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What we are up against in America

James Lileks captures the angst of the social statist in America in this exchange regarding John Kerry’s promise to raise taxes by rolling back the rather meager and back-loaded Bush tax cuts:

Then came the Parable of the Stairs, of course. My tiresome, shopworn, oft-told tale, a piece of unsupportable meaningless anecdotal drivel about how I turned my tax cut into a nice staircase that replaced a crumbling eyesore, hired a few people and injected money far and wide . . . . Raise my taxes, and it won’t happen – I won’t hire anyone, and they won’t hire anyone, rent anything, buy anything. You see?

“Well, it’s a philosophical difference,” she sniffed. She had pegged me as a form of life last seen clilcking the leash off a dog at Abu Ghraib. “I think the money should have gone straight to those people instead of trickling down.” Those last two words were said with an edge.

“But then I wouldn’t have hired them,” I said. “I wouldn’t have new steps. And they wouldn’t have done anything to get the money.”

“Well, what did you do?” she snapped.

“What do you mean?”

“Why should the government have given you the money in the first place?”

“They didn’t give it to me. They just took less of my money.”

That was the last straw. Now she was angry. And the truth came out:

“Well, why is it your money? I think it should be their money.”

Two responses to this last quote. First, it is James’ money because he earned it. Second, he has no objection to it becoming the worker’s money, so long as they earn it from him. In fact, the money James kept because of his tax cut now is the worker’s money. Her point, such as it is, evaporates into thin air.

The only difference? Mr. Lileks, sturdy Midwesterner that he is, believes people should should earn their money. His earnest young interlocutor, following in the sadly well-worn path of Minnesota socialism, thinks money should shower down like manna from heaven.

23 comments to What we are up against in America

  • Rob Read

    “They just took less of my money”
    Should that not be
    “They just stole less of my money”

    It’s not difficult to get people to think of tax as a very large success fine, and benefits as failure encouragement. At this point statists have a little mental breakdown because they cannot agree but cannot disagree, then they repeat what they just said previously as if it wasn’t thoroughly wrong!

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Dude, it’s not just in America; it’s a problem all over the world. Too many people believe in the state’s ability to solve their problems.

    Even in supposedly economically liberal Singapore, land of low taxes, the government(and ruling party) has to walk a very fine line on welfare and taxes. And every election, the opposition parties would come out with a familiar cry that appeals to emotion: the government doesn’t care for the poor! We must raise taxes for welfare!

    And lots of people listen and vote for them(35-40%). Not enough, thankfully, but enough to make my skin crawl. If after 30 years where the results of low taxes and almost no welfare still cannot convince people, what hope for other parts of the world?


  • This young lady sounds like the same idiotic types who constantly bitch about “the income gap” and about how rich the top 5% of income earners are in the US, and yet never seem to notice that those top 5% pay 62% of all income taxes. (Source)

    In other words, people like Lileks (you only need a salary of over $120,846 to make it into the top 5%) keep the infrastructure humming, and this young lady who was trying to raise support for Kerry was doing nothing other than wasting air. I think he should have charged her for walking down his stairs. And explained that all the “ordinary people” who she supposedly represented would get the payment.

  • Forget the young woman.

    Does Lileks really believe it’s my money and not the state’s? If money is genuinely the property of those who earn it then how can it be right for the state to take it for any purpose? If the state may justly take money from people for the purposes the Lileks approves of (defense, police, courts, whatever…) then why can’t it justly take money for the purposes the young woman approves of?

    The problem we’re up against is much worse than it’s been characterized here. The problem is that James Lileks, Glenn Reynolds, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and George W. Bush will all give lip service to the proposition that “It’s your money”, but they don’t mean it.

  • And of course the money actually isn’t the point here. Money is just a way of measuring economic output and isn’t the economic output itself. Really the only important thing is the staircase. Low taxes = a new staircase being built = the total amount of stuff produced by the American economy is greater = Americans are better off in total and on average. High taxes = no new staircase = total production is lower = Americans are worse off in total and on average.

  • Bob Dacron

    Damn those so called ‘caring’ neo socialists. Why do they think they can redistribute my money better than me?

    When I tell the stair building story they always say that’s fine for those with the means to build stairs – but what about the sick, disabled, children etc etc. Well if you ask me, so long as they can do the job I’d hire a couple of morons with “learning difficulties” (their term) and I’d persuade them to do the work for less. That way everyone is happy – the needy get money direct, I get my staircase and I get to keep more of MY MONEY.

    You can apply this idea to all situations – even the profoundly disabled can be paid DIRECT to build some things – although I don’t suppose they’d be that good at building stairs.

    And don’t talk to me about kids! Kerry, Hillary and Blair want to tax ME and give welfare to kids – teaching them to take state handouts for the rest of their lives. Our kids should take a leaf out of the Rio kids book – get out there on the street and make their own money – let the market rule – if people want to pay for it – it can’t be wrong.

  • Michael Jennings,

    Low taxes = …

    Low taxes still equals taking from you on behalf of the public good, just like Hillary said.

  • Simon Lawrence

    The real problem with socialists, I think, is their lack of understanding of economics. More than once I have been berated for producing a graph showing that low income groups in America have been getting richer, when inflation is taken into account. The criticism, oh so ignorant, was that I had failed to account for living costs!

  • John T Kennedy belongs to a species of libertarian who cannot accept that there is a material difference between a common cold and bubonic plague. His heart is more or less in the right place in so far as he knows ‘diseases = bad… no diseases = good’, but…

    The promised land in which liberty and several rights overflow will not spring forth from civil society until the state is reduced in size and that is not going to happen any time soon until there has been a major shift in both the zeitgeist and the driving economic/technological realities… only when things are pointed in the right direction will, to use a term the Marxists used but never actually meant, will the state start to wither away. In the real world of the here and now, lower taxes are better than higher taxes in the same manner that colds are better the plague… and if someone will not settle for anything less than no taxes RIGHT NOW, please forgive me if I regard you are having little useful to add to the debate. Sure, I agree that is a highly desirable end point but we ain’t there yet and we ain’t going to get there unless we have some relevant things to say about the world right now.

    Still, it is nice to have people out there who actually make me seem like a moderate, so I can get away with pushing the envelope and pointing out that what most will regard as the ‘lunatic fringe’ is actually somewhere else.

  • John Anderson

    Senator Clinton is a bit on the extreme side, too close to “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” It is a fine way to want things to work, but attempts to run things that way have failed because we humans are not entirely altruistic. Oh, if someone cannot do things for themselves, we are often ready to help – but we must perceive the need, and it must not mean we give away our LaZBoy and sit on a milk crate: give up the milk crate instead.

    The Senator, like too many others, wants us ALL to sit on milk crates. Or rocks. Or just squat. We would all be equal then, to be sure.

    It is not that I am against all Government, and a Government must have some form of income. And with health care, I have benefitted from “re-distribution” of money. Yet I look across the border at Canada, or over the water at the UK, and I say “We’d better stop before going much further.” Just where to stop, I am not sure – but the Senator’s ideas are far past a safe halting point.

  • Perry,

    Politically the question of whose money it is a settled matter: It’s the state’s money and the state may take whatever it requires of people. Lileks is fine with that, he’s glad the state will take whatever money is needed from people to do the things he judges are required.

    I’m pointing out that all Lileks and the Kerry girl have to argue about is how much to take from people and what to spend it on, and that is what we’re up against in America.

  • John T Kennedy: I think you made it clear the first time and I sympathise… but please let me repeat my point: lower taxes are better than higher taxes: the fact that no taxes are even better than that may be true but as that falls outside the realms of possibility now or any time soon, I think that convincing people they will be better off by reducing the state (which mean less money being appropriated) and seeing the state only carry out some core functions (the minarchist view) is a rather worthwhile objective. The minarchist approach stands in resolute opposition to the ever wider ‘democratisation’ (which actually means regulatory politicisation) of society… and this ‘classical liberal’ objective is far more likely to be obtainable that aiming for nothing less than the anarcho-capitalist Kingdom of Heaven. First things first.

  • Freedom “first”, Perry. Freedom, sir. You can sneer about the “Kingdom of Heaven” all you want, and I’ll read about your “point”, but I, for one, am not going to lose sight of the fact that this is about the crucial importance of ideas and their integrity.

    Kennedy is right, and you’re not.

  • Mike Schneider

    Perry, lower taxes are *worse* than higher taxes, because the lumpen slob who outnumbers you a thousand to one is content to live in partial-slavery for the rest of his life, while should taxes become too high, there’s at least an oblique possibility that he’ll *revolt*.

  • (sigh)When you folks get beyond the stage of PolSci 101, get back to me.

    Granted, that “no taxes” would be a perfect situation, but like the opposite end, Communism, it only exists in freshmen year class discussion papers. Not only does neither exist outside those environemnts, there is no way they ever could, outside the ivory tower.

    Here in the real world, balances and compromises must be made for continued existance.

    Government is rather like water, I’m araid… too much will drown you, too litle and you die of thirst.

    And Mike; So, if that’s true, let’s tax it all, manditory confiscation of all property. OOps… Look up; I’ve already stated htat cannot exist in the real world, either.

  • Bit — you and I go back, and I respect that, but I’m telling you — and Perry, for that matter — right now: just bloody save your arguments from habit for the status-quo for someone else, because I know better. You go make your “compromises”, mate, but don’t you ever expect me to endorse them. And more: I don’t go around insulting you, and I would fucking-aye appreciate the same courtesy. You’ll never see me referring to you as a child because of your ideas. If you pay attention, what you’ll actually see is me explaining to real children what’s wrong with your ideas.

    Get it?

    Fine, then. Onward.

  • And as for you, I’d like it a great deal if you’d not place meanings in my writings that are not there, Billy. I didn’t call you a child, I suggested the discussion you were having was at a pretty basic level. There’s a major difference… one that I find annoying you missed. I expected you to know better.

    To wit: There’s a good many adults who vote who will never understand even these basic concepts you folks have discussed thusfar.

    Secondly, I’m not arguing for status quo… far from it; My positons would require a massive change from our current systems.. and they’re ones I think most, including you, I suspect, wouldn’t find too unpalateable.

    Since you clearly need more flesh on this to get the concept I’m trying to relate, here…. (my fault, likely)…

    I submit that both your position and that of communism, are extreme ones, neither of which will ever exist in the real world. (and by the way, I don’t consider Perry spot on, here, either) You’re all talking past each other, because, for one thing, you are not operating from the same premise as regards the purpose for which government was invented in the first place… and mind, ‘m not speaking of a particular style of government, but the very concept of gvernment itself… one of any type.

    So, let’s vector into that concept first. What is the purpose of government? The originally intended purpose, I mean…. Why was the very concept of a government, created?

    I’ll toss the question to the room, but first I’ll direct it at you, Billy… What say you?

  • Yes. You bet your ass: I am an extremist.

    Period. Full-stop.

  • Anyone else care to try?

  • What is the purpose of government?

    The same purpose as a cattle ranch.

  • So what is the purpose of government, anyway? No, I don’t mean what it evolved into, I mean rather it’s original purpose… the reason the concept of governments of any kind were even conceived of.

    Some submit that government exists to protect privileges of a few, preserving a state of injustice for the majority. Others hold that the purpose of the state is to protect rights and to preserve justice. The latter seems to be the answer I’ve gotten here. It appears to me that those questions form the arguments among the proponants of liberalism, libertarianism, socialism, conservatism and fascism, all at once.

    I submit that all these four basic positions miss the point, because they generally don’t don’t remember who it was who invented the concept of government government of any kind, I mean…in the first place (I should point out that in general, the ones who get it the closest are conservatives, but they’re not spot on, either…. they often seem to forget what’s being conserved)

    Libertarians, mostly suggest, along with Jefferson, that “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”, and that therefore, government exists for only one purpose, and that is to secure the unalienable rights of its citizens against violation. This is fine as far as it goes, but it ignores who created the concept of rights.

    And of course each of these groups has tended to abse the power of government for their own ends.

    To the end of answering overriding question of the purpose of government, (And thereby the question of what government needs to be doing today to remain legit) with any logic, we need to ask a couple more questions:

    1:Who invented the concept of government?
    2: What purpose would that entity have had in such creation?

    One way we can answer those two questions at once, would be to look at what existed as the most powerful force before government was invented, and therefore what was the most likely inventor of government: CULTURE.

    Governments were created by the individual cultures, originally. The original purpose of government, is to protect, nurture and defend, and if possible expand the influence of, the culture that gave it life. As such, to the greatest of degrees possible, laws were the culture, codified. It folows that any government holding to the original pupose of government will perform this task.

    Now, notice I said to the greatest degree possible. I freely admit it; There are no perfect governments, no perfect laws. It is said that in hell, there will be law and policy and little else. Yet, this imperfect tool did at least manage to provide a mechanism toward the intended purpose… the furtherance of the culture that founded said government.

    This understanding that there is imperfection in government implies that other values should superceed governmental power when the tool of government doesn’t fit the task at hand well. I submit the highest value applied here should be the values of the culture.

    Now, I hear some of you balking at this, sggesting the right of the individual are paramount; a noble sentiment. But consider this immoveable fact: Rights are not universal. RIGHTS ARE A CULTURAL CONCEPT, and are night on meaningless outside that construct.

    When one says “freedom”, the question should be ‘freedom from what’? The answers that come back will invariably be cultural in nature.

    As I’ve said, the law and government has been abused by some, it has moved away from that intended purpose of supporting the existing culture. They are in fact being used by the left to alter that morality, that culture, and when that happens, the fall of the government cannot be far behind.

    And culture is by far the more powerful force, over time. Where governments have gotten themselves into problems over the centuries, is invariably where governments have tried to alter the culture artificially, by means of law. Take communism, as an example Communism attempts to over-ride the culture and basicly outlaw many facits of it. But, (and this is important) everywhere you saw Communism.. Russia, Cuba, North Korea, East Germany you saw the same treacherous *political* ideology, not the cultural values of those societies. And in those places where communism has been overthrown, the original culture springs back to life.

    Now, some would, because of those abuses, like to see all governments fall. They feel that governments have no legit purpose. I suggest this is short-sighted, and seeks to remove the only tool available to the end of supporting rights.

    What we are up against, then, to tie all this back to the original question, is a government that for too many years has been used to alter our culture.

    There’s far more to add to this, but I expect I’ve given you folks enough to shoot at for the moment.

  • I suggest this is short-sighted, and seeks to remove the only tool available to the end of supporting rights.

    …Because people never, ever, pay for things they think they need. Instead, they line up at the State Collective Distribution Center with their ration-books in hand and get issued every last piece of human progress above a sharp stick.

    Now, afore anyone starts pouring verbosity about “public goods” out of both ends, go read The Fundamental Fallacy of Government .

  • The point of that extended write-up was apparently missed.

    I will dare to submit it to you this way;
    Were government to limit itself to the functions which I listed above, you and I would have far less to argue about.

    And to clear up what I’ve had mentioned to me in e-mail as a ‘poser’, I should say this as regards the concept I propose that ‘rights are not universal”

    Certainly the concept of everyone in the world having a universal set of rights has been elevated to some kind of holy myth.

    However when Jefferson wrote that “WE HOLD THESE TRUTHS TO BE SELF-EVIDENT” he was not speaking a universal truth at all. The operative word in that phrase is “WE”.

    UNderstand this clearly; Rather than talking about a universal point of view, a universal truth, if you will, he was instead talking about the point of view of WE… the new American culture. With this angle, many of the long-held myths about rights tend to disappear.

    Consider; if it was in fact a universal truth that all men were created equal, it wouldn’t have been such a radical idea, for the time, much less then to now. Last I checked, it is quite true that a vast majority still do not consider these as any kind of truth, universal or otherwise; they consider them to be anything BUT self-evident. Royalty still exists, as do class structures, and slavery, as well, and most of these having nothing to do with governments.

    Again, I say…Jefferson was speaking of the point of view of OUR culture, not that of others. Hope htat clears that one up.