Conversations With Conservatives – Income Tax

Posted in General by TBartine on April 9, 2010 No Comments yet

There are few who would not agree that we, as Americans, need to change the tone and content of our “national debate,” whether on the subject of the economy, foreign affairs, law, culture, national security, or energy.

But we don’t seem to make much progress, and sometimes, those of us who would like to have a civilized, rational discussion fall prey to side arguments and petty attacks…myself included.

Case in point: a good friend of mine, a conservative-minded college buddy who I consider to be both reasonable and intelligent, often posts politically-themed posts on his Facebook page.  I frequently opt to respond.  Now, if this conversation had occurred between he and I over a beer, I have no doubt it would have been a lengthy, civil, and informative discussion.  But…when a conversation occurs on a Facebook page, not everyone participates with the same intentions.  I share this for your entertainment and edification – names have been changed to protect, well…everybody:

BILL: For a long time, I have been citing this one fact as the
pivotal fact that will bring down our economic system.

“The bottom 40 percent, on average, make a profit from the federal
income tax, meaning they get more money in tax credits than they would
otherwise owe in taxes. For those people, the government sends them
a payment. “We have 50 percent of people who are getting something
for nothing,” said Curtis Dubay.

This will unDO our economic system. Eventually, the oppressed 10% will
pack up and leave this oppressive tax structure.

***Bill then included a link to the AP article, which may be read HERE.  Bill poses an excellent question: Why doesn’t 40% of the population, many of whom will be receiving public services and benefits, have to contribute through taxes.  It’s a question that deserves a thoughtful and informed response.  Sadly…it doesn’t receive one until late in the conversation…

AVA: Atlas Shrugged.

***Meet “Ava.” She attempts to contribute a few times…as unsuccessfully as this one.  In the absence of facts, she posts short quips containing generalizations about “entitled people” wanting “free stuff.

TIM: Alexis de Tourquville said it all……This is what the marxists
want….but it will collapse….it always has..

***Introducing “Tim:” your standard, half-informed, unreasonable, talking-point-spewing, participant.  Already fuming about “Marxists“…

MATT: Don’t forget the corporate welfare and the giant multinationals doing
everything they can to dodge paying their fair share.

***And then there’s “Matt.”  He doesn’t really address Bill’s question, but read on…eventually, he succeeds in ignoring Tim’s “bomb-tossing” and engages Bill in a real dialogue (something that I fail to do through no fault but my own).

CHARLES: Oh, I have promised myself over and over again that I would quit
discussing politics on Facebook. But this is just begging to be taken
on. Oh…what to do…

***Meet “Charles,” one of my oldest, dearest friends.  Both bright and well-read…it’s sad that this is the last we hear of him in this conversation.  I KNOW he would have really added something to this…

AVA: I would rather have huge corporations employing more people than
paying more taxes.

BILL: I agree. But, to focus on this particular point. Many want to ignore
this problem. Half the country is paying NOTHING and getting a lot of
benefits. We are a huge charity now. This economic system cannot be
sustained. When is the Democratic Party going to address this gigantic
problem?

AVA: It is not the Democratic Party anymore it is 50% of the people driving
the boat on this one…the Dems are just pandering to them. 50% of the
people are now addicted to “free” stuff and won’t give it up without a
fight.

BILL: No, you are absolutely right. We all have a seat onboard a runaway,
entitlement-driven, freight train. Obama reminds me of this guy, right
now….http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_MhRRZn0fCOQ/R1r8BrwxPKI/AAAAAAAAAPk/z
kEDLBBJ5N4/s400/matthew_lesko_06.jpg

***Here, Bill chooses to lower himself to posting a link to a silly picture…not his finest moment, but read on.

AVA: Perfect representation!

BILL: Obama would be awesome on that infomercial… throw a question mark
jacket on him and let him peddle a book about getting free stuff from
the government. I guess all of this is is good for Matthew Lesko, too.
Think of how thick his book can be now!

***Ok…time for me to step in and add some fodder for discussion:

ME: Yeah…remember from the 1950′s to the 1980′s when the top marginal
tax rate on the wealthiest Americans was 90%? And all the wealthy
people left America?

Oh wait…they didn’t. Yes, it’s true, back then the wealthiest
Americans carried even MORE of the country’s tax burden than they do
today…that is until Reagan’s “trickle-down” nonsense and Bush’s
“welfare-for-rich-folks” came along. Today: the top marginal tax rate
on the wealthiest Americans? It’s 35%.

http://www.taxfoundation.org/publications/show/151.html

http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=213

I think it’s hysterical. Rabid con’s were crying the whole last year,
“Obama’s gonna tax everyone to death!” Now they’re shouting, “The
lower and middle class people aren’t getting taxed enough!”

***I posted this in the morning…and proceeded to wait the entire day for a response.  I assumed this was because the other participants were doing a little research of their own.  I would be greatly disappointed:

TIM: Todd…..You have got to be the biggest moron I have heard. The
problem is everyone wants everything for nothing and someone else to
pay for it. Every democracy in all of history has fallen due to loose
fiscal policy…..Overtaxing the economic engine while promising
everything to everyone. By the way tax revenues doubled under Reagan,
but our spending tripled. I’ve never seen a poor man give
someone else a paying job outside the government who can print money.
When rates were that high coincided with high inflation.

TIM: And when I say everyone …I mean EVERYONE…

***Had I listened to the better angels of my nature, I would have ignored Tim’s personal attacks, and would have immediately addressed his faulty generalization about historical democracies, his oversimplification of the Reagan economy, and his failure to make anything resembling a “point.”  But no…this was not to be the day for that…

ME: @Tim…if by “you’ve got to be the biggest moron I have heard,” you
are trying to say “I don’t understand your facts so I’ll just ignore
them and call you ‘stupid,’” then I think I follow what your
impassioned, if somewhat rambling, argument.

In response to facts and data, you offer talking points, revolving
around the standard, worn out “entitlement delusion.” Economics and
tax policy, especially on a national scale, are clearly beyond your
level of reasonable discourse…especially if you are still clinging
to the simplistic and thoroughly debunked “give money to the rich so
they’ll create jobs” doctrine.

A tax-shift to the wealthiest citizens, strong regulation of commerce,
and government programs supporting economic relief, job creation, and
infrastructure development are proven (wiki the “Great
Depression”)…and it was the systematic unraveling of these policies
by conservatives that has led us to the economic brink once again….
See More

Stick around though…soon Bill will make a comment about sports and
you’ll have something to add to THAT conversation.

*** I had, of course, only truly succeeded in over-personalizing the argument…the responses I would receive from Tim were as predictable as night following day:

TIM: Perhaps you could as Pisistratus of Athens about economic
policy…..You may not know who that is……LBJ passed the Great
Society…we were told that Medicare would only cost 12 billion
dollars by 1990…It cost over 8 times that amount by that time.
Irregardless of tax policy, that is cost… You know debit and
credits….accounting stuff….By the way, I don’t tell
people much, but I have 2 masters degrees; one from Tenn. Tech and one
from APSU. You never said that anything I have pointed out is
incorrect…….Tax revenues doubled, you ignoramous…..By the way,
WWII brought us out of the Great Depression and things were much worse
in the late 70′s than now. I ate so much baloney then that I hate it
to this day.

***I’m still amazed by this response.  A string of facts, falsehoods, non-sentences, and opinions strung together by ellipses.  It’s like some sort of bizarre Palin-speak, Beck-speak hybrid, and deciphering what point he is trying to make is quite impossible.  It would be like saying, “The human head weighs ten pounds…Franklin Pierce was the 14th President…not that you know about Presidents…some people prefer beef tacos to chicken…Obama taxes no people Marxism…rich people create all business, poor people want stuff…“  Still, I might have responded with less cruelty, and fewer personal criticisms…but I am proud that I resisted the urge to point out that “irregardless” is not a word.

ME: Yawn. I didn’t respond to your points, as I didn’t believe you made
any.

A string of half-constructed sentences, containing unrelated data,
unsubstantiated beliefs, and at times simply false propositions does
not constitute a “position,” but instead more of a frenzied
“regurgitation” of partisan dogma.

While I’ll admit that I may not have learned as much as you did at
Tenn. Tech and Austin Peay, during my undergrad and graduate studies
at Vanderbilt, I did learn how to properly present an argument in
something resembling the English language.

However…you have reminded me that the presentation of such an
argument is no guarantee of a reasonable response.

MATT: Alls I know is someone owes me a new keyboard, and a fresh co-cola.

***Bless you, Matt…for injecting some much needed humor.

TIM: I turned down Vandy…..Had a full ride, but I wanted an engineering
degree from the some semblence of the real world. Go back and read you
Hegel, Marx and Rouseau. Seems the only points you can make are
rhetotical. Rhetoric is for the coward who has never accomplished due
to lack of will to risk…Parisan dogma can be said of every movement
birthed by any marxist. However, it doesn’t matter if the country is
broke.

***If you’re wondering why Tim is suddenly dismissing all that I say as “rhetoric,” this is a new tactic being broadcast by conservative talking-heads.  When their opponent makes an argument they can’t counter, or refuses to acknowledge any validity in their arguments…they dismiss their opponent as “ignorant” and as “using rhetoric” instead of facts.  And seriously – this guy is absolutely obsessed with the “Marxism” thing. Oh…and if you ever hear that someone turned down a full ride scholarship at Vanderbilt to attend Tennessee Tech (FOR ANY REASON) they are either clinically insane, otherwise prone to catastrophically bad judgment, or simply lying their ass off.

WILL: Bill, Todd and Tim – this is quite simply the greatest facebook
conversation I have read . . . ever. And I mean EVER.

But not only that, Matt’s post approximately 28 minutes ago is at
least a top-10 post in my book. Simply awesome. If I knew you, I’d buy
you a beer.

***Now catch this.  Here, Bill is ADMIRABLE.

BILL: For me, the big issue is where is the sense of fairness. Let’s say
that that super rich stay… alright … let’s set that point aside.
Now, where is the sense of fairness in half of the country not only
paying no taxes… but getting government services that places them in
a net positive position … e.g., something for nothing and the rest
of the tax payers footing the bill for that?

That just doesn’t seem quite fair to me. Maybe that is my
“capitalistic sense of fairness”. But, that’s how I feel. And, the
real threat to capitalism is when that half becomes a simple majority
and can up and down elected officials who support their agenda of self
preservation (e.g., paying nothing and getting a good deal in return).

And, I do want to point out (though this is an insignificant point)
that the top tax rate was more on average 70% during that period. And,
that 90% that you talked about was brought down into the 70% range by
a Democratic President, LBJ. And, why? Because, they realized that
they could actually collect more by removing (though so slightly) the
incentives for the super-rich to find shelters for their money.
Because, bottom line, when you talk about going after the rich, you
are not really going after the rich. Because, those individuals will
have passive income – not active. Warren Buffett isn’t that impacted
by these tax changes. You are really going down and reaching the next
tier of wealth…. aka… small business owners…. See More

Super wealthy individuals are investors. The big distinction is who is
receiving active vs. passive income?

***You see that?  He could have either walked away, or joined into the pointless “tête à tête” that Tim and I were engaged in, and perhaps had a bit of sport.  BUT HE DIDN’T.  He instead brought us back to the original issue at hand, and presented some more facts for evaluation.  BRAVO.

TIM: As a small business owner, you are exactly right, Bill. The investors
are cutting back on their venture and capital outlays. If I don’t find
some new projects within two months, I will be giving some good men
pink slips. The tax law changes by LBJ focused more on the elimination
of tax shelters than anything else. Phil’s point can be easily seen in the
destruction of the Delian League on Greece and the financial conditions that
plagued Rome in the early years of Tiberius and the financial decline of the
Hapsburg Monarchy of the 19th century.

BILL: I love the historical references. What a discussion. Though I’ll be
honest…. I am completely stupid on the conditions of the financial
decline of the Hapsburg Monarchy!

***Bill’s “tone change” even managed to calm down Tim, and I applaud his complimenting Tim on the use of historical references.  Even though the references are somewhat confused, irrelevant, and misrepresented, those are factual items that can be addressed in a real dialogue.  Unfortunately, I would be the one to derail this newly-established “reasonableness.”

ME: I must be brief, which I fear will result in less thorough responses
than everyone deserves:

@Tim – We call them a dictionary, an encyclopedia, and a
thesaurus…which will help you with your spelling, your lack of
information, and your verbal repetitiveness.

@Matt and Will – This IS a truly enjoyable and amusing
dialogue…although I fear my wife believes I might be enjoying the
cruel sport of it a bit too much….

@Bill – Now, there are a list of well made, well thought out points,
reasonably presented. As always, you represent someone with whom a
REAL conversation may be had on such topics.

And now…I am off to bed…and sweet, technicolor dreams of the
socialist utopia that Obama and I will one day create, once we have
taken all your possessions and given them to poor people for doing
nothing at all…and have taken your guns…and outlawed your
religion. Tra lalala la la la la….

***Ok, I can kick myself all I want to for leading this conversation back into petty bickering…but I still laugh when I read that last part. I went off to bed, and that is most certainly a good thing, because it allowed Matt to resume a very healthy conversation with Bill, with the occasional interjections from Tim.

TIM: What an incoherent list of thoughts……Tra lalala la la la
la…..Wow, what intelligence. You have a wife, Todd. That is amazing.
@ Bill…The Hapsburg were the ruling class of Austria. More often
than not, in order to maintain what they believed to be balance, they
would buy off any competing government or ruler. For instance, they
attempted to pay off Frederick the Great in order to stave
his invasion of Salisia near Poland. It didn’t work because he knew
them to be weak and loathe to make war.

MATT: Bill, is the issue that some people pay nothing in taxes or that what
is upsetting you is that they are making an “income” from the
government? I saw one example (couple, married, 2 kids, $50K) and
after deductions and credits netted out something like $30. I have a
hard time getting too wound up about that since this is the very
middle class that has been taking a beating going on 30
years now…not saying a family of 4 can’t get by on $50K gross a
year, but their standard of living is doubtless less than those
enjoyed by similar families when we were growing up.

At some point, both spending and revenue will *have* to be addressed
but the things ‘average’ Americans are willing to cut (e.g. foreign
aid) are the things that represent the smallest percentages of federal
outlay. IMO, we will have to grow up and pay the bills. It’ll mean
higher taxes, likely across the board but it will pull the economy
onto a much stronger footing.

TIM: This reminds me of why I can’t stands elites…..

***Side note: I’m not certain that people like Tim realize that calling someone an “elite” just never seems the insult they intend it to be.  Fortunately, BOTH Bill and Matt ignore Tim, and continue to discuss the matter very intelligently.

BILL: Matt, to answer your question, it is the fact that people are
actually – yeah – making an “income” from the government. I have no
doubt that taxes will go up, as you said… likely in an astronomical
fashion… as we move toward a $20 trillion national debt, we will be
in a no-win scenario…. hard to justify lowering or raising taxes.
Why? Because, economists will have no history to even be
able to model any right move in the future.

I equate what we are headed for to the period between 1910-1920, when
fiscal policy was being born. Hard to imagine, today. But during that
period, economists didn’t even understand monetary policy. And, we had
more frequent recessions, as a result. And, then the Depression
came… and found out that we still didn’t understand a whole lot.
But, I say we are headed into a new era for which there is no model.
And, as a result we will see rampant economic instability for many
years. Many years.

TIM: Defense only represents 20% of the budget. Again, every democracy has
failed in history due to loose fiscal policy. Pisistratus cut taxes on
the lowest classes, but overturned Solon’s reforms, which helped
establish a middle class in the first place. He controlled the ruling
class, but gave no incentive to the lower classes to improve
themselves to move up the ladder. A tax cut on practically
nothing stimulates nothing…Taxes are coming, but we cannot simply
tax ourselves out of this morass.

TIM: Bill, if you ever need any meat in the future when it gets too
expensive, I got you took care of. You, too, Matt, but you have to
buy me a lightsaber nightlight first. I know I don’t know how to
spell, etc., but I will be eating well when everyone else is taxed to
death…..lol. 1910′s to 1920′s gave us Woodrow Wilson…….Father of
our term “goon squad”

***So I wake up in the morning, sign on to Facebook, and I am presented with a choice: join Bill and Matt’s conversation, or antagonize Tim.  Sigh…I chose poorly once again...

ME: @Tim – I think it is FASCINATING that you still think you are making
points by stringing together historical data, generalizations, and
unfounded opinions.

Peisistratos – What an apt example…why didn’t I think to compare
today’s American politics and economics to ANCIENT ATHENS in the 6TH
century? They have EVERYTHING in common…as long as scale, culture,
civics, and economics don’t count. I wish I had your gift for making
such creative correlations. The only thing MORE SIMILAR to the
U.S…is Austria during the Hapsburg MONARCHY! Good show!

“Every democracy has failed in history due to loose fiscal policy” -
Don’t let the fact that this statement is wildly, irresponsibly
simplistic stop you from repeating it. Fond of Greek history? I’ll
remind you that the democracies of Greece were EXCEEDINGLY different
from each other…and historical democracies/republics fell more often
due to invasion, the rise of militaristic leaders, the formation of
oligarchic hegemonies (“rich, pushy, religious, elite folks,” in
common parlance), or the aggregation of wealth/political power in the
hands of a corrupt aristocracy…

“World War II brought us out of the Great Depression” – Economics is
so much easier to understand if you just connect one cause to one
effect, isn’t it? Yes – The GOVERNMENT SPENDING(!) involved in the
WWII effort did reduce unemployment, but to ignore the policies of the
New Deal, reflation measures, the international inflows of gold due to
the deflation of the American dollar, and financial system
reforms…well, that would seem negligent.

Keep ‘em coming Tim. My “elite” friends and I think you are funnier
than Ann Coulter wearing a propeller beanie. We’ll miss you when they
take away your tinfoil hat and place you in the new “conservative
re-education camps”… :(

***Yeah, I know…as far as this conversation was concerned – I was part of the problem and NOT part of the solution.

I had some points I could have made regarding the 40% of the population that won’t be paying much in taxes.  15% of them…are legally classified as “in poverty.”  Another 5 to 10 percent…are classified as the “working poor” and are one bad “life event” away from financial annihilation.  How much can we expect these people to contribute to the tax base?  And the money they are not being taxed…or are being given…don’t think of it as “income,” but rather as “investment.”  We are investing in them, so that more of them either stay in the middle class, or move up into the middle class, which would keep them in more taxable income ranges.  Don’t see it as the “end of capitalism” but rather the “saving of capitalism” through the rectification of an unstable, unbalanced equation.  But, no.  I didn’t say these things.  I simply engaged a buffoon, whose points, “facts,” and insults can easily be traced to any number of conservative attack blogs.  In other words, I wasted my time, and I wasted an opportunity.  I have heard it said that the best answer to “bad speech is more speech.”  Today I think I finally really learned that “more speech“…is no substitute for “good speech,” and next time I’ll be talking to the “Bill’s and Matt’s” of the world, while quietly ignoring the “Tim’s.