In my previous post I mentioned the bit about the President claiming we pay money for tax cuts. That came from his April 14, 2012, weekly address. The video is available at Your Weekly Address, and the transcript is also available at “the press office”. So since this is my blog, let’s go over some of the other things I think are wrong with what the President had to say.
First up, the first sentence of the address.
One of the fundamental challenges of our time is building an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.
So many things wrong just in that one sentence. The federal government cannot build such an economy. Only individuals working cooperatively and voluntarily something like that. There is nothing voluntary about government taxation. “[E]veryone does their fair share” according to whom? By people like Obama who know what is best for you is what he means. “[E]veryone plays by the same rules.” Except that Obama is not actually promoting that everyone play by the same rules. He is promoting one set of rules for these people, the poor, another set of rules for those people, the middle class, yet another set of rules for this other group, “the wealthy”, and still yet another set of rules for yet another group,“the wealthiest Americans”. And that is just with rules about income taxes. In no way, shape or fashion has he proposed anything resembling everyone playing by the same rules.
- being identical in amount, type and/or kind
- being identical to or being the thing mentioned
- unchanged in condition, nature or character
- very similar or identical manner
What about progressive tax rates and the “Buffet Rule” and things of that nature is everyone playing by the same rules? Answer: nothing.
And as many Americans rush to file their taxes this weekend, it’s worth pointing out that we’ve got a tax system that doesn’t always uphold the principle of everyone doing their part.
According to whom? Who is deciding what qualifies as someone doing his or her “part”? The top 50% of tax payers pay something like 98% of all money the IRS takes in. The bottom 50% of taxpayers pay something in the neighborhood of 2% of all the IRS takes in. Who is not doing their part?
Now, this is not just about fairness. This is also about growth. It’s about being able to make the investments we need to strengthen our economy and create jobs. And it’s about whether we as a country are willing to pay for those investments.
No. This push the President is making is not about fairness at all. And it is not about “whether we as a country are willing to pay for those investments.” It is about deciding to forcibly take more money from some people because it will make Obama and people like him feel better. That is what they mean when they talk about fairness. They have decided on a subjective and probably arbitrary idea of what seems fair to them, and they want to force other people to conform to that idea. That is not fair, nor is it compassionate or moral or most of the other gussifications (words to gussy up) they want to hang on such ideas.
In a perfect world, of course, none of us would have to pay any taxes. We’d have no deficits to pay down. And we’d have all the resources we needed to invest in things like schools and roads and a strong military and new sources of energy – investments that have always bolstered our economy and strengthened the middle class.
But we live in the real world, with real choices and real consequences. Right now, we’ve got significant deficits to close. We’ve got serious investments to make to keep our economy growing. And we can’t afford to keep spending more money on tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans who don’t need them and didn’t even ask for them.
What he means is, he believes the people in the federal government (who agree with him) are the ones who have to plan and shape the economy and society to keep them from breaking down, and some how getting at best about $100 billion (and then probably only in the short term) from wealthy people is somehow going to magically make a $15 trillion (with a ‘t’) debt crisis go away. Understand that 15 trillion is 15 thousand billion. One billion is this: 1,000,000,000. One trillion is one thousand of those. $100 billion is not going to make a $15 trillion debt managable. Let me put this in smaller terms. Zack gets himself in debt to Judy for $15,000. Zack then says, “I know. I will get $100 dollars from Steven, and that will take care of the debt.” Obviously, that is not enough. But that is pretty much what Obama is selling. Snake oil if ever I saw it.
Warren Buffett is one of the wealthiest men in the world. But he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. That’s just the way the system is set up. In fact, one in four millionaires pays a lower tax rate than millions of hardworking middle-class households.
As Warren points out, that’s not fair and it doesn’t make sense. It’s wrong that middle-class Americans pay a higher share of their income in taxes than some millionaires and billionaires.
I will agree with that. The tax rate for most people should be dropped considerably. But then there is also the something like 45% of the U.S. adult population which does not pay any taxes at all. For many of them, their tax rate should go up. I mean, we are talking about people doing their part, paying their fair share, right?
It’s simple: If you make more than $1 million every year, you should pay at least the same percentage of your income in taxes as middle-class families do. On the other hand, if you make less than $250,000 a year — like 98 percent of American families do — your taxes shouldn’t go up.
I have a better proposal. Close the loop holes and tax almost everyone with an income at a rate of no more than 10%. I think 8 or 9% would probably be enough. And, of course, every tax payer pays the same rate. You know, everyone playing by the same rules.
That’s all there is to it. It’s pretty sensible. Most Americans support this idea. One survey found that two-thirds of millionaires do, too. So do nearly half of all Republicans.
This is what government should protect us from, not what it should be doing. Popularity does not make right.
I know they’ll say that this is all about wanting to raise people’s taxes. They probably won’t tell you that if you belong to a middle-class family, then I’ve cut your taxes each year that I’ve been in office, and I’ve cut taxes for small business owners 17 times.
I wonder how much we “paid” for those tax cuts? Anyway, how is the “Buffet Rule” not about raising taxes?
But the thing is, for most Americans like me, tax rates are near their lowest point in 50 years. In 2001 and 2003, the wealthiest Americans received two huge new tax cuts. We were told these tax cuts would lead to faster job growth. Instead, we got the slowest job growth in half a century, and the typical American family actually saw its income fall.
If I may use one of Obama’s favorite excuses, “It would have been worse if we hadn’t.” Maybe not, but I could not resist. Anyway, as I recall, in 2001 and 2003, almost everyone got a tax cut. My father did, and he is certainly not one of the wealthiest Americans. He is not a millionaire, and only makes a five digit salary. And slowest job growth in 50 years, eh? You mean like how the unemployment rate went up past 9% after the stimulus (spending) bill that was supposed to prevent that was passed? Oh wait, that happened on Obama’s watch. Which is to say, Obama’s record on job growth is not the high ground he would have you believe.
So what about job growth? Yep, it sucked under Bush and Obama. We also got massive increases in government spending and, despite what some will claim, a lot more regulation. This has a significant effect on job growth. Making operating a business more expensive is not going to help job creation growth.
On the flip side, when the most well-off Americans were asked to pay a little more in the 1990s, we were warned that it would kill jobs. Instead, tens of millions of jobs followed.
We were told the stimulus bill would keep unemployment below 9% too. Anyway, this is a severe over simplification. The 1990s also saw NAFTA passed, which was a tiny step in the right direction. Less protectionism helps job growth. Bush and Obama have done the opposite. The 1990s also saw an increase in a lot of businesses moving jobs overseas. Lots of things happened in the 1990s that had positive and negative effects on job growth. We also had economic bubbles, like the tech bubble that popped, which first lead to job growth and then to job losses when the bubbles popped. What I’m saying is, Obama is not giving you the whole story.
You know how “scientific” studies by tobacco companies that “proved” smoking cigarettes was not harmful are highly questionable? The President’s comments here are questionable for the same reason. He is only telling you the part that helps his case and ignoring anything else. And for about the same reason: self-serving bias.
So we’ve tried this trickle-down experiment before. It doesn’t work.
We’ve tried flying before. The flying machines all crashed. Flying doesn’t work. What I mean is this thing where government tries to control the trickle-down effect does not work because that is not how trickle-down actually works. Leave people alone, and it works just fine. If it did not work, no one would being buying boats and fancy cars and designer clothes. But people do buy those things. And the people who make those things buy other things. And so on. Yes, it does work. It is not speedy, neither is it a cure all, nor a get rich quick plan. But that does not mean it does not work.
And middle class families have seen too much of their security erode over the past few decades for us to tell them they’re going to have to do more because the wealthiest Americans are going to do less.
Security eroded thanks in large part to a meddling government, who thinks propping up economic bubbles in definitely is somehow how capitalism is supposed to work; and who thinks massively spending the country in trillions of dollars of debt that the government promises it will eliminate in 30 years is some how a good plan for the economy of the nation; and who thinks that the government coercing banks into “affordable housing loans” (i.e. subprime lending) not working out is somehow all the fault of Goldman-Sachs; and who thinks the people who provide 98% of the federal government’s tax revenue are somehow doing less than those who pay 2% of the federal government’s tax revenue. Okay, I am starting to get a bit sarcastic, but hopefully you get my point. Obama’s comment is a bit like an alcoholic accountant with a gambling addiction saying, “I know I wasted most of the money you gave me before now, but this time, this time I’m really going to make things right.”
Also, Obama is basically arguing that letting you keep your money is not as good for you as the government taking it from you and spending it as the government sees fit. It’s more of that “government knows best” hubris.
We can’t stop investing in the things that will help grow our economy and create jobs – things like education, research, new sources of energy – just so folks like me can get another tax cut.
From my admittedly very libertarian position, those are not things in which the federal government should be investing. But beyond that, the very arrogance of Obama’s comment almost makes be nauseous. He says this as if only the federal government can invest in these things, which is, of course, not at all true. To be sure, America in general should not stop investing in these things. We should just stop trusting the federal government to do it for us.
So I hope you’ll ask your Member of Congress to step up and echo that call this week by voting for the Buffett Rule. Remind them that in America, prosperity has never just trickled down from a wealthy few. Prosperity has always been built by a strong, thriving middle class. That’s a principle worth reaffirming right now.
He is almost right. Prosperity has never just trickled down from a wealthy few. Much has been made by people working from the bottom up. Something that requires freedom, not hobbling. But the thing is, prosperity is made by many things working together in an unplanned order, arising organically and voluntarily as desires and necessities and whims direct. Of course it is never made just by the trickle-down effect. It is never made by any one thing alone. Which is why the government can never effectively control it.
This is a lesson made painfully and demonstrably obvious by history. Which is what makes the lies from the President so particularly execrable. He should know better. And I cannot help but wonder if he does. Or is he like the Richard Attenborough character in the movie “Jurrasic Park”? Believing that he can control life even to the point of thinking after each disaster the next time he can finally get control. Either way, he is entirely wrong.
John Hammond: You’re right, you’re absolutely right. Hiring Nedry was a mistake, that’s obvious. We’re over-dependent on automation, I can see that now. Now, the next time everything’s correctable. Creation is an act of sheer will. Next time it’ll be flawless.
Ellie Sattler: It’s still the flea circus. It’s all an illusion.
John Hammond: When we have control again—
Ellie Sattler: You never had control! That’s the illusion!
There is value in liberty. There is value in being free from the coercive control of others. There is value in recognizing the illusion of control does nothing to make us safer. There is value in voluntary cooperation with others. There is value in a free society. Those, Mr. President, are values worth recognizing and reaffirming right now.