If there’s been a drumbeat to the current political discussion over the past four years – the 4/4 time signature underneath all the repetitive power chords and dull, droning bass lines – it’s been the idea that our success really belongs to someone else.
Elizabeth Warren actually slipped that one into the lyrics of the tune a while back, as you might remember.
You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.
Ms. Warren has overlooked an important, two-step* amendment to her “we paid for the infrastructure” idea – first and foremost, that the factory owner is part of that group that paid via taxes for roads and cops and etc. There is no “rest of us,” just an “all of us.” In fact, the factory owner probably paid a lot more in aboslute dollars for those roads, a point that Warren and the rest of the band have been blaring at us for a while now.
The funny thing is, they don’t notice that they’re doing it. They think they’re harping on income inequality, when in fact the other side of that coin is that it results in a much larger tax bill. Q. Hypothetical Tycoon III, Esq., cut the state and the Feds a much larger check at the end of the day than any of us thousandaires. On top of that, all the salaries he pays to his workers are themselves taxed, as is all the stuff he sells. If QHT3 decided to close it all up and build a factory overseas, everyone would take a big hit, including the public treasury.
The second step is perhaps not as obvious, but no less vital. Why, exactly, did “the rest of us” agree on paying for that infrastructure in such a manner? Why are police and firefighters and roads (and a lot of education) taxpayer-funded? Is it not because they are meant to be equally-available to all citizens, impartially, regardless of social status? And doesn’t that neatly self-contradict the laughable idea that QHT3 owes more than the rest of us to use those things, or to enjoy the benefits of them?
*And not that we need a third step, but “You built a factory- good for you” raises an obvious retort: “And you didn’t. I’m the one going above and beyond ‘the work we did.’ You’re welcome.”
With the current flapdoodle over Mitt Romeny’s tax returns, the drummer gets to have a pretentious solo in the same theme:
After finding out Romney’s combined income came out to $56,986 a day, [Jon] Stewart exploded in an incredulous rage.
“That’ses almost–that’s almost $57,000 a day!” Stewart exclaimed. “Here is the most amazing part: the guy doesn’t even have a job! That is f*cking interest! … “How in the world do you, Mitt Romney, justify making more in one day than the median American family makes in a year while paying an effective tax rate of the guy who scans your shoes at the airport!”
That’s a Mediaite link, btw, so there’s a certain amount of lighter-held-overhead tone to the article. But as Ace deftly pointed out in reply, Stewart himself makes $41,095.89 per day, based on a reported $15 million he gets annually from his various gigs.
Two quick things about this: first, Stewart’s daily income is more than my yearly income. Second, I do not give a sad and lonely fuck about that. I cite the number to point out his spluttering hypocrisy, not to complain about him. My wife and I do well enough. Why should I give a rip about those who do better?
This is where the Bandleader in Chief’s score is found sorely lacking. He launched the overture with his “After a certain point, you’ve made enough money” snark. I note, again in the interests of hypocrisy detection, that the Obama household has not reached that certain point themselves: presumably the President is not working for scale, and before playing DC, both he and Mrs. O made approximately 3.7 craptons of dough in the community organizing business. And since a lot of those cash cows masquerade as non-profits, that means that a lot of his activity was A) more lightly-taxed than QHT3’s widget factory and B) much less productive in terms of goods and services.
Beyond that point, however, is the obvious – and again, it’s a self-contradiction that burns down the tree the argument sits in. If it’s true that at a certain point I’ve made enough money, then why should I care if someone else has gone beyond that point? Because they’re supposedly taking money out of the pockets of widows and orphans to do it? According to the scoreboard, the government is way way ahead of any business in the taking of money from pockets, including those of the business owners. Some of that is to fund all of the stuff Ms. Warren mentioned, but a much larger portion is dedicated to pay the swarms of people who handle the day-to-day minutae in the various Departments of Taking Money from Pockets. There is literally no earthly way that businesses can make up that ground, either. The best and most efficient of them cannot levy taxes on us, and they must go through the courts to win judgments against our goods and income – and even then, we must first have entered freely into a contract with them and then failed to live up to it. If Tycoon Industries Ltd. makes a shitzillion dollars in profit this year, it’s because they sold stuff a lot of people chose to buy.
Moreover, they spent less than they earned. That’s the part of “profit” that all the Federal Bandleaders forget: they decry the “windfall” because not a one of them has the discipline to make the government live within its own means. They’re blowing it all on trashed hotel rooms, disease-ridden groupies, and an elaborate road show that would make a James Cameron blockbuster look like a community theater production.
I think that after a certain point, a government’s spent enough money.
At heart, this tired, played-out dirge of “pay up or else” is not about the money at all, it’s about who has the say in our own lives. The citizens chose taxes to pay for infrastructure, and law to govern those matters relating to it; they chose to do all sorts of other things on their own: worshipping, working, building, helping, relaxing, marrying, raising kids, learning, entertaining… Some things are best left beyond the whims of the moment, in a code of law, entrusted to those chosen specifically for that purpose, and given limits to their authority. That these limits are wise is beyond credible dispute – considering how often personal whim results in personal catastrophe, letting the keepers of the law exercise their own whims on our behalf is a sure recipe for disaster. Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President & Vice-President are 546 people. In normal times they have more than enough handling the tasks that we (via the law) have given them; how are they supposed to handle the individual affairs of 315 million people? And if they can’t spend less than 2 trillion-with-a-T dollars in a year, why should you or I let them anywhere near our less-than-$41,095.89? Jon Stewart doesn’t let them any nearer his $15 million, I guarantee – nor should he.
The only time I should care about someone else’s pile is if it’s dangerously small, and then I can help them most effectively and efficiently on my own, with a better result for both giver and recipient.