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Elizabeth Warren’s Flawed Social Contract

As James Joyner noted about two weeks ago, a recent speech by Harvard Professor, and candidate for Senate, Elizabeth Warren has gotten many progressive/left bloggers and pundits fired up:

I hear all this, oh this is class warfare, no! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there-good for you.

But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory.

Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea-God Bless! Keep a Big Hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Last week, Paul Krugman picked up the ball from Wilson and went further:

This week President Obama said the obvious: that wealthy Americans, many of whom pay remarkably little in taxes, should bear part of the cost of reducing the long-run budget deficit. And Republicans like Representative Paul Ryan responded with shrieks of “class warfare.”

It was, of course, nothing of the sort. On the contrary, it’s people like Mr. Ryan, who want to exempt the very rich from bearing any of the burden of making our finances sustainable, who are waging class war.

(…)

Republicans claim to be deeply worried by budget deficits. Indeed, Mr. Ryan has called the deficit an “existential threat” to America. Yet they are insisting that the wealthy — who presumably have as much of a stake as everyone else in the nation’s future — should not be called upon to play any role in warding off that existential threat.

Well, that amounts to a demand that a small number of very lucky people be exempted from the social contract that applies to everyone else. And that, in case you’re wondering, is what real class warfare looks like.

The idea of a Social Contract isn’t new to political philosophy. It goes back at least to British political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whose Leviathan is credited with originating the idea of a Social Contract as the origin of government among men. Hobbes begins with the idea of the state of nature, which he famously described as a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” and the idea that men would agree to be ruled by a central authority for the purpose of restrain their own passions, and as a means of self-protection. Leviathan was written during the English Civil War, and Hobbes was on a mission to justify rule by an absolute sovereign using something more concrete than The Divine Right Of Kings. Obviously, Hobbes’ ideal government was decidedly authoritrian.

Forty years after Hobbes, in the wake of England’s Glorious Revolution, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government recast Hobbes’s theory in entirely different light. For Locke, man in the state of nature was in a state of “perfect freedom,” and that civil society was created for the purpose of protecting men, and most especially their property, from outside threats. While Locke never explicitly said so, his theories became the philosphical justificaiton for a minimalist state that existed primarlily to protect the rights of its citizens. Locke’s “life, liberty, and property,” for example, became Thomas Jefferson’s “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Now, it seems, people like Warren and Krugman want to expand the social contract to justify a more expansive welfare state. In today’s Washington Post, George Will takes Warren’s argument on, and pretty much rips it to shreds:

Warren is (as William F. Buckley described Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith) a pyromaniac in a field of straw men: She refutes propositions no one asserts. Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda.

Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.

The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.

Warren’s statement is a footnote to modern liberalism’s more comprehensive disparagement of individualism and the reality of individual autonomy. A particular liberalism, partly incubated at Harvard, intimates the impossibility, for most people, of self-government — of the ability to govern one’s self. This liberalism postulates that, in the modern social context, only a special few people can literally make up their own minds.

(…)

Warren’s emphatic assertion of the unremarkable — that the individual depends on cooperative behaviors by others — misses this point: It is conservatism, not liberalism, that takes society seriously. Liberalism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s creative complexity.

Society — hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily — is a marvel of spontaneous order among individuals in voluntary cooperation. Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc. — and by getting out of its way. This is a sensible, dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”

There’s another part of Warren’s point that makes it far less persuasive for the point that some progressives are trying to use it. She argues that nobody acts and succeeds in a vacum. Whether your a doctor, or a bricklayer, or the next Steve Jobs, you benefit from what Pietro Poggi-Corradini calls “complex web of cooperation, exchange and support.” That’s a concept that goes all the way back to Adam Smith, though. There’s really nothing original about Warren’s insight and, in addition to the fact that it doesn’t logically lead to the conclusion that we must support an expansive progressive state, it also doesn’t require us to stop at national borders. That “complex web” that makes the modern world possible stretches around the world, from offices in London to a factor in China, and it largely operates independent of the direct control of any single individual. Is Warren suggesting, at Corradini asks, that we must now pay taxes to everyone in the world because of what they contribute to the society we live in?

The most important point that Warren and those who have rallied around her forget, though, is that “society” isn’t responsible for great innovations, individuals working together cooperatively are:

It wasn’t “society” that gave Mark Zuckerberg the idea for Facebook, any more than it it gave Dale Carnegie the idea of teaching public speaking, or turned Bob Williamson from an alcoholic, drug-addicted homeless drifter to the Founder and CEO of WASCO and Horizon Software. Nor did society have to do much with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak selling homemade computers out of Woz’s garage. There are any number of lists of people who started with little or nothing, and who became extraordinarily wealthy due to their drive, entrepreneurship, and talent.

Yes, it was government that built the roads and schools and maintains the police and fire services, but those are services that everyone uses, not just the successful businessman or the star athlete. Arguing, as Warren does, that being successful imposes an additional burden on someone because of what “society” has done is essentially arguing that the majority has the right to take from the minority because the minority is more successful. That isn’t a social contract, it’s just taking the other guys stuff because you think he has too much of it. Yes, it’s true that the things government provides are part of a social contract of sorts, but not in the way that Warren sees it:

The social contract is “We maintain civilization because we all benefit from it. And we all have a responsibility to pay for it.” Ms. Warren’s version of the social contract boils down to, “You have to pay more for maintaining our society because you can, and we outnumber you, and can force you to do so.” That’s not a contract. That’s just extortion by majority. The millionaire’s responsibility is not to “pay forward” any more than any of the rest of us, because he doesn’t benefit any more than the rest of us.

To the extent that a “social contract” even exists, it is to provide the minimal necessary public infrastructure—physical and legal—for society to maintain itself. Ms. Warren’s concept of the social contract is that the millionaire derives some special benefit from society, so he should make special payments. But, since no special benefit actually exists, there is no excuse for extraordinary payment.

That’s the kind of government the social contract creates, what Ms. Warren wants is a state that blatantly violates it.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. mantis says:

    You and Will are the ones battling strawmen, not Warren. That much is obvious.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 36 Thumb down 13

  2. Andyman says:

    George Will lights up some straw men of his own. It’s an unsupported leap to go from “the rich should pay more than they’re paying” to “society can extort as much as it wants from the rich”. It seems to be an uncomplicated observation that the people who have benefited the most from living in today’s society owe the most back.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 8

  3. MBunge says:

    Call me crazy, but I don’t think a libertarian should be criticizing someone else’s view of the social contract. It’s not quite as bad as an anarchist doing it, but still…

    Mike

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 16 Thumb down 8

  4. ponce says:

    In today’s Washington Post, George Will takes Warren’s argument on, and pretty much rips it to shreds:

    Um, it looks like the toothless old wingnut coot has actually backed up Warren’s argument with this line:

    Government facilitates this cooperation with roads, schools, police, etc.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 5

  5. Loviatar says:

    Up From Libertarianism

    You may formally renounce your libertarianism. You may insist on keeping the label while justifying what amounts to joining the conservative coalition on the grounds that “Economics is primary, and the Republican Party is the lesser of two evils economically,” or explaining away operational liberalism because, “while liberals tend to overreach in regulating the free market, at least they want to keep the Hand of the State away from your nether parts.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  6. Franklin says:

    Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera

    Oh, c’mon George, what a load of manure. And same goes to Doug for linking to it. After berating strawmen in the first paragraph, a massive one is introduced in the first ten words of the second paragraph. Yes, I read more, but it only got worse.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 5

  7. Even in a minimalist state that only provides security for property and property rights, a state benefits the people who have significant property to protect. Therefore they should pay more for the services that they receive compared to someone who has minimal property and minimal prospects of acquiring more property in the near future. And that is in a minimalist state that solely protects property.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2

  8. Larry M says:

    As others have said, it really discredits George Will’s argument that he chooses to take down a strawman, rather than address what Ms. Warren actually said.

    Now, addressing Ms. Warren’s point. Let’s take a look back at 2008, when our entire financial system was on the verge of collapse, out entire banking system was standing on quick sand and quickly sinking. What happened? The US government stepped in with billions of dollars to prevent the catastrophe and stabilize the markets. How did the US government do this? With our tax dollars, and what did the government ask of the banks? Nothing. We imposed no requirements for paying back the money, or even charged interest on it. Why? Because the decision was made that it was more important to prevent a collapse.

    Thanks to these actions, our banking system recovered, from a crisis of their making, and Wall Street has seen remarkable profits since. Now, that the US government is in dire financial straits, all we are asking is that the same banking industry and financial firms we saved, pay a little extra in taxes to help the government address its financial problems, problems resultant from the very financial crisis the banks helped to create. That’s asking them to assume responsibility for their actions, and to pay forward for the actions we took to save the system. All of a sudden, requiring a little sacrifice from Wall St (in the form of higher taxes for the extremely wealthy) is seen as beyond the pale. Well, imagine what would have happened to their riches, had the entire system collapsed? What it comes down to basically is shared sacrifice, unfortunately since 2008, the middle class and the poor have been the only ones who’ve done so, while the rich have gotten a free pass.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  9. Jay Tea says:

    You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory.

    Hey, Ms. Murray: the vast majority of that was done at the state and local level. So if that’s so damned important to you, why do you insist that the federal government be given the credit for it and, more importantly, be allowed to take more and more and more money? Wouldn’t it be better to let the people keep more money, so the state and local officials can tax it for the aforementioned roads, police, fire, and whatnot?

    J.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 16

  10. Jay Tea says:

    @Larry M: With our tax dollars, and what did the government ask of the banks? Nothing. We imposed no requirements for paying back the money, or even charged interest on it. Why? Because the decision was made that it was more important to prevent a collapse.

    Funny, I recall it slightly differently. I recall several banks being coerced to take the bailout money, whether they needed it or not, as to help conceal the identities of those banks they did. Then I recall the Obama administration imposing new rules and conditions and demands on the banks that took the bailout money. And then I recall the Obama administration refusing to allow some of those banks to repay the bailout money when those banks said “hey, we didn’t agree to those conditions, so we want out.”

    The bailout money wasn’t generosity. It was a hook for leverage. And the Obama administration tried like hell to work that hook.

    J.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 12

  11. ponce says:

    Hey, Ms. Murray: the vast majority of that was done at the state and local level. So if that’s so damned important to you, why do you insist that the federal government be given the credit for it…

    Jay,

    The federal government transferred over $500 million to state and local governments last year to pay for schools and roads and police departments and fire departments and hospitals, etc., etc., etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 5

  12. Jay Tea says:

    @ponce: After they took their cut, of course, for “overhead” and “administrative expenses” and whatnot.

    Mighty decent of them.

    J.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 12

  13. Peterh says:

    I recall several banks being coerced to take the bailout money, whether they needed it or not

    Refresh my memory please…….who did Hank Paulson report to at the time?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  14. ponce says:

    Mighty decent of them.

    What’s “decent” of them is that the federal transfer payments going to the economically backwards “Red” States like Alabama that we were discussing earlier mostly come from wealthy “Blue” States run by the Democrats like New York and California.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  15. samwide says:

    @Jay Tea:

    @ponce: After they took their cut, of course, for “overhead” and “administrative expenses” and whatnot.

    Mighty decent of them.

    Weak, very weak.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 5

  16. Wayne says:

    @ponce
    Where did the Federal Government get that money? They took it from the people in the states. Money that should have never left the state in the first place. The Federal Government takes money from people so they can give it back with a shitload of conditions attach to it. Their purpose is to steal power from the people not to help them. Also don’t forget the money they skim off the top for their cronies.

    The government creates problems like forcing banks to give loans to people that can’t pay for them. Then they blame it on the banks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 10

  17. Hey Norm says:

    Will’s column is only slightly more fictional than his ones on HGW. But on both topics he seems to be operating in some other dimension. This, however, is not suprising to me at all.
    Sources matter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  18. samwide says:

    @Wayne:

    The Federal Government takes money from people so they can give it back with a shitload of conditions attach to it. Their purpose is to steal power from the people not to help them.

    Look, as I’ve pointed out here a few times, the United States of Peckerwoodiana (AKA, the Red states) are net importers of federal dollars (the Blue states are net exporters). If those net tax dollar importing states are so goddamned incensed about the strings attached to federal funds, they’d only take back exactly what they send downtown. They don’t. The hypocritical SOBs. Why don’t you start your crusade against evil gubmint with them? They’re the ones with their noses deeply into the federal trough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  19. David M says:

    @Jay Tea: I’ll actually take this post as you implicitly agreeing with Elizabeth Warren, as her point would still be true even if you were right that things were done at the state and local levels.

    Secondly, the idea that higher local taxation and lower federal taxation is preferable to lower local taxation and higher federal taxation, even if the overall tax burden is the same is profoundly silly. It’s right up there with Romney’s claim that the Obamacare/Romneycare was a great plan for a state, but a terrible plan for the nation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  20. mannning says:

    Many commenters seem to be generalizing the “soak the rich” scheme into a huge problem, when the rich and near-rich are already paying over 70% of the taxes in the nation, and the lower income half are in the end paying nada, nothing, zero. Shouldn’t they be paying something even if it is merely a token amount so as to be real stakeholders in the nation?

    If the issue was defined as increasing the burden from 70% to 71% or 72% it would not faze the rich and near-rich very much. But if it is to increase their burden from 70% to 80% or more, there would be, and is, tremendous opposition, and rightly so. Just who is to decide what a fair share is, anyway? The entire idea of “soak-the-rich” is an appeal to the envy of low income people for the rich, and to the cesspool of communistic, Marxist-thinking people that thrive from class warfare and loathe the capitalistic system.

    The principled opposition is building up strong barriers to any tax increases in anticipation of the “thin edge of the wedge” approach of this pseudo-Marxist administration to taxing their wealth: today a few percent, tomorrow 10%, or lots more, by an unprincipled and underhanded party and administration they do not trust. Why not aim for 90% of income and 90% of real wealth too, they think? Once the door is open, there is no telling how far class envy will take the matter over a few years, and if current practices are repeated, spending will increase vastly again, and hence the call for the rich to afford more will come again, over and over… So they man the barriers right now, today! Even Buffett is balking!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

  21. samwide says:

    @mannning:

    Many commenters seem to be generalizing the “soak the rich” scheme into a huge problem, when the rich and near-rich are already paying over 70% of the taxes in the nation, and the lower income half are in the end paying nada, nothing, zero

    Ah for Christ’s sake, how many times does that nonsense have to be refuted for you guys to get it? The lower income half pays FICA. gasoline, tobacco, and state and local taxes., etc. Income taxes aren’t the whole story, you know. (I guess you don’t know)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4

  22. Moosebreath says:

    mannning,

    “when the rich and near-rich are already paying over 70% of the taxes in the nation, and the lower income half are in the end paying nada, nothing, zero. Shouldn’t they be paying something even if it is merely a token amount so as to be real stakeholders in the nation?”

    This lie does not get better, no matter how many times it is repeated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

  23. ponce says:

    @ponce Where did the Federal Government get that money? They took it from the people in the states. Money that should have never left the state in the first place.

    The South lost the Civil War, Wayne.

    Deal.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  24. David M says:

    @mannning: That’s a heaping pile of garbage. We’ve had higher tax rates in the past and your scenario wasn’t close to what actually happened.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  25. Tano says:

    Hobbes begins with the idea of the state of nature, which he famously described as a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,”

    In other words, he articulated what has become the core understanding of conservatism. Man as fallen, and the importance of civilization as a set of institutions that work to raise man above the level of animals.

    For Locke, man in the state of nature was in a state of “perfect freedom,” and that civil society was created for the purpose of protecting men, and most especially their property, from outside threats.

    In other words, he articulated what has become the core understanding of liberalism. Man as “noble savage”, inherently pure, but corrupted by the incentives of traditional institutions.

    Now, it seems, people like Warren and Krugman want to expand the social contract to justify a more expansive welfare state.

    How is this an expansion? Even if we stick with the rather simplistic philosophizing presented here, you would have to argue that Warren and Krugman are pushing a more conservative, more originalist conception of the social contract. Hobbes did come before Locke.

    In any case, Will is the one who is really constructing strawmen here. Warren did not take her argument anywhere near to the extent that WIll accuses her of. He is constructing an extreme version of the societal “contract”. She merely has laid out the underpinnings of the widely agreed view that all people, especially those who profit the most from what we build collectively, have a responsibility to maintain those institutions and infrastructure that make our prosperity possible.

    Ironically enough, Warren is an academic – someone whose entire worldview is rooted in the notion of the intellectual as free-thinking individualist – rewarded for original contributions to one’s field. Will, of course, is a hack pundit – one who constructs arguments to justify the political positions of the ruling class- a decidedly social enterprise. And he tries to lecture us about individuality???

    All this philosophizing is just a dodge to avoid the real issues here. Will et al. are champions of the politics of greed and ego – the effort to deny, to the greatest extent possible, one’s reliance on the rest of society. It is the outlook of some of the wealthy – the short sighted ones – and some of the strivers, and it is really not any more profound than an expression of their desire to keep as much money as they possibly can, the rest of society be damned.

    Warren’s speech simply pointed out the short sightedness of the such a view.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  26. mannning says:

    @samwide:

    Why, those state and local taxes are not of concern for a federal income tax issue, and they shouldn ‘t be. A citizen should pay something into the federal pot as well. Wouldn’t you pay a token $100 a year or so to live in the US?

    @Moosebreath:

    Try to prove my statement to be a lie. Oh, I may have understated the percentage rich and near-rich people pay…it could be closer to 80% depending on the quartiles counted!

    This comment of yours is an obfuscation of the facts; a distraction from the truth. Shame! It should be repeated as often as possible to thwart those who have a hazy grasp of reality and insist upon showing it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8

  27. samwide says:

    @mannning:

    A citizen should pay something into the federal pot as well. Wouldn’t you pay a token $100 a year or so to live in the US?

    You stated categorically ” the lower income half are in the end paying nada, nothing, zero” — that’s demonstrably false (FICA, federal excise taxes, etc.). Is it that hard to admit you were wrong in this?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

  28. Moosebreath says:

    mannning,

    Your statement is a lie because there are far more types of federal taxes than income taxes. People who pay only Social Security and Medicare taxes, or gasoline taxes, or Federal sales and excise taxes, are not “paying nada, nothing, zero.” And yet this zombie lie is repeated so often that it is becomes the core of a truly ahorrent philosophy that we have citizens who are not contributing, and should thus be ignored.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

  29. mannning says:

    @David M:

    Scenario? What scenario? Why, I ask, does the past have anything at all to do with what we face today? You appear to be yet another obfuscating voice of envy. Of course the rich want to hold onto their wealth, and the not-so-rich too! However, we are quite aware of the leftist approach to taxes: raise them and spend, spend, spend, and then dun the rich and near-rich to pay our way out of bankrupcy in order to spend, spend, spend some more, and dun the rich…and repeat forever! That scenario is evident to anyone today! Not you?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 13

  30. mannning says:

    @samwide:

    The subject was federal income taxes, friend. I was not addressing other forms of taxes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 14

  31. tyndon clusters says:

    If blogs were around in 1943 and Republican dogma of today ruled then:

    Here’s a Doug Mataconis blog from an imaginary OTB circa 1943:

    FDR totally out of line with draconian 90% surtax on millionaires.

    Today, the Republican Congress voted down the unconscionable proposal to tax millionaires at a rate of 90% just so we can beat the Nazis and Japs.

    This despicable act of government piracy disguised as necessary to fight the “War” is just another failed salvo by a desperate President to shore up his electoral chances of winning in November 44 by using the tired mantra of “Class Warfare” and the lame game of “blame the bankers”.

    Also, today, the Republican Congress repealed the gas rationing scheme as “curtailing the freedom of Americans to enjoy their right to drive and travel as they please.” Surely the military with their recent victories in North Africa can secure enough oil there to replace the gasoline currently used by the top 1% who feel pummeled by the restrictions on their use of their automobiles which they have legally paid for and operated unfettered till this Marxist President decided that he and he only knows best how the nations drivers must ration this precious resource.

    Who knows better how to use this gasoline, you or the government?

    And, bowing to pressure from the agrarian Midwest states, FDR’s ban on child labor was repealed in what can best be described as “liberating the parents from draconian laws which made harvest more time consuming and costly”

    As the GOP repealed the gas rationing laws, they have also expressed a desire to roll back all “rationing” of aluminum, bacon sugar etc. claiming again that the people know how to better ration these supplies than a remote, insensitive, dictatorial government.

    Oh btw, this is Mr. Mataconis’ last blog entry from Dec. 1945:

    ‘Why we lost the War”

    Let the hand-wringing begin as pundits today are ruing the fact that we will soon have to learn German as that will be the official language of Amerika as our war effort lagged due to insufficient funds to pay war bonds and a critical shortage of needed fuel for tanks and planes in the pivotal Ruhr Valley battle which sadly was lost to an aggressive Wehrmacht counter attack.

    The good news is that our friends the Russians are still putting up a fight.

    We just hope the Japanese find the Pacific to hard and far to cross as they butchered our troops in Hawaii as our lack of lubricating oil caused our big cannons to jam and allowed the Jap ships to land soldiers and material in their successful attempt to capture Pearl Harbor.

    You friggin conservatives have truly lost your freakin’ minds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 5

  32. Moosebreath says:

    mannning,

    “The subject was federal income taxes, friend. I was not addressing other forms of taxes. ”

    It’s bad enough to find people who can’t read what others wrote, but truly frightening when they can’t read what they themselves write. You said, “when the rich and near-rich are already paying over 70% of the taxes in the nation, and the lower income half are in the end paying nada, nothing, zero.” Nowhere in that is a qualification that you are only talking about income taxes. And yet, when you acknowledge that the lower half does pay taxes, your suggestions that “A citizen should pay something into the federal pot as well. Wouldn’t you pay a token $100 a year or so to live in the US?” and “Shouldn’t they be paying something even if it is merely a token amount so as to be real stakeholders in the nation?” fall apart.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

  33. Hey Norm says:

    You know you are dealing with a total ignoramus when they say…

    “…paying over 70% of the taxes in the nation, and the lower income half are in the end paying nada, nothing, zero…”

    If your comment is based on total fiction, then it’s a totally worthless comment.
    I’m just sayin’

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

  34. samwide says:

    @mannning:

    The subject was federal income taxes, friend. I was not addressing other forms of taxes.

    You should’ve been explicit, then.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  35. mannning says:

    Ok, I will repeat myself and qualify what I wrote. I was talking about federal income taxes, which: a) I stated clearly subsequently; and b) should have been quite evident to those who were not picking for a flaw from the context, which you were.

    I believe that all citizens should pay a tax out of their income to the federal income tax pot however small it is, providing, of course they have an income. It is symbolic of their stakeholder status. I infer that you do not want to pay even a token amount into the federal income tax pot to live in the US. How very sad. Must I repeat this ad infinitum?

    At some point in the future, tax-and-spend lefties will be shown the door, simply because they have fantasies about money, how it grows on trees, or in the presses of the treasury, or in the bank vaults of the rich, and that they have a right to as much of it as they can get, to be redistributed to their selected friends.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9

  36. Hey Norm says:

    Samwide….
    He’s from the Jon Kyl school…he didn’t intend to be factual.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  37. Hey Norm says:

    Actually the EITC, which is the reason the poor and sick and elderly may not pay income tax was a Bush deal. How much income tax should someone that makes say $20K pay when mitt Romney pays 14%?
    This argument is about equal to the uncertainty argument. Total bunk.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  38. David M says:

    @mannning: We’ve had much higher rates in the past, but according to your scenario they should have increased or stayed the same. They did not, as they are much lower now. There are plenty of other countries with higher tax rates and larger social safety nets, and they don’t appear to be on a path of continually raising taxes on the wealthy. All in all it appears there is absolutely no evidence that your scenario is likely to happen.

    You pointed out the rich / near-rich are paying 70% of the federal income taxes, and I agree that’s a problem. Not that they are paying that amount, but the income inequality that leads to that disparity. Fix the income inequality and the tax disparity goes away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  39. tyndon clusters says:

    Mr. Manning,

    For 30 years we on the left have had to put up with the infantile prattle by tools on the right who keep misquoting facts and distorting reality, yet when caught, try to dance their way out of taking responsibility for their incorrect assertions.

    Form 1980 – 2000, 40 million new jobs were created when taxes on the rich and corporations were far higher, from 2000 – 2010, with much lower rates a net zero jobs have been created.

    Respond to those incontrovertible facts you twit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  40. MBunge says:

    @mannning: “I believe that all citizens should pay a tax out of their income to the federal income tax pot however small it is, providing, of course they have an income.”

    Well, just about everybody with an income DOES pay. Poor people and those with children simply get refunds back at the end of the year. So, those folks do contribute to the government by lending it their money interest free. You’re still wrong.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  41. ponce says:

    I believe that all citizens should pay a tax out of their income to the federal income tax pot however small it is, providing, of course they have an income.

    Manning,

    Why is it so hard the fringe right to admit the poor pay plenty in taxes even if they don’t pay any income tax?

    I’m started to believe it’s a genetic defect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

  42. anjin-san says:

    So Wayne if I hear you correctly I can stop sending welfare to red states now. That would be great because we have some things here that need tending to

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  43. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Ah for Christ’s sake, how many times does that nonsense have to be refuted for you guys to get it?

    We’re still regularly getting the “Fredddie and Fannie crashed the markets because they were forced to lend to the poor” bunkum. There’s no medicine against epistemic closure.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

  44. Moosebreath says:

    “I believe that all citizens should pay a tax out of their income to the federal income tax pot however small it is, providing, of course they have an income. It is symbolic of their stakeholder status. I infer that you do not want to pay even a token amount into the federal income tax pot to live in the US. How very sad. Must I repeat this ad infinitum?”

    In other words, if they do contribute taxes, but only Social Security taxes, they aren’t stakeholders? Nice try, but no.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  45. steve says:

    “I believe that all citizens should pay a tax out of their income to the federal income tax pot however small it is”

    The tax revenue you can get from the poor is fairly small. What do you expect will be different if we receive a token amount of revenue from those below the poverty level? Would it just make you feel better, or do you expect it to alter the behavior of those in poverty? Why and how?

    “The millionaire’s responsibility is not to “pay forward” any more than any of the rest of us, because he doesn’t benefit any more than the rest of us.”

    False. The millionaire receives much, much more in benefits. Most importantly, our social and educational systems almost guarantee his kids will remain in the same income class.

    Steve

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  46. Ben Wolf says:

    When someone can’t get enough drugs and alchohol we diagnose them with a disease. When someone can’t stop eating we diagnose them with a disease. In fact insatiable desires of almost any kind are considered a symtpom of an unhealthy mind and body.

    Yet when someone has accumulated $20 billion and makes clear through their speech and actions that they can never, ever have enough lucre the right calls them “producers” and “role models”. Does anyone really doubt that Soros, Buffet and the Koch Brothers are mentally ill? On their deathbeds they’ll have their fingers under their mattresses searching for loose change.

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  47. JKB says:

    You are right, Ben, we should call them up and tell them to stop. Tell them to shutdown their companies, fire their workers, they’ve got enough.

    Let me ask you, what value have you added for others? Did you create a platform for millions to be more productive and create new, never imagined, products from which they earn their livings? Steve Jobs did. Or did you solve the problem that spawned an explosion in global trade bringing billions out of poverty around the world? Keith Tantlinger did when he created a little device that goes on the corner of every shipping container making containerization possible. Or have you built a company that employs thousands who work to bring products to people to use or companies that then hire more employees to make more complex products?

    So run wild with your envy but never, ever think you will do one billionth of what the great men in time do when they work to make something people want and solve problems that most don’t even know exist. But by all means, resent your betters for profiting from their ideas.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  48. Ben Wolf says:

    @JKB: I didn’t say anything about Steve Jobs or Tantlinger my primordial friend. They came up in the running conversation you have going in your head. Try to stay on topic for once because Buffet, Soros and the Kochs (you know, the people actually mentioned in the post) create nothing: their wealth comes from speculative manipulation and rent seeking behaviors that creates no real economic activity.

    P.S. “Betters”? Why don’t you say what you’re really thinking, and call them massa? Reynolds is right: the bootlicking from you people has no bounds, does it? You can’t wait to grovel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  49. JKB says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Well, Soros, I’ll give you since all I’ve heard is he’s a currency manipulator and uses his riches to fund leftist causes that will generate more opportunities to steal.

    But Buffet, buys and holds companies that make real products, employs real people and generate wealth the old fashion way, through the investment of capital to acquire stock and hire people to transform that stock in to valuable products others voluntarily buy.

    Kochs as well, own companies, employ people and generate wealth through hard work.

    No, they are betters because they find the hard problems and come up with solutions creating products from which we all benefit from having access and use. I respect the talent and perseverance that takes. It doesn’t however give them privilege other than enjoying the wealth they create.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  50. mannning says:

    Rant Time!

    I see that the symbolism of contributing to the federal income tax escapes the resident progressives and screamers. To be expected, I guess, since they are fully guilty of promoting and installing the virtually zero FIT the lower quartiles end up paying. Hint: paying in, then receiving it back doesn’t count.

    Defenders all of of the give-away programs, the discovery of ever newer needs, creating and expanding the dependency society, castigating capitalism and the capitalists alike, and installing much, much bigger government, for which they must seek greater and greater tax revenues, even if it emasculates our defenses, and actually increases our costs in the long run for just about everything, especially our soaring national debt and the interest payments we must keep up. Running up the bill for pork every year to the tune of billions and calling them earmarks, when they are actually a form of payoff or bribe– a bad thing, an even dishonest thing, for any public servent to support, Democratic or Republican. Of course we have a President that says he will fight earmarks–sure he did, to the tune of even more of them! Say one thing and do the other! Unbelievable! And jobs, where are the jobs?

    One gets the impression that all of these people only think about today, and not tomorrow; willing to shove our fiscal problems out to generations yet to come. We read about how FDR raised taxes to 90% at the top with considerable pride, forgetting that it was meant to be an expedient of war, not a permanent thing as the current leftists seem want, and the percentages did come down– eventually, and then the economy roared off!. Seems to be a rule that if you raise taxes far enough it is all hell to get them back down again to rational levels. Other People’s Money is an aphrodisiac to the left; they really believe it is theirs to spend any way they can conceive. It is not., but they do it anyway, which is theft.

    But this era of chaotic, Chicago-style, and spendthrift government is just about over. Sensible citizens have had enough of the cronyism, the lies, the dodges, the misdirections, and the stonewalling of what was touted early on to be the most transparent US government in history–yet another bald lie out of the book full.

    The only word that satisfies this chaos is rampant hypocracy.

    End Rant

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  51. ponce says:

    The only word that satisfies this chaos is rampant hypocracy.

    Manning,

    You do know your Republicans doubled the federal debt when they were in charge of the government, right?

    You shouters on the fringe right only started whining about the size of the government when Barack Obama won the presidency.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  52. WR says:

    @mannning: Um, Manning? It was JFK who lowered the top rate from 90%, and that was in the early 1960s, more than a decade after the war. And hold on to your hat — but the economy was already roaring before then.

    Your rants would be a lot easier to take if you could get a single fact right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  53. David M says:

    @mannning: I’ve read that a couple times and I’m still not exactly sure where you’re trying to go with that. You seem to be quite concerned that tax rates will end up too high, and I’m more than happy to agree. When all of the following conditions are met, it’s time to have a discussion of whether or not tax rates are too high.

    1. Capital gains taxed as regular income
    2. Top marginal rate over 50%
    3. No upper limit on FICA taxes

    I’m not advocating those levels, just saying where rates would have to be for me to start wondering if maybe tax rates are too high. (That leaves plenty of room for now.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  54. mannning says:

    @WR:

    What is it you don’t know about the word “eventually?” Lots, apparently. And real big, long-lasting economic roars are not your long suit, either!

    Hypocracy!

    @David M:

    What’s not to like about low taxes and being a shareholder?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  55. mannning says:

    @ponce:

    Is that an excuse to go after doubling or even tripling it yet again under Obama? I think not.

    Hypocracy!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  56. samwide says:

    BTW. Manning, you do know that the author of the earned income tax credit was Milton Friedman, right? Measured against whose, your professed conservatism is a pitiful thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  57. Ben Wolf says:

    @JKB: I’m glad you’ve come around. Buffet doesn’t make anything. He hasn’t invented or innovated, he’s ridden the coattails of people who do by buying their stock. His talent is in recognizing a winner but if he’d never been born the planet wouldn’t have noticed. Ditto for the Kochs. All they’ve done is acquire things other people made, while making their company more profitable by breaking laws and lobbying to slow down development and adoption of new technologies. Their particular niche in our economic ecosystem can easily be filled; they provide nothing critical or even unique.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  58. grumpy realist says:

    Think of progressive income taxes as insurance against revolution and getting lined up against the wall and shot.

    You can scream as loud as you want about “property rights” but if the rest of the population doesn’t agree with you, you’re going to end up dispossessed. If not dead.

    Look at history. Please point out to me any economy/society of a reasonable size that has worked along libertarian lines.

    (Oh, and you might want to read up on the Benedictine property arguments and why the Pope in fact owns everything.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  59. Moosebreath says:

    mannning,

    You’ve had your rant, now it’s my turn.

    We have been seeing a long-running and systematic campaign to dehumanize the poor. It includes your zombie lie that the poor do not pay any taxes (and yes, that is precisely what you said, and that lie is repeated dozens of times per day in blog comments like yours), and that therefore they are not stakeholders in the system, in spite of paying into the system in non-income taxes. It includes the long running campaign to deny voting rights to poor people (and yes, that is exactly what the voter ID laws are really about, not combatting non-existant voting fraud). It includes the Citizens United decision and the attempts to repeal campaign funding limits, to make sure rich people’s voices are heard far more loudly than poor people’s. It includes Paul Ryan’s and Bush the Younger’s attempts to undermine the two programs (Medicare and Social Security) which have changed the historical rule that the elderly are the most impoverished among us.

    This campaign strikes me as misguided for two reasons. First, it goes against the values which the very people who propose these ideas claim to hold. Not merely are such proposals being made by people who very vocally claim that they are Christians, when their proposals are directly contrary to the primary lessons Jesus preached. It also goes against the American Dream which they loudly invoke that everyone has the chance to make more of themselves and for their children by their own work. When all avenues for social advancement are systematically closed off, when the electoral and financial systems are deliberately tilted to the wealthy, when the poor are derided merely for being poor, it ensures that the social status one is born with will remain their status for the rest of their lives.

    Moreover, this campaign in the long run is likely to be counterproductive. For all that conservatives vocally abhor overturning the economic order and fomenting a revolution to confiscate private property, they are taking the very steps which make such an outcome more, not less, likely. FDR’s New Deal was necessary, not merely to get us out of the Great Depression, but to ensure that we got out with a capitalist system intact, rather than overthrowing the government and turning the country Communist. And the actions being taken now to make some people’s votes worth more than others and to preserve wealth and privilege at all costs is breeding resentment which could turn violent and could lead to overthrowing the capitalist sytem in this country. I think that would be a catastrophe, and believe that keeping a safety net for the poor is a very small price to pay to ensure it does not happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  60. Matthew Bilinsky says:

    This criticism overlooks 2 points. One, Warren did not say the government can “take as much as it wants”. She left her commentary general and vague (which is her fault), but I don’t think you can interpret her thesis without the assumption that she believes there must be a rational basis for what exactly the successful have to “pay forward”.

    Two, Will brands her with the “straw man argument”, but she actually IS arguing some points that people ARE making (maybe not Doug Mataconis or George Will, but others). Warren is countering the virulent anti-government talking point dogma that doesn’t even approach the levels of sophistication that Will does. Right now is high tide for anti-government talking points that seem to even ignore the “facilitator” role of government that Will identifies and Mataconis appears to support.

    Point being, Warren spoke in generalizations, but that doesn’t mean you can give her the straw man treatment that you claim she is guilty of in the first place.

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  61. john personna says:

    The interesting thing is that science has undone the idea of man in nature as a solitary being, forming over time a voluntary social contract. Unfortunately for abstract libertarians, the science discovered that we (as long as we have been homo sapiens) never lived in isolation. We were a social species, with contracts, before we were human.

    This is why research into other social species yields so much overlap with the human condition. The few best books I’ve read on this are probably:

    – The Blanks Slate
    – Cheating Monkeys, Citizen Bees
    – Descartes Error
    – The Winner’s Curse

    They all show us as social species with a semi-economic nature. I say semi-economic because certainly we were never fully economic. Fairness rules, as much as abstract libertarians would love to deny them, have also always been with us.

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  62. Anderson says:

    So, Doug’s only answer to Warren is to quote a George Will column that makes shit up?

    Y’know, this is not the sort of reasoned challenge to my liberal prejudices that brings me to this blog in the first place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  63. mannning says:

    @Moosebreath:

    RANT II

    Let me be perfectly clear yet again, for those like you who wish to keep on pounding on the issue: my subject was federal income taxes, and those only.

    Second, I have said nothing at all about disenfranchizing the poor, and never would. Voting is a citizens birthright. Plus, I have said nothing about jiggering voter rights, either. I will not stand to be lumped into that category.

    Third, I happen to be a strong proponent of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. I do believe that fraud and abuse is rampant from my personal experience, and I do believe that we must find the right way through the problem of ever-expanding and ultimately unaffordable entitlements without seriously marring the objectives and benefits of these programs. For starters, I do not believe that SS funds should be lumped into the general revenue funds, with a paper IOU to the SSA. These funds should be managed separately.

    Fourth, no conservative worth the label should ever challenge the right to property. That right is a foundation stone of freedom and liberty.

    Fifth, I stand by my belief that everyone should pay into the federal income funds at least a token amount, not to increase revenues, they would be paltry at best for low income people, but to perform a citizen’s confirming act of allegiance and token recognition of their citizen’s obligation to the nation.

    Sixth, If voter fraud is a real and serious problem, then something must be done to minimize it. That much I go along with. Does anyone not care about voter fraud? The exact means for reducing voter fraud seems to hinge upon proper identification of living, qualified citizens, not dead ones, and tightening up on the ballot handling process to stop the accidental and deliberate fooling around with blocks of the ballots—absentee as well as regular– inappropriately. I have seen absolutely no attempt to prohibit a legal voter from casting his vote by Republicans. Obviously, I worry about far left Democrats because I do not trust them, especially in the Midwest and Far NorthWest, where funny things seem to happen with ballots more often than they should.

    One wonders about the terrible pains the left goes through whenever the idea of a national identity and card arises. Is it really because of a dim threat to freedom, or is it because it would reduce the opportunity to vote dead people, etc.? The old “Paperen, Bitte!” syndrome shoots forth evolking a Nazi state, but most people do not appreciate just how much of their precious identity is already in government databases or is accessible by them with a bit of effort on a CELL PHONE, starting with merely their picture image, or their last name.

    Seventh, I am steadfastly against redistribution of wealth for its own sake, or for extraordinary purposes short of a national emergency. Before running off to increase taxes, we should do a healthy reduction in spending, perhaps across the board, and then determine what is needed above the baseline to pay down deficits and debts, and also institute a program to achieve a balanced budget within a reasonable time. Only then should we consider new expensive programs (that tend to turn into entitlements much too fast, and have built in expansion provisions ) .

    Eighth, to me, there is nothing wrong with accumulating wealth by legal means. There is also nothing fundamentally wrong with allowing top incomes to be taxed at a higher rate, so long as the rate is not confiscatory (perhaps anything over 40 to 50% would be confiscatory, in my opinion, except in dire emergencies). However, to institute an onerous tax on higher incomes simply because of seething class envy is just dead wrong.

    But, to legislate such taxes in order to pay for lots of boondoggles of the congress and administration, earmarks, etc., is likewise dead wrong. $300,000 tours of Africa by the 1st lady and daughters for no descernable benefit to the nation, or @400,000 AF-1 flights around NYC for a photo shoot that could be done with a far less expensive plane, or golfing tours and vacations at an unusually high frequency, or behind the back funding of ACORN, among a few that have been noted during this presidency, and at some huge cost to the taxpayer, are not my idea of proper use of tax dollars either, and I resent such acts very strongly indeed!

    So first clean up the administration’s and congress’s acts before forcing us to trust that the new taxes, if any, will be properly spent.

    Paranoia about closing off routes to the American Dream seem to persist. This flies in the face of the general statement that most of the Forbes richest 400 individuals are self-made men. It also flies in the face of the records of the Census Bureau that show the majority of people in the lowest quartile one census year are by name not there the next census year, and the same holds for the next quartile up. The mobility is still very much there, except for what has been termed the hard core poor that persist despite the efforts of many presidents to eliminte them.

    The logistics trail for a presidential trip anywhere is massive and costly, involving two to three C-17s accompanying or preceeding AF1, a second AF-1 for backup, armoured limousines, SS SUVs, communications, and security personnel up the kazoo, all in addition to the added security the host city furnishes, and their other expenses. Our travel-happy president is burning up a big pile of dollars that we must pay down. I won’t comment on the party-party times at the WH two to three times a week…

    Bottom line is, I believe we should clean up the profligate federal government before launching into new and costly programs on a flaky promise that they will be good.

    END RANT II

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  64. ej says:

    @samwide:

    But those states would still have to pay the taxes. If a states also could opt out of the taxes im sure the calculus would be different.

    ie. If I didnt have to pay payroll taxes at all, I’d easily take up an offer to wave any right i had to any SS payout. However, I am not going to wave the right to collection if i still have to to pay the tax.

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  65. ej says:

    @samwide:

    also friedman’s earned income tax credit idea was supposed to replace the minimum wage. Most economists will agree its far better, because price controls prevent markets from clearing, so the EIC doesnt increase unemployment nearly as much as the minimum wage. But you and most people arent arguing for that.

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  66. mannning says:

    @samwide:

    Regarding Friedman, his own view of his personal philosophy was stated:

    He said that he was a libertarian philosophically, but a member of the U.S. Republican Party for the sake of “expediency” (“I am a libertarian with a small ‘l’ and a Republican with a capital ‘R.’ And I am a Republican with a capital ‘R’ on grounds of expediency, not on principle.”)

    If you venerate Friedman, and accept his suggestions for our economy, you would be screaming for a full dismantling of Social Security, ditching the unachievable goal of full employment, reducing the size and influence of government, and of direct government intervention drastically, especially in areas such as education, medicine and the environment.
    Were you to sign up to the current leftist dogmas, however, you would be about 120 to 180 degrees off from Friedman! Just where are you coming from? Friedman wanted the negative income tax to supplant many if not most other forms of welfare, including Social Security, which has not happened. We have them all still, which defeats his whole idea, and costs us more.

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  67. anjin-san says:

    the primary lessons Jesus preached

    Pretty typical of the far right. Invoke Jesus’ name about 10 times a day. Never, ever follow what he actually taught…

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