Apr 262011

I occasionally go around a bit on Facebook with an acquaintance who believes he is politically moderate.  (He’s actually liberal.)

Perhaps an occasional “moderate” knows he is liberal, but identifies as moderate in a conscious attempt to move the center.  However, I think it’s far more common that a “moderate” really does believe his/her views are centrist.  Don’t you love that smugness that often accompanies the claim too?  “My centrist positions have required a tremendous amount of considered thought and rigorous analysis,” the attitude seems to be.  “I am above the petty labels of the simple-minded.”

Mostly, I think claims of occupying the political center are silly.  To be sure, you can have a qualified position on an issue that makes you too conservative for a liberal ideologue on that issue, and vice versa.  But it’s silly to “average” these and decide you sit in the middle.  Given an issue, there just isn’t much truly defensible ground there.  It’s called a stand for a reason.

So today my liberal acquaintance was on about how, gee willakers, we’re just going to have to raise taxes on the wealthy again.  I went over what we’ve been over here many times:  right now the top 1% of taxpayers pay more than a third, the top 5% pay more than half, and the top 50% pay more than 96% of all federal income taxes.  Then I had an idea.

Bo:  “In your world, when is it reasonable for the entire earner base to pay something into the federal income tax system?”

Liberal Acquaintance:  “When basic necessities are met.”

Bo:  “OK. How can we tell when that is?”

LA:  “First answer my question. If the wealth isn’t supposed to “trickle down”, how is supply side economics supposed to create jobs and grow the economy? That is how it is sold by those who endorse it.”

Bo:  “I’ll be happy to get into what you believe ‘trickle-down’ economics means, but first I’d like to see if we can find a common framework from which to discuss. I’m using your words entirely in that attempt, btw.  So how can we tell “when basic necessities are met”?

LA:  “I’ll use the national poverty level and work from there: The poverty level for 2011 was set at $22,350 (total yearly income) for a family of four.”

Bo:  “OK, so you’re saying that when everyone is above the poverty level, then it’s reasonable to expect everyone to pay federal income tax. Is that correct?”

LA:  “Yes, a progressive tax rate based on net income levels after all deductions are taken and not a “flat tax”. Now, isn’t the premise behind supply side economics for the tax breaks to be investested back into the company, creating good paying jobs, thus creating a larger tax base?”

All right.  So I concluded from the above exchange that it would be reasonable, in LA’s view, for everyone to pay federal income tax as soon as everyone was above the poverty level.  (Never mind the plausibility of such; just follow that that’s what he said.  Got me?)  Then:

Bo:  “OK. So I may safely assume that you believe the condition you describe–the absence of poverty, if I’m understanding you correctly–is attainable. I may further safely assume that you believe this condition may eventually be brought about by taxing only the top half of wage earners at all, and a small percentage at the top of that half much more severely.  Is that correct?”

He didn’t care for that.  Too much of a jump.  I apologized for phrasing it absolutely:

Bo:  “OK, perhaps my error was in absolute phrasing on that particular point. My apologies.  You do, however, believe that some major part of eliminating poverty, which you see as attainable, lies in keeping the bottom half of wage-earners from paying any federal income tax (as it is today), and increasing taxes on high wage-earners, who already pay a large majority of federal income taxes. Correct?”

LA:  “No, I feel we should go back to the tax scale we had under Bill Clinton. I feel it was just the right balance and his tax cuts were directed at the right demographic. The economy did do pretty well under it…”

Bo:  “I’ve only used your words in putting this together. Did you not say the bottom half should continue paying no federal income taxes until poverty is eliminated?”

LA:  “No I did not. I never once talked about “eliminating poverty”. The whole premise behind the article I posted and my point is the top 1% can afford to pay 2% more of the tax burden…”

Bo:  “I asked you when it was reasonable for the entire earner base to pay something into the federal income tax system. You said when basic needs are met. I asked you how we would know when that was. You said you would “use the national poverty level and work from there.” I asked you if, when everyone was above the poverty level, if it would then be reasonable to expect everyone to pay income tax. You said yes.  What am I missing? Or are you now renouncing any of this?”

I asked the question several more times, receiving several more non-answers.

I’ll be charitable and assume that he genuinely misunderstood my first posing of the question.  But presumably I eventually communicated the question well enough.  Why couldn’t I get an answer?  I asked him to describe conditions he would find acceptable for the entire U.S. workforce to pay something in federal income tax.  He repeatedly told me this was a “loaded question,” I was being disingenuous, and so forth.

Couldn’t have possibly been that he genuinely believes that bottom 50% should never pay anything, but realized he couldn’t say that out loud.

Could it?

Yeah.  So.

What are the circumstances under which you’d find it acceptable for the entire U.S. workforce to pay something in federal income taxes?

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  5 Responses to “Political labels, reductio ad absurdum, and income taxes”

  1. You know how I feel. It is important for everyone to pay. Understanding that the two mites will never equal the Gates-level input, but if we all benefit, we should all pay. I’d be far happier with a total elimination of deductions accompanied by a smaller % burden. Take what you need but dont ask me to work for free to determine what I “deserve” back using some wonked up rules for reducing/hiding burden. Of course, we’d have a lot of out of work CPAs. H&R Blockbuster anyone?

  2. Everyone should pay, even if only a little. It’s similar to the notion of pride in ownership.

    Our current tax code is not just asking those of us who can to pay more for services ( which I am okay with), but it’s a mechanism for transferring cash diRectly from my bank account into a fellow citizen’s. ( and I am not okay with that ). Child tax credit is the first example I can come up with. We need to eliminate completely the ability to get credits from the gov’t.

  3. I’m a Fair Tax advocate. Obviously I think everyone should pay something. If you get services, you need to pay for services. And we all get SOMETHING from the fed, even if it’s just a headache.

    Rush was commenting on the tax code in the last half hour of the program. The general jist of what he was saying is that tax code reform, though sorely needed, will never happen. NOT because the government isn’t interested in gaining more income – and either a Fair or Flat tax would achieve that almost instantly – but because the federal government will never want to cede the amount of power that they have over the electorate and its many entities with the myriad impenetrable laws and regulations that can be played to its advantage.

    I gotta admit: he has a point.

  4. Obviously, Bo, you are a right wing terrorist if you believe we shouldn’t tax the rich more…

    Sarcasm off….I just needed to use the word terrorist to point you to this article:


    So…do you have a Casio F-91W and are you a terrorist?!?

  5. BamaDan, ‘seester: I like the notion of pride in ownership a lot.

    Kemtee, that’s my fear too. Any talk we do about genuine tax reform is just keepin’ us busy.

    Scott, I have many Casio watches, but I don’t have one of those. What are you trying to do, bring DHS back ’round in the visitor logs? 🙂

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