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Aug 15

Taxing The Economy? Really?

Although I am an opponent of excessively high tax rates, both because they can be unfair and because they can impact on our efforts to protect and support our families, there is ideological tunnel vision in this right-wing, libertarian Republican position.

Yes, success is in part the result of hard work and ability, the rewards of which are deserved. But I know that my individual success is also in part the result of good luck and support from others. Even more important, it could not have been achieved in the absence of the society of which I am a member. I have an obligation to respond more than proportionally because I have profited more than proportionally.

tterRecognition of such obligation is part of what I was taught as a child. It is essential to being a mensch: literally being a “man” but figuratively being a “human being.” I admit that I wish my top tax rate were lower. But when the recent tax reductions were enacted, I would have voted instead for decreases in the regressive Social Security taxes for lower income brackets. These are the brackets in which rent is a huge burden and in which medical and dental care is most difficult to afford.

I know something about this because we were very poor when I was a child. Yes, I succeeded nonetheless, and I am grateful. However, as a supporter of family values, I know the price my family paid. I would rather see my taxes remain high than to lower them at the expense of the poorest among us.

Moreover, as, I hope, an intelligent citizen, I know this is also in the interests of my society and not merely of the poorer among us. The less income the lower classes have, the poorer their health and the less they achieve educationally. When significant elements of the population pay this price, the whole nation suffers. Our medical costs escalate. Our skill levels decline. Our productivity diminishes.

Yes, high taxation beyond a certain level would have similar consequences. But I would not work harder if my taxes were lowered, and I doubt very much that Bill Gates would be less productive if his taxes were increased.

In its own way, the Democratic Left is every bit as ideological and stupid as the Republican Right. Even worse, it is demagogic, stirs class hatred, and drives us apart. The argument for reducing the capital gains tax once the immediate crisis has passed is very strong. High corporate tax rates likely are counterproductive, although much corporate pork cannot be justified. Subsidies for activities vital to national defense are justifiable. Maintaining shipbuilding and production of computer parts likely are in the national interest.

We should have the right to place some of our Social Security payments into market accounts, although perhaps the government should specify a small number of such funds with which it would negotiate a competitive price. To the extent that Social Security represents a social safety net–for instance, disability or death payments–I do not see why this portion of the tax should cease at under $80,000. And, yes, there is no “lockbox.” That is a fake argument because the ability of the government to pay out claims depends on its collection of future taxes, whether the Social Security tax or some other tax.

Back in 1996, Dick Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois, won his campaign in part because he went to senior groups and convinced them that their pensions were threatened. If I had been running, I would have been too ashamed to use senior citizens in this fashion and certainly would not have looked as pleased with myself, as he did, if I had.

Let me return to September 11. Each traveler who attacked the terrorists was a mensch. They did what human beings should do. That is what society should expect of us. It is what we should expect of ourselves and, therefore, something for which we should not expect praise. It is a sign of the previous state of our society that we feel compelled to praise behavior that should be expected because most people no longer do what any mensch should be expected to do.

Several years ago someone who saw me tell a clerk that he had given me an extra ten in change wanted to shake my hand. I deserved absolutely no credit because that is what we should expect everyone to do. We will have a sound society only when most people behave like a mensch and expect absolutely no praise for this.

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