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February 04, 2005

the revolt against taxes

Don Herzog, The Bartlett Files: February 4, 2005

Here's President Bush, from the third debate with John Kerry:

It's your money.  The way my opponent talks, he said, "We're going to spend the government's money."  No, we're spending your money.  And when you have more money in your pocket, you're able to better afford things you want.

I doubt the president was deliberately winking to anti-tax zealots, as he surely was winking to anti-abortion activists in assuring us that Dred Scott was wrongly decided.  There's a sense in which the president's comment on taxes is wholly unremarkable, though, as Elizabeth Anderson has argued in her four wonderful posts on taxation, that "it's your money" is compatible with others having rightful claims on it.  Even if the president wasn't winking, though, his language connects up with frantic and wrongheaded views.  There's plenty of room for reasonable disagreement on tax policy:  what causes are worth taxing for, whether we tax fairly, and so on.  And I still think that complaints about "tax and spend" liberals should be met with ripostes about "don't tax and spend anyway" conservatives.  But we should count the idea that taxation is fundamentally illegitimate, no better than theft, as beyond the pale in responsible politics, though it's fun and useful to discuss it in classrooms and other "academic," that is irrelevant, settings.  After all, it's tantamount to the claim that the government is illegitimate.

Other politicians have tiptoed closer to those adamantly rejecting taxes than the president has.  And wouldn't you know it?  The remarkable Mr. Bartlett is one of them.

Rep. Bartlett gets stellar ratings from most anti-tax groups.  (According to TRIM, a group established by the same Robert Welch who started the John Birch Society, he blew it on only one key vote in 2003:  he supported better fuel economy for SUVs.  "Unconstitutional meddling," snorted the group.)  He's voted to make Bush's damn-the-deficit-full-speed-ahead tax cuts permanent, which makes me worry about plundering our children and grandchildren; to eliminate the estate tax, which makes me worry about equality of opportunity; and much more along those lines.  He was one of the sponsors of the Fair Tax Act of 2003, which would repeal the federal income tax, estate and gift taxes, and employment tax, and replace them with a national sales tax starting at 23%.  That makes me worry about regressive taxation:  yes, everyone would pay at the same rate, but the poor spend a larger proportion of their income buying stuff than do the rich.

All this is well within the boundaries of reasonable policy disputes.  Let's cut now to the folks at the We the People Foundation, who will be happy to explain to you why the 16th amendment wasn't validly ratified (theirs is "irrefutable proof," according to the Idaho Observer), why even existing tax laws and IRS regulations make most wages and salaries untaxable, how you can "legally" avoid paying withholding, and so on.  Or to Irwin Schiff, valiantly battling the "federal mafia" over millions they say he owes in back taxes and penalties.

In July 2001, Bob Schulz of the We the People Foundation launched a hunger strike, which he promised to continue until he died or until he could put the government on trial for what he saw as its patently illegal tax schemes.  He wanted the IRS to send officials to one of his meetings to publicly rebut his arguments for the illegality of income taxation.  The IRS had been entirely uninterested in doing anything on the record until Rep. Bartlett helped broker a deal.   "Quite simply, the government of a free people should not tax the labor of its citizens, and it is imperative that the federal tax system not be repugnant to the Constitution and its laws," Bartlett wrote to Schulz.  "Most of Congress now agrees."  (Sorry, I don't know what pollster Bartlett employs.)

But when Bartlett found out that Schulz's group was capitalizing on the scheduled meeting to urge Americans to "wait to file until the trial," he bailed out.  The meeting went forward in 2002, without Bartlett or any other federal officials attending.  (I should add that on 8/13/01, tax notes reported that the IRS denied they'd committed to anything — and that Schulz wanted to replace the federal income tax with, well, nothing.  "There is no need to replace the income tax with anything.  The people should not be needlessly cajoled into accepting a replacement tax such as the 'fair tax' or a national sales tax.")  Schulz then pledged to stop paying his own taxes and to urge other Americans to join him.  And he seized on a new and unlikely legal argument:   now he's defending his first amendment rights to petition the government, allegedly threatened by the government's failure to give him an official response.  Whatever you think of the government's dodging the forum, that legal argument is harebrained.

Schulz has also defended people like Dick Simkanin, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion after grandstanding on his website reported by The New York Times on 10/2/03:  "Public officials can and often do make the fatal mistake of attempting to harm the servants of God (Exodus 14:9) and inasmuch as the servants of God are required by Ezekiel 3:18-19 to warn the wicked, I, a Christian, do hereby issue this proclamation."  Simkanin's warning?  That any government officials who moved against him would be consumed by fire.  Lunatic?  Scoundrel?  Patriot?  Last year, Reason ran an affectionately dismissive portrait of the "tax honesty" or anti-tax cause:  "Mostly, though, [Schiff's] shtick is based on various sorts of word magic."

I don't blame Rep. Bartlett for distancing himself from this crowd.  But I do wonder how much political capital he and others like him including the president gain by flirting with sentiments they can neither publicly avow nor act on.

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Comments

Posted by: Paul Deignan

There are two sides to the tax coin.

The political reality is that pressure will remain high for low taxes. That leaves one alternative: increase government efficiency.

Instead of trying to convince ourselves of the illegitimacy of our standing in society -- that we deserve whatever is done to us by the unscrupulous, we might attempt to investigate what can be done to increase the legitimacy of our institutions. How can government be improved?

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Feb 4, 2005 8:20:37 AM


Posted by: No Labels Please

OK -

If you're in the real world here, don't make Liz Anderson' mistake in alienating almost everyone by telling them they don't actually have claims to their property or income that are superior to the state's. It just makes most people nuts. I think most people prefer the polite fiction that they actually have property rights, and they donate a portion of it for the common good. You and the rest of the left2righters will get a lot further with an approachalong these lines, especially with tax **payers** as opposed to tax **consumers**. I think your community suffers from too few net tax payers to be quite honest.

I think most reasonable people think that there will be some form of taxation in this country for the forseeable future. It's a serious straw man issue for you guys, as is MR Bertlett - why are you even wasting electrons and your time on this guy?.

Here are non-straw man issues:

What types of activities does the government need to be involved in, and to what extent? Education, social welfare, health care, etc. Why? There is a big difference here in redistribution efforts to fund these through the private sector and the government actually running them, for example.

How should the money to fun those activities be raised - ie what types of taxation? We have the lowest consumption taxes in the G10 - shouldn't that change especially with regards to peteroleum?


Posted by: No Labels Please | Feb 4, 2005 8:24:34 AM


Posted by: Don Herzog

No Labels Please:

I don't think Anderson has said anything like what you say she has. I'd like to hear more about the reasonable people who don't think we'll tax for the foreseeable future, and the other reasonable people who think that eventually we won't tax at all. I can't imagine what a reasonable view of that form looks like.

Why am I "wasting electrons and time" on Representative Bartlett? Well, he's a sitting member of Congress, and it turns out I don't approve of much of what he says and does. If you don't either, that's fine, no, better than fine. There's a reason I've never identified him by party affiliation and never presented him as the distilled essence of what "the right" stands for: that would be nonsensical.

The issues you list as "non-straw man" issues are all great ones. As I said in my post, there's lots of room for reasonable dispute about how to tax and what's worth taxing for. All this post does is lodge a protest against the view that taxation is fundamentally illegitimate, on a par with theft.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 4, 2005 9:06:43 AM


Posted by: Paul Deignan

There exists a practical use of the time of the professoriate: radical political reform.

As with taxes, there are different roads to take in reestablishing an alternative party to the governing republican majority. Old ideas and wants must give way to fresh thinking. The failures of the past must be understood. Who better to set the ship right than the intellectual elites of our universities? Who better to articulate a coherent and resonant ideology?

There is an introductory article from the WSJ that is a good start. I have done some analysis myself and reached similar conclusions. Additionally, there are new and original results that are explicative of the situation and a possible path ahead.

I'm off to other things now. Thanks for the discussion and thought. Good luck.

Posted by: Paul Deignan | Feb 4, 2005 9:16:09 AM


Posted by: john t

I am starting to suspect that Mr herzog has a secret crush on Mr Bartlett. OK,let's reach for that common ground that everybody's always talking about,let's reach out to each other. Would Mr Herzog care to identify some element of gov't that is illegitimate,some policy,practice,or expenditure. Would he consider all three branches,would he include state & local gov'ts in his his survey? As to Schulz and the Reason article,how cute? I can now assert with confidence,Mr. Herzog having set a precedent,that all left liberals think like Mr. Churchill at Colo. U. I think that Mr Bush is acting on his principles,something that some others seem not to have. Perhaps the artcles on his intention to reduce federal spending have eluded some,but as these proposals are debated it should be interesting to listen to the left howl about cutting "vitally needed gov't programs". Tax and spend anyway conservatives are not my type by the way.

Posted by: john t | Feb 4, 2005 9:19:37 AM


Posted by: LPFabulous

The posts on this blog are all turning into the same thing. In the beginning they were fresh and interesting, and occasionally I got the impression that the folks here actually were trying to reach out to the right. But since then, they've degenerated into endless leftist rhetoric. You guys can argue until you're blue in the face that "it's my money" is compatible with other people having a claim to it, but no one believes you. And no one will ever believe you. At least not in any extensive way (i.e., not that many people are really anti-tax zealots - they're just regular Joes who would like to keep a little more of the money they worked for).

You say that there are good discussions to be had about what government should be doing. Let's have those. This place is turning into an echo chamber.

Posted by: LPFabulous | Feb 4, 2005 9:31:54 AM


Posted by: oliver

Funny, I was going to say the same thing about the commenters.

Posted by: oliver | Feb 4, 2005 9:42:10 AM


Posted by: Anon

"The man who produces while others dispose of his product is a slave."
- Ayn Rand

Posted by: Anon | Feb 4, 2005 9:42:23 AM


Posted by: CDC

"He's voted to make Bush's damn-the-deficit-full-speed-ahead tax cuts permanent,..."

Is that what that law was called? Why wasn't I informed?

"... which makes me worry about plundering our children and grandchildren;..."

Oh dear.

"...to eliminate the estate tax, which makes me worry about equality of opportunity;..."

I'm beside myself.

"... and much more along those lines."

Much.

If Looney Toon Congressmen are such a cause of, well, worry, when are we going to get columns on Sheila Jackson Lee?

Posted by: CDC | Feb 4, 2005 10:04:49 AM


Posted by: Anon

"Would you mind passing me the salt?"
- Henry Kissinger to Robert Mugabe

Posted by: Anon | Feb 4, 2005 10:11:04 AM


Posted by: frankly0

You guys can argue until you're blue in the face that "it's my money" is compatible with other people having a claim to it, but no one believes you.

So what do you think the "regular Joe" believes about taxes for the military and for the police? That the government has no claim to that money?

Now I don't doubt but that there are some libertarians anyway who believe the government has no such claim, but, again, the regular Joe?

Posted by: frankly0 | Feb 4, 2005 10:16:32 AM


Posted by: S. Weasel

I can't recall running across the argument that there should be zero taxes and zero government. Maybe on some anarcho-thingummy site, I suppose. Is there some new libertarian position paper I missed?

Posted by: S. Weasel | Feb 4, 2005 10:24:18 AM


Posted by: David Andersen

How do you make the leap that this statement:

"It's your money. The way my opponent talks, he said, "We're going to spend the government's money." No, we're spending your money."

implies that taxation is "fundamentally illegitimate, no better than theft..."

Regardless of the legitimacy or illegitimacy of taxation, it is OUR money; that is, it is the money of the people who have earned it. The methods and justifications of taxation are a different issue.

Posted by: David Andersen | Feb 4, 2005 10:32:51 AM


Posted by: frankly0

I can't recall running across the argument that there should be zero taxes and zero government. Maybe on some anarcho-thingummy site, I suppose. Is there some new libertarian position paper I missed?

My recollection is that Ayn Rand, for instance, argued that the government had no right to impose taxes, and that the military, etc., should be paid for by the government imposing fees on the enforcement of contracts, which individuals would only voluntarily enter into.

But the real point is that even most libertarians hold that the government has a right to tax, then, pretty much by definition, there MUST be some basis for the assertion that the government has a claim to some of our income.

Posted by: frankly0 | Feb 4, 2005 10:39:39 AM


Posted by: frankly0

Where I wrote

But the real point is that even most libertarians...

I meant

But the real point is that if even most libertarians...

As usual, argh!

Posted by: frankly0 | Feb 4, 2005 10:42:06 AM


Posted by: john t

Oliver, re. your 9:42 post,maybe that's because the academics continue to return to the same subject,with the same stated or implied conclusion,gov't holds a blank check against your assets/money. A repeated fixation calls for repeated rejoinders. Don Herzog, nice try with the Bartlett bit about distilled essence,your use of him is painfully obvious,to set up a whipping boy caricature as a prelude to the exposition of your views. But has been said before,and before,and before,the question is about levels of taxation,the extent of gov,t power, the efficacy of gov't programs etc. Taxation is a fact of life but that doesn't preclude a little hanky panky by both parties as well as the sometimes onerous hand of regulatory abd bureacratic power. You have been answered numerous time,I guess you're just waiting for unanimity with your views. I'll go with LPFabulous on this one.

Posted by: john t | Feb 4, 2005 10:47:15 AM


Posted by: No Labels Please

Mr Herzog -

I agree that Liz Anderson's composite views are more complex that my first post represented. What I'm trying to say that as a political stance making a big deal out of the position that your property rights are subordinate to the state's is a serious loser. It kind of scares people - even people like me who agree that you should pay taxes and that they aren't theft. A better political stance is:

--taxes stink
--we need them to pay for things society needs to do
--let's all work together to see who can afford to contribute how much
--and let's be sure that because everyone works real hard for their money, we don't waste it on programs that are inefficient and don't work

Here's the aroma that comes off this blog:

--your income or "societal surplus" is as much a matter of luck and the existence of society as anything else
--therefore you're really not entitled to keep it if the 'state' wants it
--so, we'll take it away from you and spend it on programs we like


When people who work in the real economy whiff that aroma they head for the exits - fast.

Do you see my point?

I think you can accomplish what you want by moving away from the second approach and gettting closer to the first.

Posted by: No Labels Please | Feb 4, 2005 10:55:37 AM


Posted by: Scott Schaefer

Allow me to be so bold as to speak for the regular Joe.

I have been reading this blog almost since its inception, and just Wednesday afternoon I considered posting something to what LPFabulous said above: I too got the impression that the folks here actually were trying to reach out, but that posts have degenerated into endless leftist rhetoric.

Here is this average Joe's thoughts on the issue of government taxation:

1) Individuals earn money by free exchange of their 'labor'
2) "Government" desires to enforce certain "claims" to "take" some portion of that money from said individuals,
3) Since the amount which the sum of all individuals will voluntarily transfer is less than the amount desired by the "government", we have a disagreement.

So, the fundamental question is "How to solve the disagreement".

Average Joe thinks we solve this the same way we solve other disagreements between two parties -- by rule of law. However, that requires a claimant and a defendant.

Average Joe is of the (strong) opinion that the "government" is that claimant, and thus the entire burden of proof lies with the government -- it must offer compelling evidence and arguments in order to support its claim(s).

Average Joe has concluded (perhaps mistakenly) that, in general, those on the "left" believe that the individual is the claimant -- thus, the individual bears the burden of proof.

Posted by: Scott Schaefer | Feb 4, 2005 11:02:18 AM


Posted by: S. Weasel

But the real point is that even [if] most libertarians hold that the government has a right to tax, then, pretty much by definition, there MUST be some basis for the assertion that the government has a claim to some of our income.

Eh. I can't imagine anything more tiresome than watching a minarchist and an anarchist fight over the weary ashes of Ayn Rand, so I won't go there.

The 'white bread' libertarian position (I was going to type 'mainstream' but my fingers wouldn't do it) is generally the minarchist one: there is a use for government, to provide certain basic services. To pay for these services, we all have to put some money in the pot. The government's "claim" derives from my enjoyment of those services; the Stop 'n' Shop corporation has a similar "claim" to my money periodically. However, unlike Stop 'n' Shop, the government gets the money whether I use the services or not. Because collecting this money is coercive, and because it is the nature of government that we can't pay for it à la carte or decline to support any individual part of it, we must keep services provided this way to a minimum.

Posted by: S. Weasel | Feb 4, 2005 11:33:28 AM


Posted by: noah

What do Mr. Herzog and others fear about Mr. Bartlett? Do they fear that his vision of a just society will be implemented by the government? If so why do you fear the legitimate functioning of our representative democracy?

I suspect that he is just a convenient temporary target while you recover from the discombobulating events of recent weeks. I have noticed that the American Prospect, for example, has virtually nothing coherent to say about the Iraqi election and what it means. In my opinion it means that we are going to win in Iraq and the left will again be seen as unwilling to "pay any price or bear any burden" at all in the defense of freedom. The left has complained about being accused of treason by Anne Coulter but what exactly was Sen. Kennedy up to when he called for an exit strategy on the eve of that election...can we infer any motive other patriotism?

Posted by: noah | Feb 4, 2005 11:54:33 AM


Posted by: john t

FrantlyO, I don't think Ayn Rand offered a broadly reprentative view,back then. I say bck then because she subsequently modified her view on taxation. For what it's worth I thought her views on contract fees was impractical when first I read them,about 40yrs ago. But now that you've raised the subject perhaps Mr Herzog or Ms Anderson will brandish her name as a talisman of the anti tax revolt. By the way what anti tax revolt? For that matter,what revolt period.

Posted by: john t | Feb 4, 2005 12:31:54 PM


Posted by: Steve Burton

Thanks, No Labels Please, for a nearly perfect summary of an important point.

The only thing I would question would be your conclusion. I'm not at all sure that they *can* get what they want - i.e., an even bigger government and higher taxes than we've already got - if they begin with the presumption that "taxes stink" and should only be resorted to at need and even then only in support of programs that are demonstrably efficient and effective.

That, after all, is precisely the attitude that *conservative* politicians are trying to appeal to when they promise to let people keep their own money for themselves (and not some dubious absolutist theory of ownership).

Posted by: Steve Burton | Feb 4, 2005 12:33:05 PM


Posted by: Matt

I don't think there is anything wrong with the observation that when the government spends money, its spending money that could otherwise be yours. There is nothing about this that implies taxation or the government is illegitimate.

The point is that if the government is going to tax its citizens, it had better spend the money effectively. I can waste money frivoulously, but the government had better not. When you talk about a policy as spending the government's money then you are de-emphasizing the important point about justifying government expenditures- there is an opportunity cost and it is pretty high. So any government program has to justify its cost and I think talking about whether its our money or the government's money is meant to highlight the problem or hide it, depending on which phrase you choose.

The process of taxation is inefficient producing deadweight loss. The federal government is a huge beaurocracy that is dreadfully wasteful. The return on any dollar that has to go through the government is significantly less than if it remained in the private sector. The more you see this as a problem, the more you resist tax-and-spend as a solution to problems. I think at least part of the reason why academics tend to be more willing to tax people is that since they don't work in the private sector they have significantly less appreciation for the importance of efficient asset allocation.

Posted by: Matt | Feb 4, 2005 12:55:55 PM


Posted by: DBCooper

LP fabulous and Oliver are both correct about this: The posts do seem to be blending together into an all too familiar pattern.

1st One of the distinguished professors drops a rhetoric bomb that is laden with highly enriched insinuation

2nd A debate ensues as to the motives of the poster.

3rd A sparring match between dead philosophers ensues...

4th The names Anne Coulter or Michael Moore are stirred into the mix...

5th The original poster disappears into the night, not to be heard of again until the next big one is dropped. The exit poll blog is a good example of this, many valid questions that required the original poster’s expertise were never answered. That was very disappointing. Don Herzog, however is not one of that ilk.

Although it is true the debate on taxation should focus on how much or how little and what for, the political parties will never address specifics in this regard. Just consider the debate about public school expenditures. No matter what the per-pupil expenditure seems to be, it is never enough for the administrators. But do they ever cite a figure as to how much would be enough? Doing so would make them irrefutably accountable, and undermine the ultimate built-in excuse for underperformance.

Democrats say, “we are going to build a bigger/better government if we just get some more money.”

Republicans say, “we are going to make government smaller and more efficient if we just get some more money.”

Posted by: DBCooper | Feb 4, 2005 1:23:21 PM


Posted by: Martin James

In regard to "After all, it's tantamount to the claim that the government is illegitimate."

I'm going to try once again to make the case that even if the radical tax protestors position is a minority position on the legitimacy of taxation for the USA, it points to the very important question of what makes a government legitimate.

Whether it be Iraq, or WWII Germany or Cuba or Communist Russia or the neoconservative led current USA, how do we decide what is a legitimate government?

Is it beyond the pale of responsible politics to call for an end to the army? I don't think so, even though I think it is about as likely and popular as a complete end to taxes. I would make the same argument that complete pacifists lead us to the "live" question of what the size and direction of the army should be.

I don't fear the arguments of the "tax is theft" crowd or the "having an army is evil imperialism" crowd and don't see why we need to supress "beyond the pale" arguments. I am uncertain as to why Don Herzog does.

Many people complain about the unintelligent level of our political dialog and the lack of spirited debate between the major parties. I think this is directly connected to the fact that extreme and minor parties are excluded as illegitimate. If the Naders and the Badnariks were included "within the pale" of responsible politics, I think the number of extremists would not change much, but the quality of the majority parties would improve significantly.

Posted by: Martin James | Feb 4, 2005 2:29:07 PM


Posted by: David

I'm not a libertarian, Martin, but I agree with you that there is no reason to be dismissive ab initio with respect to the hard libertarian position. I think this view has big philosophical problems, but I say that about every view other than my own (and my own has at least a few problems, to be sure). So, you have at least one liberal here willing to hear your arguments respectfully.

Posted by: David | Feb 4, 2005 2:59:23 PM


Posted by: David

Martin, I hope I didn't incorrectly assume that you are a libertarian. After rereading your post, I don't see where you identified yourself clearly as such. I think you were simply attacking the exclusion of libertarian arguments. So, I have no basis on which to characterize your political philosophy.

Posted by: David | Feb 4, 2005 3:03:13 PM


Posted by: Will Curtis

"All this post does is lodge a protest against the view that taxation is fundamentally illegitimate, on a par with theft."

That's the disappointing thing about this post. Most of my friends and family are conservatives, and I don't know of anyone, ANYONE, who believes this.

Rather they believe in the exact concept that the President was alluding to: Government programs aren't magically funded by the the mint printing some more money -- gov't programs are funded by forcibly taking the money from "we the people". It's not theft -- theft means illegal transfer of wealth; the government makes the laws ergo when the government takes wealth its never illegal. The point is about how we "feel" about this transfer; most conservatives view it as a necessary EVIL that should be held to a minimum. Most liberals do not.

W.

Posted by: Will Curtis | Feb 4, 2005 3:36:10 PM


Posted by: neal

with all the tremendous increase in worker productivity, you would imagine there would be ample money to solve the social ills plagueing society. At the very least, one would imagine that with all the borrowing we are doing to keep this society living high on the hog, that government would not get any bigger.

But here is the problem. When times are good, the government tax revenues increase and the government expands programs. When times are bad, no one can agree on which programs to cut. The new method, cutting taxes, means deficits go up and there is no room to make new programs. When times get good again, there will be no room for new programs either, since the deficit is so high. Then you put the socialists in the uncomfortable position of having to raise taxes to get new programs.

Posted by: neal | Feb 4, 2005 4:02:39 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

On Steve Darwall's post on the Iraq election, I promptly expressed my "delight" at how well it had gone. So I don't think I can be accused of somehow trying to evade the subject because I don't like it.

I do not believe that my claim to my property, or yours to yours, is somehow "subordinate" to the state's, or that the burden of proof is on the individual to justify keeping what otherwise belongs to the state, or anything like that.

To emphasize what I would have thought my post says perfectly clearly, I have no intention of trying to justify high or higher taxes by saying, oh, opponents must think taxation is fundamentally illegitimate. Instead I say, there's plenty of room for reasonable dispute on what causes are worth taxing for and how we should tax for them. But the protest against "taxation is theft" is not just classroom discussion in the following sense, which I also tried to be clear about. I do not want perfectly reasonable complaints about particular government programs or taxes to be underwritten by the sentiment that taxation is as a general matter unjustifiable. I want the argument to be about, is this program worth it? Is this the kind of problem that we should properly turn to the government to solve? And, to judge from comments regularly made by a few people on this blog, that sentiment really is out there.

And though it will alas sound facetious, I am honestly sorry for whatever I've done to help wreck the blog by spouting leftist cant. What can I say? I'll keep trying.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 4, 2005 4:07:21 PM


Posted by: Boiler80

Dr. Herzog,

I thought that one of the purposes of this blog was for you guys to appeal to those of us on the other end of the political spectrum by engaging us in open, spirited, intelligent debate. Is that correct? If so, it seems that you feel the way to do this is by flamethrowing about anyone you consider to be a conservative 'zealot' (Pres. Bush, Rep. Bartlett).

Please admit that the left has as many zealots/goofballs (cough, Michael Moore, cough) as the right, and it's obvious that you guys consider Rep. Bartlett a goofball. Maybe he is, maybe not.

I know next to nothing about him, but his bio on his website is pretty impressive (http://www.bartlett.house.gov/biography.asp). Based on a cursory glance it seems to me that the man has (1) Provided more benefit to society than most others - just look at his inventions (2) Earned the right to represent his constituents' point of view by being elected (7 times) to Congress (3) has staked out some clear priorities for his service in Congress which he espouses on his web site. The guy has definitely been a producer in life, not a drain on the rest of us. If he's such a moron, go beat him next time he runs for Congress.

Maybe, you should redouble your efforts to engage in honest conversation rather than flamethrowing. It just bothers me that you guys are all so adamant that Bush is stupid, illegitmate, unethical, sneaky, et. al. That was the same stuff we heard about Pres. Reagan in the 1980's, and now that he's gone your side is falling all over yourselves trying to make others believe that you were all strong supporters of his policies when he was President. Soon, you'll be doing the same with that dimwit Bush.

Lastly, you say, "There's a sense in which the president's comment on taxes is wholly unremarkable" - and there you are correct. To a conservative, those words are wholly unremarkable because many of us, and many politicians we support, have been saying them for a very long time. What would be remarkable, is if we ever heard a Democrat say them.

Posted by: Boiler80 | Feb 4, 2005 4:20:50 PM


Posted by: Martin James

David,

At last, a self-identified liberal to ask questions!

I read this blog because I am interested in what liberals think.

I don't fit in with any crowd and I am curious about all of them. It is a mystery to me how people come to hold the PRECISE political and moral positions that they do. I'm even confused as to why more people are not confused about other people. Even is this forum, so few people seem at a loss to explain why other people are "wrong" and how they got that way. They KNOW. But which of these people, 20 years ago, would have predicted our current Republican House of Representatives? And who can tell me when, if ever, the tide will turn the other way?

For example, I like extremists in the political dialog because they tend to tell the truth about what they believe. They have so few votes to lose, right?

So first question, how important is economic equality to you for people above and beyond the basic needs of a person?

Posted by: Martin James | Feb 4, 2005 4:31:43 PM


Posted by: LPFabulous

And though it will alas sound facetious, I am honestly sorry for whatever I've done to help wreck the blog by spouting leftist cant. What can I say? I'll keep trying.

Prof. Herzog (it is prof, right?): In fairness, the issue here isn't necessarily that you're spouting "leftist cant". You are a leftist, and I don't think anyone here really expects you to just start taking conservative positions. But the point of this blog is to have a dicussion with the political right. And virtually every poster here presents his/her arguments as if the person hearing them were a university professor (which, almost by definition, would make him/her a leftist anyway). But it's precisely all this leftist university intellectual incest that has helped create the divide in the first place (let's be sure to place proper blame on the hardline conservative zealots who have not helped the other side any either). No Labels Please is pointing, I think, in the right direction. If you want to talk to the right, you have to address the right. Not talk above them. Let me tell you, the right is plenty tired of being condescended to as it is.

Posted by: LPFabulous | Feb 4, 2005 4:38:14 PM


Posted by: David

Boiler80: Michael Moore is very much a goofball, and I do not like many of his tactics and arguments. I will say the same for many of the Hollywood protesters like Susan Sarandon. They may be very nice people with good motives, but I don't like the fact that we all get grouped together as "the left." It doesn't seem to me that these people are philosophically aligned with me, that is, that they support similar candidates and policies for the same *reasons* as me. So, when they offer bad reasons in defense of abortion, I get mad. There are, to my mind, very persuasive arguments in defense of abortion, but you rarely here them from moviestars--or, for that matter, anybody invited to appear on Scarborough Country, Matthews and similar shows.

Martin: I appreciate your curiosity and will try to provide an answer to your question later. I'm finishing up at work right now and can't say much now.

Posted by: David | Feb 4, 2005 5:24:52 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Consider:

Here's the aroma that comes off this blog:

It just bothers me that you guys are all so adamant that Bush is stupid, illegitmate, unethical, sneaky, et. al.

The posts do seem to be blending together into an all too familiar pattern.

When I read language like this, I sigh. I think people are reading things into what I -- and here I'll speak for the other authors on board, too -- into what we write that just plain aren't there. Who on this blog, for instance, has said a syllable about Bush being "stupid, illegitimate, unethical, sneaky"?

I sigh too on being told that I'm flamethrowing. Maybe I'm not the best judge of whether I am doing that, though.

And yes, I happen to be a professor, but I'm not writing here as a professor, and there's surely no need to address me as Dr.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 4, 2005 5:51:16 PM


Posted by: Boiler80

Sorry, Don:

Perhaps I've spent too much time attempting to "read between the lines" of mainstream academic thought - as well as that of the MSM.

As I skimmed through your initial post, here is what I got out of it:

1) Rep. Bartlett is a kooky guy who thinks that taxation shouldn't be a function of our gov't.
2) President Bush, wink, wink kind of goes along with Rep. Bartlett, just like he wink, wink goes along with the anti-abortion crowd.
3) There's room for disagreement on tax policy between libs and cons and we should talk about it.
4) Are the people really stupid enough to believe that Bartlett and Bush can deliver on this stuff, when everybody knows that they can't cut your taxes to zero - even though that is the ultimate goal of guys like Bush and Bartlett.

I'm sure that I've read a hell of a lot more into your post than you intended. So if you were trying to focus on point #3 above, why drag Bush and Bartlett into it. I felt like you were marginalizing the thoughts of those who are for reducing taxation as a pretext to the discussion. Sorry if I took it wrongly, I'll try harder to not read between the lines and understand better the context of what you are saying.

If you believe that Bush is basically a decent, well educated, not necessarily brilliant, hard working guy who has the country's best interests at heart even if you may not agree with him - let's start from there. I would have said as much about Clinton (minus the hard working part). If not, what are the assumptions that I should make about where you're coming from?

Posted by: Boiler80 | Feb 4, 2005 6:31:54 PM


Posted by: Steve Burton

Prof. Herzog:

I have no doubt of your good will.

But I *am* disappointed with your response to No Labels Please.

If the phrase "Here's the aroma that comes off this blog" makes you sigh, then you may just be too delicate a flower for the blogosphere. By prevailing standards, it was not in the least abusive, and it was, besides, good, vivid style.

Moreover, he was making an important point. The overall sense one gets from the long series of interesting Left2Right posts on property and taxation is, precisely:

"--your income or "societal surplus" is as much a matter of luck and the existence of society as anything else

"--therefore you're really not entitled to keep it if the 'state' wants it

"--so, we'll take it away from you and spend it on programs we like."

--And this whole tack is just a huge political loser for the left, whatever its merits as abstract philosophy.

It really would be interesting to read a serious reply to NLP's point.

Posted by: Steve Burton | Feb 4, 2005 6:53:29 PM


Posted by: dave

>But which of these people, 20 years ago, would have predicted our current Republican House of Representatives?

Um, well, me. It wasn't that much of a stretch. Twenty years ago was 1984, Reagan was running against Mondale, the move to the ex-urbs was apparent, the south was loosing it's old status as a Dem stronghold, there was a productivity boom clearly coming from cheap computation, and the Dems had shackled themselves to some really exceptionally unpopular positions (old-style dependency-celebrating welfare, weak military, excessive gun-control, foreign policy far weaker than even todays) that they haven't even completely fought themselves clear of yet. The Reps had momentum and willingness to change, and the Dems had nothing but entangling alliances and tired ideas. A majority of the House was no more than a decade away, and a majority of the Senate probably not much longer than that.

>And who can tell me when, if ever, the tide will turn the other way?

With the Dem's current bench strength and liabilities, at least twenty-five years. The skills just aren't there, the negatives are enormous, the new ideas are only now starting to come (meaning at least a decade before they aren't simply laughed at), and there's absolutely no reason for anyone in the bulk of the red states to really trust the Dems on the issues they actually care about. Before the turnaround, there will be an end to gun control, an end to affirmative action, and probably widespread school choice. The abortion stalemate will actually continue, and gay marriage will be largely legal.

Well, you did ask.

Posted by: dave | Feb 4, 2005 7:31:10 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Herzog writes: After all, [calling taxation theft is] tantamount to the claim that the government is illegitimate.

Precisely.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Feb 4, 2005 7:58:04 PM


Posted by: CDC

Dr Herzog: Please forgive the formality, but, after 25 years, I still call senior military officers "Sir".

Now, to follow up on some points others have made: There seems to be an assumption here that those of us who support Mr. Bush's tax policies simply do not understand the implications of those policies. I simply disagree with some of Mr. Bush's opponents' assumptions. Many of us on the Right do not believe that income tax revenue models should be linear equations. There is a point above which increases in tax rates reduce revenue.


Posted by: CDC | Feb 4, 2005 8:03:11 PM


Posted by: oliver

"Let me tell you, the right is plenty tired of being condescended to as it is."

I would just like to mention for anybody out there who is concerned that they might lack perfect pitch, the above is extremely inflammatory and really makes me want to snipe.

Posted by: oliver | Feb 4, 2005 8:07:33 PM


Posted by: oliver

D.A. Ridgely quotes Professor H writing "After all, [calling taxation theft is] tantamount to the claim that the government is illegitimate." and replies "Precisely."

I believe Professor H's point is that this blog takes the legitamcy of government as a premise and those with opposing views about that can shove them up on over to another blog and while they're here stay on point.

Posted by: oliver | Feb 4, 2005 8:13:42 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Boiler80:

No apologies needed, thanks. I could say any number of things about where I'm coming from, but I think all you need to know is what you can read on this blog: if you want to take the time, I've done a series of posts already, of which I guess this and this and this will tell you much of what you might want to know. Or, if you want a very quick description of the kind of thing I do at my day job, this. Or I could report that I'm a political theorist who's drifted over to law, and so I know weird stuff about English and American materials from say 1500 to now, also about constitutional law, especially first amendment, and torts.

But I'd ask that you not try to read into what I write, and to resist the temptation to assume I must be a version of The Leftist as you already conceive of that. I might be, I might not be, but like all of us I have my quirks and idiosyncrasies anyway, and some irrational attachments to them.

On the post you just reacted to, I meant it when I said that Bartlett's votes on tax issues were well within the bounds of reasonable policy. And I meant it when I said that I doubted Bush was winking to anti-tax forces. And I meant it when I summed up by writing, "I don't blame Rep. Bartlett for distancing himself from this crowd. But I do wonder how much political capital he and others like him — including the president — gain by flirting with sentiments they can neither publicly avow nor act on." I think that objections to particular government programs should not draw support from the rejection of taxes as such, because I think that rejection is illicit. In short, I meant what I said, which is how I write on this blog. If you go to the description of the blog, the part I emphatically agree with is the claim that political debate has deteriorated into a food fight. In prior posts, commenters have suggested, or sneered, that we're running this blog because we're so appalled that Kerry lost. Not me. I'm much more interested in doing what I can to promote civil exchanges across ideological divides than I am in plotting the next election.

Steve Burton writes,

If the phrase "Here's the aroma that comes off this blog" makes you sigh, then you may just be too delicate a flower for the blogosphere.

Oh, I'm not objecting to the tone at all. The sigh is because the very category "aroma" means, "here's my general impression of what's going on around here." And I sighed because I thought that general impression had much more to do with swirling popular currents about The Left than anything anyone here was saying. Put differently, it was the inaccuracy of the substance, not the sting of the language, that made me sigh. I sometimes write brashly, and I can take as good as I dish out.

So when you say, I suppose sympathetically summing up for No Labels Please,

The overall sense one gets from the long series of interesting Left2Right posts on property and taxation is, precisely:

"--your income or "societal surplus" is as much a matter of luck and the existence of society as anything else

"--therefore you're really not entitled to keep it if the 'state' wants it

"--so, we'll take it away from you and spend it on programs we like."

I have the same reaction to "overall sense." I don't think Elizabeth Anderson has said any of those things. The strategy of her posts on taxation so far is to take on objections to taxation, one at a time, and say what she thinks is wrong with them. She hasn't yet said much about affirmative justifications of taxation, past the abstract thought we want to ensure a decent life for all. I won't speak further for her -- she's more articulate than I am, anyway -- but I will say that I categorically reject "we'll take it away from you" as a description of democratic politics, and that I can't find that repulsive thought on anything she or I has written. You're free of course to argue that we're implicitly committed to it, but please, not by appealing to the "overall sense one gets."

CDC writes,

There is a point above which increases in tax rates reduce revenue.

I agree emphatically. (I don't know anyone who disagrees.) In actual tax debates, that has to be a crucial background fact to keep in mind. In fact well short of literal reduction we should worry about disincentives to productivity. I take it to be a complicated empirical question, not a matter of high theory -- a profane question, not a sacred one, if you see what I mean -- what rising tax rates would do. That's the sort of thing that democratic debate, emphatically with the assistance of experts but just as emphatically not somehow beholden to them, is good at sorting out.

And last, and a bit impishly but also dead seriously, also for CDC: Here's further evidence on the decline of the West and the rise of us cheery chatty-Kathy egalitarians. At work everyone calls me Don: my students, my colleagues, staff, you name it. If you call me Dr., I'll worry that you'll want me to fix your broken tibia, and boy o boy do I assure you I have no such useful skills.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 4, 2005 8:31:21 PM


Posted by: noah

Come on Don...go back and read the article Mr. Danwall linked to so approvingly. Since then silence on what has undoubtedly been the most contentious issue of the past several months. It is understandable that you and others on the left do not wish to discuss the issue especially since the sentiments expressed by your partisans were so spectacularly wrong. Maybe you think you can still avoid mea culpas if things take a turn for the worse in the future...still not what I would call a patriotic frame of mind no matter how you slice it.

Posted by: noah | Feb 4, 2005 8:53:50 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

noah, I am not going to be held accountable for anything anyone identified as on the left says, any more than I suspect you want to be held accountable for anything anyone identified as on the right says. I am not hoping for things in Iraq to go badly. Now that we're there, I'm hoping that they go extraordinarily well, for us, for the Iraqis, for the Middle East, for the world.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 4, 2005 8:57:33 PM


Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com

Fair enough.

Posted by: noahpraetorius@hotmail.com | Feb 4, 2005 9:16:27 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Those now dourly suspecting that this expression of hope was yanked out of me against my will, or that I don't mean it, can check this.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Feb 4, 2005 9:40:34 PM


Posted by: CDC

Don: "I agree emphatically.(That "There is a point above which increases in tax rates reduce revenue.")(I don't know anyone who disagrees.) In actual tax debates, that has to be a crucial background fact to keep in mind."

See folks, we do have common ground. Rather than blowing right by this point of agreement, we should fix a few fundamental premisses.

Premiss 1: Tax collections can be written as a function of tax rates. C(r%)=$c. Let tax rate (as a percent) be described by a graph's horizontal axis and tax collections be described by the vertical axis.
Premiss 2: At 0% tax rate, tax collections are $0.
Premiss 3: At 100% tax rate, tax collections (after any initial confiscation) are $0.
Premiss 4: The function C is concave downward.

Agreed?

"In fact well short of literal reduction we should worry about disincentives to productivity. I take it to be a complicated empirical question, not a matter of high theory -- a profane question, not a sacred one, if you see what I mean -- what rising tax rates would do. That's the sort of thing that democratic debate, emphatically with the assistance of experts but just as emphatically not somehow beholden to them, is good at sorting out."

Right wingers, can I get an AMEN!

"... dead seriously, also for CDC:...If you call me Dr., I'll worry that you'll want me to fix your broken tibia, and boy o boy do I assure you I have no such useful skills."

How amusing.

Posted by: CDC | Feb 4, 2005 9:40:35 PM


Posted by: Martin James

Dave:

Atleast 25 years is a little vague but you did make a prediction.

So, I would like to ask you about presidential politics since you have a good track record with the House.

What is your explanation for why Clinton did so well in 1996?

Do you think the GOP will soon win in Minnesota and Wisconsin?

Why has the GOP done so poorly in Illinois, Michigan, PA, NJ?

Will the "left coast" trend in CA, OR and WA spread to NV, CO, NM, or eve, heven help us,Texas?

Also in reagrds to California your general reasons were

the move to the ex-urbs,
the south was loosing it's old status as a Dem stronghold,
there was a productivity boom clearly coming from cheap computation, and the Dems had shackled themselves to some really exceptionally unpopular positions

There are exurbs, productivity, guns, evangelicals, abortion in CA, but they have gone republican.

Posted by: Martin James | Feb 4, 2005 9:47:31 PM


Posted by: Steve Burton

Prof. Herzog:

Is it just a complete mystery to you why anyone would get this general impression?

Could you point me to even a single post here concerning taxation that does not argue one or more of the following points?

(1) conservative objections to increased taxation are ill-founded.

(2) taxes need to be raised.

(3) spending cuts are not a viable alternative.

Of *course* you all don't *say* anything like: "we'll take it away from you."

But that's what we all *hear*. Those of us who live in the world of brass tacks. And - believe me - that is where I live.

Posted by: Steve Burton | Feb 4, 2005 9:55:19 PM


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