"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Shut up and cash your check

For my money, Steve's post Taxes v. Wealth nicely illustrates one cause of the tempest in modern American politics, particularly among conservatives. In short, for all the talk about wealth redistribution, the rich enjoy almost all the money, the poor almost none, and yet we endure endless inanities from the left about the rich not paying taxes, and from the right about the poor getting entitlements. As Steve says:
The rich actually get more government transfer money, in raw figures, than the poor do. In fact, the group that gets the least money is the bottom 20%. The poorest of America's poor receive the least of America's transfer payments. The biggest payments go to.... wait for it... the middle class. But even the rich make out better than the poor do.

A couple intractable puzzles of modern politics are compressed into these few lines. We prescribe self-reliance as the cure for the poor, but apparently have no enthusiasm to help the medicine go down with anyone else. A classical republic, recall, educates by example: the nobles in the upper ranks demonstrate virtue in their own lives as instruction to the rest of us. Well, the poor have picked up at least one lesson from our modern nobles when it comes to rent-seeking. Perhaps we're more of a classical republic than we let on.

And the rest of us, the middle-class -- if you're reading a blog, you're it -- we're the worst of all, we're told. All our home-mortgage-interest deductions, healthcare credits, charitable deductions, social-security payments, tax-favored education-savings plans -- why, we're just as bad as the bankers and welfare queens!

Somewhere under the hood, beneath specific policy disagreements, there is a vague, unexpressed frustration with modern politics, and this is it. That no matter how much you talk of helping the poor, or curbing the "one percent," or helping the rest of us just raise our families in peace, in the end the only thing government can think to do is mail money back and forth across the continent. And then lecture us about none being without sin when it comes to that anachronistic virtue of self-reliance. The cynic was right: we didn't build that. Now shut up and cash your check.

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Tim Kowal is an attorney, an adjunct professor at the Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, a director of the Orange County Federalist Society, and a commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission. All opinions are my own. Follow Tim on Twitter at @timkowal.

3 comments:

Mark DeForrest said...

The Servile State in action.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Whom doth it serve?

Not only those in their Epicurean gardens, but the barbarians at their gates.

Seems an equitable arrangement. I love you, you love me, now here's some money so kindly piss off from my gates. Amen.

Will Hart said...

Good to see you writing again, Tim. Google notified me about this.

I have been thinking for some time that the only thing that would make a flat tax feasible is to exempt the first $50k of income from taxation.
I think that figure might be a little low.

I see this post as particularly astute, and I would hope you address the issue of government contributions toward corporate estate.
It occurred to me recently that, were an analysis actually done, there may well be a greater exchange of wealth in that area than toward military veterans.

Charities as well.
I have studied non-profits as a preliminary to request of grant funding for a documentary film I am producing as a guided project (the legal career of Abraham Lincoln-- with the archives in the basement of the library of the university, and the presidential library downtown, I am uniquely positioned to take on this subject matter).
What I have found (along with a fair amount of privateering of government employuees) is that many of these groups are what I would call "whack-jobs."

Something else I would like to tell you about that, but I have to wait til May, because I'm in her class right now.
Preview: Remember me railing against victim impact statements as "a dangerous blending of the civil courts with our criminal courts?"

Not unrelatedly:
Joshua Page's The Toughest Beat, detailing the Calif. Correctional Officers' Union, was required reading for my Public Policy Processes class.
Many of the victims' groups you see cited are actually union front groups, with overlapping directorships, accounts, and facilities, formed to take a public stance on an issue where it is thought that it would be politically awkward for the union to do so.

Again, good to see you writing again.