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The Right Wing is Framing the Discussion Again

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Jul. 15th, 2009 | 07:34 am

So long as the country talks in the terms of self reliance and independence, we're not going to see substantive change in health care, education, or the scope of the community compact.  The allure of free men (sic) creating a personal paradise from their own intelligence and sweat is too powerful to overcome with mere logic.  There are too many catchy slogans about "tax and spend" and other off-point sound bites to alter the course of the country by continuing to talk in the terms created by Republicans and Libertarians.

Instead, I believe the President and others interested in strengthening the wider community need to take up the challenge and talk about the type of society we want to build based on the type of people we are.

We need to act more like a compassionate society where we say we want our most well off people to help those who cannot effectively fend for themselves.  Empathy is in, and Welfare Queen stories are Ronald-Reagan-like fun-fact distractions.  In fact, they need to be challenged as irrelevant to our moral belief that we are in this life together and want to help each other out.

Rather than sniveling and trying to minimize proposed tax increases on people making more than $1 million (or, $250,000, or whatever), we need to be bold and honest. Congratulate these successful people on their work, and say to them that we need their help to create the society we want to live in. 

Look, Bill Gates, America needs 3/4 of what you make over $1,000,000 so that we can let the Amazon.com worker who is shipping boxes of Windows to your clients get appropriate chemotherapy for his cancer.  I'll show you, Bill, how the medical program is efficient and cost conscious.  You're monetary contribution is being well used, and thank you for being such a huge contributor to our community's well being.

I frankly don't think Bill Gates -- or many entrepreneurs -- are going to stop working because of the tax rate.  They are not going to stop hiring people or doing whatever is right for their business if their personal income is taxed.  More importantly, asking them to chip in is the right moral thing for us to do.  And, if we consistently describe the taxes as a contribution to the American Community, I think we have a better chance of acceptance and compliance.  Or, if the well-off rebel, and everything breaks down, we know we belong back in the caves owned by Ayn Rand, Dick Chaney, and other appealing egoists.

This is the true debate. I am my brother's keeper. We are stronger and better people when we help one another.

Or, as the Cains of the right suggest, should government exist only to provide civil order?

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Comments {8}

CJ Smith

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from: cjsmith
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
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Congratulate these successful people on their work, and say to them that we need their help....

...and thank you for being such a huge contributor...

The attitude change alone could go a long way. The story of ten men eating at a restaurant and sharing the bill according to personal wealth has been going around for years -- how different an ending would it have if somebody said thanks?

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(no subject)

from: abqdan
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 05:14 pm (UTC)
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Very high taxes on the rich only work if you lock the doors. The UK did this back in the 70s under similar circumstances. First, tax attornies got very rich, very quickly. Second, the richest (and often very talented) individuals left the country and went to countries that didn't have such high tax rates. The media termed it the "Brain Drain" from Britain.

I'm not sure what the highest tax rate should be, but 75% sounds too high. Maybe 50%. I think once I start giving the government more money than I'm keeping, I'd lose interest in supporting the government and start looking for a way out. And in the US, we have the added complication of state taxes on top of federal taxes.

Of course, a brave government would (as Obama once suggested, but shows no signs of doing) abandon the arcane tax code completely. They'd levy a flat tax on everything. Last time I saw an analysis, doing that would yield the same income for the federal government at a flat 15% than we get now. That's because all the shelters, avoidance, and allowances disappear. In the process, we put a bunch of attornies and IRS workers out of work, but that's the price of progress. There would be no incentive for the rich to hide assets if the tax rate was uncomplicated and low.

I draw a distinction between high earnings, and irresponsible bonuses. I think that Wall Street has a long history of irresponsible behavior in not tying remuneration to performance; but that doesn't mean I would support extraordinary tax rates to penalize those people. We need more fundamental change in the way that businesses are regulated.

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Galen of the Ozdachs Pack

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from: ozdachs
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
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Sure, let's talk about what "very high taxes" means. Maybe a 75% Federal marginal rate; maybe 50% Federal. But, let's also mention that these are contributions to the common well being, not just "taxes". This is a sharing of abundance which is both appreciated and celebrated.

As for flat taxes, the Devil is in the details. 15% of what? What about $1m in investment losses for someone with a $1 million salary, for example. I think "flat taxes" sounds a lot better than any flat-tax plan.

And, no. For my proposal, I make no distinction between high earnings and irresponsible bonuses. This is a contribution to society and is not punitive. The issue of "irrepsonsible" levels of compensation is another whole moral topic.

Sure, if you don't want to live a fairer society because of your personal financial situation, you can move. The US doesn't have high taxes compared to the rest of the world and would not be in that league after even a substantial increase in the progressive income tax. I don't think there will be a brain drain. And, I am willing to face down the brain-drain fear because I can sleep better with that hypothetical possibility than I can knowing that people currently are going bankrupt, hungry, insecure, and ill because of our too-low demands on ourselves.

Making a social compact with each other is American. It is not Socialism nor any other ism. It might be Christian, but no more than it is also Islamic, Jewish, or other tribe-ish.

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excessor

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from: excessor
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)
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The Rs are quite good at manipulating the rhetoric. I always wonder why Ds can't do it, too. Maybe Democratic ideas are just stupider. I'm only half-joking. The Ds have not recently articulated anything close to a philosophy other than “Let's do that too!” They (we) are easy to make fun of. This doesn't mean the Rs are right—their rhetoric is often based on a collective Mayberry RFD-based memory of America, and probably one that never existed. (Farmers are not inherently nobler or smarter.) They promote an idea of a culture war (which I would argue doesn't exist except among shrill talk-show hosts) whose sides are roughly aligned along the lines of Urban America vs Agricultural America.

I think the big problem is that no one believes the government can do anything right. While there are successes, the government in general is not the efficient, low-cost option. Entrusting governments (any government) with responsibility usually means that we have to accept a slow-moving, endlessly bureaucratic, rarely accountable service.

I used to believe that most people don't pay attention to tax rates but I'm not sure of that anymore. America has certainly had times of high tax rates (in excess of 90%) and I fundamentally don't believe that's right. Already I'm taxed at around 50% of my income and I think that's too high, too. So the question is, If my tax rates go up, what will I get for it besides a warm feeling that I'm helping someone else? Will the government be more efficient? Will it offer more services? Will it be more directed? No.

Taxing entrepreneurs does change their behavior. The current discussion in the House of Representatives involves significantly increasing taxes for small businesses whose payrolls are above $250K (which is a very low number). We already burden businesses with so many taxes. The question is, Is this the best way to do it?

But that's a red herring discussion anyway. Of course we want people to have access to health care. The current system does not work and will bankrupt the country within our lifetimes. And we all know that true costs don't disappear. If we don't insure some folks now, they merely defer their costs to another time and place. So if my employees don't have health coverage and one has a difficult pregnancy that forces her to take time off and to have lots extra medical care, I would argue that taxpayers will pay for that eventually.

True change means being able to see the problems and solutions in a new way. The opportunity is in front of us and we should not shirk our responsibility to respond accordingly. Any new scheme needs to be able to demonstrate that, on the whole, it's better than what we have and better than what we think is coming down the road. And we should remember that the Rs were in power for twelve years and did not take an opportunity to fix the problem. Frankly, they can bitch all they like but they have proved nothing except their duplicity and inability to govern.

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Galen of the Ozdachs Pack

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from: ozdachs
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, and I agree with your main point.

But, can we look at a couple of assumptions? I actually believe that there is a lot that the government does do efficiently. The often-bashed DMV is a good example from my personal experience. In the past 10 years I have gone maybe 3 times and have been served quickly and accurately and professionally. Cars and drivers and licensed in an efficient and trustworthy manner. The DMV does a great job, as far as I can tell. But, they are archetypal whipping boys nevertheless.

Government may tend toward bureaucracy, and stagnation needs to be fought against. However, even assuming the unreasonable worst I would prefer a slow-moving, rule-following bureaucrat to dole out my health care than to have to rely on a for-profit insurance bureaucracy.

I don't know about the details of the current plan, and resist getting dragged into apocryphal stories about Bob and Sally from Kansas City struggling to make their cow paddy business profitable. Bob and Sally are already paying a ton of money for public health care and suffer employee absences that cost them money. Maybe the current health care proposal puts a visible price tag on Bob and Sally's outlay, but they are already paying. They're paying a lot for ad hoc and unplanned urgent care.

Yeah, I understand you're paying more than 50% after accounting for state income and sales taxes. Thank you. You're buying civilization with your money, and I hope you value the community enough to offer to pay another 10%. I suspect we'll see savings from ER costs, prisons, and other areas if you donate that 10%. But, for now, another 10%, please?

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excessor

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from: excessor
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
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Ha. The California DMV is a good model of how government could work (although their website is almost unusable—maybe you could help them). But the US Immigration Office is a nightmare and an embarrassment. And we should look at what the government has done so far with the health care that it controls right now: certainly, there have been no cost reductions in that system. If the government can't do Medicare, how can we trust it to do something much larger?

Again, that's a red herring and forms part of what makes it a difficult decision. But it doesn't change the fact that we can't keep going as we have been.

I do believe that as a higher wage earner, I can contribute more to the society. But I want far more accountability, too, and I want that accountability to take me (as a gay man) into account. What I don't want is to pay some huge extra tax that delays my retirement so as to pay for healthcare for someone who can't be bothered to take care of his own health (however we define take care of). In other words, there has to be an incentive for good behavior and a disincentive for poor behavior.

So if someone decides that brushing his teeth is too much trouble, should the society pay for his tooth replacements? I'm not so certain we should. If someone decides that Pyramid Energy is the way to cure his cancer and then later figures out that he needs extreme chemo, should I pay for that when he could have done something earlier (and possibly less costly) that would have prevented a bad situation? If someone decides that he should eat cake and candy corn and Snickers bars every day, should I have to pay for his diabetes treatments?

I think that there's an element of personal responsibility here and somehow it has to be woven into the discussion so that we understand what we're getting into. Just saying I'm paying for more civilization doesn't suffice. I already believe in that—but I don't want to waste my money either, because money I give to the government is money that I don't get to use for my own purposes.

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Galen of the Ozdachs Pack

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from: ozdachs
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
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I like your healthcare questions. ALL of them are better than the current "Do you have insurance/enough money?"

I think we need a complete change first, and THEN we can work on the very valid concerns you have. Right now we are immobile because the health care alternatives are all imperfect. Yet, each alternative is better than the status quo. I'm ready for the Devil I don't know.

Stay well, btw!

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excessor

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from: excessor
date: Jul. 15th, 2009 07:03 pm (UTC)
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The bigger question is Who gets to decide? I think there is a spectrum of questions here. So in my dental question above, I think most people would say it's ok to tell the guy, “You're on your own.”

But what about someone who seroconverts after admittedly risky behavior? Will he have access to the treatments he needs? That's not a hard decision for me, but it is for conservatives because of their self-defeating need to legislate their own narrow brand of morality into every part of the society.

I think that during his campaign, Obama reiterated that “Perfection is the enemy of the good.” I'd rather find something better than we have today.

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