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The Fallen Towers Revisited

September 11, 2011

Most of us recession-battered, politically splintered, increasingly angry Americans took at least a few moments today to remember the terrors of a bright September morning exactly ten years ago. The stirring commemoration ceremony at Ground Zero may have soothed our savage partisan breasts for a few moments. Or maybe not. I couldn’t think of anything suitable to add to the occasion here at The New Moderate, and I had my seven-year-old son to entertain.

Then I remembered that I had written a piece about the Twin Towers shortly after 9/11, during my previous incarnation as webmaster and resident essayist at The Cynic’s Sanctuary. I was curious to see how my younger self interpreted the events of that surreal day. So I looked it up, and I have to tell you I was stunned.

As a relative innocent back in 2001 (in a way, all of us were relative innocents back in 2001), I had no inkling of the wars, domestic discord and other disasters that lay ahead. Granted, there were no deadly follow-up terrorist attacks, as so many of us had feared, but my predictions about America’s resilience, character and ultimate triumph proved to be almost fatuously optimistic (especially for a professional cynic).

But I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. I’ve unearthed the ten-year-old time capsule for you, complete with the inaccurate death toll and the sunny prophecies, which I hope won’t prove to be entirely delusional.

Notes on the Fallen Towers

I used to commute into New York every weekday when the World Trade Center was new. Those upstart twin towers dominated the skyline like a double exclamation point in boldface type, and I resented them for surpassing the legendary Empire State Building as the world’s tallest. They didn’t strike me as worthy successors to the Babe Ruth of the skyline: two long boxes, massive and featureless, planted side by side. No personality, no wit, no soul, no crowning spire to lure the next incarnation of King Kong. I hated the way they dwarfed the classic Jazz Age skyscrapers of lower Manhattan. Those vintage towers had grace and finesse, with their artful setbacks, slender soaring shafts and jubilant crowns. They were Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and George Gershwin transformed into masonry, perfectly clustered with careless panache. Now they had been shoved off center stage, made to look skimpy and irrelevant by a pair of hulking automatons. Imagine the architectural equivalent of twin Arnold Schwarzeneggers, and you’ve imagined the impact of the World Trade Center on the New York skyline of the early seventies.

We gradually accept what won’t go away. I came to appreciate the twin towers as I passed them every day on the bus into Manhattan. I’d spy them from across the Hudson, glimmering silver-blue in the morning light, casting angled shadows on each other’s facades, the two profiles merging neatly into a single silhouette as we approached the Lincoln Tunnel. I began to notice a few touches of refinement: the beveled corners, the subtle horizontal bands, the delicate vertical tracery of the windows that became visible at close range. On a sparkling day, viewed from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights, they added something to the skyline approaching dignity and even beauty. You could see the twin towers looming above the tricky streets of Greenwich Village or SoHo, and you immediately knew which way was south. And so the hulking towers became trusted sentinels, solid and reassuring. When we saw the World Trade Center in the distance, we knew where we were.

Now we can’t be so sure. Who would have believed that these twin pillars of American capitalism could crumble in the manner of an imploded housing project? To watch them burn like a pair of colossal torches, then to watch them fall with such sad dignity — slowly and somberly, with the weighty vertical descent of a man executed by firing squad — filled me with wonder and sympathy and mad rush of adrenaline. We were witnessing one of the most horrific catastrophes in American history, with a human toll comparable to at least three Titanics. Who would have dreamed that the monumentally bland World Trade Center would become a haunted place, comparable to the fields of Antietam or Shiloh?

I remember my first visit to the site of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, where 146 workers died in a conflagration not far from New York’s Washington Square. I went in the evening and stood there alone, wondering at the huge loss of life, imagining the screams and the flames and the plummeting bodies seventy years before. That was the kind of disaster an American could grasp: the loss of 146 souls seemed more than catastrophic enough to our sheltered minds. The place was amply haunted.

Now and in the future, any one of us who visits the deserted streets of lower Manhattan in the evening, over on the West side where the World Trade Center used to stand, will be communing with the ghosts of five thousand, our own contemporaries — people who watched “Friends” and drank Diet Pepsi and logged onto America Online for a lighthearted chat. We don’t associate modern buildings with ghosts, and we don’t associate people who watched “Friends” with death. People like that — people like us — shouldn’t be dead yet, and it infuriates us that they should have been ejected from our midst at the whims of a few sullen fanatics engaged in a chronic vendetta against America. We’ve had no experience with holocausts on the order of Dresden or Hiroshima, or the Nazi death camps, or the lesser-known Soviet and Communist Chinese horrors, or the near-annihilation of the Armenians during World War I. We hope we never come to know death as a fact of everyday life.

The pundits are proclaiming September 11, 2001, as the day that changed America forever. “Forever” is a pretty powerful word, and I’m sure its widespread use is premature. But I’d guess that the recent Age of Irony has been dealt a shock from which it will be difficult to recover. It was a merry time to be alive if you were a bourgeois Baby Boomer at large in our republic. It was an age marked by a kind of boutique sophistication that really didn’t spring from authentic American roots. We fussed over restaurant meals that featured balsamic vinegar and capers and all manner of herbed meats. (We called it “New American Cuisine” but it really seemed more like a variant of Northern Italian.) We adopted drop-dead postmodern attitudes that trickled down to us from the French. We practiced detachment and moral relativism. We began to drink espresso and latte; we were distancing ourselves from the bowling alleys and split levels of postwar American culture, the way newly minted sophisticates distance themselves from their hopelessly square parents with the Buick in the driveway. We’d make an occasional allowance for a great “retro” diner or a Rat Pack retrospective, but it was all done with finger-quotes slicing the air — a sense of irony that marked us as superior to our surroundings, at least in the presence of kindred spirits. We Boomers had abandoned the America of Lincoln and Will Rogers and World War II for a pseudo-European ambience that attracted us but never really suited us.

Recently, just before the attack on America, it seemed we were starting to respond to the old verities again. The flourishing “Greatest Generation” industry pandered to our nostalgia for a time when you always knew who the good guys and bad guys were. Articulate traditionalists like Jedediah Purdy were gaining an audience. Now, in the wake of the attack, you can expect the movement to grow wings and soar proudly.

Ever since the disaster of September 11, we’ve been reading and hearing hand-wringing reports on “America’s loss of innocence.” Nonsense. We had lost our innocence way back in the sixties, when the sun-dappled serenity of Beaver Cleaver’s world suddenly gave way to the unholy squawks of rock stars and radicals, assassins and Antichrists. Anyone remember Charles Manson? Anyone care to review the vocabulary used in American films of the past thirty-odd years?

No, the terrorist attack hasn’t put an end to American innocence; I submit that it has actually shocked us back to innocence. We’ve suddenly awakened out of our Seinfeldian detachment and ennui (so hip, so smirky, so fin-de-siecle); in its place, we’ve unleashed a revival of red-white-and-blue fervor unseen in this country since General Eisenhower returned triumphant from his crusade in Europe. Flags wave proudly from our front porches; we talk about justice, evil, self-sacrifice and other archaic concepts that would have seemed alien to most of us just a week before the disaster. And it’s high time. I’d hate to see the proverbial pendulum swing toward cheap jingoism, but we were a society in need of awakening, and the terrorist attack seems to have galvanized our collective energies. I wouldn’t mind seeing a return to the fundamental selflessness, courage, simplicity and neighborliness that characterized the old America at its best. It will be a hard time for cynics, but then such a society would probably give us less to be cynical about. I know I wouldn’t mind sacrificing some of my cynical edge to live in a society that truly earned our respect and affection.

A final word about the fear that seems to have entered our minds like a burglar sneaking into our house by night. To see the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse before our eyes was fearsome enough. And no doubt most of us feel apprehensive about the attacks that are almost certain to come. Will the terrorists strike the U.S. Capitol next, or Independence Hall, or the Statue of Liberty? Will they target the Empire State Building, once again the monarch of the New York skyline? Will they take aim at Old Ironsides or Mt. Rushmore or even Disney World? Will they try to spread plagues more virulent than their own fanaticism?

Let them try to destroy this country. Tragedy has firmed our resolve and helped us recapture some of the essential qualities that made us Americans in the first place. Fast-track pre-schools and fruited meat entrees seem strangely irrelevant now. More than ever, our minds and souls are safe from attack. Terrorists can tumble the buildings around us, but they’re powerless to destroy what’s inside us. Our souls are stronger than steel and concrete. As long as we’ve built them on solid foundations, they’ll survive any assault the terrorists can devise.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I wonder today about the strength of our souls and their foundations. And I wonder, too, whether our own home-grown political extremists are continuing the terrorists’ work for them. We’re still in the midst of a long and dispiriting 9/11 hangover. Is it the beginning of the end for the United States as we knew it, or will our national pride and resourcefulness prevail as it had in the past?

Come back in ten years and see what you think.

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168 Comments leave one →
  1. AMAC permalink
    September 11, 2011 10:19 pm

    Personally, I can’t believe it has been a decade since the attack. In my mind, it feals like maybe two years ago. I won’t go into a long story of where I was, but more of my situation at the time. I was in my twenties and newly married (8 months). I fealt so confident in “the way things are” and was totally blind sided by the events. New York was a thousand miles away, but fealt like next door. I hope that on the twentieth anniversary we are much better off and than now. I hope the country makes a move to the center so that the extremists are just noise in the background instead of the the unavoidable train coming right towards us.

  2. AMAC permalink
    September 11, 2011 11:15 pm

    To expand on my last comment, I think that there will come a time (in my lifetime I hope) that there will be a viable moderate party. In the interest of making more short term impact, I think that this would be counter-productive. I think that we should be discussing some core principles, joining with other groups that would share these principles, and throw our support for the most sensible candidates that meet our standards. I don’t want to distract from this somber anniversary, but would like to hear some ideas and discuss the topics. I would like to see us giving support for candidates who, maybe we don’t agree with everything on, but like that they don’t blindly follow partie politics and know how to work together. We need candidates who can think independently and work cooperatively. I am hoping that we can come up with some general principles to base our support on. I would like to see us come up with a set of MODERATE values. We should use this arena to make a difference, not just talk and argue. I propose that our first value is what I mentioned previously (think independenty, work cooperatively). To me, that is the basic principle of what it means to be moderate. Sensible, reasonable, open-minded, middle class focused principles should be the basic requirements for our platform. I we come up with a set of values, we can find people and politicians to get behind those values. I am full of ideas if anyone would like to discuss!

    • September 13, 2011 5:42 pm

      AMAC: You make several compelling points about taking action to make a difference. Fact is, there are plenty of moderate/independent groups out there… and that’s part of the problem. These groups need to unify. The state of the center is sort of like Germany before Bismarck: a patchwork of dozens of petty kingdoms and duchies.

      One thing I can do: track down the best of these groups and post links to them in the right-hand column of this page, the way I’ve done with other moderate blogs. And yes, by all means let’s discuss what makes us moderates and what our platform (if we choose to build one) might be.

  3. Priscilla permalink
    September 11, 2011 11:19 pm

    Not sure what you mean by “home grown political extremists”, Rick, but I hope you are not referring to the Tea Party movement, which seeks to undercut the president’s political agenda. You have called them extremists in the past.

    I had close friends and relatives who died in the WTC attack. My husband worked in the south tower, but, mercifully, he was visiting a project that he supervised at Port Newark on that day, so he was not in his office. Had he been there on that day, he would be dead. All of his co-workers on that floor died.

    Two of my three children currently live and work in NYC, and the past few days have been awful for me, with the threat of a possible jihadi terrorist plot again targeted at New York. It is sickening.

    No tea party supporter, no matter how “extreme”, should be compared in any way to the Islamic monsters who want us all dead or under Sharia law. That is just beyond the pale.

    • September 12, 2011 4:29 pm

      Priscilla: Fear not… I don’t think the Tea Partiers are as monstrous as the terrorists. I simply implied that our extremists (and yes, I meant the far right) were carrying on the terrorists’ work by sending our country into a state of paralysis. They don’t need planes or bombs, and of course they fancy themselves as patriots… but their knee-jerk obstructionist tactics and almost pathological Obamaphobia are threatening to bring us down just the same. I think the most extreme among them would actually rejoice at an economic collapse under Obama because it would destroy him politicallly.

      Right now the Tea Party — the right wing of the GOP, which itself is our right-wing party — is driving the political dialogue, and I suspect that the Tea Party itself is being driven by its extremist elements. So we have a tiny but hyperactive tail that’s wagging a huge complacent dog. Most Tea Partiers aren’t rabid ideologues themselves, but I think they enjoy the whiff of revolution in the air. They enjoy it to the point that they don’t really see how their “populist” movement is essentially doing the bidding of the corporatocracy — lower taxes for the rich, fewer entitlements for everyone else, and less government to control the whims of American business. Nice arrangement for the corporate class.

      I would welcome a genuine grassroots populist movement (not funded by the Koch brothers) that would try to wrest control of our government from special interests and their corrupt political puppets. I think we could line up conservatives and liberals alike to back a movement for purifying our government. It would be radical in terms of action but centrist (or actually unaligned) in ideology. Stephen Erickson’s three-point “Rebuild Democracy” plan is a good place to start.

      By the way, I didn’t know your family had such a close brush with tragedy on 9/11. You and your husband must have been hit hard by all those personal losses. I can’t even grasp how terrible it must have been.

      I’ll comment on the other posts when I have a little more time… I have to vamoose now.

      • Priscilla permalink
        September 13, 2011 11:38 am

        Aaarrggh, Rick, you keep bringing up that lower taxes on the rich thing! I am genuinely confused – maybe confounded is the better word – by people who oppose a flatter tax code, because I don’t see how anyone who actually pays taxes could be opposed to tax rates going down, as long as tax shelters and loopholes for the rich are eliminated.

        If the rich had to pay their fair share, and I grant that they currently do not, what is the issue that compels people to demand that they pay more than that? Envy? Desire for revenge? Belief that great success = greed, and that greed should be punished? These are not rhetorical questions….I really don’t understand the mindset. Should we make the rich pay more for everything? $2 hamburgers for those making under $200K, $5 burgers for the rich?

        Understand here that I am not defending the status quo. But, just about every tea party group that I have ever heard of advocates either the flat tax or the fair tax in order to generate revenues needed to run the government. None advocate the continuation of bailouts and crony capitalism, whether it be with Big Oil or “green energy” corporations like the late, great Solyndra, recipient of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars for, um, nothing.

        I agree that there are some fringe wingnuts in the tea party movement, but that doesn’t define it. And I fret about the the tea party targeting moderate Republicans in a way that will make the GOP as dangerously right wing as the Democrat party is now dangerously left. But I disagree that there is a desire for economic collapse – I think that is a political talking point that has been pretty effective. I just don’t think it is true.

        And, yes, 9/11 changed the way that I viewed the world in many ways.

      • September 14, 2011 3:12 am

        Rick;

        The tea party is the LEFT wing of the republican party. The Tea Party is for the most part the Fiscal conservatives. Not the social conservatives or Neo Cons or ….
        Yes some of the Tea Party members are more than just Fiscal conservatives. But the Tea Party itself – remarkably for an organization with little structure has avoided taking stands on anything but fiscal issues.

        The Tea Party is NOT libertarian, and there is much to disagree with – even on fiscal issues. But I will take Rand Paul over Rick Santorum anyday.

        Nor do I see all this Obamaphobia you are refering to.
        Pres. Bush was treated far more abysmally. While much of that was deserved, in numerous areas Pres. Obama is indistinguishable from Bush.
        Bush was a failure as a president, and Obama is a failure.
        I am incredibly disappointed by Pres. Obama. I fully expected the failing left leaning economic policies, but in so many other areas I actually had hope.
        Aside from reversing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, please tell me how Obama has differed from Bush on almost any issue Bush was castigated on ?

        Pres. Obama’s failures are of his own making not his enemies.

        And what have you got against the Koch brothers ?
        No I do not want to see a grass roots revolt sponsored by some private wealthy person. But that does not that having wealth and choosing to use some of it in politics makes you evil.

        I commented on Erickson’s proposal’s elsewhere. Attempting to improve government is laudable. But attacking the symptoms is a poor way to fix a problem.

      • Priscilla permalink
        September 14, 2011 9:34 am

        Interesting comment on the tea party being the “left wing” of the GOP, Dave. I think I see what you mean, in that “tea party Republicans” are primarily focused on fiscal and constitutional issues, not on the social-con issues that tend to be the litmus tests of the Christian Right.

        And, looking at certain tea party favorites such as Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, that is clear. What concerns me is the way in which the TP movement has targeted candidates that don’t pass its conservative purity test, particularly on non-fiscal issues. I think that this is probably a self-limiting problem, in the sense that it produces losing candidates, but it’s a problem nevertheless.

      • September 17, 2011 9:36 pm

        Priscilla: I like your idea for sliding prices on hamburgers based on income. 😉 Believe me, there’s a dangerous level of resentment building up toward our upper crust, and I think envy accounts for only a small portion of it. During the late default crisis, most of us moderate and left-leaning types were aghast that conservatives would sooner cut benefits for the middle class and poor than raise taxes on the rich.

        We’re in the midst of a new Gilded Age for the rich and a depression for everyone else. The top earners have run away from the pack while the middle class has suffered income stagnation and a dearth of job opportunities. So, for me at least, it defies belief that Tea Partiers and other middle-class conservatives (et tu, Priscilla?) would encourage the plutocrats to keep enriching themselves at everyone else’s expense. Bailouts for investment banks, seven-figure bonuses for robber barons who plunged us into a new depression and destroyed millions of hard-won nest eggs, refusal to end special Bush-era tax cuts that were supposed to expire… where does it end? How did the power elite convince middle class conservatives that their interests were identical? That must have been some tasty Kool-Aid!

        A flat tax with no loopholes would be a start, but it still fails to account for the inflated incomes of those who have prospered in our current winner-take-all economy. A graduated income tax without shelters ensures that the government can generate the revenue it needs without imposing too heavily on those who can’t afford it. As long as it doesn’t approach the punitive levels of socialist systems (or the US in the 1950s-70s!), I can see nothing wrong with expecting the rich to pay a higher percentage of their income.

        Yes, we need to cut spending on items that yield minimal returns (I’d start with aid to Pakistan). But to expect the middle class and poor to sacrifice their modest benefits while the rich refuse to relinquish any of theirs… well, it’s enough to turn me into a foaming-at-the-mouth redistributionist. And I’m not a foaming-at-the-mouth redistributionist. (End of rant.)

      • September 17, 2011 9:56 pm

        dhlii: I agree with you that Bush endured at least as much public abuse as Obama. But I don’t think the Bush-deranged lefties went as far as to risk the financial stability of the country to drive him from office. This is what the GOP was doing this past summer.

        I’m disappointed in Obama, too — but primarily because he’s shown himself to be a conventional wishy-washy establishment politician instead of an innovator. I don’t know how anyone can accuse him of being a socialist when he’s essentially pursuing a traditional (pre-Tea Party) Republican agenda.

        And I have to politely dispute your last point: I believe that using one’s wealth to influence politicians IS evil, or pretty close to it. Politicians are supposed to represent the people who elect them, not the rich folks who fund their campaigns. The current system is nothing less than legalized bribery.

  4. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 12, 2011 1:24 am

    I remember reading your essay a decade ago, and hoping that you would be proved right. Sadly, your optimism was misplaced. Twenty-one years into the Reagan Revolution, our political leaders were too reactionary and corrupt not to seize on the tragedy and ram home their anti-democratic, plutocratic, neo-conservative agenda down our collective throat. It was a despicable thing to do.

    And I’m sorry to break it to Priscilla, but the tea party movement is brimming with our own, home-grown jihadists. They are dominionsits in some cases, christian reconstructionists in others, but they are all theocrats. They may not blow up buildings to get their way (yet), but anyone who would suggest executing homosexuals or those committing adultery is, in my humble opinion, every bit as bad as those who would subject all of us to Sharia law. Perhaps “home-grown jihadists” is the wrong phrase. “Leviticans” is more accurate, as most of them draw their inspiration from that odious book of the Old Testament.

    • September 12, 2011 1:55 pm

      I remember immediately – that day, within hours, being scared that this event would result in a loss of individual liberties that would take decades to regain.

      The theft of our liberties is not unique to the right. Pres. Obama has continued and expanded all the most egregious policies of the Bush administration. The Patriot act is stronger and more enduring than ever. I have new respect for those few liberal journalists who have not censored themselves because the threat to individual liberty is now from the left. If what the Bush administration did was wrong, it is still wrong when done by this administration.

      I would remind moderates that Waco and Ruby Ridge were the acts of democratic administrations. Whatever your thoughts on David Koresh and Randy Weaver’s our government’s actions were criminal. That the SLA, Weather Underground, Red Brigades, ….

      We are a diverse country. Many of us hold views that are offensive to the rest of us. We are all free even obligated to repudiate despicable views. We are free to excoriate those who hold them, but government sanctions must be for acts not thoughts or words.

      What real political violence we have had has been on the most extreme edges of both fringes.

      There is far too much confusing angry rhetoric, with violent rhetoric, and confusing violent rhetoric with real violence. Pretending they are the same diminishes real violence, and diminishes us.

      The worst consequences of 9/11 have been the decrease in our tolerance, and our willingness to sacrifice personal freedoms for false feelings of security.

      • September 13, 2011 6:17 pm

        dhlii: Good distinction between angry rhetoric (“I’m mad as hell”), violent rhetoric (“I’m mad as hell and we need to shoot all illegal immigrants on sight”) and actual violence (bang!). Of course one can lead to the other, and we should be vigilant about violent rhetoric. But we shouldn’t confuse simple anger with violence.

        For what it’s worth, I don’t feel as if my civil liberties have been compromised since 9/11, other than the inconvenience of shedding my metal objects at airport checkpoints.

    • September 13, 2011 6:03 pm

      Rob: When you think about it, we’ve been through wave after wave of new conservative movements from Reagan on down: first the Reagan revolution itself with its trickle-down economics (and eventual deregulation), then the neocons with their war-whooping Middle East interventionism, and now the fanatical anti-government Tea Partiers and their fundamentalist fervor.

      I remember a time (back in the 70s) when I actually sympathized with conservatives because our culture had turned so hostile toward traditional values. Now I sympathize more with the progressives because the right-wing extremists are taking over the ship. My instincts as a moderate are to tip things back to the center. Right now we have to tip left to reach the center, if that makes any sense.

      Another thought on religious fanaticism: Christianity is under assault by science, outspoken atheists and just plain common sense. I’ve privately concluded recently that we’ve all been hoodwinked for the past 2000 years. (OK, it’s not so private now.) Anyway, I think a lot of the religious fervor is defensive, as Christians see the foundations of their faith starting to crumble. More than ever, they feel compelled to stand up for Jesus, because they’re terrified to see their dream of immortality die.

  5. Priscilla permalink
    September 12, 2011 8:58 am

    Dominionism has certainly become the new paranoid fantasy of the left. I would contend that it is as ridiculous and extreme to tar an anti-tax, small government movement as a bunch of murderous theocrats as it is to say that the anti- war movement is made up of jihadi-enabling anti-semites, which is the view of the far right. Hyperbolic rhetoric, outrageous outrage, and tin-foil-hat paranoia is not exclusive to either side. And certainly, if that is the kind of extremism that Rick is talking about, well, then, maybe it is carrying out the terrorists’ goals.

    I think that AMAC is on the right track with his view that “sensible, reasonable, open-minded, middle class focused principles should be the basic requirements for our platform.” Easier said than done, of course, but sense and reason would seem to dictate that we seek common ground with those who share our goals, and reject those who try and polarize us in a way that obliterates the common ground that we have.

    I think that Barack Obama was elected to be the transformational, moderate leader that would find that common ground. It hasn’t turned out that way, but I think that has more to do with Obama’s weakness as a leader than it has to do with partisan politics. The partisan nature of our political process is a given. The struggle of moderates and centrists is to try and define the principles that will lead to consensus, while avoiding getting sucked into ideological warfare.

    Meanwhile, I’m fine with you despising theocrats and plutocrats, Rob. More that fine, in fact… I despise them too I guess I just think that there are a lot less of them than you do, and that most of them are not marching around in silly tri-cornered hats and carrying “don’t tread on me” signs.

    • Jesse C permalink
      September 12, 2011 10:22 am

      Priscilla, I’ve been having this very same thought for a while now:

      “I think that Barack Obama was elected to be the transformational, moderate leader that would find that common ground. It hasn’t turned out that way, but I think that has more to do with Obama’s weakness as a leader than it has to do with partisan politics.”

      I do believe that many people are hungering for a truly moderate leader (hence Obama’s sweeping capture of independent voters in ’08). Sadly, I also believe that the first moderate leader who actually stands on their principles of moderation, unlike Obama, who lets his party leadership do all the heavy legislative lifting (current jobs act not-withstanding), may end up paying a price for it and become a political martyr in the process. The silver lining here in my pipe dream is that this political martyr will inspire a new generation of moderate politicians to make the same principled stand, and perhaps people will start to wake up to it and respond in kind. This is a very optimistic goal of course, but that’s what we’re here for, right? 🙂

      • September 13, 2011 7:59 pm

        Jesse: If you check my Moderate Hall of Fame, you’ll notice the common fate suffered by so many great moderate statesmen and thinkers. We moderates are always managing to offend somebody (and still they call us timid, noncommittal, whatever). Obama has tried to govern from the center and is taking it from both sides. He’s a martyr in the making. Any volunteers for future martyrdom?

    • September 12, 2011 2:16 pm

      Aspects of “the Tea Party” trouble everyone. Sheriff Joe Arpaio is not someone I want to be identified with.

      But this nation was created by a bunch of nuts in tri-cornered hats carrying “don’t Tread on me” signs, engaged in a tax revolt.

      The rhetoric of our founders is not particularly tame.

      Jefferson wrote:
      “God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion.
      The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is
      wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts
      they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions,
      it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. …
      And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not
      warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of
      resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as
      to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost
      in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from
      time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
      It is its natural manure.”

      Regardless of the fact that many on the right have tried to bend the Tea Party movement to suit their own views, its focus has primarily been on fiscal issues. It is a nationwide expression of anger, and as such in some regions its local character extends past those core issues.

      At the same time there is a problem when in political discourse moderates presume that the extremists of the right define the entire right, while ignoring extremism on the left.

      My “Don’t Tread on Me” flag went up just after 9/11. It’s message is intended, for Al Queda, as well as Westboro Baptist church, for Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow, and for the Bush and Obama administrations.

      • September 13, 2011 8:11 pm

        Well, Dave, I think you’ve just revealed your covert moderate tendencies here. Don’t worry… I recognize extremists on the left; it’s just that very few of them are in government — they’ve been clustering in academia and the cultural sphere, where their primary activity seems to be making snarky comments about right-wingers. I don’t see them as a big political threat these days.

  6. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 12, 2011 10:01 am

    AMAC is on the right track, unfortunately I’m too buried under work to match his sensible comments this week. But hang in there AMAC, you are on the right track.

    Extremes of right and left both let their rhetoric and less often their actions get out of hand. they are frustrated because they have little chance of getting what they want, they become very bitter and start proposing warlike actions. Leftists went on a destructive binge in Seattle, I heard leftist rhetoric threatening bombs from ISO activists at my university.

    The tea party I believe has two different sides to its character and there may be two very different groups involved in it, one that is a sort of Jeffersonian small government low taxes deficit hawk group, who at least are NOT threatening right wing types, and others who are more of the christian right who buy the constant hate speech from right wing radio, the Limbaugh-Beck axis, These radio celebrities have perhaps hijacked the tea party or a part of it and their rhetoric is truly intended to stir up hatred. Those are the ones I do really fear. When millions, even tens of millions of people have tuned in to hear truly right wing hate commentary that goes beyond the pale on a daily basis and can hardly find a comment that is so repulsive, they won’ make it, OK I’m ranting again. But it just takes one such nut to blow up a federal building.

    Being a moderate I am constantly waiting for each partisan group to deal with its beyond the pale factions, but sadly they need those factions, those are the “base,” although I believe this is more true of the GOP, as far righties far outnumber far lefties in the US and far lefties have mostly left the Democratic party and support Nadar type crusades, (or worse), whereas the far right still tends to vote for GOP candidates.

    I am with AMAC, who is using this site to promote the moderate response to all this.

  7. Jesse C permalink
    September 12, 2011 10:37 am

    Building on AMAC’s point about using this forum to discuss specific ideas and values, Rick, perhaps you could create an additional article or section each week or month to discuss a specific topic: Jobs, Taxes, Education, etc.. This is similar to the list of Red/Blue/Purple issues you have on the site already.

    An awful lot of energy has been spent on discussing these issues from a broad, philosophical approach lately, but I think we can find probably find a lot more common ground as a group (even between TNM adversaries like Dave and Ian :-)) and come up with some constructive policy ideas when we start talking about specifics, rather than broader philosophies. In essence, this is how congress works (or is supposed to work), does it not?

    If I could propose the first topic, I’d really like to have a detailed discussion on education reform and national/state/local policy. I think this is probably one of the most significant, yet under-appreciated (by most people) issues facing our country and its future. In particular, I’d love to hear everyone’s ideas about what a successful testing metric would be for both student competency, teacher, administrator, and overall school performance.

    • AMAC permalink
      September 12, 2011 1:35 pm

      Jesse,
      As a teacher, I am always more than happy for discussion on education. From my perspective in Texas, I have been very disgruntled with the state government’s involvement with education. It has become more political and less educational. Special Interest lobby in education! Let’s let the kids grow up and make up their own minds before we pollute them with our own bias! I know this sounds crazy for a teacher to say, but I am for centralized US standards set by colleges and industries. We need to know what will help them best suceed and center curriculum around those core areas. I believe heavy on math and science. I also believe in a US education board made up of rotating, part time members, coming from background in technology, industry executives, and college professors. This board should set standards, and then allow the experts to create a test based heavy on application problems and teachers should be held accountable for student performance. Secondary teachers have a difficult job (I know). We have to be equal parts counselor, administrater, teacher, and manager. Bottom line, if your students do not meet standards or at least show improvement, you should recieve a warning, followed by a suspension of 1 school year, followed by a loss of license with the ability to recertify after continuing education is completed. We have 50 states with 50 agendas including thousands of special interests involved in curriculum. The standards should be set by the central government by this rotating non-partisan board of proffesionals and educators. This would eliminate millions in state spending, still giving control to local school boards to administer policy. People claim we need to pay teachers more to get more qualified people, but I am a teacher and I do not do this for the money. If I cared about money, I would not have changed careers. If money is the primary motivater for a teacher, they are not qualified. I will start with that and see what you think. Sorry so long.

      • Jesse C permalink
        September 12, 2011 2:30 pm

        I really like the rotating board of industry leaders idea. The engineering school at my undergraduate university was founded on similar principles. The owner of a large industrial furnace manufacturer, Inductotherm, wanted engineering graduates with a good deal more practical experience than what he was getting out of some of the more traditional engineering schools. He donated $100M to a local university (Rowan) in return for them building an engineering school which placed emphasis on some of his criteria. Having graduated from Rowan and then spending several years doing grad work at Ivy League UPenn, I was able to clearly appreciate the impact and value of an industry-focused education.

        Regarding testing, I’ve always become somewhat conflicted as to what to do with teachers responsible for a class of poorly performing students. I tend to favor the approach of rewarding teachers based on relative year over year improvement of the individual students, thus helping to isolate the teacher’s impact, and blending this with an absolute measurement of student performance on a standardized test.

      • September 12, 2011 2:58 pm

        Education may be the single most important issue we can address.

        We do not know all the answers, but we actually do know alot.

        Despite much legitimate criticism – my own included, as a nation, we still produce more entrepeneurs, more nobel prize winners, more technically skilled blue and white collar workers – we are still more productive by almost every measure than any other significant country in the world. Whatever the cause we should not loose site of our strengths while categorising our failures. Much of Asia, and even Europe produces more 800 SAT scores, But there do not produce more wealth. Whatever distinguishes us from the rest of the developed world – it is that that we must teach.

        I would argue that it is individuality, freedom, diversity, tolerance, self reliance that set us apart, and this is why our success is greater than the rest of the world.

        There is plenty of evidence that if money ever was a factor in education, it is not now. I live within a few miles of a private all girls boarding school with a national reputation for the excellent quality of its education. Its tuition is just slightly higher than the actual cost to educate a high school student in my state. There are myriads of private schools in my county that offer education far superior to local public schools – and the public schools in my area are considered near the top of the nation, all cost less than the real cost of public education. Towards the bottom of the price curve are religious and parochial schools still superior to local public schools at less than half the cost.

        We have spent three decades throwing money at public education, and quality has declined. Money is not the answer.

        I beleive parents are one of the most important factors in a child’s education. Even rich distant parents who send their children off to expensive boarding schools, are still effectively communicating the importance of education. Conversely it is extremely rare for a child to do well despite apathetic parents. But most parents – even poor single parents want a better life for their children than they have for themselves. Given the opportunity most parents will sacrifice to provide their kids the chance to achieve more than they have.

        I have learned from my own children that all children do not learn the same. One size does not fit all. One size does not even fit the same child from one year to the next. It is not the lack of standards, but forcing all our children to conform to a least common denominator standard that serves no one well.

        We have only one system that is effective in adapting to meet the disparate needs of different people, that rewards success and holds all participants accountable, that allocates money effectively, and demands value for resources – and that is the free market. To paraphrase Churchill, it is the worst possible system – except all the others.

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 13, 2011 10:46 am

      Former civics and history teacher here. I have been active The Dreyfuss Initiative ( http://www.thedreyfussinitiative.org/ ) established by the actor, Richard Dreyfuss…a pretty liberal guy at one time, but moderating as he ages 😉 He actually spoke at CPAC this year, trying to drum up support for his program.

      In any case, he espouses an educational issue near and dear to my heart – that is, the absence of civics education in today’s schools. Dreyfuss believes that studying civics is essential to maintaining our democracy, and I agree.

      I’m also anxious to read a new book coming out this week, “Teaching America: The Case for Civics Education.” It is a compilation of essays by many thinkers from across the political spectrum.

      It’s discouraging to me that, for the most part, the Constitution is barely taught in public schools today. We want people to be educated citizens, but we don’t give them the tools to understand the issues.

      • Jesse C permalink
        September 13, 2011 3:27 pm

        Yes, a very good point about civics education. Rick Shenkman identifies the decline and outright absence of civics education as an important factor in our current election process in his provocatively titled book Just How Stupid Are We: Facing the Truth About the American Voter.

        In my own experience, I’m truly amazed at the dearth of knowledge about the basic roles, responsibilities,and basic workings of our federal govt among most people. In particular, as presidential campaign season heats back up, what I find most curious is how much people believe the President can impact their daily lives (military families being a clear exception), particularly through legislation. Stephen Dubner, author of Freakonomics, makes a similar argument about it here: http://www.freakonomics.com/2007/08/13/how-much-does-the-president-really-matter/

      • Priscilla permalink
        September 13, 2011 11:30 pm

        So true, Jesse – we waste so much energy worrying what the president believes about abortion, evolution, gay marriage…..and the truth is, presidents have limited influence over these things and no power to legislate.

        I have been amused, in a frustrated way, over the jobs act speech that Obama gave – to a joint session, no less!- demanding that Congress “pass this bill now!” Except that there was no bill, and there still isn’t. The president apparently sent something to Congress, but all of us who have ever watched School House Rock know how a bill becomes a law.

        And it isn’t by the president making a speech or writing an email, which is apparently how he has informed the Congress of his wishes – it’s by a member of Congress introducing it. And that hasn’t happened. The same is true of the free trade agreements that Obama insists that Congress has not ratified….it’s true, .they are not ratified, because they are still sitting on Obama’s desk and, until he sends them to Congress, they cannot ratify them. If more people understood the Constitutional process, politicians would not be able to get away with half of this garbage.

    • September 13, 2011 8:19 pm

      Jesse: Good idea. I haven’t added to the three-way “Issues” list in ages now (the site began as a collection of those three-way debates). Definitely time for me to expand it! I’ll try to add a new one every couple of weeks, and you can start your own discussions.

  8. September 12, 2011 10:51 am

    I think it was necessary to sound (or try to find) a note of hope after the attacks. But I’m afraid the collective character of the US is not what it was, not so long ago.

    Calling political players “extreme” doesn’t equate them with terrorists! And whether you call the current incarnation of the GOP extreme or not, their dedication to the paralysis of Washington is something new, at least in degree. In my lexicon, “extreme” is a good adjective for it.

    • September 13, 2011 8:23 pm

      Well said, Ygdrasille. I was starting to wonder if I was off-base in regarding our Congressional righties as extremists. They are, because they’re intent on paralyzing our government for the sake of ideology.

      • September 15, 2011 2:10 am

        Except that extreme is intended as derogatory, it is otherwise meaningless. At best it suggests the distance between their views and your is great.
        I would offer Goldwater’s “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” except that I do not really beleive the current crop of republicans are either defending liberty or extremists.

        I have many disagreements with them. But I would take issue with the characterisation that they are intent on paralysing government. They are intent on reducing the rate of government spending increases – personally I think that is not even moderate. I am disappointed that moderates seem to beleive government spending MUST grow faster than GDP.
        We can argue about the right size of government, but in claiming the current congressional republicans are extreme, you are endorsing the proposition that our current federal government is too small – and that is a position I would call extreme.

        I personally want far smaller government – not “decapitated” but still a fraction of what the GOP is arguing for. While I chaffe at the assertion I am on the extreme right, or ultra-conservative, My position on the right size for the federal government would be extreme even compared to that of republicans.

        I am not under some delusion that the current limited government infatuation of the GOP is more than skin deep or permanent – but at-least they grasp for the moment that growth in government can not outstrip the economy.
        I think believing anything less is extreme.

        Occasionally another poster suggests that government must live within its means. But I have little sense that view has meaning beyond words.

        If the GOP’s fiscal position is extreme, then how much more government should we buy ? I can not justify the current size of government even if it was possible to afford it. The federal government is near 25% of GDP – that is what I see as extreme.

  9. September 12, 2011 1:49 pm

    Great post, love your blog

  10. AMAC permalink
    September 12, 2011 7:45 pm

    Dhlii
    Standards do not set a one size fits all education. The stadards are there to say what students are responsible to learn and what schools are responsible to teach. Standards are a good thing anywhere. They should be high but not out of reach. I do agree that too often, teachers approach their methods to accomodate a one size fits all approach. With what we now know about multiple intelligences, teachers (some do) should teach the same standards, but in many different ways to accomodate all students unique gifts and skills. Also, it sounds like you are advocating an end to public schools. How would middle class and below families pay for education? The amount of taxes they pay into education would not pay for their childrens’ education. I can also tell you that most teachers dred getting private school transfers. They are (more often than not) well behind the standards expected in public schools. The exception is when the transfers are from outrageuosly expensive private schools, which are certainly not the norm. Also, if we want to talk about attacking the root causes of core issues, is education not at least a primary factor? I advocate job training for students not planning on attending college, higher standards, centralized standards, and high levels of teacher accountability (and appreciation as Jesse pointed out).

    • September 14, 2011 2:53 am

      I am not seeking to attack teachers. Teachers are entitled to whatever they can get in the marketplace – just like the rest of us – though I would like them to actually have to compete, just as the rest of us must. But not against standards. The measure of a teachers performance should be the satisfation of what should be essentially their clients – their students parents.
      I have had alot of experience with teaching over the past 6 years. It increases my respect for teachers. There is a great difference between knowledge and the ability to teach it. Far too many teachers I have encountered are incredibly weak in actual knowledge – but in the real world they are still better at teaching than I am.
      Standards are more complex. I have little problem with markets measuring themselves. But imposed standards tend to work badly. NCLB seems to have corrupted many teachers and schools. And NCLB is essentially about standards. I thought it was a good idea at the time, less so now.

      No, I do not beleive that it is possible to shift to an entirely private educational system overnight. But it would be fairly trivial to assign the current per student public education to the student to be spent on education however the parent deems appropriate. If you are unwilling to allow the taxes that are already collected to pay for each students public education to be spent in their entirety for private education, then what about half ? Many private schools particularly parochial schools have atleast been able to match and often exceed the results of public education for less than half the cost. Create a market, and I will guarantee others will enter. Cyber charters and charters are doing a reasonable job of competing today – but they suffer from one major flaw – they are still public schools. They are not truly independent competitive private institutions. They serve the state not the parents.

      No the ordinary middle class or below parent could not afford to send their children to most existing private schools for what they pay in school taxes. At the same time what most of us pay in school taxes over our lifetime – either as individuals or families substantially exceeds the cost of all but the most expensive private education.

      Regardless, the bottom line is that the inflation adjusted cost of education has more than doubled over the past 30 years. At the same time the quality has declined. The root problem is not money. Throwing more money at our public schools will not fix them. The DC public schools have the highest per child cost in the nation greater than almost all private schools yet the quality is near the bottom of the nation. Possibly more importantly despite spending enormous amounts of money, the schools that serve those in the lower quarter are for the most part unforgivably abysmal. If you are unable to allow right wingnuts to send their children to christian schools on the public dime, can we atleast say any child in a poor district like DC can take half the cost of their public education and spend it on the school of their choice – public or private ? There are good schools that are providing a better education for one quarter what DC public schools cost.

      And I am sorry, but I do not really buy your claim that transfers from private schools into public are even on average abysmal – unless the kids transfering to public school are those failing out of private school.

      My own experience in my own life, and that of my kids, and of most everyone I know who has had to deal with private and public schools – both expensive and otherwise runs contrary to that. Myriads of studies on private systems, and vouchers, and charters, and what have you – often one touted by the teachers unions, have universally found approximate parity – with very small advantages to the cheap private schools. And we are talking about schools spending 50% less per student that public schools.
      The very best private school in my county – a school with nationwide recognition, is barely more expensive than the local public school per student cost – and I will guarantee you they are not close in quality.

      The national per student cost of public schools is almost $10K/year. In most cities and the north east it is far higher.
      The national average cost for a catholic school is a bit over $2K/year. I am not trying to specifically sell you catholic schools. They are just useful because they are numerous, and generally recognized as atleast equal to public schools.

      My children moved from traditional public schools to a public charter school. It took them three years to catch up in math. The literature, history and science curicula were far superior to the traditional public schools. My daughter just started high school, but she is already far ahead of her local peers. She is very nearly ready for college. Further we moved her from traditional public schools because she had difficulties that required individual attention. The solution of the public school was to dump her in with all the under achievers. She was bored out of her mind and failing when we moved her.

      Colleges are weighing private and less traditional education favorably in considering admission. They are not doing this because all the alternatives to public school are abysmal, and behind.

  11. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 13, 2011 9:40 am

    I haven’t had time to write and still don’t really. But I thought a lot about what to say here about moderate positions, because it is actually quite hard to come up with something good that is moderate, not just a mushy center cop out, addresses our real problems and IS Constitutional.

    THe system is obviously broken. Is it just a little bit broken or seriously broken? We don’t solve our problems. Partisanship and ideological divide are out of hand, but that is not all of the problem. Pork as government has been built into the system over the years. Long term problems have almost no chance of being addressed in an intelligent and competent manner and short-term problems get political fixes too often.

    It sounds bad but its true I think that politics is mostly about our fears. Those of us who are more politically active do it mostly because we are afraid of something; our energy comes from the need to defend ourselves from our worst fears. To define my own views I asked myself, “What am I afraid of” and I ranked my fears. It turns out that I hold an eclectic mixture of liberal and conservative fears. The only three specifically moderate fears I can name are:

    Fear of partisanship that makes it impossible to solve our problems;

    Fear that extremists will take over the government and ruin the country; and

    Fear of incivility that divides us into two fanged camps that despise each other and may lead to some sort of civil war if it does not stop.

    I suspect that everyone will find something similar to what I found. if they ask themselves how their fears define their political views.

    I made my list but I’m going to post my list separately, its too long! (again, sigh)

    Everyone can make their own fear list. Do moderates hang together somehow? Or are we simply a group of people who cannot be classified as liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican? And cannot be satisfied with either party!

    My feeling is that the moderate niche is voters who are afraid of idealogical extremism and want nonpartisan answers to the short- and long-term economic problems. We want us to deal with health care and entitlements and stop making a political football out of our health and retirement. Moderates want education to be affordable and want the middle class to thrive, we want our government to deal with the trade deficit. If that is who moderates really are, then we can try to define a moderate platform that is not some mush, that states our point of view.

    • September 13, 2011 8:29 pm

      Ian: Great comment. I share your moderate fears, though I’ve never compiled them into a list. (That might be therapeutic.) And yes, we moderates are more than a mushy void occupying the space between the right and left fringes. Unfortunately, most partisans seem to perceive us that way. Part of the reason I’m here is to fill in the empty spaces with a well-drawn picture of positive moderate ideas. Your last paragraph is a good start. At some point I should write a post that could serve as a moderate credo.

  12. AMAC permalink
    September 13, 2011 5:17 pm

    Priscilla
    I couldn’t reply to your second post. I am all for changes to the tax code, mainly in the form of simplification. I have read many interesting proposals for progressive sales tax based systems in place of income taxes. I have seen many proposals where many products like produce and first homes would be tax free, benefitting the lower classes and higher tax rates for goods such as luxory cars, etc. I do have a problem with the flat tax, however. To produce our current levels of revenue (taxes) we would have a 12% tax rate across the board. This would increase taxes for 85% of the country. So the flat tax would actually not lower our taxes.

    • September 13, 2011 10:39 pm

      We need 11 years of 3.5%/year growth with absolutely zero increases in government spending to get government spending back to 18% of GDP. That would not balance the budget, but it would bring it into the realm of possibility. None of the various plans from either party – not the Ryan plan not Simpson-Bowles, not …. is close to zero increases in government spending, and at this moment 3.5% growth in GDP seems like wishful thinking.

      Our tax code is a mess, though not actually as bad as it was last time we attempted to simplify it. We can look at flat taxes, or sales taxes, but there is no magic tax that gives the government revenue without anyone having to pay. Taxes on investment are economically destructive in two ways – first they significantly reduce investment, we know this. It is about as close as you can get to a fact in economics. But if you really want to try it again – go for it. I do not want the economy to get worse, but if we need to try all this demand side Keynesian bullshit until nearly everyone grasps that it fails, go for it. The sooner we get to making hard choices the better. I am afraid of living through the immediate consequences, but I beleive that the economy can grow rapidly – far faster than 3.5% with less of the government monkey on its back. The second problem with taxes on investment is that contrary to popular belief they are not paid by the wealthy, corporations, investors, …. they are inevitably passed on to customers – they are essentially a hidden sales tax. Do you really beleive investors are going to lose money in order to pay taxes when they can sit on their money ?

      So the truth is no matter how you rearrange the rules of taxation, the taxes are ultimately paid primarily by the middle class. They are paid either directly to the IRS, or they are paid in higher costs for goods and services, or in a weaker economy with fewer raises and jobs, or both.

      Sales taxes are intriguing, they are also dangerous. Double taxation is very hard to prevent, and double taxation artificially punishes certain activities arbitrarily. The so called fair tax takes almost 300 pages of statute to essentially say – no double taxation – and most certainly they have missed something. Sales taxes are also incredibly efficient. It is far to easy for government to increase revenue, and the harm is sufficiently removed that we fail to grasp it. I should think that Keynesians should be violently opposed – sales taxes are essentially demand suppressors. Further I do not think you can get sufficient support to pass a sales tax without repealing the 16th amendment and eliminating income taxes. It is all too easy to get the worst of both worlds.

      If you want low tax rates, you must have the broadest tax possible – regardless of the type of tax. Every deduction you create increases the required tax rate. I do not see how you can possibly make a 12% flat tax work – government spending is just slightly under 25% of GDP. That means one way or another you must tax all wealth created at 25% to balance the budget with a flat tax. That is your flat rate whether it is on sales or income – so long is the tax is on everything, and their are no deductions. Whatever deductions you impose distort the economy. Deductions for healthcare and homes and food, sound wonderful – but they cause us to distort our choices with respect to both the things that are deductable, as well as the things are not. If you must do something, you either shelter the bottom portion of income – say all income below 15,000 is untaxed, or manipulate the per person standard deduction – of course that encourages population increases. For sales taxes you have a rebate, or prebate or whatever the fair tax people are calling it.
      Even those things are distortive. Then what stops the politicians from putting all these deductions back in over time ? Each seemed reasonable at the time they were proposed.

      The deductions game is further complicated by the artificial distinction between business income and individual income. So long as a business makes spending choices without regard for their tax implications, that spending should be deductible – it reduces profits, and profits are the income of business, not revenue. What about the self employed ? I need a car for my business, I also need a car for my personal life. Must I buy two cars ? Keeping track of miles is a cost itself, record keeping is an enormous business cost particularly for small business. The IRS has virtually disallowed home office deductions, so where do the self employed work ? Must I build another building and drive to it everyday ? I chose to be self employed because I want to work from my home – should I be additionally economically penalized for that ?

      I am not trying to argue for specific deductions, just point out that tax policy is incredibly messy. I found the recent spat over corporate jets disengeuous and ludicrous.
      No one was arguing whether a corporate jet was deductable. If a business buy as jet, it is a cost of doing business and it is deductible. The only question was how fast it could be deducted. Contrary to the rants and outrage, the actual amount of money in question was miniscule. The corporation would eventually get to deduct the entire value of the jet. If the government skewed the rules too far, that would just encourage businesses to sell their jets capture the full deduction at the time of the sale, and buy a new one. Regardless, there are extremely few business tax deductions that government can successfully manipulate to increase revenue. Even corporate subsides are most notable for their effect on our behavior, not their actual fiscal effects.

      At the same time a revenue neutral flat tax would actually lower everyones real taxes – it would decrease what you would have to pay for goods and services, because it would reduce the costs for those who produce them. There might be an brief initial windfall, but the markets set prices fairly well. Profits are primarily a factor of risks. If risk stays constant and profit increases absent government intervention others enter the market and prices drop.

      • AMAC permalink
        September 13, 2011 11:31 pm

        Dhlii
        I will say that I agree with you about the complication of taxes. I was not in business for myself, but was over operation in multiple cities, none of which was where I lived. So, I am very familiar with the book keeping end of taxation. I had cases of receipts and documents seperated by months for tax purposes. The taxes would increase for the majority of citizens in a flat tax. I understand your argument of “real taxes” based on the assumption that the cost of goods and services would lower. My question is how can you be so sure that private industries would lower costs and maintain profits instead of simply producing higher profits. In the company I worked for, we set prices on new products and services based on what our consumer demographics were already accustomed to paying. Based on my experience, I am more than a little skeptical that companies would pass on the savings on to consumers.

  13. AMAC permalink
    September 13, 2011 5:26 pm

    Ian
    I agree that our response is motivated by fear. Fear is a motivator used by many politicians as an effective tool to sway voters, also. In the future, I can see a moderate party being described by dems and reps as lukewarm or unpassionate to sway support away from our beliefs. I think we should be called the middle classers instead! I think that the true strength of our country has been that any person, from any background could work hard, educate, and climb through the class structure as far as they were willing to. Even if it didn’t turn out that way, there has always been hope. Hope that we can be better for ourselves and our families. Also, hope that our children will learn the same and become better than we ourselves are. Immigrants from all over the world have come to this country for that same chance. That hope is what has made America so great (in my opinion). My fear is that this justified hope will turn to misconception. My main fear is that my children, if they so choose, will not be able to better themselves (at least not as easily as in the past). My fear is that the future will be locked into poverty an not enjoy the mobility through the classes that our parents had. I have had some wonderful opportunities in business, and now have been able to choose to do what I want for reasons other than monitary. I hope these opportunities still exist for future generations.

    • September 13, 2011 9:41 pm

      AMAC;

      What you have written is wonderful. It is what makes this country unique. It is because this country values freedom. Freedom includes the freedom to choose for reasons other than money.
      Upward mobility is not a right, it is a consequence of creating wealth. It is our freedom that makes that possible.

  14. September 13, 2011 9:23 pm

    “I like Freeman’s idea of providing each individual with a trust fund when young rather than retirement benefits when old, but we had better realize that this is a significant change in the character of the social insurance system. Social Security is structured from the point of view of the recipients as if it were an ordinary retirement plan: what you get out depends on what you put in. So it does not look like a redistributionist scheme. In practice it has turned out to be strongly redistributionist, but only because of its Ponzi game aspect, in which each generation takes more out than it put in. Well, the Ponzi game will soon be over, thanks to changing demographics, so that the typical recipient henceforth will get only about as much as he or she put in (and today’s young may well get less than they put in).”

    Paul Krugman 1996 http://www.bostonreview.net/BR21.6/krugmann.html

  15. AMAC permalink
    September 13, 2011 11:10 pm

    It may not look like it, but I have been putting in some time to get a good starting point on what I consider moderate principles. I have tried to generalize what I believe enough to possibly accomodate the center, right of center, and left of center moderates. I know these are not very specific, but I think it would be a great starting point to add, take away, and elaborate. I came up with many points, and chose the six that I thought might be most applicable right now. I think that if we start with a few values, with some discussion and agreement, we can expand this to a platform. If we can come up with a set platform, we could begin to network with other moderate sites. Let me know what you think.

    Moderate Principles

    1. Moderates believe the strength of this country lies in the middle class. Economic policy should always be centered on strengthening and growing the middle class.
    2. Moderates support candidates that think independently in contrast to following party lines.
    3. Lobbyists and PACs have too much influence in government. Their influence on politicians and legislation should be closely regulated with full disclosure.
    4. Moderates agree that extremists in politics, regardless of political affiliation, are dangerous to our country’s future.
    5. Quality of education is a priority to ensure that the future generations can compete in the global market.
    6. Moderates are against frugal spending, but believe that the government has a responsibility to invest in the countries future. We expect the government to stimulate job growth, invest in technology and research, and maintain a high quality infrastructure.

    • September 14, 2011 2:06 am

      AMAC;

      Taxes is not the hill I am looking to die on. I honestly beleive, and think that the economic case is about as close as one gets to a fact in economics, that increasing taxes on investment is just about the worse thing we could do right now. But the argument is primarily pragmatic.
      There is a different argument – essentially one of the many arguments against all central planning that it also flies in the face of human nature and human behavior. Government repeatedly tries to legislate for a hypothetical world, presuming that humans will behave as this wish. But again that is a different argument, and is again primarily pragmatic.

      At the opposite end to address your question, as to why lower taxes on producers will ultimately mean lower prices – because the price system works. It is one of the fundamental aspects of the free market. But the pricing system only works when left alone. Everywhere today that prices are fouled up, are those areas most entangled in government. The natural trajectory for prices is down. Free markets demand it, the laws of supply and demand demand it, history demonstrates it. Even accounting for the idiocy of government monetary malfeasance, the basket of goods and services that you can buy today with the rewards of your productive efforts is greater than it was 10, 20, 30, 100 years ago. On a large time scale you have to be blind not to see that. On short scales – we are more productive. I am not as strong as I was when I was 20, my eyes are not as good, but I produce more of value today than I did then. Much of that is my own increase in skill and experience. But some of that is that we are all – even 20 year olds, more productive today than 20 years ago. But even if you debate that we are all more productive that we were 100 years ago. Being more productive automatically means we can consume more wealth. If we are able to consume more wealth then the relative value of the things we consume MUST have declined. It does not matter whether there has been inflation or deflation, all that matters is that the basket of wealth we can afford today is larger than in the past. By definition that means the relative cost of the contents of that basket as a whole have declined. Considering that we know some – like healthcare costs, the cost of government, have increased, that means the others must have declined fairly dramatically. All the above observations have not been universally true throughout history. For most of history improvements in productivity and improvements in standard and quality of life have been abysmally slow. The rapid improvement in standard of living and quality of life corresponds to the emergence of free trade, markets, and a merchant class. The industrial revolution was created by the demands of the market – not the other way around. Modern invention, computers, the information age, tremendous advances in medicine, ….. are virtually all driven by market demand. Even in the rare instances where the wartime needs of government drove some invention, bringing it from a cost only a nation state could afford, to dirt cheap and ubiquitous, was solely driven by the market.

      Once you accept that the natural tendency has been for the relative value to decline over time, you need an explanation. The only viable explanation is free market competition.

      Profits are essentially a price, they are the price for risk. Higher risk results in higher profits. If you artificially tweak the system to allow higher profits with lower risk, the market will rush in.
      If you knew for a fact that you could move your money from CD’s earning 1 1/2% to a money market account earning 15% with absolutely change in risk – everyone would do it. And if the supply of investors became so large that Money Markets did not have to offer 15% to get investors to buy their risk, then the interest rate – profit would decline.

      I am not sure I have explained this well. The market and price system are simple and complex at the same time.

      Prices are not perfect. Some people get deals, some over pay. Frequently there are legitimate reasons for that – when you invest alot of time in shopping you can get a better price – that is not actually a flaw in the market. But absent artificial external pressures – the most significant being government profits higher than the associated risk justifies are not sustainable. If I know as a fact that I can hire someone for minimum wage and make a 20% return on their efforts – I assure you I will be hiring as many minimum wage people as I can right now. So would you if it were a certainty. But you can not get a 20% return on zero risk. The lower the risk the lower the return will always be. If you gave investors some instant largess by eliminating all of their taxes, two things would happen. Far more investments would suddenly make sense – when profits average less than 10% even a 2% change in taxes radically alters what investments justify their risk. Second prices would have to drop.
      We watch commodity prices like Gasoline fluctuate for various reasons all the time. Radical changes result in temporary “windfall” profits, but overall profits on even the most volatile commodities are extremely stable over the long run. The profit margin is dictated by the risk, and the barriers to entry – and government sets the latter.

    • AMAC permalink
      September 17, 2011 11:06 pm

      I just read my points again, and I am not quite sure why I worded point #6 as I did. I meant to state moderates are not against frugal spending, as in for financial prudence, but do believe in investing in our future (financially). Not that anyone is really discussing those points!!!

  16. September 14, 2011 3:46 am

    I think what separates me from many of the rest of the “moderates” here is twofold – and the two things are related.

    I do not beleive government is a positive force for good. I beleive government is at the root of most if not all our current problems, economic, education healthcare, … for most of these it is obvious.

    As dismal as my view of government is I am optimistic rather than fearful of the future.
    Betting on the future has been a winning long term strategy for at least the past 200 years.

    Yes, I think the things the government has fouled up are going to hell, and the consequences are going to be bad. But I also beleive that once we honestly confront the mess we have made things will get radically better fairly fast. That is not to say that there will be no suffering.
    Many of us are suffering right now. Absent “frugal” decisions now, that will get worse. The longer we wait the worse things will get.

    Some problems such as Medicare and Social Security are insoluble without breaking promises we never should have made in the first place. Neither are going to vaporise. But some people will be hurt more and for longer than others. And again the longer we wait the worse it will get.

    But the first step in every recovery program is recognising that there is a problem.
    I am disappointed in what purports to be moderate.
    Lord Acton observed that Power corrupts. Corruption requires power. Money is a tool and a symptom not a cause, and so long as there is power to abuse, attempting to cure the problem by playing games with money will be ineffective.
    I do not see how one can reconcile a claim to be moderate with a belief that con-straining the rate of increase of spending is dangerously frugal. In the most liberal fantasy our current federal government does not provide anything close to $3.8T in value. Ignoring my own ideological desire to “decapitate” it. Purely based on the lack of value of what the federal government does for us, radically cutting it back seems moderate, not frugal.

    I look forward to the future. It is unlikely that many if any of the changes I would like to see in government will occur, but those that truly can not continue – won’t.
    I have faith that even if government can not get its act together, the economy will improve. It will do so, because we are its engine, we are still mostly free. Free people will create opportunities, and route around the problems of government. We are not fragile, we will endure and thrive. Nor does there need to be a plan, or policy. Those are artefacts of beleif in government as a positive force for good. Free individuals organise themselves towards positive ends spontaneously. Whatever is necessary – we will do it, and thrive. But our bright future is not being awarded to us by government, but created by each of us individually.

  17. September 15, 2011 10:09 pm

    There is a debate over the value of government regulation.
    I hope there is no debate that any regulation should cost government and the economy less than its benefits.

    Every recent president has issued executive orders to that effect. But agencies have done their own often admittedly highly dubious analysis, or just ignored the order.

    I would suggest that
    Congress should pass a requirement that before any regulation (not just major ones) is promulgated by any government department (including the IRS) or independent agency, the department or agency must have done a competent, complete and independent cost-benefit study. In order to make the law self-enforcing so it is not just ignored, any party or collection of parties who were adversely affected by the regulation would be allowed to bring suit to have it overturned if they could show that the costs of the regulation exceed its benefit (i.e., the preponderance of evidence). If the plaintiffs win, they would be entitled to have both their legal costs and the costs of their cost-benefit study reimbursed by the agency that issued the faulty regulation.

    I can think of myriads of ways to expand on this, but addressing new regulations is something I would hope we could all agree is a start.

    While I would still argue that even where a government regulation passes cost benefit analysis, that marketplace self regulation, including the common law right to be made whole when harmed by another is a far better an more efficient solution, I am willing to tolerate regulation that is atleast net positive, and can not think of a sane reason anyone – liberal, moderate or conservative should tolerate regulation that is not.

    • AMAC permalink
      September 17, 2011 11:01 pm

      Dhlii
      I do like the idea of weighing cost and effectiveness on legislation. I also like an idea I remember you throwing out a while back about tying in payment with legislation (at least I think it was you). I have been off line while playing in a four day tennis tournament, so I am catching up on some reading here. I do have a problem with how the cost and savings could be measured on certain regulatory legislation, though. For instance, I think that campaign donations should be closely regulated and completely transparent. This would be very difficult to show a “savings”. I suppose much regulatory legislation could be evaluated after something like 5 or 6 years to see if the savings were accomplished. It is an interesting idea, but have question on how to place a monetary savings on some regulations.

      • September 18, 2011 9:47 pm

        I am not sure what campaign donations have to do with this, but atleast we seem to be close on an issue. Measuring Cost/Benefits is not particularly difficult – so long as it is not being done by the regulators themselves. Private businesses do it all the time. The major problems emerge when we trip over “scared” issues. What is a persons life, getting asthma, or an endangered species worth. In fact we actually make these kinds of calculations all the time. But bot the left and the right get tied into nots when they rise to the surface where we must confront them.

        I deliberately avoided “re-evaluating” as well as testing existing laws. These are also excellent ideas, but I was hoping to get minimal support for starting somewhere.

  18. Priscilla permalink
    September 18, 2011 10:04 am

    Rick, this exchange helps me to see why we always disagree about the tax thing. (I didn’t hit “reply” or else my long comment would have only been 2” wide…..)

    I think, to start off, we have differing views of why rich people are rich – and maybe even a different view of who’s “rich.” Let’s leave aside, for the moment, those who inherit or marry into great wealth, and deal with people who have become “rich” through their own efforts. And let’s define “rich” as someone who makes $1million a year. It only takes $150-$200K or so to be in the top 5% of earners, but I think it is fair to say that, although those people may be well-off and successful, they are not “rich.” Fair enough?

    There are corrupt millionaires who get their money by abusing and gaming the system. Many of these people use their money to buy political influence and then use that influence to accumulate even more money. Some use politics as their entry point to wealth….I would contend that Barack Obama is one of those. He certainly never built a business or produced a product or service….unless you consider his “service” to the country, I suppose. But he gets a salary for that, and it is well under $1million, although his net worth is in the millions. So, has he gotten more than his fair share?? In any case, I would contend that the greedy and corrupt millionaires in our midst are the minority. Most millionaires worked harder, took greater risks, and possibly even sacrificed other things in their lives in order to make their million – or millions. So, my question is- who did they take away from? And why would we want to punish people who have not only earned their wealth, but who have provided the means for others to earn? Absolutely, make sure that they contribute their fair share of taxes, and make sure that they can’t buy political influence that allows them to gain unfair advantage over others. But why take more from them than from less successful earners? Successful people are not stupid….if we punish success, they will find ways to avoid that punishment. And that means less for everyone.

    I want America to remain a country in which everyone has a chance to become a millionaire….not just the crony capitalists. And, when I see politicians demagogue these “rich” and gin up class envy and hatred in order to get votes (and enrich their own personal wealth) instead of speaking honestly about the real problems and inequities in our system and trying to fix them I think that they are mixing us some very dangerous Kool-Aid. Very dangerous, indeed.

    • Rob Anderson permalink
      September 18, 2011 10:41 am

      You clearly do not know what you’re talking about, Priscilla. I spent 16 years in the white hot center of capitalism, Silicon Valley (only Wall Street is more libertarian and purely capitalist), including seven years working for pre-IPO start-ups where I worked directly with as well as for the CEO, who was always the principal partner and founder or co-founder. I’m here to tell you that EVERY wealthy person is a crook, and that you have the situation precisely backwards: those who inherit their wealth or marry it tend NOT to be crooks, whereas all those supposedly laudable earners of wealth are the biggest collection of vile, morally depraved and avareedish (my coinage, of avarice and greed) monstrosities ever to befoul the planet. You have to go back to the western Roman Empire before the fall to find a more despicable lot.

      Since my adventures in poverty began three years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to work directly for wealthy people via Craig’s List jobs. For example the guy I just finished working for, putting up a fence. He shorted my partner and I every single fucking day, with a look of absolute certitude on his face, and when we called him on it got indignant. This is a man who owns a bunch of apartment buildings in Santa Maria. In other words, a parasite. He lives in a manision in the hills of NIpomo, has money coming out of his ears, and yet still felt the need to cheat two destitute men who were busting their ass for him out of $30. I could go on, but this example is representative.

      The start-up folks were worse in their way, with endless talk about all the “losers” who were too “stupid” to build their own company and therefore deserved to starve. I don’t know what one does with such people, especially when so many of them are befouling our country with results you would expext if you understand history, which you clearly don’t.

      I’m not going to waste anymore time debating you on this issue. But be warned: the time is approaching where you are going to have to decide which side you’re on. Choose wisely.

      • September 18, 2011 10:48 pm

        If you think Wall Street (or Silicon valley) are libertarian (or even capitalist) then you have no clue what either mean.

        I do not know the particulars of your circumstances, but I have had plenty of non-paying clients. Things are rarely so black and white as you claim, nor are they confined to the so called “rich”. In my experience the worst paying clients – by far, are government. Local government, school districts, state and federal government. Their antics are an order of magnitude worse than private clients.

        Private business survives on reputation. In your example you claim to have been cheated day after day – yet you continued to come back. If you were truly cheated, you would have cut your losses not come back. What I am hearing is that you did not make what you expected – what you thought you agreed to, essentially your client renegotiated your fee. Presuming your fee was at the going rate – your client could not have done that – you would have left and he would have had no where else to go. You allowed him to “cheat” you because you had reason to fear that if you walked away, someone else would take the work for less. The free market does not guarantee that you will make what you think you are entitled to. There is no intrinsic worth in price.
        Regardless, from your own example, all that is certain is that you did not make what you hoped – though still enough to continue to do the job. If your client truly was a crook – it seems pretty stupid to continue to do business with him, if he was not – no wonder he was indignant when you accused him of it.

        Reputation is critical in business. What you say about your so called greedy crooked rich clients, has an effect on their ability to get others to perform services for them. Word gets arround. At the same time, if you are calling almost all of your clients crooks – the problem is with you not your clients – and your reputation will not help you with future clients.

        Why should I care that one entrepreneur denigrate other people unwilling to take the same risks ? I do not think that is a good idea. I think we should be gracious in both our successes and failures – but there is no moral obligations to do so. Mostly I think such talk is a nervous bravado. Getting involved in a startup is risky business. Even if you can make money in the short run, the failure rate is very high, and starting is no fun. Further if you really and truly are an owner rather than an employee, when things go belly up – as they usually do, there is no 99 weeks of unemployment – just whatever you might have saved to get you to whatever comes next.

        Regardless, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest”. Adam Smith.

        It is what you call greed and avarice, that assure we all eat. Every job that exists outside government is because someone else took and continues to take risks, in the hopes of rewards.

        I have been involved in innumerable contracts and business transactions. Some have been highly profitable, and in some I have lost my shirt. I have frequently not been paid what I thought I was worth. I have had to deal with clients re-negotiating fees every step of a project. If you think reneging on a contract is an attribute of the greedy rich – try being a low income landlord.

        IF you have truly been ripped off by a private business person – you can take your case to court if it is so strong. No one looks worse in court than a truly rich client who does not pay. Try doing that with government.

        If apartment owners are parasites – then what of Doctors, farmers, restaurateurs, in your world what distinguishes parasites from those who provide the jobs, goods and services the rest of us need to survive.

        You bandy about some of the jargon of business, but it is pretty clear from what you write that you have seen at best tiny corners of what really goes into a business.

    • September 18, 2011 10:11 pm

      Priscilla;

      The hole issue of “who are the rich” drowns in complexity. Wealth and income are not the same. Income most typically means “pay”, most of the high wage earners are not particularly wealthy. They have a high income and an expensive lifestyle, but they are not wealthy – a loss of income would dramatically alter their circumstances. Many of the so called rich, are small business owners. People who have chosen not to incorporate in order to avoid double taxation, their “income” is typically the revenue of the business, their “deductions” are its expenses. Often what they can spend is a fraction of that. Typically they ARE building wealth, but their circumstances too are fragile. Many of the those “making” a million dollars a year, do so only a small percentage of the time – many many years their “income” is far far below that. Further small business owners must maintain substantial capitol reserves to remain in business – if they spend their income, they go out of business quickly. I managed a business with $4M of revenue for many years, the actual take home of the owner was typically less than $200K – some years it was nothing – he worked for free. Keeping the business running required $400K of cash reserves. That is money in the bank, not the stock market or a money market fun. At the same time we employed 55 people. I guarantee you that even minor changes in taxes would directly translate into layoffs.

      There is little hereditary wealth of consequence in this country. Gates did not start with nothing. But it was nothing compared to what he has. Buffett and Oprah, and ….. did.

      At the same time it is a mistake to presume that this is a meritocracy. The rewards of the free market are based on meeting the desires of the market – not merit – they are related, but not congruent. Many, many bright and talented people do nto have what it takes to be entrepeneurs. Further most entrepeneurs fail – many many times before succeeding. Many very talented people give up before they succeed. The free market both rewards and punished risk taking. The winners outnumber the losers most of the time, but there are alot of losers – and many factors effect winning and losing – merit being but one. Most of us are far too risk averse to succeed as entrepeneurs. Finally, what the left and apparently moderates fail to grasp is that “regulation” and government are essentially risk multipliers. There are increasingly few areas you can start a business with no capitol, and without spending vast amounts of time going through government red tape before you have any chance to make your first dollar. Today in many states a carpenter can no longer go out on their own. They must be state certified, and licensed, and …. Even children can not open lemonade stands – legally. The inability to start minimal capitol businesses, prevents myriads of people who would otherwise do so from going into business on their own. Small business does not need government loans, or subsidies, they need government out of the way.

      • Priscilla permalink
        September 18, 2011 11:08 pm

        I agree with you , Dave. I was guilty of oversimplification in the interest of making my argument. And, to be clear, my argument is that the problem with our system is that wealthy interests conspire with lawmakers to prevent anyone besides themselves from becoming wealthy. Crony capitalism is the new buzzword for it.

        When determining whether someone is a “millionaire” are we talking net worth, gross income, adjusted gross income, or taxable income? Or business income? That is significant. And “wealthy” in small town Oklahoma is a hell of a lot different than “wealthy” in NYC. I acknowledge that, too. And I could have asked whether one year of $1million income qualifies a person as “wealthy,” even if s/he worked for thirty years at significantly less. And how about the corporate guy who works for $150K, but whose benefit and bonus package is double that amount? Do we nail him now, or wait until he retires? At some point, the simplistic rhetoric becomes an easier path to take….so, I took it.

        And the sad truth is that if the class warriors – who are corrupt – do succeed in soaking the rich, they are essentially going to transfer the money from some rich people to some other rich people, because that is the way crony capitalism works….and it works that way for both parties.

    • Jesse C permalink
      September 19, 2011 8:29 am

      I think one of the biggest problems with this debate is that people rarely get down to specific numbers and terms with regard to tax rates and income. Much as you mentioned in your other post, Priscilla, “which income are we talking about? Gross, Net, AGI, etc..”

      When we speak in broader platitudes like “the rich should pay their fare share” or “don’t punish success”, it allows everyone in the debate to form their own idea about what exactly any of those things mean from a numbers standpoint. Further, if you don’t echo the exact same opinion, your adversary tends to make the assumption that you must be arguing for something close to the polar opposite.

      But before we can even address specifics and numbers, does it not make sense to properly define an equilibrium point of some sort? Priscilla, your argument about punishing success suggests (to me) the current rates of taxation for upper income earners are “fair” and anything more would be a punishment. On the other hand, Rick, your argument would suggest (to me) that upper income earners have been catching a relative break in comparison to everyone else and hence “fair” would be a tax increase.

      I often find myself very conflicted when this topic comes up. On one hand, I agree with the argument that Priscilla espouses: that punishing success will discourage such successful endeavor. It’s logical in its simplicity. On the other hand, I feel an almost moral obligation to provide a greater contribution to the society that allowed me to be successful in the first place. It’s similar to the sentiment that universities rely on for alumni contributions: “This country / school helped me achieve the success I enjoy today, and I want to help perpetuate that society / institution for others.” But how do you put a price on something like that?

      • Priscilla permalink
        September 19, 2011 10:20 am

        It makes complete sense to define an equilibrium point, Jesse. I think, on some level, it is what I am trying to say when I fret about the class warfare/populist rhetoric that distracts from the attempt to define that point.

        And it’s not only distracting, but dangerously so….perhaps I have focused too heavily on the “dangerous” part. I very much want to be part of a discussion that defines a moderate position on this, but find it challenging to get to the center because there are so many strawmen in the way.

        Gotta go earn a living now (far les than $1M, folks, no worries ;)) I look forward to reading your opinions on where the equilibrium may be…….

      • September 19, 2011 11:49 am

        Jesse;

        What even is an equilibrium point ? It is frequently unknowable ahead of time. And even when in the case of taxes on capitol it is more predictable, we still chose to ignore the knowable unintended consequences.

        Romer & Romer – i.e. Christine Romer Obama’s former Economic Council head, reports that all taxes on capitol – that includes corporate taxes, capitol gains taxes, and upper margin income taxes have an economic cost atleast twice the theoretical revenue they might produce. Other studies have found even greater economic damage. Independently (or probably not), taxes increases on capitol have never actually produced that theoretical revenue, and occasionally produce declines in revenue.
        Anticipating counter arguments, Almost all taxation is economically destructive, but no other form of taxation is even close to as economically destructive as taxes on capitol.

        So from a strictly pragmatic perspective the best economic outcome would be 0 taxes on capitol.
        We can choose a different policy for other reasons.

        I point this out because this is one of the essential fallacies of progressivism. The conception that the current and changing perception of fair can be imposed without consequence.
        All actions have consequences intended and unintended, but individual actions are neither monolithic, nor coercive, further they are adaptive.
        Government actions shift everything in one direction, they are by definition coercive – the sole purpose of government is the legitimate use of force. Government is abysmally slow to adapt and the unintended consequences of government actions are substantial and often compound over time.
        All of the above problems and many more are true whether conservative or liberal policies are being implemented.

        My pragmatic examination of the costs of taxes on capitol are just one example of the unintended consequences of government choices. All government actions always have unintended consequences.

        When we argue that one policy is more “fair” than another, we are virtually always assuming a world in which government implements a policy and everything goes exactly as planned – something that not only does not happen, it can not happen.

        What is presumed to be “fair” always works differently than expected, and often to the harm of precisely those it was intended to benefit.

        Further we do not even agree on what is “fair”. We do not even agree as individuals. What is fair to the poor, what is fair to the economy, to the country as a whole, to the world, to the environment, to the minorities, to … None of these standards of fairness dictate the same policies even when only one individual is weighing them.

        Presuming as an example that AGW advocates are actually correct and we are facing imminent climate catastrophe, the significance of that dwarfs social security, healthcare, the poor, …….

        Should we raise the standard of living of the poorest people in this country – even if the cost is to significantly decrease that of everyone else ? The poor in this country live far better than the rich throughout the world – doesn’t “fair” require us to shift our focus from our own relatively wealthy poor to that of the world ?

        “Fair” is an unworkable standard. It does not even mean the same thing to a single person in all contexts. “Fair” deliberately presumes that there are no unintended consequences, or atleast that whatever they are they are unimportant is comparison to a single meritorious objective.

        There is a reason that most libertarians focus on equality of rights, rather than fairness in any manifestation.

  19. Priscilla permalink
    September 18, 2011 11:37 am

    Well, Rob, I can see that you are prepared to join the revolution against the bourgeoisie. And, by all means, don’t waste anymore of your time “debating” me…..you have not debated me at all. All you have done is tell me that I don’t know anything. So, if that constitutes the substance of your debate, it is truly a waste of time.

    You are clearly an angry and bitter man. And you clearly have a lot of company these days. People who have seen their wealth and livelihood stripped away by the greed and corruption of others have reason to be angry. I guess my question to you (and, since you’re not wasting your time with me, it’s really to others of your opinion) is why do you believe that it is the fault of wealthy people that you have become poor? And if your “side” destroys those wealthy bastards, do you get the money? And what does that make you?

    Like I said, class hatred and envy is some very dangerous Kool-Aid indeed, I am duly warned.

    • September 18, 2011 11:34 pm

      Wealth is created. Government whether in the form of the treasury or the Fed, can create money, but not wealth. It is created in myriads of ways – by our sweat, by risking capitol, by ideas – it requires all of those and more. The average business profit is about 9%. That means 91% of the value created goes to someone else besides the investors. Profit is inextricably if not perfectly linked to risk. High profits are in high risk ventures. Businesses with low risks make miniscle profits. In the event a significant disconnect between profitability and risk arises, absent government erected barriers to entry, competition drives profits back down.

      Efforts at class warfare are not only stupid and wrong, but they are actually evil.
      Eat the rich and we all starve. Every rant and particularly every rant by a so called respectable politician over the so called greed and avarice of the so called rich, stops investment, risk, job creation. We can have people who make $1m providing products we want and jobs for tens to hundreds of people, and paying the overwhelming majority of the cost of government, or they can choose to be “moral and ethical” or atleast chose to avoid being slandered and maligned, and not risk their money and we will all be poorer.

      We are in the midst of a capitol strike in this county – Atlas has shrugged, the engine of the world is spinning down. Yet consumption has been restored – if demand side economics had any merit the economy would be booming. Corporate profits have been restored, businesses are as productive as ever. But investment and risk taking are down. The poor and middle class are paying off debt and holding on to what they have – is it surprising that the excoriated rich are doing the same ?

      You want people to take risks and invest – though they are to be satisfied with negligible rewards when they do. You spray the very people we need to act with epitaphs if they do, and seek to punish them for their success and wonder why they have chosen not to invest, not to be “greedy” ? You teach in school that business is evil, and wonder why people do not go into business. You make it harder and harder to start a business, and wonder why there are fewer and fewer small businesses. You have government bailout and subsidise the failed and failing and wonder why the responsible (people and businesses) are despondent.

      You have repeated many of the mistakes of the great depression and are surprised when you have a similar outcome.

      And it is those of us that call you on this that are greedy, evil, and stupid.

      I will say once again. I am sorry that the republicans retook the house in 2010. It appears our failures have not yet been severe enough to put the idiotic notion that the economy will do as it is order to bed permanently.

      If we must eat the rich to grasp we are eating ourselves – then pour on the ketchup.
      If we must tax the crap out of them to grasp that in the end it is the rest of us that will pay – raise taxes.
      If we must stimulate the economy to orgasm, to grasp that you can not spend your way to riches, then how about $2T, or $4T – how much does Krugman think would be enough ?
      If we must try unlimited government to grasp that there must be limits – then bring on unlimited government.

      How much failure will it take, before moderates are able to recognise failure when they see it ?

      The right is rife with idiocy and failure. The left has tripled down on the lunacy of the right. And moderates seem intent on falling off the left edge of the planet.

      • Priscilla permalink
        September 18, 2011 11:44 pm

        Ok, I don’t get you at all on this one….how does destroying the economy lead to salvation?

      • Jesse C permalink
        September 19, 2011 8:01 am

        “Ok, I don’t get you at all on this one….how does destroying the economy lead to salvation?”

        It doesn’t, but he’s essentially calling the bluff of folks who argue for a more Keynesian, greater govt approach.

      • September 19, 2011 12:33 pm

        Unless, you agree that all these things actually are destructive, then I am not calling for economic self immolation. If my proposal to give the left what they want fills you with fear – it is because on some level you grasp these are bad ideas.

        Further, I have little doubt that after cleaning house of the lunacy of the left, that rebuilding will be fast and vigorous.

        I would prefer not to have to live through the brief catastrophe that would occur – and there would be real destruction including severe consequences to many who are essentially innocent. But we are already experiencing the same thing – just over a long drawn out period.

        Often ignored by economists is the importance of destruction. There is a purpose to economic destruction, it is how we dispose of the bad – including bad ideas.

        We chose to bail out Fannie and Freddie, then all the Banks, AIG, GM and Chrysler. That choice was abysmal on so many different levels. It rewarded failure, when we needed to separate the wheat from the chaff. The implications go way beyond those enterprises mentioned.

        In a perfect world we should already grasp the mistakes we have made – personally I can not believe given the overwhelming historical evidence, that anyone can argue Keynes without being laughed out of the room. Yet the president has demanded another round of keynesian stimulus.

        If the only way to permanently dispose of this kind of lunacy is to reach the point at which government itself fails, then hopefully when we rebuild from the ashes, we will do so having learned something, and the value of that would dwarf the carnage.

  20. AMAC permalink
    September 19, 2011 9:40 am

    I may have misunderstood the point of this blog, and it is my first time to blog. I believed that the point was at times to share opinions, but primarily to attract moderates and form a solid moderate base. I have been limiting my comments recently as the same comments seem to be re-worded and re-posted.

    David, again… the choices are not no regulation or unlimited government. Everyone here seems to agree we need to cut back in many areas. Neither of those two choices would be considered very moderate in their approach.

    I will continue to monitor the conversation, although less frequently. I hope that soon we can discuss our opinions and points of view, but also get down to a moderate approach for government. The conversation has been interesting, but unproductive (in my own opinion). I don’t see anything we are blogging about that could be something other moderates could get behind and support.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      September 19, 2011 10:46 am

      Sorry AMAC, I have not been much help, I’ve been buried under work, ( wish I had been at a 4 day tennis tournament instead, I also have a severe tennis habit to go with my internet addiction habit).

      My opinions on the opinions here have been pretty clear, the blog gives more of a chance for the small number of actual moderates to see how more extreme political groups see moderation than it does for moderates to co-mingle. I was hoping that if I shut up for a bit and gave the floor to someone else, some moderate “lurkers” would show up. Still hoping…. still buried under work for a couple more days.

      • AMAC permalink
        September 19, 2011 9:47 pm

        Ian,
        It was fun. I won one match and lost two. Not the best results, but had fun. I play USTA 4.5. It is a great sport. I played football and basketball as a child and didn’t pick up tennis until I was 21 or so. It is a great sport. Equal parts physical and mental. Enjoy you time off from blogging!!!

    • September 19, 2011 12:14 pm

      AMAC;

      I would be happy to discuss what moderate cutbacks of government would be. I have asked, begged, for any discussion of that.

      As best as I can tell moderates only believe government has grown to large in an esoteric context. When it comes to brass tacks, almost everyone here argues for more not less government.

      I have made numerous proposals of my own – not ones that suit my utopian desires, but just pragmatic steps that might despite their failings atleast head in the right direction.

      I can neither get much agreement on those, nor counter proposals.

      From my perspective the entire debate here (and nationwide) over the debt ceiling was insane. The current budget is $3.8T., in 2008 it was $2.8T, The president’s 10 year budget is $49T of $4.9T/year. We were unable to agree to cut that by $4T over 10 years – $400B/year, and still an average of $4.5T/year.

      Absolutely no one was talking about actually cutting government spending, all we were fighting over was decreasing the rate of increase.

      Yet not only couldn’t we agree to do that but the merely arguing for decreasing the rate of increase, labeled you as a fiscal jihadist, a terrorist, …..

      Personally, I think the “Moderate” position should have been zero increases or decreases in government spending for the next 10 years – or more than $5T less than the supposed extreme budgets.

      The arguments over tax increases and the military cuts are more complex and actually independent.

      I think there is no justification for a tax increase – regardless of who pays it. Even if you could somehow convince me that the rich need to pay more, I would not support an increase in government revenue. There must be a limit to government.

      I will be happy to agree to dramatic cuts in military spending – probably greater ones than anyone else here.

      Regardless, my point is that whatever moderate is supposed to be, it does not seem to be tolerant of any discussion of limits to government except in the most ethereal way.

      • Jesse C permalink
        September 19, 2011 12:27 pm

        I characterize myself as a Moderate who would not be opposed to cuts in govt in a non-ethereal way. I believe what holds most moderate-minded people back (and feel free to disagree w/ me everyone) is that when budgetary changes are proposed and debated, individual elements are often considered in isolation.

        i.e. raise taxes on “rich”, cut / reform Medicare, restructure social security, cut defense, specific parts of Dept. HHS, etc.

        I don’t really like our budget woes being solved on the back of any one of these things in isolation and I think this is the disagreement that you’re often running into on this topic. If a complete plan which eliminated the deficit and impacted nearly everything the govt touches from an expenditure and revenue perspective, I think people would say something to the tune of “You know what? I may have to pay a bit more, I may get a bit less for my tax dollars, but everyone is pitching into this together, and we’re actually SOLVING the deficit / debt problem with this plan.”

        The Ryan plan was the closest thing to comprehensive we’ve seen yet, but it’s skewed to far right for most moderates liking (or at least my own). And given the reaction he got from that plan, everyone else is scared out of their skin of trying a similar proposal, for fear of an election year crucifixion.

      • September 19, 2011 12:31 pm

        Dave: I think we might actually agree on something: I’d prefer to cut military and foreign spending before we raise taxes. With such a staggering national debt and so many Americans suffering at home, I don’t know how we can continue to justify our foreign adventures. Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are dead, al Qaeda is crippled, and Pakistan is no ally. Let’s cut the cord and focus on internal improvements for a decade or so; let another rich country take on the job of policing and feeding the world for a change.

        That said, we still need to make sure that affluent Americans and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. No flat tax, but no punitive taxes either. Everyone did just fine with the Clinton-era tax structure, but now we’d also eliminate loopholes and shelters. That’s fair and moderate as far as I’m concerned.

      • AMAC permalink
        September 19, 2011 9:55 pm

        Dave,

        I hope I answered at least in part your question about my opinions of cut backs. I have also answered you in the past as to the need to reduce medicare and SS, but not eliminate. On top of the cuts I mentioned, and a few others not listed that I would make, I would look at something which many businesses, including my past career during bad times, and make a 5-15 percent reduction in pay based on level of government job. I would take the lower third (based on income) and reduce by 5%, reduce the next third by 10%, and the highest third by 15%. This is a pretty common occurence in large businesses. FedEX and many others have implemented this over the last couple of years. I would also reduce the legislature pay and individual budgets by 20% and place a monitary limit on daily business expenses. I don’t claim to be an Economist, but I can base this on what many succesful corporations have done in the past and are doing in the present. This would not reduce the number of government jobs, but would significantly reduce the payroll and expenditures.

        But as I have said repeatedly, just like how a business would operate, I would also invest up to 50% of the net savings on growth opportunity. I felt I have answered this question (although not very specifically) in past posts. Hope this clears up, at least some, on my stance.

  21. September 19, 2011 11:54 am

    Priscilla;

    I could not reply directly, but your conclusion that efforts to redistribute wealth ultimately transfer money from one rich group to another is a Gem. I think even Hayek failed to make that point.

  22. September 19, 2011 12:11 pm

    Everyone: Moderation, moderation! We don’t want to eat the rich, just tax them. I believe in rich people; they build museums and theaters. But their fortunes have been skyrocketing while everyone else is suffering. I’ll leave it to you to decide if there’s a correlation.

    • September 21, 2011 11:57 am

      The mere suggestion that there is a correlation between the supposed sky-rocketing the fortunes of the supposed rich and the suffering of everyone belies that your argument is about taxes rather than punishment. Further it accepts several unproven memes.

      If all the rich give back is museums and theatres – then I am going far to the left of you – screw them. That is far from sufficient. For the “rich” to do well it is essential that they create wealth for the rest of us. That is an intrinsic aspect of capitalism. It is an essential part of the design. Nor is it an even trade. A valid rule of thumb would be that entrepreneurs must produce 10-20 times as much wealth for the rest of us as they can keep themselves.

      Look at yourself, and the wealth you posses today and what you had thirty years ago. Unless your circumstances are the same or worse – and almost none of us are, then you know first hand that the claim that only the rich have thrived is bogus.

      Thirty years ago, I was getting ready to get married, had a just above minimum wage job, lived in a $25K house in the city next to drug dealers, had a honda civic and one 12″ TV – all of which were really owned by the bank. I was not poor. Or atleast I did not think of myself as poor. Biut I was far far worse off than the poor today.

      Today I am far worse off than a few years ago and orders of magnitude better off than 30 years ago.

      I doubt there is anyone here that can credibly argue that their circumstances, their personal wealth are less today than 30 years ago.

      The rich get richer – because we all get wealthier

      Further this fixation on money hides a multitude of fallacies. The purpose of money is to facilitate trading the wealth we want for the wealth we produce. Money is a means not an end, Measuring money and presuming you have measured something important is like measuring the rollers in a conveyor belt and using that to determine how much a factory produces.

      Money is not wealth. We accumulate money rather than wealth as we become sated with the wealth we have accumulated. The poor and middle classes have little money, because they use their money primarily to secure wealth. As the wealth you posses becomes sufficient to your needs and wants, you trade less of the money you receive for wealth.

      The “rich” end up with most of the money BECAUSE the rest of us end up with most of the wealth.

      But this process works backwards – confiscate the money of the rich and you will disproportionately decrease the wealth of the rest of us.

      .

      • September 21, 2011 12:58 pm

        Dave: You make an eloquent case for trickle-down economics, but today it just ain’t happening. Yes, most of us are better off than we were 30 years ago, but I’d submit that most of us are worse off than we were 10 years ago. Something went fundamentally awry with the Clinton-era deregulations, mortgage blunders and the shift to globalism. (See, I’m not a dyed in the wool Democrat.) Add the Bush-era crony capitalism and tax cuts, the kowtowing to corporate lobbyists in Washington and the obstructionist tactics of the GOP during Obama’s term, and we’ve got a broken-down system that bears little resemblance to the America of 30 years ago.

        American companies today can freely go abroad to find intelligent cheap labor (a combination previously confined to the publishing and education industries). Why would they hire Americans at $20 an hour when they can get smart Asian workers to do the same job for $2 an hour? So the trickle-down theory has pretty much trickled out. We can no longer depend on America’s rich to provide jobs or wealth for everyone else. Most rich people aren’t even in a position to create jobs; the corporate elite does that, not rich investors or hedge fund managers. And the “corporati” are making matters worse by defiantly sitting on piles of cash that could be used to create jobs here during a borderline depression. This is why I favor direct federal job creation a la FDR to put unemployed people back to work immediately, restore confidence and get money flowing into the economy again.

  23. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 19, 2011 2:06 pm

    About cuts, yes, there should be cuts:

    1. Cut the Pentagon budget in half across the board.
    2. Dial back foreign policy related spending by 33%
    3. Conduct an audit of federal procedures to bring them in line with ISO-style standards of functional efficiency.
    a. Mandate that state, county and local governments do this as well. Render assistance to poorer locales so that can achieve the overall goals.

    Taxes:

    1. 55% tax rate for all personal WEALTH above $500,000 total or per year. No loopholes or shelters allowed.
    2. 45% tax rate for all personal WEALTH between $250,000 and $500,000.
    3. 35% tax rate for all personal WEALTH between $100,000 and $250,000.
    4. 25% tax rate for all personal WEALTH between $50,000 and $100,000
    5. 15% tax rate for all personal WEALTH (although at this level it’s silly) between $25,000 and $50,000.
    6. 5% tax rate for all personal WEALTH between $0.00 and $25,000
    7. People without jobs will no longer be defined as “unemployed” but as “Negative Wage Earners”, with “wage supports” put into place to keep them able to clothe, feed and shelter themselves decently, contingent upon participation in real training for existing and future jobs, in either the white or blue collar fields. This gets rid of the notion and the word “welfare.”
    8. Close all loopholes, shelters and tricks that currently allow corporations to pay no effective tax. Send a few big time malefactors to prison as a warning to the others that the government means business.
    9. Introduce a VAT.

    Other Economic Tweaks:

    1. The minimum wage is brought into line with modern COL and inflation, meaning it’ll probably go up to about $16 or $17 an hour.
    2. Single payer health care.
    3. Elimination of farm subsidies.
    4. Eliminate private educational initiative except where it can be shown they are *actually* outperforming public schools.
    5. Repeal Taft-Hartley. Lets get unions rolling again.

    Policy Tweaks:

    1. End the war on drugs. Decriminalize along the lines used in Portugal and Holland. Once this program is under way, declare clemency (or perhaps amnesty) for all those currently imprisoned for drug crimes that should never have existed in the first place and will effectively no longer exist. Empty the prisons of non-violent drug offenders.
    2. Begin a process of prosecutorial and judicial reform. Let it be known that the corruption of the recent past will no longer be tolerated, and that impunity is hereby revoked.
    3. Repeat #2 with prisons and police.
    4. Mandate two tracks for public schools – vocational and college preparatory, determined by testing regime that begins in first grade. Model our program on the one used in Germany, with cultural tweaks.

    There, that ought to do it….

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 19, 2011 5:09 pm

      Wow, Rob. And they say that Dave is not a moderate, lol……

      • Rob Anderson permalink
        September 19, 2011 8:17 pm

        One MORE thing: compulsory national service, with each 18-year-old having a choice of the military or civilian service. If they choose the latter, it will be a Peace Corps. for the United States. Young people from low income rural areas will help in suburban cities; ghetto kids will got to wealthy rural areas. Young people from wealthy rural areas will help in ghettos; young people from wealthy cities/burbs will help in the Ozarks or similar impoverished rural areas. They will be forced to confront the economic duality of their country.

    • September 21, 2011 12:53 pm

      Lots of interesting proposals, but what is the rationale ?
      I am not arguing mostly, just asking what logic drives these choices ?

      i.e. Why should the pentagon be budget be cut in half rather than by 1/3 or 2/3 ?
      Why foreign policy by 1/3 rather than 1/2 or 2/3 ?
      By foreign policy do you mean the work of the state department or do you mean foreign aide ?

      Auditing the government is interesting. However one of my argument AGAINST unlimited government is that we tolerate inefficiency in government in return for less corruption – or atleast for the appearance of less corruption. We tolerate myriads of both legal, quasi-legal, and even illegal machinations in return for efficiency. We do not wish to tolerate any of that in government. Essentially I desire small inefficient open, and incorruptable government rather than large, closed efficient and corrupt government.

      Further, after you have audited the crap out of government – how do you expect to fix the flaws you have found. What little incentives exist in government work at cross purposes to your goals. People work harder to achieve rewards, and to avoid punishments. To a large extent both are absent within government, or if present at all work at odds with your objectives.

      Why the tax rates you propose ? Are these income taxes, asset taxes, are they inclusive of local and state taxes ? Do you support high taxes on capitol even if these bring little or no additional revenue, drive jobs from the country and are significantly net negative economically ?

      Or put differently is the justification for your choices of tax rate some concept of fairness, and that value trumps other aspects of the common good, or are you arguing that the revenue from these tax rates, is the most efficient means of producing the gross revenue the government should have ?

      You “Negative Wage Earners” proposition is fundimentally already in place.
      Though I would ask is we subsidise people for not working, how do we move them to working ? One of the great problems with our social safety net today, is that trying to eliminate supports without eroding the incentives to improve ones circumstances is extremely difficult – and expensive. Government training has an abysmal record.

      Nothing has been more economically destructive of the prospects of untrained poor minority youth than the minimum wage.

      “So what are the effects of increasing minimum wages? Any Econ 101 student can tell you the answer: The higher wage reduces the quantity of labor demanded, and hence leads to unemployment.” Paul Krugman.

      The actual purpose and effect of minimum wage laws has been to reduce competition for higher paid labor. In the past unions have openly advocated minimum wage laws specifically for this.

      Price controls – and wages are just a price, have an indisputably abysmal historical record. They have unintended consequences far beyond their direct impact.

      Single payer health care is just another form of price control. What is wrong with our existing healthcare is the result of the government manipulations of the past, why are new ones going to be more effective ?

      The cost of healthcare insurance over the past 4 decades has skyrocketed by every measure. The price of automobile insurance is lower over the same term by every measure.
      One market is heavily government regulated, the other is less government regulated than in the past.

      Do you really beleive the decline of private unions is the result of Taft Hartley ?

      Why are we only eliminating farm subsidies – why not all subsidies, and all tarrifs, which are just another form of subsidies, and all regulation creating barriers to entry – which are also just subsidies.

      What is the definition of “outperform”. If the measure is cost vs. benefits, public education is a costly boondoggle. Even in those rare instances where alternatives do not outperform public education at worst they deliver the same results at far lower cost.

      Much of your program seems to be transform the United States into Europe.
      But Europe is failing. Our problems seem enormous to us, but their are worse. Our demographic issues are substantial, but will pass, theirs are insoluable. Our productivity, standard of living, and growth over long periods is superior to theirs.

      Rather than decriminalise drugs, why not just deregulate the entire drug industry.
      Allow the evolution of private certification like UL or ISO, to certify the safety and efficacy of a drug. The FDA is the federal drug supression agency. The high cost of developing FDA regulated drugs prevents the emergence of any drug that does nto have an enormous market sufficient to justify the development costs.

      How many people here are going to start shooting heroin if it was legal tomorow ?

      Regardles, why is the government wrong on the issue of drugs and right on everything else ?
      Why are national standards for what narcotics we are free to use illegitmate, but national standards on wages, prices, healthcare education appropriate ?

      Why is the government the best answer to one problem while completely wrong on another ?

      Einstein’s educational failures are well known. You are not far from a system where jobs are made by government based on their measure of our aptitude.

      What failure of central planning would be sufficient to erode your faith in it ?

  24. AMAC permalink
    September 19, 2011 4:47 pm

    Dave, I don’t know where you have come up with the conclusion that I don’t believe in cuts to the government. I would cut military spending and staffing (through attrition). I would make serious cuts to the department of energy, as it’s responsibilities are shared by other already existing agencies (i.e. mgmt of nuclear arsenal and waste). I would also take the billions the dept of energy uses on research to put into private companies to research (i.e. alternative fuel and power research). I would also centralize the dept of education on a national level, leaving local school boards in place but eliminating every state board of education and turn the dept of education over to non partisan, industry and educator administration base on research and global competitiveness. This board would be a part time board, meeting only once a year, not a permanant or elected board, overseen by a sec of education with no voting abilities. This would save states millions and a net gain in cost of public education. This would also make our education system much more effecient and standardized. Students in Mississippii would not be below students in Indiana. I would also severly reduce farm subsidies. There are many small farmers who depend on these, but corporate farms recieve 75% of the subsidies and there is research that these subsidies are actually driving up the food prices. Corporations would get out of farming, and small farmers would once again take to the farming industry which can produce a higher % profit but also have less capitol to invest in increasing operations. Only 6% of individual farmers are below 35 years of age. We are not an agregarian society, but this is still a very important sector in the US. I would take half of the savings and invest it small business to generate growth as I have stated before. As I have said before, cut and spend. For every 2 dollars I would save, I would invest 1 dollar.

    • September 21, 2011 1:32 pm

      I will be happy to join you in every actual cut of government spending you propose. I would honestly go far further, but I have no problem agreeing to even a modest start anywhere.

      If will be happy to join any in chastising the right for the pretence that current military spending is sacrosanct. Even accepting – which I do not, that we need the power to unilaterally defeat any and all possible enemies, we spend far more money on defence than is necescary to accomplish that.

      But many of your suggestions do not look like cuts to me.
      The US Department of education was non-existent at the pinnacle of our public schools.
      Why suddenly are the states a greater failure than the federal government ?

      Are you arguing for central planning of education because it sounds good or because you have some reason to beleive it will work better ? There can be little doubt our public education system is failing. But why repeat the same mistakes we made in health insurance in education ?

      Why do you beleive non-partisan is possible ? or even desirable ? Does it matter if the political fault lines in some central board lie on party lines or on some other issue ? As a people we disagree on many many issues, an acrimonious split over an issue that has no meaning in the context of left vs. right is still an acrimonious split. People in power do not somehow become more responsible, and talented because they were appointed rather than elected, or because they owe allegiance to a business or union rather than a political party.

      The history of government centralization has been one of cost increases not decreases. Why do you expect your proposals to have different results ?
      Trying to normalize between Indianna and Mississippi sounds like a political landmine. Almost any two states, even regions within states are vastly different, they have different costs of living, different mindsets, different cultures. How do we decide exactly how much a public education should cost in Indianna as compared to Mississippi ? Washington DC spends more per pupil than anywhere else in the nation, they spend more than all but a fraction of the best private schools in the country, yet they are a well acknowledged failure. So why is money the answer.

      I will be happy to eliminate farm subsidies – all subsidies, all tarriffs, all regulations that are nothing more than barriers to entry – and therefore subsidies, all professional licensing – again a barrier to entry and a government subsidy.

      Whether corporations get out of farming is irrelevant. The objective of the free market is to produce the most desireable goods for the most attractive costs. Big and small businesses are free to compete. There are real advantages to size, but there are disadvantages to. Few businesses – even the largest last 25 years. Contrary to the views of our political leaders there is no such thing as too big to fail. For every corporate Goliath there is a David waiting with a slingshot. I want Goliath to be free to evolve – so long as it is able to deliver more, better, cheaper. I also want David to be free to take Goliath down anytime he can.
      In a free market small/family farms will survive by outperforming corporate farms – in one way or another, conversely corporate farms will survive so long as they can do better – as measured by us in the market place.

      I am one hundred percent behind you with respect to investment – but it is not possible for government to invest ever. All government money comes from somewhere – it all comes from the marketplace in one form or another. Money has no value without the creation of wealth which does not happen inside government. Every time government professes to “invest”, it is starting in the whole. The dollar it is investing is a dollar taken in one form or another from the economy. Even if that dollar was somehow “free”, unutilized at the instant it was taken, if government did not take it, one way or another it would have been “invested”. When government “invests”, to have a positive outcome, government must invest better than the marketplace does on its own. Do I really need to go into a long diatribe about how bad the government track record has been in the past ?
      Basically every government investment at the very best has a negative ROI based on the difference between the average return on private investment and the average return on public investment.

      As we speak the administration is sending an army of FBI agents and DOJ lawyers to sillicon vallley – in the hope of finding fraud, and criminal malfeasance. Because the alternative is that Solyandra was just a waste of half a billion dollars of government “investment”. If Solyandra was a good investment it would have had no problem raising $500M in private capitol. Their are myriads of competing investments out their of varying risk and potential reward. The free market does an unparalleled job of weighing the risks and merits of each and divying up investment with an enormously net positive result.
      Where are these instances of government investment with an enormous payoff ?
      Why is it that any investment that is truly a good one will not receive the private capitol it needs, and only will succeed with government help ?

      • AMAC permalink
        September 21, 2011 7:23 pm

        Dave

        How can you argue that one slightly larger dept of education would not be cheaper than 50 smaller ones? And obviously, people coming on to such a board would most likely have political affiliation, but would not be politicians. I advocate an equal combination of Industry leaders, college professors, and public school educators, to drive education towards what the industry needs and wants. Standards do effect production. Anyone in business can tell you this and every business incorporates standards and demands you meet those standards. I would argue that standards are higher in some and lower in other states. Cultures and regions are very different, as you have stated, but what the market wants in education is very important to the sucess of present and future students.

  25. AMAC permalink
    September 19, 2011 5:03 pm

    Dave
    I think that you are frustrated not because we don’t want to cut, but because that is not our only focus. I am sure that as a Libertarian, cuts are the primary issue. I think that it is a very important issue (although not the extent of cuts you want) but no more or less important that the investment in job growth. I know many like to say the governmnet can’t create jobs, but let’s look at that. The US is the largest employer in the world. I do not mean I want more government jobs, I would rather the government focus on sustainable, well paying, private sector jobs. I know they can creat these jobs. Some times, but not always, their regulations create entirely new sectors of jobs (i.e. the EPA regulations). Believe me, I have dealt with many government organizations and their regulations. And they can be very trying and tedious, but many or most of them are necessary and I learned to work with them and still turn high profits. I know you don’t like the idea of most of gevernment spending, but would you agree that a major (20% or more) cut to the government with half of the net savings being invested in job growth would be beneficial? I know that it might not be exactly what you want, but I think it is what is needed.

    • September 21, 2011 2:03 pm

      I am frustrated because there is no “moderate” consensus that there is any limit to government at all.

      At the core spending cuts or increases are not the issue, but what is the true role of government. Without defining the one, you can not decide what to spend and what not too.

      I would be absolutely ecstatic to see a major cut in government. I would be delirious to see government spending frozen even at the current ludicrous levels – yet none of the proposals that have been excoriated here is nearly so draconian as that. Current spending is $3.8T/year frozen that is 38T/decade. The most austere proposal from either party had federal spending at $43T/decade. Proposals that limited government to $46T/decade were being excoriated here as end of the world decapitation vile wet dreams of evil ultra-conservatives intent of socio-economic destruction.

      Still it is irrational to decide how much government should sped without deciding what it should do, and what it can do.

      I would agree with most here that military spending should be cut radically – because I do not want a military that we are ready to send anywhere in the world at a moment notice for poorly thoughout purposes. It is not our job to force democracy on the rest of the world. It must be their choice – because it is the right choice – the one they want, not because it coincides with out political or corporate whims.
      But if I really believed in our need to project power as we have over the past decade, then I would argue passionately for a military budget sufficient to do that.

      Beyond what it should do, is the question of what it can do. Government is and must be inefficient. It is not a flaw, but an attribute. It is important to recognize that many many things that might appear to be desireable for government to do, must be far more costly iff done by govenrment – further many are not really possible in government.
      Government can not create wealth. Pretending otherwise is lunacy. It can not create jobs – aside from government jobs and each of those comes at a greater cost to the economy.

      You argued that you worked arround draconian government regulations – and still profited – PRECISELY. Business will profit approximatley the same no matter what. Regardless of the tax rates, regardless of the regulations. What changes is not the profit of business, but what is created and what it will cost. Regulation, taxes, etc. Do not significantly impact the ability of business to make money – in most instances government aides rather than harms business. Regulations create barriers to entry, they increase the cost of goods, they create secure profits for business at the expense of more, better, and cheaper goods – wealth, for the rest of us. The harm of govenrment is NOT to business, the wealthy, investors, …. it is to the rest of us. It is jobs or goods that do not exist, or goods and services that cost more.

      Almost all regulation appears reasonable on the surface – we all want clean air, water, better working conditions. Rules that purport to deliver these sound imminently reasonable.
      But just as Indianna and Mississippi are not identical, no two businesses are either. Nor do we want them to be. One size does not fit all.

      Contrary to popular belief US industry creates less waste than anywhere else in the world.
      If you raise and slaughter your own chicken, you will produce orders of magnitude more waste in the process than most if not all our chicken processors do – end to end, chicken for chicken. Bits of garbage associated with the chicken you raised by hand, in large enough quantities are the raw materials for other products to business. Waste is lost opportunities for profit, whether the waste is turned into fertiliser or dog food. This is true everywhere in private industry – if there is enough of a waste product, then there must be a way to use it for profit. The free market demands this – without regulation. Government regulation is ONLY necescary in those instances where the costs are too high and the benefits too small. Pretty much by definition all government regulation either fails cost benefit analysis, produces results that were inevitable, or interferes with better alternatives to accomplish the same ends. The importance of the last can not be underestimated. Businesses subject to government regulation must comply with the regulation even when the means are a poor choice to accomplish the desired ends.

  26. September 19, 2011 10:26 pm

    Rob: Are you proposing to tax wealth as opposed to income? If you impose your stiff tax schedule on wealth each year, most of us would be left with next to nothing after a few years. Even if it was a one-time tax, at what point do you tax these people? And don’t forget they’ve already paid income tax while amassing this wealth.

    No, I’d stick to a graduated income tax with a maximum rate of about 40% (I’m not a socialist yet, after all). No loopholes or tax shelters. And as much as it pains me, I’d tax capital gains as regular income. It has always struck me as unfair (even though I benefit from it) that investment income gets taxed at a much lower rate than income earned by the sweat of one’s brow. I’d need one of our house conservatives to explain to me why this is the case.

    Other than the tax issue, I’d agree with a lot of your proposals (e.g., cutting foreign, military and subsidy spending, and emptying our prisons of nonviolent drug offenders). As a resolute lefty, of course you tend to favor top-down directives that manage citizens’ lives (the single-payer system, two-track educational system, mandatory public service). I actually like aspects of your public service proposal, but I don’t think the government should force its citizens to move to places they’d rather not move to. There must be other options for enlightening them about the way the other half lives.

    Thanks for the thoughtful left-wing perspective, though. I was hoping you’d show up here at some point as a counterbalance to our resident libertarians and fiscal conservatives. After all, we need to hear and examine all ideas and not simply “cocoon” ourselves.

    Side note: I’ve known both you and Priscilla for a long time, and both of you have exceptionally high ethical standards. I started wondering why people with such sound values can’t agree on the methods for expressing those values. After all, decency is decency. I thought about Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda: Stewart was a conservative, Fonda was a liberal. I suppose Stewart leaned in favor of rugged individualism and Fonda thought more about the unfortunate. Yet both of them stood for integrity, honor and justice. They also happened to be lifelong friends. So when you come down to it, there really shouldn’t be much of a rift between decent people, regardless of where they place themselves on the political spectrum. The real struggle would pit decent people against indecent people. And in the best of all possible worlds (probably not this one), decency would prevail.

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 20, 2011 8:56 am

      Rob, under your proposal, a family of 4, with a household income of $100K, a mortgage free home worth $350K, $50K in money markets,CD’s etc., and no debt would owe $125K in taxes. And you want them to pay a consumtion tax as well? Whether it is yearly or one-off, it would essentially be the end of private property and personal wealth.

      Rick, the simple answer to your question about investment income is that the money invested has already been taxed. In addition, the lower cap gains rate encourages investment, which, after all, carries risk, without unduly punishing the risk takers (investors can deduct only a portion of losses, they have to pay taxes on 100% of gains). It offsets inflation and theoretically keeps people from sheltering assets indefinitely. The argument in favor of raising these rates to the level of income tax rates is that the lower cap gains rate benefits rich people more than it does poor people, because they have money to invest. And this is true. But, raising the rate would punish capital investment.

      So, at some point, we have to decide whether our goal is to encourage investment or to mandate “fairness.” While I am all for fairness, I think that people should be aware of the trade-offs involved. Listening to the hypocritical pontifications of a billionaire like Buffet, who pays little or no personal income tax, because he takes his income from dividends and cap gains which have already been taxed at the corporate rate, is extremely misleading. I might even say that he is lying about his effective tax rate, but who knows, since B-H owes $1B in back taxes, he may be right.

      I’m guessing that those who believe that the government should be creating jobs rather than stimulating private sector growth are going to be in favor of this type of tax increase. Fiscal conservatives, who believe that the best way to grow the economy is to encourage investment in free market enterprise will be against it. My point throughout this thread has been that using class warfare rhetoric to label the two sides is dishonest and dangerous.

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 20, 2011 9:05 am

      Oh, and it is obvious, Rob that you are a very serious and decent guy. I was a big lefty myself not all that long ago, so I have no problems with the left, other than the fact that I think they’re wrong 😉

      I hope you post here more often…it’s refreshing to find a left winger who does not disguise himself as something more moderate.

      • September 22, 2011 1:01 am

        I know very very few people myself included that were not on the political left at one point in their life.

        Those like on the left like Rob, should seriously consider that I and many others. shared their thoughts, views ideals ideology, but subsequently often with great thought and anguish rejected them.

        The arguments though as eloquent and passionate – or more so than when I made them myself are still wrong.

        I do not defend the rich or powerful corporations . I abhor their power to manipulate government. What distinguishes me from the left – and apparently moderates – is the recognition that so long as government has power others will try to buy steal or otherwise corruptly bend it to their ends.

        I will defend their freedom. It does not matter whether the excoriated others are the rich, the jews, the gays, the black. The least freedom of the least of us, is the greatest freedom of any of us.

        I will also defend their rights. Again the least rights of the least of us are the greatest rights of any of us And property is a right, if we can take away the property of the rich, we can take it away from anyone. If “Fair” is whatever the concensus decides and rights are fungible – then there is no such thing as fair, and there are no rights.

        I share with liberals the same perception of many of ht eproblems in the world, What separates us is that the left sees government power as the answer and I see government power as the root cause of most of those problems. The left will trade rights and freedoms for the false hope of using government power for good purposes. There is almost nothing I would trade anyone’s rights or freedoms for.

  27. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 20, 2011 11:52 am

    Its absurd to make blanket statements about rich people, as Rob does. More absolutism, this time from the left. Here is one thing that would seem to define moderates, we are non-absolutists. The upcoming class warfare politics is not something I look forward to but it is fully a two-way war waged with unequal weapons. It stretches back to prehistory, our American political parties did not invent it, they just incorporate it.

    Aside –> I’ve known many rich people, I play tennis with some of them. I WILL agree with the person who said that they are not like you and me. One of “them” married into my family and causes friction with her behaviors at times, although she is basically a good egg (and a far lefty!). My great uncle was an ultraconservative senator from a western state, richer than heck, maritime insurance, his estate was sold to the Kennedy’s after his death. My dear old dad did not like his conservative politics and would not relate to him, so, alas, I have to work for a living instead of being a trust-funder. The only big generalization I’d make about the rich is that a high percentage of them are cheap, Really cheap. People often get rich by having a money pathology, I think. Money uber alles, fear and greed.

    I’m not rich. I was born on second base and I’ve managed to about stay there, I could make it to third if I wanted to completely change my life, but I don’t want to. I LIKE second base. I built my own house on a beautiful piece of land that was a diamond in the rough that I got cheap 20 years ago. That is my wealth (and my family!). My family considers our little estate to be shangrila, we have all worked hard for many years on it. I consider myself to be rich, I live like a king, frankly, but I don’t have a whole lot of money. I repair my own very non luxury cars, I cut my own firewood, we grow a lot of our food. I prefer to have my time and my rural lifestyle than to sell my soul to live in Maryland and work for a pharm company. I spend my time with my family and friends instead of having luxury items I don’t care a fig for. <– Aside finished

    Class warfare will be the phrase of the month I guess. Class warfare is perpetual, inevitable, it ebbs and flows depending on the political time. Our political time is at a cusp, since the mechanisms that have worked since before WWII have now seemly broken and all kinds of radical ideas are being thrown out to define the upcoming new (and gloomy) age. I, as a moderate, greatly fear the upcoming back and forth see saw between the left and right that may destabilize out of its present sufficiently ineffective state and lead to a genuine breakdown and something you could call a revolution, right or left, I can’t predict. I’d say to all the non-moderates involved here, Rob, Prescilla, Dave, be careful what you wish for. The radical changes the tea party, the present GOP and the always lurking Lefties want may produce exactly the opposite effects than those they intend. Ya’ll scare me, nice people or not, its irrelevant. Ideas are powerful. If you have read the history of the last 200 years and you are not scared of what a destabilized society could look like then I do not know what I can say. Visit one sometime.

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 20, 2011 12:49 pm

      You know Ian, your comments always remind me of something I read once about someone in the State Department expressing dismay when he found out that Mahmoud Abbas was a Holocaust denier. “I thought Abbas was a moderate,” he said in dismay. “He is a moderate by Palestinian standards,” was the response.. “the extremists are Holocaust enthusiasts.” You rarely see past your own definition of moderate….in my opinion that is not a moderate characteristic. But you are from Vermont, so I’ll give you a pass. Moderation looks different in the land of Howard Dean and Bernie Sanders 😉

      In any case, this is my response to your comment: There have always been haves and have-nots in every society and in every century. Every president of the US has had to deal with varying levels of economic imbalance and even turmoil. But not every president has chosen to demonize the successful, encourage hostility and envy and tried to widen the divide between socioeconomic groups. You forget (or maybe you don’t) that the “rich” have now been defined down to anyone making $200K a year or $250K for a couple (that’s $125 each). We’re not talking about Warren Buffett here….we’re talking about people who have good jobs, not the hoi polloi. So your strawman argument that fiscal conservatives “support the rich against the poor” is just that – a fallacy and a dangerous one at that. It is that particular brand of class warfare that leads to the “off with their heads” kind of hatred that you claim to fear from the extremists. It’s the same as playing the race card, in my opinion, and does not solve any problems.

      I am not opposed to raising taxes. But I agree with Jesse that we cannot solve our economic problems simply by picking on one income group and hammering them with taxes, absent any serious plan to cut spending or reform entitlements. You have not addressed this in a specific way, by stating what you would support as a moderate, centrist platform. You want to give it a try?

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        September 20, 2011 3:29 pm

        Which moderate centrist plan is that again, is it the Ryan Plan? Truth in labeling, Priscilla, truth in labeling. That is a radically conservative plan.

        I’ve already proven to myself that the upper income groups do not have sufficient funds to solve our crisis on their own and I said so in the form of admitting my previous mistake in calculations months back.

        So, Strawman right back at you. I never said we should hammer one group. David Stockman said what I think, in order to cut the deficit we need to raise taxes on the middle class and even more so on the upper level earners. Perhaps I’ve yakked so much you missed that. This does not mean that we should not be redistributing wealth, the fact that western democracies found a way to redistribute wealth has a lot to do with the fact the far left never really got going in the US. We need to do more or it, not less.

        About Dean and Sanders, don’t get me going. Dean was a moderate Governor, liberals hated him. I liked that Dean. Then he got a big head and ran for Pres and turned left. Bernie Sanders, the one case where you can actually call a US politician a socialist and be correct. He makes my teeth itch, always has.

      • Priscilla permalink
        September 20, 2011 4:32 pm

        I was asking for YOUR moderate plan, Ian. It was not a trick question, it was a genuine one. Start with the Ryan plan if you like, but I am under the distinct impression that you don’t like it 😉 So what would YOU support? How about Rob’s plan? How about Rick’s 40% tax hike. I’m just trying to get a handle on what you support – I know what you don’t.

      • Priscilla permalink
        September 20, 2011 5:20 pm

        Oh, and point taken on the strawman thing. We’re even.

    • September 21, 2011 8:38 pm

      Ian;

      Wealth is not money, it is what we need and what we want. You have made choices that eschew money for your own wealth. By your own terms you are very wealthy. You live life as you wish. On the land you chose in the house you chose in the way you chose.

      What each of us chose as wealth may be different, the choices of another may be abhorrent to us personally. But your freedom to pursue your personal conception of wealth is inseparably tied to the ability of others to pursue theirs.

      You right to own your wonderful house on your beautiful property, can not be distinguished from Oprah’s right to own a Gulf Stream.

      If others are not free to choose as they please than neither are you. If we are to confiscate what one group considers wealth – then why not what you chose as wealth ?

      If the person taking their wealth in the form of money can only keep 45% then why can you keep all of your land and home ? When the bolshevick’s came for the rich they included property owners, merchants, even peasant farmers.

      My purpose is not specifically to focus on you, only to point out that anyone who has gotten past need – and that is almost the entirety of this country, and is making choices based on what they want, is no more or less entitled to posses what they have chosen to value, than someone who has made different choices.

      In many ways my personal choices are similar to yours. I have picked a particular life style, despite the opportunity to make far far more money if I would be willing to sacrifice some elements of it. I have chosen my own wants – at the cost of success in areas that mattered less to me. I often wish I could have more of some other form of success. But I chose the life I lead. I can easily make 3 times what I make today and in doing so gain more of the things I do not have – but at a price I am unwilling to pay. I have those things I want most. I have paid a high price for them – in money I have chosen not to earn, but it was my choice, because it is what I value.

    • September 21, 2011 9:25 pm

      Ian;

      You have excoriated the Ryan plan – and presumably Simpson-Bowles as they are not all that different. Rather than deal with what others have proposed lets try to discuss what would be a moderate choice.

      Should the federal government cost nearly 25% of the total wealth created in this country ?
      And that is just the federal government, that makes no allowances for the burden of the states or local governments.

      Assuming – I hope wrongly, that you beleive spending 25% of the wealth we create on the federal government is reasonable, are you going to allow that to continue to grow ?
      Are we going to decide that if the economy grows with 3.5% then the government can grow by 3.5% ?

      Accepting those presumptions – that the federal government should be allowed to consume 25% of all created wealth, that it should grow at the same rate as the economy, and that the economy will grow at 3.5%/year for the next decade, then total government spending for the decade would be $44.5T – that is LESS spending that either Ryan or Simpson-Bowles or anyone except maybe Rand Paul has proposed.
      You actually need the federal government to grow by 5.5% each year to reach the $49T that was the Presidents original budget that purportedly included cuts. And at 5.5% growth per year, with 2% economic growth the federal government will be consuming fully 1/3 of all the wealth we produce.

      Absent radical governmental changes we have no rational hope of seeing 3.5% grown in the economy over the next 10 years. A 2% average economic growth rate – which seems optomistic at the moment – would yeild $41.6T of government spending over 10 years.

      Further, we have not discussed revenue at all. Currently revenues are down, but let us assume that tax revenues return to their historic norm – about 18.6% of GDP, That will leave us another $17T in debt – or well over 200% of GDP, even a sustained revenue rate of 20% of GDP will put us 15T further in debt. Even revenue at a miraculous 25% of GDP will put us another 7.3T in debt – still well over 150% of GDP

      Even with absolutely zero growth in government and revenues at a never sustained level of 20% of GDP, and economic growth of 3.5% of GDP we are still going to increase the federal debt by $2T – though because of economic growth we will now be below 100% of GDP.

      Forget what can or should be cut.
      What economic growth rate do you beleive can be acheived for the next decade ?
      And how much revenue as a percent of GDP – no matter how you collect it, do you think can be acheived – remembering that even including WWII we have only twice had tax revenues exceed 20% of GDP – regardless of tax rates.

      Play with the numbers however you please, avoiding catastrophe demands atleast 3.5% growth. That is an absolute. If we do not achieve an average economic growth rate of 3.5% for the next 10 years, we are screwed.

      But that alone is not enough. Government can not grow faster than the economy – or we are screwed. Frankly, government really must grow slower – or better yet not at all. and we still need tax revenues of 20% of GDP, which is honestly very unlikely.

      Nothing above touches any of the difficult policy choices we fight viciously about.
      It is all simple math based on a few reasonable assumptions – but if you do not like mine, put together your own, this is a very simple spreadsheet to construct.
      Plug in your own numbers – and try to make it work – it is very hard not to dig ourselves much deeper in the hole.

      Personally I see the minimum requirements as an absolute freeze of government spending at its current levels – with no increases at all. This is FAR more draconian, than any bodies proposed budget – but I would note, there are NO SPENDING CUTS at all.
      Then we need 3.5% Growth. If we actually freeze the growth of government that is probably acheivable, and then with 18.6% of GDP as revenue – which is also probably acheivable, Our debt will have increased by $5T but our debt will only be 110% of GDP

      • September 22, 2011 1:50 pm

        Another scenario, actually reduce federal spending to 20% of GDP – above the historic norm since WWII, and above the rate for all of the Clinton and almost all of the Bush presidencies. Keep tax revenue at its historic norm of 18.6% of GDP, with growth at 3.5%/year.

        The debt will increase by 2.5T, but it will be less than 80% of GDP within 10 years. and total federal spending in 10 years will be almost 500B higher than it is today.

  28. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 20, 2011 1:16 pm

    Everyone here is intelligent, so let me pay you all the compliment of being blunt – class warfare my ASS.

    From 1900 to 1950, Europe (as well as the Commonwealth of Nations) underwent a fairly radical change in socio-politics and socio-economics. Most of the monarchies lost the last of their political power, and most of the nations of Europe morphed into social democracies (and Russia, of course, went communist). I’m simplifying, of course, for the sake of argument, but that’s a good historical short-hand for the changes wrought in that era.

    Much the same *should* have happened in the United States, but didn’t. It is my opinion that this was because of the endless warp in our weave – Calvinism and its many deformities. The “Protestant Work Ethic” – and its cultural handyman, Horatio Alger – have never been anything other than cudgels to use against workers, whatever the context. They have morphed down through the centuries to seem very much like oxygen, as natural as the air we breathe, and just as inevitable.

    So instead of the business class coming to understand that the New Deal saved their collective asses, they forever saw it as a perversion of the natural, Calvinist order. As a consequence, they fought it both directly and indirectly, almost existentially, until by the 1960s a cabal of wealthy, right wing businessmen formed up to arrange the nomination of Barry Goldwater for the presidency (at this point, I suggest two books as essential: Rick Perlstein’s “Before the Storm” and Haynes Johnson’s “Sleepwalking Through History”). That Goldwater was a man of character and integrity is without doubt, no less than it is doubtless that, by the standards of 1964, he was a barking loon and an utter moron, incapable of seeing how the New Deal had helped (remember, I wrote “helped”) to usher in the almost breathtaking standard of living extant in the country at that time. When Goldwater failed, no one on the right saw it as a repudiation. To their credit, they dug in their heals and continued organizing, using Ronald Reagan as their new totem (here Perlstein’s “Nixonland” is a useful read).

    Here the irony becomes somewhat painful, as not all of the doyens of wealth saw the world the way the hard right saw it. Corporate executives, by and large, understood that the vast new middle class was a (seemingly) endless market for their products, and so the wealth of the middle class should be maintained. What was good for GM really was, to a degree, good for America, however much the left of that era might want to deny it. The hard right understood that a “revolution” was necessary in corporate thinking, because the dismantling of the middle class was seen by them as inevitable if the country was going to be returned to its Calvinist roots. Unionism had to be brought to heel, if not gotten rid of altogether, and the comfortable corporate middle class needed to be disciplined. It was believed that this discipline would inevitably lead to a revival of religious belief and participation, and that thus the people would begin to once again discipline each other (the cultural upheavals of the 60s motivated this point of view).

    And here we see how important it was for America to be transformed into the Nixonland it has become, a place of mistrust, envy, meanness of spirit, greed and avarice unchanneled into social goods, political corruption and authoritarianism. The radical right in this country has been behind every major turn rightward, to one degree or another. Their ultimate goal is to turn this country back into what it was in the Gilded Age, and they have succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the men who met in the early 60s to decide how they would go about changing the country’s direction.

    THAT was and remains class warfare of an almost eliminationist variety, and the response of myself and others on the left is not class warfare, unless one believes that bandaging the wounds of those who have survived a massacre is a direct application of warfare. What we are doing is staunching the bleeding, not counterattacking (that, I can assure you, will come later – after the organizing and educating).

    The number of people living in poverty is approaching 20% and 50 million. 65 million are permanently disenfranchised and rendered “unemployable” due to past convictions for crime. Tens of millions more are teetering on the edge of economic oblivion. These people only need organization to become a force that WILL change this country, and whether that change comes from bullets or ballots is really up to those in charge. We will get this country to where it should have been by 1950, one way or the other.

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 20, 2011 10:56 pm

      That 65 million criminal element seems exaggerated, Rob. Are more than 1 in 5 Americans felons?

  29. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 20, 2011 1:38 pm

    Ian,

    I’ve WORKED for the rich, directly, for four months. That is a somewhat different experience than playing tennis with them, I can assure you. And you are SO right about them being cheap. The stark reality of that, as I have lived it these many months, is astonishing. It never fails that those who have been generous and fair with me are middle class, and those who have NOT have been rich.

    Now if this had all been learned while begging by the side of the road, then your anecdotes might have more force. But I learned these truths while *working*; you know, for pay? As in, I will put up your fence and you will pay me the full $15 per hour we agreed upon at the beginning of the job. And yet the wealthy have a seemingly congenital inability to realize that they are obligated to pay the FULL amount they owe, whereas if someone were to do that to them they would sue…or worse.

    And to the person (Dave?) who used “contract renegotiation” as a disproof of my earlier points, all I can say in response is “Straw man much?” I don’t care who does it or how often – violating a contract is thievery, pure and simple. Failure to pay money owed is, beyond a certain point, a crime, and should be prosecuted as such. The fact that it happens all the time, or that government is (supposedly) the worst culprit, is essentially meaningless, unless of course you’re going to take the Nixonian position that the law doesn’t apply to people with power, which would mesh with your implied argument that we are better off living in a plutocracy.

  30. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 20, 2011 1:55 pm

    Rob, I’m mostly with you on the nature of the problem, at least your most recent description of it, (your first recent effort started out well and then went over the cliff). I and many agree with the general description on the ills of capitalism or the ills of conservatives and the free market absolutists. Where I depart from the train is the solutions of the left. Its easy to criticize the system, and it wasn’t just leftists, e.g., Marx or yourself, people, conservative heros like Hayek have had their own bashes at describing the problems of capitalism harshly. No, the hard part is the remedy.

    Just to make an example and not trying to twist your words, but making minimum wage equal to the cost of living is an example of an idea that sounds great but is economic nonsense. The left tend to go straight from their often appropriate moral causes to thinking that you can just abolish some evil with a fairly direct bill outlawing the problem. Make minimum wage $17 and first of all millions get fired the next day, but ignoring that, when everybody has more money then what does that do? Everything just gets more expensive. If we just print money and give everyone a million dollars then a hamburger will cost $200. Money chases stuff. If there is not an increase in the amount of stuff, viz., cars, houses, doctors, french fries, then giving everyone more money just makes the same stuff more expensive. If economics are not quite zero sum, then there is a little more stuff and everyone can have a little more on average.

    I’d like to undo the rich get richer situation, for moral and practical reasons but how? Ideas that are politically acceptable or even economically workable are hard to come by, let along both of those things together. Frustrating.

  31. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:12 pm

    And now I will indulge my own inner leftist: I do truly hate a certain category of rich people, they ARE evil. It’s the Roland Arnall category and the “I demand my $50 million bonus while the government tries to undo all the destruction I and my buddies just caused” category. Banks are also evil, a necessary evil, alas, that needs to be tightly regulated. Really tightly regulated. Credit card companies, student loan lenders, these are areas of the economy where people with no morality that I would recognize whatsoever have a tendency to congregate. The ultimate me first category. People whose kids are rarely seen in uniform but they have the biggest damn flag in the county. Yes, these people do exist and have a lot of weight in our society.

    Lets talk about predatory lending. Ameriquest made me a mortgage, about 10 years back, yes, its embarrassing I was not thinking. Since I built my house I had a small mortgage and a lot of equity and wanted to make some improvements. Enter Ameriquest, aka Roland Arnall a billionaire who raised vast sums for the GOP, who threw a party for the Bush campaign in his TEN ACRE (40,000 sq ft.) HOUSE (not the property, the HOUSE). Where did that money come from? Really ugly predatory lending that took advantage of poor ignorant people with bad credit who lacked the sophistication to understand the consequences of what Roland Arnall had designed in the way of a skeezy mortgage product. While Roland was living in his 10 acre palace those poor people were financing it with ballooning interest rates, exorbitant loan fees, and in the end losing their homes. W. Bush made him Ambassador to the Netherlands as a reward for all the cash he donated to the GOP.

    I myself did not get fleeced, I had the cultural capital to avoid it, but it was not due to lack of effort by Arnall’s minions, who never ceased to try to entice me by phone to remortgage my house with the bait of lower interest (and $7000 in loan generation fees, bye-bye home equity). I do know people who fell for the go-go schemes of various Ameriquest type banks and lost basically their life savings, which was the equity they had in their homes. Now they are underwater or renting crap apartments in their mid 50s. But Arnall’s widow still has the loot that Arnall worked so hard for. He died of cancer. I hope it hurt, I really do.

    Ah, money, often a game for the rich, often a tragedy for the not so rich. Lack of health insurance does not mean that they don’t treat the poor for free when they are dying, it means that, due to tight finances the poor don’t take themselves and their kids to the doctor when an illness starts, when it is more or less easy to handle. When they finally do go, it a much worse prognosis. Meanwhile the Arnall’s of the world prey, profit and fund the GOP to do their work for them. That is class warfare and it is deadly.

    Leaving my leftwing soapbox behind and returning to myself, I have seen the results of the so-called antidote to capitalism first hand, and I won’t buy into the lefty revolution rhetoric. Not to speak in code, I’ve lived and worked in Russia. There is a mess for you, a disaster in many ways; they will be a hundred years cleaning up what first the Tsars and then the Marxists did. No, the radical answer is not the correct answer.

    We need an economic system much like the one we have, it’s a system that functioned fairly well when Clinton was president, not that long ago. We just need to redistribute wealth better, a belief I happen to share with the large majority of economists (a fact, I looked it up). I personally don’t need it, if you gave me a million dollars I would not know how to spend it on myself. But our society cannot function when we are bankrupt as a nation while 2% of the country has concentrated nearly all the disposable wealth to themselves and are not, in general, using it to pay back America when she needs it and are even crying that they need still more. If the GOP gets total control, they will get it. I’m agin it, call that class warfare if you will.

    • September 21, 2011 12:29 pm

      Ian: Spot-on, as the Brits would say. When the plutocrats control the bulk of the nation’s wealth and cry about any attempt to rein them in, it’s class war, plain and simple. But you’ve also realized that we can’t do a 180 and veer in the opposite direction: top-down Stalinist 5-year plans and the like; a free society can’t submit to rigid controls. The only remaining choice is a moderate system with moderate controls, and the governing principle should be fairness… i.e., no favoritism toward any one class. I suppose I have my own bias in favor of the middle class, but primarily because the middle class has seen the most grievous setbacks during the recent plutocrat ascendancy. More on this in my next column…

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        September 22, 2011 10:11 am

        Hey Rick, we are on the same wavelength as usual. You and I will have to try to save the rich from being eaten, although they will not thank us for it.

        Napoleon wrote that during the fall of the French nobility during the riotous rout and seizure of the nobles he looked over the rioters and saw a woman who was literally eating the heart of a French baroness.

        Nuff said.

  32. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:22 pm

    For Christ’s sake, Ian, you weren’t on a “left-wing soapbox”, you were just seeing a large part of the problem with complete clarity. And while I agree that Stalinist authoritarianism is not the answer, what exactly does one do to unseat the very real power of someone like Arnall? And the evil exists at all levels: the guy who wouldn’t pay me my full wages for putting up his fence exists on the same continuum as Arnall, just at the shorter end. This willful blindness to our real problems is something I see, very clearly, in all of you “Moderates.”

  33. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:32 pm

    Ah, moderates, unloved from every side. I’d like to get enough of them together in one place someday to actually find out whether we as a group are willfully blind to our problems. I hope not.

    But the idea that the rich are all bad is just as unsustainable as any other absolutism. I will admit, I do tend not to like their children… Boundaries are a necessary part of growing up.

  34. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 20, 2011 2:49 pm

    Oh, I’ve worked for the rich, I helped rebuild the Trapp Family Lodge and to build the Trapp Condos on the other side of the road. I worked as an auto mechanic in a rich ski town for a nice German fellow who mostly worked on vintage Mercedes Benz autos. When I did a valve job on my Saab in his garage he gave me a used exhaust valve. Nice of him, eh? When we parted company, he deducted the cost of a NEW valve from my last paycheck. Yes, cheap. It did come back to bite him, that is the stupid part of being a money loving nucklehead. He got sued for tens of thousands in back pay by the labor dept a year later and then a few years ago he made the news got busted for trashing his ladyfriends apartment. He was in his 60s. His wife was not amused. Nice guy.

    • September 21, 2011 12:18 pm

      Small world, Ian. When I was married, we stayed at the Trapp condos down the road from the main lodge. What a setting!

  35. Kent permalink
    September 20, 2011 3:05 pm

    I have just skimmed over the last few comments here, but my view is that Rich people like I have said before. Do what they do to stay rich. Save! Either by investing, cutting back on paying people a good wage for work, stiffing…whatever. It is a discipline. Not a pleasant one.

    What matters is the character of the rich person. If the person was like yourself and became rich then maybe you would be given a greater wage, benefits, respect…whatever.

    It is ultimately….you who took the job to work for them and you can only blame yourself for the ending. The only thing that changed on this experience is your thoughts on the person and not that he was rich.

  36. Jesse C permalink
    September 20, 2011 3:06 pm

    Just adding an idea to the potential Moderate platform here…

    On the subject of regulation, and using Arnall / Ameriquest as an example, Ian, I think you’re absolutely dead-on in your description of the problem and the dangers of an unchecked “free” market. (I define “free” ironically b/c we all know that the US mkt isn’t truly free, but that’s another topic for another day.)

    However, when more regulation is brought up as a solution, it sounds great on paper, but it almost never works in practice. Case-in-point: Dodd-Frank. It sounded great when described at a high, undetailed level, but upon closer inspection, it’s done almost nothing to solve the problems which created 2008 (they still exist at the institutional level), and its subject to too many congressional decisions about funding for some of its programs to even work properly.

    My point is, is that when regulations are defined, they only exist to define what can and can’t be done, but they also leave open the window, for those creative and devious enough, to do something unethical that wasn’t even thought of by the original regulators. Think about Goldman pushing the long-side of John Paulson’s short deals to its clients while taking a piece of the shorts themselves. It certainly wasn’t illegal, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a decent person who said it was ethical. But it wasn’t illegal.

    And there, in a very condensed, Jesse-speak form, lies my problem with regulation. I’m not saying we should do away with regulation, in fact, I think much of it should stay. I have a two-pronged approach:

    1) I’m in favor of establishing a new method of dealing with non-compliance. It would be similar to Dave’s earlier argument about allowing for appeal and review of particular rules via some sort of CBA. Sometimes regulators don’t always know what is best or reasonable for the industries they regulate (like OSHA and hand-rail height restrictions or haz-mat labeling on non-hazardous products) and allowing for a reasonable and researched industry appeal or reform is a pragmatic solution with little downside to the original intention of the regulation.

    2) On the other side, and this would be particularly important as well as quite radical for most, is to create some sort of ethics-based justice system to deal with those individuals like Arnall or corporate entities like Goldman which have found ways to slip through the cracks of original regulation. I’ll be the first to admit, that selecting the “judge” in this system would probably be one the most difficult tasks ever undertaken, but there needs to be some method to enforce ethical standards onto the free market. It’s very similar to the Common Law approach advocated by Phillip K. Howard. My belief is that even the threat of punitive action will become a greater deterrent to unethical behavior, than the actual punishment, since it remains somewhat undefined.

    • September 21, 2011 12:16 pm

      Jesse: I like it. As you said, it would be hard to enforce (and it might create a tangle of new red tape), but the THREAT of action might be an effective deterrent.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      September 22, 2011 10:19 am

      Jesse, “the never works in practice” idea seems to me to be wrong. It never achieves total victory, its different from not working. Its a constant effort and it never wins, it only holds off catastrophe. We never win the wars on poverty, ignorance or illiteracy, but we sure as &^%$ can’t afford to lose them. Yes, the WSJ crowd will try to seduce you with the idea that regulation is futile, just give in. I say, Resist that crock of crap. We need More regulation of banking and finance, we can never just give in, we need to keep up the evolution of regulations and we need teeth behind the regulations.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      September 22, 2011 11:08 am

      Jesse, I think you may be the most sensible person here, I’ve been so busy that I’ve hardly had time to appreciate your output. You have said a lot of really pithy sensible things, particularly about needing to consider our problems not individually but together.

      Well, see my earlier comment below, I do disagree with you about regulation of banks etc. not working, but this was the best place to stick a reply saying I agree with almost everything else you’ve said.

  37. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 20, 2011 3:47 pm

    Kent,

    You, sir, are obtuse, but I have the cure: poverty. You see, the person who stiffed had the ONLY suitable work for me on the entier Central Coast of California for the past two weeks. So there was no “walking away.” I think it’s a safe bet that he knew that, which is why he figured he could stiff my partner and I and get away with it.

    But congratulations – you have drunk (and I mean *drunk*) the Horatio Algeric Kool-Aid like a good little American, and now blame everyone for every single thing that goes wrong in their lives, because it’s ALL their fault. What you people fail to realize is that while it is indeed the responsibility of each person to deal with their own problems as best they can, said problems are not automatically their “fault.”

    • September 21, 2011 12:12 pm

      Valid points, Rob — the system IS pretty much rigged against the little guy. But we try to avoid name-calling here. (This isn’t The Cynic’s Sanctuary, after all. 😉 )

  38. Priscilla permalink
    September 20, 2011 4:26 pm

    Jesse, I really like Howard’s proposals, and agree that the issue is not so much regulation vs. no-regulation, but rather common sense, ethical regulation v.s out-of-control, paradoxical regulation. Right now, any entity, corporate or otherwise that can afford to lawyer-up can find its way through most regulatory mazes, while the rest of us poor rubes are confused at best, if not destroyed by the legal sleight-of-hand that those entities can execute.

    And while corporations like Goldman are villified – and rightfully so – I think that we overlook the role of lawmakers who empower the Goldmans and the Ameriquests, all the while stuffing their own campaign chests (and personal portfolios) with corporate cash and telling the world that they have passed “financial (or some other) reform.” So, until those lawmakers are villified in equal part, I don’t think we’re going to see any change.

    To your previous point (way back in this thread!), a better educated and aware citizenry would go a long way to getting us where we need to be.

    • September 21, 2011 12:10 pm

      Priscilla: Good points, and that’s why we need to clean house (and Senate). We can’t go on much longer with a government full of representatives who are making life easy for today’s robber barons at the expense of everyone else. This is where we moderates have to step up and become radicals — not left- or right-wing radicals, but moderate radicals like our Founding Fathers. Because at this point only radical reform (like Stephen Erickson’s plan) will restore the kind of balanced government that’s fair to every class of Americans.

  39. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 20, 2011 4:30 pm

    Priscilla,

    It is BECAUSE of the corrupt politicians that Goldman is both enabled and never prosecuted. The two are not separate.

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 20, 2011 4:35 pm

      Rob, Of course it is.

    • Jesse C permalink
      September 20, 2011 4:42 pm

      All the Devils are Here by Joe Nocera and Bethany McLean is an excellent and pretty entertaining book which provides a nice broad look at all of the players involved in this financial mess and the roles they play. You’re right that Goldman was hardly alone in the financial mess. Hell, they weren’t even the worst perpetrator (I think Merill was), they just happened to be the smartest and got out of the game early enough to stay afloat, hence they’ve been the most vilified.

  40. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 20, 2011 4:52 pm

    Jesse,

    Please read Taibbi’s stuff over at Rolling Stone, especially the essay entitled “Why Isn’t Wall Street In Jail?”

  41. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 20, 2011 11:13 pm

    Priscilla,

    No, but 1 in 5 have had some kind of “contact” with law enforcement that will show up on any background check, and most employers will not hire someone with *any* criminal background, even if it was expunged. Only California and six other states ban discrimination against people with expungements and/or convictions thrown out on appeal. But now that you mention it, there are an enormous number of felons in this country, and they have no end of problems.

  42. AMAC permalink
    September 21, 2011 12:58 am

    I love that the two most polarizing characters on this blog are calling a few of us “moderates” as opposed to moderates. The conversation is being dominated by pointing fingers, pointing out obvious problems, and placing blame. I still think that we should be discussing a condensed set of core moderate values and then work together to take those values and expand them into goals, or a platform. I know this is not as provocative or entertaining, but it might be the most productive. I see the country distancing itself further and further from the center, and from the middle class. I hate to think about what would happen if either one of these sides takes control or worse, they both take control and put the country in a standoff. I don’t know if anyone wants to discuss these moderate values, I have posted my ideas, but I would like to discuss these. If we argue and call names, nothing will get done. …and this is exactly what the far left and right want.

    • Jesse C permalink
      September 21, 2011 8:27 am

      I’ve been proposing a few ideas in this thread. They certainly need some refinement, so I invite all to critique and provide further input.

      I’ll take some time to consider and see what I can add to your 6 points mentioned earlier in the thread as well, AMAC.

    • September 21, 2011 11:26 am

      You complain about labeling and name calling. What is a “Polarizing person” – someone you disagree with ? If an argument is credible does it matter whether is comes from the left, right, mars ? As to “moderate”. Honestly the majority of posters on this blog and Rick himself are to the left of what every political survey I have ever seen would call the center. No this is not Daily KOS or Talking Points Memo or any of innumerable other solidly left blogs, but the tilt is still to the left. There is far more disparaging of the right. The typical left focus on guilt by association. It is less important whether an idea has merit than whether it can be connected to Limbaugh or Beck. Entire lines of argument can be disregarded if the person making them can be connected even tangentially to a church – almost any, or some maligned organisation.

      I choose freely to participate here, and even the most extreme minds here are far more open than many other places. There is way too much ad hominem, guilt by association, and labeling, but there is little juvenile name calling. A good putdown is not a substitute for a thoughtful discussion.

      • September 21, 2011 11:48 am

        dhlii: Critics to the right of me claim that I’m a leftist in moderate’s clothing; critics to the left of me claim that I’m a reactionary in moderate’s clothing. I think that makes a pretty strong case for the fact that I’m actually a moderate in moderate’s clothing.

        You’re correct in observing that most of us on this site have been bashing the right… and that’s because the right has commandeered the ship of state. The conservative power elite has been sucking wealth out of the middle class like a kid slurping an ice cream soda, and the corporate lobbyists have ensured that our elected “representatives” keep voting in their favor.

        I’ve said it so many times that I’m starting to bore myself, but when the ship is tilting to the right, it’s the role of the moderate to tilt it back — not to the far left, just upright and centered. That’s our mission, should you choose to accept it. And if you don’t, that’s fine, too… just don’t keep expecting us to support the forces of unfettered, unregulated corporate capitalism or their stooges in Congress.

        I’ll have more to say on this very matter in my next column. Stay tuned…

      • AMAC permalink
        September 21, 2011 7:41 pm

        Dave
        Polarizing, as I define it, is your attitude. Disagreement is one thing, but a combatitive, “I know what works, you don’t” attitude is polarizing. You attack others posts with libertarian rhetoric and consistantly push off moderate conversation unless it is in refernce to reduction or role of government. When I said two, I was refering to you and Rob. You are both intelligent and opposites in terms of views, but polarizing. You then make the obnoxious reply to us “moderates”. You have some good ideas and I agree you show some moderate tendancies, not that it matterst what I think, but you are polarizing.

    • September 21, 2011 12:01 pm

      AMAC: My next column here will address these issues, and I’m sure we’ll see a lively discussion afterward. It should be up within a day or two.

  43. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 21, 2011 1:34 pm

    Dhlii,

    Sorry, but no. I’m sorry that you’ve swallowed this particular meme hook, line and sinker, but I can help to clarify things for you.

    First off, you were MUCH better off 30 years ago than you realize, though you have stated that you were not poor. And you weren’t. The minimum wage went up to $3.35 per hour in 1981 as I recall (correct me if I’m wrong), which was an increase of $2.25 over what it had been in 1973. That was a fairly substantial increase. I can easily believe that you could afford a modest car, a TV, rent a small house and court a woman sufficient to her consenting to marry you, all on that wage, because in purchasing terms it was roughly equivalent to $15 an hour today. Don’t believe me? Ok…

    The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and in some states it’s higher, though usually not by much. That means in 30 years it has gone up $3.95. That’s really astounding. Four dollars worth of increases in going on four decades. Well how does $7.25 today compare to $3.35 in ’81?

    Lets make one small but representative comparison: a night at the movies. As a life-long cineaste, and being possessed of a very good long-term memory, I can tell you that the cost of a regular theatre ticket was about $1.50 in 1981. A small popcorn and drink (what I always got) was about $4. So in 1981 you could go and see a non-matinee movie and have a snack for $5.50. That means you had to work two hours to cover the cost, leaving you with $1.20 left over, enough to see another movie as long as it was a matinee. What about today?

    Non-matinee tickets average about $11. A small popcorn is $7 and a small drink is $6. That’s $24.00, so at $7.25 an hour you have to work four hours to afford the excursion, with $5 left over, NOT enough to buy either a small drink, popcorn or even a matinee ticket, which is usually $8. The minimum wage has 50% LESS purchasing power than it did 30 years ago, at least for movie going. But I’m betting it’s 50% less across the board.

    So if you tried to make it on the minimum wage today, you would be destitute, unable to even go to the movies. You *might* be able to buy a decent TV and you could have a cell phone, but only because those items are made with dirt cheap overseas labor today and thus are much less expensive than they were (also because of gains in technology). But all that is about stuff, and entertainment. What about the brass tacks of living?

    Shelter? Well, you can forget it, even in the poorest parts of this country. The average rent, nation-wide, is $961. That number includes rented rooms, which here in Santa Maria range from $500 a month at the low end to about $900 a month at the high. But lets go with that national average. Mutliplied by 12 months in a year, that’s $11, 544 per year for rent. The current minimum wage nets you $11,612.00 (formula: $7.25 X 40 hours in a week X 52 weeks in a year – 23% payroll withholdings). As you can see, rent – even on just a simple room – wipes you out. You don’t to feed or clothe yourself. Now I’m going to be generous and suggest that bunking up with three other men in the same rented room is both possible (almost no one will rent a room to more than one person) and affordable (no gouging). With that in mind, I will reduce the yearly rent expenditure by 2/3rds, down to $3925. That leaves you with $7619, enough to clothe yourself very cheaply and also feed yourself, as long as you also get food stamps.

    I’m not going to try to quantify food and clothing, except to say that both are cheaper than they were in 1981. Of course, the food is cheaper because so much of it is pure crap. Eating healthfully remains as expensive today as it was 30 years ago.

    So far, the above information constitutes a disconnected list of figures about aspects of quality of life. What does it all mean? Simple, really. You are living in genuine poverty. You are sharing one small room with three other men. That means you have no privacy, not even your own small closet for your meager belongings. You also don’t have a bed, as those remain fairly expensive and besides where would you put it, so you are most likely sleeping in one of those thinly padded, cheap Walmart sleeping bags. You don’t own a decent suit of clothes because you can’t afford one. Your shoes are Payless Shoe Source or donated, because on your wages you can’t even afford the $25 shoes at Walmart, or at least not more than once per year, so your feet are going to hurt more often than not. You can not afford a car, because gasoline is almost $4 a gallon, and insurance is prohibitive. So you take the bus, but the monthly pass is (most likely) $50 per month, a bit pricey for someone of your income level, though you have no choice but afford it. But suprisingly, your biggest expense is laundry. Why? Well, you’re a minimum wage earner, but you’re lucky enough to have a full-time job, which means that you are most likely employed by either a restaurant or retail concer, where you will have to wear either a uniform or a very nice outfit, so as to look “professional” despite being paid peon wages (one of the many ways these employers make life miserable for their employees). So lets say you have three complete uniforms, or three outfits, that you must keep clean and neat. That means you must purchase an iron and board. It also means you’re going to be spending an average of $10 per week on coin-op laundry service, or $520 per year. That’s a lot of money for someone like you. And it will most assuredly dry up whatever tiny bit of disposable income you had to save for a rainy day, or to do anything else. Like get married. You can’t even court a self-respecting, decent woman on that kind of money, so you can look forward to getting deeply and passionately acquainted with your right hand (or left, depending). Oh, wait a moment…you won’t be doing that, either. Not with two other grown men sleeping an arms length away.

    The fact is, surviving on the minimum wage, even full time, is only possible in extremis, condemned to a life of privation, discomfort, loneliness and endless frustration, all while having the MSM rubbing your nose in the lives of the joyfully wealthy. And since you can’t save, there’s no way out, because you can’t afford college on those wages, and because you work full time you cannot get financial aid, unless you have a child (NOW do you understand why so many young women opt to have them out of wedlock?).

    In my not-so-humble opinion, those who would create a socio-economic and -political milieu that forces large numbers of people to have to live this way should be, at the very least, put up against a wall and shot (I’d boil them alive, but that’s me).

    Remember all of the above the next time you hear Cantor or one of his ilk talking about abolishing the minimum wage.

    • September 21, 2011 11:02 pm

      Rob;

      Cantor or whatever right wing demagogue you are fixated on today, did not invent this meme. Nor is it a new one.

      The fact is that the wealth of the poor has been increasing,and the cost of most real goods have been increasing pretty much since the emergence of the free market.

      The accolades you give to FDR’s new deal, are a negative force on a trend more than two centuries old.

      You pick a few items that you think have increased in cost over the past 30 years.
      I really have not bothered to look at most of them – there is no reason. With very few exceptions only those items subject to government machinations over the past 30 years are truly more expensive today than 30 years ago.
      The trend is so incredibly strong that there are probably hundreds of commonplace items that I can name that are cheaper – without adjusting for inflation.

      Again this is not even a recent trend. Julian Simon famously bet Paul Ehrlich that on 5 commodities of Ehrlich’s choice over ten years the price would go down – and Ehrlich was defeated decisively.

      If Cantor has recently learned this – I have known it for almost a decade.

      Whether you like it or not the average poor person today possesses far more wealth than someone similarly situated 30 years ago – and that is a good thing not something to piss and moan about. Further the government did not have a damn thing to do with it.

      If you want to play games with numbers and statistics – make sure you test them against the real world. If the poor have more wealth today than they did 30 years ago – then all your isolated examples, all your inflation adjusted minimum wages, are less than meaningless – they are clearly wrong. A statistic that claims something your eyes can clearly tell you is wrong – is at best wrong and at worst a lie.

      Statistics are wonderful things, they can be used to prove anything. That is why you are expected to test them against the real world. And as we got into in the AGW debate – an awful lot of really intelligent people are abysmally bad at using statistics – and fail to test their assumptions against those aspects of reality that we actually can measure with our own eyes.

      • September 21, 2011 11:03 pm

        Sorry, the cost of goods has been decreasing.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      September 22, 2011 10:33 am

      I don’t mean to sound like dhlii, whose worldview and mine have about a 1% overlap. But minimum wage is not meant to be a mechanism for everyone in the country who has a job to live a decent life. That is just not something that can be done by legislative fiat. Some people have really crappy lives, its always been that way and it always will. We can hope to reduce their numbers and have but there is a limit. Government can try to help but government is not Superman.

      You see our problems in very black and white terms and your minimum wage solution, while it has its heart in the right place, and thus is a huge improvement over the mindset of the free market absolutists, simply would not work. Your anger has made your thinking primitive. You see the symptoms clearly but seem to have almost no idea whatsover of the complexity of their causes and potential solutions.

  44. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 21, 2011 2:20 pm

    I’ve a lot to say, to answer Priscilla’s question about what I’m for. But that is a lengthy post and my wife has claimed me for the day (good for her) so if I’m not too sore tomorrow, (from the gardening I mean) I will expound. As for today I leave you all with a moderate suggestion to reform the legislative process. It came to me as I was eating breakfast and listening to Benny Goodman. The legislative day should always begin with a high decibel performance of Sing, Sing Sing. Speeches should be given while dancing the fox trot. Hard to be a rigid ideologue while Goodman is playing. As well, anybody performing a filibuster should be required to do it in a brightly colored beanie with a rubber band driven propeller. That should put them in a more appropriate context.

    Once a session congress should be convened in a parking lot in a poor neighborhood somewhere, with no security.

    • September 21, 2011 11:04 pm

      And every liberal in congress should be forced to own and manage an apartment complex in a poor neighborhood.

  45. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 21, 2011 9:06 pm

    dhlii,

    That old chestnut, huh? The wealthy say it all the time: if I can’t have my monstrous wealth, you can’t have your humble house on your humble plot. The solipsism required to believe that is breathtaking, as is the cognitive dissonance the belief inspires. EVERYONE is entitled to earn a decent living, preferrably in an arrantement that is most advantageous to them. What NO ONE is entitled to is to become stinking filthy rich, especially since there is no such thing as reaching that height without hurting many other people, perhaps millions.

    And I find it interesting that no one is debating my hard numbers regading the minimum wage.

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 21, 2011 10:22 pm

      Minimum wage is only important if there are jobs, Rob. Debating whether or not a business that is not hiring is not hiring people for $8 p/hr or not hiring them for $18 is kind of pointless, don’t you think?

      • Ian Robertson permalink
        September 22, 2011 8:40 am

        You scored a point there, Priscilla. If only well paying jobs COULD be created by a law.

        Liberals see what is wrong a lot more clearly than conservatives do, in my opinion, and then they propose well meaning answers that are fundamentally flawed. This one (giant minimum wage hike) would truly have the opposite effect than its proponents desire if it were passed.

    • September 21, 2011 11:23 pm

      Where does this everyone is entitled to a decent living thing come from ?

      Did whatever god you beleive in decree it ?
      Is it a chapter in the origin of the species I have not read ?

      We live on this planet. We are born with no entitlement. We survive initially dependent on the paternal instincts of our parents. But ultimately we are our own responsibility and no other.

      Tell Cleopatra’s people they are entitled to a decent living.

      Humans have very few rights. Survival is not actually one of those.

      A man said to the universe:
      “Sir I exist!”
      “However,” replied the universe,
      “The fact has not created in me
      A sense of obligation.”

      Stephen Crane.

      No one is entitled to become rich, nor are they entitled to a decent wage.

      Declaring otherwise from the bully pulpit of the presidency or the halls of congress does not change nature or its laws.

      Government can not create a right – though it can steal one.

      I have no idea what you are refering to regarding your hard numbers on the minium wage.

      The fact is that before the minimum wage existed we were not all poor.
      The minimum wage is a political manipulation of the laws of supply and demand – laws that do not respond to political decree. Even Paul Krugman has noted as much as I quoted here earlier. Economics 101, tells us that setting a floor for wages, does little except increase unemployment – and particularly for those who are the worst off.
      Rather than create government funded jobs training programs – that can’t get people jobs. Allow employers to hire people – for what they are actually worth.

      Something you do not seem to grasp – a job is the belief of one person, that the productivity of another will exceed what they are paid. If that is false – there will be no job. If you are truly capable of producing substantially more wealth than it costs to pay you then you will receive more pay. You will get paid more – because you are not ignorant of your own value – and neither are others. Of course if you fail to judge your own productivity effectively – then you may end up unemployed.

      Government can not change this. When the change the wage floor, they change the skill level someone must have to be hired – or just to keep a job.
      Why is it that unemployment is greatest among the least skilled ? Might it be because they are incapable of producing enough to justify paying them the minimum wage ?

      I honestly can not believe a rational person even wants to debate minimum wages.
      The arguments for them are so weak and so easily refuted.

      Why does the left always insist that politics allows them to manipulate the laws of nature ?

  46. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 21, 2011 10:52 pm

    It’s EXACTLY the point. The minimum wage law was passed during the height of the Great Depression, the idea being that there must be a floor below which people’s wages cannot go, and it was mainly to combat the murderous competition of men trying to get work slitting each other’s throats. And in case you think I’m being theoretical, I can tell you that’s the truth with not only history on my side but the lived experiences of both my maternal and paternal grandfathers. They both witnessed men competing for jobs, with the job ultimately going to the poor soul who was willing to work for a miserable bowl of soup.

    • September 21, 2011 11:38 pm

      And there is an enormous amount of excellent economic scholarship that it is precisely the floor under wages during the great depression – incidentally started by Hoover who begged, pleaded and threatened business not to reduce wages, that is one of the primary factors prolonging the great depression in the US.

      There have been many many economic downturns in the past.
      Where wages and prices were allowed to naturally adjust, the depth was occasionally greater but the duration was extremely short and wages and prices returned to normal very quickly.
      In all instances – as right now, why we tried to prop up wages and or prices, the duration was long.

      The actual cause of each economic disaster is different. What needs to adjust and how varies depending on the cause. In the current instance – housing prices were increased artificially – that bubble has burst, and recovery could have come as soon as the market cleared – though we have impaired the markets ability to clear and are stuck in the doldrums.
      Separately we also encountered problems because gains in productivity that we had beleived to have occured were false or atleast less than expected. It is productivity that justifies wages – nothing else. If you do not create wealth there is no use for you in a free market. As mentioned before – the universe has no sense of obligation.
      We shed about 4% of employees – yet production has returned to pre-recession levels. Productivity was clearly overstated. Employment will recover when the unemployed are able to perform jobs at wages that are justified by their productivity.

      But if you feel a compelling need to raise the minimum wage – go right ahead.
      Even if the ordinary minimum wage earner does not understand the relationship between their pay and their productivity, they do understand having a job and losing one.
      When you increase the minimum wage – and the economy shed jobs – exactly as it did during the great depression, the unemployed are likely to vote out those they in power when they lost their jobs.

  47. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 21, 2011 11:25 pm

    dhlii,

    Yes, things are cheaper today, and the minimum wage can buy 50% less of them than it did THIRTY YEARS AGO. Which was my whole point. And *your* point is??

  48. Priscilla permalink
    September 21, 2011 11:25 pm

    Rob, your violent tendencies worry me. Why must we always be shooting and slitting throats?

    • Rob Anderson permalink
      September 21, 2011 11:42 pm

      “violent tendencies”? Don’t you mean “rhetoric”? And I don’t know what else you call it when a group of desperate men “compete” until the only “pay” the winner will receive is a bowl of soup. By the way, that anecdote is not apocryphal. My grandpa Perry witnessed it at a gravel pit near Anaheim in 1934. According to him, he heard later on that the guy who “won” dropped dead half way through his wages.

      • Priscilla permalink
        September 22, 2011 12:03 am

        Ok, rhetoric.

  49. Rob Anderson permalink
    September 21, 2011 11:36 pm

    “Humans have very few rights. Survival is not actually one of those.”

    Thanks, dhlii, for saving me so much time in further debating you. I will not attempt to disgorge 5,000 years of human philosophy to refute that odious point, but rather point out that such a stance is redolent of Social Darwinism, and as Ian Kershaw taught us in his magisterial biography of it, the last nation to employ SD as its operating principle was Nazi Germany.

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 22, 2011 8:02 am

      Time to invoke Godwin’s Law.

  50. September 22, 2011 12:35 am

    AMAC

    I am sorry that you beleive I have some combatitive know it all attitude.

    I have addressed some of this before.

    I say what I think. Except where it is clear that I am refering to something that is a fact, what I write is what I think, what I beleive. Adding “I beleive” or “I think” all over is bad style, and fake humility.

    Of course it is what I think – I wrote it.
    I am sorry if you think that means I am claiming to know it all or being combative.

    At the same time I write with increasing confidence in what I say.
    I do so, because the deeper I explore issues, the more information I gather the more certain I become of my views.

    And I thought that was what we were here for – to learn.
    I spray a large quantity of fact based oppinions. I do not typically footnote them all. But everyone here should be capable of using google. Whatever argument i have made – if it troubles you check it out. Though I would encourage you to go past what pundits say – just as I do not expect you to acept something because I have said it.
    Like Martin Luther – we are all free to decide the truth for ourselves – whether it si the meaning of the bible, god, global warming, politics or economics. No one is responsible for your views but you. There is no higher authority then yourself. Not me, Not Paul Krugman, not F.A. Hayek. Weigh the evidence yourself and come to your own conclusions.
    I beleive that if you do you are likely to shift my direction – but whether you do or not, your views are your responsibility.

    I also do not think much of what I write is libertarian rhetoric.

    I think fairly carefully before I write, I try to respond to the post I am replying to.

    Libertarian rhetoric is often hard to discern from reality – they are so close together.
    I do not consult Hayek or Mises or Friedman, or … before deciding what to say or beleive.
    Most of the googling I do is for government information databases, not ideological support.
    I may not trust government, but I do trust it to pay for the bullet I shoot it with.

    I did not used to start with the presumption that government was failure – but as I study government more and more, I find less and less that even comes close to working.

    I have shifted more libertarian throughout my life.
    “If you are not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart and if you are not conservative at thirty, you have no brain.” – Churchill.

    Eventually the facts drive you towards libertarianism.

    I feel very confident when discussing government that demonstrating its failures will be trivial – because it has proven to be trivial.

    You claim I am constantly attacking – there are some things I attack, but I feel for the most part I am on the defensive. I have made it clear that while I may not be quite willing to “decapitate” government as Ian has suggested, that my view of how much government is needed is very small. Yet whenever I actually do remark – “can we atleast seriously look at something we all agree is broken and find even limited efforts to reign it in”, I end up being pushed to defend the almost all government is evil position rather than the can we atleast agree to make government a little less evil position I tried to start a dialog on.

    Can we agree that the current state of public education is absymal, and that several decades of pouring money into it have not improved it in the slightest ?
    We do not have to agree on how to fix it.

    Can we agree that repeatedly taking the same actions and expecting different results is insane ?

    I find it hard to comprehend that anyone is still trying to sell almost any aspect of Keynes today. You do nto have to be libertarian, or conservative to grasp that Keynes has failed.
    Many economists grasped that during the 70’s when we got high inflation with high unemployment – impossible according to Keynesian economic models. Today Keynesian stimulus – despite never once having worked is defended because we just have not done it right. Alright acccepting for the sake of argument that in theory there might be some theoretical way to do exactly the right amount on exactly the right scale, at the very least that type of precision is not even close to possible in the political environment we will always live in. Besides Keynes never pretended it had to be done precisely – digging holes and filling them in was enough. It was that spending occured not what it was for that matters.
    Once you accept that it is actually important what and how you spend stimulus – you are two thirds or the way to austrian economics.

    I do not understand your antagonism toward “attacking”. My views are “attacked”. I expect that. I would prefer less name calling and ad homimen, but if what I argue does not stand up, then you should not listen. But the converse is equally true. I think liberal ideology is so week – it is rife with internal contradictions, that it is easy to attack on numerous fronts. If this religion that we should be managed and governed by some elite is so sound, then it should withstand attack.

    I do not beleive I have ever attacked moderate ideology. I have been begging for moderates to express one. It is hard to attack something that has no form or substance.
    I have “attacked” some here when they have framed moderate, essentially as milquetoast liberalism. I will be happy to “attack” liberalism, soft or hard.
    I have also attacked that formulation of moderate because – if moderate means middle or centrist, then current polling on what is the current middle of the political consensus – is far closer to libertarian than anything expressed on “the New Moderate”.
    I am not claiming that the political consensus is correct – if anything I beleive that is more the claim of the moderates here – while at the same time owning views that do not align with that consensus.

    I do not beleive that polarisation is inherently good. Nor is compromise or consensus.
    Whether I own the truth or not, many issues have right and wrong and shades of gray, and compromising on dark grey serves no one well.

    Finally, I am not trying to pretend to be moderate. I am trying to find common ground – or more often cede lots of ground just to provoke baby steps in what I beleive is the right direction. Nor do I beleive most of the people on this blog are truly moderates – in the sense of near the middle of the political spectrum, or political consensus on issues. Being to the right of Paul Krugman is not what I hope the new moderate would define as a moderate.

    At the same time – whatever a moderate is, today libertarians of various flavors are the closest thing to the actual political center. A plurality of people describe themselves as fiscally conservative and socially liberal – and that is the big tent definition of libertarian.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      September 22, 2011 9:54 am

      That definition of Libertarianism is a hoot! Its intellectually dishonest, and you know it. The ISO, a far, far left Communist organization sells a paper for $1 an issue on college campuses in which they claim that Marxists are simply people who hate racism and poverty. Your description of the Libertarian majority in no more honest than the ISO description of the Marxist majority.

      0.6% of the population voted for the Libertarian candidate for president, there is your libertarian “Majority.”

      Have fun in your fantasy world, you are a highly intelligent, highly educated person who has joined a cult and lost all perspective. Just a waste of talent.

  51. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 22, 2011 8:58 am

    Dhlii,

    You ask me what size of government is too large and complain that moderates are blind to this problem. Seems we are blind to the ills of government.

    My answer is that you are blind to:

    Environmental problems, (Nature isn’t fragile!)

    Income disparity problems, (the idea that that is some limit to the idea that income disparity is a benefit has escaped you, when 0.01% of the population has 99% of the wealth you will still be extolling the invisible hand).

    Predatory lending and business problems. 9only the government abuses power in your universe, power invested in rich people and corporations can only be beneficent.)

    Those international tendencies that lead the US to become the world cop. (Lets just dismantle our military and let the world do what it always has.)

    Its seems like a religious attack to you when I tell you that a climate scientist who has a priori decided that global warming cannot exist because God would not allow it is not a person any intelligent person would consult about AGW.

    You have only one problem in your universe, government. No wonder you are optimistic. Most of the rest of us have at least 15 major worries on our radar.

    We just live in Different universes, in yours my arch fiend Arnall with his ten acre home that he got by destroying the lives of literally tens of thousands of poor people is a Hero! The government needed to Get Off his Back and let him Really go to work creating wealth.

    Really, good luck in your universe but I don’t see how we have anything to discuss. That way I won’t lose it and start making ad hominum attacks again.

  52. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 22, 2011 9:40 am

    Now to Priscilla’s question about my moderate proposal to deal with our situation.

    If you are looking for a highly specific detailed plan, I will disappoint you for two reasons:

    A.) Some guy like me yakking on the internet would not affect the world even if I did come up with a detailed plan, congress would ignore my genius.

    B.) Sadly, I am not a genius and am not competent to solve here on TNM a fiendishly difficult problem whose solution has eluded our economists to date.

    But I can give you some moderate principles. Moderates don’t want a revolution. We don’t want that after every election the party that won starts to try to rule the world ignoring the fact that nearly as many people opposed them as supported them. I’ll start with an example you will likely sympathize with, Priscilla. Obama and the democrats may have been morally correct to go after our real health care situation. It may even be true that their Obamacare proposal has a lot in common with things the GOP side have proposed over the years. But, they should not have done it and it has been the destruction of their reign. It was the economy, it was jobs, that is why they were elected, that is what they should have done, not shoved a health care plan that was not the immediate issue and was political anathema to nearly half the country. We needed to pull together at that time and the health care bill blew that up.

    Conversely, the GOP, having won the house back in mid term elections, set out to have a revolution. In general the citizens of the US want congress to adjust and otherwise place on a sustainable basis SS, medicare, and entitlements but we did NOT ask the GOP to privatize them. We did NOT ask for a radical revision of the tax code that gives every body a tax rate cut at the moment when the US is badly in debt. Revising the tax code may have merit, just as dealing with health care has merit, but now, when we are tottering on the brink of calamity, is NOT the time to use the calamity as a justification for the free marketers ideological agenda, particularly when the numbers don’t add up and go in the wrong direction.

    What moderates want is for our politicians to put together a budget whose numbers don’t violate the equation A + B = C. National debt = revenues + expenses. No, you CANNOT have a tax cut now.

    I want congress to make an effort in the direction of cutting our expenses: wind down our discretionary wars as rapidly as possible, cut the pork out of the defense budget, without eviscerating it, develop the basis for a believable plan that puts entitlement programs on a sustainable basis, raise taxes on the middle class and the rich. Why the rich? Isn’t that just class warfare? If we raise taxes on the poor and middle class will it help? The rich have the lion’s share of the resources. they are the only group whose taxation actually yields substantial revenue. Please don’t tell me we are going to close “loopholes”and in that way more than make up for cutting the upper bracket rate. They will find new loopholes, they always have and they always will; that money from closing loopholes is pie in the sky but the revenue lost by cutting their rate is as solid as Minnesota ice in mid February.

    As a moderate I want the parties to put down their ideological agendas and find the things that bring the country together, the things that are not revolution but evolution.

    Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. Pretty Quaint, eh, in 2011. Corny as it may seem, if we can’t create that mindset we are in for a very rough time.

    • Ian Robertson permalink
      September 22, 2011 10:43 am

      Er, by national debt I meant this years contribution to it, i.e. the deficit.

    • September 22, 2011 6:16 pm

      Ian;

      The problems we are facing are not “fiendishly difficult” nor have the eluded economists.
      There is no shortage of proposed solutions – most of which will atleast partially work.

      The critical problem is there are no easy answers.

      We can not continue as we are – I think there is near universal agreement on that.
      We are approaching the limits of our ability to borrow. There may be disagreement on how much farther we can go, but I am not aware of anyone arguing that we are not approaching the limits.

      We must have some combination of economic growth, revenue increases, and spending control.

      There are many combinations that might work.

      While we are in agreement that we need robust economic growth, there is not agreement as to how to achieve that. Keynesian stimulus has failed, and almost no one is prepared to essentially bet the farm on another round. The remaining economic theory is not popular with politicians, liberals, or even conservatives until recently.

      There is no agreement on whether tax increases will cause more home than good. Few beleive that tax increases and economic growth are compatible.

      Cutting spending is politically extremely difficult – even for conservatives.
      Even the “ultra-conservative” republican house of representatives, can not put together a spending proposal that actually cuts spending as opposed to merely slowing the rate of increase.

      I do not think there is a politician or economist that is suggesting anything that is not some combination of the above.

      Solving our problems is not hard – it is painful. These are not the same.

      Our views right here matter. It is our intransigence that reinforces that of the politicians.

      What disappoints me most about “moderate” “proposals” is that this is not about starting a revolution. It is about getting our house in order.
      Conservatism is supposed to be the ideology resistant to change – yet it is the left that is most stubbornly refusing to face the reality that real change is necessary.

      The fight over taxes may have some legitimacy – but ultimately it is not possible to solve this solely with tax increases even using the most unrealistically rosy projections of their effect.

      Bite the bullet, grasp that painful decisions are going to need to be made, and express yourself as to what you beleive those ought to be.

      At the same time get a handle on the basics underlying numbers.

      If moderate principles applied to our current problems do not solve the problem – then claiming to be a moderate is putting your head in the sand.

      Atleast the actual liberals here have taken a stand.

      You are correct Obama was elected with a mandate to put our economic house in order FIRST. There was an implicit understanding in that mandate that Pres. Obama’s solutions would represent the liberal democratic values he campaigned on. While I disagree with much of what he has done – I do not agree that he ranged far from his mandate.
      The President’s argument for healthcare reform and many other signature issues was economic as well as social.

      The president did not ignore his mandate – he failed. He increased spending, stimulated the economy, imposed healthcare reform, continued and expanded corporate bailouts, expanded the role of the federal government in managing the economy – all things he promised to do if he could, and all things he assured us would make our nation better and stronger.

      The 2010 elections that placed the GOP in control of the house and left the Tea Party holding the GOP’s nose to the fiscal grindstone, reflects exactly the same mandate. A mandate to restore prosperity. The GOP campaigned on and was elected to solve the exact same problem, but they offered and are attempting to do so with completely different policies. Just as the president’s 2008 mandate included presumptions regarding his policies, so does the 2010 GOP mandate. The GOP mandate is far less revolutionary than the presidents.

      Both Healthcare, Social Security and taxes were legitimate issues for Pres. Obama to address and are legitimate issues for house republicans.
      Even the most cursory examination of the numbers will trivially demonstrate three things. If we do not restore significant economic growth quickly our problems become unmanageable fast. The President and the GOP have radically different approaches to economic growth. It is the GOP approach – that currently has the mandate. Your A= B+C formula is zero sum – but the economy is not zero sum.

      I agree with you on cutting expenses, winding down wars, and reducing defence.
      But only the first is actually part of the GOP mandate whether you or I like that or not.

      Both parties appear committed to simplifying taxes in a revenue neutral fashion. We have done this before and it has worked. It is also pro-growth. The problem with cutting rates and eliminating deductions, is that because of the nature of politicians it is temporary. Once completed the process of adding loopholes and increasing rates will start once again.

      As to your Kennedy quote – great rhetoric, but it is actually wrong. The role of our government is to enforce the rule of law, and to protect us from force. It is our obligation to provide government the resources necessary for those tasks – and no more. Beyond that we owe our government nothing – and it owes us nothing.
      We do for ourselves. We choose as individuals, and churches, and communities to do for our neighbours. We do not do for our country. We are our country.
      If we allow federal government to consuming 25% of everything we produce then we do have a right to expect a great deal from it.

    • September 22, 2011 6:36 pm

      Like it or not the Tea Party has made itself a voice that will be heard and a force that must be re conned with. I have repeatedly referred to them as a civil war in the Republican Party. Whether you label them ultra-conservative or whatever, they have done a fairly good job of asserting that fiscal issues come first – before social conservatism, before Neo-conservatism. There are social conservatives and neo-cons within the Tea Party and myriads of conservatives of various ilks that identify with the Tea Party. But fiscal conservatism is its raison d’etre and they have done a good job of sticking to that. The Tea Party does not represent the majority of americans. But it does wield enough power to drastically effect republican primaries. The ability and willingness to ensure that republicans will either elect a Tea Party candidate or they will lose in the general election results in significant power.
      Agree or disagree the power of the Tea Party is growing.

      There is a lesson there for moderates – for all of us. Actual political power is important. Conservative Christians exercised this power within the GOP in the past. The democratic party has similarly been subservient to liberals. If moderates wish their voice to be heard there are several things they must do:

      They must vote.
      They must be willing to vocally demonstrate that they will vote against candidates they do not like.
      They must be willing to deny the party they belong to election even if the opposing candidate is even worse, when they can not get their way.

      If moderates can be counted on by either party to vote for candidates they are unhappy with, – because the alternative is even worse, then they will always end up powerless.

    • September 22, 2011 8:44 pm

      Solving issues with Social Security is important, as well as incredibly difficult.

      One of the fundimental reasons for considering allowing individuals to move to a private system is as much stress as that would place on the existing system, it would be less, than what will happen otherwise.

      We have already had the name calling debate over whether Social Security is a Ponzi Scheme. Regardless, it uses a model of financing that would be illegal for any private pension. The flaws are deeper than just the demographics, but it is the demographic failure that is bringing the system to its knees.

      Rather than rant about how evil it would be to allow people to have any control over their own retirement savings, it is worthwhile to look at what has been done and how well it has worked.

      In 1980 Chile transitioned from a system much like ours to a private system. That transition has had problems. It is also somewhat different – from what the GOP is proposing.

      There are numerous reports on how successful that transition has been. While different measures place the chilean systems performance at somewhere between 50% better and 500% better than ours, the worst assessment has it superior for everyone.

      http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2011/09/social-security-lets-privatize-it.html

      Chile is not the US. Their transition is not complete even though it started 30 years ago.
      There are other significant differences.

      But it also did not result in catastrophe – even for its worst of beneficiaries.
      Everyone including the country – which now has a gargantuan level of private investment, benefited.

      Chile has the highest GDP/capita of any South American nation, is generally ranked in the top 50 world wide, with the US ranking about 10.

    • Priscilla permalink
      September 22, 2011 8:48 pm

      Ok, Ian…Responding to your outline of a moderate plan. Needless to say I disagree with a few things, but I agree with a lot. As you presumed, I think that the healthcare law was a travesty in every possible way for the president and for the country. He not only ignored his mandate to focus on jobs and the economy, he also ignored his mandate to be a post-partisan leader, and to run the most. transparent. administration. evah.

      It was also the healthcare law that gave birth to the tea party, because the law was passed so obviously in spite of the will of the people. Of course, tea party has become way more conservative in the 2 years since its beginnings, but, at its inception, it was a pretty broad-based movement to try and elect representatives that would respect, not ignore, the will of the people, when it came to important stuff like taxes and SS and healthcare.

      On taxes, you seem to have a selective memory that ignores a couple of basic facts. Republicans could pound their fists and stomp their feet, but they did not have the votes to extend the Bush tax cuts. It was Obama and the Democrats who chose to extend them, for obvious reasons: they were hoping not to get slaughtered in the 2010 elections. But they did get slaughtered, and the House Republicans were elected with a clear mandate to fix the economy and create jobs. So they came up with a REPUBLICAN plan to do so….which is not so much revolutionary as it is very fiscally conservative.

      There are a lot of people – both Democrats and Republicans – who think that this plan will not work, or needs major changes, or addresses our entitlement and tax issues in the wrong ways. You make an excellent point about loophole-closing being just a prelude to new loophole-enacting. It’s easy to talk about a flat tax solving our problems, but the reality is, it’s probably never gonna happen, so we need another way. But the Republican Plan is the only one that is out there right now. It’s been written, debated, and voted on. If liberals and moderates don’t like it, then they should pass their own freaking plan! A novel idea, huh, legislators legislating?

      “not revolution but evolution….” I don’t know, Ian. Sounds a bit conservative to me – I like it.

  53. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 22, 2011 11:49 am

    And about Goodwins law, since I can’t seem to shut up and just go play my drums this morning: it twas Dave who brought in Hitler, already a month or so back and he even tried to stick Hitler on the Left!

    From Wiki:

    There are many corollaries to Godwin’s law, some considered more canonical (by being adopted by Godwin himself)[3] than others.[1] For example, there is a tradition in many newsgroups and other Internet discussion forums that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.[7] This principle is itself frequently referred to as Godwin’s law. It is considered poor form to raise such a comparison arbitrarily with the motive of ending the thread. There is a widely recognized corollary that any such ulterior-motive invocation of Godwin’s law will be unsuccessful.

    Amen

    • September 22, 2011 4:03 pm

      Actually I beleive Rick brought in the Nazi’s in a different post and I pointed out that they were socialists. I would be perfectly happy to defend my argument that the Nazi’s are indisputably the face of white collar German Socialism or the post WWI era.

      Regardless, it is perfectly rational to expect that a discussion that addresses eugenics, central planning, totalitarianism, socialism, …. will at some point touch on communists and nazi’s.

      I beleive the normal application of Godwin’s law involves labeling, name calling and idiotic comparisions.

      The Nazi’s also have shock value far beyond the extent of their actual evil.

      Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge murdered 3.5M of the their own people – a far larger portion of the population that Hitler. Stalin is estimated to have executed 20-40M of his own people, and ran siberian death camps atleast as heinous as those of the Nazi’s. Mao is responsible for the execution of 40-80M of his own people. I beleive 850,000 Rwandan’s Tutsi 20% of the population were executed in 1994.

      All these are in one way or another more heinous than the Nazi’s.

  54. Priscilla permalink
    September 22, 2011 3:08 pm

    I didn’t raise the comparison, Ian. I simply noted that this thread has disintegrated to the point where the tradition should apply. I think I’ve mentioned before that I have done quite a lot of web site and forum moderation. I know when a thread is done. At least for me.

    In any case I’m looking forward to reading the ideas in your previous comment. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question….

  55. Anonymous permalink
    September 22, 2011 6:58 pm

    Priscilla,

    Godwin’s Law does not apply when one is addressing an actual Nazi, or fascist.

    All,

    Nice chatting with you, but seeing as dhlii has diarrhea of the mind, I’m going to tune out.

  56. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 22, 2011 9:51 pm

    Oh, but I’m very conservative for a moderate. I like things to change slowly. Its why I fought the Democrats in Vermont and why I fight the against conservatives at the federal level, I want change to come very deliberately.

    The dems won the House Senate and the POTUS before they went all hubris, the GOP just house.

    I still have this little dream that moderates can change the equation.

    And I think our back really is to the wall this time.

    • September 23, 2011 3:20 pm

      Democrats have increased baseline government spending by almost 25% in one year – $2.8T to 3.8T. While some of that is accounting changes – Pres. Bush had the cost of the wars ($300B) off books, there is still $700B in baseline spending increases between 2008 and 2009. I can not conceive of a way that is radical.

      House republicans are seeking to keep the growth of government spending below about 4%/year. That is not even conservative. Conservative would be returning to 2008 levels and then freezing them.

      With the exception of most of those items I would have supported him on, Pres. Obama has been exactly the president that he promised to be. It is not that he has failed to do what he promised, it is that what he promised has failed to correct our problems.

      I would be happy to see you alter the status quo. I might even support you if I you would tell me what you were for, rather than a set of things you are against that is self contradictory.

      We do have our backs against the wall, and the problem will only get worse until we solve it. The sooner we do something the less radical what we have to do will be, but we are well past painless solutions.

  57. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 23, 2011 11:06 am

    So, my reading this a.m. brings me the following gems from libertarian free market land:

    Dhlii: “As to your Kennedy quote – great rhetoric, but it is actually wrong. The role of our government is to enforce the rule of law, and to protect us from force. It is our obligation to provide government the resources necessary for those tasks – and no more. Beyond that we owe our government nothing – and it owes us nothing.”

    Me: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” That’s the quote. Find for me the word government in it. According to the free market religion the best possible thing a person can do is to be selfish, from that agreeable act all public benefits will spring. Kennedy contradicted that. So of course you announce “That’s wrong!”
    You are wrong! Retool, create dhlii.3, not liberal, not libertarian, not conservative, not oblivious.

    Dhlii: “The Nazi’s also have shock value far beyond the extent of their actual evil.”

    Me: Dhlii, there are some situations in this world that are not best handled by statistics. Your comment is appalling. You have ben listening to right wing radio and thinkers far too long. This one really illustrates how twisted your thinking and values are. The fact that the Nazis developed a scientific technology for use in exterminating millions of men, women and children of “lower races” makes their “actual evil” pretty much impossible to overstate. Go read the diary of Anne Frank. Take your mind off statistical analysis for a moment and find the human lesson on evil that you find there.

    You say some very smart things sometimes. But you ruin that with the unbelievable nonsense that makes up most of what you write. I’m not buying your $#@^& Grover Norquist free market religion, among other reasons because it seems to me to usually be promulgated by persons much like you who have so little sense of proportion and so little concern with problems that affect the actual human lives of about 40% of Americans. Believe me Dhlii, its not so that the vast majority of Americans have transcended need, that is an illusion you have based on looking around your own neighborhood. When a person cannot afford to take their sick child to the doctor, they are experiencing need, even if they do have food in the refrigerator and own a color TV.

    • September 23, 2011 12:58 pm

      Ian;
      What is it that you think Kennedy meant ? You can argue semantics, but I can not think of any reasonable meaning he might have for “what you can do for your country” that does not mean supporting the aims of or even working for government. Either he meant government or the entire phrase has no significant meaning at all.

      Self interest and selfish are not identical. If we did not pursue our own self interest, we would not produce at all. Smith’s remarks on the importance of self interest were an observation of how things have always worked – not a idealistic pronouncement about how they should. If succeed in destroying self interest as a motivation – we shall all starve. Self interest requires looking at the world to see what it needs and what it wants. Creating something there is no desire for benefits no one.
      The economic thesis that does not rest on a presumption of self interest – “to each according to his need, from each according to his ability” is Marxism – is that what you beleive Kennedy intended ? Is that what you beleive ? The other alternative is essentially socialism – all for the state, which is best exemplified by Nazi Germany as the USSR and PRC – though European social democracies manifest a more benign form.

      I do not listen to right-wing talk radio. I do not even listen to Fox. I have heard Rachel Maddow far more than Rush Limbaugh or Glenn-Beck. I am subject to enormously more left leaning pundocracy in everything I do. I suspect you have heard far more or Rush etc. than I have. I am only vaguely familiar with Grover Norquist.

      I have read the Diary of Anne Frank, as well as myriads of other tomes on the Holocaust. I very familiar with the evils of the Third Reich. I would suggest you are unfamiliar with the evils of other totalitarian regimes. Our lack of familiarity with the magnitude of evil in other regimes does not diminish it. Stalin and Mao were more efficient than Hitler. They rarely gassed or shot they victims – bullets cost money, and killing someone wears down the killer. It is easier and more beneficial to society to work people to death – though on occasion it is still necessary to kill a few hundred thousand here and their to reinforce the perception that you are serious.
      Regardless, if you were able to entirely eliminate the holocaust from the Nazi experience what you would have left is the German manifestation of white collar socialism.
      In Nazi Germany you were expected to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.

      You constantly presume I am some kind of conservative. Despite the fact that the right badly borrows some economic guidance from classical liberals, the common ground is small. Conservatives adopt classical liberal ideas as tools, not values or principles. Libertarians should be natural allies of progressives – but we disagree on issues of principle. The ends do not justify the means. Rights are natural and inalienable – we sacrifice our right to initiate force and only that right as to enter the social contract. There are no rights beyond those afforded by nature. These views actually underpin much of modern society – the foundations of the modern world are essentially libertarian. Any one of those assertions is incompatible with progressivism.

  58. Ian Robertson permalink
    September 23, 2011 1:33 pm

    Dhlii,

    I personally believe that it is in my self interest to be generous, not selfish. Many fine small businesses believe the same, good deeds come back to you.

    But that sure as heck is not the principle that very many big businesses, most especially those in banking and finance believe. The most appalling behavior can be justified in those fields, the distinction between self interest and selfishness are lost, they are one. Kennedy asked people to give, in your mindset that can only possibly mean government. But its far from the only possible meaning. There is way too much greed and out and out selfishness in this country and the I, me, me mine outlook is a direct cause of our financial problems.

    Your phrase about the Nazis was awfully stated, you don’t see that? I factored in the fact that you have made many eloquent appeals for freedom that I give you full credit for being sincere about and the only theory I could come up with was that immersing yourself in right wing cultural media has affected your thinking. If that is not the explanation, I don’t know how to explain your statement that “The Nazi’s also have shock value far beyond the extent of their actual evil.”

    Go to a synagogue somewhere, repeat those exact words you wrote and let them educate you about the implications, no, not even implications, what the clear meaning of your words is. You are inquisitive, do some sociology, go repeat exactly those words to people you know with different political orientations and see which groups will rationalize your words that clearly state that the shock values of the Nazis is worse than anything they actually did.

    Your blindness is astounding.

    • September 23, 2011 2:30 pm

      I do not understand the vehemence of your efforts to set the Nazi’s up as the sole and unparalleled manifestation of evil. The holocaust was undeniably evil. But it is pretty typical behaviour for a totalitarian state. If you beleive that the evil of the Nazi’s was somehow unique then you must be ignorant of myriads of examples of equal or greater evil in both the past and present.
      The Holocaust is a hinge point for judiasm – not because of the Nazi’s, but because jews as a people have decided that they are no longer sheep for the slaughter. The history of Judiasm is full of efforts to exterminate them. Even Stalin’s purges landed more heavily on jews.
      I would expect that a synagogue would not take the suggestion that the holocaust was not the pinacle of evil well – do you think a Tutsi group in Rwanda would appreciate having the extermination of almost 1Million of their people – mostly by mobs with machettes characterized as less evil than the holocaust ?

      The shock we have with respect to the Nazi’s is actually a demonstation of racism, or culturalism. What shocks us most is not what they did, but how little difference there is in race and culture between them and us. We can discount the evil that blacks, or arabs, or chinese do to themselves, even the Russians are sufficiently distanced from the rest of western european culture than we can pretend their acts do not reflect on us.
      Even with the Nazi’s we must pretend that it has something to do with germans, but that is not enough. Germans are western europeans, many of us have german heritage. What the Nazi’s did is more shocking because we can not escape the fact that a modern educated civilized western european nation engaged in genocide. We must make it shocking and unusual so that we can pretend we are not capable of it, that it can not happen here.

    • September 23, 2011 2:30 pm

      There are myriads of studies on business ethics. They challenge your belief in the immorality of business. Reputation is the cornerstone of business. The US has the highest rate of compliance with tax laws because Doctors, Lawyers, Small Businesses pay their taxes – not because the they might go to jail, but because would you trust a doctor who is a tax cheat ? The entirety of business is about making agreements and keeping them. If Trump, or Oprah, or Gates, or Buffet do not keep the commitments they make no one will do business with them.
      If you think your banker, broker, ….. is dishonest – get another.

      There are certainly some greedy and dishonest business people – just as their are politicians, labor leaders, …… Regardless, whether you are Trump, Oprah, Gates, Buffet, or the CEO of Citi, you reach those positions because you trade value for value and because those you trade with trust you to do so. Further the bigger and more interconnected the world becomes, the more important a reputation for integrity becomes. eBay thrives because they found a way to quantify trust-worthyness for otherwise anonymous trades. Why buy online, if you know WalMart or Costco will take back defective merchandise ? eBay would not be much of a success without its reputation system – which is nothing more than a way of measuring integrity. We buy brand names over products we have never heard of because of their reputation.
      The currency of business is integrity.

    • September 23, 2011 3:10 pm

      If greed was the cause of the current mess, then why didn’t we have this problem sooner ?
      If anything the eighties are generally recognised as more representative of the me, mine greed uber alles value system than today.

      The cause of the financial crisis was the housing crisis. Many of the supposedly greedy financial institutions that purportedly caused this had absolutely nothing to do with housing and little to do with mortgages. AIG was essentially in the business of insuring other peoples risk. It is arguable that if Spitzer had not forced Greenberg out of AIG there would have been someone capable of grasping the risk AIG was taking.
      Regardless, if the underlying drive is greed – absent foreknowledge that the government will bail you out if things go wrong, how does taking risks without sufficient rewards make sense – even to the greediest wall street business person.
      The meme that the greed of the banks caused this is self contradictory.

      The root causes of this and all the most disasterous economic bubbles are “easy credit”. Whether you want to demonize the CRA, the FED, or Fannie and Freddie – or more realistically all of the above. Loans were written with interest rates insufficient to cover the risk. The banks for the most part were wise enough not to hold the loans themselves – something they have done for most of our history. Unfortunately particularly the largest banks were insufficiently smart to grasp that spreading the risk – by securitising the mortgages, does not reduce the total risk, but enables the system to absorb more total risk. The FED poured gasoline on the fire by holding interest rates down – which is exactly the same as mis-pricing credit.
      Government aggravated the problem further with rules that allowed securities to be used to meet capitalisation requirements, and then changing the rules so that securities used for capitolisation had to be valued volatilely.
      Few forsaw the impending disaster because we all wanted this to work. We wanted greater home ownership – particularly for the working class.
      Even at the peak of the crisis, virtually all banks involved were still profitable, had they been able to hold and price MBS’s at the value they were willing to sell them for, they also would have been solvent. The financial crisis was triggered when Merril Lynch attempted to sell some of its MBS’s and the best offer it received was 25cents on the dollar. At that moment every bank was required to devalue their holdings of MBS’s by 75%.
      If I had the money and the means to do so, I would have been ecstatic to buy as many MBS’s as I could afford at 25cents/dollar. The default rate on mortgages only barely exceeded 10%. For Mortgage Backed Securities to reach areal value of .25/1.00 seventy five percent of all mortgages would have had to have defaulted AND the homes would have had to all be plowed into the ground. TARP I failed because the banks were unwilling to sell their mortgage backed securities to the federal government. While they were not sufficiently wise to grasp that the market price of an MBS could suddenly plummet to .25/1.00 they were sufficiently knowledgeable to grasp that at worst they were worth .95/1.00 – that is a 10% default rate with the foreclosed property sold at half price.

      None of this is some big secret. Rather than banks forcing bad loans on working class people, they were being picketed and excoriated if they refused to make those loans. Andrew Cuomo at HUD celebrated numerous huge settlements with mortgage companies – getting them to agree to expand their offerings to less qualified borrowers.
      Banks and mortgage companies did precisely what government required of them. Once they grasped that they could sell the badly priced mortgages to the GSE’s they did so willingly – possibly even gleefully.

      The root causes of this (as all other economic crisis) lie with government not business. Few bankers will write a loan they do not expect to be repaid, unless they can sell it to someone else. We were playing a game of old maids, and each year we added more and more old maids to the deck. Disaster was inevitable.

  59. September 23, 2011 1:47 pm

    Ian has raised another issue that has danced in my head for sometime.

    The left claims sole concern for the least well off. Ignoring the fact that progressive policies have demonstrably mode circumstances worse for those they were intended to benefit, I would ask if this is really true.

    Is this concern and purported knowledge of the needs of the less well off based in personal experience or is it theoretical ?

    I do not mean to threaten anyone or challenge anyone else’s charity.

    But I do think it is reasonable to ask if you want to force the rest of us to implement your policies for the least well off, that you have personal knowledge of the problems you want us to fix.

    I have been poor myself – statistically atleast, though I did not know it at the time, and as I had reason to beleive my future would be better – which it was. I am not sure that counts.
    I lived for more than 6 years in a neighbourhood that is still poor. Where drugs were openly sold out of atleast two homes on my block. My neighbours were old white people, idealistic young white couples like myself, as well as black and Hispanic families. I had and still have friends who lived in even worse areas.
    My family funds and operates a “soup kitchen” several times a year. We have sponsored immigrant families. We have taught English to people who spoke none. We have helped them get jobs and apartments and medical care.
    I own (mostly the bank owns) a 4 unit apartment building in the city. My tenants are all minorities, and almost all working poor. I provide them a place to live, and I profit (not very much) from it. I have a friendly relationship with most of my tenants. When I can I help them work through their problems. I do so because I care about them – I also do so, because helping them solve their problems increases the odds they will be able to pay their rent – that is called “Self-interest”, not “selfish”.

    All this is independent of contributions to charity, or church or ….
    I have made clear that I beleive that government efforts to help the poor do more harm than good. The record of many churches and charities is little better.
    My church sits on the left of the political spectrum. It reaches out to people who are different. But it is primarily white. Sexual orientation being the only significant minority represented.
    The membership is mostly fairly well off professionals, yet it is a fight to get members to pay the costs of the building, staff and ministers, much less anything that benefits anyone else. More money and effort is put into fighting Fracking than helping anyone in need.

    Ian is right that my personal knowledge is limited to what I can learn through research and personal experience – and my personal experience is limited. But I have not met all that many people with more personal experience, and I think it is reasonable to ask that before someone demands the rest of us implement their solution for the poor, that they establish that they have some understanding of the real problems and conditions of the poor.

  60. September 23, 2011 3:27 pm

    “Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. The landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the whole. Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their law; and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government. In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government.”

    Thomas Paine – “The Rights of Man”

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