let more folks enter the market and compete. Instead we help the field shrink to fewer selections because there’s no downside to growing huge and fat.

    Lower taxes for the tiny top percentage is anti-competitive.

  66. If I had to choose between Ayn Rand and Warren Buffett to run USG as God-queen or king, I am not sure how I would go. Probably Rand, although there are short-term problems with that.

    And mid-term problems. And long-term problems. In fact, what evidence is there of less problems as time goes on?

    See, we conservatives see two features of democracy that you apparently don’t. First, outside of military spending, spending is nearly impossible to stop.

    And, what, military spending is easier? What reality do you live in?

    The only thing that appears to be able to actually lower spending in a democracy is bankruptcy, or the very-near term threat of it. (I am not talking about Washington-style “cuts” here, which mean: raising spending but less than inflation. I am talking about actual cuts. 50% reduction in spending. Whole Federal departments abolished. That sort of thing.)

    That’s because those ideas are fairly crazy, and like most Rand “policies,” there’s no specifics. I mean, what Departments would you cut? Where would you cut spending from? After all, the impacts on those who aren’t able-bodied people with zero societal or economic onus on them due to ethnicity or geography are totally the same as those who are, right?

    Second, raising taxes is easy, at least by comparison to lowering spending. Even when a man runs on a platform of “read my lips: no new taxes” — he still raises taxes to get a deal.

    Because that had nothing to do with the massive dergulation and cuts to services (hey, there’s Rand again!) from his predecessor that created large-scale economics problems, I assume. Yep, happened in a total vacuum.

    So, how can one expect to hold the line on spending in an environment as per the above? You attempt to form a party around the single idea of “no new taxes”. That is, create that political and philosophical orthodoxy that you decry. Part of any kind of party-building is solidarity at the margins. You must not let the other side nickle/dime you. Even then, politicians will still make deals. Again: this is democracy. But by setting up an extremely anti-tax environment at the grass roots, you attempt to hold down the deal-making to a minimum and actually get the fiscal rectitude desired.

    It’s almost as if not allowing for the concepts of representative democracy, economic appropriation, or the morality and ethics surrounding moderation and compromise is a good thing.

  67. What we need is Joe the Plumber come out and explain why Buffet is wrong. That will clear things up. At least as far as the Right is concerned anyways.

  68. we have a fundamental accounting/policy problem in this country – although debt is able to be carried form year to year (and when the economy is not robustly growing- the debt almost always will) surplusses are not. When the economy is weak and unemployment is high “stimulus” programs = government spending. Combine spending cuts, government layoffs with increased use of “the safety net” and “military interventions” and you have a feedback loop that ensures spiraling debt, unenployment, and weaker and weaker economy. The only way OUT is to break the cycle – INCREASE government spending in stimulus programs that create jobs – DARPA, NASA, NSF, DOE, DOT all have programs that directly and indirectly lead to jobs and development of industry – throw MORE money at them. R&D= jobs. Tie that in with more short term stimulus (cash for clunkers round II anyone?, more energy efficiency tax breaks for home improvemnet etc.) and revision of tax code and accounting practices so that as the economy recovers tax revenues increase and surplusses are set aside for long term debt reduction. I realize that this will lead to inflation/ some devaluation of the dollar – but what is the alternative?

  69. As a business owner myself, I would like to meet these small business owners who are concerned higher personal taxes will prevent them from hiring and give them a book on basic business accounting and operations. I’m quite interested in understanding these business operations, in the real world, that involve paying people out of your taxable personal income, and not out of the operating income of your business…

    Of course, if you’re a hedge fund manager then it seems that you’re better off paying people out of your personal income on account of your profits are taxed at a lower level than personal income tax anyway.

    But I’m not counting hedge fund managers as “small businesses”…

  70. Oh and I did forget, sorry John: In the current economic mess with companies sitting on piles of cash, and households having to pay down debt – I’m still wondering where the demand for things is going to come from if the government continues to slash spending (and as I read it, Obama actually has, as Net new spending under him is much lower than the last guy).

    Demand comes from people buying things. There is not a demand fairy who turns up when you’ve clapped your hands enough.

  71. there is also the symbolic value of raising taxes on the wealthier to be considered too, it isn’t just a bean-counting fiscal thing. there is a large section of poor, disenfranchised, people (particularly in inner-cities) that have no emotional stake in society at all because they see “one law for them, another for the rich” every day. they see precious few cents to spend themselves, and then they see people with million dollar cars and multi-million dollar houses bitching about being taxed to penury and they opt out of general society and often into a life of crime that encourages a distrust of everything except their own families. taxing the rich appropriately and shutting up the rich moaners is a massive symbolic step towards healing the divisions in the country.

  72. @Leonard (#64): Sure, spending is a lot harder to rein in than taxes, because, more than they even hate taxes, Americans (including those who vote Republican) really like their government services.

    But it seems to me if you can build solidarity around so extreme a position as “Absolutely no increase in taxes, even when the country is in economic crisis and taxes on the wealthy are at their lowest in decades,” then it wouldn’t be impossible, or even nearly impossible, to concentrate on one area of spending and gradually reduce it by holding the party line.

    It would take some brains, and a willingness both to engage honestly with the public and to make tough decisions that could lose you your office. But I am, uh, skeptical that the only way to keep the government from spending money is to draw the line in the sand at taking in any more tax revenue full stop. Especially when that position so neatly and conveniently just happens to align with the desires of the people funding the extreme right wing in America today.

  73. I’m an upper-mid-level Federal bureaucrat. As a GS-14/10*, I make quite a decent salary compared with the US average; but I have over 40 years of experience past the doctoral degree in chemistry, and probably make less than someone with a comparable résumé would in industry or academe. Nevertheless, i’m very comfortable by any of the criteria I care about and would certainly continue to be if I paid taxes at the same rate as I did in the Clinton era.

    Let the damn tax cuts — all of them — expire and revert to pre-Bush levels. That would wipe out effectively all of the deficit that wasn’t strictly short-term stuff to cure the recession. Longer term, go Medicare-for-all and fix the health-care cost problem; that takes care of all the rest of the problem (Social Security is not an issue; it has no problems that can’t be handled by either a small increase in withholding, uncapping the taxable amount, or both). Cut the military budget until we’re spending only two-thirds as much as the rest of the world combined, and we’ll be in surplus forever.

    *You could look it up.

  74. One can make a principled stand against raising taxes on the rich: we should be equal before the law.
    As James Buchanan put it, the blessings and burden of government should fall upon all without favor.

  75. “As James Buchanan put it, the blessings and burden of government should fall upon all without favor.”

    By this logic we should tax the poor very little and the rich a great deal as the burden would be about ths same. Works for me.

  76. #82: I love how the conservative bloggers are complaining about how Buffet games the system through loopholes, but I can 100% guarantee you that if you told them that Congress should propose a bill to close said loopholes, they would say that counts as a tax increase. In fact, I’m pretty sure they already did that several times in 2009 and 2010.

  77. @Walt (#84): By your logic, pretty quotes from a man often considered one of the country’s worst presidents should hold more weight in determining public policy than the actual realities we have to deal with every day.

  78. The sort of person who is very rich becomes so by understanding the rules of the game and leveraging them to their maximum benefit.

    Let me ask you, John: do you think it’s inherently unfair that so many writers are unable to get publishing contracts because a select handful of authors — including yourself — understand the rules of good writing and successful self-promotion, and use them to their benefit? Would you be willing to support laws that mandate you personally write less (and take the personal loss to net income and notoriety) in order to give other, possibly worse, authors a paycheck and some fan whuffie? Because that’s basically what your complaint and remedy amounts to, translated to a different industry.

    I need to ask, because not only have I got some seriously kick-ass Mary Sue fanfic left unpublished, but I also could use a bit of Felicia Day attention. And from where I stand? It looks like you’ve got waaay more than you need.

  79. #84: Wait, what? I fail to see how a highly progressive tax system–which actually solves a lot of economic issues in the real world, and has done so in the past–is somehow equivalent to punishing people for personal aspects. It’s certainly a million times more realistic than the “equal before the law” judicial and economic utopia.

  80. MPAVictoria@65,

    “How can there be a compromise when one side refuses to deal?”

    It could be as easy as replacing the side that refuses to deal with one that will.

  81. It seems as if there’s strong support here for a fundamental re-do of the tax code from both liberals and conservatives. If so, what form should it take? I would argue for something flatter and with far fewer deductions. We have something like 1,500 people who earned more than a million in 2009 and paid zero income tax. They have the ability to hire tax people to get them out of paying.

    While I understand (and partially agree with) the idea of raising taxes on people making >1,000,000 my fear is capital flight. I’m not sure how real the effect is. I’ve read arguments both ways. Maryland tried a millionaire tax and suddenly found they had many fewer millionaires the following year. IIRC New York was the other one but didn’t see much of a drop. This may have more to do with New York and MD than the tax itself.

    I am not concerned with the size of government as much as scope. Government gets larger with population. Makes sense. You need more police when you have more people. etc. I’m tired of the intrusiveness of government. In my state a Code Enforcement officer came to my house and told me I had to have a permit for a kiddie pool. That, to me, is beyond the pale.

  82. What we need is Joe the Plumber come out and explain why Buffet is wrong. That will clear things up. At least as far as the Right is concerned anyways.

    Of course. To believe otherwise would be elitist.

  83. @gerrymander (#88): Far be it from me to speak for John Scalzi, but:

    (1) It is unfair. Life is unfair. Some people are better at things (getting rich, having writing careers) than others.

    (2) The line you quote from the post is from his argument that the rich aren’t going to take their ball and go home. I would imagine that if the financial realities of the publishing industry changed for whatever reason (as indeed they are), based on his philosophy as outlined in the writings that appear on this blog and elsewhere, John Scalzi would probably do his best to fiddle, not flounce.

    (3) Your analogy isn’t really very sound, because while no one must participate in the publishing industry, Americans don’t have much choice about living in a governed society, whose operating costs are covered by tax revenues. And we do get some say about how much of that revenue we pay. (The very rich, in fact, get quite a bit of say.)

  84. Jesse@89
    ” “equal before the law” judicial and economic utopia.”

    The abandoning of the principle “equal before the law” should at least be noted.

  85. Just to clarify a few things:

    1. Republicans are just as guilty as Democrats for increasing spending and I agree that they’re being unreasonable right now. That doesn’t make the historical patterns irrelevant though, and politics always distorts things. As one commenter mentioned, if a couple of us sat down in a room, I’m sure we could work out a deal. But we’re not the ones who can fix it. And yes, us voters have responsibility to vote for people who will represent us.

    2. The source for the $1.18 figure is the WSJ, and I neglected to mention that it was in the Post WWII period (also, it’s apparently $1.17). Sorry about that.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704648604575620502560925156.html?mod=djemEditorialPage_h

    Key paragraphs:

    “We’ve updated the research. Using standard statistical analyses that introduce variables to control for business-cycle fluctuations, wars and inflation, we found that over the entire post World War II era through 2009 each dollar of new tax revenue was associated with $1.17 of new spending. Politicians spend the money as fast as it comes in—and a little bit more.

    “We also looked at different time periods (e.g., 1947-2009 vs. 1959-2009), different financial data (fiscal year federal budget data, as well as calendar year National Income and Product Account data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis), different lag structures (e.g., relating taxes one year to spending change the following year to allow for the time it takes bureaucracies to spend money), different control variables, etc. The alternative models produce different estimates of the tax-spend relationship—between $1.05 and $1.81. But no matter how we configured the data and no matter what variables we examined, higher tax collections never resulted in less spending.”

  86. Leave aside the marginal rates for a moment and look at the true injustice that Buffett hints at: the tax rates on “unearned” income are a joke.

    I’m a CPA that works exclusively for high wealth individuals and very few of them pay a cent in social security or medicare. Generally speaking, if they take wages at all, it is a very small percent of their income. Almost all their income is capital gains and dividends.

    If I work for myself and I sit at my desk and do tax analysis’ all day my work is subject to self employment tax and is then taxed as ordinary income. Self employment taxes is around 15.3% (13.3% during 2011 due to the 2010 Tax Relief Act.) To those that don’t know, Self Employment Tax is Social Security (10.4% in 2011) and Medicare (2.9% in 2011). Self employment tax takes the place of the withholding you see on your paycheck. Once you’ve netted your income with your self employment tax the rest you pay taxes on as ordinary income.

    But instead, if I work for myself and I sit at my desk and buy and sell investment vehicles for a living I pay nothing in self employment tax and my income is taxed (mostly) at a rate of 15%.

    Why? Because of the Golden Rule: He who has the Gold makes the rules.

    Now this would make sense if there was something so wonderful about investing that we wanted to encourage it over all other activities. But do we? I read the other day that America’s best and brightest over the last few decades have been choosing careers as “financial engineers.” The opportunity cost is that many of these people would be well suited towards careers in fields that actually added something to the American economy but chose instead to work on Wall Street.

    I guess what I am trying (poorly) to say is that our tax code incentivizes the wrong things. We could encourage people to choose degrees in mechanical engineering, architecture, or any of a hundred other fields. We don’t. All of the incentives today lead to Wall Street. In my opinion, that isn’t healthy.

    Here’s my back-of-the-napkin fix: If you have AGI (adjusted gross income) above a certain threshold, and over a certain percent of your income comes from unearned income (not including retirement accounts of course) then the IRS should rule that your profession is that of an investor and force you to pay tax like anyone else who works for themselves.

  87. blessings and burden should fall upon all without favor
    plus
    an aversion to complex mathematics to describe complex realities
    produces
    people advocating a flat tax system.

    you know what? flat tax doesnt go far enough. heck, even if everyone pays a flat ten percent, that *still* means that people who make more money hablve to pay more money, and that just isnt fair.

    what we need to do is take the total deficit and divide by the total number of Americans and have everyone send in a check for that amount. no exclusions for children either. why should they get a free ride? blessings and burdens should fall on *all* equally without favor.

    that works out to be 46,000 per american citizen. Walt, please send your check to the IRS as a symbol of your support for a completely flat tax system. if you want toexclude children and retirees, it works out to about 130,000 per tax payer.

    funny how right wingers will suggest that if Buffet wants to raise taxes then Buffet ought to send in a check, but flat taxer folks propose flat taxes only up to the point that it allows them to argue against raising the current progressive tax rates. if you really want a flat tax then it shouldnt even be a percentage of income, it shoukd simply divide the debt equally between taxpayers.

    Keep those great suggestions coming Walt.

  88. tolladay @ 60:

    The way Eisenhower used the term “military-industrial complex” is the way I use the term and the way I’ve always seen it used. What’s changed is that someone like Eisenhower would have trouble even getting nominated for a local office in the modern Republican Party. Heck, I’m not sure the modern Dem leadership would want him around either, at the national level.

    “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. ”

    He would get along fine with Bernie Sanders.

  89. Gerrymander:

    “Because that’s basically what your complaint and remedy amounts to, translated to a different industry.”

    Yeah, actually, not at all, for all sorts of reasons, starting with “taxation” not being an industry.

    But, as it happens, I am president of an organization that strongly believes every writer should be compensated fairly for his or her work, and have established guidelines representing what we believe to be a minimum level of reasonable compensation.

    Duffy:

    “It seems as if there’s strong support here for a fundamental re-do of the tax code from both liberals and conservatives.”

    Oh, let’s not get into a discussion of our favorite ways to fundamentally re-do the tax code, shall we. It’s one of the patented ways of dragging the discussion away from real world and into the pointless fairyland of Not Actually Relevant to the Discussion. Instead, let’s stay on point.

    That goes for Walt, Greg and everyone else starting to wander off into the fields of the Flat Tax, my favorite ridiculous time-waster. Stay in the here and now, people.

  90. For most purposes, the US government defines “small business” as one that employs 500 people or less. That’s a little broader than the corner mom-and-pop that most people think of when they hear the phrase “small business”.

  91. JS, perhaps I missed past cat fights about a flat tax, but why precisely is it a “derailment” to discuss a flat tax in a thread that is essentially about taxation? Not saying you’re wrong, I’m just not following how or why it’s a “pointless” exercise. Since the feds are currently spending dollars that don’t exist — the very epitomy of fairyland economics — then it seems to me the flat tax can and should be on the table.

  92. @Walt (#81)

    As James Buchanan put it, the blessings and burden of government should fall upon all without favor.

    Exactly. Which is why taxation levels should be based upon disposable income and not gross income, and why flat tax rates should never be considered.

    Say you have a guy earning just under the national average income, about $30 000 a year. Tax him at 20%… that leaves him $24 000 a year to spend on food, rent/mortgage, clothes, gas, insurance, the kids, etc… if those expenses go even one dollar over $2000 a month, he’s sunk. It’s hard to stay under that; budgeting to that can be gruelling even for a single person, and it leaves almost no room for savings or education.

    Take another guy earning $300 000 a year. Tax him at 20%… that leaves him $240 000 a year to spend on food, rent/mortgage, clothes, gas, insurance, the kids, etc… which leaves him able to spend up to $20 000 a month before he gets into trouble. That’s vastly easier to budget within, and leaves much more room for self-improvement.

    Graduated tax rates take that into account, meaning that the guy making $30k can have more margin to spend on improving the opportunities for him and his family to get out of the low-income trap

    (And that’s even without resorting to arguing about how much more high-income earners benefit from government services; there aren’t too many $30k-ers with multiple properties requiring police protection, taking multiple plane trips that require air traffic control, driving multiple cars that require well-maintained roads, etc…)

    — Steve.

  93. Duffy @ 91: “Maryland tried a millionaire tax and suddenly found they had many fewer millionaires the following year.”

    Could be I’m just a cynical bastard, but I’m taking a wild-assed guess that very little of that was millionaires leaving the state, as opposed to some millionaires managing to eke themselves below the cutoff, one way or another. Or changing their official address with nary a moving box in sight.

  94. Since the feds are currently spending dollars that don’t exist

    As opposed to dollars that do exist? You’re aware that “money” is simply an agreed-upon concept?

  95. #96: That “study” you linked to is actually an editorial from the extremely conservative Wall Street Journal, written in part by a leading member of the anti-government Cato Institute and the anti-tax Club For Growth who in the past has claimed that, among other things, Obama is banning incandescent light bulbs and that the deficits under Reagan were not a problem. So I give it just about zero credence, especially since they don’t actually provide any evidence, they just state the numbers and expect us to believe it. Nor does it address the issue of why, if we’ve been running anywhere between 5% to 80% over-budget since at least 1945, we’ve had budget surpluses multiple times.

  96. Walt @ 95: “The abandoning of the principle “equal before the law” should at least be noted.”

    Yes, indeedy. I’m not sure the principle has ever been faithfully adhered to, even in the US. But it seems like we’ve slid into a relatively more blatant era of legal immunity for those who are deemed too big to jail.

  97. Josh (#79),

    if you can build solidarity around so extreme a position as “Absolutely no increase in taxes, even when the country is in economic crisis and taxes on the wealthy are at their lowest in decades,” then it wouldn’t be impossible, or even nearly impossible, to concentrate on one area of spending and gradually reduce it by holding the party line.

    First off, as a means to cut down on spending, forming a party around any single spending cut — for example, axing the entire Department of Education — would not do. Yes, arguably you might possibly ax the ED — but then while you were doing that, taxes would be raised and there would be more spending on everything else.

    Second, although I suppose you are correct in that it is not impossible to form a party around “axe the ED”, I think that is much harder than “no new taxes”. For on thing, taxation is of the broadest popular interest. Everyone pays taxes, or at least, practically all Republican voters do. Everyone has self-interest in holding the line on taxation. By contrast, spending is inherently uneven. If you have school-aged kids, axing ED might seem radical, whereas if you don’t, it won’t affect you directly. So while there can be (and is) ideological agreement one “we spend too much”, agreement on where, exactly, we are spending too much is much harder.

    For another thing, as an ideological matter there is always an attraction to bright lines. There is a serious (if utterly impractical) libertarian argument that “taxation is theft”. You can use that to support the ideology that rigidly holding the line on taxation is good and virtuous. Or you can be more soft-core as in #81, arguing that the rich already pay more than their “fair” share. Either way, you have an argument (if shoddy), for “no new taxes”. By contrast, amongst the masses there is no popular objection to what ED does. At worst people just think that ED is wasteful.

  98. @Anton P. Nym#103

    The economy loves the wealthy. The money they spend is not wasted. It is commonplace that many of today’s necessities used to be a rich man’s toy.
    On the other hand, tax money is not inevitably spent wisely.

  99. David, yes, and when the feds spend enough of that agreed-upon concept (that does not exist) then the same agreed-upon concept that lives in the wallets of the Little People ceases to have value. Which is what a good many US citizens are rightfully concerned about right now: a federal system that seems to be freight-training us all to insolvency. Asking the high-income, high-asset class to pay extra only makes sense as long as we demand that the feds spend less.

  100. Brad @ 110:

    Did you miss where spending cuts have been made and were on the table, while tax raises inexplicably were not?

    You’re making an empty rhetorical point here.

  101. Which is what a good many US citizens are rightfully concerned about right now: a federal system that seems to be freight-training us all to insolvency. Asking the high-income, high-asset class to pay extra only makes sense as long as we demand that the feds spend less.

    Then they’re not concerned about the right thing. Either we continue spending more but offset that with income from said high-asset class, or we start determining where to make major cuts. The former has been done before and worked out (more or less) for all involved both in the US and abroad. The latter has been done before, and has almost always been responsible for enriching the privileged at the expense of the lower and middle classes, the elderly, and the disabled. And the current pie-in-the-sky proposals that follow that train of thought are even worse than those already put into practice.

  102. the feds spend enough of that agreed-upon concept (that does not exist) then the same agreed-upon concept that lives in the wallets of the Little People ceases to have value.

    Wait, if we spend some (imagined) level of this (imaginary) stuff, other of this (imaginary) stuff will lose its (imagined) value?

    Here’s an interesting essay that puts forth the idea that Buffet’s call for an increased income tax is a smokescreen to distract people from calling for a European-style tax on net worth (something that would [according to the essay] raise nearly ten times what would be raised by a 20% higher income tax).

    Buffet’s trying to avoid something that will never ever ever ever never ever no way no how happen in the United States?

  103. Small business definition depends on the business, it is not just a flat 500 employees:
    What is SBA’s definition of a small business concern?
    SBA defines a small business concern as one that is independently owned and operated, is organized for profit, and is not dominant in its field. Depending on the industry, size standard eligibility is based on the average number of employees for the preceding twelve months or on sales volume averaged over a three-year period. Examples of SBA general size standards include the following:
    • Manufacturing: Maximum number of employees may range from 500 to 1500, depending on the type of product manufactured;
    • Wholesaling: Maximum number of employees may range from 100 to 500 depending on the particular product being provided;
    • Services: Annual receipts may not exceed $2.5 to $21.5 million, depending on the particular service being provided;
    • Retailing: Annual receipts may not exceed $5.0 to $21.0 million, depending on the particular product being provided;
    • General and Heavy Construction: General construction annual receipts may not exceed $13.5 to $17 million, depending on the type of construction;
    • Special Trade Construction: Annual receipts may not exceed $7 million; and
    • Agriculture: Annual receipts may not exceed $0.5 to $9.0 million, depending on the agricultural product.

  104. @Bearpaw #94: Cynical or not I think you’re probably at least partly correct. That was something I was alluding to with the thing about rich people have tax professionals to defer income or otherwise not fall under the rules. (@97 Han Solo illustrates this point far better than I did)

    @Scalzi viz. tax code changes: I wasn’t attempting to veer off course. From where I sit it appears that the right wants absolutely no reduction in military spending and wants to cut virtually everything else. Whereas the seems to want the exact opposite. I rarely hear either party talking about waste, fraud or abuse in their own favored government programs.

  105. I should note that the reason don’t have a situation where there’s spending less while raising more, is that reality makes that essentially impossible, both statistically and politically. Barring major famine or war, we’ll only be adding people that require government services large (SS & Medicare) and small (driver’s licenses), almost all of which is necessary. In fact, by standards of other countries and a lot of metrics like infant mortality, life expectancy, worker health, we’re not doing enough. The only way to get to spending less is to remove large parts of the defense budget. Anything else requires the government deny services to those that need it.

  106. I was surprised reading these comments not to hear people indicating what their percentage worked out to be. Using Buffet’s formula (federal income taxes plus payroll taxes paid by him and “on his behalf”), I came up with my tax rate last year as 23.6%. This was in a year where we took the maximum energy tax credit and college credit. Without those, it would have been much higher. Now, I would call myself upper middle class, so it’s sad to see that Warren Buffet pays a lot smaller percentage in taxes that I do? How, exactly, is this his “fair share”?

    Of course, this discussion is completely missing the point of the comparison in many ways. If Buffet were just taxed at the highest marginal rate we currently have (or even at the marginal rate I pay, which is on down the list), it would be a lot more fair and would make a less compelling argument. There are plenty of arguments for increasing that top tax rate, but it seems to me there are far more arguments for getting rid of the loopholes that made this ridiculous tax rate possible for Buffet in the first place.

  107. Walt at 109: “The economy loves the wealthy. The money they spend is not wasted.”

    Whereas the poor simply throw all their money away on food, clothing, shelter, and the occasional used car and cheap-end TV. Those ungrateful gits.

    “… tax money is not inevitably spent wisely.”

    You could leave the word “tax” out of that statement and it would still be true. Which makes it irrelevant to the discussion.

  108. Quoth Walt @#81, “As James Buchanan put it, the blessings and burden of government should fall upon all without favor.”

    Or, to quote Anatole France, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

  109. I rarely hear either party talking about waste, fraud or abuse in their own favored government programs.

    There’s a lot of evidence for waste, fraud, and abuse in the defense industry. I can’t speak to “everything else” because it’s way too broad, but assuming you’re talking about SS, Medicare, and Medicaid, then I’ve yet to see convincing evidence that it’s as widespread, or that it’s being perpetrated mostly by consumers. Not that there isn’t a lot of streamlining that needs to be done (because there is), but the argument for one is a lot stronger than the other. It’s also worth mentioning that the we get waaaay more juice for the squeeze from social programs than we do from defense.

  110. Brad Torgerson:

    “JS, perhaps I missed past cat fights about a flat tax,”

    Perhaps you did!

    The reason endless blatheration about “flat tax” counts as a derail is a) it will never ever happen, and b) people introducing the “flat tax” (or any other tax scheme not currently in existence) sometimes do so as a way to lead the conversation away from real-world concerns into their own tax fantasy land. Arguing about the “flat tax” is like arguing about whether unicorns have beards, except 100 times more boring and useless. Because of that, c) if you talk about flat tax in a discussion of real world tax issues, you signal you’re not actually being serious and you might even be somewhat malicious. In which case, d) piss off, we’re talking about the real world here.

  111. Actually, raising is taxes is not the only time they don’t listen to Buffet. They also don’t listen when he reminds them that he and Bill Gates have proven that you can throw a few billion the charity game and hey, guess what? You’re standard of living won’t change one damn bit!

  112. My problem with the syntax of this discussion is that it begins from a perspective of “the rich” being one homogenous group. While, they all have one thing in common – stinkin’ loads of filthy cash – that’s where the similarities end. For someone like Buffet, money isn’t something tangible. It’s invested and it comes and goes. He can always cash out and use it to buy something, but otherwise, it’s just a number on a page. Compare that to a small business owner, for example someone who manufactures widgets out of iron. If that business owner is paying himself a huge salary, then absolutely it should be taxed as income. However, if that owner is putting the money back into the business (and using it to add employees, etc) it should be protected.

    Of course, even if we could agree to a reasonable, logical way to do that that wouldn’t actually result in Maryland-like decreased revenues, it’s only a small part of the problem. Not only do we spend 60% more than we bring in every year (referenced by Buffet) we also plan for future budgets anticipating huge increases in revenue every year. That’s not going to happen.

    There is one plan in Washington that seemed reasonable, and with an increase in selected taxes may even be more doable, if combined. The plan is this, freeze spending for six years at today’s current budget. Cut one percent every year. That would result in a balanced budget with little pain, except for those who have already spent the money we don’t have six years into the future.

  113. I like the way Buffett thinks, and I agree that increasing taxes on the very rich is necessary. It’s probably easier to sell. But the fact is we need increased taxes on just about everyone, particularly if we wish to get back towards the 20-21% of GDP that we collected back in the Clinton era.

    I’m not talking onerous tax increases. But something, and we need a rationalization of the tax code as well.

    Demographically, the US is headed for an expensive time as the Boomers go into the most medically expensive time of the their lives. Budgeting for that will be complex and painful.

  114. Brooks @ #112, All you need to know about the credibility of that essayist is displayed in this sentence from the midpoint of the essay: “The problem is not more revenue, the problem is a lot more revenue very quickly.

    No. The debt is a long-term problem. The deficit is short-term and can be set aside until employment and the economy improve. In fact, if the economy and employment both improve, the deficit begins to fall by virtue of the higher tax receipts the government begins to take in as a result of all that increased activity. Crucially, it’s not just the Fed gov’t whose fortunes would increase, but state governments’ as well, and that’s the area where most people actually see the result of falling tax revenues.

  115. Phil @115: hence ‘for most purposes’. But again, when moat people think of “small business” they think of Joe’s Garage or Maria’s Empanadas. Not a local chain of hardware stores that employs a couple of hundred people, say.

  116. There is one plan in Washington that seemed reasonable, and with an increase in selected taxes may even be more doable, if combined. The plan is this, freeze spending for six years at today’s current budget. Cut one percent every year. That would result in a balanced budget with little pain, except for those who have already spent the money we don’t have six years into the future.

    Because, as we all know, the next several years will involve zero (or negative) population growth, lowering of top-end wages and/or a concurrent increase in lower-end wages, major restructuring of income from the financial sector to the industrial and professional sectors, and a rationing (voluntary or otherwise) of goods. Because that’s the only way your plan works, unless you have a way to transport us all back to 1939.

  117. If the federal system had a reputation for excellent service, frugal and efficient use of resources, the expansion of choices, low wait times, low graft, low corruption, I think a lot of people who are critical of federal programs might be in favor of them. But because the federal system is, in fact, notorious for rampant waste, poor service, the elimination of choices, the extension of wait times — doesn’t matter what you want from the feds, they will almost always take far longer to get it to you than if you were to try to obtain the thing or service privately — a lot of Americans aren’t thrilled with the idea of spending more to get more of the same (shitty) performance. Let the feds prove they deserve the money — clean up their collective act — then we can talk additional spending. Especially since the feds keep finding ways to prop up super-corporate interests that have remarkably devolved into being just as wasteful and useless as the feds who succor them.

  118. Erick:

    “If that business owner is paying himself a huge salary, then absolutely it should be taxed as income.”

    And oddly enough, that’s what Buffett is suggesting, along with additional taxes on capital gains. Otherwise, you’re on a soapbox.

    Let’s all try to pay attention to what’s actually being discussed rather than stepping on to soapboxes first and paying attention to the relevant issues second, please.

    Brad Torgersen:

    “Let the feds prove they deserve the money — clean up their collective act — then we can talk additional spending.”

    Nice try, but no. First, the discussion here isn’t about “additional spending,” it’s about raising revenue. These are separate discussions, and conflating them suggests you’re not paying attention or don’t see the very real distinction. Second, many of those who want to wait for government to “clean up their collective act” before talking more taxes are a) people who will never be happy regardless of what amount of money is spent, b) are happy to move the goalposts whenever the government reaches their previous arbitrary goalpost for “cleaning up,” c) haven’t proven to anyone’s satisfaction beyond their own that they are competent to assess the effectiveness of a government program, particularly those encompassing a social goal of which they do not personally approve.

    It’s entirely possible to raise revenues and decrease spending, which is in fact the discussion people in Washington and elsewhere ought to be having, and, to the point of this thread, the discussion Mr. Buffett suggests we work on.

  119. @Leonard (#108): Oh, I agree that it would be much, much, much harder. But I would rather advocate for a hard solution that I think makes sense than an easy one that doesn’t. Now, both may be ultimately untenable — it may just turn out there is no good way to govern a country of ~500 million people in the technological environment we’re in. We don’t know; the experiment is presently ongoing! But since that would suck, then unless there’s anything better I can do about it, I will argue that we should do something that makes sense and might be feasible (raising taxes a bit while making judicious spending cuts), rather than something that doesn’t make sense and isn’t feasible (not raising taxes at all).

    (I mean, admittedly, talking about politicians sitting down and making judicious alterations to the way, say, the Department of Education or any other government institution works, and then being able to sell those changes to a majority of legislators willing to hold fast, and then to the public, among countless other obstacles — this all sounds so very pie-in-the-sky. But there are Americans willing to accept that they can’t get everything they want, willing to examine empirical evidence to see what works, and willing to consider creative solutions. I would like to believe that, since these people also tend to be pretty smart and interested in the preservation of themselves and whatever legacy they leave behind, they could be somehow pivotal in effecting change. I need to believe that. Or otherwise, I need more beer.)

  120. Some points:
    1) An increase in income tax rates would not fix the “problem” Buffett is talking about – which is that capital gains tax is capped at 15%, as opposed to regular income.

    2) Short term capital gains is supposed to be taxed as the regular income tax rate, if they just hold it for “60 seconds”. Either he doesn’t know about this change, or there’s a loophole that ought to be closed. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_gains_tax_in_the_United_States)

    3) It’s debatable if indeed capital gains should be given a discount in order to facilitate investment and to make up for the additional risk in capital investment. I can see both ways on it.

    4) Raising income tax a few points on the rich won’t solve our budget crisis. It’s deceptive to pretend that it will.

    5) The highest income tax bracket of 92% ignores the many tax loopholes available at the time. NOBODY ever paid 92% of their income in tax.

    6) In fact, the percentage of taxes paid as a percentage of GDP has been very constant, which sort of explodes the liberal myth that taxes are lower now than ever before – in real terms. http://www.deptofnumbers.com/blog/2010/08/tax-revenue-as-a-fraction-of-gdp/

    7) The poor and middle class do NOT disproportionately bear the income tax burden. Most numbers claiming as such include SSN and Medicare, which are more akin to a forced retirement program than a tax. A tax is gone – you’re supposed to (in theory) see that money from SSN and Medicare again someday. The top 20% of income earners and corporations pay 75% of all income tax in America. The middle 60% pay the remaining 25%. The bottom 20% get subsidized to an amount of about -10% of the total amount collected in taxes.

  121. Couple of things:
    1. I wonder who votes in the politicians that make these taxation rules? It’s not the mega rich as there are not enough of them. The general voters have been persuaded to do this. And this reminds me of Stephen Frears, “Freakonomics” where he postulates that gang members work for less than minimum wage distributing drugs because of the dream of being a gang boss and becoming a mega rich. Clearly the general voters have to be persuaded of the idiocy of taxing themselves more than the mega rich. Perhaps this forum is part of that movement…

    2. I saw an analysis a couple of months ago that correlated financial scandals (Madoff, Wall st, et al) with maximum marginal tax rates. This demonstrated that the higher the top tax rates the less finaical fraud and fewer arcane schemes got hatched. It appears that raising the top tax rates discourages people from creating wild schemes simply be reducing the potential returns. If I can find the reference, I’ll post it a bit later.

    These together seem to indicate that more transparency and logic in our voting (fat chance) and higher top taxes might be good for our ethics as well!

  122. #129: Examples? Almost all of your issues that the Federal government is apparently “notorious” for seem to come from local and state governments and Defense.

  123. Brad, asking high income people to pay more only makes sense if we demand the feds spend less?

    what is the biggest single, specific cut you would make? which program, how much, and how would you change the program to make up these cuts?

    because when most right wingers talk about cutting government spending, they imply in their statements that most government spending is of the category of ‘waete’, and if we just cut ‘waste’ then it will all magically get better.

    so, if you provide details of the biggest cut you would make, that would sort out whether you subscribe to the right wing fairy tale or not.

  124. JS @ 122: Okay, I think that’s short-sighted — to just deny that it’s even possible — but your house, your rules. I would go then to the argument that I made in #129, with a touch of what I said in #110. If your income and/or assets mean you pay more and more taxes the higher up the curve you go, it’s only equitable if we necessarily restrain spending and/or effect systemic change to carve down the waste and corruption. Otherwise we’re saying to the wealthiest Americans, “Pay up you fat-cats, you owe more than anybody!” while at the same time saying to the feds, “You fellas just keep right on spending like it’s no tomorrow, and if you run out of money, heck, we’ll just print more! OK?”

  125. Erick at 124: “There is one plan in Washington that seemed reasonable, and with an increase in selected taxes may even be more doable, if combined. The plan is this, freeze spending for six years at today’s current budget. Cut one percent every year.”

    So … a slow blood-letting instead of a quick one. I’m sure that’ll help the patient.

    Just ignore those wacky economists, er, doctors suggesting that a blood *transfusion* is the way to go. I’m sure the successes from that high-falutin’ newfangled approach are coincidences.

  126. If the federal system had a reputation for excellent service, frugal and efficient use of resources, the expansion of choices, low wait times, low graft, low corruption, I think a lot of people who are critical of federal programs might be in favor of them.

    That argument can fit equally well if you search-and-replace “federal” with “financial.”

    — Steve

  127. Brad Torgersen:

    “I would go then to the argument that I made in #129, with a touch of what I said in #110.”

    Your argument in #129 is not particularly good, and I responded to it upstream.

  128. Wow. I’ll just say that as a libertarian, I am completely embarrassed by the notion conservatives have, that taxes are one of the two sacred cows that cannot be touched EVER.
    Honestly, if I could trade somewhat higher taxes for a MUCH greater respect for civil liberties at all levels of government, and for less of the kind of regulation that only helps the large already-wealthy mega corps who can afford to abide them, I would do it in a heartbeat.

    (The other sacred cow is, of course, the defense budget).

  129. Gerrymander @ #88:
    Would you be willing to support laws that mandate you personally write less (and take the personal loss to net income and notoriety) in order to give other, possibly worse, authors a paycheck and some fan whuffie?

    That’s not only false equation bullshit bingo, but shows a delightful (and perhaps wilfully disingenuous) naivete about how publishing works.

    I suspect Ms. Joanne Rowling will be able to “leverage” her way into banking a small pile of very generous advance cheques for her next book entirely based on her track record. She also doesn’t regard tax avoidance as her inalienable human right.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7096786.ece

    Square that circle, if you please.

  130. it’s only equitable if we necessarily restrain spending and/or effect systemic change to carve down the waste and corruption

    Again, doing the latter, while necessary, is not going to reduce the deficit nearly as much as you claim. And doing the former without major tax revenue increases and leaving defense spending untouched (the status quo and reality for the foreseeable future) means the people with the least to give will have to suffer the most.

  131. If the federal system had a reputation for excellent service, frugal and efficient use of resources, the expansion of choices, low wait times, low graft, low corruption, I think a lot of people who are critical of federal programs might be in favor of them. But because the federal system is, in fact, notorious for rampant waste, poor service, the elimination of choices, the extension of wait times

    The federal government is, in fact, more efficient than the private sector in a substantial number of places. Medicare spends less in administrative overhead on average than does the private medical insurance industry. Ditto for the VA. The military is insanely cheaper than if we tried to do it with private firms (compare what an E-1 in the military makes (just over 17K/year) with what a Blackwater (sorry, Xe) operative does.

  132. TomG:

    To wander off-topic a moment, good fucking luck getting any “taxes for liberties” deal going, or indeed rolling back the civil liberties incursions of the past decade. The ruling elites find them too useful, and many voters would rather be safe than free.

  133. Honestly, if I could trade somewhat higher taxes for a MUCH greater respect for civil liberties at all levels of government, and for less of the kind of regulation that only helps the large already-wealthy mega corps who can afford to abide them, I would do it in a heartbeat.

    Then you’re not a libertarian, at least not by the modern, accepted definition. That sounds more like social democracy to me.

  134. I am confused by this “tax cuts let the rich use that money to create more jobs!” arguement.
    If that were true, shouldnt we have seen more job growth during the bush 8 years?

    Why is a balanced budget ONLY an issue for the GOP while there is a DEM in the white house?
    I do not remember this being an issue during reagan/bush nor during bush 2.0, only during clinton and obama.

    should we have a smaller deficit? yes.
    can we do that by cutting small programs? no.
    can we do that by cutting large programs (wars, socsec,med)? yes.
    can we do that by increasing taxes (esp back to what they ised to be, say during the roaring 90s)? yes.

    why do we continue to even debate the GOP lie of cutting taxes=more jobs? there is zero evidentce of that.
    why do we continue to debate the cut taxes and starve the beast arguement? it didnt happen.

    one trivial solution IS (oops caps) to require congress to balance their budget. period.
    if you have deficit, taxes are automatically increased on income over 1 million.

    I have noticed that neither party has cut spending in their districts. why not? they want to reduce spending and big gov, right?

    /I particularly liked how bush 2.0 kept the wars off book to make the numbers look better. sigh

  135. Brad R. Torgersen @ #129 :
    If the federal system had a reputation for excellent service, frugal and efficient use of resources, the expansion of choices, low wait times, low graft, low corruption, I think a lot of people who are critical of federal programs might be in favor of them.

    Yes, Brad, and I’m sure we’ll both on the streets to welcome our dispassionate, omni-competent Cylon overlords who’ll make the trains run on time and shorten the lines at the DMV. I just find it rather amusing how certain sections of the right (and, no, I don’t call radical ideologues “conservatives”) will slaughter the fatted calf and embrace the prodigal CEO. But woe and damnation to the eeeevil federal government!

  136. Bill at 132:

    Re #4 … So isn’t it great that nobody here has pretended that?

    Re #6 … That’s *not* an actual liberal point, though I understand it’s often easier to respond to something that someone didn’t say. An *actual* point that I’ve seen made — and ignored — is that the taxes paid *by* *the* *wealthy* as a percentage of GDP is at the lowest level since (IIRC) the 1920’s, and there are other indications of wealth disparity that are comparable to that time and the early 1890′s. If you remember history, those are rather significant periods economically, particularly in how they ended.

  137. #148: It’s worth pointing out that, as I said above in my reply to #129, the DMV and non-Amtrak trains are covered by state and municipal, not Federal, governments.

  138. Where to cut? Well, the question almost becomes, where NOT to cut? It’s true that many conservatives consider defense sacrosanct. I’m not one of them, and I’m *in* defense part-time, but that’s where I see most of the money being poured away for no real benefit. So we’d have to look at a comprehensive global policy shift combined with a comprehensive defense reduction. Fewer high-priced defense toys, an eye towards stabilized bullets-and-beans practical spending, and no more (or greatly reduced) federal outlay for ‘buying friends abroad.’ It would be the biggest shift in national defense policy since the Cold War, and would end or reduce much of our overseas presence. Ergo, no more world police. Meanwhile, we’d need to make it possible to fire DoD civilians and uniformed officers (commissioned or otherwise) for incompetence. Not re-shuffle them into the deck, as is the case 95% of the time. Not pat them on the butt and send them off with a pension. Fire them for being worthless. Because from where I sit, there are far too many people ‘shamming it’ on the DoD ticket.

    Of course, defense is not even the largest piece of the pie is it? The social and infrastructure umbrellas encompass more even than the DoD, and from my limited exposure to such programs, I am not greatly assured that they’re not ‘shamming it’ along with the DoD. Ergo, little or no emphasis on performance, great emphasis on protecting employees — versus pursuing taxpayer satisfaction. Et cetera. Again, the feds don’t have a crappy rep for nothing. And if we want to roll state into it too, fine, since, the states have mostly sold themselves into indentured status due to reliance on federal outlay.

    It’s a gargantuan, wicked problem. But merely saying, “tax the rich dude,” doesn’t begin to solve it.

  139. Jesse (#145) – I’m actually also sympathetic to anarchists and left-libertarians, but also recognize that reducing government to a minimum and getting people to offer alternatives to government services is just not gonna happen in my lifetime. The biggest problem with trying to actually implement any kind of libertarian semi-paradise is that everyone in it needs to adjust their thinking to a new “paradigm” of voluntaryist thinking…. again, NEVER GONNA HAPPEN.
    (Kinda like the chances that Gary Johnson will get the GOP nomination)

  140. Duffy @91: “While I understand (and partially agree with) the idea of raising taxes on people making >1,000,000 my fear is capital flight. I’m not sure how real the effect is. I’ve read arguments both ways. Maryland tried a millionaire tax and suddenly found they had many fewer millionaires the following year. IIRC New York was the other one but didn’t see much of a drop. This may have more to do with New York and MD than the tax itself.

    Maryland did see a drop of Millionaires the next year, which the WSJ crowed about how THIS was why you couldn’t tax the rich and expect it to help balance the budget. But that was in 2009. They somehow all mysteriously reappeared in 2010, where Maryland ranked as #2 on the list of states with the most millionaires per capita, with 6.79% of all households; Hawaii has the highest percentage at 6.93%. Of course, in terms of actual households, the rankings fall differently: Hawaii only has 31,000 millionaires, versus #3 Virginia’s 183,000. Even though the ‘millionaire tax’ remained in effect for 2010, Maryland’s number of millionaires ROSE.

    I’d hazard that all that happened was a bunch of people near the threshold worked at donations and other ways to lower their income until the temporary tax expired. It’s worth noting that the tax for people over $500,000 didn’t expire, and yet there was no widespread tales of ‘half-millionaire flight’.

  141. The social and infrastructure umbrellas encompass more even than the DoD, and from my limited exposure to such programs, I am not greatly assured that they’re not ‘shamming it’ along with the DoD.

    Again, anecdata isn’t particularly useful here, nor is the stereotype of government employees (civilian or otherwise) “shamming it,” which leads to…

    Ergo, little or no emphasis on performance, great emphasis on protecting employees — versus pursuing taxpayer satisfaction. Et cetera. Again, the feds don’t have a crappy rep for nothing. And if we want to roll state into it too, fine, since, the states have mostly sold themselves into indentured status due to reliance on federal outlay.

    First of all, social and infrastructure program costs come from payouts to citizens, not employees. As pointed out above, programs like Medicare and the VA do a far more efficient job than equivalent private entities. Second, “Feds” (and other government employees) have a crappy reputation because of the attacks from the Republicans, not vice versa. And, finally, the states who relied the most on Federal outlay are the ones who tend to elect representatives to state and national office who make the most noise about how bad it is for the Federal government to spend money. This is not coincidence, by the way.

  142. @Bearpaw #149:Nobody has suggested that raising taxes “a little bit” on the rich would wipe out the deficit? Look at the posts on here (#37), or Obama vs. Joe the Plumber back in the 2008 campaign.

    Also, the notion that taxes are lower now than ever before was absolutely a liberal talking point during the tax break extension cuts. Go back to last December to read about them – of course, the people making those points are ignoring the fact that corporations don’t pay taxes when they lose money. But all the outrage against Bank of America *feels* real nice, doesn’t it?

    (With a Redneck accent) They destroyed our ecconemy!

  143. JS @ 130: moving goalposts is exactly what’s happening right now. We need to tax more to spend more, but wait, that’s “extra” revenue, so we can spend even MORE more, oh wait, we have to raise taxes again, oh wait, look, that’s ‘extra’ money, we can spend it!….

    I suppose it comes down to which set of goalpost-movers each of us tends to trust. If you (collective ‘you’ here) think that higher tax creep and higher government spending creep always favors the citizenry, then by all means, let’s drive up revenue with taxes and assume it’s going to come out clean in the wash. If you happen to think that lower tax creep and reduced government spending creep always favors the citizenry… well, you get the idea.

    I used to be an idealist about government spending and taxes in the 90s. Then 9/11 happened, and I wound up working part-time for the military, and watched Republicans and Democrats both go to town on the federal credit card — which happens to have all our names chained to it as signatory parties — and I looked around at the colossal waste and sloth that seems to be ever-present in the DoD, and I slowly had to admit that taxing more to pay more money into what seems to be a dreadfully incompetent and wasteful system, just doesn’t make any sense. And I don’t see any concrete evidence that the civilian side is run any more cleanly or efficiently than the DoD side. In fact, it’s the DoD civilians who tend to be the worst examples, when it comes to ‘dead weight’ sitting around collecting checks for nothing.

    So OK, no flat tax. Pie-in-the-sky, we throw it out. I still say curved taxation (so-called ‘progressive’ taxation) is only fair if we match it with some kind of concerted reform that targets useless spending at both the state and the federal level. Because there is an obscene amount of useless spending that gets rubber-stamped as a matter of course, simply because nobody thinks to question it. (see: our current defense model.)

  144. #106 Jesse – Point taken, though the original research that it was based on is here:

    http://www.house.gov/jec/fiscal/tx-grwth/159/159.htm

    Of course it was prepared for Republican Congressmen, so your claim of bias is probably still worth considering, but this isn’t an oped either. It’s also from 1991, which thus omits the interesting Clinton/Republican Congress years where the most recent surplus happened. I presume this is why the authors of the WSJ oped said they “updated” the study. Interestingly, the $1.17 I cited is significantly smaller than the 1991 study estimated, which was $1.59.

    Again, you are perhaps right to point out that maybe there is bias here, but on the other hand, are you really surprised that increased tax revenues lead to additional spending?

    Yes, there have been some surpluses… but as far as I can see, they are not caused by new taxation. They’re caused by a booming economy that resulted in additional tax revenue. I can’t speak for all surpluses, but for the most recent one? It was all spent (or returned to the taxpayers, or however you want to rhetorically position what happened), and not on decreasing the deficit.

    At the end of the day, the government spends more than it takes in, it’s been doing so for a long time, and surpluses are rare and temporary (and the last one was not used to pay down the debt). What are we up to now? $13 trillion and counting? Maybe a tax increase is needed, but we need to figure out a way to ensure it doesn’t result in additional spending. Historically, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

  145. #155: Also, the notion that taxes are lower now than ever before was absolutely a liberal talking point during the tax break extension cuts. Go back to last December to read about them.

    You’re making the claim, why do we have to support it for you?

  146. mythago, I don’t know what most people think of when they think small business, but I suspect you are correct that many do not think small business includes companies that could conceivably employ up to 1500 and/or have revenues of up to $21.5 million.Those who use the “small business” reason to oppose an income tax increase commonly refer to “mom and pop” shops in their rhetoric. It’s just one of those republican talking points they spew as if they are facts.
    However, the point remains the same. An increase in the marginal income tax rate has almost no effect on small business, as the business writes off everything it can and the additional tax would only apply to salary, or net profit if self-employed.
    In addition, I think that many in Congress don’t know the true definition and scope of the term “small business”, and when they say an income tax increase will hurt small business they often say it will keep the businesses from creating jobs, which makes no sense. Let’s say I pay myself a salary of $300,00 from my small business. A 3% increase in my marginal tax rate would cost me around what? I guess that depends on my tax-filing status and other deductions, but how about an actual increase of about $4,500? There is no way I was going to take that $4,500 and hire a full time employee with it.
    On the other hand, “spending cuts” actually cut jobs, so when contemplating and discussing spending cuts I think folks should be aware that these are actual jobs going away – not just government jobs either, but contractor jobs, and all the jobs that those folks keep going by spending their income in the markeplace. I have yet to hear a republican talk about the job loss side of spending cuts. I am not saying we shouldn’t cut spending, but we should be aware that the cuts won’t have as big an effect as many are saying, as there are revenue losses incidental to the spending cuts. I think I already said this, so I’ll stop for now.

  147. Jesse @ 154: First of all, social and infrastructure program costs come from payouts to citizens, not employees.

    This is 100% dead wrong. The system freely acknowledges that it is our nation’s largest employer. To the tune of 2 million jobs. Make it Almost 3 million if we lob in the post office. Lump on single-bid contracting — which is a fancy way of saying government-subsidy to the private sector — and we might go as high as 5 to 6 million people. Lump on the university system that also depends on government subsidy… and you get the idea. The snowball of government dependence accretes, layer by layer.

    Now, some people might be perfectly fine with a “closed loop” economy wherein the government ultimately feeds and syphons the greatest amounts, but such a system seems destined to stagnate, if not outright collapse, over time. Where is the growth in that scenario? Moreover, what incentive will there be for people to keep working hard? From what I’ve seen having a government job, full-time as a civilian, means it’s 95% likely you will never be fired — even if you’re grossly incompetent at what you do. Sounds pretty awesome. If you’re the employee. If you’re a taxpayer dependent on said employee to accomplish a service or deliver a good… well, better suck it up and take what’s coming to you.

  148. – of course, the people making those points are ignoring the fact that corporations don’t pay taxes when they lose money.

    People may not be ignoring that fact because so many of the ‘endangered’ corporations managed to make obscene profits after being too big to fail. You remember how, after disastrously wrecking the economy, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and others all went on to suffer record losses? Of course you don’t….because that DIDN’T HAPPEN. They instead all reported record profits in 2010. Exxon Mobil? Double their profit margins in 2010. Remember how BP went bankrupt after the oil spill? No? Oh, that’s right, they doubled their margins, too. Ford and GM? In the top 10 on the Fortune 500.

    Sure, plenty of companies are having a rougher time of it….but the most of the architects of the current economic problems are profiting handsomely from them. And there are plenty of companies that have had excellent profits in the past three years, in many case record highs.

  149. A few years ago, I wrote a structured argument for the progressive taxation system. The long version is at http://litcritter.blogspot.com/2003/06/this-is-what-happens-when-you-spend.htm but it basically boils down to:

    Major Premise One:
    Taxation is necessary.

    Major Premise Two:
    The best form of taxation is the one that best minimizes the amount of harm inflicted, which is defined as interference with the ability to survive.

    Major Premise Three:
    To take a given percentage of X’s income does less to interfere with X’s survivability than to take that same percentage from Y’s income interfere’s with Y’s income by a ratio that is directly related to the ratio of their incomes.

    Conclusion:
    A progressive tax system, which derives a greater percentage of its income from individuals with higher incomes, minimizes the harm inflicted on the populace by taxation, and is therefore the optimal taxation system.

    I’d have no problem with the tax rate for my income level going up, but I would really like preschool tuition to be tax deductible. I’d even be okay if there were hard rules about which preschools would qualify. Two kids under the age of 5 eat up a lot of disposable income.

  150. Mark @157: Your arguments would be more credible if you did not pretend that there is no meaningful difference between an op-ed piece, a study, a position paper and research.

  151. @Bill #132: “In fact, the percentage of taxes paid as a percentage of GDP has been very constant, which sort of explodes the liberal myth that taxes are lower now than ever before – in real terms. http://www.deptofnumbers.com/blog/2010/08/tax-revenue-as-a-fraction-of-gdp/

    Did you look at that graph? A variation from 15% to 20% is not “constant”. Tax receipts as a percentage of GDP ARE at the lowest level since the 1950′s. If we just had the 20% level we had in 2000 (33% more than we have now!), the deficit would be half of what it is now. It’s routine for conservatives to state talking point #13: “we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem”. In reality, we have both. If you look at both on a graph, they diverge drastically starting in 2008. That’s the recession talking. The best thing we can do for the deficit in the short term is fix the economy, a topic that has been pretty much ignored or diverted into being blamed on a long term debt problem.

  152. Bill at 155:

    If I could “reinvest” my profits overseas, I could avoid paying taxes by “losing money”, too.

    And if I could get a $45 billion bailout from the gov’t if I helped fuck up the economy, hey, that’d be frosting on the cake!

  153. Brad at 155: “It’s a gargantuan, wicked problem. But merely saying, “tax the rich dude,” doesn’t begin to solve it.”

    True, merely *saying* it wouldn’t begin to solve it.

    *Doing* it would begin to solve it.

  154. Brad, merely saying ‘tax the rich, dude’ doesnt begin to solve [the problem…

    Dude, wanna know whats so gob smackingly hilarious? You start out saying ‘cut spending’ and when I ask you what you would specifically cut, you came up with nothing. so, right back at you, dude. saying ‘cut spending’ and tben handwave it all away with vague references to ‘there must be some waste in there *somewhere*’, doesnt even *begin* to solve the problem.

    There are republicans who lull themselves to sleep at night telling themselves stories of government waste and corruption, but its all fairy tales to them and they have absolutely no specifics when asked. I asked. You avoided all specifics. The thing is, I am sure you are quite familiar with the fairy tale of the evil welfare queen and could tell that tale with vigor.

    but basing fiscal policy off of fairy tales doesnt even begin to solve the problem.

    oh and John said flat tax is like unicorns. I say flat tax is like people derailing gay marriage debates with ‘the government should get out of the business of issuing marriage certificates’. it aint gonna happen and if it did it would make the world a far worse off place.

  155. Jesse @ #150:

    I will deploy sarcasm tags in future, and I guess I need to update my league table of evil government. {sarcasm} Municipal government < state government < federal government < Canadians with their Marxist health care < Fascist Euro-fag Surrender Monkeys < The UN, right? {/sarcasm}

    But here's my point, again: Isn't it funny how some sections of the right expect utter perfection from Gummint that they never ever demand from the corporate/banking sector? It seems there any incompetence, or outright corruption, is easily forgiven, forgotten and loving ministered to with corporate welfare.

  156. @Phil Royce #159: “Let’s say I pay myself a salary of $300,000 from my small business. A 3% increase in my marginal tax rate would cost me around what? I guess that depends on my tax-filing status and other deductions, but how about an actual increase of about $4,500?”

    Assuming the increase was for a marginal rate starting at $250,000, pretty much the only increase anyone is talking seriously about, and assuming you have no (zip, nada) deductions because your parents still claim you on their income tax and you forgot to take the standard deduction, you would pay that extra 3% on $50,000. That’s $1,500, not $4,500. This is a problem with much of the conservative tax rhetoric: few understand how the tax system works and they think a 3% increase will be much larger than it actually is. Heck, if you are making that magical $250,000 a year, your tax increase would be zero. I just wish Obama and others would try to get this simple idea across. Imagine if Obama had just taken a moment to discuss Joe the Plumber’s real situation with him, assuming if he could afford to buy that hypothetical business and shown that his tax would not have gone up, but, rather, been decreased by the Make Work Pay credit instead of stating that dumb “spread the wealth” comment.

  157. Charles @ #172, the concept of marginal tax rates is one I think most people don’t understand without concrete examples. You provided one. If more columnists/pundits/reporters did so every time they wrote a piece it would be helpful, but it would get tiresome. I think there ought to be a boilerplate sidebar required for every article about tax rates.

  158. It’s true that the vast majority of Americans don’t appear to understand the concept of marginal rates, nor is it in the interest of those who want to keep people in a state of tax panic (most of whom understand the concept perfectly well) to explain it to them.

  159. #164 mythago – Ok, so I’ve cited an op-ed piece based on a Joint Economic Committee Study. I have not done a detailed analysis of the study, but it appears to reference multiple public data sources as well as peer-reviewed scientific journals. That being said, I’ve acknowledged that there is some bias there.

    Look, I’m not trying to clobber your brains out here, I’m just trying to say that increasing taxes isn’t an automatic win and that combining increased taxes with spending cuts and debt reduction might not be as easy as it sounds (and as far as I can see, there’s no historical precedent for this sort of thing – doesn’t mean it can’t be done). I’m not an expert and would welcome any additional datapoints you want to add to the discussion.

  160. Thank you Charles. I thought $4,500 seemed high, but I am trying to follow this thread at work, and you know how work sometimes gets in the way of doing stuff.

  161. no Brad, you didnt. You made general mention to cut defense spending but you didnt say how much, and you made a second reference to something along the lines of fire them for incompetence but you didnt say how much youthink that would save.

    all you did was tell the right wing fairy tale that starts out: once upon a time there was a wasteful government… Welfare queens and lazy government employees are both henchmen in this fairy tale.

    cutting ‘waste’ doesnt mean anything other than that it means you’re talking in fairy tales.

    *how*much*is*your*biggest*cut*?

    in approximate dollars.

  162. Greg at 169:

    That.

    Some years ago, a certain Carla Howell ran for governor of Massachusetts as a Libertarian. Her biggest talking point was that she would and could cut the budget by some huge number (30-mumble percent? I forget), and she could do that by *only* cutting the waste.

    How did she know there was that much waste? Her people ran a poll that asked, “How much waste is there in the state budget?” And the average (or median, not that it matters) response was that 30-mumble percent of the state budget was waste. *That* was where she got that number.

    I don’t know whether she was dumb enough to think the number meant something or dishonest enough to not care that it didn’t. Either way, I sure as hell wasn’t going to vote for her.

    Even aside from that stupidity, let’s take that “trimming fat, blah, blah, blah” mantra. It’s asinine to think that simply cutting an organization’s budget automagically means that the ratio of muscle-to-fat improves. It’s not that simple in a biological organism and it’s certainly not that simple in an organization.

  163. @Charles, Linkmeister, John
    That sums up the problem with most political debates. Most things are more complicated than can be summed up in a 30sec sound bite. But because of the way politics work, things have to summed up very simply. The more you can distort the issue, the more time your opponent has to spend trying to explain why you are wrong. And people don’t pay attention long enough to understand.
    That, combined with the basic Human behavior of using any information, especially contradictory information, to reinforce your own worldview, makes persuading anyone of anything almost impossible.

  164. Moreover, what incentive will there be for people to keep working hard?

    He seems to have worked hard as a government employee.

    And now we shall have an exercise in handwaving dissection.

    Jesse said the following:
    Jesse @ 154: First of all, social and infrastructure program costs come from payouts to citizens, not employees.

    Brad responded with this:
    This is 100% dead wrong. The system freely acknowledges that it is our nation’s largest employer. To the tune of 2 million jobs. Make it Almost 3 million if we lob in the post office. Lump on single-bid contracting — which is a fancy way of saying government-subsidy to the private sector — and we might go as high as 5 to 6 million people

    Note the critical missing bits that Brad is trying not to acknowledge. There’s no mention of how much of the budget that those employees cost. Brad is trying to throw big numbers (“5 to 6 million”!) to obscure that number.

    So let’s explore it. A random google-source estimates that the civilian payroll (not including postal workers) cost the government $259 billion in 2010. That’s out of a total budget of $3.5 trillion. That works out to about 7% of the budget goes to payroll.

    7%.

    So, Jesse is, in fact, 7% wrong. Brad, on the other hand, is 93% wrong.

  165. Philosophies regarding deficit reduction inevitably remind me of philosophies regarding weight-loss. Especially when we start talking taxes vs. spending. (This may be because I’m a public health major, and a bit of a one-trick-pony) The following seems like an apt analogy to me, I do hope it’s not taken as too great a departure from the topic at hand.

    Most of the experts agree that a combination of a reduced-calorie-diet and increased exercise leads to the most success. Sure, you’ve got your reduced fat diet people, and the recent outcropping of avid anti-carb people, and don’t even get me started on the detox cleanse people, but for the most part, the industry standard is diet and exercise, in a combination that works for the person attempting weight-loss.

    In any otherwise rational discussion on weight-loss, there are always a few, rather vocal, people who are utterly convinced that exercise is pointless. Their argument generally boils down to the fact that you can eat 500 calories in less time than it takes you to burn 500 calories. This is absolutely true, but it doesn’t make burning 500 calories any less important. In order to lose a pound per week, you need to create a deficit of about 500 calories per day. At a maintenance level, most adults need about or under 2000 calories per day, so cutting 500 calories could mean as much or more than 1/4 of their daily food intake. You can absolutely do this a by making a lot of cuts in what you eat without increasing your activity level at all. (Warning: You will be very hungry, all the time) You can also do this by increasing your activity level substantially, and not reducing your calorie intake at all. (Warning: You will be at the gym, all the time) But the most successful people go at it from both directions, increasing activity and reducing intake.

    The analogy falls apart a little where groups are concerned. If I take, oh, say, 307,006,550 people as my sample size, I suspect I’d be unable to come up with a diet and exercise plan that would make all of them happy, but I still think that a combination of increases and reductions would be the most helpful for the group as a whole.

  166. This is 100% dead wrong. The system freely acknowledges that it is our nation’s largest employer. To the tune of 2 million jobs. Make it Almost 3 million if we lob in the post office.

    Which, of course has nothing to do with entitlements, which is what we’re all talking about here, and what constitutes almost all of the spending on the “social and infrastructure” programs you mentioned.

    Lump on single-bid contracting — which is a fancy way of saying government-subsidy to the private sector and [tirade with unsupported numbers and unsubstantiated rumors and assumptions of government employment]

    We’re still waiting on the slightest shred of evidence you have that supports your conclusion that government is the problem.

    Now, some people might be perfectly fine with a “closed loop” economy wherein the government ultimately feeds and syphons the greatest amounts, but such a system seems destined to stagnate, if not outright collapse, over time.

    This is the political variant of “given enough time, our mortality rate is 100%.”

    Where is the growth in that scenario?

    In what scenario? Because contra to what John has mentioned, you’re going back to pie-in-the-sky assumptions.

    Moreover, what incentive will there be for people to keep working hard? From what I’ve seen having a government job, full-time as a civilian, means it’s 95% likely you will never be fired — even if you’re grossly incompetent at what you do. Sounds pretty awesome. If you’re the employee. If you’re a taxpayer dependent on said employee to accomplish a service or deliver a good… well, better suck it up and take what’s coming to you.

    How many times do you have to be told to stop using your limited viewpoint and actually back up your claims vis-a-vis waste, fraud, abuse, or incompetence? I think we’re up to a good half-dozen or so by now. And despite your claims to the contrary, Your “detailed look at how to cut defense” was made up of three broad strokes and an extremely simplified plan of workforce reduction based on yet more unsourced claims of waste, with nary a dollar sign to be seen. And while it was at least a half-hearted attempt, your plan is still Norquists’ idea on making government small enough to be killed off, and don’t allow new taxes until spending can be “contained” by methods that would essentially get rid of government assistance.

  167. Wait, wait, let me ask a counter-question of Greg, David, Bearpaw, et al:
    Should the size or scope of government ever be cut, for any reason?
    If your answer is ‘no’ then I won’t waste any more of your time, or mine.

  168. Brad – sure scope and size of government could and should be cut.

    BUT – not in the middle of the worst recession in nearly a century, when households that have work are sitting on piles of debt and the USA is sitting on the worst infrastructure mess in the western world. What the US *should* have done was keep tax rates at their 1999 levels and pay down the debt and leave those tax rates in place while the last administration went off on a couple of wars, a bunch of un-necessary government healthcare spending that didn’t address the core problems and a few others things. Then, at least, the deficit would be $5TR ish smaller than it is.

    The only way out of this is economic growth and that’s going to need government spending, both on government programs and cash injections into the economy.

    Austerity in a recession is lunacy.

  169. thats a rather round about way of saying ‘I cant answer your question, so let me pretend that you must answer my question first before I can morally continue’

  170. Heather at 181:

    Interesting analogy. To play with it a bit: “Very hungry, all the time” is, as you imply, not a good idea. That way lies muscle loss, organ damage, and a weakened immune system. Analogizing to the current situation, we see infrastructure degradation, a tattered and torn economy, and severely weakened regulatory systems.

    But the best weight-loss and health-gain success I’ve had was to increase activity and not so much eat *less* but eat *differently*.

    The times the US has been most successful for the most people have also been times when the tax burden on the wealthy has been significantly higher than it is now. We “ate” differently then. Correlation isn’t causation, but it can still be a very useful thing to look for.

  171. Should the size or scope of government ever be cut, for any reason?

    Yes, of course; the idea that people to the left of Atilla always want government expanded is a libertarian canard. If you have government employees left idled or shuffled into make-work because of overstaffing, then of course you need to lay off or even dismiss. I’d say that the US Dept. of Homeland Security could do with a trim and saner security policies, off the top of my head.

    However in the main that is not the case in the United States. Indeed you have government departments desperately underfunded; NIH, SEC, and FDA are at the top of the list I’d jump funding to because there is a plain need for additional services that the private market is plainly not addressing. FDIC may also want to beef up, given how the banks are behaving again.

    I’d also point out that arguments for tax cuts ignore the indisputable fact that the United States has the third-lowest tax rates (as %GDP) of the OECD nations. (Beat out only by Chile and Mexico, if I recall correctly.) Every other country on the planet looks at American complaints of overtaxation with varying degrees of disbelief and disdain… ’cause you ain’t seen nothin’ (particularly on your fuel prices) and because nations with much higher rates of taxation are faring no worse than the US these days.

    — Steve

  172. one of the things which is missing in the cut government debate is what actually happens.
    so lets play a game (all numbers are from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_United_States_federal_budget)

    let’s cut 100% of non-defense, discretionary spending.
    we save ~700billion in one year. helps are deficit by a LARGE AMOUNT.
    let’s ignore what it means to no longer haev a state department or VA.

    do you have any idea what that would do to the unemployment rate? figure about a million more unemployed.
    do you have any idea what that would do to the economy when that many people are nolonger spending money?
    that many new unemployed would have to lead to immediate wage deflation.

    that is only direct employees. what about all the lost jobs in any support roles?
    what about all the office space which would get dumped on the market?

    should we cut spending? sure, but do you really expect it to happen over night?
    should we cut defense spending? hell yes. but we cant not cut spending by removing waste. LOL. we would actually have to stop fighting ALL (oops caps) of wars.

    you really want to cut waste in the government? stop outsourcing the wars.
    draft soldiers now. cut 100% of contract labor for the wars. tada. saving.

    /explain why we use private security in the war zones? dont already have soldiers??? LOL

  173. petec and others:

    Capitalization isn’t just a fad, you know. It makes what you write more readable. I suspect you may be typing on a phone and don’t want to bother with caps, but let me assure you, the rest of us surely would appreciate the effort. Especially when you use ALL CAPS from time to time.

  174. Charles @ 172 – Sadly far too many people are innumerate. This makes it much easier to spin points in directions that facts and computations don’t support.

    The older I get, the more I believe that a Economics should be required subject in high school. I know I wish it had been for me. It would have saved me a great deal of the pain of learning from hard won economic experience.

  175. Apprpos of not much, anybody who says that “single-bid contracting … is a fancy way of saying government-subsidy to the private sector” has proven their cluelessness about the subject matter. See 48 C.F.R. Part 6.3, as well as 41 U.S.C 253(c) and 10 U.S.C. 2304(c) for an education. Credibility = zero.

  176. Daveon @ 184: I suppose that’s where the dividing hair is: which way is better, to spur growth — allow the consumer and the business to keep (and thus spend) more of what they already have, or collect more via government and disburse via government channels, thus ‘paying’ back into the economy? As a conservative, my instinct is to let the consumer keep as much as is reasonable, but because of croney capitalism the “let the businesses keep it” aspect is somewhat lukewarm for me, because businesses that are too big seem to be able to have their cake and eat it too, over and over. (see my comment about bailouts below…)

    Greg @ 185: your snotty attitude is tiresome, at best. I think I’ll ignore you for the rest of the thread.

    Steve @ 187: perhaps then it becomes not so much a question of cuts, but a question of re-appropriation. If we left spending as-is and raised taxes, I think a lot of people who are hopping mad at the idea would be more amenable if they could see the money flowing to areas that seem more important or more fundamentally valuable? You named DHS, which is interesting, because I think it’s one government program that both everyday conservatives and liberals would equally like to see cut, if not abolished altogether. Take the DHS money and put it into different channels that more people can agree are worthwhile? I personally wouldn’t be opposed — Lord knows poor little NASA hasn’t had a lucky break since the cut the Apollo program. And also, Lord, please, no more corporate welfare. No. More. No more mega-bailouts for the money-changers like Goldman Sachs.

  177. Should the size or scope of government ever be cut, for any reason?

    Of course it should.

    This is handwaving again; you’re imputing an extremist position to your opponents to elide the fact that you’ve been shown to be wrong in a series of assertions. You’re trying for a debating hall dodge to distract from that.

  178. Brad at 183:

    Greg at 185 is right, but let me say this …

    The way you phrased it makes it a overly simplistic question. The size and scope of government *as such* are far less important than its effectiveness and its invasiveness.

    It’s like asking, “Is that vehicle too big?”. Well, is it too big for what? In some contexts, a SmartCar is too big. In other contexts, maybe only the Hua San will do. (Just don’t park the latter on a beach.)

    I think the size and scope of some parts of the US government should be smaller, other parts should be bigger … and all parts should be as responsive to as many people as possible.

  179. No, David @ 193, I am just trying to decide if I am dealing with True Believers or not. I have learned over the years that debating taxes or government cuts with people convinced that cutting taxes or government is evil tends to be a no-win proposition. A waste of my time, and theirs. And no, I don’t think I’ve been ‘shown’ to be wrong. There have been counter-opinions placed, and a few lying-statistics arguments put forth, but then this is the rub with economics as a ‘science.’ It isn’t.

  180. I don’t know if this is relevant to the conversation but I have noticed over the past few years that there is a disconnect between those educated in economics and those obtaining an MBA as to the question of taxes. While any economist not on the payroll of a political party or huge corporation will agree that raising revenue can help to reduce public debt and increase the value of services offered (which in turn means that value is added to society as a whole), nearly every MBA I’ve worked with thinks that the way to turn the economy around is to cut taxes for the rich. It also seems as though there is very little overlap in the educational regimes of these two professions. Economists tend to study how the flow of money has an effect on society and how those effects can be increased for the benefit of all. MBA’s, on the other hand, seem to study management and how to amass money. I find that at the university I work for we get very few MBA students coming over to the econ department to learn how to apply theory, and those that do follow a multidisciplinary path tend to be traders who want to break into a derivative-style market (the market that helped crash the banks a few years back). Now to the point. One of the trends I’ve been noticing for the last couple years in the Pol-Sci department (where students come in with set political opinions) is that those people who intend to go to work for one particular party seem to have done work along the lines of MBA’s in the past, and those that have a background in the social sciences (like economics) go for the other party. These people aren’t necessarily going to be politicians themselves. But they are trying to be political aides, staffers and advisers who have a large part in shaping the opinions of the politicians they work for. Just my two cents…I could be mistaken about what I’m seeing.

  181. petec at 188: “/explain why we use private security in the war zones? dont already have soldiers??? LOL”

    Oh, there are lots of reasons. For one thing, our military is very overextended. For another thing, it’s much harder to prosecute mercs for war crimes. Thirdly, a merc in a body bag gets even less public attention than a soldier in one. Fourthly, mercs involve private companies, which mean more opportunities for war profiteering and kickbacks (and more opportunities to play budget games to hide war costs). I’m sure there are more reasons, but you get the idea.

  182. Bearpaw @ 194: non-snark greatly appreciated, and on this, “and all parts should be as responsive to as many people as possible,” you have my hearty agreement. It’s the responsiveness question — is the government, ‘of the people, for the people,’ really of the people, for the people? — that has me most concerned. I think I said it somewhere up-thread that most people crying about taxes and Big Guv (coming this fall to HBO!) would probably not be so upset if they believed that they were getting much better value for their tax dollars. I think right now especially there is a huge feeling (nationally) that the government is more expensive than ever, more meddlesome and bothersome than ever, and less able to provide the kind of service it’s supposed to be able to provide. Speaking from anecdote most of my friends and family rate the government programs they deal with — the VA, Medicare, the IRS, the DA and DoD, etc. — quite poorly. Because the perception is that a) the people who work for these agencies don’t have to give a damn about service or recovery of same, and b) we as taxpayers are lawfully bound to keep paying for these agencies, whether the service sucks or not. At some point, accountability has to be a factor. At least if you want voters to keep buying into the model.

  183. Brad,

    So, now that your counter-question’s been answered by several people, are you going to answer the question you sidetracked from? Or just continue deflecting everyone with generalities?

  184. And no, I don’t think I’ve been ‘shown’ to be wrong. There have been counter-opinions placed, and a few lying-statistics arguments put forth

    Sure you have. You’ve made an assertion (like asserting that civilian payroll is a substantial part of the budget), been shown to be wrong with actual evidence (ie my post at 180) and have simply ignored the evidence to make more general assertions (the opposing side could be “True Believers” who are immune to argumentation).

    I do love the aristocratically wearied handwave of “lying-statistics arguments” for people with actual evidence. How convenient a label; how easy a response; how hollow an argument.

  185. Brad @ 192 – I guess the point you may be missing is that in a recession, low marginal tax rates on the wealthy do not spur growth. The proof for this is easily seen time and time again over the past 30 years. Please note that this goes hand-in-hand with Warren Buffett’s op-ed that the rich need to be paying more. Of course most non-conservatives (centrists & most Democrats) don’t want to raise taxes on the middle and lower class during a recession. Of course the unfortunate side effect of this is that you run up deficits. Since we entered this recession with already high deficits and a high national debt, this has forced a situation where there is a real need to both stimulate the economy and reduce long term debt at the same time

    In order to do both these things together we need to do three things.

    One, increase economic activity by lowering unemployment. The only reliable way to do this is by prompting somebody to spend. We can’t force the rich or businesses to spend, so that leaves government. Now a Keynesian prescription wouldwould be to create jobs for the wage-earning classes by increasing government spending, by priming the pump so to speak. This results in direct economic stimulus. The multiplier effects can be quite large. One of the problems with our last stimulus is that it was composed of too little spending and too many tax cuts (they have a lower stimulus multiplier). Even with that said, all indications are that the 2009 stimulus will pay for itself within just a few years. If you are willing to count that we stopped our economic avalanche and prevented a full-on depression, then it has already paid for itself.

    Two, we need to make structural changes to our long term (not short term) spending. Obviously how we do this is a point of argument and best left for a separate discussion. I will note that given the structure of our future entitlement commitments and the aging of the Boomers, this means bending the cost curve on health care and slowing spending growth on Medicare, Medicate, etc. Spinning down our wars of choice and restructuring our approach to national defense would help too.

    Three we need to increase revenues above and beyond spurring the economy. Given that the majority of our current national debt came from the 2001 & 2003 tax cuts, Much of those cuts were focused on people in upper tax brackets. As a result of those cuts our deficit and debt bloomed and income disparity increased dramatically. This however did not spur economic growth. If it had, then the deficit would be lower because of increase revenue from increased economic activity. So to help close the long-term gap, we need to get rid of some or all of those tax cuts. How we do it is also up for much debate. Warren Buffet has proposed that the rich can afford to help bridge this gap in the name of both fairness and a more stable economy via lower long term deficits. I agree with him.

  186. Brad @195: I doubt very much that you have ever met anyone who believes that the size and scope of government should never be cut. For one thing, the same Big Government Liberals who believe in welfare and schools and health care and mass transit and such are among the most eager to trim Big Government programs like the TSA and the War in Afghanistan.

    But even aside from that, get them into a quiet conversation and they’ll say of course, there are efficiencies that can be found and obsolete programs and regulations that can be cut. (The Clinton administration was, quietly, very good at doing these, and in the process actually brought the annual deficit down to zero.) The problem is that this conversation can’t be had when the proposals on the table are all to cut lifelines far beyond what any liberal, moderate, or even Reaganite conservative thinks is at all reasonable, when the people on the other side are literally saying things like “cut government until it’s small enough to drown in the bathtub” and literally refuse to raise any taxes, or even sunset temporary tax cuts, for anybody ever for any reason.

    That’s the true believer extremism which really exists and which we have to deal with now. In wintertime, it’s rather futile to discuss whether the heater can be brought down to 68 or even 65 from 70 when there are people who insist on turning it off altogether and throwing the doors open to bask in the -10 of outside, and then have the imperceptivity to claim that people who still want it over 60 believe that the heat should never be reduced at all.

  187. Brad at 198:

    You know the best way to get better responsiveness and better service in many parts of the government? Higher staffing levels.

    I know people who work for the state government here, and they’ve been dealing with cut after cut after cut for *years*, which means that many of those who remain are desperately trying to just keep up with the fire-level issues that got dumped on their desks when their fellow employees got sliced. Which means that they can’t do their basic jobs well, which means the public gets ever more dissatisfied, which gives the usual blowhards more ammo for their “gov’t is the problem let’s cut the dead weight” rants. And when all the political/punditry class has the attention and brain cells for is mindless bloody cutting, the dead weight that *is* there — just as in *any* organization — is often the last thing left.

    It’s basically the same thing that’s happening with too much of corporate America — piling more work onto fewer workers and expecting it all to get done anyway and blaming the lazy peasants when it doesn’t. Except public service employees have the additional dubious pleasure of being lied about in political campaigns.

  188. Brad, that would probably be the question you presented your counter-question to. Typically that implies an original question. Unless you were just stating it that way as a distraction and didn’t actually intend to reciprocate. Since other people (including our host) had already answered your question before you asked it, I have to admit that the latter is a possibility.

    Perhaps I’m wrong, but you still seem to be presenting only the general idea that things should be cut because your anecdotal data shows that things aren’t meeting your unspecified idea of proper service for the amount that is paid. And presenting things like completely cutting the DHS (which would likely be an impossibility in our continuing state of fear-driven politics), or cutting vague portions of Defense, doesn’t really help much.

  189. Buffet is being a bit deceptive when he complains how low his taxes are. His actual salary is in the $100,000 range and his total compensation, including things like security and other CEO perks, is around half a million a year. That’s peanuts of course compared to other CEO types, who pull in millions a year, but it represents the amount of money that Buffett is actually taxed at normal income tax rates.

    Buffett’s actual billions are tied up in stock in Berkshire Hathaway, which is taxed 15% when he actually sells the stock. So Buffett can beg for his taxes to be raised all day long, but even if he got his wish, say people earning over $100,000 a year were taxed at 100% of their taxable earnings, it would not affect the amount he pays in taxes very much at all. His earned income is a drop in the bucket compared to his Capital Gains.

    We probably wouldn’t even be having this discussion if Obama hadn’t renewed the Bush tax cuts this year. That might have added pennies to the amount of taxes that Buffett pays.

  190. @Jesse #158 I posted the reference in my previous post.

    @Charles #165: Absolutely, the recession is a huge part of the deficit. I was looking at the breakdown of the deficit yesterday, and it’s a pretty big chunk of change. When businesses don’t make money, they don’t pay taxes. However, having taxes stay between 15-20% of GDP across a very long time scale *is* pretty amazing.

    It’s also important to point out to those like Scalzi that the 92% marginal tax rate back in the 1950s (http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=213) ALSO had the lowest tax revenue per GDP in modern history. So while the rich might not have fled, it also wasn’t the Golden Age of Taxation that Democrats love to reminisce about. =)

    Honestly, you people want to know what the simplest solution is? Have our federal budget be based on PERCENTAGES as opposed to absolute numbers. Our budget would say to pay 20% to SSN, 20% to Medicare, 20% to Defense, 20% to debt service, 10% to Medicaid, 2% to Education (sad but true), and so forth, and then based on what taxes we pull in, that’s how much goes out. You could set budgets based on last year’s tax revenue, and use borrowing or extra debt payments on the difference.

  191. David @ 200: let me illustrate the ‘lying statistics’ using your own numbers. You say that the payroll is insignificant because it’s ‘only’ 7% of the total. I would pose to you — and anyone else — that $259 billion dollars US is never insignificant. Never. It’s quite obvious that too many politicians in Washington think $259B is a play-figure, with no real consequence. Why, it’s ‘just’ 7% of the total! That’s like pocket change, right? Well, no. Not when the $259B comes out of middle-class paychecks. And especially not when middle-class retirees are having to go to a social service like Medicare or Medicaid, and spend weeks or months dicking around with inane bureaucratic problems, just to get prescriptions covered. Hmmm, sounds suspiciously like the VA, where some of my friends have to spend months or years dicking around with inane bureaucracy just to get help for their real medical needs — help that is owed them because of wartime service, but as most Army personnel can tell you, the VA is a nightmare. Please, tell them how $259B is a drop in the bucket. They paid for it. Who cares if it sucks?

    But wait, since statistics are apparently so important and ineffable…

    $259B is the equivalent of 5,755,556 middle-income households’ annual income.
    $259B buys 74,000,000,000 tanks of gas for middle-income drivers.
    $259B buys 86,333,333,333 gallons of milk for middle income moms.
    $259B is 129,500,000 months worth of retirement savings, at $2K a month.
    $259B could buy 459 NBA teams equivalent to the L.A. Lakers.
    $259B could by 19 brand-new nuclear super aircraft carriers.

    Call it 7% and hide the value, sure. For political dodgery. If that much money is NOT buying good service for the taxpayers who fund it — we’re talking payroll now, so ‘service’ is about the only quantifiable measure that matters in an HR sense — then how can anyone say with a straight face that it’s just 7% like that’s no big deal?

  192. There are a couple of things that you need to consider with the “government gives poor service, therefore it is too large” idea.

    One – Whether people would ever, EVER be happy with the service. Expecting people to be happy with IRS or the TSA or even the police? Unlikely.

    Two – Whether or not the problem is too many people. Because, shockingly, too little staff and too little money will tend to make people perform poorly.

    Three – All large organizations are unwieldy and unpleasant to deal with. Seriously, have you tried to deal with an insurance company? Or even get ahold of somebody at a bank? Try solving an invoice problem.

  193. Brad at 201:

    Here’s a tissue. The fainting couch is right behind you.

    what is the biggest single, specific cut you would make? which program, how much, and how would you change the program to make up these cuts?

  194. Bill @207: “Have our federal budget be based on PERCENTAGES as opposed to absolute numbers.”

    But this would create the effect of a bad year causing *all* government spending to drop. Perhaps if it were padded by much more than a year it would be workable, but as others have noted it’s usually not a good idea to cut a lot of government spending when things get bad.

    Sure, you could include provisions for increasing spending in an emergency, but then it either gets really complex or it becomes not much different from what is already there.

  195. Brad@192: ” your snotty attitude is tiresome, at best. I think I’ll ignore you for the rest of the thread.”

    the snotty attitude where I pointed out your non answer was in fact a non answer? Yeah. ok.

    Brad@195: “I am just trying to decide if I am dealing with True Believers or not.”

    Shorter Brad: I really dont have any hard numbers with which to point to any actual specific cuts. Rather than acknowledge that I am a *true believer* in ‘government waste’ I shall attempt to distract people by calling someone else a true believer in something something……

    nonentity@199: “now that your counter-question’s been answered by several people, are you going to answer the question you sidetracked from?”

    yeah, uhm, about that….

    Brad@201: “Which question was that, nonentity? The one Greg tried to ask, but it got lost in the giant ball of snot he horked in my direction?”

    right because being asked a direct question asking for what specifically would be your biggest spending cut to what program and how much is ‘horking’.

    Or maybe its horking because the only alternative would be to admit you dont know what you would cut even though you insisted that the big problem is government spending. so, admit you’re repeating talking points *or* call the person who asked.you the question ‘snotty’, wonder aloud if he is a True Believer, and equate someone’s failure to be distracted by your distraction techniques with ‘horking’. Two options, and guess which one you chose…

  196. Nonentity, Greg, et al, as to *what* should be cut:
    I’ll add 2 cents of worth of examples (could I have made that a pun?), if it makes you feel better.
    HUD, Health and Human Services, toss ‘em out the window.
    Depts of Education, Transportation, Agriculture, could be pared down considerably (the latter especially). That would be roughly something over a quarter trillion dollars right there, and that’s not even touching DoD or any independent agencies like the NEA (which seems to be the sine qua non when it comes to cutting waste amongst us crazy libertarians), or simplifying the tax code a la Bowles-Simpson (or something at least in that general direction).

  197. Hmm, I just felt ground shifting. Oh wait, it was someone changing their argument @ 208. Carry on.

  198. #208: At this point, you’ve pooh-poohed the idea of relative costs, hard numbers, and efficacy of better-funded institutions completely. You’ve come up with a non-existent strawman argument about people who claim cutting government is never good, and you’ve pulled numbers regarding government employment and contracts from nowhere. You seem to have no idea of the costs to run either government or businesses, large or small. You have taken a fairly fossilized viewpoint that already adheres to your own bias and applied it to the population at large. You repeatedly spout manufactured figures with no evidence or basis in fact, and when questioned on any of them, refuse to provide specifics and then have the audacity to claim others are changing the argument. This is just ridiculous.

  199. Brad @208: “let me illustrate the ‘lying statistics’ using your own numbers”

    Did you really just take someone’s factual evidence that you were wrong about the relative size of something, and call them a liar (statistically) because the smaller thing is still larger than something completely different?

  200. Brad at 208:

    Funny you should mention the VA. Did you know it ranks a higher customer satisfaction rating than private hospitals? Did you know that a 2004 RAND Corporation study showed that the VA outperformed all other sectors of American health care in 294 measures of quality? (Overall quality, chronic disease care, preventative care … everything except acute care.)

  201. Bearpaw @ 204: in my little corner of the federal system it’s quite routine to hire 5 DA civilians to do the job of 1, and then, 3 of the 5 will do their jobs poorly, 1 of them will be so-so, and 1 of them will be so thoroughly overwhelmed trying to pick up the slack from the first three that he or she tends to quit and/or move on eventually, because of the stress load. I have spent years trying to figure out how to apply red iron to the overstuffed backsides of these slacker DA civilians who show up at 9:30 AM and go home at 2 PM and make more money than I do working 55 hours a week in civilian life. And I have been told they are untouchable. Even their hiring process is a sham. It’s a buddy system. No real requirements. As long as they’re a retired-whatever from (insert service here) it’s all good. They are home free. You’d think prior service personnel would give more of a damn. But then I’ve learned — reluctantly — that a lot of prior service people go to work for the DA or DoD because they can’t cut it in the civilian sector. So the cushy, home-free life on the public payroll is the best of all possible worlds. Healthcare! Retirement points to pad that military career! No expectations! Slack off as much as you want!

    So I’ll tell you what. If we the voters can figure out a way to carve into the dead weight on my end of the government employee spectrum, you’re more than welcome to soak off all the ‘extra’ FTE that can then be brought over to your — it would seem, badly neglected — side of the spectrum. Fair enough?

  202. @Brad #208: “Not when the $259B comes out of middle-class paychecks.”

    The middle 60% of Americans pay only 25% of all income tax. The upper 20% and corporations pay 75%.

  203. lilmike @ 206:

    It’s a cheap shot, needlessly partisan, and factually incorrect to blame Obama for the Bush tax cuts being extended last year.

  204. #213: HUD, Health and Human Services, toss ‘em out the window.

    So, no money for providing livable spaces or ensuring slumlords don’t force people to live in dangerous housing. No restrictions on hazardous construction materials or practices. No research into preventing or curing diseases, no assistance to those with mental health or drug problems. No help for the elderly or those with debilitating illnesses. No restrictions on what crazy shit can be put into the food, the water, or household items. No financial aid for orphans, refugees, or mothers who don’t make enough to feed themselves and their children. No enforcement of child support for deadbeat parents. Nothing to help those who with families that are looking for good-paying jobs but have minimal skills.

    What.
    The.
    Fuck.

  205. @Nonentity #211: “But this would create the effect of a bad year causing *all* government spending to drop. Perhaps if it were padded by much more than a year it would be workable, but as others have noted it’s usually not a good idea to cut a lot of government spending when things get bad.

    Sure, you could include provisions for increasing spending in an emergency, but then it either gets really complex or it becomes not much different from what is already there.”

    One million Keynesians can’t be wrong, eh?

    Well, we’ll see what sort of effect austerity measure have on Greece and Italy. Belgium enacted tough austerity measures back in the mid-90s, and it certainly improved their economy.

  206. Belgium enacted tough austerity measures back in the mid-90s, and it certainly improved their economy.

    Are we thinking about the same Belgium? Because the one in this world lost its positive credit rating months ago, has very high debt and a negative debt outlook, and a political system so divided that it more or less reflects Civil War-era America and hasn’t actually formed a government in over a year.

  207. Brad@102: flat tax!
    Anton@103: is dumb and here’s why.

    Brad@129: feds are graft and corruption
    David@143: except where they are shown to be better performing than private industries such as these.

    Brad@160: 3 *million* government jobs!!!!
    David@180: payroll is only 7% of the budget
    Jesse@182: and completely misses the point

    Brad@183: so as to delay answering Greg’s question, let me first ask my own question of everyone else
    Daveon@184: I can answer that
    Anton@187: and I
    David@193: me too. oh and now that we’ve allanswered your question, how about you answer the question asked of you?

    Brad@195: I am avoiding it like the plague.
    Nonentity@199: you answer that question yet?
    Brad@201: which question was that?
    Brad@207: really, how can someone say it’s *only* 7%?

    Bearpaw@217: oh, regarding your complaint about the VAa. they actually scored better customer satusfaction than private hospitals did.

    Brad@218: but my anecdotal evidence trumps your nationwide studies.

    Really Brad, I am *impressed*.

  208. Jesse @ 221: I do declare, I’ve touched a nerve haven’t I?
    We do have quite different perspectives on this evidently :), eg whereas you see a noble agency cracking down on errant slumlords I see things like investing in blighted neighborhoods until the “market comes back” (leaving aside the extent to which the dept. only further entangles the federal govt. in the mortgage industry).
    Incidentally, when you say “refugees” I take it you mean domestic refugees of some sort? Like battered wives on the lam or something? ‘Cuz I’d thought it woulda been implicit in my statement that foreign aid is something else that would go down the crapper, be it for Israel or Egypt.

  209. Brad@218, *dude*, did you just suggest that most people with military experience work for the DA or DOD because as slackers “they can’t cut it” in the civilian world???

    classy.

  210. #225: If by “touched a nerve” you mean “displayed a complete ignorance of what the various Departments and their agencies actually do,” with a large dollop of “lack of sympathy for those less fortunate than I,” then yes.

    I don’t see anything noble about what they do. It’s essential, full stop. The problems with the blighted neighborhoods and the housing market have almost zero to do with HUD and almost 100% to do with the financial and housing industries. And no, I mean refugees from other countries who have been forced from their homes and chose the US. And the fact that you use “battered wives on the lam” as if they were criminals on the run from the ones they done wrong is so flip that I’m forced to believe that you either underestimate what battered wives/husbands/partners/whatever and children actually go through to a terrifying degree, or that you for whatever reason have little to no sympathy for anyone in a situation out of their control.

    And not to feed the troll, but what specifically (i.e., “private firms” is not an actual answer) would replace these services, and what evidence do you have of the efficacy of these replacements?

  211. Bearpaw @ 217: I’m going to suspect you had that one in your handy rolodex of “scare facts” and that you didn’t even have to Google it. You’ve had it prepared for previous arguments with other people before. I’ve seen that whipped out previously too, always by people who have never actually used the VA.

    Let me put it to you this way. I know many dozens of servicemembers across several branches, and even the liberal ones think the VA is something of a joke. And quoting a statistic like, “VA scores best on report card of healthcare” is like saying the average kid is a wiz in a classroom of slowpokes. As an aggregate, healthcare nationwide isn’t that well thought of, otherwise there wouldn’t be such a big push to reform it. I stand by my experience. Most servicemembers I know who use the VA, use it because it’s a) where they’ve been told to go or because b) they can’t go anywhere else. Those who can get alternative care — of any sort — get private care. Because dealing with the VA is a hairball.

  212. Really? The “some of my best friends are x so your actual facts mean nothing” argument?

    That’s essentially admitting that you have so little supporting your argument as to be stating it to false outright.

  213. (sigh) I should know better than to get wrapped up in these extended thread arguments. It’s tough enough keeping points clear with one opponent, much less 4 or 6 opponents. Some of you have been civil, others, not so much. For those who have been civil, your effort is acknowledged and I appreciate your having resisted the urge to get rude. Even if you thought I was full of shit. We could use more of that in this country.

    For those who leapt straight to smugness and snark… well, I guess you don’t get out much. If that’s all you’ve got — from behind the safety of a keyboard — then that’s all you’ve got.

    I will say this. I am reminded that one of the reasons this kind of conversation in particular doesn’t seem to go well — right vs. left — is the fundamental disagreement on what government is for. Both sides are forever in a battle to impose their “version” of the government on the populace as a whole, and we wind up on these weird see-saw cycles with occasional pushes for ‘small’ government, often overtaken by even bigger swells for ‘big’ government, such that the federal system keeps getting larger, more complex, and more costly as time goes by.

    I was a Perot voter in 1992, voted Clinton through the 90s, Gore in 2000, Bush in 2004, and filed a write-in protest for 2008 because I’d come back around to my 1992 state of mind: thoroughly unimpressed with both big parties and convinced that neither of them has the best interests of the nation at heart.

    Good night.

  214. Shorter Brad: I have no evidence of my own, I don’t like being presented with evidence that doesn’t confirm my worldview, and I don’t like people being annoyed when I make things up or handwave things away.

  215. @lil mike 206
    Dont think that buffet was talking about raising the capital gains tax?
    I thought that that was his whole point. I dont remember buffet saying that his federal income tax rate should be increased, but that he should be taxed more.

    End the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the rich. Return the upper capital gains tax to 50%.
    tada
    We fixed the tax problem, now we can talk about spending cuts.
    Because we actually need to run a surplus to pay for all the money we borrowed from our children. We are planning on paying that money back, right?

  216. David @ 231: Oh I have evidence, but am being ‘overruled’ by the group effort (ad populum) which appears to discount any and all personal evidence or anecdote which does not conform to its worldview. No worries, if I come back to the thread tomorrow — iffy, that — I’ll be ignoring you from now on too.

  217. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jobs_created_during_U.S._presidential_terms#Job_creation_by_term
    Could someone show me where the Bush tax cuts created jobs?

    http://www.davemanuel.com/2010/08/03/us-gdp-growth-by-president-1948-2009/
    Certainly the Bush tax gave us anemic GDP growth.

    And yes, I know that each term was different, with different challenges, but maybe that means our current challenge is to raise revenue with a tried and true method and pay off some of our debt?

    Or is there still a debate on whether tax-cuts increase revenue? I havent seen any economic papers on this.

  218. Jesse @ 227: #225: Touched a nerve indeed! Ah but if I can’t recognize an angry liberal when I see one. I never compared battered wives to criminals; I said ‘on the lam’ to imply that they’re often fugitives (from their abusive partners, I had thought, would be obvious).
    I’m sure you do see these programs as essential (sorry, the “noble” was just me being ornery). I obviously don’t.
    The crux of your (and others’) challenge, however, was what one would cut from the federal government, and how much those cuts might save. I endeavored to answer that question.
    To address your new question would very quickly devolve into a broader debate on more philosophical issues like social contracts and positive vs negative rights, which I think (as would I suspect our gracious host) might be a bit of a derailing. To immediately write off one of the few answers does seem to, eh, game the question though, doncha think?

  219. Brad@233:

    Heh, heh, heheheheheh. Really? Your addition to the thread is “I have sekrit evidence but everyone is being mean to me so I’m going home. I might come back but I might not! Nyah!”

    You’re sure you’re a published author?

  220. Brad@218: “healthcare nationwide isnt that well thought of”

    but your original point was how terrible the VA is. Now you’re saying the VA may actually be better than private hospitals, but it doesnt matter because in the end, its your anecdotal evidence, and the conclusions you drew from that, which really matters???

    Brad@230: “goodnight”

    Time to claim victory as the most polite on the thread and leave a winner of *something* (even if it was my own invented category and I was the sole judge in the show) then to have to come up with more reasons and distractions to avoiding listing what specific thing would be my largest cut to government spending.

    I have talking points to spread and cant let specific details and facts get in my way.

  221. @206 Buffet is being a bit deceptive when he complains how low his taxes are. His actual salary is in the $100,000 range and his total compensation, including things like security and other CEO perks, is around half a million a year. That’s peanuts of course compared to other CEO types, who pull in millions a year, but it represents the amount of money that Buffett is actually taxed at normal income tax rates.

    No, he isn’t being deceptive. He’s talking about all his income – both salary and capital gains. It’s in the article. The whole reason his taxes are “low” is that most of his income is taxed at a lower rate than most of the rest of us pay. Which brings up one more thing:

    @132: Short term capital gains is supposed to be taxed as the regular income tax rate, if they just hold it for “60 seconds”. Either he doesn’t know about this change, or there’s a loophole that ought to be closed.

    He knows, but I didn’t (so I looked it up). Future trades can be either of securities or commodities. Commodities futures have a special system: they are taxed at 60% long term, 40% short term, regardless of how long you hold them. That’s so awesomely crooked you have to admire it.

  222. Ah but if I can’t recognize an angry liberal when I see one.

    You say that like I feel like I should be ashamed of it. Thankfully, I’m not.

    I never compared battered wives to criminals; I said ‘on the lam’ to imply that they’re often fugitives (from their abusive partners, I had thought, would be obvious).

    Not obvious, especially given the overall tone of your post.

    I’m sure you do see these programs as essential (sorry, the “noble” was just me being ornery). I obviously don’t.
    The crux of your (and others’) challenge, however, was what one would cut from the federal government, and how much those cuts might save. I endeavored to answer that question.

    Yeah, but you didn’t answer the question, really. You just seagulled into the conversation.

    To address your new question would very quickly devolve into a broader debate on more philosophical issues like social contracts and positive vs negative rights, which I think (as would I suspect our gracious host) might be a bit of a derailing. To immediately write off one of the few answers does seem to, eh, game the question though, doncha think?

    I didn’t mean that “private firms” wasn’t a possible answer, just that it would need further explanation. That’s why I asked for specifics and evidence of efficiency and effectiveness. And addressing the question doesn’t really require any significant philosophical justification, since it’s quite obvious what your philosophy is. You’re welcome to believe whatever you want without actually knowing anything about it, which is what I take from someone who won’t offer a single shred of evidence to back up their argument, philosophical or otherwise. I’d give at least some thought to your argument if you could say that x, y, and/or z would work in place of government services and a short explanation why. But refusing to offer even that tiny morsel is a transparent dodge.

  223. Brad@233: ad populum?????

    dude, the ‘ad populum’ logical fallacy requires someone to argue ‘everyone here says it is true, so it must be true’. The only problem is that *no*one* here ever made any sort of argument remotely resembling that.

    ‘anecdotal evidence’ is a logical fallacy. You keep doing it. You should stop.

    logical fallacies, you should really learn them before you try to accuse people of committing them.

  224. Brad: personal evidence is not evidence. Anecdote is not evidence.

    As I read this thread all I’ve seen from you is bluster. Where you have attempted facts, they have been show to be false, wrong, and not even wrong.

    An adult would admit that he has no evidence, and formulate a response based on the actual evidence. After all, isn’t that why we are lambasting the recent tea party Debt Crisis Showdown?

    You speak only with ideology and bluster. I’m surprised you lasted this long (I mean, in real life not on this particular thread).

  225. Brad Torgersen:

    “Oh I have evidence, but am being ‘overruled’ by the group effort (ad populum) which appears to discount any and all personal evidence or anecdote which does not conform to its worldview.”

    The singular of “data” is not “anecdote.” This is true independent of political worldview. If you’re trying to argue by anecdote and wish to imply that such an argument is as rigorous as one with data, you may be confronted with those who are unconvinced. Again, independent of political worldview.

    Also, folks: We’re begun the slide into personal rudeness. Tighten it up, please.

  226. Brad @230: “And quoting a statistic like, “VA scores best on report card of healthcare” is like saying the average kid is a wiz in a classroom of slowpokes. As an aggregate, healthcare nationwide isn’t that well thought of”

    I realize you’ve already flounced, but… really? The government service should have their funding cut and people fired because they’re giving such horrible service (according to your anecdotes), but it’s no big deal that large numbers of people other than you think it provides better service than the rest of the industry?

    Have you heard of the phrase, “the plural of anecdote is not data”? Because this is *precisely* what it means, and is precisely why people have been demanding that you back up your vague statements.

  227. Saith Amitava D. #@39: “To address your new question would very quickly devolve into a broader debate on more philosophical issues like social contracts and positive vs negative rights, which I think (as would I suspect our gracious host) might be a bit of a derailing.”

    Just like digressing into a discussion of a flat tax would be a bit of a derailing. And as much of a canard; if you think that you are engaging in a constructive, rational discussion of how to cut government spending by saying that we should eliminate the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – oh, and eliminate Medicare and Medicaid as well, since HHS is responsible for the administration of those programs – your view of what constitutes a constructive, engaging discussion is likely not the same as that held by most.

  228. Phil @ 159 – Let’s say I pay myself a salary of $300,00 from my small business. A 3% increase in my marginal tax rate would cost me around what? I guess that depends on my tax-filing status and other deductions, but how about an actual increase of about $4,500? There is no way I was going to take that $4,500 and hire a full time employee with it.

    Literally no way, because you do not pay your small business employees out of your salary. period. It it not done, if only because NOT paying them out of pre-tax profit is inexcusable stupid. You might pay your housekeeper out of that extra, but not an employee for your small business.

    I know you’re on the same side, but I’m damn tired of people who’re on the other side saying “A tax increase on the income of the wealthy will kill jobs.” It won’t. Because jobs are not created out of that income. They’re created out of corporate profits. Corporations get enough tax breaks to create jobs, but even so, Obama is still trying to cut taxes to get them to hire.

    Won’t work, though. Corporations hire when they (a) expand and (b) have a stable marketplace. B being dependent on A. And guess which party has been hyping debt default as an awesome idea, and threatening to take the economy at every turn if they don’t get what they want?

    Regardless of what lies are told by the GOP, small businesses need stability, not tax cuts. Tax hikes on income are not going to affect hiring all that much because people don’t run payroll out of their salaries. Why is it that no one seems to get this? When you create a small business, and for a few years after starting it, you don’t even want a salary above $250K. You funnel that money back into the business or your doing it wrong.

    For the “party of capitalism” the GOP has some really stupid ideas about how businesses work.

  229. Jesse @ 240: “You say that like I feel like I should be ashamed of it.” I do? Then my dear fellow you fundamentally misapprehend me. Disagree with you as I might, if speak ornerily(sp?) I do so with a twinkle in mine eye, not out of any malice.

    “Yeah, but you didn’t answer the question, really.” Sure I did. The question (which though admittedly was not originally directed at me, I had taken to be general) was, to my recollection, what programs might I be willing to cut and how much might doing so save.

    “And addressing the question doesn’t really require any significant philosophical justification,”
    I wasn’t referring to a philosophical justification, but the discussion becoming a tangential philosophical one. That is, if I really wanted to stir the pot, when you ask ‘how would I have these services provided?’ I’d answer something like ‘I wouldn’t. Better that a thousand people suffer before a single person is forced to help them’.
    But, (although I really *really* don’t want to get into this right now), I’ll just say that were the federal govt. to be removed from the equation and an alternate agency (church, charity, even microfinance, whatever) were to step in and pick up the slack, there’s a lot in this country that would be made possible if people were willing to tolerate a more basic level of subsistence. You’d be amazed how easily a person can be adequately fed on less than $400 a year.

  230. For the “party of capitalism” the GOP has some really stupid ideas about how businesses work.

    What makes you believe they’re trying to be truthful there? Most of their schtick is based on getting not-rich people to vote against their economic interests.

  231. Regarding the health-care issue, recent studies have shown that the US system of private health insurance, whatever its benefits, increases the man-hours required to administer it by a factor of four over that required to administer the single-payer system in Ontario. (I titled my own response, “Sleek, efficient government outcompetes bloated, bureaucratic private enterprise?”) It’s not the whole reason that US medical costs are so much higher than other nations’, but it’s one part.

    In regard to the larger debate on the role of government and taxation, I’ve always felt that the American debate is unhealthily focused on cost instead of return on investment. I hope there’s a way to redirect it to more profitable avenues.

    — Steve

  232. Sure I did. The question (which though admittedly was not originally directed at me, I had taken to be general) was, to my recollection, what programs might I be willing to cut and how much might doing so save.

    You addressed the former and not the latter.

    That is, if I really wanted to stir the pot, when you ask ‘how would I have these services provided?’ I’d answer something like ‘I wouldn’t. Better that a thousand people suffer before a single person is forced to help them’.

    Aaaaaand that’s all I needed to read. Jesus…

  233. Now, be fair, all. Having initially made the error of jumping right back in to snipe after saying ‘good night’, Brad is at least clever enough to leave himself the in of saying he might be back – which puts him head and shoulders above the usual Internet flounce where the person shortly reappears to ‘correct one thing’ or ‘add something I forgot’ or ‘I’m really done, but I can’t let so-and-so’s last misrepresentation of my views go unanswered’.

    And if he really has flounced then he certainly won’t mind us continuing the conversation without him, no?

    re @233, Brad does not appear to understand what ad populam means, as he appears to be using it to say “because a large number of people vocally disagree with me, they are wrong and I am being silenced, and since I described this with a Latin phrase you know it’s true.” Ad populam actually refers to the logical fallacy that because a lot of people believe that X is true, or that X is a reasonable basis for believing something, X is true and/or reasonable. If, for example, I had said “Brad, if you were right, don’t you think even one person here would agree with you?” that would be an argument ad populam – suggesting that he is wrong based on a head count.

    Regarding anecdata, I think it’s a bit of a mistake to counter Brad’s anecdata with facts; since Brad has made it clear that anecdata and personal experience are the standard he uses, then it’s trivial to present counter-anecdata. Lots of people say the VA is awful? I’ll see you with people I know who think their VA doctor is the bee’s knees, and I’ll raise with a metric ton of horror stories about private insurers or for-profit hospitals. Dead weight at your job can’t and won’t be gotten rid of? Try a private company where the deadweight is not protected by a union contract, but by sleeping with the boss, or being related to a company executive, or by being enough of a rainmaker that management wouldn’t fire him if he spent every lunch hour sodomizing cats.

    And as an aside, I am always baffled by people who claim to believe in the Free Market, yet think that government will attract diligent, competent employees by making sure their jobs are in all ways (pay, benefits, working conditions, job security) inferior to the private sector. “It should be easier to fire them!” Well, if job security is one of the trade-offs for working for the government, what are you going to give in return for taking that away? The warm, fuzzy glow of knowing that you’re working for your country?

  234. “I suppose that’s where the dividing hair is: which way is better, to spur growth — allow the consumer and the business to keep (and thus spend) more of what they already have, or collect more via government and disburse via government channels, thus ‘paying’ back into the economy?”

    Well, crony capitalism aside, the core problem comes down to how much can people spend and on what? The historic trickle down argument is that Bill G or Warren B’s billions in the bank get “invested” in things that spur the economy and develop the economy as a whole. The problem with this, is, firstly, I don’t think there’s any real evidence that it actually worked – the legacy of Regan in the US and Thatcher in the UK is a period of massive non-investment in core infrastructure, that, at least in the case of the UK got reversed a bit in the last 15 years. The more serious problem is that the banks have found that lending money to people is quite boring compared to hedge fund and other bond trading stuff that makes LOTS more money.

    Basically, is it better for your economy as a whole to have 100,000 people $10,000 richer a year, or 100 people $10,000,000 richer? From a boring macro-economic perspective more economic “stuff” is going to be done by 100,000 people spending $10,000 in local shops, businesses and buying stuff than will be done by a 100 people buying another Porsche, Ferrari or what not.

    Finally, back to my point about debt. Demand comes from people having money to buy things. When people have huge amounts of debt, they will pay that off before doing anything else. No demand will be created, therefore the tax cut does nothing except put more money in the banks to play roulette with.

    Core to my point is that what sounds good and common sensical, i.e. living within your means, actually means death to an economy and, for that matter, to a business that wants to grow.

  235. You’d be amazed how easily a person can be adequately fed on less than $400 a year.

    I’m sure you’ll be the first volunteer.

  236. DG Lewis @ 245: Well, they don’t call us radicals for nothing, eh? But in my own defense, I was providing an answer that so many seemed to be clamoring for (albeit from a different party).
    Let me say one more thing, though. Although I suppose I’m committing heresy amongst my ideological brethren, I do in fact believe there’s a great deal that the govt. does well. When we confront certain things like externalities there are things the govt. (dare I say it?) *needs* to do. And, truth put to it, the social contract that the United States government provides me as a citizen is to my mind a pretty square deal, and is certainly one I’d encourage anyone else to abide by (so long as it’s managed, er, responsibly). It’s the involuntary nature of the association that tends to rankle my libertarian principles (and would ya believe I’ve never done a drug, fired a gun, or visited a sex shop).

    Jesse @ 251: And yet methinks I stirred the pot nonetheless…whoops! ;)

    And now I’m calling it quits for today. Why is it I find Mr. Scalzi’s political blogs and comments so enthralling? Goodnight, my hipster pinko correspondents!

  237. Amitava@247: “I’d answer something like ‘I wouldn’t. Better that a thousand people suffer before a single person is forced to help them’. ”

    Reminds me of a definition of a libertarian I read somewhere. Libertarians take statements of accepted normal behavior and sprinkle exclamations throughout.

    normal person: government collects taxes and uses the money to provide services to the people.

    Libertarian: government collects taxes!!! And uses that money!!! To provide services to the people!!!!!!!

  238. David @ 254: Dammit, this always happens when I post!
    Think of me as crazy if you’d like, but I’d rather you not think me a hypocrite. You really ought to try this, a pound of legumes (Ientils, beans/peas), a pound of rice, and cabbage/greens boiled together will last you about 10-14 worth of days’ second meals (ie lunch/supper).
    And if that’s not a derailment of the discussion, I don’t know what is.
    Goodnight for real!

  239. but I’d rather you not think me a hypocrite. You really ought to try this,

    Don’t avoid the question: would you volunteer to do this?

  240. Okay, third times the charm here.
    I *do* live off that food budget. Satisfied? And to all a good night.

  241. Before I retire, one last link: Pres. Obama agrees with Buffett. Which I find moderately pleasing… and would be more pleased if I thought the current administration could do more about it than just talk big in town halls. I’d also like to say that I find Romney’s rebuttal to be weak, given that even with low taxes corporations are sitting on huge and unproductive cash reserves rather than investing them in growth (and hence jobs). And anyone citing the Laughable Laffner Curve in this context needs to explain why the US is past that tipping point but Denmark (with twice the tax rate in %GDP) isn’t.

    (By the by, this isn’t the only time that conservatives ignore Buffett. Not only has he raised the issue of paying a lower tax rate than his secretary before, but he also famously advised people not to invest in CDOs/CDSes, or any financial instrument which you couldn’t understand where the return comes from. I kinda admire the guy.)

  242. Amitava @259: “No, I’m really leaving this time!” is adorable when a five-year-old does it. When an adult does it, the effect is rather less charming.

    Of course I’m very interested in the $400-a-year Food Budget Plan, as I, for one, could use the money I’m otherwise spending on grocery bills (having three teenagers in the house has a similar effect on the food storage as having a termite infestation has on the floorboards, so I’m always keen to save money). It is to be hoped that this budget is based on actually buying food in the US or some nation with similar prices, rather than a country where the buying power of $400 US is significantly greater than it is in America.

  243. Daveon@253: I think you miss a fundamental problem about a crash. Businesses that survive the initial crash have money but generally tend to go into survival mode until the economy recoveers. They cut down to bare bones to keep the company afloat with the hope that they can last long enough to see market recovery before they are forced into bankruptcy.

    they dont have money lying around to spend on stimulating the economy. and if they did it would be against their fuduciary responsibility to spend it on hiring people just to try and get the market goingagain. they would likely stash that money and use it to pay salaries for the skeleton crews and the board members hoping to weather out the storm.

    the problem is that when corporations go into survival mode, layoffss make the population jittery and then consumers go into survival mode, buying the bare neccesities and saving everything they can to try and weather the storm.

    which means consumers spending plummets. which means companies dont sell anything. which means they have layoffs. which means consumers go into panic mode and spend even less. which reinforces corporate layoffs.

    Its not a matter of what corporations have for money to spend on hiring or how much money those employees make to spend on … stuff.

    its that the problem is fundamentally a feedback loop of pessimism about the market that only reinforces itself as a self fulfilling prophecy.

    And it is such a goddamn big problem that no single civilian and no single corporation can alter that dynamic. it requires something operating outside the loop to avoid the feedback. It requires something big enough that it can apply leverage to themarket. and it needs something that isnt driven by individual self interest.

    individual self interest is what creates the spiraling feedback loop of pessimism that reinforces a depressed market and makes it more depressed.

    it requires something that is motivatednot by John Smith’s employment or ABC Corps profit, but by the health of the system as a whole. and ithas to be something big enough that itcan alter the entire system.

    the only way to change the outcome of a game like the prisoners dillemma or the tragedy of the commons is create a stragegic move that alters the rules of the game. selfi i.terest in the prisoners dillemma always leads to the worst outcome. Change the rules of the game though, and its no longer a prisoners dillemma, but hopefully some system where selfish i.terest *does* yield optimal results. So far, government is the only entity that is big enough to make a sufficiently large change but more importantly operates outside the i.dividual selfish interest that rei.forces the crash.

    the point isnt to socialize every capitalist tendancy but to remove the game theory situations where selfish interests reach bad outcomes. like the prisoners dillema. the point of stimulus isnt to turn thecou.try into socialism or communism, but to get people employed enough that they start spending money again so companies start hiring again so consumers spend again so companies hire even more. and the government stimulus has done its job amd the selfish interest of capitalism can take over again.

    the problem is that this notion is fundamentally at odds with the right wing world view that insists capitalism has no scenario with which selfish i.tersts alone cannot get itself out of. invisible hand always guides it to the optimal solution. or so the religion of free market capitalism goes.

  244. @259… You live off $400/YEAR? For food? in the US?

    Sorry, but I’d like some details on that. I can see it if you grow/hunt your own food, but that’s not something that works for most people. If you don’t do that… I’m sorry, but I don’t believe you buy your own food and spend a bit over $1/day for it.

  245. WRT subsistence diets (abstrat from JSTOR):

    The “Stinger gap”: the difference between the “cost of subsistence” and that of a minimum-cost noninstitutional diet with palatability

    Mitchell O. Locks

    Professor of Management Science, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK 74074, U.S.A.
    Accepted 8 October 1979. ;
    Available online 24 February 2003.

    Abstract

    This study presents two different 1976 diets for a moderately active male, age 23–50, buying foods at retail. The first of these is a “subsistence” diet just adequate for nutrition at minimum cost, with standard serving sizes for all foods, and an upper limit of 90 servings per month. There are upper and lower limits for each of 11 nutrients such as calories, calcium, phosphorus, etc. The solution was obtained by Mixed-Integer Programming (MIP) from a candidate list of 392 foods available in Stillwater, Oklahoma supermarkets in January, 1976. The diet costs $15.55 per month or 51.8¢ a day and includes 20 different foods.

    The second diet “nutrition plus palatability” has a wider variety of foods obtained by incorporating into the MIP model additional constraints reflecting tastes. This diet costs $34.51 a month or $1.15 a day and includes 68 different foods. The difference between these two costs $1.15–$0.52 = $0.63 is an estimate of the 1976 “Stinger gap,” the cost of palatability in an optimum diet.

    Given that this article was written in 1979, I’d say that living on $400/year in available food, from low cost areas, is unlikely, given inflation.

    Of course, there’s cost of food, and cost of time spent preparing said food. It’s possible for an adult to live on staples, day in day out, but you still need to prepare and store that food, which costs time, and money. Just owning and running a kitchen and a refrigerator have associated costs. Once you move into an urban area (which tend to have high concentrations of poverty) that cost goes up, as do food prices.

  246. You certainly could live on four hundred dollars a year by growing your own food and hunting, although you’d probably need to hunt more than is strictly legal. It might, might be possible to raise some kind of livestock for that, assuming you have a large enough space that you don’t need to feed them. Chickens, maybe. I’ve never known anyone to raise a siginficant number without buying feed for them, which would certainly put you above 400 a year.

    So yeah, I’m curious.

    Amitava@247: “I’d answer something like ‘I wouldn’t. Better that a thousand people suffer before a single person is forced to help them’. ”

    You know, I am libertarian friendly, but this argument is gibberish. If you do not like the way the government runs, you are absolutely free to renounce your citizenship and leave. Seriously, it’s not hard. You are not, in fact, forced to pay atxes.

  247. Can I just say that I love the blog author intervention with a mallet – it is sooooo entertaining and appropriate. Because it is one of the few times in the real world that people get what they deserve when they say and do stupid things. Keep it up JS. Also, your grasp of financial issues is very good and you write about economic topics better than most economics bloggers.

  248. An observation and a couple of questions from the original post about how to realistically implement this:

    “that if the state moves to raise taxes on the wealthy, the lot of them will flounce in a huff, taking their money with them and retiring to a crevasse where they will await the end of the world. … as if the investment bankers profiting by passing off crappy mortgages as AAA investments ever created a job, or the folks who increase shareholder value by laying off ten of thousands of workers are job creators.”

    From working for some very successful entrepreneurs early in my career, their reaction to an increase in taxes is not to “flounce off in a huff”, but to simply call their accountants and tax attorneys and invest in these professional’s expertise to restructure the business \ portfolio to reduce taxes.

    1) How would an increase in tax rates address this issue?
    2) How (or should) an increase in tax rates differentiate between the effect on “true” job creators -vs- the parasites such as investment bankers or execs ordering layoffs?

  249. Daveon, the wife keeps telling me I need glasses. but I also took the emphasis to be this: “is it better for your economy as a whole to have 100,000 people $10,000 richer a year, or 100 people $10,000,000 richer?”

    I think thats orthoganal to recovering from a crash. and depending on how one reads it, it might come across as pure wealth redistribution motive.

    I think one can have a recession even if people are making the same amount of money they were making before the crash. the issue isnt somuch about how muchdoI have now, but how much can Imake over thelong haul in the future.

    Friend of mine was planning on building an addition to his house. now word at his company is there will be some sort of layoff in a couple months. he is making exactly the same amount of money as he was a month ago, but his spending tightened up dramatically.

    giving him 10k more wont change his spending habits significantly because it will only pay bills for a short while. I was laid off a while back. couldnt fi.d work for 9 months. did some short term/temp jobs, and just recently got a fulll time job. but my spending habits are a bit different than they were pre layoff.

    I

  250. Amitava: , “there’s a lot in this country that would be made possible if people were willing to tolerate a more basic level of subsistence.”

    OK, I am curious. what would be the biggest thing available in this country if everyone ate 300 calories of beans, rice, and cabbage for supper???

    malnutrition? scurvy? rickets? 72 virgins?
    because you sound lke you’re thinking aling the lines.of 72 virgins but all I can really see is scurvy…

  251. I think the discussion of whether it’s possible to live on $400 of food a year is leading us away from the issue at hand, and beyond that you’re getting wrapped up in the alleged personal lifestyle of a single person who is by any realistic measure an outlier in a number of ways (or who is trolling the lot of you). So let’s wrap that up at particular line of discussion, please.

    Greg, the “72 virgins” bit not only doesn’t make sense but comes across as a pointless jab at Muslims. I’m very sure that’s not what you intended, since I know you know that’s just the sort of thing I live to Mallet. Allow me to suggest in the future that you engage in more disciplined forms of snark, if you must engage in snark at all.

  252. @AlanM #239: “He knows, but I didn’t (so I looked it up). Future trades can be either of securities or commodities. Commodities futures have a special system: they are taxed at 60% long term, 40% short term, regardless of how long you hold them. That’s so awesomely crooked you have to admire it.”

    I’m fairly conservative, but I think the Tea Party pledge – which extends to closing loopholes as well as not raising taxes – is pretty stupid. I *do* think we actually pay enough in taxes as it is, but closing loopholes is just common sense. I see no valid reason why short term trades should get long term tax benefits intended to spur investment in capital.

    I think setting all taxes at 15%, and rebating every working man $5,000 would be a pretty good system.

    As I said before, setting government spending to be percentage based, as opposed to flat-amount based, would solve these perpetual budget messes.

  253. I saw an interview this morning on CNN with some Tea Party type who was claiming that Buffett was just talking about capital gains tax and essentially implying that Buffett didn’t really know what he was talking about. Funny, but sad when one realizes that it’s the politicians who make decisions about this.

    If one is in business, as opposed to politics, one realizes that one will make more profit in a healthy economy where consumers can buy things and employees are motivated and available to do work.

  254. I think setting all taxes at 15%, and rebating every working man $5,000 would be a pretty good system.

    The OECD average is about 31% of GDP going to taxes. This suggests that your 15% income tax (which is lower than the US’s current rate) is a gross understatement of needs and will exacerbate the current rot of US infrastructure and essential services. (Or lead to more spiraling debt to cover the shortfall.) Unless you’re suggesting a 15% income tax plus a 15% sales tax, with a larger rebate to lower-income households…

    For comparison’s sakes, I earn roughly the average wage in Canada (~$30k) and pay roughly 20% in income taxes* plus a 13% sales tax** on most purchases. I don’t feel particularly overly taxed, given the level of services I receive. (Which includes the vast majority of my medical insurance; my private supplementary insurance plan costs me less than $30/month.)

    As I said before, setting government spending to be percentage based, as opposed to flat-amount based, would solve these perpetual budget messes

    That’s one of those ideas that sounds better than it is; look at how Colorodo is reduced to abandoning road maintainance (and is it Boulder that’s shutting off street lighting?) thanks to mandatory balanced-budget legislation and severe undertaxation.

    — Steve

    * my top marginal rate is higher, but graduated tax brackets bring down my overall rate. I could probably pare another percentage-point or two off if I got really industrious when filing my returns, but frankly it’s too much work and I’d rather just pay what I owe than fuss so much over so little.

    ** down from a 15% combined total of provincial and federal sales tax… our Conservative government lopped two points off the rate to show they’re tough or something, drastically cutting revenues while increasing retail sales not one whit because the change is basically invisible to consumers at the point-of-sale. If they’d actually wanted to increase consumption they’d have been better off keeping the tax at 15% and raising the minimum tax bracket (below which you pay no income tax, because you’re considered to be living below the poverty line) by a couple of grand

  255. Sorry to have caused such a contretemps! For anyone who really needs to know, give me your email and I’ll detail to you the particulars of my diet and its budget.

  256. In your original post, Mr Scalzi, you wrote:

    “It’s not a particular surprise that recent polls say the majority of Americans would like to see the wealthiest Americans taxed more (pdf link),”

    No, it’s not, when most people don’t know what “the wealthiest Americans” actually pay in taxes. All they know is what they’re told, and what they’re told is usually “it’s not enough.” Personally, I see little reason to listen to anything Warren Buffett says. I have little more respect for him than I have for any other Wall Street stock manipulator. He makes money by gaming the system, not by actually producing anything, which makes him a parasite. A parasite in a five thousand dollar suit, maybe, but still a parasite. He has no idea how a real, regular, sixty-hour-a-week small businessman running a hardware store or a dry cleaner makes money, or how much such a man would lose to higher taxes.

    “… because most Americans seem to realize that bringing in more revenue is an essential part of dealing with debt.”

    True, it is. But you won’t find me advocating tax increases, not today nor any day to come. Because of two facts:

    1) I no longer believe it’s possible to solve the US’s fiscal problems. We passed the point of no return at least five years ago.

    2) giving more tax revenue to this government is like giving a truckload of whiskey to a drunk. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jack Daniels or Chivas Regal, it’s going to wind up the same way: pissed away into the gutter.

    I don’t believe government can do anything efficiently.
    I don’t believe government is better at anything than the private sector.
    I don’t believe higher taxes will help.
    I don’t believe any of the statistics that either side quotes at me. I know how easy it is to manipulate statistics.

    No, quoting sob stories at me is not going to change my mind. Nor will attempted guilt trips, or personal abuse, or indeed any form of argument at all. The only way I’ll change my position is if the federal government changes first: quit drinking and clean up its act.

    I suspect there are more than a few people who share my position, which is why support for tax increases in the current environment is so soft. Most non-liberals understand that giving more money to this government is giving whiskey to a drunk, and they understand that’s wrong.

  257. Josh at 247 – We are in complete agreement.
    Charles at 172 – Thanks again for showing how a marginal tax works. I already knew that, I just didn’t express my example clearly. The disconnect I had yesterday (my fault entirely) was not to say in my post at 159 that I was trying off the top of my head to estimate the additional federal income tax on an individual with a $300,000 salary if the Bush tax cuts were to expire. I was under the impression that incomes that high had a tax reduction of about 3% under the Bush cuts. I don’t know if that impression is correct, and unfortunately don’t have the time to research it right now.
    That is different from a proposal to just add a 3% marginal income tax on all incomes over $250,000. Either way, I don’t see how it hurts job creation, as Josh explained in his post at 247.
    Amitava? Getting rid of Public Health is madness of the nth degree and certainly does not “promote the general Welfare” (from the preamble to the U.S. Constitution in case you didn’t know that).
    The VA? Here is some anecdotal stuff – The care and attention I have received from the VA has been nothing less than excellent. Same is true for the fellow veterans I talk with. I believe the VA has experienced some funding and staffing problems in dealing with soldiers returning from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – problems due to having an unfunded mandate. The Bush Administration and the republican Congress should have seen this coming from years away (all my buddies from Nam did) and funded and staffed the VA properly in time to deal with the returning vets.

  258. Wolfwalker@277

    Thanks for dropping by to tell us that you are a hard-liner and want to eviscerate government. Thanks, truly!

    You make a couple of statements, however, that have already been refuted by actual documentary evidence upthread

    I don’t believe government can do anything efficiently. Administrative costs in Medicare versus private healthcare ? Overall costs of medical care in a private (US) system versus the same (or better) outcomes in a socialised one (such as the UK)?
    I don’t believe government is better at anything than the private sector. Have you actually tried these things we have called Roads? How about food? I’m sure you eat that/. There is a little matter of food safety that is entirely the result of government – and absent government you would not have food safety (for an example in the realm of corporate cost/benefit analysis google Pinto and rubber tank liners),
    I don’t believe higher taxes will help. then you haven’t been listening, have you?
    I don’t believe any of the statistics that either side quotes at me. I know how easy it is to manipulate statistics. so “some people tell lies” so I won’t believe anyone? It must be great to be such a polymath, that you can single-handedly navigate modern life solely by the sweat of your own brow, reliant on only yourself.

    Shorter: You don’t believe. You don’t think. You merely complain.

  259. Phil Royce@278

    The Bush Administration and the republican Congress should have seen this coming from years away (all my buddies from Nam did) and funded and staffed the VA properly in time to deal with the returning vets.

    But that would have meant recognizing reality.

    The war was going to be over in a couple of weeks, so there was no need to add funds to the VA. The fact that the war was NOT over in a couple of weeks was merely a blip – it didn’t change the overall strategy or policy. So, of course, no other actions needed to be taken. It’s so simple and straightforward when you think of it like a shrub.

  260. Buffet makes some excellent points. Of course, there’s a bigger point he’s missing — this is the wrong time to balance the budget.

    Budget deficits are a long-run problem. The problem right now is jobs.

    And we know how to make jobs — at least those of us with any grasp of macroeconomics do.

    We have crumbling infrastructure, an idle workforce, and capitalists lining up to lend us money.

    Do. The. Math.

  261. @Greg – I was using the point with the comparison to more show that the idea that individuals know how to spend their money better than the government is somewhat simplistic and, well, downright wrong.

    A non-trivial part of the problem is people, ordinary people, have adjusted spending significantly, however, for a lot of households $10,000 means food, clothes and other essentials, which still has an economic multiplier effect compared to a straight tax cut which puts more cash into higher earners pockets.

    Beyond that, you make a good point about the nature of spending habits. People are concerned about job security which is why the ONLY way out of this mess is government paid for stimulus. And when I say stimulus, I mean rebuilding stuff that’s falling down in the US, and not more bleedin’ tax cuts!

  262. @ JediBear: “We have crumbling infrastructure, an idle workforce, and capitalists lining up to lend us money.”

    Yes! This.

  263. So, I think JS shoots down his own argument here. If the fabulously wealthy get that way by exploiting the system to their benefit, and Warren Buffet, a fabulously wealthy person in the mold of JD Rockefeller himself, is making arguments about how the system should function…

    … wouldn’t it stand to reason that he’s doing so because what he’s proposing is to his maximum benefit? As it turns out, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

  264. Ah wolfwalker is doing the faith-based thing – stuff he believes, rather than the reality thing, and calling it facts.

    There are many things government can, and does, do efficiently
    There are many things government can do better than the private sector
    Higher taxes will indeed help, although they are not the complete solution (increased revenue by definition reduces debt)

    Statistics can be manipulated or used in a misleading fashion, that’s for sure.

  265. John@272: I’m not sure how to parse my comment as a jab against muslims. I started out referencing one of my own beliefs by saying ‘satori’ but after dealing with the ineffability of Brad, I wanted something specific, measurabl, and landed on ’72′. Amitava seems to suggest that *something* amazing would be possible if everyone restricted their diet. I was looking for specifics. It was no more a dig against muslims than if I had instead said ’40 acres and a mule’ would not have been a dig against reconstruction. I just wanted Amitava to be specific about what advantage woukd be available on his restricted diet.

    My apologies to any Muslim reading my comment who was offended. I can only say it was definitely not a dig against your religion.

    Wolfwalker, I am a little confused. what is it that makes government like a drunk? Taxes are some of the lowest they’ve been in the last hundred years.

  266. JediBear at 281: “We have crumbling infrastructure, an idle workforce, and capitalists lining up to lend us money.”

    Ye gods, yes. It’s *crazy* that we as a nation aren’t jumping on this opportunity. Jumpstart the economy, give people productive things to do, prepare for (and help instigate) the next expansion by fixing and upgrading the infrastructure, and finance it all at fire-sale rates.

  267. Yes, it’s insane that we’re not resurrecting CCC/WPA and putting the unemployed to work while beefing up infrastructure.

    I suppose we can’t have that, though, because it’d make Obama look good and then he might not be a one-term president.

  268. My mother used to say you should never discuss religion, politics or sex in polite company. So far the religion and politics topics have generated the most voluminous, entertaining and malleted conversation strings. I am assuming that some sex related topic must be up next…

    My only point for the conversation is that Government spending has historically averaged about 18% of GDP and the amount of tax revenue we are getting from the current tax scheme is only about 14% – which is about the lowest level of taxes to GDP in several decades. The simplest fix is to let the Bush tax cuts expire and bring the tax revenue back up to about 18%. The only reason this solution is controversial is that some people simply want to shrink the government. So the tax structure discussion gets tied up with the shrink the government discussion.

  269. True, it is. But you won’t find me advocating tax increases, not today nor any day to come. Because of two facts:

    1) I no longer believe it’s possible to solve the US’s fiscal problems. We passed the point of no return at least five years ago.

    2) giving more tax revenue to this government is like giving a truckload of whiskey to a drunk. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jack Daniels or Chivas Regal, it’s going to wind up the same way: pissed away into the gutter.

    Point of order: those aren’t facts, those are opinions, which may or may not be informed (I suspect they’re not, given that it’s largely the Tea Party line regurgitated undigested) and certainly have not been supported by actual facts (or figures) presented in an argument.

    I don’t believe any of the statistics that either side quotes at me. I know how easy it is to manipulate statistics.

    Indeed, why clutter up a good argument with a bunch of annoying facts? Perhaps we should discuss the habits of my maternal bloodline next?…

    — Steve

  270. I see little reason to listen to anything Warren Buffett says. I have little more respect for him than I have for any other Wall Street stock manipulator. He makes money by gaming the system, not by actually producing anything, which makes him a parasite. A parasite in a five thousand dollar suit, maybe, but still a parasite.

    Except for the fact that, like Bill Gates, he gives an absolutely enormous amount of money to charitable organizations, non-profits, and the like. He and Gates have done more for finding the cures to AIDS, cancer, ALS, and many other diseases than most people could dream of. But, of course, because he has a non-menial job, he must be a parasite.

    He has no idea how a real, regular, sixty-hour-a-week small businessman running a hardware store or a dry cleaner makes money, or how much such a man would lose to higher taxes.

    From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

    “Even as a child, Buffett displayed an interest in making and saving money. He went door to door selling chewing gum, Coca-Cola, or weekly magazines. For a while, he worked in his grandfather’s grocery store. While still in high school he was successful in making money by delivering newspapers, selling golfballs and stamps, and detailing cars, among other means. Filing his first income tax return in 1944, Buffett took a $35 deduction for the use of his bicycle and watch on his paper route.[16] In 1945, in his sophomore year of high school, Buffett and a friend spent $25 to purchase a used pinball machine, which they placed in the local barber shop. Within months, they owned several machines in different barber shops.

    So not only was he brought up in an environment and family made up of small businessmen, he learned how to value his money precisely because of those experiences. But somehow, because he was good at math, he found a profession and stuck with it, he’s clueless? Steve’s right: why clutter up a good argument with a bunch of annoying facts? Apparently, in some places a need to be right trumps what happened and is happening in the real world.

  271. To follow on from Jesse’s point. If you read Buffet’s letters to his share holders, he’s actually anything but a stock manipulator. His actual investment process is to invest a lot of cash in businesses he feels have scope and room to grow and then let the management team get on with it. He’s actually made very few short term investments, most of his money has been made by buying into undervalued companies and sticking with them for the long haul.

    He’s the opposite of a parasite.

    Also, based on when I’ve seen him. I don’t think he owns a $5000 suit.

    Oh and, while we’re laying on the facts, I’m pretty sure Omaha is a LONG way from Wall Street.

  272. Yes, what a wonderfully idea, lets not control spending or worry at all about that, lets just get more money from the rich. How foolish.

  273. Another difference is that Buffett is talking about raising it for the mega rich, >$1 million, etc. Not families making 250,000 + like the fool on the hill was saying.

  274. Having re-scanned the thread since last night…

    I admit to being mystified by attacks on Buffet as a person. He appears to be following in the Rockefeller/Carnegie tradition that might be best summed up as, “With great wealth comes great obligation.” Both Carnegie and Rockefeller set the standard by which all other super-rich after them are measured: having accumulated fantastic wealth, what good will you do with it? I’ve often thought that if I were to be in a similar financial position, I’d probably do the same as they. What better way to leave a positive legacy than to use the money to invest in schools, libraries, scholarship, medicine, science, et cetera. Things that will multiply and pay societal dividends across generations. So I think calling Buffett a “parasite” is probably unfair, because he doesn’t seem to be a typical “I’m out to get mine and screw everyone else!” Wall Street pike. (Ergo, he’s not Bernie Madoff.)

    This thread also reminds me of the George Carlin quip, “The rich have all the money, pay none of the taxes; the middle class pay all of the taxes, do all of the work; the poor are there just to scare the shit out of the middle class and keep them showing up at their jobs!” Now, crude or possibly inaccurate as it is, I think Carlin’s quip is rather apt, because it does often seem to be this way.

    I think I said somewhere up top that I’m not opposed to taxes, even progressive taxation, so long as there are mechanisms in place that can combat or reduce corruption, graft, sloth, and waste in the system. As a science fiction writer I am inclined to link to Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, because it explains succinctly why I am skeptical of government’s ability to deliver what it says it can deliver to the taxpayer, if only the taxpayer will cough up more taxes.

    Because there’s a heap load of people in the system who don’t give a fig about the nobler goals or purpose of government as much as they’re concerned with perpetuating or expanding their particular corner of it, at the expense of service and efficiency. Democrat or Republican doesn’t matter — such people come in either flavor. They will eagerly hide behind the apologia of those who have an overweening faith in the government as a whole.

    NOTE: this is also often true of large private companies and non-profits too, and I’ve never tried to claim that private companies are somehow immune from the similar downward-drag of people who abuse the system for their own benefit. The key difference being that if I see a private company that delivers poor service or poor product, I can always take my business to the competitor. If the state and federal systems deliver poor service and poor product, I’m still obligated by law to pay for that poor service and that poor product. Whether I like it or not.

    A great many responders in this thread seem to take it as a matter of course that anyone skeptical of increased taxes or progressive taxation is either stupid, or malicious. That if only people have enough statistics hurled at them, they’d ignore their own instincts and ‘see the light’ and embrace the wonderfulness of their state and federal programs. I’d propose — again — that too many voters have had too many poor experiences (at various levels) and that you can quote statistics and hurl charts and graphs and numbers at them all day long, it’s not going to improve their opinion of a state and federal system that appears to exist as much for its own sake, or even moreso, than it does for the average citizen. (e.g: the Iron Law.)

    If the response of the pro-taxation, pro-government body is to sneer at doubters and call us names — as seems to be the case with a few people on this thread — nothing will alienate doubters further. Good luck winning hearts and minds with that kind of attitude. Good luck winning elections too.

    Finally, for whoever it was who made the published author quip, yes, I know it’s shocking to discover that in science fiction in 2011 they still let you get published even if you’re not hip to the politically-progressive zeitgeist. Sometimes they even let us have peer or readers’ choice awards, too! Madness. I’m sure the error will be corrected soon, once the genre’s powers-that-be find out what’s going on and put a stop to it.

  275. That if only people have enough statistics hurled at them, they’d ignore their own instincts and ‘see the light’ and embrace the wonderfulness of their state and federal programs

    Ah, the wonders of magical thinking. “I know what I know, and all the evidence you present on the other side will not convince me otherwise.” Reality-based thinking is so much less fun than just making random general assertions as if they were iron law.

    Finally, for whoever it was who made the published author quip, yes, I know it’s shocking to discover that in science fiction in 2011 they still let you get published even if you’re not hip to the politically-progressive zeitgeist.

    I could hardly have meant that, given the prominence of Pournelle, John Ringo, and other conservative SFF writers. They, however, are able to handle evidence and logic. I guess the lesson is that you can be published (and win peer awards!) without being able to handle either.

  276. “A great many responders in this thread seem to take it as a matter of course that anyone skeptical of increased taxes or progressive taxation is either stupid, or malicious.”

    @Brad: It’s a typical standard progressive construction in arguments like this: Conservatives only come in two flavors, Stupid and Evil. Far too many people descend into that mode, and some never rise above it.

    —-

    For the pro-increase folks, I have a question: Where should the threshold be? What is, in your opinion, the maximum amount of taxation “the rich” should bear?

  277. David’s comment is a perfect example. “Magical thinking”, snarky condescending dismissal… how, David, could you possibly expect anyone to listen to what you’re saying when you say it like that?

  278. Tony Dye at 301:

    As a mental exercise, try asking yourself the opposite question: “What is, in your opinion, the minimum amount of taxation “the rich” should bear?”

    Note that I’m *not* asking you to actually *answer* it. I’m hoping that turning it around will help you see why it’s not a useful or meaningful question.

  279. David’s comment is a perfect example. “Magical thinking”, snarky condescending dismissal… how, David, could you possibly expect anyone to listen to what you’re saying when you say it like that?

    You are mistaken in thinking that Brad was listening to anyone, reasoned or snarky.

  280. Deep breaths, everyone. In fact, here’s a suggestion: Any snark up to this point? Let it go, declare snark bankruptcy, and refocus on addressing arguments, not personalities. Everyone will be happier. Including me, hint, hint.

  281. David, Brad, the problem with your arguments is that they make absolutely no reference to the outside world. It’s all navel-gazing to mantras from the American punditry, scarcely mentioning anything resembling concrete numbers.

    Try taking a look at the rest of the world for a change. You might be surprised at what you see.

    — Steve

    PS: You do realise that Americans pay some of the lowest tax rates in the world, right?

  282. PS: You do realise that Americans pay some of the lowest tax rates in the world, right?

    Uh, yes, which is why I was arguing in favor of Buffet’s proposal.

  283. @Tony #301: “Conservatives only come in two flavors, Stupid and Evil.”

    Stereotyping, but all too banal and common. Quite destructive, too, and contributing to the ongoing polarization of our society.

    There’s a real difference between “living within our means” and “wanting to kill old/poor people”. Walk up to a Tea Partier and ask them (I have) if they think we should cut off all health care to Medicaid. I’ve never found one person who said that we should, and I hang out with a lot of them. Saying that we should find ways to stop wasting money (there is *tremendous* waste in health care right now) is not the same thing as wanting to kill grandma.

    As far as stupidity goes, stupidity is always an easy bet for humanity. There’s just as many dumb idiots on both sides, who just mindlessly repeat talking points without actually looking at the numbers themselves. Think about how many people that have said “We should tax the rich – the poor should not have to bear all the taxes on their backs” (I’ll wait while you Google it.)

    You’d think that poor people actually pay income tax, instead of receiving an EITC for working.

    When I was a grad student making peanuts every year, it sucked. Not having money sucks. But I didn’t pay any income tax, and I’d *never* consider complaining about how the poor are paying the majority of income taxes, and how I needed even more subsidies. Yet this is a liberal drumbeat anyway. Stupidity, and a bit evil.

    The only solution is to look at primary sources, numbers, and analyses yourself, and for everyone to stop using MSNBC/Fox News/HuffPo as their only source of news, since (gasp!) they’re all biased shills for one party or another.

  284. Bill: who’s complaining about the poor paying the majority of income taxes? Citation needed. I even tried a Google search for that quote about the poor bearing all the taxes but it came up empty.

    Ignoring the income tax, did you pay attention to how much tax you paid for other things? Sales tax, gasoline tax, Medicare, Social Security, and so forth.

    I’m thinking you’re being less than honest here.

  285. There’s a real difference between “living within our means” and “wanting to kill old/poor people”. Walk up to a Tea Partier and ask them (I have) if they think we should cut off all health care to Medicaid. I’ve never found one person who said that we should, and I hang out with a lot of them. Saying that we should find ways to stop wasting money (there is *tremendous* waste in health care right now) is not the same thing as wanting to kill grandma.

    I’m not convinced that those on the right are applying their focus on the right areas. Yes, there is tremendous waste in health care, but it’s not necessarily in government on the payment side–there is tremendous waste in multiple records format and other areas on the supply side. Yet that’s not where the focus is on the right.

  286. Sorry, David, wrong name in my comment. I had intended to address Tony C in there instead of you and must’ve slipped a line when looking at attributions or something.

    (Need. More. Coffee.)

    — Steve

  287. There’s a difference between active attempts to reform government agencies and budget-slashing. In fact, as implied by Pournelle’s law (if the less-effective are in charge, who do you think gets laid off?), simply saying “do just as much with less money” just reduces the number of effective people, making life harder for those remaining. Actual reform requires hiring people who are serious about doing the work.

  288. For the pro-increase folks, I have a question: Where should the threshold be? What is, in your opinion, the maximum amount of taxation “the rich” should bear?

    Funny you should mention that, because Peter Diamond and Emannuel Saez just released a paper entitled “The Case for a Progressive Tax: From Basic Research to Policy Recommendations” (h/t: Matthew Yglesias) that at least attempts to answer that question using actual math(!) as well as significant policy changes. Namely, they advocate not only a rewriting of the tax code, especially as it pertains to both loopholes and capital gains and related taxes, but also a recalculation of the top marginal tax rates. If I’m reading this correctly, before deductions, their top federal tax rates would be 48% using the current tax code, and 76% if we effectively zero out the capital taxes and eliminate egregious tax loopholes.

    So those would be your numbers, I guess. Now, of course, keep in mind that tax rates are based on each level of income, so you pay the same tax rate as everyone else on every tax bracket you qualify for. In other words, when people say the tax rates for those making more than, say, $250,000, what they actually mean is the tax rates on every dollar above $250,000 that they make.

  289. Pournelle’s Iron Law is a cute example of rhetoric.

    It falls down when it says “every”. Certainty when dealing with human institutions is the realm of faith.

  290. Brad@299: I think I said somewhere up top that I’m not opposed to taxes, even progressive taxation, so long as there are mechanisms in place that can combat or reduce corruption, graft, sloth, and waste in the system.

    Implicit in this argument is that there already IS corruption, graft, and sloth far greater than the already existing correction mechanisms can handle, *and*, said corruption, graft, and sloth is sufficiently large that it is actually a significant part of federal spending.

    You have proven neither. Your attempts to prove either one have relied on anecdotal evidence. When people point out your anecdotal evidence is a logical fallacy and point you to actual statistical information that actually shows your assertions are wrong (such as the quality of service from the VA), you dismiss the facts and cling to your anecdotes and beliefs.

    Speaking of which:

    A great many responders in this thread seem to take it as a matter of course that anyone skeptical of increased taxes or progressive taxation is either stupid, or malicious. That if only people have enough statistics hurled at them, they’d ignore their own instincts and ‘see the light’ and embrace the wonderfulness of their state and federal programs. I’d propose — again — that too many voters have had too many poor experiences (at various levels) and that you can quote statistics and hurl charts and graphs and numbers at them all day long, it’s not going to improve their opinion of a state and federal system

    No. It’s not that people are saying anyone who opposes raising taxes under any circumstance is evil. no one has said that here that I have seen. What people are saying is that certain people *have an opinion about taxes* and certain people *have an opinion about the government* and that *these*people*are*immune* to facts.

    This is demonstrated rather clearly by your insistance of clinging to your anecdotes and beliefs when presented with facts to the contrary, such as the VA.

    You have *even*now* failed to produce any evidence that there is this fabled “waste” of such a magnitude that removing waste would actually solve any problem we are seeing right now with the deficit. You have *even*now* steadfastly refused to provide any evidence that this mythicsl waste you always want to talk about actually exists. You have *even*now* steadfastly avoided answering the specific question I and several others have posed to you asking you to list what would be your biggest cut in spending to what program by how much and how you would alter that program to make that cut.

    You are talking about mythical “government waste” monsters that are as mythical as “welfare queens”, you refuse to provide any proof they exists, you ignore any proof that contradicts your myths.

    You are exactly one of the people you’re talking about here:

    you can quote statistics and hurl charts and graphs and numbers at them all day long, it’s not going to improve their opinion of a state and federal system

    The thing is thta *you* have your own personal opinion of the federal govenrment and that is immune to statistics, charts, graphs, numbers, and facts.

    The thing is, you act as if you and people like you who ignore facts and proof and instead cling to their beliefs and opinions, you seem to want to say that that is *our* problem, that it is somehow a problem of the fact-based left, and somehow not the problem of the people who refuse to acknowledge the facts in the first place, that it is somehow not the problem of the people who cling to their opinions even after the facts show them their opinions are wrong.

    Case in point, the VA scored better in quality service than private hospitals. Do you accept that as true? Do you have some other statistical based evidence that contradicts it? Or do you hold to your anecdotes and personal opininion that the VA sucks?

    You tell me what you think of the VA right now.

    And then you tell me if its my fault for not explaining it to you “the right way” or if its your responsibility for ignoring facts and holding to beliefs.

    What you will generally find on this blog is that most folks hold other folks responsible for their assertsions. If *you* say the VA sucks, then it is up to *you* to prove it. If someone else provides evidence that the VA is better than private hospitals, that trumps your beliefs and folks here will generally expect you to provide… oh, I don’t know… *evidence* to counter the other evidence and back up your claim.

    What you are arguing up there is that people have some personal experience, they form an opinion about the system as a whole, and if someone else has evidence that disproves that belief, it is the responsibility of the person with the evidence to figure out how to get some True Believer to stop believing their personal opinion and look at the evidence.

    At some point above, you were wondering aloud whether you had wandered into a thread of True Believers. And then right now, you’re defending True Believers.

    If the response of the pro-taxation, pro-government body is to sneer at doubters and call us names — as seems to be the case with a few people on this thread

    Oh lord. pointing out that you hold anecdote over statistical evidence, that you commit logical fallacy after logical fallacy, that you shift the blame for someone being a True Believer to the fault of the person trying to show them facts, is *not* calling you names.

    And trying to cast this conversation as that is a strawman, appealing to pity, and emotional pleading, more logical fallacies that you are committing and you should really read up on.

    Saying “you are wrong and here is why”, is not calling you names. Askingn you to provide evidence of your assertiosn is not calling you names. Asking you to provide the specifics of the biggest cut you would make ot spending, how much, and what program, is not calling you names.

    They are all valid points in showing that you have failed to provide a complete logical argument to your assertions, that you have committed logical fallacies to your assertions, and that some of your assertsions are proven wrong by statistical evidence.

  291. JS @#305: Declaring snark bankruptcy could result in a total collapse of the worldwide snark system. And I, for one, am not willing to see that dark day come to pass. Some of our most prolific practitioners of snark are simply “too snarky to fail.”

  292. Pournelle’s Iron Law isn’t just rhetoric, it’s idiocy. For instance, by his measure union membership and control should have exploded, because they would have taken over and indoctrinated or replaced non-union workers. By that same measure, one would expect wage inequality to drop were those oh-so-virtuous people who “sacrifice to work” to take over the work force, because they would somehow be leveling the playing field. Yet here in the real world, union membership has declined to 7%, down from ~35% in the 1970s, and wage inequality has gone up by 40%-50%.

  293. Brad @ various comments

    I have read every single comment on this thread so far. I haven’t made up my mind on what should be done regarding taxation and spending cuts, but I can say this – Your arguments have been poorly constructed, it doesn’t seem to matter to you what real world data shows, and therefore, none of your arguments have a chance of winning me over. The opposing viewpoint at least has data I can look at. And for me, anecdotes can be interesting, but I don’t consider it serious data.

    The snark has been billowing from many here. Sometimes I think the best thing would be for everyone to disavow political parties completely.

  294. @311:

    Sorry, David, wrong name in my comment. I had intended to address Tony C Dye in there instead of you and must’ve slipped a line when looking at attributions or something.

    Oh, gawd, I need a vacation. Or a lot of alcohol, so that I can at least blame that for my attribution-phails of late, though I doubt the boss would approve that here in the office.

    — Steve

  295. Tony @ 301: yes, apparently so. And to be fair, lots of conservatives also play the black-white game, where everyone left of Ayn Rand is a commie pinko marxist. I think what’s always bugged me, ever since I lived and worked in Seattle, is that too many out-and-out liberals — the self-proclaimed “open minded” set — too often prove to be anything but. Conservatives? Conservatives aren’t hanging their hats on being ‘tolerant,’ but many progressives do; and yet behave precisely the opposite.

    Steve @ 306: If I may quote Larry Niven, “There are minds that think as well as yours, just differently.” Americans as a rule tend not to care if, “we’re doing it like everyone else.” (Well, OK, progressive Americans seem to fixate on this to a painful degree, because 9 times out of 10 progressive Americans think the US is doing it “wrong,” but I digress…) The United States is not Scandinavia, with the whole hygge concept. You won’t find many Americans willing to put up with a 50% tax rate. Even if you promise them fantastic social services, infrastructure, etc.

    Todd @ #320: as you’ve clearly noticed, I am not much of a link-slinger — someone who indulges in clobbering an opponent with piles of data points. Mainly because anyone who is even half interested in investigating waste in government can dig up link after link after link. (here is just one example.) I’ve been around long enough to know that ‘my links can beat up your links’ is both tiresome and counterproductive. I can say from experience that waste in government is a serious tip-of-the-iceberg problem — not a trifling distraction, as seems to be the position of some people. And until such waste is sufficiently addressed I am not eager to ‘feed the beast’ as Pournelle adroitly puts it.

    Though obviously there are some Americans who seem to think we can’t give the state and federal system enough of our money. I can only conclude that fans of taxation and government increase — who simultaneously bridle at the suggestion that waste is a problem — are culpable in that waste.

  296. @322

    You managed all the cliched Internet debate strategies.

    The “my opponents are hypocrites”:
    is that too many out-and-out liberals — the self-proclaimed “open minded” set — too often prove to be anything but. Conservatives? Conservatives aren’t hanging their hats on being ‘tolerant,’ but many progressives do; and yet behave precisely the opposite

    The made-up statistics:
    ” (Well, OK, progressive Americans seem to fixate on this to a painful degree, because 9 times out of 10 progressive Americans think the US is doing it “wrong,” but I digress…)

    The “evidence? I don’t need no stinking evidence! I just KNOW” approach:
    I’ve been around long enough to know that ‘my links can beat up your links’ is both tiresome and counterproductive. I can say from experience that waste in government is a serious tip-of-the-iceberg problem — not a trifling distraction, as seems to be the position of some people.

    The strawman extremist argument:
    Though obviously there are some Americans who seem to think we can’t give the state and federal system enough of our money.

    And in only 354 words.

  297. You won’t find many Americans willing to put up with a 50% tax rate. Even if you promise them fantastic social services, infrastructure, etc.

    That’s actually the maximum tax rate and applies only to money made in the highest tax bracket and–wait, you know what? If you can’t even understand how taxes work, why argue over taxes?

  298. Americans as a rule tend not to care if, “we’re doing it like everyone else.” (Well, OK, progressive Americans seem to fixate on this to a painful degree, because 9 times out of 10 progressive Americans think the US is doing it “wrong,” but I digress…)

    Your country can’t pay its debts. That implies that the US is doing it wrong, does it not? I also point out that the kid eating paste in the back of the classroom is also unconcerned about doing things like everyone else… “unique” doesn’t always mean “superior”.

    I would be more impressed with your grasp of politics and economics if you would cite experts in those fields, political scientists or economists, rather than SF authours. (I like Niven too, but he’s no more authoritative as a source on fiscal policy than I am.) Even citing Randroid-in-Chief Alan Greenspan would be better, because at least he’s had his hands on the levers.

    Some quantitative commentary, as opposed to purely qualitative and unweighted opinions, would also help your points.

    — Steve

  299. #324: Don’t forget “my opponents must support and implicitly engage in criminal activity because they disagree with me”:
    I can only conclude that fans of taxation and government increase — who simultaneously bridle at the suggestion that waste is a problem — are culpable in that waste.

  300. To those who responded to my comment above: a wonderful job ladies and gents … of demonstrating why I no longer believe anyone on either side of the taxes/budget/economics controversy. Actually, I suppose I should say “anyone on any side,” since there are definitely more than two. Everyone quotes statistics that seem to support their own point of view and/or demolish the other position(s) in the debate. All of those statistics look correct. If I take all of them at face value, then all the positions get refuted, and none remain valid.

    So tell me: why should I accept your statistics and not the other guy’s? Because you’re right and they’re wrong? I don’t know that. Because your statistics are from Da Guvmint and therefore must be reliable? Don’t make me laugh. Because history is on your side? “History” as quoted by political activists is typically a stack of half-truths selected to defend a certain point of view, not tell the whole truth about what actually happened. I follow Rule 3: never believe what you’re told; always double-check. Unfortunately, there isn’t any way to double-check economic statistics, because there isn’t anybody who doesn’t have a vested interest in lying about it.

    Yeah, I’m a cynical, bitter curmudgeon about this subject. Comes of forty years of watching those in power consistently lie to me — and even worse, it’s the same lie over and over again. Raise taxes and things will get better! Lower taxes and things will get better! Raise spending, we’ll spend the money wisely! Cut spending, we can do just as much with less money! The departments THEY support all waste money, but the departments WE support all spend money well! THEY want to take your rights away, but WE want to protect your rights! THEY waste your money on pork programs that don’t do any good, but WE fund programs that all work wondrously well!

    Lies. All lies.

    Well, lie to me often enough, and I stop believing you forever. In fact, I already did. Not a word, not a syllable of any politician, bureaucrat, or activist’s claims will I believe until their words jibe with the evidence of my own experience — which is that the federal government cannot do anything effectively or efficiently, and the more of my money I give it, the more of my money it wastes.

  301. #328: Considering that your original argument was also “I won’t believe a single word or number that didn’t actually come from my brain,” I’m not sure what your second tirade accomplishes, vis-a-vis the government, taxes, or Warren Buffet for that matter.

  302. Brad @322: You seem to be incredibly eager to cast everyone who disagrees with you as someone who wants to both increase taxation and government spending. I’m pretty sure that it’s been explained to you that this is incorrect by pretty much *every* person in this thread who has disagreed with you. You’re not helping your case with anyone who has read the opening post, let alone anyone who has read any of the other responses.

    wolfwalker @328: Your response to being told different things by different people is to ignore everything except your own experience? That’s an odd way to form opinions about issues on a national level, since there is absolutely no way that your personal experience can cover even the smallest percentage of those issues. You likely don’t even experience enough of *state* issues to form a comprehensive opinion based solely on personal experience, except possibly on extremely niche issues.

    If you won’t even *try* to determine the reason why the statistics you’ve been given differ, then you’re hobbling your understanding right off the bat. We happen to be rather good in this country at calling out statistics that are outright based on falsehood, so any “lies” in statistics are almost exclusively based on either methodology or interpretation. For your own sake, at least try to gain some understanding of these kinds of differences!

  303. Wolfwalker @ 328: I am afraid your personal experience doesn’t count because it’s not rigorously footnoted. For your words to have any merit in this discussion you will have to type them up report-style and provide a detailed bibliography. Otherwise, everything you say is a fabrication — your whole life — because you can’t cite a statistic ‘proving’ that your view is valid. Yup. Believe it. ;^)

  304. wolf: “until their words jibe with the evidence of my experience”

    nice. in one rant you dismiss the validity of fact and statistics, inject a completely unproven lie of you own, and then turn logic on its head by saying your statement is true until they prove it false… *to your satisfaction*…. all swadled in a sense of righteous indignation which makes it clear that nothing and no one will ever do anything to your full satisfaction…

    This is the indignant flat earth society school of argument.

  305. Nonentity @ 330: I realized I was wading upstream when I came in here — it’s Scalzi’s blog, swing a cat and hit 100 liberals — but what can I say about the overreaction to the suggestion that government waste is a) real and b) should be necessarily considered before asking the taxpayers (at all levels) to up the amount of cash they give to the state? Is giving more money to people who waste billions as if it’s trivial really a great idea? Does a responsible parent give a spendthrift child more money from the family budget? No. And yet this seems to be precisely what’s suggested when it comes to the most ‘spoiled’ brat of them all: our engorged state and federal apparatus.

  306. I came to this blog from John’s books. Had one recommended by a book lover who worked at the store, found it compelling; bought the rest including “your hate mail will be graded”

    Started reading the blog and was impressed with John’s cutting-to-the-chase on multiple issues.

    Read the 250+ comments before posting and was discouraged to once again find the basic blog practice of “expelling the outsider”. To be clear, this practice seems to exist across the political spectrum; I have seen it practiced in conservative blogs as much as liberal blogs. The majority agrees that whatever John said. Anyone so clueless ( or presumptuous) to disagree must get the majority of their daily moisture from sucking simian scrotums.

    Made a minor post asking what I thought might be relevant questions. Lost in the stampede to invalidate and denigrate the known and/or apparent non-believers.

    The loss opportunity that I see is that, to the extent that John would like this space to a place for thoughtful conversation, the screamers overwhelm it. To be fair, that may be his agenda and he may be very satisfied with the tone of the comments. It is his blog and that is all that matters here.

    As someone who continues to look for a place to have a thoughtful discussion on some of the key issues of our time, … “still haven’t found what I am looking for” (U2)

  307. Brad@331: and submitted in triplicte.

    I mean, come on man, if you’re going to strawman fact based reasoning into nonsensical bureacracy, then you gotta tell everyone we need it in triplicate. And dont forget it has to come with a 437-stroke-R2 form, or its not even good for an incubator.

  308. Brad @ 333 —

    Ah, yes, GAO-11-318SP. Let me quote from the report.

    In other cases, precise estimates of the extent of unnecessary duplication among certain programs, and the cost savings that can be achieved by eliminating any such duplication, are difficult to specify in advance of congressional and executive branch decision making. In some instances, needed information on program performance is not readily available; the level of funding in agency budgets devoted to overlapping or fragmented programs is not clear; and the implementation costs that might be associated with program consolidations or terminations, among other variables, are difficult to predict. For example, we identified 44 federal employment and training programs that overlap with at least one other program in that they provide at least one similar service to a similar population. However, our review of three of the largest programs showed that the extent to which individuals receive the same services from these programs is unknown due to program data limitations. …

    Additionally, in January 2011, the President signed the GPRA Modernization Act of 2010,4 updating the almost two-decades-old Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). Implementing provisions of the new act—such as its emphasis on establishing outcome-oriented goals covering a limited number of crosscutting policy areas—could play an important role in clarifying desired outcomes, addressing program performance spanning multiple organizations, and facilitating future actions to reduce unnecessary duplication, overlap, and fragmentation.

    (Internal footnotes omitted.)

    So what I’m saying is … the report you rely on, isn’t all that conclusive.

  309. cdavis

    (1) call their accountants and tax attorneys and invest in these professional’s expertise to restructure the business \ portfolio to reduce taxes. … How would an increase in tax rates address this issue?

    Are you saying that raising tax rates won’t increase tax revenue because of accounting tricks? Well if that’s the case, then I don’t know why folks are so adamant against raising taxes, since no one would actually pay any more.

    2) How (or should) an increase in tax rates differentiate between the effect on “true” job creators -vs- the parasites such as investment bankers or execs ordering layoffs?

    We could always raise the capital gains tax. That’s at 15% right now, iirc. That’d be a start.

  310. @327 Good addition.

    Pointing out that Brad is strawmanning other people’s arguments again (latest examples: 331, 333) is getting old.

    So I thought I’d lay out my position:

    1. Government spending should *not* be cut right now to keep its stimulative effect on the economy so as to avoid a double-dip recession from a demand freeze.

    2. When the economy is growing quickly again, the budget should be dealt with by a combination of cuts and tax increases. The cuts should come in defense (go from 11 carriers to 9, cut the USAF’s future manned bomber, reduce the size of the Army and the Marines), and Medicare (reduce the 2003 giveaway substantially) primarily. The tax increases should be to let the Bush tax cuts expire, raise taxes on the plus-$1 million earners even higher, and raise corporate taxes.

    (Oo, crazy liberal positions, aren’t they?)

  311. cdavis @ 334: perhaps the best post of the whole thread? Hat is off.

    @ 336 (leans over to wolf) …and even when you do cite a source — its veracity is impugned or ignored.

  312. and even when you do cite a source — its veracity is impugned or ignored

    Wow, you mean we want your evidence to actually be evidence? The horror!

  313. Oh, and this:

    cdavis: was discouraged to once again find the basic blog practice of “expelling the outsider”.

    Not sure who the “outsider” is. If you mean Brad, he’s not being expelled, he’s being called on his rampant talking-point-ism shpeels. If Brad wants to make arguments based on reason, evidence, facts, statistics, and as long as he submits them in triplicate along with the proper forms, then he can be as adamantly anti-tax and anti government as he wants.

    But he keeps coming in, making completely non-fact-based arguments and people continue to call him on it.

    Telling someone “Data is not the plural of anecdote” is not expelling anyone. It’s telling them they’re making shoddy arguments and no one is buying it.

  314. #339: I’m pretty sure there’s only been one or two sources impugned here, and those because they were editorial pieces instead of, say, academic research with evidence. But I think it’s clear which constitutes a source and which constitutes liberal craziness in a worldview where it’s hinted that welfare queens are more numerous than those with serious mental or physical issues, and power-mad union members are the overwhelming majority of government and non-professional employees.

  315. Oh, and cdavis, no one’s “expelling” you or Brad or anyone else. If you can’t deal with being asked to provide support for your arguments, then the stomping of the feet and the yelling and the running out of the room is all being done by you.

    And, really, who’s being thin-skinned here? It’s certainly not the people being called criminals (or in cahoots with them) for (a) making an argument that none of them actually did, and (b) daring to ask for non-personal experience as a data point.

  316. Here in the lower depths of this thread, the subject appears to be transmuting away from a discussion of Mr. Buffett’s thoughts on taxation, and toward a general symposium of what is the correct way to argue. I suspect this will become increasingly fruitless as a subject of discussion.

    Nevertheless, as there appears to be confusion on this score, let me make things simple for people.

    1. One is entitled to one’s own opinions, but not one’s own facts. Commensurately, anecdote may be fact (it happened to you), but anecdote is generally a poor platform for general assertions, since one’s own experience is often not a general experience.

    2. If you make an assertion that implies a factual basis, it is entirely proper that others may ask you to back up these assertions with facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal.

    3. If you cannot bolster said assertion with facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal, you have to accept that others may not find your general argument persuasive.

    4. This dynamic of people asking for facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal, is in itself non-partisan; implications otherwise are a form of ad hominem argument which is generally not relevant to the discussion at hand.

    5. If you offer evidence and assert it as fact, you may reasonably expect others to examine such information and to rebut you if they find it wanting and/or find your interpretation incorrect in some manner.

    All of which is to say that asserting from anecdote without being able to bolster said assertion with actual facts is likely to get your assertion discounted; if you present facts without rigor, you’re likely to see those discounted as well. Again, this is neither here nor there as regards one’s personal politics; this is simply about making a robust argument.

    Brad, you’re getting dismantled not because you’re Daniel the Conservative in a Lions’ Den of liberals, you’re getting dismantled because you’re arguing without rigor; your own personal experience is not sufficient to make a broader point. You apparently want to mock people for discounting your personal experience, but from the point of making a robust larger argument, they’re entirely correct to point out this isn’t the way to do that. If you are speaking primarily from personal experience, then all you can do is assert what you know; drawing further conclusions from your own experience is fraught with rhetorical peril.

    People here have a low tolerance for general assertion from personal anecdote because rhetorically speaking I have a low tolerance for general assertion from personal anecdote, and over time that rubs off on others who comment here regularly. To Mr. Davis’ point, that low tolerance is in fact non-partisan on my part, as I have called out liberals for bad argument when they have offered one, and I have called out people in non-political threads for the same thing (when one’s politics are not in evidence). There are indeed a lot of liberals here; there are also quite a few conservatives as well. Everyone gets dinged when they argue poorly.

    In a general sense, if one wants to have one’s arguments and assertions taken seriously here, they need to be serious arguments and assertions. There’s nothing wrong with making an observation from personal experience; I do it all the time. But I also note the anecdotal nature of the observation; and when I don’t, guess what? People here call me on it.

    This is all to be noted for future reference.

    For the current time, let’s try once more to keep the focus on what’s in the entry, rather than wandering off into discussions of rhetorical styles.

  317. Brad @339: You cited a source without going to the primary source to see what it *actually* said, and you’re claiming victory because you were called on it? What an odd world you live in.

    cdavis @334: I can verify from personal experience that, if this discussion were to stray into realms of “expelling the outsider”, our host would have no compunctions with intervening quickly and decisively.

    As someone who usually doesn’t participate around here but who lurks almost entirely for the thoughtful discussion, I would respectfully suggest that you’re reading more emotion into the discussion than actually exists (unless you count exasperation when a participant degrades into repeating strawmen ad nauseam). However, discussion around here does rather depend on one’s willingness to engage with facts and to argue consistently and in good faith.

  318. I’ve got WorldCon preparations to make, so I’ll soon be off the grid for too long to keep up with this thread. Which is probably a good thing for all involved, since I seem to be a pro at dragging otherwise productive(?) pro-government liberals back to their keyboards for one more vein-popping go-round of telling me adamantly, “You are wrong-wrong-wrong-wrong-wrong-wrong! And here’s a laundry list of why-why-why-why-why!”

    But yes, cdavis @ 334 nailed it exactly. Exactly. Best post. In the thread.

    Reno beckons. Good evening.

  319. Shoot, I should have numbered the rhetorical debating tricks I outlined in #324.

    #346 is definitely a #4 (strawman extremist position attributed to one’s opponents).

  320. Quoting Buffett: In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion … but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.

    I have a simple question for everyone (Except you, Brad, cause I won’t bother you with direct questions) Can anyone explain why we can’t raise taxes so the top 400 or so would be back to paying 29%?

    I am not asking whether you feel the need to demand the government “clean up its act” before you will allow it to raise taxes to 29%. I am not asking whether you feel the need to insist that before we have tax increases, govenrment cuts must first be made.

    I’m not looking for your negotiation methods for HOW you resist tax increases.

    And I’m not looking for your various strategies with which to “starve the beast” as you call it. If you hate govenrment and all it stands for, move to Afghanistan or Somolia for a government-free experience, then come back and give a full report of what its like to live without welfare queens dragging everyone down. Paradise, I’m sure.

    What I’m looking for is a direct and valid reason as to WHY we can’t raise taxes so that next year the top 400 Americans pay around 29%.

    Why can’t we raise taxes so the top 400 are paying around 29% again? Like they were in 1992. Was 1992′s economy that bad? What happened then that we don’t want to repeat?

    If we raise taxes on these people to 29% what will that cause that would be something to avoid?

  321. @344: *cough* And considering that’s the second time that our host has phrased things far more elegantly and quickly than I could hope to, I’ll take that as my cue to exit. That’ll teach me for not refreshing before hitting the button. I apologize for the repetition.

  322. I’m also seeing the usual suspects (and now Bachmann) derp in response to Buffett by suggesting that he should shut up and write a check, as if that is at all meaningful.

    Given Bachmann’s target demo and her previous nuttiness, this isn’t really surprising.

  323. [Deleted for contentless "U GO BOI" inanity. Seriously, people, things are just getting stupid, now -- JS]

  324. Greg:

    “If you hate govenrment and all it stands for, move to Afghanistan or Somolia for a government-free experience,”

    As a general note, as time goes on I find this particular statement more and more of a placeholder for an actual argument – or more to the point it’s now used often enough that I find its rhetorical effectiveness just about fully wrung out.

  325. cdavis @ 334

    Who is screaming? What I respect about this blog is that if you make an argument here, you better damn well make sure it is well thought out and supported by evidence outside of your own subjective experience. I want people to pick apart my ideas; otherwise, how do we reach a solution that works?

  326. @Kevin Williams #309: “Bill: who’s complaining about the poor paying the majority of income taxes? Citation needed. I even tried a Google search for that quote about the poor bearing all the taxes but it came up empty.”

    You didn’t try searching “on the backs of the poor”? Because it digs up a bajillion liberal bloggers when I do it.

    “Ignoring the income tax, did you pay attention to how much tax you paid for other things? Sales tax, gasoline tax, Medicare, Social Security, and so forth. I’m thinking you’re being less than honest here.”

    Not at all. I talked about this in an earlier post. Medicare and SSN are not actual taxes, more like forced retirement plans, as you’re in theory going to see all that money again. In practice, you actually get back quite a lot more money than you put in, which is one of the reasons the systems aren’t especially solvent. They’re called “Payroll Taxes” since they get deducted from your W-2, but the term is a bit misleading. They’re only taxes if you don’t expect to ever see that money again (which is a fair complaint).

    The poor pay the same rates for sales tax and gasoline tax as everyone else, but since these things make up a larger percentage of their budgets, the tax burden deceptively appears high for them. This ignores, of course, the fact that we don’t tax groceries with a sales tax for exactly that reason, and likewise a lot of car taxes here get subsidized for the poor. If you fail your smog check, for example, you can get it repaired for free if you’re poor. It’s hardly regressive.

    If you look at the effective tax rate for the poor, the rates have been falling steadily over the past 25 years. (http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/key-elements/poor/households.cfm) People who claim the poor are being taxed now more than ever are quite simply lying.

    And again, you’re getting away from the point that Buffett is making, which is exclusively about income tax. The poor don’t pay any income tax. In fact, they get subsidized by the EITC and similar programs to work. Not a bad thing, but absolutely not in accord with the liberal talking points. Another popular talking point is that the rich aren’t paying their fair share. You can see that our tax rates are actually very progressive (again, click on that link above) in terms of effective tax rates.

  327. You didn’t try searching “on the backs of the poor”? Because it digs up a bajillion liberal bloggers when I do it.

    Then provide the links. You made the assertion, you provide the evidence.

    you actually get back quite a lot more money than you put in, which is one of the reasons the systems aren’t especially solvent.

    Social Security is quite solvent, thanks. (http://www.ssa.gov/oact/solvency/index.html warns that solvency may be a problem in 2036. We should all be so lucky).

    The poor don’t pay any income tax. In fact, they get subsidized by the EITC and similar programs to work. Not a bad thing, but absolutely not in accord with the liberal talking points.

    Which liberal talking points? Care to come up with a link?

  328. Bill @ 355

    I take issue with the statement that “they’re only taxes if you don’t expect to ever see that money again”. No, they are taxes because government statute requires you pay a share for services that will be provided to you, either now, or in the future. Moreover, at some points you will be paying more than you use, and at other times, you will receive more than you pay. It’s kind of like how insurance can pay out claims by spreading risk among a large group of people.

    Social Security may have a fairly regular rate of return for every dollar in tax you pay before drawing benefits. Medicare, however, does not, because your health care costs depend in large part upon what illnesses you need treatment for.

    It may help your argument to use a peculiar definition of tax, but I don’t find it convincing. More to the point, I wish people who want to cut programs without a tax increase would acknowledge all of the benefits that they are currently receiving.

  329. Bill, the one link that you provided is dishonest; perhaps you didn’t look too closely at the charts.

    I’ll look at the one showing tax rates for couples at the poverty line (a suspiciously focused statistic in itself): you might notice that at the left it starts at 1970, then to 1980, then for some reason (no doubt to make a political point) the x-axis goes nonlinear and in the same distance between 1970 and ’80, it becomes 5 years’ difference, then starting in 2000 it goes in 1-year increments, again without changing the spacing (and don’t say “logarithmic scale!”, it isn’t).

    That makes it quite a bit more difficult to see what the trends truly are; doubtless this is not an accident, as your source is partisan.

    If you drill down and go to the page the chart mentions, you’ll see that they’re making a bunch of assumptions, and that the data are from their own model, i.e. it’s not unbiased either.

  330. You didn’t try searching “on the backs of the poor”? Because it digs up a bajillion liberal bloggers when I do it.

    So, I tried your way, and guess what? The first couple of pages are made up almost entirely of reposts of the same exact article, which says that the poor are bearing the burden of rescue from the recession/debt. Which, in the context of the actual conservative position in the debt fight, which was zero taxes on anyone and cuts almost entirely to programs for the unemployed, low-income, and out-of-workforce, has the virtue of…being true (unless one wants to argue the middle-class and rich are the primary beneficiaries of Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and block-grant programs).

    Medicare and SSN are not actual taxes, more like forced retirement plans, as you’re in theory going to see all that money again. In practice, you actually get back quite a lot more money than you put in, which is one of the reasons the systems aren’t especially solvent.

    I could be wrong on this (and willing to admit it), but isn’t this only true if there’s no adjustment for inflation and if you were a low-income worker?

    The poor pay the same rates for sales tax and gasoline tax as everyone else, but since these things make up a larger percentage of their budgets, the tax burden deceptively appears high for them.

    How that deceptively high?

    This ignores, of course, the fact that we don’t tax groceries with a sales tax for exactly that reason, and likewise a lot of car taxes here get subsidized for the poor.

    Neither of these is a universal for the US.

    If you look at the effective tax rate for the poor, the rates have been falling steadily over the past 25 years. People who claim the poor are being taxed now more than ever are quite simply lying.

    Stop trying to change the subject. No one here’s making either of those arguments, so I don’t know who you’re railing against. The argument is that the rich are being taxed less now than ever, and that is undeniably true.

    And again, you’re getting away from the point that Buffett is making, which is exclusively about income tax.

    No, it’s not. He touches on pretty much all taxation.

    The poor don’t pay any income tax. In fact, they get subsidized by the EITC and similar programs to work. Not a bad thing, but absolutely not in accord with the liberal talking points.

    Only if you’re talking about Federal income tax, which a lot of conservatives conveniently forget to mention. And many, many liberals have made that point, which is again conveniently forgotten.

    Another popular talking point is that the rich aren’t paying their fair share. You can see that our tax rates are actually very progressive (again, click on that link above) in terms of effective tax rates.

    Those are not particularly progressive tax rates, considering the enormous disparities in income. The paper I linked to above postulates an actual, feasible (economically speaking) progressive tax rate on the top end to be twice what your link claims. A lot of other economies, particularly in Europe have tax rates that follow that.

  331. I’m late to this thread, and most of the things I would say have already been covered by other people. It took quite a while to skim through all the comments.

    In fact, most of the things I would say were said my Mr. Buffett himself.

    A few people commenting here don’t seem to have read Mr. Buffett’s editorial. I recommend it.

    This isn’t the first time he has suggested that the rich could afford to pay more in taxes (and that they would remain rich if they did!). He wasn’t specific enough, and so he left an opening for people to claim he was being disingenuous. If they raised the marginal rate for ordinary income, it wouldn’t really affect him much, since his income is mostly capital gains and dividends, which are taxed at a lower rate.

    In his New York Times editorial on Monday, he addresses those concerns. He is not being disingenuous. He really is suggesting that the taxes he pays go up, including the capital gains tax. He wants to keep taxes low for the working poor and middle class, but raise them on the wealthy.

  332. aw, man, Rick was the perfect combination of “wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong” and awesome. I think retro rick rolling ought to raise the minimum age too cause who likes retro 80′s music except for the old codgers who grew up on ot.

    bummer.

  333. #348

    Because those 400 rich people would move the capital overseas, to somewhere the US government cannot tax it

  334. #365: And you know that…how? Because there’s plenty of historical data showing that top marginal tax rates as from 40% to as high as 90% had not just higher levels of relative GDP, but higher levels of growth in GDP then the current sub-40% rates.

  335. And, no, most of the other 400 richest people can’t just “move capital overseas.” We’re not talking about a couple $100 cashier’s checks from Western frickin’ Union here. For folks like Warren Buffet and most of the other top earners, many of whom are people in financial industry positions, that would mean they all of they sudden decided that capitalism was a bad idea after all, since taking large chunks of money from the American economy would essentially ruin every bank in the world.

    And for folks like Bill Gates, who have enormous amounts of capital (to say nothing of intellect, labor, and other forms of production) tied up in a wide range of business ventures in the US, removing everything would have roughly the same effect as above, except that it would take even longer to happen.

  336. Yes they can move capital overseas and it is in fact one of the things that is causing places like China to boom.

    The story of the 21st century is already a story of a massive migration of capital and wealth from the west to asia

    Buffet and company already have a large percentage of their portfolio’s internationally

    Capital typically will find it’s way to wherever it gets the highest rate of return

    If you tax it at a higher rate in the US you make foreign markets looks more attractive for investment unless they follow suit

    That’s how markets work.

    Will they move all their assets? Probably not. But they don’t have to.

    If they move enough, you end up with less tax income even at a higher tax

  337. @334 you are correct. Lots of articles are fun to read. Political and those about religion are always one sided an I suspect thrown out there from time to time to keep traffic up. But I am sure this thread will be deleted

  338. #360 Kevin: “Bill, the one link that you provided is dishonest; perhaps you didn’t look too closely at the charts.”

    Dishonest implies it’s not saying what it says it does. Not having a linear x-axis is a good find, but I don’t see how that changes the fact that the poor are paying less in taxes now than ever before (at least in the last 30-40 years), contrary to liberal talking points which state that they bear a disproportionately large share.

    @Todd “It may help your argument to use a peculiar definition of tax, but I don’t find it convincing.”

    Do you consider your automatic retirement deductions from your paycheck a “tax” as well? Because it is identical to how SSN operates – automatic deductions from your paychecks, with the expectations of getting the money back after you retire. The details are a bit different, but, hell, it was originally just a retirement plan (only for working individuals) before it was expanded by various acts of Congress.

    As for the solvency of the system, read more about the problem with paying out more than you take in here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicare_%28United_States%29#Estimated_net_Medicare_benefits_for_different_worker_categories

    @Jesse #361: “I could be wrong on this (and willing to admit it), but isn’t this only true if there’s no adjustment for inflation and if you were a low-income worker?”

    Also see the above link on wikipedia.

    “Neither of these is a universal for the US.”

    True, I only know the intricacies of California, where your car repairs get subsidized, and you don’t pay sales tax on groceries so that the poor can get food cheaply.

    But at the federal level, there’s all sorts of tax break available only to people below certain income thresholds. Off the top of my head, you can get money from the feds for having:
    Student loan debt
    Subsidized student loans / scholarships in general
    Paying for child care
    Just working (EITC)
    Fixing up your house
    Free and reduced lunches
    Free health care (Medicaid)
    …again, only if you are below various income thresholds.

    I’m sure I’m leaving out plenty of examples, too. As much as we like to pretend that our system screws the poor, there’s a LOT of programs out there to channel money back to them. I’ve been poor. And it sucks. A lot. When you can’t afford a bit of preventive maintenance on your car, and so both your engine and transmission go out at once, as it did in one horrible month for me in 2002, it really does feel like you’re being punished for being poor.

    But I never blamed the federal government for my misery, or thought I was being taxed too heavily, or expected it to do anything for me other than providing a safety net in case I fell deathly ill.

  339. mythago @ 370: “There really needs to be a one-flounce-per-thread rule for the Internets.”

    One or zero, hopefully!

  340. Context note: Australian, left-leaning (even for Australia), and fond of Keynesian “bottom up” economic solutions.

    I’d point out that for a lot of people in the US, what they need isn’t a tax cut, but rather an income boost – like the one they’d get from a job. At present, people (at all levels of the economy) aren’t spending money, so firms aren’t hiring, so banks aren’t paying out credit, so people (at all levels of the economy) aren’t spending money so… around and around it goes, in ever-decreasing spirals. So, like the good little Marxist/Keynesian I am, I’m going to suggest that what’s needed isn’t a concentration on tax gathering (although tax gathering will be a good start). What’s needed is a focus on job creation. Get people employed, get them earning their wages, get them putting money back into the economic cycle from the bottom. Go against about thirty years of economic “orthodoxy” and admit that trickle-down economics doesn’t work, isn’t working, and at this point is only making things worse.

    So, create bottom level jobs. Jobs doing things like building roads, building bridges, feeding cable down pipes to upgrade data infrastructures, doing maintenance on railway lines and rail-cars, removing graffiti from various structures, planting trees along roadsides, picking vegetables in Georgia, whatever. Pay a base level living wage for these jobs (this may require government subsidies to start with, just to prime the pump) – enough for a family with two people employed in such positions to be able to afford an average-level rent, health insurance fees, petrol for a car, food, school fees, child care, and a few small luxuries (like say beer and cigarettes) each week, with maybe a bit left over for savings (or paying off credit cards or whatever else). Let these jobs carry on for a couple of years, and see whether there’s a net improvement in the economy.

    Note that the really important bit there is the base level living wage – because the more people you have at the lowest level of society who are earning enough to live on, rather than just scrape by on, the more people you have putting the majority of their incomes back into the economic cycle. They pay for groceries, which helps pay someone else’s wage at the grocery store – and the grocery store person is able to pay their rent, medical insurance, child care, petrol, food etc etc… and the money goes around and around. Contrary to the screams of the US establishment, a living wage does not mean that the Warren Buffets of the world are going to be reduced to penury. What it means is there’s more money circulating at the lower end of the economy, where people spend the majority of their weekly incomes (on things which are relatively inelastic – like food, rent, health insurance, school fees, loan repayments, etc). Strangely enough, the wealth trickles up, because the demand from below drives the whole economy.

    Or at least, it does in the rest of the known world.

    I’d be interested in seeing whether this would actually happen in the USA – if only to find out whether US Exceptionalism is all it’s cracked up to be. If things really don’t work there the same way that they do even a few miles over the borders to the north and the south (in Canada and Mexico) then maybe the US is justified in ignoring solutions which appear to be working just about everywhere else.

  341. Megpie71:

    The inelasticness of expenses like rent and food are what makes your argument one I really support. In the debate of trickle-down vs bottom up, the fact that the wealthier members of society have the option of socking away extra income, while the poorer have to immediately recycle most of it back into the economy makes me wonder why this is even still an argument.

  342. Dishonest implies it’s not saying what it says it does. Not having a linear x-axis is a good find, but I don’t see how that changes the fact that the poor are paying less in taxes now than ever before (at least in the last 30-40 years), contrary to liberal talking points which state that they bear a disproportionately large share.

    You should recognize that the two points above are not contradictory. The poor may well still be paying less than they have previously and still be bearing a disproportionately large share.

    Do you consider your automatic retirement deductions from your paycheck a “tax” as well? Because it is identical to how SSN operates – automatic deductions from your paychecks, with the expectations of getting the money back after you retire. The details are a bit different

    That last sentence is really the understatement of the thread. Yes, the details are different. One is a voluntary deduction, the other is not. That difference is the what makes the Social Security deduction a tax.

  343. #374: But as I pointed out to you several times, the point of Buffet’s article and this thread is that the rich are being taxed too little, not that the poor are being taxed too much. You’ve either avoided this point or dismissed it in one sentence without any proof.

  344. Drachefly @375: Well, the hope is that somebody who flounces off will stay flounced, leaving the overall quality of discussion slightly improved by their absence. So one flounce, I think, is not only acceptable but to be positively encouraged. The problem is when the flounce is not really an exit (as it virtually always seems to be) and is simply a rhetorical tantrum designed to get others to drop a particularly troublesome line of discussion, so that the flouncer can come back shortly thereafter and pick up somewhere less strenuous.

    I’m not sure why they think this will work, since it makes them look like a liar (“What happened to having to quit this nonsense because you were off to bed?”) and/or so immature that they cannot actually exercise the self-control to disengage from a conversation they profess to have abandoned.

    So, one flounce per thread; it benefits us all, and perhaps would-be flouncers may be moved to use their opportunity wisely.

  345. @373 Because prior to the 21st century the US was somewhat the only game in town when it came to investment, or at least the best game in town with regards to returns even with higher capital games

    There was some attempts, Four Asian Tigers but there was really not anything to such up large amounts of capital

    Remember capital does not want to just sit there it wants to make a return

    I do think we should raise capital gains but I think we should do some in conjunction with whatever legislation we can come up with to limit the risk of capital flight. And even then, it may not increase tax revenue much, however we need to get into the habit of callings the bluffs the ultra rich keep holding over us.

  346. Because prior to the 21st century the US was somewhat the only game in town when it came to investment, or at least the best game in town with regards to returns even with higher capital games

    Evidence?

  347. I don’t have a dog in the GDP fight, but I am kind of a fogey about sourcing Wikipedia rather than, say, the actually source referred to by Wikipedia.

  348. “US share of world GDP (nominal) peaked in 1985 with 32.74% of global GDP (nominal).”

    One third of global GDP (even allowing for the Warsaw Pact being off limits) is not the same thing as “somewhat the only game in town”

  349. Wikipedia stands unless you offer evidence to the contrary. I’d rather have something peer reviewed then the agenda laden drivel people normally site.

    Do you have any counter evidence to anything I am saying?

    What exactly is the counterclaim here? This is all econ 101 stuff, none of it is seriously challenged.

    Say for the sake of arguement that the US was around half the capitilist GDP

    It’s also a matter of alternatives and return on investment.

    The lions share of the rest of the 1st world economies was Europe. The US economy was growing at between 3-4% as opposed to European economies that were growing much slower (Great Britain as an example was averaging around 2%). Also the US was considered less low risk due to both parties being basically bought and paid for by big business.

    http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-kingdom/gdp-growth

    Sure there were overseas investment opportunities. Japan, south east asia, but they all carried risks none of them had the depth to soak up even a fraction of the capital tied up in the US.

    This is no longer true, you can hardly open a newspaper without reading about the rise of the BRIC

  350. unholyguy, er, wait, so you are arguing that there is a causual link between the tax rates of 1992 andthe US investments in the rest of the world peaking in 1982?

    the tax rate in 1992 caused the peak in 1985?

    doesnt that require a time machine? I mean shouldnt the cause come before the event it causes?

    mayhaps the peak of 1985 had some other cause? maybe? perhaps?

  351. No, I am not arguing anything like that

    I think prior to the rise of the brics we could have taxed those little shits whatever we felt like and they would have had no real choice but to stfu and pay it

  352. The problem with relying overly much on the projection of historical trends is the entire economic world has changed twice in our lifetimes. Once when communism fell, again in 2007-2008

    You cannot project numbers from prior to those periods with any degree of accuracy.

  353. unholyguy, please click on the link I posted in 373. it shows marginal tax rates for the last hundred years. if high taxes is what cauzed companies to go overseas, then how does that fit that graph that tax rates pretty much peaked in 1945 and have been going down ever since? 1985 is smack in the middle of a black diamond ski slope of plummetting tax rates.

    if high tax rates cause folks to go galt overseas, they would have bailed right after WW2 and slowly come back over the.next 40 years, not hung around during the war, and the decades.of plummeting tax rates that follow, *and then* decide that 4 decades of falling tax rates was just not enough.

    are you seeing the issue I am having with your assertion? Its almost as if it wasnt even based off any empirical or objective evidence at all.

  354. unholyguy@389, I am not sure, but did you just argue that because the world has ‘moved on’ as it were, that we cant look at historical numbers? Just want to confirm.

  355. @390 – This is income tax. Income tax is nothing to the hyper wealthy

    @391 – Yes and no.

    The fundamental rules of capitalism have not changed, but the underlying assumptions of most macroeconomic models have become outdated.

    One of the reasons why it was so hard to get a home loan in 2008 was that none of the statistical models were really working anymore and no one knew what your chance of default was.

    Looking at data from 1960 is about the same as looking at data from 1760 at this point. There is information in there, but you cannot blithely apply trendlines

    I do not have direct evidence to support this statement however, it is an opinion. There is significant indirect evidence though, recommend Black Swan or Fooled by Randomness by Taleb if you are interested.

  356. Say for the sake of arguement that the US was around half the capitilist GDP

    Sure; that’s not the same thing as being the “only game in town,” which is what you said. If you want to back off that assertion and say that the US was the most important game in town, I wouldn’t argue.

    The lions share of the rest of the 1st world economies was Europe. The US economy was growing at between 3-4% as opposed to European economies that were growing much slower (Great Britain as an example was averaging around 2%).

    German growth rates seem to have been pretty comparable to the US:
    http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG/countries/DE-US?display=graph

    As were France’s:
    http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG/countries/US-FR?display=graph

  357. #392: Pursuant to your last sentence, perhaps you should read either post #344 or the Whatever front page…

  358. Warren Buffet is the boss so he could (but doesn’t) structure his compensation the same as his employees. Maybe if he only took salary instead of capital gains he could (but doesn’t) pay more taxes. He could also tell his accountants to only take the standard deduction.

    I would pay more attention to his arguments if he made it clear that he did not personally take advantage of all of the “targeted tax cuts” (i.e. tax loopholes) available to the rich.

  359. @395

    Warren Buffet isn’t saying he won’t pay the least amount allowable under the law. He’s saying that we should change the law to make the least amount allowable higher, particularly for him and other high-net-worth individuals.

    Your argument is very similar to the “If he wants to pay more taxes he should send in a check to the IRS” argument that has been soundly rejected here and elsewhere.

  360. unholyguy, here is a better chart. it shows income, corporate, and capital gains tax rates for ths last hundred years.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/15/top-marginal-tax-rates-chart_n_849596.html

    oddly enough it also shows corporate rates dropping since ww2.

    I realize you have asserted that we cant look at historical info prior to 2008, but I will assert that history does in fact inform us of the future. And looming at this graph of corporate tax, I see nothing that would suggest any connection between corporate tax rates since ww2 somehow lead to the peak ‘Galt’ event you say happened in 1985.

    in fact if you say IS a connection between corporate tax rate and Galting, it would appear to be an inverse relation. The lower the taxes, the more Galting that happens.

  361. @393 Yup but what were the tax rates in Germany and France during that time frame? Better or worse then the US? What were the governments attitude toward American business? What was the political stability?

    If it is the phrase “only game in town” that is bothering you I will happily strike it and replace it with “far and away best investment climate”

    @392. Please refer to post #344, first point. I am entitled to my own opinion with the regards to applying historical data projections on the current socio economics. It is an informed opinion but I am not passing it off as fact.

    However the change in roles between the US and the rest of the world with regards to capital, return on investment, globalization etc is not an opinion it is a fact which I am happy to continue to back up with references.

    Again, what exactly are you two counter claiming David and Jesse?

  362. Yup but what were the tax rates in Germany and France during that time frame? Better or worse then the US? What were the governments attitude toward American business? What was the political stability?

    Sure, but that’s not the argument you were making and to which I was responding.

    (Note also that you are asserting something–that rich people could not flee the US because it was the only game in town–and that you must provide the evidence for it. The GDP evidence you pointed to does not back up your claim. If you’d like to provide evidence that relates to the questions above, you should do so. Your argument, your evidence.)

    Again, what exactly are you two counter claiming David and Jesse?

    I’m not counter-claiming anything. I’m asking you to provide evidence for your claim.

  363. Consider the phrase “Only Game in Town” well and truly struck from the book of life.

    I never said rich people would flee the US, I said the capital would. The rich people will stay, there is no need for them to go anywhere

    The only argument I am making is that it is a lot easier to imagine this actually happening now, given that the hottest place for investing large amounts of capital is no longer the US, as opposed to twenty years ago when it was much less of a credible threat

  364. unholyguy, just to review, you said the reason we cant raise taxesto 1992 levels is because corps will go galt. your only proof thus far is showing peak galtness in 1985.

    you have yet to show an actual link between the two. I provided a graph of various tax rates over the years which would show a negative correlation between taxes and galtness.

    you response was again to ignore the data and aggain to hand out another unproven assertion that its the difference in tax rates between countries that causes galtness. if you would like to provide some sort of historical graph that shows that other countries in which peak galtness was occurring did in fact have lower tax rates than the US for any given year, then you would hav some evidence to suggest a causual link.

    I provided a link for your first assertion. but given the ease in which you ignored it and instead made another evidenceless claim, I dont feel like playing assertion-whack-a-mole with you.

    It could be that rather than tax rates being the driving force of galtness, that it was the sudden availability of cheap labor in other countries that was the incentive. or a myriad of other causes. If you want to asssert that it was specifically driven by taxes, I will let you the evidence.for that this time.

  365. @402 no this is not an accurate sumamry of what I said. I suspect you are hearing what you expect to hear as you are used to dealing with talking points rather then reasoning.

    Also, i don’t know what “go galt” means, please clarify your terminology, especially when you make up new phrases

    Here are the points of my argument, please tell me which you disagree with

    1: I was not talking about corporations for one, I was talking about very rich people. I never used the word “corporation” in any of my posts. Corporations are an entirely differnt problem
    2: We were not talking about income tax but capital gains tax as income is irrelevant to non existent for very rich people.
    3: There has actually not been a huge amount of variation in capital gains tax over the last 30 years, nothing like the variation in income tax. It is time for that to change.
    4: Capital transfer to the developing world is already happening irrespective of capital gains tax rates, to the detriment of the US economy
    5: It is reasonable to assume that raising capital gains tax will exacerbate rather then alleviate that trend (though this is not proven)
    6: Therefore any raising of capital gains tax should be accompanied by legislation that attempts to retain capital in the US (as opposed to current legislation which actual encouraged capital movement out of the US).

    The obsession with income tax is very strange to me. Do you actually understand what “income” is and where rich people actually get their money from?

    Now, tell me which of these points do you disagree with and I will be happy to further support it

  366. unholyguy: I suspect you are hearing what you expect to hear as you are used to dealing with talking points rather then reasoning.

    I generally assume that when someone keeps making assertions without evidence and ignores evidence to the contrary that talking points is more likely than reason.

    i don’t know what “go galt” means, please clarify your terminology, especially when you make up new phrases

    I didn’t make up “go Galt”. If you google “go galt” (which you obviously did not do), I get 10 million hits. Its actually a fairly common phrase, especially when talking about taxes.

    We were not talking about income tax but capital gains tax

    I was talking about both. My question at 348 asked why we can’t raise taxes on the top 400 so they’re paying 29% like they were in 1992. You can collect some of that through an increase in income tax for people earning over 250,000. It’s not that difficult.

    There has actually not been a huge amount of variation in capital gains tax over the last 30 years, nothing like the variation in income tax

    Good grief. The link I posted @398 shows that capital gains tax was flat from 1940 to 1970, and then in the last 30 years bounced up and down quite a bit. Almost exactly opposite of what you’re saying.

    It is reasonable to assume that raising capital gains tax will exacerbate rather then alleviate that trend

    And then you say:

    (though this is not proven)

    Which was my entire point. You made the assertion. And you have yet to provide even a shred of any evidence that would support it.

    I asked a question as to WHY we can’t raise taxes. You answered because the rich will leave the country or invest overseas or as others might say, go Galt. I asked you for evidence that this would happen and countered with my own evidence that would suggest that higher taxes does not correlate to going galt. If we had high taxes and people weren’t going galt in the past, you need to then prove why they would do it now.

    Saying we can’t raise taxes on the rich because they will go galt with no evidence to support it is asserting a talking point, not reasoning.

    Reasoning would provide evidence and from the evidence one could conclude some form of cause and effect. Why would I conclude that people will go Galt if there is no evidence to support that notion? Unless I wanted to conclude thta in the first place….

  367. I never said we could not raise taxes

    I never said the rich would leave the country

    Can you read? Or do you just hear voices in your head and then respond to them?

  368. What does “Go Galt” mean to you?

    If it means the rich will leave the country then of course that is stupid

    If it means the rich will invest overseas then of course that is happening

    what does it mean?

  369. Have you heard of Ayn Rand or her book “Atlas Shrugged”? It’s a libertarian polemic which contains a character named “John Galt”. Galt is little more than a mouthpiece through which Rand gives her speech about how life should be and an actor playing in an imaginary world created.by Rand to ‘demonstrate’ how life works in her rather warped mind.

    When I say ‘going Galt’, I am refering to the warped libertarian notion of ‘justice’ that Ayn Rand wraps up in her character John Galt.

    Now, the problem I am facing at the moment is that I am dealing with someone who doesnt know what ‘go Galt’ means, even though that very phrase is in the *original post* of this thread, along with a mention that it came from Ayn Rand, with a link to another thread about the book ‘Atlas Shrugged’. And this person has already made several points toquestion *my* reading comprehension.

  370. Yeah I know who John Galt is and have read part of that piece of trash until I got sick of it, and am familiar with the crap excuse for a philosophy that hack Ayn Rand exposes.

    If by “going Galt” you mean “act like John Galt does in Atlas Shrugged then i think you don’t know what it means, as you are using it in a way that has nothing to do with that book or John Galt’s behavior

    To clarify, no one is exposing that rich people are going to stop working and go on strike or wage any kind of disruptive campaign.

    They are simply going to keep doing what they always do which is put their capital where they think it will net the greatest yield

  371. unholyguy, what do you think Scalzi meant when he used the phrase in the original post? Do you think he is suggesting behavior that follows step for step, act for act, and word for word, the character John Galt did in the boo

    You act as if this is a mystery that has you stopped cold and must be directly answered in painstaking detail before the discussion can proceed.

    Which I suppose is one way to move the discussion away from the multitude of your unsupported assertions about why we cant raise taxes because it would cause the rich to Go Galt.

  372. I am assuming he meant “rich will people will get pissed and change their behavior in some kind of way that hurts the rest of us”

    Let’s put the phrase aside since it’s a stumbling block and you don’t know what it means anyway

    Look. If i have to tell you this one more time I am going to reach through this computer screen and slap you

    I never said we cannot raise taxes.

    I am all for raising taxes

    Along with raising taxes we need to build in some nasty little counter incentives to give pause to any hyper rich person who starts thinking the grass might be greener in china

    Should have done that years ago, even more reason to do it now

  373. Busy comments!

    @Petec 233

    It seems to need constant reminding, but the 2001 – 2003 tax cuts expired in 2010. We now have the Obama tax cuts. Those are the ones you need to repeal, or just wait for them to expire, whatever. Why do we even have them in the first place?

  374. Greg@348: Can anyone explain why we can’t raise taxes so the top 400 or so would be back to paying 29%?

    unholyguy@365: Because those 400 rich people would move the capital overseas, to somewhere the US government cannot tax it

    me: why can’t we raise taxes?
    you: because blah blah blah

    unholyguy: I never said we cannot raise taxes.

    Just stop.

  375. @412

    It seems to need constant reminding, but the 2001 – 2003 tax cuts expired in 2010. We now have the Obama tax cuts

    No, and no. The 2001-2003 were SUPPOSED to expire in 2010, but the Republicans stamped their feet and shrieked and demanded that they be extended. As a result, they did not expire. Obama certainly deserves part of the blame for not opposing that extension in any but the most tepid imaginable way, but these are still the same Bush tax cuts that were supposed to automagically create tons of jobs… and didn’t. It is a lie to claim otherwise.

  376. It seems to need constant reminding, but the 2001 – 2003 tax cuts expired in 2010. We now have the Obama tax cuts.

    Wow, the right wing is so embarrassed by the Bush tax cuts that the latest meme is to lay them off on Obama?

  377. Greg show me a place where i said we can’t raise taxes

    I’m coming to the conclusion that you are not reading posts before replying to them

    We certainly can and should raise capitla gains and income tax, I’ve said that at least five times now

    Are you hearing me? Is this getting through? Raise taxes good. We should raise taxes. I am for raising taxes. Lets raise taxes. Taxes raise now. Me Tarzan, this tax raises.

    There are just some other things we need to do along with it to keep the rich from dodging

    is that so hard to understand?

  378. “The sort of person who is very rich becomes so by understanding the rules of the game and leveraging them to their maximum benefit.”

    So well said and so true. It’s interesting how well Buffet’s position leverages him with the current administration.

  379. unholyguy.

    dude. every time you ask “where did I say we cant raise taxes?”, several bothans die.

    Their blood is on your hands.

  380. So blah, blah blah…and blah. How much should we tax the rich bastards..by the way, who are the rich bastards? Let’s pick a number shall we?

    I actually think many of you would rather just have a Monarchy..or a maybe a mob decide who the bastards are and just take all their money. And give it to whom? Who will decide that by the way. Our government programs are not working if you haven’t noticed. Obamacare just cut $500 Billion out of Medicare, soooo apparently “someone” has decided old people are the bastards.The list of failed and corrupt redistribution plans goes on and on…but maybe if we give them more money…
    it will all be better.

    We have plenty of tax money to run this government. We don’t have enough money to support everyone who does not want to work as well as everyone who is old, and everyone who needs healthcare, and every public workers lifetime pension, and everyone’s education, and everyone’s birth control and abortion, and everyone’s rehab, and everyones…well, everything. It’s not that I don’t think some of these folks need help from someone, I just don’t think it should be from federal tax money.

    That is the problem with economic planning ( which many of you seem to specialize in) it’s that you give up political freedom( freedom from coercion/arbitrary power of other men/release from the ties which leave an individual no choice but obedience to the orders of a superior to whom he’s attached) , in return for economic freedom(supposed freedom from the “despotism of physical want ie: power and wealth, in other words, wealth redistribution. Unfortunately, history has shown, repeatedly, these two freedoms cannot be combined.

    The “belief” many of you share, that somehow if we take more money from those who have an abundance, it will bring unfortunate Americans the freedom of abundance, seems genuine and sincere, but when implemented fully, is always..always tragic for ALL.

    We don’t even need to look at history to see the evidence of this. Europe is crumbling under the weight of redistribution at this very moment. It is noteworthy that the intelligentsia embraced this system and now have no idea how to stop the carnage that it has wrought.

    Class warfare is a false prophecy in a truly free society. I think most liberals swallow this because they are caring and idealistic. There is nothing wrong with wanting things to be fair, wanting a utopia, if you will. It’s just that reality always wins out. It is the classic” be careful what you wish for ” example. The pure irony of it is inescapable: while striving for fairness you must be unfair.

    The even bigger irony though, is how many of you are willing to be fooled into blaming your fellow Americans, the tea party, the rich, the corporations, the blacks, the whites, the unions, the banks, the lobbyists, on and on and on…. The truth is none of these people, these citizens are to blame for the hole we are in. This is all a lie designed to control your VOTE. That is your ONLY power to protect your freedom, your religion, your rights to the pursuit of happiness in the way you see fit.

    If you think you can’t lose that in small measures you are wrong. I am against any tax increase too, but I am for tax reform. Many conservatives are for tax reform. I am conservative. This does not mean I don’t want to pay taxes, it doesn’t mean I’m uncharitable, it doesn’t mean I’m greedy, it certainly doesn’t mean I’m toting a gun (although I think think I should be able to If I want), it doesn’t mean I’m a bible-thumper,(although I believe in the sanctity of life), I say GO to the tea party( I think they are doing a great job of bringing some accountability to this government). I want to work hard, keep the money I earn and distribute it as I see fit ( I think I am a better judge of that than the government, or you for that matter).I think this makes me a practical person, not a radical.

    What I’m getting at here is.. there are a lot of blanket statements here regarding conservatism. I just want to point out, my views are probably not THAT different from an average liberal.

    The only fundamental difference is HOW to go about fixing stuff in society. I believe my conservatism is based in reality. Like.. hope for the best and prepare for the worst kind of thing.

    Just stop the accusations for a minute and do some reading..make sure you read “Road to serfdom” by FA Hayek. I learned a lot from reading some things about real governments, real successful economies, real horrendous ones and how they got there. You know, technology and societies change, but people’s natures really don’t change much. Their motivations have pretty much been the same for thousands of years. Facing the reality of how that affected societies in the past is a pretty good way to understand where we wan to go, and where we don’t want to go.

  381. man, that… that… was fricken impressive… I mean… damn… even managed to give a shout out against paying for someone else’s abortion… I feel like I just got caught up in a Fox News blipvert and managed to not spontaneously explode. I feel slightly dirty too. Like someone just used me for a talking point receptacle. a one night stand. use me and then sneak off in the middle of the night. I feel like I need to take a shower.

    “there are a lot of blanket statements here regarding conservativism”

    Oh, man, you have no idea just how true that is. conservative blanket statements. whew, yes. absolutely we get a lot of those. I dont even know where to begin…

  382. I’ve always viewed the “job creators” line as more a bald-faced threat than a moral assertion. “They created your job and they can take it away if you offend them.”

  383. @424: Conservative blankets are far too prickly and stiff for my tastes. They are quite good if you’re caught in a blizzard, however, as long as you’re already warm when you put one on.

  384. a ten page pdf interview with the guy who invented card counting for blackjack?

    too long, off topic, didnt read.

    (ok, I read the first page and it was sufficiently off topic that I wasnt going to read another 9 pages to find out if it ever got on topic.)

  385. Your name calling and ad hominems are very powerfu, unholyguy. You called me ‘ignorant’ and I lost two IQ points. Use your powers wisely.

  386. You cannot lose that which you do not have (-:

    Seriously though, if you are legitimately interested in how all this stuff plays out you got to dig pretty deep into the world of high finance, which is a quite icky, complicated place.

  387. re 431:

    Do YOU understand them well enough to explain them to others not so grounded in “high finance”? There’s a lot of model building in high finance (applied math folks can make a good living there), but they are just as subject as GIGO as anyone else.

  388. I understand them as well as anyone does who isn’t actively part of building the models, I was working in that industry up until about a year ago, part of my job was to support people like Thorpe

    One of my primary roles was to make sure it was not garbage that went in…

    No one understands it all though

  389. Eric & David, I realize December 2010 was like, what hundreds of years ago? But even from that far distant past you should remember that in those ancient times we had a Democratic House, Senate, and President. Or at least that’s what archeology tells us.

    According to most historical accounts these “Republicans” were an early version of what we now call the “Republicans” although history records that they were much weaker in numbers than our current modern age. Why that is somewhat a mystery beyond most available documentation of the era although various oral histories mention a boiled leaf that lead to the increase of Republican fortunes. But then, they didn’t have the power to bring the President, or as legend says was then known as “The One, ” “The healthbringer,” or as some called him, “Muad’Dib;” to bring him to his knees with the rituals of stomping and shrieking that you’ve described.

    The “first draft of history” notes that Maud’Dib gazed over his domain, and decided he wanted four more years, and with the urgings of his dark wizard Bernake, decreed that the tax cuts shall be so.

    The Linear B tablets record he spake thus:

    “…a substantial victory for middle-class families across the country.”

    “a package of tax relief that will protect the middle class, that will grow our economy and will create jobs for the American people.”

    Other scholars dispute this, noting that the connection of tax cuts to growing an economy and creating jobs violate the core tenets of “The One.”

    In any case, we can argue over the details of history from this ancient time. I mean after all, were any of us alive back then? But our best sources say that the government was controlled by Democrats, and they didn’t want to be responsible for letting what would be a de facto tax increase take effect.

  390. Greg: I lost two IQ points

    unholyguy: You cannot lose that which you do not have

    (bats eyelashes) You smooth talker you.

  391. @397

    You are right Erik. Nobody has an obligation to pay more in taxes than the legal minimum. But that was not the point that I was trying to make. So let me try again.

    In my opinion, the tax code is a great big game of Zork, The Great Underground Empire. The uber rich get to play on an entirely different level than the rest of us.

    So now let me posit the following hypothetical: Warren Buffet is the boss so he could (but doesn’t) structure compensation of his office staff the same as his. He could pay his employees a token salary (say one dollar a year) and give the rest as equity (say a one dollar a share option on 1000 shares of BRK-B). An Instant tax cut to 22% from the 33% to 46% witholding rates that Warren cites in his op-ed. With a sharp tax attorney, Buffet’s secretary could also enjoy that 17 percent tax rate.

    But I doubt that the average employee could afford to take that type of compensation package. I had a chance to see how that works up close before I became a public employee union thug slug. In one case, I contracted at a company that took the regular employees on roller coaster ride after going public. Many of them took a loss on their stock when the company was bought out. In addition, about half of the staff was let go.

    My personal go around did not get me anything from the equity portion of my compensation from a previous job. It took me only three years to decide that hanging around another two years to vest was not worth sacrificing my health. That is why I quit to become a public employee union thug slug.

    And while freelancing I saw another variation on the equity compensation game. In March, the CFO flew in from London to pass out the latest ESOP allocations for the engineers and managers. In September, the CEO shows up to close the Albuquerque office and to lay off most of the engineers in our office. Two days after I was out the door I get a phone call from the engineer who was managing my project: “I have a DOE contract and no engineers left to work on it. Can we subcontract the work through the university?” So I kept getting an extra paycheck for the duration of the contract. Much better than equity that the regular employees never got.

    In my opinion, throwing around percentages like in the Buffet editorial borders on baffelgab. The Political Class (in both parties) and their crony capitalists just get to play a more obscure game of Zork. Two years ago the Stimulus Bill boasted a “targeted tax cut for general aviation” by changing from MACRS 7 to MACRS 5. By increasing the corporate tax rate, the tax code makes this kind of change more valuable for a corporation. And the political class gets to have it both ways. The “targeted tax cut” from two years ago is now an unfair “tax break for corporate jet owners.”

  392. @423 by gwangung
    ” tv68….did you read the part about facts and figures?”

    Where would you like to begin?

    @424 by Greg
    “Oh, man, you have no idea just how true that is. conservative blanket statements. whew, yes. absolutely we get a lot of those. I dont even know where to begin…”

    It doesn’t seem you get many at all around here to me. I thought it might liven up the argument for you if you actually had to debate these issues with a real live conservative.

    I think I could actually translate my conservative views into Dune language if it would make some of you more comfortable.. although I think maybe that ought to be it’s own thread..lol.

  393. Politics is like the Bible..people interpret the ” facts and figures” in a way that backs up what they want to believe. I admit, I probably do it too, but I try reeeally hard not to.

    One of the ways I do that is to read material from both sides (real material from respected sources)

    Contrary to Greg’s opinion, I am not watching Fox News constantly, although when I do, I do not feel that I need a shower,

    However, I do when I hear President Obama speak (sorry..it’s a cheap shot, but I mean it..I always feel like I’m being lied to or patronized). I get the feeling he’s a ” useful idiots ” kind of guy, not the mass murdering kind, the kind that thinks I’m so stupid that I won’t know he’s lying to me kind. Or the Jack Nicholson ” you can’t handle the truth” kind of arrogant guy. But again, that’s a “belief”. it is my interpretation of what he is saying and how he is saying it.

    The truth is, we all have to form a belief based on the information we analyze. What you believe is like being skinny or fat..you are what you eat.

    Try some other food sometimes.. you might find something is more palatable than what you thought.
    I think everyone should do this before they actually vote…don’t you?

    Consider this article by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, which discusses how the Reagan tax cuts affected the unemployment rate.

    Excerpt:

    In 1980, President Carter and his supporters in the Congress and news media asked, “how can we afford” presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s proposed tax cuts?

    Mr. Reagan’s critics claimed the tax cuts would lead to more inflation and higher interest rates, while Mr. Reagan said tax cuts would lead to more economic growth and higher living standards. What happened? Inflation fell from 12.5 percent in 1980 to 3.9 percent in 1984, interest rates fell, and economic growth went from minus 0.2 percent in 1980 to plus 7.3 percent in 1984, and Mr. Reagan was re-elected in a landslide.

    [...]Despite the fact that federal revenues have varied little (as a percentage of GDP) over the last 40 years, there has been an enormous variation in top tax rates. When Ronald Reagan took office, the top individual tax rate was 70 percent and by 1986 it was down to only 28 percent. All Americans received at least a 30 percent tax rate cut; yet federal tax revenues as a percent of GDP were almost unchanged during the Reagan presidency (from 18.9 percent in 1980 to 18.1 percent in 1988).

    What did change, however, was the rate of economic growth, which was more than 50 percent higher for the seven years after the Reagan tax cuts compared with the previous seven years. This increase in economic growth, plus some reductions in tax credits and deductions, almost entirely offset the effect of the rate reductions. Rapid economic growth, unlike government spending programs, proved to be the most effective way to reduce unemployment and poverty, and create opportunity for the disadvantaged.

    The conservative Heritage Foundation describes the effects of the Bush tax cuts. (H/T The Lonely Conservative)

    Excerpt:

    President Bush signed the first wave of tax cuts in 2001, cutting rates and providing tax relief for families by, for example, doubling of the child tax credit to $1,000.

    At Congress’ insistence, the tax relief was initially phased in over many years, so the economy continued to lose jobs. In 2003, realizing its error, Congress made the earlier tax relief effective immediately. Congress also lowered tax rates on capital gains and dividends to encourage business investment, which had been lagging.

    It was the then that the economy turned around. Within months of enactment, job growth shot up, eventually creating 8.1 million jobs through 2007. Tax revenues also increased after the Bush tax cuts, due to economic growth.

    In 2003, capital gains tax rates were reduced. Rather than expand by 36% as the Congressional Budget Office projected before the tax cut, capital gains revenues more than doubled to $103 billion.

    The CBO incorrectly calculated that the post-March 2003 tax cuts would lower 2006 revenues by $75 billion. Revenues for 2006 came in $47 billion above the pre-tax cut baseline.

    Here’s what else happened after the 2003 tax cuts lowered the rates on income, capital gains and dividend taxes:

    GDP grew at an annual rate of just 1.7% in the six quarters before the 2003 tax cuts. In the six quarters following the tax cuts, the growth rate was 4.1%.
    The S&P 500 dropped 18% in the six quarters before the 2003 tax cuts but increased by 32% over the next six quarters.
    The economy lost 267,000 jobs in the six quarters before the 2003 tax cuts. In the next six quarters, it added 307,000 jobs, followed by 5 million jobs in the next seven quarters.

    The timing of the lower tax rates coincides almost exactly with the stark acceleration in the economy. Nor was this experience unique. The famous Clinton economic boom began when Congress passed legislation cutting spending and cutting the capital gains tax rate.

    Those are the facts. That’s not what you hear in the media, but they are the facts.

  394. smith, I think if Buffett strategized the compensation to his ‘employees’ the way you suggest, then they would no longer be employees. and as far as capital gains tax goes, I thi.k its only that if you have capital that gained. and the IRS and/or SEC has recently tightened how companies hand out stock to employees. itmight be that Buffett cant do wht you suggested.

  395. Smith is right about the uber rich getting a different set of rules

    However he’s wrong about some of the details

    What he is talking about in his hypothetical is a restricted stock grant and they are quite common for executives. It’s taxed them same as income, at time of grant or at time of vesting if it’s not immediately vested. No different form getting paid money.

    https://scs.fidelity.com/webxpress/help/topics/learn_rsas.shtml#implications

    The place where the rules are different is tax on capital growing versus salary.

  396. @442 I think you are confusing the terms. When people ahve been talking about “Bush Tax Cuts” they’ve been referring to tax cuts on the upper echelon of wage earners. I don’t think anyone is saying that any tax relief to anyone is a bad thing.

    It’s also interesting to note that you are cherry picking your tax rate case studies

    For instance capital gains tax was dropped from 39% to 28% in 1979 without much positive impact, you ignore this and then focus in on the 2003 drop from 21% to 16% (far smaller)

    I personally do believe that a high tax rate has a negative impact on the economy and overall would prefer government spending be kpt under control, The thing that steams me is the inequality, why should hyper wealthy people pay almost nothing?

    They should pay their share, and they are not.

  397. @445

    Actually, the “Bush Tax Cuts” were for everyone.

    The 1999 tax brackets for singles after the standard deduction on other income adjustments were:

    15% of the amount from 0 to 27,000
    28% of the amount from 25,750 to 62,450 (plus 3,862.50 )
    31% of the amount from 62,450 to 130,250 (plus 14,138.50)
    36% of the amount from 130,250 to 283,150 (plus 35,156.50)
    39.6% of the amount over 283,150 (plus 90,200.50)

    Extending the “Bush Tax Cuts” (for evveryone) gives the following brackets for 2011:

    10% of the amount from $0 – $8,500
    15% of the amount from $8,500 – $34,500 (plus $850)
    25% of the amount from $34,500 – $83,600 (plus $4,750)
    28% of the amount from $83,600 – $174,400 (plus $17,025)
    33% of the amount from $174,400 – $379,150 (plus $42,449)
    35% of the amount over $379,150 (plus $110,016.50)

    The strum und drang during the December lame duck session was all about the last bracket going from 35% to either 37% or 39.6%. If the “Bush Tax Cuts” (for everyone) had expired then:

    The poorest of the poor would have their taxes increased from 10% to 15%.
    The next bracket up would also pay more (even though their rate at that bracket remained at 15%.)
    The next bracket up would go from 25% to 28%
    The next bracket would go from 28 to 31
    The next bracket would go from 33 to 36
    And the highest bracket would go from 35% to 39.6%

    Also, note how much the brackets have gone up because of inflation. Also, the table with the current rates calls into question the rates that Buffet cites in his article for his employees. If his employees are paying from 33% to 46%, then his secretary is making around 83,600 a year. That is great pay in Omaha. (I assume Buffett includes FICA in the percentages for his employees.)

  398. @443

    Kind of makes my point. The uber-rich have different rules for ‘employees’.

    @444

    Thanks for the correction.

    As I said, I never vested so I never had a chance to explore that part of the colossal cave of tax law.

    Time to go…. I think i hear a Grue. And there might be a hole around h…. Aieeeeee….

  399. @445 The argument that the rich do not pay their fair share is an old one. Their fair share of what? To pay for what? It depends on what you think the Federal government should be providing and what they shouldn’t. As I stated before, I don’t believe economic planning is an effective means of governing. The result is obvious in history and in the present. Bankrupt countries at the very least and Dictatorships at the very worst. Therefore my view is we need to cut spending on too many entitlement programs that are ineffective and do not encourage personal responsibility.

    From that point of view, there is plenty of money to pay for our security and infrastructure without new taxes. A reform of tax is the real answer, to take the power of politicians to bribe their constituents with tax money away.

    Personally, I think the Fair Tax is a worthy idea. The only folks hurt by this bill are career politicians. Read the Fair tax Book if your interested.
    (please don’t try to debate it if you haven’t read it)

    I thought this was an interesting analysis of Buffet’s statements

    ” When Buffett receives dividends and capital gains, it is true that he pays “only” 15 percent of that money on his tax return. But dividends and capital gains are both forms of double taxation. So if he wants honest effective tax rate numbers, he needs to show the 35 percent corporate tax rate.
    Moreover, Buffett completely ignores the impact of the death tax, which will result in the federal government seizing 45 percent of his assets. To be sure, Buffett may be engaging in clever tax planning, so it is hard to know the impact on his effective tax rate, but it will be significant.
    Mitchell also points out that Buffett “completely ignores the impact of the death tax, which results in the federal government seizing 45 percent of his assets,” and “mischaracterizes the impact of the Social Security payroll tax, which is dedicated for a specific purpose.”
    But apart from misstating his tax burden, Buffett fails to call for significant reforms in Social Security and Medicare that could reduce federal spending, and he downplays the role that taxation plays in investment decisions.
    Buffett bizarrely downplays the role of taxation plays in investment decisions, arguing taxes have no impact on investing. We’ll take Buffett at his word that he doesn’t consider the tax implications for his investments (even though it is well documented in several books that he does consider them – one of the major tenets of the value investing practice Buffett follows is to hold equities as long as possible to minimize the impact of taxes and therefore maximize internal returns), but the rest of the investing world is solely concerned with after-tax returns to their investments. Tax rates including the capital gains rate, dividends rate, corporate income tax rate, and individual tax rate are major determinants of after-tax returns.
    Then there’s the fact that a shortage of tax revenue isn’t even the root of Washington’s problem–too much spending is. While revenue will surpass its historical average of 18.0 percent of GDP once economic growth returns, spending is already 25 percent above its historical average and will remain there permanently if President Obama and his big government allies have their way.
    A billionaire calling for more taxes might make great political theater, but there’s more to the story than Buffett—and Obama—would have you believe.”

  400. @448

    I think that is what I said in #446: “The strum und drang during the December lame duck session was all about the last bracket going from 35% to either 37% or 39.6%.”

    Don’t worry, the “Obama Tax Cuts” will expire in two years. Then we can get back to what is a fair share for all:

    The poorest of the poor would have their taxes increased from 10% to 15%.
    The next bracket up would also pay more (even though their rate at that bracket will remain at 15%.)
    The next bracket up would go from 25% to 28%
    The next bracket would go from 28 to 31
    The next bracket would go from 33 to 36
    And the highest bracket would go from 35% to 39.6%

  401. tv68: their fair share of what?

    uhm, taxes.

    or more specifically, the deficit.

    they’re not paying their fair share to pay down the deficit.

    everything you posted after that question could have been shortened to ‘I say we starve the beast’ and saved everyone a lot of trouble.

  402. Why are so many down on entitlement spending? The only entitlements I am looking forward to in six years are social security and medicare. Last I checked, my paystubs show me paying into both. Sure I am entitled to those future checks.

    And had the social security fund invested their surpluses the last generation, then we’d not be worried abnout the system. But no, they handed the surplus over to the Feds for IOUs and the Fed spent the surplus.

  403. @452

    Conservative types like to delude themselves that lazy, poor people are the root of all our economic woes.

    They do this despite copious evidence to the contrary because it is a simple answer with no personal accountability

  404. Not to have the last word or anything, since I see people have stopped posting as of 8/21/2011; but I thought this;

    http://www.professorbainbridge.com/professorbainbridgecom/2011/08/buffets-bofa-buy-explains-a-lot-about-his-tax-proposals.

    Adds some nice perspective into the actions of Warren Buffet. There was also I believe another piece on said site that talks about Buffet’s tax proposal that I found interesting, anyways thanks again John for introducing me to Stephen’s site.

  405. Adds some nice perspective into the actions of Warren Buffet. There was also I believe another piece on said site that talks about Buffet’s tax proposal that I found interesting, anyways thanks again John for introducing me to Stephen’s site.

    The comment is conspiratorial at best, ridiculous at worst. Bainbridge is really arguing that Buffet wants taxes raised so that the government will have plenty of money to bail out banks which he has a stake in? Because the government hasn’t bailed out big banks, irrespective of the tax rates? Because Buffet really thinks that a op-ed is going to work magic in this regard? That’s thin.

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