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Is it "class war" to reset tax levels to the levels of the prosperous 1990s? Instead of the classic human social pattern – pyramid-shaped -- ours has been diamond-shaped, the"flattest" society ever. And never before has there been such fecund,vigorous entrepreneurialism…What can we learn comparing 1789 America and 1789 France? How did Adam Smith and the American founders begin a long series of "positive sum" tweaks to keep our social order both flat and vibrantly competitive and market productive... and why are we in danger of ending that clever tradition?
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88 comments
 
Great post David. You add a level of class to an otherwise depressingly shallow discourse.

Although I lean toward the smaller government side of life - I think it's madness to have massive government expenditure (on things like wars etc) without commensurate rises in taxes on the elite classes. And if you're going to raise taxes - dear lord, raise it on your rich people first.

It's not going to make them unhappier. Increases in income above 200k a year have been shown not to increase happiness significantly (up until you hit the 100 million mark - for some reason that level of income produces a huge spike in happiness). So tax them already.

Full blooded libertarians are a little nuts... but I do think they often get a short shrift. Sure - they might not want to raise taxes on the rich. But the honest ones want to cut ridiculous war expenditure and the like. I have no idea if this is right... but it's certainly less mad than the current paradigm of spend big and keep rich taxes low.

It's just odd that the most insane policy happens to be the default - and alternatives like libertarian are classed as the fringe view - when they are clearly more sane than what is going on right now - even if they are not as good as what the left is proposing.
 
The French tried to command equality at the point of the guillotine. The Americans left people alone. Americans never valued equality all that much. And wisely so. It is, after all, an unattainable ideal.
 
On the part of the depressingly shallow but true, things would be better if a bunch of greedy dumbasses were not running the show. If I could, I'd put you folks in charge and then take a nap.
 
A highly informative and thought-provoking piece, thank you very much. If only we had a way to penetrate the willful ignorance of the very people who this message needs to reach.
 
Apparently, it is only class warfare if you are pushing back to regain the generally wholesome economic egalitarianism we once possessed.
 
Mainly very thoughtful. It would be useful to have either removed or defended "...And since every single prediction ever made by Supply Side Economics proved wrong..." I remember writing an essay right around 1980 railing against FDR as a worshipper of equality over liberty. I value this alternate perspective. Were I to consider the institution I was actually frustrated with at the time (public education), I think I would say that conservatives love to parade their ideal of American exceptionalism and liberals love to proclaim the advantages of equal access, but not a one of them is at work providing access to exceptional education. Perhaps that's because I'm enduring California public education as my daughter is reading Shakespeare at home while being "taught" how to spell "antelope" and "thesis" at school, but my recollection of high school bears some resemblance. That does not strictly fit with your triangle vs diamond analogy, but I think a triangular society isn't the worst situation to be in as long as it isn't static. I'm not confident that a dynamic triangular society is stable, though. :shrug: Sorry, poor random thoughts in comparison to your well organized ones. Consider it as indication that you've done a good job in making my think :)
 
I would be interested to see how our tax system worked if we were given a flat tax amount to pay by the government, but were allowed individually, to decide exactly which programs our own money went into, and given the ability to NOT support programs we dislike, or are morally opposed to - That would TRULY be a government BY the people... :-)
 
+David Navas Triangular isn't the worst... if you're not at the bottom. If you are, it mostly is static.
 
I love these little get-togethers where everyone sits around talking about how much of other people's money they're entitled to take for themselves.
 
Several responses:

Sally, you reduced my complex and nuanced appraisal of history to a sound bite that ignores every core point that I raised. I might have preferred that you actually read it, pondered the SEVERAL ways that the American enlightenment was better (not just the one that matched your prejudices), and appreciated our 200 year balancing act...

...or at least admitted that 6000 years of oligarchic oppression was a problem meriting thoughtful answers.

David, there is no question that FDR solutions, left in place, as-is, would fester and turn cancerous, as did the "reform" ICC and CAB. Likewise, US public education was a wonder of the world that fostered equality and competitiveness... but then festered. The heroic teachers' unions calcified into their wretched state as defenders of mediocrity.

But today's left-right "dialogue" is no help.

Patrick, the flat tax is funded by the same people who brought us insane Supply Side. But you have a point about the potential in letting people "assign" part of their tax. Here's how I'd do it.

If you pay a dollar EXTRA tax, you get to say where THREE dollars of your overall tax goes. Pay an extra 25% and ALL of your money goes to that department or whatever... AFTER Congress has allocated, so it really is extra.
 
BTW... I send $100 every year to the BUREAU OF PUBLIC DEBT in Parkersburg WV to help pay down the debt, beyond my taxes. Done it since 1979. A gesture.
WHAT I WANT is to see a "debt clock" set up in NYC next to the current National Debt Clock (that ran briefly backward under Clinton.) This second clock would show what our debt would be if the Federal govt got ROYALTIES on the science and inventions we the people financed and gave away to industry for free.

Bets whether it would be spinning backward? Communications satellites, Weather sats? Lasers and CDs and DVDs and the $%$##! INTERNET? And yet, dig this. Scientists are the enemy.
 
+Jürgen Erhard No, taxes are fine. It's the spending that's the problem. Out of control spending inevitably leads to out of control taxation.
 
Actually the rich have been doing a pretty good job of taking all the money, which is the problem. If they would pay employees well and actually invest their money, it wouldn't be a problem. But when you sit on big piles of money, it just stinks. "Money is like manure -- no good unless it is spread around encouraging young things to grow". We've lost the point of money. It's not for score keeping, it's a medium of exchange. And if the rich aren't exchanging their money for goods and services and to pay their workers, they need to be taxed so that money CAN be used to productive means. That's the point of taxation. It's not theft or redistribution, it's to be able to encourage economic growth. The nationalists should be screaming for higher taxes on the wealthy, not calling for all this free market crap.

We will lose all our competitive advantage if we do not educate our youth well and take better care of EVERYONE. This is a national emergency, not an issue of some people taking other people's money.

Learn some economics, people, and not just the Austrian kind.
 
Education reform really is key, I agree. There must be sweeping changes, and whatever new "system" is put in place should be geared around what we know about child development, cognition, memory, etc. ...
 
There was very little "balancing" [social engineering] done until the 20th century. And yes there were rich people and poor people way back then, even during Colonial days, in America. We were never equal in intelligence, talent, energy, or wealth...and never will be.

"Balancing" groups doesn't work either, because individual inequalities swamp group inequalities. And the sheer numbers of very different INDIVIDUALS swamp any proposed system to manage their lives from the center. TMI. Don't believe me? Go ask Hayek.
 
Bah, I give up on persuading Sally to actually read the actual article that this discussion is actually based upon.
 
David, do you have any objection to folks sharing these posts as broadly as possible? Because I think that this (and previous posts that I didn't get to,) should be disseminated as widely as possible. People ought to be thinking about this stuff instead of just swallowing the pre-digested soundbites that we're fed.
 
+Jacob Cooper I think you have it exactly backward. Not collecting sufficient tax is our problem. It's much easier for us to spend when you leave it to future taxpayers to foot the bill. I think our system would be much more rational and spending decisions more carefully taken if it were as easy and common to suggest tax increases along with the spending that necessitates them.
 
+Brian Panico Wow. It's been awhile since I've read something that actually made my jaw hit the floor. You're actually suggesting that it should be easier for the government to take our wealth from us so that they can better spend it.

The class warfare should not be between those who are wealthy and those who are not. It should be between those who hold power and those who do not. Those in power can confiscate your wealth, by force, and even imprison you if you do not cooperate.
 
Please go ahead and share this if you like.
 
Take a look at the cbo graph webbed at:

http://www.cbo.gov/publications/collections/tax/2010/graphics.cfm

which shows average federal tax rate by quintile.

You will see that the average federal tax rate (as they estimate it) paid by the top quintile of the income distribution is about the same now as in 1990. The rate paid by the lowest quintile, on the other hand, is a bit more than half what it was then.

Are you proposing to reset all tax levels to the levels of the 1990's, or only the upper end?

If the latter, is "class war" so far off?
 
Quintiles are utterly utterly misleading. 90% of the people in the topmost quintile still earn most of their income from wages, not dividends or capital gains. Try the top 5% and 1% and 0.1% and include shelters overseas (estimated.) This is exactly the kind of razzle dazzle switcheroo you should be wary of and have spotted for yourself.
 
Regrettably, we dont have all the gnomes in one convenient, nukable location.
;)
 
Hi, David.

Another thought provoking and challenging piece. Thankyou. I dearly hope we can stop being hypnotized by the rhetoric.

I completely love the idea in your comment above of paying EXTRA tax giving them the right to specify where their tax goes (at a 1:3 ratio). I'm told that wealthy Americans can be great philanthropists. Surely leveredging their charity through the tax system in this way would be quite attractive.

And the idea of government getting royalties for the fruits of their research dollars had me in stitches (laughing). Fantastic!

So thankyou, thankyou, thankyou for injecting some THOUGHT into the public discourse. 
 
yeah, and I bet the tax law would change overnight. The NRA educational branch is a non-profit charity, just like a church. Pledge your money to them, and charities would be redefined by whiny liberals in a heart beat. Or reverse the position, and have some lib give the money to PETA. then it would be whiny conservatives.
Delish either way, to see some oxen gored.
 
Now David, you may be right about this particular issue of taxes, or not, but, you are smart enough to know that the tax levels set by Reagan had more to do with the prosperity of the Clinto years than Clinton's. Just as the dearth the Bush administration faced, and made worse, was initiated not by his policies, but by Clinton's.
 
How about we also get the approximately 50% of the US population who pay no taxes (they are called "freeloaders") to be paying some taxes to transform them into stakeholders?
 
+Marc Clarke , no taxes? I think you've the forgotten the amounts that your magical 50% of "freeloaders" pay in sales taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, federal payroll taxes and even local and state taxes on sales,income and property. The "they don't pay" meme is at best disingenuous.
 
"Quintiles are utterly utterly misleading. 90% of the people in the topmost quintile still earn most of their income from wages, not dividends or capital gains. Try the top 5% and 1% and 0.1% and include shelters overseas (estimated.) This is exactly the kind of razzle dazzle switcheroo you should be wary of and have spotted for yourself." (David B.)

I don't think I'm the one offering razzle-dazzle--and I note that while you ask me to look up data, you don't actually offer any.

As you could easily have discovered if you looked up the numbers yourself, the CBO figures for 2007 show the top 1% paying an effective federal tax rate of 29.5%. The figure for 1990 is 28.8%.

The bottom quintile, on the other hand, paid an effective rate of 8.9% in 1990. In 2007, it was 4.0%.

So you have your facts backwards, at least so far as I can tell from the CBO figures--if you have something better, feel free to offer it. The effective rate on the bottom quintile has been cut in half since 1990, on the top 1% it has increased a little. I have no idea, and you don't say, what your source is for "shelters overseas (estimated)," but I suspect it's bluff--do you have figures showing that the top 1% is sheltering much more of its income now than in the 1990's? That's what your argument requires.

Let me repeat my question, since you didn't answer it the first time. You suggest rolling back tax levels to what they were in the 1990's. Does that mean that you want to double taxes on low income taxpayers, to get them back to where they were then? That's the big change, after all.

My figures are only up to 2007, since that's all I could readily find from the CBO; my guess is that the 2010 figures, if I could find them, would show a lower tax rate than in 2007 for all groups, since the current Administration has financed its budget largely with borrowing. But the big change from 1990 would still be the sharp drop in the effective tax rates paid by the lower part of the income distribution. For some reason neither you nor Obama seems to have noticed that--or at least let it interfere with your rhetoric.
 
Robert S. writes:
"Apparently, it is only class warfare if you are pushing back to regain the generally wholesome economic egalitarianism we once possessed."

The Congressional Budget Office produces figures showing who pays how much federal tax by income distribution, and estimating the overall incidence of the federal tax system on various parts of the income distribution. You can find them by googling for [CBO quintile federal tax] and then following the links. If you do so, you will discover that the effective incidence of federal taxes was considerably more graduated--more weighted to richer people paying more taxes--in 2007 than it was in 1990. I haven't found CBO figures later than 2007, which is why I use that year.

You want to push back to the economic egalitarianism we once possessed. I put the same question to you that I put to David Brin--does that mean you want to raise taxes on low income tax payers? If not, what is the date at which you think the tax system was more egalitarian, and where are the numbers to support that belief?

The CBO table I'm looking at shows figures back to 1979. As it happens, that's the year with the highest effective tax rate on the top 1% of the income distribution over the period, and it is indeed higher than the rate in 2007--37% vs 29.5%. But the rate on the bottom quintile was 8% then, 4% in 2007. You want a return to past egalitarianism--does that mean adjusting the system so that the ratio of the average tax rate of the bottom quintile to that of the top 1% is what it was at some past date? I'll leave the arithmetic to you--but I don't think you will like the result.
 
Cathy writes: "and whatever new "system" is put in place should be geared around what we know about child development, cognition, memory, etc."

Let me disagree. That's like saying that the Soviet Union needed to reform the automobile industry, and whatever new system was put in place must be geared around what we know about auto engineering.

If my point isn't clear, the way to improve the schooling system isn't to have the same institutions but have them "do it right"--current outcomes are not an accident, they are a predictable result of the way schooling is produced in the U.S., just as the inefficiency of Soviet industry and agriculture were predictable results of how they ran things. The way to reform schooling is to change the institutions in a way that makes it in the interest of the people deciding how each school is being run to do it right--not to have someone at the top figure out what "right" is and then order everyone below him to do it, which is how I (perhaps mistakenly) interpret your comment.

In my view, that means a voucher system, since I believe that parents, on average, are better informed about what's happening to their own kids, and more interested in the welfare of their own kids, than voters, on average, are informed about and concerned about other people's kids. So a system where parents get to send their kids to whatever school they think does the best job for them, and the money goes with the kids, and anyone who thinks he has a better idea for how to educate kids is free to offer it on the same terms, will give the people running schools more nearly the right incentives then the present system of government run and controlled schooling. Run a school that no parent wants to send his kids to, and you have no pupils and no money.

Alternatively, one could argue that the problem is the vast increase in the size of school districts over the past seventy years, making it harder for citizen/parents to influence the schools their kids go to, and the solution to break districts up. Or one could argue that the solution is a voucher system within public schooling, which has some but not all of the virtues of a full voucher system. My point is not the particular solution I favor, it's that "we have to change things by doing X right" isn't a helpful response unless you can figure out why we are currently doing X wrong.
 
Social safety nets are essential because the system is not perfect.

+David Brin has been describing a recipe for a better system. With a "diamond shape" rather than a "pyramid" society, high quality public education, universal healthcare and good infrastructure ALL CULMINATING to maximise the EFFICIENCY of the "decision making nodes" (distributed computing model) in your FREE MARKET ECONOMY.

A system as Brin describes needs very little in the way of a safety net. But you don't achieve it by starting out with a dysfunctional system and removing or reducing the safety net. Just like you don't teach a child good character by belting them.
 
+Christopher Erickson Right you are. Thank you for the correction. I should have said, "Let us also transform the approximately 50% of the US population who pay no Federal Income Tax from freeloaders into stakeholders by having them also pay Federal Income Tax."
 
If you want more active stakeholders, I heartily recommend encouraging universal voting. Whether this is achieved through compulsory voting (like in Australia) or just removing some of the barriers to enrolling to vote, any step in this direction would help greatly.

Plenty of US citizens don't think they even need to have a coherent opinion about politics. If they think they don't understand the situation properly, its easy enough to not vote.
 
+David Brin Happy to see your comment that focused on public debt. No, It's not class warfare to raise taxes to 1990 levels, but I understand the desire to resist a tax increase that isn't coupled with a commitment to spend the money more wisely.

Perhaps we should not only look at what FDR did to reduce monopoly and increase competitiveness, but also at what he chose not to do, not to allow, and not spend money on.

Consider, for example, the difference between the basic food safety put into place in this country in the 1930's, and the current mission of the FDA.
 
Kids and I are studying the 18th century this year. This is the missing lego block between our primary source documents and the stuff we hear on NPR every day. Thanks.
 
VAR REPLIES: Paula, I meant if you add X$ to your taxes you get to say which govt department gets 3X$. Like defense or NASA. I did not mean PETA. * Guy, you insist on an EIGHT YEAR lag time for economic effects? Feh! You guys are really desperate. Sorry, doesn't work. Supply siders promised erasure of deficits WITHIN A YEAR of the big tax cuts. Those erasures did not happen. Instead tons of red ink.

Clinton's boom wasn't just his management. Science and technology had a bigger role -- e.g. the Internet. But those outputs of sci-tech are also now part of culture war, with the right now fully vested in declaring scientists and all intellectual castes the enemy. (If you deny this, what bunker do you live in?)

DIg it, I want an "alternative deficit clock" set up next to the one in New York (that ran backward under Clinton.) This alternative clock would show what the debt WOULD BE if the federal govt got royalties off all the taxpayer-funded science and research that the govt gave to business (socialism!) for absolutely free. From communications and weather satellites to lasers to the Internet. EVEN after subtracting the jugular losses from two horrid land wars of insurgency-attrition and "nation building" in Asia, plus carotid arterial gushers into the open maws of the top 1%... wanna bet we wouldn't be showing a profit, even so?
 
*Marc, here I swivel around and offend my liberal friends. I think every single American, even living in a cardboard box, ought to be expected to scrape together a $100 to be a taxpayer.

*David, the cooked number of 29% effective tax rate for the top 1% is an outright fib. Moreover, you personally know it to be a fib. And it is exposed by Business week in the link given by Kent, just above. http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_16/b4224045265660.htm?chan=magazine+channel_11_16+-+how+to+pay+no+taxes_11_16+-+how+to+pay+no+taxes

It isn't even remotely POSSIBLE for it to be true, since at the top 1% income shifts from wages to almost entirely dividends and capital gains which, even before all deductions and tax dodges, are taxed only an embarrassing 15% (sending Adam Smith spinning in his grave.) The people cooking these stats have overplayed their hand, offering us an image that is Avatar level animated sci fi.

Answering your question: No I would not take more money out of the pockets of the lower castes today. My reasons are not just compassionate. During a depression, you want money to move at High Velocity, not low velocity. Even Carnegie and Henry Ford and other Plutocrats knew this. Supply Side- if it ever worked (and it never ever ever did) - would not work in a depression.

Now I will surprise the liberals by saying that during high INFLATION, clearly the pain doled out by Volcker DID have a track record of working. (It may have been Austrian but it was not loony Supply Side). The poor and middle were hurt temporarily by removal of high velocity money and letting the corporations and rich convert it into low velocity was callous and cynical... but it worked. And thus I prove that I am no kneejerk leftist. I EAGERLY look for examples where I can learn from my opponents.

But having conceded that, let me add that the religious fanatics who claim that Supply Side ever worked are NOT willing to concede points, not even to facts. And in fact, the rich do not take tax largesse and spend it on direct capital formation. (The core premise of "supply side".) They hoard it and use it to collect what Smith derided as the lowest and least useful type of income "rents". Also the lowest velocity.
 
Interesting. I see no reason why the government couldn't take out patents on basic research and sell licensing. The taxpayer source of funds may be a sticking point - perhaps revenue could be redistributed via tax rebates.
 
Andy be careful. The legitimate conservative observation that many citizens don't pay taxes can be addressed in numerous ways other than the sophomoric reflex to roll back the reforms that expanded democracy and ended old injustices. AS FOR DAVID FRIEDMAN'S question of whether I would restore ALL 1990s tax rates, including those that were then higher for the poor...

...let me respond with a "meta" observation. Note the lead in paragraph of my essay, which is obviously what he was responding to:

"One aspect of our re-ignited American Civil War is getting a lot of air-play. It is so-called “class war.”That's the tag-line ordered up by Roger Ailes. The notion: that any talk of returning to 1990s tax rates - way back when the U.S. was healthy. wealthy, vibrantly entrepreneurial and world-competitive, generating millionaires at the fastest pace in human history - is somehow akin to Robespierre chopping heads in the French Revolution's reign of terror...."

Note what conservatives do these days. They evade the core issue on the table in order to find some point of minutia to quibble with. They must do this, since looking at the Big Picture is devastating and would force them to conclude that the storied and noble movement of Goldwater and Buckley has been hijacked by morons and monsters.

Big Picture items such as their failure to answer my relentless challenge, to name ONE unambiguous statistical metric of national health that improved as a result of neocon rule. In fact, nearly all such metrics plummeted. This is the realm of top-level, unambiguously discrediting facts. And it is no wonder that the new habit (which Buckley would have derided caustically) is to quibble and quibble endlessly, to avoid dealing at that level.

Seriously, Arizona could draw half its electricity off coils placed around Barry Goldwater's grave.
 
"my relentless challenge, to name ONE unambiguous statistical metric of national health that improved as a result of neocon rule."
How does one peg improvements to neocon (or any) rule? Occurring during certain time periods under different administrations?
 
David B. writes:

"AS FOR DAVID FRIEDMAN'S question of whether I would restore ALL 1990s tax rates, including those that were then higher for the poor...

...let me respond with a "meta" observation. Note ..."

I note that you have still not responded to the substance of the argument I have now made twice, and twice supported with data. Your posts imply that the big change from the 1990's to now is a shift of tax burden away from the rich, hence that increasing taxes on the rich would get us back to the tax structure we had then. The truth, so far as I can tell from CBO data, is the precise opposite. The big change is a shift of tax burden away from the lower half of the income distribution.

When you discover that you made an argument based on a false factual belief, the appropriate thing is not to keep trying to change the subject, or to substitute bluff for data (where are the data on increased use of tax shelters that your first response to me implied you had?) but to recognize your mistake and see how doing so changes your conclusion. You seem unwilling to do that.

Alternatively, if mistakenly charged with making an argument based on a false factual belief, the appropriate thing to do is to support your claims. You seem unwilling to do that too. Instead you respond with handwaving, changing the subject, implying factual evidence that you don't have ... . I'm not interested in arguing for or against the benefits of neocon policy, I'm interested in getting you to face the fact that you are accepting as true political rhetoric that is flatly false, and basing your argument on it. Arguments aren't all about what side you are on--some of them are about what's true.

Incidentally, I summarized the exchange prior to your most recent response on my blog--feel free to defend yourself there if you wish.
 
"The notion: that any talk of returning to 1990s tax rates - way back when the U.S. was healthy. wealthy, vibrantly entrepreneurial and world-competitive, generating millionaires at the fastest pace in human history - is somehow akin to Robespierre chopping heads in the French Revolution's reign of terror...."

Note what conservatives do these days. They evade the core issue on the table in order to find some point of minutia to quibble with."

To begin with, I'm not a conservative--considerably less of one than you are. Beyond that, you talk about "returning to 1990's tax rates," and then treat evidence that doing that would require precisely the opposite of the change you are arguing for as quibbling about a point of minutia.

How about you actually deal with the argument, instead of finding new ways of evading it? Is the current tax system more favorable to high income taxpayers relative to low income ones than the tax system of twenty years ago, or not? That's what you implied, and every time I point out that it isn't true you find some new way of dodging.
 
Oh but David you keep doing precisely what I describe, and claim that it is cogent! But it is not. In fact I agree that taxes for everybody are lower now than they were in the 1990s. Rich and poor. We are less-taxed than at any point in 80 years... at the very point in time when half the country is being whipped into a froth of fact-free rage over tea-party tax resentment, serving what interest?

So? If I concede the point and rephrase my statement to "1990s tax rates for the rich" it does not change my arguments or historical assertions a scintilla. You remain focused solely on minutiae quibbles over gotcha phrases in my paragraph, without once stepping back to consider what the paragraph was ABOUT!

WHo was pushing for the massive decrease in taxes? Not the poor, they don't have that focus or power. And not the Middle Classes, who, under Clinton, repeatedly wanted the surplus spent on paying down debt and NOT given away in Supply side voodoo gambles. It was the party of aristocracy that insisted on massive cuts... at the exact same moment they saddled us with an unfunded prescription benefit that is far more costly than obamacare... plus two vast insane plunges into endless war and "nation building" in unfertile ground in Asia.

Put this in the context of 6000 years of history (which you never do) and you can see why the oligarchs running Fox have chosen to target all the smartypants classes, from scientists to economists to journalists to professors to teachers....

Sorry. FInishing a novel. All I have time for. But discussions continue under "comments" at http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/
 
"WHo was pushing for the massive decrease in taxes? Not the poor, they don't have that focus or power. And not the Middle Classes, who, under Clinton, repeatedly wanted the surplus spent on paying down debt and NOT given away in Supply side voodoo gambles. It was the party of aristocracy that insisted on massive cuts... "

So true.
 
I just came across a fairly detailed analysis of how the progressivity of the federal tax system has changed over time; the conclusion is that every major change in the code for the past fifteen years made the overall tax system more progressive.

http://www.ncpa.org/pdfs/ba606.pdf
 
Simply stunning. You guys are able to wave about "studies" and let the incantations distract you from the blatant re-pyramidalization of America. You - David - have been arm-waving and yet never once addressed any of the major historical issues raised here... e.g. the fantastic balancing act performed by 200 years of American leaders, keeping our social structure flat while at the same time vigorously Smithian.

The re-pyramidalization has accompanied us having the LOWEST TAXES IN 80 years. You even seem to implicitly say that tax rates SHOULD be progressive.

Of course they aren't. Look closely. Most of these right wing "studies" incorporate corporate taxes INTO the recipient's claim of taxes paid, under the bizarre incantation that this envelopes what the call "double taxation." Unbelievable.

Dig this. When 90% of your income is from dividends and capital gains, that 90% CAN ONLY BE TAXED AT 15%. Period. I am so outta here.
 
+David Brin Most of what you say about the dangers of pyramid-shaped societies cannot be denied. Your argument rests on the assumption that the distribution of wealth in the U.S. has changed significantly during the past 65 years (ww2 until today). I'm wondering about the actual extent of that change. Do you know of reliable data that quantify wealth distribution in the U.S. over this period? Thanks.
 
David B. writes:

“In fact I agree that taxes for everybody are lower now than they were in the 1990s.”

Because current spending is financed by borrowing. Which, absent a default, will eventually have to be paid for by higher taxes.

That was not however the point of my comments. My point was that taxation has become more progressive since the 1990’s, when you and lots of other people, including Obama, want to claim it has become less. Do you agree with that? If so, why have you gone to so much trouble, with your hand waving about the top 1% and tax shelters, to deny it?

“Put this in the context of 6000 years of history …”

More evasion. If I can’t get you to face demonstrable facts about taxation in the U.S. over the past few decades, I doubt that arguing with you about the past 6000 years of history would be very useful.

You keep trying to make this an argument about whether one supports or opposes the policies of the Bush administration. I didn’t vote for Bush, didn’t approve of his policies at the time, and don’t approve of their continuation by Obama, so you can have that argument with someone else. I’m simply trying to get you to face the fact that the federal tax system has gotten more progressive over time, not less.

And when I point you at evidence that that’s true, your response isn’t to try to rebut it, or even to understand it, but to talk about “you guys” and try to change the subject to your grand theories about America. If I’m going to argue about grand theories, I would prefer to do it with people who care whether the facts they use in their arguments are true or not.

“You even seem to implicitly say that tax rates SHOULD be progressive. Of course they aren't. Look closely.”

I have said nothing at all about whether tax rates should or shouldn’t be progressive. I’ve merely been trying to establish what they are, and how they have changed over time.

“Most of these right wing "studies" incorporate corporate taxes INTO the recipient's claim of taxes paid, under the bizarre incantation that this envelopes what the call "double taxation."”

Does that include the “right wing studies” by the Congressional Budget Office? Have you looked at their figures on the federal income tax alone? That by itself is highly progressive. That plus payroll taxes—which they treat as entirely a tax on the employee—is still progressive, although not as progressive.

How progressivity has changed over time requires a little effort to determine, and you would rather demagogue than make that effort. To see that the federal tax system is progressive, under any plausible assumption about incidence, requires only the ability to read and do arithmetic. But it apparently doesn’t fit your current ideology, whatever that may be.

I am curious, however, as to who you believe pays corporate income tax, since you think the notion that it comes out of money that would otherwise go to dividends and capital gains is bizarre. Is it just manna from heaven?
 
Great post - read through the comments and glad to see you taking on the nit-pickers and trolls. Wondering if you have read Francis Fukuyama's new book, and if so what you make of his criticisms of Hayek? I am very-much-not a libertarian or a neocon (more of a Great Society guy), but enjoy reading ideas from those perspectives when they abandon the orthodox lines.
 
Unbelievable. Thanks for your courtesy Samuel and you ask good questions, but this has gone too far. You and David exhibit again and again that neither of you have bothered to read more than ONE paragraph into my essay that we're supposedly commenting on, down here. Look yourself in the mirror and admit it. (I know David won't.) It is blatant.

In your case, my entire essay consisted largely of examples of social engineering that worked, helping us to evade the trap that ensnared every other major nation across 6000 years. Instead of engaging those examples, and either refuting them and dealing with them... and the astonishing post WWII miracle of the American social structure, you blithely make armwaved libertarian cliches that are patently disproved. Instead of dealing with the fact that LIBERTARIANISM COULD BE BETTER THAN THIS.

As for David, I am through. He quibbles over and over about a micro-point I conceded, while calling THE WHOLE AND ENTIRE TOPIC OF MY ESSAY an attempt at "distraction." No greater proof of rudeness is possible than this, that he barged into another site making wild-ass proclamations that weren't even germane to the main points everybody else discussed, then howled when I conceded taxes are low but wanted him to actually READ the essay.

Not an honest person. If he were, he would have proved that he read and understood by doing the thing that mature men do. He would have paraphrased.

Too late. I'm not coming back here. You two are welcome to comment on future essays... you especially since you are courteous and don't shriek. But next time, please paraphrase what it is you THINK you are disagreeing with. Prove that you did not skim the first paragraph -- exhibiting the surly -nasty habit of incuriosity.
 
I was excited to see that +David Brin was taking the time to answer all his critics (no matter how cranky or persnickety) and sorry to see he is breaking off in frustration (but totally sympathetic). In his book "Angels and Ages", Adam Gopnik celebrates Charles Darwin for doing exactly what David B is suggesting:


"Yet the other great feature of Darwin’s prose, and the organization of his great books, is the welcome he provides for the opposed idea. This is, or ought to be, a standard practice, but few people have practiced it with his sincerity—and, at times, his guile. The habit of ‘sympathetic summery,’ what philosophers now call the ‘principle of charity,’ is essential to all the sciences. It is the principle, as Daniel Dennett says, that a counter argument to your own should first be summarized in its strongest form, with holes caulked as they appear, and minor inconsistencies or infelicities of phrasing looked past. Then, and only then, should a critique begin."

Who among us couldn't gain by imitating Darwin?
 
A burden falls upon the guest to assume that he might have committed the faux pas. In your case, Sanuel, you bear the burden of actually looking at your comment, which began at-best with a diss and proceeded to follow DF down paths that blatantly bore no relationship - at any level or in any way - with the posting or the topic at-hand.

You then proceeded to make an armwaved, blithed, oddhand generalization about government social engineering never working... despite that being the actual and whole topic of the essay at hand. If you wanted to make that point as a REFUTATION of my essay, then backing it up, dealing with my examples and actually referring to my examples -- in any way shape or form -- might have been germane. As it is, I was entirely right to interpolate that no person who argued fairly would have made such a statement, if he had more than skimmed the piece we're supposedly discussing.

But why am I bothering? Your most recent letter was a direct insult, meant to hurt. All the preceding compliments were meant to set me up to be hurt. And your attack that I dismiss "any and all criticism" was a damnable lie. The amount of time I have spent on you is worth hundreds of dollars.

Try arguing like an adult. Try PARAPHRASING what it is you claim to disagree with... it will make you read instead of skimming. Above all, seek 3rd party feedback. My current response may be angry - I have reason to be. Perhaps even patronizing. But it has been a sincere effort to show you better ways of engaging people whose minds you claim to respect.

Of all the misdemeanors you committed... the most illogical is "Gee I respected this guy a LOT! But he just said something I didn't like! Hence I'll downgrade whatever he says!"

That's a paraphrasing. Sorry if it hurts, but it's exactly what you said.
 
I am glad that John Powers forced me back here... in order to thanks him for that lovely Darwin quotation... which I will definitely crib, if/when I get around to writing a chapter about the "paraphrasing challenge."

I am glad because it got me to read Samuel's meticulous and gracious olive branch (above) which I gladly accept. And I'll in turn apologize for the testy, even patronizing tone that too-easily creeps in to some of my responses.

I consider both John and Samuel to be gentlemen. Gentlemen can say dumb things. The test is whether they ask "Oh, did I maybe say something dumb?" and react with God's greatest gift. Curiosity. You two are welcome in the blogmunity underneath http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/

Thrive all.
 
David B. complains that I didn't engage with the point of his essay, which is entirely true. I responded to the fact that the claim at the beginning of his essay depended on a (widely shared) false factual claim. When I pointed that out, David B. responded by implying that the assumption was true (he suggested I look at the top 1% instead of the top 20%, and that taking account of tax shelters would support his claim), not by saying that for all he knew his initial claim wasn't true but that that wasn't important to what he was saying. I pointed out that looking at the top 1% didn't support his assumption either, and challenged him to offer evidence on his tax shelter claim, which of course he didn't do.

Later on, he "agreed" with a point I wasn't making, and then claimed that tax rates weren't actually progressive. At no point in the exchange did he offer any evidence for his factual claims or any rebuttal to the evidence I offered against them, which didn't stop him from repeatedly making or implying them. If he isn't interested in whether the facts that go into his theories are true, as I think he has repeatedly demonstrated, I can't see much point in trying to engage with him on broader questions--obviously other people are free to do so.
 
Help me out +David Friedman - I have read all eight of the comments you have left on this thread, and have tried very hard to understand you. I am not very good at math, so maybe you could explain this in simple language for me: How, after the Bush tax cuts, could the wealthiest American not be paying a lot less than they were in the 1990s? Wasn't the whole point of giving the wealthiest Americans a huge tax cut, so that in 2001 they would be paying less taxes than in 1999? Did the Bush tax cuts somehow fail to reach the top 1% - Were Warren Buffett, George Soros, Bill Gates and 200 others who in 2001 took out a full page ad in the NYTs asking congress not to repeal the Estate Tax wrong? Didn't that and the other multi-billion dollar tax breaks reach the top 1%? Did George Bush mess that up too?
 
John asks how it could be that, after the Bush tax cuts, the wealthiest Americans were not paying a lot less than in the 1990's.

The short answer is that the tax cuts of recent administrations reduced tax rates for both rich and poor; I'm pretty sure that by now (the most recent good data I have is from 2007, before Obama) most people are paying less in taxes than then, with the difference made up by borrowing. The point I've been making is that the striking change was in the rate paid at the bottom of the income distribution--which, for the federal income tax, is now on net negative for the bottom 40% and something like an average of 2% for the bottom 60%. (Figures from memory, but you can find the CBO page and check the details if curious).

People kept talking about tax cuts for the rich and complaining that the changes saved rich people more money than they saved poor people. That was almost certainly true--because we started from a situation in which federal income taxes were paid mostly by the upper end of the income distribution. If you cut everyone's taxes by (say) 10%, that saves rich people more than it saves poor people--but it doesn't make the tax system less progressive. If you cut rich people's taxes by 10% and poor people's taxes by 50%, the change saves rich people more money, but it makes the system more progressive than before, not less.

I should add that there are problems with all simple statements about the effect of taxes, because the fact that X hands over the money to the government doesn't really tell us whether X is the one who is worse off as a result--that's the problem of tax incidence. I've been using the CBO figures, since they are available and I have nothing better, but they depend on a particular set of assumptions about who really bears the burden of the payroll tax (nominally half employee, half employer), the corporation tax, property taxes (at the state and local level) and the like. I've discussed some of this on my blog.

I hope that's enough to help answer your question. If you want a more detailed picture of how federal taxes have changed over the past few decades, google for the cbo charts. One set of them is webbed at:

http://www.cbo.gov/publications/collections/taxdistribution.cfm

The chart there I checked only went to 2006, but there are ones out there to 2007; you can probably find them with a little searching.
 
Slow down +David Friedman please. I told you I wasn't great at math.

So your saying that because poor people's taxes were lowered too that the wealthiest Americans are paying about the same rate of taxes as they were in the 1990s? (Notice I am paraphrasing here.) It seems like even if you lowered taxes on the poorest by a lot (because lets face 15% of Americans are ridiculously poor), and raised taxes on the very richest even a just a little (because the top 1% is whoppingly rich) - that that would still mean that you lost very little tax revenue from the poor, and a whole hell of lot of revenue from the Rich. Am I wrong?

You seem to be saying that the tax system is still progressive. But don't we have a progressive tax system as as means to an end, not an end in and of it self? Isn't the point of progressive taxation to keep the gap between the richest and poorest from getting to be too great? One in ten American Children live in in "deep poverty" (that is half just regular poverty, or $11,000.00 a year for a family of four), isn't that too many? Doesn't it seem like no matter what else has happened sinse the 1990s, our progressive tax system is no longer progressive enough?
 
Whether the wealthiest are paying about the same depends on the year and on which taxes you look at. For 2007 the average rate for all federal taxes for the top 1%, as calculated by the CBO, was 29.5%, the average rate for the federal income tax was 19%. For 1990, the figures are 28.8% and 19.9%. So if you compare those two years, the rate for all taxes combined was a little higher in 2007, for the income tax alone a little lower.

The rates were higher in the later 1990's, peaking in 1995 (36.1% and 23.7%), so if that's your comparison then they were lower in 2007. I don't have the figures for 2010, but my guess is that the rates were lower than in 1990, since under Obama average tax rates overall are down, with spending financed largely by borrowing (about 40%).

The point I have been making isn't that because poor people's taxes were lowered, the rich were paying about the same amount--whether they were paying about the same amount or somewhat less depends on the years you compare, the taxes you look at, and the assumptions you make about who ends up paying what tax (in particular, the corporate income tax, which isn't directly collected from individuals at all, and payroll taxes). My guess is that, on any plausible set of assumptions, the top 1% were paying at a lower average rate in 2010 than in 1995--but that's in part because Obama is financing spending with borrowing, which at some point will have to be paid back.

The point I was making was that the big change was not in the rate paid by the rich but in the rate paid by the poor. In 1990 the average combined federal rate for the bottom 20% was 8.9%, the average income tax rate was -1%. In 1995, the figures were 6.3% and -4.4%. In 2007, they were 4% and -6.8%. How progressive the system is is measures the relative tax rates on rich and poor. As you can see by those numbers, the tax rate paid by the top 1% either stayed about the same or declined somewhat, depending on which years you pick. The rate paid by the bottom 20% dropped sharply, with any choice of years. So the net effect was to make the system somewhat more progressive, not somewhat less.

That's an imprecise statement, because I'm only comparing the bottom 20% to the top 1%, not all income groups. I earlier provided the URL for a study that did a much more detailed calculation of progressivity, and found that it had been trending up for the past fifteen years.

I'm not offering any argument about what should be. I am merely pointing out that many people, including Brin, take it for granted that the net change over the past fifteen or twenty years was to make the tax system more favorable to the rich. In fact, it was in the opposite direction. Overall tax rates fell, not because spending fell (unfortunately) but because first Bush and then, on a larger scale, Obama, chose to finance spending by borrowing instead of by taxing. But they fell substantially more for people at the bottom of the income distribution than for those at the top.

"Isn't the point of progressive taxation to keep the gap between the richest and poorest from getting to be too great?"

I don't think our tax system, or government policy more generally, has "a point." It's the outcome of a political process in which lots of different people try to achieve lots of different objectives.

One reason for some people to favor a progressive tax is the one you offer. Another is that poor and rich have one vote each, and it's cheaper to buy the votes of the poor. Another is that some people care, not about the gap between poor and rich but about the absolute welfare of the poor, and lowering taxes on them is one way of achieving that.

If the objective were simply what you say, then higher taxes on the rich might be desirable even if they brought in no money at all, so long as they lowered the after tax income of the rich. Indeed, on that basis high taxes might be desirable even if they made everyone worse off, provided they hurt the rich more--that's one consequence of seeing the objective in relative rather than absolute terms. It's not a position I find attractive, or even defensible, but you may disagree.

One argument for progressive taxation from the philosophical end is utilitarianism--the idea that you want to maximize the total happiness of the population, that a dollar gives more happiness, on average, to a poor person than to a rich person, hence that taking your dollars from rich people reduces happiness less than taking them from poor people.

All of those are possible "points," none is "the point."

"Doesn't it seem like no matter what else has happened sinse the 1990s, our progressive tax system is no longer progressive enough?"

How would you decide what is "progressive enough?" Is there some ideal shape for the income distribution, and if so how do you discover it?
 
OK +David Friedman - your throwing a lot of number at me, but lets see if I understand. You're saying the bottom 20% of Americans pay a lot less taxes and the very richest may be paying a bit less, but it is hard to tell. The question is relative tax rates - I would suggest that since poverty rates are at a historic high in the US, and the wealthiest Americans are WAY WAY WAY wealthier than they were in the 1990s this means that the poor are spending a relatively more (lots more) of their money paying taxes (because they pay sales tax and what what even if most of them are earning annual incomes in the low 20k range for a family of four) and the rich are paying relatively less (a lot less because they have experienced enormous income gains).

If you are not offering an argument about what should be what are you doing? Niggling over quintiles? (Whatever those are.) What is the point of your ten very long posts on this thread if you have no point? Why fact check +David Brin if you believe nothing?

You seem to be saying that all America is, is the arbitrary outcome of a messy and meaningless political process. I disagree. I would suggest the point of our tax code isn't just to pay for democracy, it IS democracy.
 
John Powers writes:

“I would suggest that since poverty rates are at a historic high in the US,”

Where in the world did you get that idea? The fraction of the population who are poor, by any fixed definition of poor, is much lower now than in 1950, much lower then than in 1935.

“and the wealthiest Americans are WAY WAY WAY wealthier than they were in the 1990s this means that the poor are spending a relatively more (lots more) of their money paying taxes.”

The rates I’ve been citing are tax rates—the ratio of tax to income. The poor are spending a smaller fraction of their money paying federal taxes than in the past, not larger.

I’ve been talking about federal taxes, and there is no federal sales tax—with a little effort you can find attempts to estimate the overall effect of federal, state, and local taxes but that’s a more complicated question and not the one I’ve been discussing.

“and the rich are paying relatively less (a lot less because they have experienced enormous income gains).”

The figures I’m citing are the ratio of tax to income. If the rich have experienced enormous income gains—I don’t know if that is true and distrust factoids put in terms of “enormous,” “WAY WAY WAY,” and similar emotives, instead of actual numbers—then the fact that their effective tax rate hasn’t changed much means they are paying much more money than before.

“If you are not offering an argument about what should be what are you doing? Niggling over quintiles? (Whatever those are.)”

I am trying to prevent people from saying and believing things that are not true. Presumably you regard that as a pointless activity.

And if you don’t know what quintiles are, and more generally have no understanding of what I’m talking about, I am probably wasting my time in your case.

I should probably have taken more seriously your “I am not very good at math” at the beginning of this exchange. You can’t figure out how progressive a tax system is if the only tools you have for thinking about it are “WAY WAY WAY” and “enormous.”
 
Samuel writes:

"Nevertheless I get the impression that you think the disparity isn't a problem or else that it's pointless to try fixing it. Is that true?"

No. I think the increasing inequality of income is a worrying trend, but whether it can or should be "fixed" depends on the reason for it. And one requirement for figuring out the reason is paying attention to facts, instead of making up whatever ones fit current rhetorical needs.
 
"Another 2.6 million people slipped into poverty in the United States last year, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday, and the number of Americans living below the official poverty line, 46.2 million people, was the highest number in the 52 years the bureau has been publishing figures on it."

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/14/us/14census.html?pagewanted=all
 
on your second point, I'm not great with charts but I think the rich are the REALLY BIG line on this chart, the poor are the really small one.
 
You seem to think that hard facts are all that matter, that because I am not listing a number when I say income is up, that you can dismiss my point, but my point stands. I said 'WAY WAY WAY' and 'enormous' instead of offering a hard numbers because I can't believe that those facts are possibly in dispute. I was being good humored. I am a sculptor. You teach economics - cut some slack you can afford to.

Are you really saying that the wealthiest Americans haven't gotten wealthier, a lot wealthier, never mind exactly how much wealthier? If it helps we could pick a number: From 1980 to 2009 the wealthiest 5% of American income went up by 55% (aka WAY WAY WAY)

Why insist on only discussing ratio of tax to income without acknowledging that the real numbers have shifted to mean the wealthiest are paying less? And why deny that the poorest pay taxes? We are talking about taxes, sales taxes are very real taxes - and while they are not federal taxes they often fund "unfunded mandates" served up by the Federal government. There is no such thing as a freeloader in this country.

You may have noticed, by the way, that I haven't pulled any block quotes from your comments, that is not because I don't know how, it's because I have been trying to sum up your ideas in my own words. I am trying to understand you, to understand your point. You told +David Brin that you are not a conservative, but you do seem to have an ideological ax to grind - If you believe that income inequality is worrying, why insist that we have to knowing the reasons for the inequality before attempting to fix the problem?

BTW I disagree that taxing the rich at a higher rate would make everyone worse off or that the would hurt the rich more - I think everyone would be better off. I don't want the waitress who serves me food to do so when she is sick, or the man who fixes the breaks on the car I am in to be distracted because he can't afford to house his children. I don't want the ticket agent at the airport to have missing teeth because she can't afford to get them cleaned, and I don't want to live in cities where the rich drive armored cars surrounded by armed guards because they are worried about kidnap gangs. These are selfish reasons to not want the poor to be deeply poor. Adam Smith wrote on the Wealth of Nations not the wealth of billionaires. Who care how much money you have if you have to live in a terrible nation.
 
Sam The 55% gain since 1980 came from that times chart I linked to.

You ask about starvation in America and think there is far fetched about the end of my comment? I outlined the characteristics of countries with terrible disparities between rich and poor. Starvation is a characteristic of states in total free fall.

If you are interested about the condition of the poorest Americans ask about hunger or food instability and I imagine you will see it is on the rise along with homelessness, but that is just an educated guess. Do some googling and add something to the conversation.
 
David B pointed to the problem of deductions repeated and David F dismissed them. I agree that the wealthy benefit much more from them than the poor or middle class, and would like to see corporate deductions but as an artist I am aware that deductions are one of the very successful parts of our tax system.

In the arts, deductions for donations fuel an extremely dynamic art world in the US (museums are the #1 tourist draw in NYC). It allows funding for culture that is outside of the purview of politicians. I would love it if there were more public funding for the arts in the US - but given the anti-intellectual and socially reactionary atmosphere of our body politic that will never happen and if it did it all it would fund are nativities and war memorials (no thank you).

Culture is one, if not THE, most compelling of America's exports. It's bad enough that we are an energy importer - lets hope we never become a cultural importer.
 
"David B pointed to the problem of deductions repeated and David F dismissed them. "

I don't think so--where?

David B., in his first response to me, when he was still trying to claim that the tax system had become less progressive, implied that that had happened due to tax shelters. I pointed out that that would require that the rich were sheltering a larger fraction of their income now than in the past and asked him what the evidence was that they were doing so. He never replied--I assume because he had no evidence. Deductions never came into that part of the conversation.

I had a post on my blog some time back, suggesting that a sensible compromise for the Tea Party folk to accept on the budget would be to cut spending, not impose new taxes or increase rates, but eliminate lots of tax expenditures.

http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/2011/06/possible-budget-compromise.html
 
Is that what we're talking about now? That I miss-represented what David B wrote in one of his comments? That you feel won a semantic victory against David? Are we done talking about the historically high rates of poverty? Would you like to discuss poverty rates in the years before poverty was being tracked in the US? You have conceded that increasing inequality of income is a worrying trend - why consider what should be done - do you have a plan to lift the poor out of poverty without taxing the wealthiest Americans at a higher rate? David's proposal was to roll back the Bush tax cuts, maybe you feel that isn't enough? Should we return to 1979 rates on the wealthiest Americans?
 
"Is that what we're talking about now? That I miss-represented what David B wrote in one of his comments?"

If you misrepresent what David B. wrote he can worry about that. What I was talking about was that you misrepresented, I assumed unintentionally, what I said. You claimed that I "dismissed" the problem of deductions, when, so far as I can recall, I had said nothing at all on the subject.

It sounds from the tone of your comment as though you think there is something wrong with my correcting you when you make a false statement about what I have said.
 
You seem like intellectual honesty must be very important to you. I imagine you feel that it is very important for people to realize that somehow - despite George Bush's best efforts the wealthiest Americans are still technically being taxed at rate as high as 15 years ago - no matter how patently absurd that assertion is on the face of it. Who got those tax cuts? Where did all these poor children come from? Where did the super-concentrations of wealth come from?
 
John, why bother. This fellow can't be bothered to even read the original posting and ideas that this "discussion" is supposed to be about. Discourtesy is one thing, but incuriosity is worse. His incomprehensible rants (I tried to paraphrase and concede his macro point and gave up after he raged at me) show no interest in the overall processes and notions in the main essay... notions that are important - if only to refute them.

One would start by paraphrasing. It is what an honest man does. If he were honest he would discuss the 6000 years of oligarchic, pyramid-shaped societies and the dilemma that they pose for those who want freedom and markets. He would give a nod toward Adam Smith's discussions of this very problem, which Smith (if not D Friedman) considered to be a central problem of human life on Earth. He might even have addressed the diamond shaped social structure and how tax rates might affect it... if only to show that his obsessive repetitions are germane to the topic at hand!

None of that interests him. Above all, he seems not to have the slightest clue what "paraphrasing" actually means and how it is what adults do, to get around these "you misrepresented me!" screeching tit for tats.

John, John... let him go,
 
"...between 1979 and 2005 the inflation-adjusted income of families in the middle of the income distribution rose 21 percent. That’s growth, but it’s slow, especially compared with the 100 percent rise in median income over a generation after World War II. Meanwhile, over the same period, the income of the very rich, the top 100th of 1 percent of the income distribution, rose by 480 percent... The budget office’s numbers show that the federal tax burden has fallen for all income classes, which itself runs counter to the rhetoric you hear from the usual suspects. But that burden has fallen much more, as a percentage of income, for the wealthy. Partly this reflects big cuts in top income tax rates, but, beyond that, there has been a major shift of taxation away from wealth and toward work: tax rates on corporate profits, capital gains and dividends have all fallen, while the payroll tax — the main tax paid by most workers — has gone up." Paul Krugman, NYT, Sept. 22, 2011
 
From the article by +David Brin: "Yes, yes. I spend a lot of time around libertarians and I know that their current version is all about hating government. No other agenda or priority."

I would agree partly, but that's a pretty narrow view of libertarian thoughts. Like the some of the founders, I recognize that government is a necessary evil - because men are not angels. In my opinion, the less government the better. We are headed the wrong direction, because as Jefferson said, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground."

I was surprised to see +David Friedman arguing over taxes until I realized that he's only trying to correct some false assertions. Naturally, for those who want to see government grow because they think it helps "society", the natural thing to do when you can't win with facts is to resort to ad-hominem attacks, such as "can't be bothered to read", no clue about "paraphrasing", and even better "screeching".

Why argue about raising taxes on anyone? If I was going to take a utilitarian approach, I'd say "How about ending unjust wars, reducing an over-grown defense industry, reducing waste, corruption and cronyism?" - but no, we have to raise taxes. That way our awesomely great government can grow and the private sector (evil capitalists) will shrink.

However, since "hating government" is the only agenda I have, maybe I'll just go down to #OWS and incite them to overthrow the government. After the fall, maybe I'll get lucky and I won't end up in a re-education camp in a socialist paradise.
 
I was searching for a new science fiction series to read and I had always heard the you Mr. Brin were the guy to read. Before I read a new writer I always try to find out a bit about them as people. I've spent the last 2 hours reading all of your recent articles on economics and politics and it is pretty obvious that you are a foaming at the mouth demagogue.
The arrogance of this statement below is breathtaking.

"One would start by paraphrasing. It is what an honest man does. If he were honest he would discuss the 6000 years of oligarchic, pyramid-shaped societies and the dilemma that they pose for those who want freedom and markets."

You seem totally incapable of having a reasonable dialog without launching into these hyper-charged rants about how YOU know the truth and anyone who opposes you is stupid and can't comprehend your powerful intellect. Then you follow by accusing your "enemies" of doing what you are doing.

"None of that interests him. Above all, he seems not to have the slightest clue what "paraphrasing" actually means and how it is what adults do, to get around these "you misrepresented me!" screeching tit for tats."

Well what if someone just wants to talk about the numbers of the 1990's compared to now? This was pretty central to your argument. I guess they would be a nut burger by your standard. Not someone actually trying to bring the data you discussed to the table. I'm not sure who I side with, you or Mr. Friedman at the moment because I too shocked by how you treated is attempt to engage you. Do you also attack your fans and readers this way when they mention some part of your book they didn't like?
 
Ok, fair enough, I'll take a chance and try out the series you guys recommend. Thanks for not blasting me. 
 
Because there seem to be a lot of free market purists on this thread (and a discussion of sympathetic summaries) I thought this might be a place to as fo input on a summery I have been working on of Laissez-faire capitalism: "The most, for the best, without concession for the least." My intention is to rework the Eames' consumerist motto of "The best, for the most, for the least." - any thoughts? Have I missed the mark, or does this seem like a generous (if brief) summation?
 
Way off topic, John. I recommend starting your own post and inviting those from this post that you feel might be interested. Count me in.
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