Simplifying the Tax Code

Kevin Drum makes two very good points about tax simplification:

  • “[A]lthough it might make a great many people slightly happier, it inevitably makes a small number of people much angrier because they lose some loophole tax credit or other. And that small number of people will raise bloody hell about it.”
  • “The complexity of taxes has nothing to do with the number of brackets. It has to do with calculating your taxable income.”

The first problem is one that policy-makers face whenever they make some change to the status quo: No matter how seemingly obvious the solution, some group is going to be disadvantaged compared to their present state and that group will almost certainly care more than those who benefit. That’s why it’s so hard to get rid of things like helium subsidies.

If we could solve that challenge by fiat, the second one is easier, since it’s related. There are plenty of ways to make calculating taxable income simple. A flat tax [defined here as one with no deductions in addition to a single rate] or a consumption tax are but the most obvious. Both of those options, though, not only put some people in a much worse tax situation than they face now (see Problem 1) but give rise to not-unreasonable arguments about fairness. Which, of course, is what got us in the current mess with the tax code.

So long as we’re willing to write a code that taxes all income and/or expenditures equally and makes no attempts to redistribute income or advantage certain types of economic behavior, it’s easy. Once we try to correct perceived inequities, demands for rent seeking will commence and there will be politicians eager to curry favor.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    I doubt that you really want to tax all income equally, do you James? How about income from investments. Should that be taxed at the same level as income from actual work?

    And what is wrong with using the tax code to redistribute wealth or to incentivize certain activities? These are activities that are, I think, objectivly good for society.

    We want to keep an economic system that is essentially capitalistic, because we understand that that is the engine for economic growth and the landscape upon which the creative capacities of the population can best be realized. But we also know perfectly well that a pure capitalistic system leads to highly undesirable and unstable outcomes – including a gross disparity in income, and a huge class of relatively poor workers who cannot sufficiently participate in the economy. This is not only a moral issue, it is an economic one. Poor people are economic underachievers and that negativly affects the scope for growth in the economy. The economy as a whole benefits greatly by having workers be able to afford to buy goods and services.

    And using the tax code to incentivize or deincentivize certain activities is an ideal way for a society to guide, with a relatively light hand, the economic energy of the society in the direction that we as a society deem important. Only a blind ideologue would claim that free markets inevitably move in directions that are in line with the needs and desires of the society. The mentality of the decision maker in a business is neccessarily too short term to always emcompass the larger, or longer term interests of the society.

    Finally, on the second point, I think you are missing the obvious point that Kevin was making. There is NO difference, when it comes to complexity of the tax code (from the perspective of the taxpayer) between multiplying your taxable income by a fixed fraction (“flat tax”) or looking up your tax liability in a tax table (which can accomodate any number of brackets).

    The “flat tax” movement has always been pushing the notion that one must adopt a flat tax (2 brackets rather than 6 or 7) in order to achieve tax code simplification. This is nonsense. The two issues are completely separate. One can have complete simplicity, in terms of getting rid of all deductions, loopholes etc – fill out your return on the back of a postcard – and still have many brackets. Just see how much money you made last year, look it up in a table, enter your liability, and your done.

  2. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    One point on the consumption tax – it doesn’t tax income at all. Taxpayers therefore have far greater control over the taxes they pay.

  3. Maniakes says:

    The link between the flat tax and tax simplification has to do with deductions. There are two ways of looking at it.

    Suppose you start out with a tax system with no deductions. If you have a progresive structure with the top bracket at 50%, then deductions matter a whole lot to people in the top brackets, and they will spend a lot of money lobbying for their “essential” deduction, and their votes are easily bought by politicans offering to let them deduct their mortgages, their contributions to charity, etc. If the tax structure is a flat 20%, then deductions are less than half as valuable and there’s a lot less political pressure to provide them. If the rate falls below a certain point, it may not even be worthwhile to hire an accountant to make sure you get all the deductions you’re entitled to.

    The other way of looking at it is to start out with today’s tax code and look at how to simplify it. You simplify it by eliminating deductions. Nobody will like this unless their tax rates go down by enough to compensate for the loss of their deductions. The rich have the most deductions, because their finances are more flexible, because their marginal tax rates are highest (and thus $1 in deductions is worth more to them), and because they can afford accountants and tax lawyers. So their brackets would have to go down the most in order to get them to support the tax reform. A flat tax is a conceptually simple compromise to try to build a workable coalition for eliminating deduction.

  4. James Joyner says:

    I doubt that you really want to tax all income equally, do you James? How about income from investments. Should that be taxed at the same level as income from actual work?

    I’m not sure why earned income from taking risks with money is difference than than earned by office work as, say, an investment banker or stock broker. Otherwise, my instinct is against taxing income, period, and instead taxing spending.

    And what is wrong with using the tax code to redistribute wealth or to incentivize certain activities? These are activities that are, I think, objectivly good for society.

    The tax system is a clumsy way of doing it for one thing. But the premise of the piece is that simplicity is good. I’m merely agreeing with Kevin that one can either have simplicity or “fairness.”

    There is NO difference, when it comes to complexity of the tax code (from the perspective of the taxpayer) between multiplying your taxable income by a fixed fraction (“flat tax”) or looking up your tax liability in a tax table (which can accomodate any number of brackets).

    I’m defining a flat tax in the purest sense: Multiply the money taken from adding up your W-2s, 1099s, etc. by a given percentage and send it in.

    Yes, you could do that without pure flatness in that you could have different percentages depending on the total.

  5. Alex Knapp says:

    If the tax structure is a flat 20%, then deductions are less than half as valuable and there’s a lot less political pressure to provide them. If the rate falls below a certain point, it may not even be worthwhile to hire an accountant to make sure you get all the deductions you’re entitled to.

    Are you kidding? You do realize that a flat tax rate of 20% with no deductions would more than double the majority of American’s tax burden, right? I’m in the 25% bracket, but when I take into account the deductions and credits I’m entitled to, I pay substantially less than 25% of my real income. So let me say NO THANK YOU to a 20% flat tax. I’d rather use that money for myself than give it to Uncle Sam.

  6. I’m not impressed that Mr. Drum has discovered a variant of the the old adage that the squeaky wheel get the grease, but I digress.

    I am all for simplifying the tax structure, but owning a business now, let me assure you that it is much more difficult to determine what is income than the simplified presentation offered here.

    As for the government doing whatever it thinks wise because it is “objectively good for society”, please. Unless, of course, Tano is willing to let me decide what is objectively good for society. The push, pull and compromise built into our system of government helps mediate the passion and select amongst the better options over time. Thank goodness it also inhibits the utopians who just know what is best for all of us.

  7. It would be better if we can differentiate discussions of “wealth” from those of income. Wealth has a lot more to do with assets than income, which is why some wealthy people are able to so publicly take salaries of $1 per year, whereas many of us with higher incomes but without great assets are the ones who really get socked the hardest by the current tax structure. A lot less focus on W-2s and a lot more on interest, dividends, annuities, trusts, capital appreciation, etc would be welcome from my perspective today.

    It is probably worth noting that few folks realize just how progressive our tax system already is at the Federal Level when you talk about income. Of course, for some folks, it isn’t progressive enough so long as their are “wealthy” people. Hmm…, would it be an objective good for society if we ate socialists and statists rather than the rich?

  8. Tano says:

    “Unless, of course, Tano is willing to let me decide what is objectively good for society.”

    Sure Charles. You and me together. Thats the idea of a democracy.

  9. Maniakes says:

    Are you kidding? You do realize that a flat tax rate of 20% with no deductions would more than double the majority of American’s tax burden, right?

    20% was an example, not a proposal. And every serious flat tax proposal I’ve seen has a very high personal exemption to counter exactly the problem you describe. I’d have to run numbers before making a proposal, but if I were to make a proposal it’d probably resemble the Forbes proposal from 1996 (17% marginal rate, personal exemption of $36,000 for a family of four).

  10. spencer says:

    Charles austin — I would take the opposite bet that people would be surprised how little progressivity is built into the US tax code.

    Taking all taxes, income,payroll, estate the tax rate is:

    1st Quintile…3.4 %
    2nd Quintile…7.3%
    3rd quintile…14.4%
    4th Quintile…18.8%
    5th Quintile…25.9%
    top 10 % ..27.4
    top 5% ….28.5
    top 1%…..30.4
    top 0.1%…32.8

    Once you get out of the very poor and into the middle and upper income groups the federal tax system is just not as progressive as is widely argued.

    Any time you hear some republican politician talking people having over a 50% tax burden you know they are seriously stretching the truth. It is possible to pay over 50% of your income in taxes, but to achieve that you have to be paying property taxes on several multi-million dollar houses– Kerry may be an example of this.

  11. Steve Verdon says:

    And what is wrong with using the tax code to redistribute wealth or to incentivize certain activities? These are activities that are, I think, objectivly good for society.

    James has already given the answer Tano. Rent seeking, that is the problem. Once you open the door to creating special incentives then people start asking for special incentives, some worthy, but most likely most are not.

    We want to keep an economic system that is essentially capitalistic, because we understand that that is the engine for economic growth and the landscape upon which the creative capacities of the population can best be realized. But we also know perfectly well that a pure capitalistic system leads to highly undesirable and unstable outcomes – including a gross disparity in income, and a huge class of relatively poor workers who cannot sufficiently participate in the economy.

    Really? Exactly how many pure capitalistic systems have you seen? Please don’t use third world countries as most, if not all of them, don’t count. When you have a country ruled by a dictator or some sort of authoritarian junta you tend to find cronyism, nepotism, and just about every other bad -ism out there. As such, they aren’t “capitalistic”.

    And using the tax code to incentivize or deincentivize certain activities is an ideal way for a society to guide, with a relatively light hand, the economic energy of the society in the direction that we as a society deem important.

    Really, you mean like England’s Corn Laws? Voting has a really shoddy history of allocating resources in a way that most consider “good”. The quotes are to denote the subjective nature of the word good by the way. How do we determine it? By popular vote? What if the popular vote is to round up all HIV patients and quarentine them? Good idea, bad idea? And this doesn’t even get into the “technical” issues of using voting mechanisms as a way of making decisions.

    The mentality of the decision maker in a business is neccessarily too short term to always emcompass the larger, or longer term interests of the society.

    Oh yes, and politicians have such long planning horizions. Why of course they plan for events 2,3 even 4 election cycles ahead.

    The “flat tax” movement has always been pushing the notion that one must adopt a flat tax (2 brackets rather than 6 or 7) in order to achieve tax code simplification. This is nonsense.

    The only bit of nonsense is what you are spouting. True many, if not all, flat tax proposals have one (maybe two) tax brackets, but they also simplify the calculation of your taxable income. They remove all the itemized deduction stuff and opt for large single deductions. For example, the Hall-Rabushka flat tax eliminates most of the deductions you see today and in their place put a large standard deduction, I believe that the deduction for 2006 would have been around $33,700 for a family of four. That is if such a family earned $32,000 then they’d pay no taxes at all.

    Now, you could go with the above deduction and have more than one bracket, but the big thing is getting rid of the rent seeking. You’d have to do something like pass the tax reform and also incorporate some sort of super-majority requirement to change the law. Now, if you ask Drum about that, he’ll poo-poo it. He hates the super-majority requirement here in CA for changing things like property taxes. Granted, I believe Drum rents so, higher property taxes would have little impact on him, at least initially.

    As for taxing investment income and labor income the same, fine, but then eliminate the corporate profits tax since most investment income his hit with that before it is paid out to shareholders.

  12. Spencer, I’m sorry but I don’t understand your point. That sure looks progresive to me.

    As for the unlucky few who have to pay significant percentages of their income in taxes, don’t forget about FICA, Medicare, and the AMT. The first two are especially problematic since as an S Corporation business owner I have to pay those amounts twice. Also, your allusion to people who are paying large amounts of taxes due to property taxes helps illustrate what I tried to note about the difference between wealth and income. They are not the same thing, and frankly every progressive tax system seems to have the (unintended?) effect of keeping me from being able to accumulate wealth.

  13. ken says:

    every progressive tax system seems to have the (unintended?) effect of keeping me from being able to accumulate wealth.

    Actually what is keeping you from accumulating wealth is you penchant for spending inordinate amounts of your time on-line whining about how the tax system is keeping you from accumulating wealth.

    I am not trying to be cruel but I have seen enough of people like you to diagnose your near hopeless condition: you are a conservative. This means that you will never take responsibility for your own failure to accumulate wealth but will always blame it on the country you live in.

    I see plenty of good people everywhere who are working hard, accumulating wealth, paying taxes, raising a family and who are grateful that they live in a country that allows them the freedom to do all of this and do not begrudge the taxes they pay.

    Pity you could not be more like them.

  14. Tano says:

    Steve,

    Let me focus on the nonsense you spout with regard to tax simplification vs. the number of brackets.

    You call what I say nonsense, but you then just wander around the issue without addressing it.

    The flat tax proposal has two brackets. A zero percent bracket (what you refer to as the large standard deduction) and then the flat rate itself – 17%, 20%, whatever.

    There is no reason, as you seem to acknowledge, that one could not have any number of brackets. This would have NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER on the question of simplifying the tax code – which refers to the question of whether to have all manner of deductions, loopholes, incentives etc. as we now do.

    I dont know what you think “rent-seeking” or super-majorities have to do with this issue.

  15. Tano says:

    “Once you open the door to creating special incentives then people start asking for special incentives, some worthy, but most likely most are not.”

    Well yes. And so you have a process in which you elect people to use judgement in distinguishing between the two. And if they are successful at that, you send them back to continue using such judgement. Thats the way it is supposed to work.

    “Exactly how many pure capitalistic systems have you seen?”

    Nothing is pure in this mortal coil. I was thinking along the lines of 19th century early-industrial-revolution times. You know, robber barons, gilded age, the right-wing good ol’ days.

    “Voting has a really shoddy history of allocating resources in a way that most consider “good”.”

    Yeah, I kinda get the idea that you are not a big fan of democracy. But to whatever extent you are right about that history, it is probably better than the allocation from other systems.

    “What if the popular vote is to round up all HIV patients and quarentine them?”

    Ah, a constitutional democracy, I mean. With guaranteed rights. All praise the ACLU!

    “Oh yes, and politicians have such long planning horizions. Why of course they plan for events 2,3 even 4 election cycles ahead.”

    Hey, I cant deny this is a problem. None the less, we do look for our politicians to be statesmen and to consider the longer horizen, and we do tend to reward some of them who do that. We do need more of this. There is a chance to get some through the electoral process. No chance to get if from quarterly-report driven businesses.

  16. Steve Verdon says:

    The flat tax proposal has two brackets. A zero percent bracket (what you refer to as the large standard deduction) and then the flat rate itself – 17%, 20%, whatever.

    Technically, there is only one bracket. 20% of $0 is $0 in taxes.

    There is no reason, as you seem to acknowledge, that one could not have any number of brackets.

    Well what do you want to influence with different tax brackets? The only thing I can see influencing is the amount of work some people in society want to do. The biggest way to influence people’s behavior is via deductions. You want to make it easier to purchase a home, give a mortgage interest deduction (and don’t tax the imputed income from occupying one’s own home). Want people to have more children, then give them a per-child deduction. But this leads to rent-seeking and increases the complexity of the tax system.

    I dont know what you think “rent-seeking” or super-majorities have to do with this issue.

    Ignorance of rent-seeking is why we have the complex and byzantine tax system and bureaucracies we do.

    Well yes. And so you have a process in which you elect people to use judgement in distinguishing between the two. And if they are successful at that, you send them back to continue using such judgement. Thats the way it is supposed to work.

    You sound like George Bush. Seriously, your arguement boils down to, “Activist government would work, just so long as we got good people in positions of power.” Nevermind that the notion of time inconsistency seriously undermines this claim, and history points out that often time the knaves and liars are the ones that go into politics.

    Nothing is pure in this mortal coil. I was thinking along the lines of 19th century early-industrial-revolution times. You know, robber barons, gilded age, the right-wing good ol’ days.

    Oh, the industrial revolution which laid the foundation for much of what we enjoy today? Yeah, there were some disturbing practices like child labor and the such, but it is somewhat questionable that we’d have that today if we reduced the size and scope of government intervention.

    Yeah, I kinda get the idea that you are not a big fan of democracy. But to whatever extent you are right about that history, it is probably better than the allocation from other systems.

    I didn’t say I wasn’t a big fan of democracy, I just oppose using it to allocate/reallocate resources. You put your guy in and Charles Austin is unhappy with the stuff he does. So Charles gets his guy in and does stuff you don’t like. Back and forth it goes wasting resources via rent-seeking. Along with rent-seeking, which wastes resources, there is rent-protecting. If each side is willing to expend resources upto the value of the rent then the potential loss is multiplied by the number of sides.

    Ah, a constitutional democracy, I mean. With guaranteed rights. All praise the ACLU!

    Unfortunately you don’t seem to have much truck with guaranteeing rights to resources. It appears very much that you see resources sort of like poker chips that should be handed out via some sort of nebulously defined voting mechanism with little restraint via the Constitution.

    Hey, I cant deny this is a problem. None the less, we do look for our politicians to be statesmen and to consider the longer horizen, and we do tend to reward some of them who do that.

    This is really an assumption. Why should a politicians who is in office for either 2, 4 or 6 years going to take a longer planning horizon than a business owner who is 40 years old and looking to be in business for up to 25 years? Firms that focus solely on next quarter’s profits are usually firms that don’t last that long. There are things like capital expenditures that could have to be amortized over a few decades, etc.

  17. Steve, um, I think I agree with you, just in case I wasn’t clear.

    Ken, you crack me up.

  18. Tano says:

    Steve,

    I still dont understand why you cant focus on the one single issue that we are discussing in the tax brackets issue. It is simply this. One can decide the number of brackets, be it one or two or 10 or 20, and this question is entirely separate from the other issue – whether to simplify the tax code, either a little or a lot or not at all. Two entirely separate questions. You can change one or the other or both or neither, in any permutation, independently of eachother. That was, I presume, Kevin Drum’s original point, and was the point I was trying to make. And it is the point that the “flat tax” proponents always try to obscure. Most likely because tax simplification is popular – whereas a flat tax structure (which amounts to halving the marginal rates on the high-income earners, shifting the tax burden onto the middle class) is much less popular.

    “Seriously, your arguement boils down to, “Activist government would work, just so long as we got good people in positions of power.” ”

    Yeah. Well, minimalist government works only so long as you get good people. Business works only so long as you get good people. Blogs too.

    [re. child labor etc] “it is somewhat questionable that we’d have that today if we reduced the size and scope of government intervention.”

    Oh really? Why is that. Do we have a better sort of human being now?
    Maybe its time to withdraw the police from our city streets – in the expectation that no one is really seeking to bend any rules to maximize their advantage anymore?

    “Unfortunately you don’t seem to have much truck with guaranteeing rights to resources.”

    Ya got that right.

    “Why should a politicians who is in office for either 2, 4 or 6 years going to take a longer planning horizon…”

    Hey, I am very much opposed to term-limits, for precisely this reason (amongst others).

    “than a business owner who is 40 years old and looking to be in business for up to 25 years? ”

    Some might actually be so wise, but not most. And besides, it is still the long-term health of their own business that they might attend to, not that of society as a whole.

  19. Ian says:

    Here is why the FairTax is superior to the Flat Tax and will make a good U.S. tax system REPLACEMENT. The FairTax is:

    • SIMPLE, easy to understand
    • EFFICIENT, inexpensive to comply with and doesn’t cause less-than-optimal business decisions for tax minimization purposes
    • FAIR, loophole free and everyone pays their share
    • LOW TAX RATE, achieved by broad base with no exclusions
    • PREDICTABLE, doesn’t change, so financial planning is possible
    • UNINTRUSIVE, doesn’t intrude into our personal affairs or limit our liberty
    • VISIBLE, not hidden from the public in tax-inflated prices or otherwise
    • PRODUCTIVE, rewards, rather than penalizes, work and productivity

    Its benefits are as follows:

    FOR INDIVIDUALS:
    • No more tax on income – make as much as you wish
    • You receive your full paycheck – no more deductions
    • You pay the tax when you buy “at retail” – not “used”
    • No more double taxation (e.g. like on current Capital Gains)
    • Reduction of “pre-FairTaxed” retail prices by 20%-30%
    • Adding back 29.9% FairTax maintains current price levels
    • FairTax would constitute 23% portion of new prices
    • Every household receives a monthly check, or “pre-bate”
    • Pre-bate equals payback for taxes on spending to poverty level
    • FairTax’s pre-bate ensures progressivity, poverty protection
    • Finally, citizens are knowledgeable of what their tax IS
    • Elimination of “parasitic” Income Tax industry
    • NO MORE IRS. NO MORE FILING OF TAX RETURNS by individuals
    • Those possessing illicit forms of income will ALSO pay the FairTax
    • Households have more disposable income to purchase goods
    • Savings is bolstered with reduction of interest rates

    FOR BUSINESSES:
    • Corporate income and payroll taxes revoked under FairTax
    • Business compensated for collecting tax at “cash register”
    • No more tax-related lawyers, lobbyists on company payrolls
    • No more embedded (hidden) income/payroll taxes in prices
    • Reduced costs. Competition – not tax policy – drives prices
    • Off-shore “tax haven” headquarters can now return to U.S
    • No more “favors” from politicians at expense of taxpayers
    • Resources go to R&D and study of competition – not taxes
    • Marketplace distortions eliminated for fair competition
    • US exports increase their share of foreign markets

    FOR THE COUNTRY:
    • 7% – 13% economic growth projected in the first year of the FairTax
    • Jobs return to the U.S.
    • Foreign corporations “set up shop” in the U.S.
    • Tax system trends are corrected to “enlarge the pie”
    • Larger economic “pie,” means thinner tax rate “slices”
    • Initial 23% portion of price is pressured downward as “pie”
    increases
    • No more “closed door” tax deals by politicians and business
    • FairTax sets new global standard. Other countries will follow

  20. Bandit says:

    And what is wrong with using the tax code to redistribute wealth or to incentivize certain activities? These are activities that are, I think, objectivly good for society.

    And anyone who disagrees with what the electorate thinks is objectively good for society can have their assets confiscated and sent to jail at the barrel of a gun. Sorry but I think I’d prefer to have individuals make their own decisions about what’s good for society.

  21. ken says:

    And anyone who disagrees with what the electorate thinks is objectively good for society can have their assets confiscated and sent to jail at the barrel of a gun. Sorry but I think I’d prefer to have individuals make their own decisions about what’s good for society.

    Thank you. We’ve done that. We did it through our political process. It’s called democracy.

    And what we have decided is that what is good for society is for each of us as individuals to contribute a fair share of our income (in progressively higher amounts as we benefit more from society) to a government of our choice. This government we have established to provide for our general welfare and to establish justice and to provide for common defense and to do a few other things.

    Those people who refuse to go along with the small sacrifice required to enjoy the benefits of our nation are invited to either comply or to leave. Those who chose neither to comply nor to leave we chose to put in jail.

    That’s called, how do you put it? – oh yeah, ” individuals make[ing] their own decisions about what’s good for society.”

  22. Steve Verdon says:

    Tano,

    The problem is that you inaccurately described the way flat tax proposals are structured. You claimed, falsely, that they are about simplifying only the brackets and by implication not how taxable income is determined. I pointed out that this is false.

    As for the number of brackets it does add to the complexity in that people often have to consider what moving into a higher bracket does in terms of the labor leisure trade off. With a progressive multi-bracket system the marginal rate isn’t so easily determined and hence it is harder for people to know if accepting a higher paying job with increased work hours is a good thing or not.

    Think of it this way. You have a flat tax with tax rate tau. You have standard deduction of D, and income is denoted by I. Now your tax is given by,

    Tax = (I-D)*tau.

    The marginal tax rate is,

    dTax/dI = tau.

    Now suppose we have two tax rates tau and rho. Now the tax that is paid is given by,

    Tax = (I* – D)*tau + (I-I*)*rho.

    That is you firts apply the deduction to income below I* and tax that at rate tau. Any income over I* you tax at rate rho with rho > tau.

    Just this two tier system is more complicated in that the tax function facing each tax payer is more complicated. Do they face marginal rate tau or rho? The more brackets you add the harder it is. If you add in different rates for different types of income it becomes even more complicated. For example, if you want certain types of labor income to be taxed at one rate and others taxed at a different rate.

    Yeah. Well, minimalist government works only so long as you get good people. Business works only so long as you get good people.

    Only one fatal falw to your cute little analogy. Blogs and corporations don’t usually have the same level of power the government does. Go over and read Radley Balko’s articles on militarizing the police. Go read up on the Kelo decision. A business with a “bad person” goes out of business. A government with bad people can lead to atrocities.

    Regarding Child Labor:

    Oh really? Why is that.

    Because the idea that people are going to get that much extra income from sending their children a la the late 1800’s out into the work force is highly questionable. By the way, child labor was just as rampant prior to “capitalistic systems”. Agrarian economies put their children to work just as well. This notion that it is some evil associated with robbber barons and capitalism is just silly.

    Do we have a better sort of human being now?

    No, we have a vastly different economy now. We have an economy where if people were going to look at their children as sources of income you’d have both a present and potential future income streams to look at. Sure you could send Jr. out to work in the Nike factory for $5.25/hour or you could send him to school and have him go out and earn $25.25/hour instead.

    Maybe its time to withdraw the police from our city streets – in the expectation that no one is really seeking to bend any rules to maximize their advantage anymore?

    Strawman.

    Ya got that right.

    Yeah who needs those stupid property rights. Fuck the Constitution and that stupid fourth amendment.

    Some might actually be so wise, but not most. And besides, it is still the long-term health of their own business that they might attend to, not that of society as a whole.

    Really? Toyota is a great example. They seem to have a very long planning horizon. Microsoft as well with its aggressive pursuit of intellectual property for software. Focusing on merely the next quarter is a great way to run into very serious problems. If that is really what firms did in general you’d see firms failing to make large scale capital investments. After all, those expenditures could be then considered profits for that quarter pumping up profits, and temporarily stock prices, and in your view providing the justification for CEO salaries. The problem is that as capital depreciates away these firms productive capability would also decline. Funny, that just doesn’t seem to be the trend.

  23. Tano says:

    “As for the number of brackets it does add to the complexity in that people often have to consider what moving into a higher bracket does in terms of the labor leisure trade off.”

    Give me an effin break Steve. Can you find me one human being on earth who has ever decided to not accept a higher paying job, because some fraction of the increase in his salary would be taxed at 39% rather than 35%?

    And I guess your rhos and taus might seem ever so scary to some people, but it seems like childsplay to work that into an algorithm that could answer those questions instantaneously.

    If you found such a person who needed to know that.

    As far as bad people in government causing disasters, well, as we sit here in 2007 I am hardly the one to argue with that. But it is why I support the notion of checks and balances, and never ever voting for Republicans. 🙂

    Child labor was, of course, just one example of what occurs in an unregulated marketplace. And I didnt claim that it was an invention of capitalism.

    One of the odd things I have always noticed about libertarians is that they seem ever so suspicious of unaccountable power – but only if it is government power. As if power (including the power to oppress in many different manners) exists soley as a function of government. Private institutions can exercise power too. We saw that in laissez faire capitalism – when government basically let private corporations do what they wanted, the result was a monstrous way of life for workers.

    One could make quite the case that a major subtext of 20th century history was the attempts by people throughout the Western world to find some kind of alternative system to the horrors of pure capitalism. Socialism, communism, fascism and so many other permutations won over the hearts and hopes of tens of millions of decent people because they all knew, without question, that there had to be something better. We were lucky enough to hit upon the notion of a regulated, policed market system that kept the underlying economic engine humming, but outlawed the outrages, tamed the excesses, and modified the distributions so that society could advance as a whole. I think the case can be made that this type of a regulated market is infinitly better than a “free” market, and probably more productive as well.

    I dont know if it is ignorance of history, a fantasy of actually being a robber baron with no regard for the rest of society, or some kind of a bizarre longing for a simple, clean model, unsullied by the little fixes that actually can make it work, that causes libertarians to constntly try to undo the progress we have made.

  24. That’s called, how do you put it? – oh yeah, ” individuals make[ing] their own decisions about what’s good for society.”

    No, that’s called “individuals making decisions for other people about what’s good for society”.

  25. Rick DeMent says:

    “Exactly how many pure capitalistic systems have you seen?”

    Almost any parking lot of a Grateful Dead Concert in the 70’s and early 80’s.