Taxes and the Real World

If you hadn’t already noticed — at, David Kay Johnston analyzed the results of the Bush tax cuts and concluded the economy would have been better off without them. See also Economist’s View.

Bruce Bartlett, writing for Fiscal Times, writes,

The truth is that there is virtually no evidence in support of the Bush tax cuts as an economic elixir. To the extent that they had any positive effect on growth, it was very, very modest. Their main effect was simply to reduce the government’s revenue, thereby increasing the budget deficit, which all Republicans claim to abhor.

The Bartlett article is especially interesting, since it reviews George Bush’s “decision making” process. (h/t Angry Bear) See also “What the Rich Don’t Need.”

Update: Why righties are ignorant — some guy at National Review Online named Kevin Williamson writes, “The difference between communism and socialism: Under communism, politics begins with a gun in your face; under socialism, politics ends with a gun in your face.”

This is what passes for “clever” on the Right. But what does it actually tell us about either socialism or communism? Absolutely nothing. What does it tell us about totalitarian regimes that are neither socialist nor communist? Absolutely nothing. How does it prepare a citizen to judge what economic/political policies actually might be “socialist” under any academic definition of the term? It doesn’t.

All it does it set up the poorly educated among us to be afraid of anything that somebody labels “socialist,” whether that thing is socialist or not. And in doing so it sets up the poorly educated among us to stampede into the waiting arms of corporatism and plutocracy — both of which are capable of pointing lots of guns at lots of faces, although it’s not their usual style.

This same clever Mr. Williamson said elsewhere, “Socialism is when The Man comes to your house with a gun and tells you that you are going to serve the community.” To which someone at The Economist wearily objected:

Is that what socialism is? I thought that was corvée labour. It’s funny, because I have lived or spent time in several of the northern European social-democratic countries that are often described by American conservatives as “socialist”, and I don’t remember seeing anything like this going on. Let’s see, the Netherlands, Denmark, France…nope, don’t remember seeing The Man coming to anyone’s house with a gun to tell them to go serve the community. …

…Okay, enough with the cuteness: what I’m objecting to here is Mr Williamson’s use of the “gun in your face” trope (more usually rendered as “gun to your head”) as a grab-bag shorthand for law and government. This is a completely routine part of conservative language at this point. It’s also completely obfuscatory, aggressive and just plain inaccurate.

Mr. Williamson then whines that the Netherlands, Denmark, and France are different, and don’t count somehow, but he has lived in a real socialist state (he doesn’t say which one) and it was real awful.

Then he says,

The resort to violence is what makes the question of what kind of things it is legitimate for states to do an important moral concern. It seems to me perfectly reasonable to shove a gun in somebody’s face to stop him murdering, raping, or robbing. It seems to me entirely unreasonable to shove a gun in somebody’s face to extort from him money to fund a project to get monkeys high on cocaine. Those seem to me fairly reasonable distinctions. It is illegitimate for government to use force or the threat of force for projects that are not inherently public in character.

Get monkeys high on cocaine? This is an old rightie trick — find some fairly standard academic research grant (in this case, $71,623 to Wake Forest University to study the effect of cocaine on monkeys), make it sound ridiculous, and blow it up into an Issue. Universities and medical research centers depend on grants like that to keep their equipment updated and to pay researcher staff salaries.

But when did anyone point a gun in anyone’s face to extort money for a research grant? We now see that we aren’t talking about real guns, but merely rhetorical guns, as a kind of metaphor for paying taxes.

So, we can infer that any nation that requires its citizens to pay taxes is socialist. Brilliant. And at the rate they are devolving the next generation of righties will be too stupid to learn how to use a fork.

Update: See Dean’s World.

17 thoughts on “Taxes and the Real World

  1. “Goerge Bush’s decision making process!”
    What a HOOT!
    “Little Boots’s” decision making process was alway based on ‘Heads I win, tails you lose.”
    He always had an army of Daddy’s rich and powerful friends, many of them Arabs (not that I give a sh*t, but that has something to do with what happened), and lawyers, looking out for him so that no matter what imbecilic thing he did, no matter how bad a choice he made, he always had a soft cushion to fall back on.
    Too bad they didn’t think the country was as important as “The Prodigal Son.”
    The death of this country began when those appointed by his Daddy and his Daddy’s former boss, handed “Little Boots” the crown.
    The stench of that mis-Adminstration will foul the air long after this country is gone, remembered as a greedy, moronic laughing stock in world history.

  2. Rightie thinking is a strange thing.. In the Rightie world of abstract thinking and linking I can smoke a joint of local homegrown weed and end up being responsible for a family in Colombia being killed by a drug cartel. It’s hard for me to make that connection, but that seems to be a hardcore Rightie fact affirmed through proper thinking. I haven’t fired one up in at least 2 years so all those drug related deaths occurring in Mexico recently are the result of some high school kid getting high for his first time..

  3. These Northern European countries are democracies that have elected officials that carry out the wishes of their constituents. If there’s a gun to the head it would be the ballot box to the government’s head. And the extortion is done willingly. If you believe the French or the Swedes are being asked against their will to participate in a socialist country you simply don’t understand them. Just because many Americans are willing to allow corporations to ruin their lives, and believe it is in some manner ‘freedom’, don’t think those countries where the education is overall better, will think the same thing. We had a French family stay with us for a couple of days over the summer, and while they certainly had some issues with their system (which I won’t go into but which seem reasonable), they simply could not believe that a) not everyone has access to affordable health care b) we allow people to go bankrupt because of medical bills c) the ease with which employers can downsize, fire or move their businesses, all to the destruction of the community at hand. These people owned a small business, so knew the ins and outs of the tax system, and were certainly wealthy enough to travel and spend a good deal of time in the US, as well as other places. So if this guy thinks that Europeans are not willing participants, he is wrong.

  4. “And at the rate they are devolving the next generation of righties will be too stupid to learn how to use a fork.”
    And that, little boys and girls, is why God invented ‘sporks,’ so that conservative imbeciles wouldn’t maim themselves trying to eat something as simple as “Jello.”

  5. Shit, I’d just give the guy money for getting monkeys high if he asked – sounds like a hoot! No gun required.

    What I object to is “the guy with the gun” demanding money for the no-bid, no-supervision contracts for Halliburton and Blackwater, the way their hero, frickin’ Socialist commie bastard Shrub, was into.

    At least we learn something if we have scientists getting monkeys high (assuming it isn’t the Peter Tork and Davey Jones kind, of course), but all we know when we give money to Blackwater is that rich, aggressive guys with guns like to shoot, blow things up and ignore the law, same as slightly-less-rich aggressive guys with guns. (Funny how the ‘guy with the gun to your face’ never is an issue in Republican administrations… why is that again?)

    I think the fact that the “gun in your face” trope is violent and inaccurate is a “feature”, not a “bug” in right-wing discourse. It’s not like they are really trying to make legitimate argument in pursuit of a rational discourse over just policy decisions. They are trying to get theirs and screw you. OF COURSE they’ll use bogus tropes, constructs and phrasing – they spit on the idea of adult discussion, because they are spoiled children at heart.

  6. One day they’ll understand we are little more than free range chickens, some with wider ranges than others.

  7. It’s a classic instance of accusing your opponents of your own sins, but that’s hardly infrequent at NRO, which has the greatest collection of condescending, thuggish, faux-intellectual psychopaths I have ever witnessed writing in one forum. The fact that Andy McCarthy, for one, is allowed to spew his filth uncensored without being stomped by an angry mob is continuing testimony to free speech and tolerance in the USA.

    It is of course the manic rightie who reaches for the gun as the first and best response to any problem, whether it’s more police with fewer restrictions on using lethal force, more people in jails, more executions, more assassinations, more wars, or less limiting rules of engagement in the ones already being fought. But that inconvenient little truth is covered by the smokescreen of this nonsense about the claimed dangers of socialism. After all, righties just kill scum like criminals and Muslims and unfortunate innocent bystanders, whereas socialists want to take some of your MONEY. Let’s get our priorities right here!

  8. I think I’m starting to see Bush’s greatness.. George the mighty deficit builder. With 2 trillion in tax cuts, and 3 trillion in preemptive/recreational wars, he’s got to be the greatest squander of American wealth that we have ever known.

  9. I guess it must have been a fever dream, but I seem to remember some people carrying assault rifles and such to public events to add a measure of threat to their political temper tantrums. But, that couldn’t have really happened here, could it? And they must have been communists, because conservatives believe in civility don’t you know.

    Socialism and communism have joined the long list of ruined words. But if you look at communism as a system that institutionalizes a planned economy, it is in one limited sense, the opposite end of the spectrum from the brand of free market capitalism that the right wings sees as a panacea. Maybe Ludwig Von Mises, the Fascist admiring economist, was right that “socialism” would fail because it couldn’t anticipate, plan and provide goods and services as efficiently as a market. But “Free Market Fundamentalism” is another extreme, which has led to financial ruin on a few occasions, once back when it was called “Laissez faire”. It gives rise to a host evils.

    The blended systems of some prominent EU countries are not perfect either, but in a sense thay represent a more moderate and practical approach then either communism or free market capitalism. They have produced the best healthcare in the world, higher literacy rates, more disposable income, lower infant mortality rates and a lot of other measurable advantages. They have done this by occasionally “doing what works”. As I have written before I have experience with the French healthcare system and it is exceedingly practical.

    I guess our news isn’t carrying all those officials “sticking guns” in the faces of French workers forcing them work more than 35 hours a week and retire a few years later, but rightie logic says it must be happening.

    Langued’oc-Rousillon, here I come! I better get that Rossetta Stone>

  10. Swami,
    In the spirit of Michael Pollen’s “food like substances” I think rightie thinking should be “thinking like process.”

  11. @Ken Lovell :

    Concise, brutal, and largely true. Well done.

    @goatherd :

    Free market fundamentalism doesn’t even have a place on the map of conventional economic ideas. It doesn’t fit anywhere, because it devolves into either anarchy or a totalitarian plutocracy.

    Seriously. How is it that people get from “no taxes and no controls on the rich” to “utopian society”? What era of mankind are they idealizing to get this idea — the Gilded Age?

    The lesson that should have been learned from the collapse of the Soviet Union was that totalitarian governments don’t work, not that communism is a failure. Somehow, the economic principles in socialism and communism became connected with the political practices of the USSR. Unfortunately, just declaring it doesn’t make it so. The USSR was not any more communist then we were. They were, in fact, a dictatorial plutocracy with vastly unequal rights between rich and poor. The whole communism spiel was propaganda to advance a narrow-minded agenda, much as free market fundamentalism is used today in this country. Lenin and Stalin never intended to establish anything like a free and fair society for everyone, despite their claims.

    Most Americans truly seem to have no idea that in communism, workers have control of the means of production. They decide what is built, when, and how. Did you see anything like that in the Soviet Union, at any time? No? How about in China? …Guess not, huh? Then that wasn’t communism.

    This idea of communism as a centrally planned economy is fundamentally wrong and incoherent. There is no way in which power could be centralized in the hands of a small handful of people, and yet provide workers with the ability to manage production and their own futures. They’re mutually and directly contradictory ideas.

    The association made in most American minds seems to be this: “communism is to capitalism as totalitarianism is to democracy”.

    The correct analogy is this: “communism is to capitalism as democracy is to oligarchy”.

  12. Indeed, the barbarians are definitely at the gate. Led by Bush who spent 8 years careening toward debilitating incompetence and terminal mendacity all the time behaving as if stupidity were a virtue, the electorate has ended up dumbed down and liking it.

    (In case the tax-slashing Street loving proponents are interested, the Dow accelerated after Bush I and Clinton I raised taxes. And then there are those fiscally responsible Republicans Bush and Reagan who managed to suck $2 1/2 trillion out of the budget. There used to be a popular saying, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” Republicans have revived it.)

  13. kagerato:

    “Free market fundamentalism doesn’t even have a place on the map of conventional economic ideas. It doesn’t fit anywhere, because it devolves into either anarchy or a totalitarian plutocracy.”

    Free market fundamentalism has a place on the map of conventional economic ideas, it just doesn’t have a place in any sort of economic REALIY. as for the rest of that paragraph I agree 100%.

    “Seriously. How is it that people get from “no taxes and no controls on the rich” to “utopian society”? What era of mankind are they idealizing to get this idea — the Gilded Age?”

    Yes, I have often wondered this myself.

    If you reread my post you will see that I am making a comparison “in one limited sense” concerning the efficiency of markets versus production determined by plan. One commonality with “Free Market Fundamentalism and Communism is that they are both, like any ideology, based on theory. Translating them into practice conjures a plague of unforeseen consequences and contradictions. The “contradiction” between central planning and worker’s management of production was supposed to be addressed by collectivization, in which management was intended to be “local”. But, it is a reasonable example of the type of problem that arises when economic models or other theoretical constructs leave the drawing board and confront reality. Lenin even wrote a book about it.

    I don’t want to get into a protracted discussion of Soviet history. I have forgotten most of what little I knew. My point was simply that Von Mises had asserted that Socialism, as it existed, would always fail due to its inability to react quickly and efficiently to demand. His “free market” adherents are proposing something just as removed from reality, and as you say, sure to devolve into “anarchy and totalitarian plutacracy”.

    On the other hand, in the real world, “blended” systems seem to fair reasonably well. Sorry to cut this short, I am late feeding my goats.

  14. Every day we DO hear about some loser somewhere, off his “meds”, sticking a gun in someone’s face because our insane, right-wing SCOTUS seems to believe “a well organized militia” = private individuals, whether they are in possession of their “marbles” or not.

  15. Thanks for that article Swami. I lived in Tampa for many years. Supposing that the description of the shooter as a reasonable man has some validity, it seems to illustrate how even “reasonable” people have moments of extremely poor judgment. Add a gun into the mix and you have a tragedy like this.

    I think it will be damning when the authorities ask for an explanation as to why he decided to carry the gun in the first place. It would seem to indicate that he foresaw a confrontation or planned one. It would be far more likely that he would arm himself against a physically intimidating person like the victim rather than a young skateboarder. That smacks of premeditation.

    Given the new lax open carry laws backed by the NRA, it is easy to imagine how people like waiters and bartenders will have to confront and refuse to serve people carrying guns, who could easily strap on their holster after already having a “snoot full”. It seems like an extremely bad idea. Someone’s going to get shot and the bar or restaurant owner will be sued. Then cooler heads will prevail, alas too late.

  16. @goatherd:

    Agreed; the free market and communism are both ideologies. They are economic theories — seeming to work in simple models, but having never been successfully implemented anywhere in reality.

    While hybridized economic schemes combining the elements of several methodologies seem to be work decently in practice, I’m not convinced the best economic system would necessarily be a hybrid of other existing ideas or bases.

    Ultimately, what matters is to analyze the empirical results and see whether they are achieving prosperity for the vast majority of people.

    @Swami :

    Guh. Terrible and senseless event. Don’t even know what to say about that; so little information and it doesn’t fit together well.

    I got a double whammy when I checked out the side bar. Kayoko Ishizuka, a cancer researcher at USF, was killed by a hit-and-run driver while biking not far from the university. I didn’t know her, though there’s a good chance I passed her once or twice. I used to bike through that same area all the time, nearly every day, so I can attest to how dangerous it is and how reckless many of the drivers are.

    Horrible, unnecessary, completely avoidable death. People love their cars so much. This is the price we pay for them, thousands of times over every year.

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