Friday, October 8, 2010

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Sometimes I tweet (follow me @EPeevie) political links or comments, and then my conservative friends and family reply, and then we get into these long debates in which we talk past each other without making any progress toward mutual understanding or consensus.  Take this dialogue, for example:

EPeevie:  Why are so many middle-income folks so intent upon preserving the inordinately low tax rates of the super-rich?

TeaPartyPolly:  Because I think we should all pay less taxes as it is.  Again, I'll cite the IRS statistic: The top 1% of tax earners already pay 39% of the taxes; the top 25% of earners pay 86% of all taxes; the top 50% pay 97% of the taxes.  When will enough be enough?

EPeevie:  So what if 1% pay 39% of the taxes? That figure is meaningless out of context. Maybe they pay 39% of the taxes, but they make 90% of the income.  I'm not saying this is true--just that context makes a difference.

I still don't get why middle incomers oppose Buffett's proposal that taxes should be reduced for most people but increased for the super-rich.  Buffett himself says it would have no impact on entrepreneurism--and I guess he should know.

TPPolly: My reference is the Constitution and the writings of the founders of our country who envisioned a place where people are free to work as hard as they are motivated and the government gets out of the way as much as possible.  The things that people want to increase taxes on the wealthy for are not things that the Constitution/founders envisioned government taking a role in.

ReverendP: Hitting those with inomes over $250K is hitting small business, as I noted in my previous post.  Small business persons invest in widgets, widget machines, and hire widget makers and widget sellers.  It is called employment. Why do you suppose K. Marx was committed to a graduated income tax?

OfficerFriendly: Those are the people who create the jobs.  The government takes money, and while government helps a small percentage of people, it wastes far more money than it puts to use.

BTW, I'm middle income, and my taxes went up this year, and if the Bush tax cuts don't get renewed, my taxes will go up this year by $4,000.  Also, they've delayed our property tax bills until after the election because they raised the multiplier.  That means that even though my house gets water every time it rains, and is worth half as much as it was five years ago, my taxes continue to rise every year.

And we'll have to pay the taxes at Christmas.  The only reasons politicians talk about "the rich" is to get you to look up so you don't see the uppercut to the chin coming.  We should stop worrying about how to hurt other, rich evil people and start worrying about what they are doing to us.

TPPolly:  The class envy card that liberals play is so subtle that it's powerful.

EPeevie:  Somehow I don't think Warren Buffett is motivated by class envy.

Warren Buffett was talking about increasing the tax rate for the super-rich, not small business owners.  100K, as you mentioned earlier, and even 250K, do not qualify.  Think hedge fund managers, with multi-million dollar bonuses.  The lowest earning hedge fund manager in 2004 made $65 MILLION DOLLARS.

And finally, I believe that the Constitution did not envision many things that we are dealing with today.  It is a great document, but "Constitutional idolatry" takes us down the wrong road.

I totally agree that the federal government is bloated and often wasteful and ineffective.  But I don't agree that the first place we should look to de-bloat is social programs that help the poor because the Constitution, written by aristocrats, didn't address the problem.

OfficerFriendly:  You are falling into the trap laid for you, namely that the only choices are to raise taxes or hurt poor people.

TPPolly:  Warren Buffett is not motivated by class envy because he's not a politician seeking re-election on the basis of "vote for me and I'll soak those rich people and give you their money."

I would also say where the Constitution is wrong then let's change that...otherwise we must play by the game rules we've been given and not cheat against our agreed-upon rules by running around the end and undermining the Constitution.

RevP: I think Warren Buffett, Obama, O'Biden, Kerry and George Soros should volunteer to make larger contributions (taxes).  But why should the government put a gun to our heads (the tax system) in order for them to determine who gets their handouts of my money?

OfficerFriendly: How come everybody quotes Warren Buffett when he says that the government should raise taxes on the super-rich, but then conveniently forgets to quote him on the second half of his comment.  Context works both ways.

EPeevie:  Which part, OF, the part where he says raising taxes on the super-rich won't inhibit entrepreneurs, or the part where he says that taxes should be reduced for people at lower incomes?

OfficerFriendly: Taxes should be reduced on middle and upper middle income.  That part is never talked about by politicians.  The debate now is whether to raise our taxes or leave them the same--not reduce them.
TPPolly: It is simply not the government's place to decide an arbitrary number at which anyone has "made enough."  We don't know what they do with that money--they may want to give large amounts to charity.  Frankly, it isn't anybody's business what people do with what they make.

How frequently must we say it...ours is not a nation founded upon socialistic redistribution of wealth.  If that's what we want, then let's change the Constitution to look like North Korea's.

OfficerFriendly:  Plus, if there is a ceiling above which you cannot rise, no matter how hard you work or how lucky you get, then people would stop trying hard or taking chances.

EPeevie:  Yes, I'm going to stop trying hard or taking chances if the government taxes me at above 17 percent once my income reaches ONE MILLION BAJILLION DOLLARS per year.

At this point, I interrupted the debate to ask permission to use the conversation in a blog post because "I think it is a brilliant example of how "liberals" (I know that's how you think of me, even though I don't think of myself that way) and conservatives talk past each other."  Everybody agreed, and TPPolly added a bit of what I saw as irony:

TPPolly:  I don't think I'm talking past anyone...I'm making points, but they are not being responded to.  Specifically, you seem unable to get past the issue of our Constitution.

RevP had the last somewhat off-point, unsourced last word in the FB discussion:  Well, you have to love ObamaCare, presided over by a President who smokes, supervised by an obese surgeon general and financed by a treasury secretary who cheated on his taxes.  Billionaires will not risk their big money if they only get to take home 15% of it or less.  Right now most billionaires are keeping 75% of their wealth out of taxable hiring and investing business.

What do you think?  Were we talking past each other?  That's how I see it:  I raised a question about taxing the super-rich, and the conversation turned to the straw-man arguments of income ceilings and local property taxes and whether or not the Constitution allows for graduated income tax.

Clearly, my friend TPPolly did not see it that way.  For him, the Constitution question was integral to the discussion of tax rates; and whereas I felt like I had addressed the issue, he believed I avoided it. 

Is this little FB debate a microcosm of the national political debate?  Is there any hope for political consensus, or even compromise?


Anonymous said...

1.Rev P must not understand what is being debated / decided about small businesses right now.

2. This makes no sense, “TPPolly: Warren Buffett is not motivated by class envy because he's not a politician seeking re-election on the basis of "vote for me and I'll soak those rich people and give you their money." So….you are saying he’d say the same thing no matter what side he’s on? Rich or not rich. Does this debunk your own argument?

3. Since we don’t have a flat tax rate we need to look at our immediate situation and options. If someone’s income is 30,000, or 250,000 a year there is a marginal tax rate. This should also be true of someone making 3,000,000 a year or more. Why should any one group not be held to the same marginal tax rates as other Americans. The super-rich don't want the same rules to apply to themselves. They want special rights and privileges. They feel they deserve it more than other Americans to have these tax breaks. This is not only illogical, but entirely greedy.

Anonymous said...

I followed this discussion on FB and it gave me a headache. You have much more patience with your tea party friends than I have. I commend you for it...