Re: How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying)

Sam Harris has an awesome post in response to the anti-tax anti-statists (who often seem to be anti-humanists, especially the Randian types). There was a particular part that caught my attention (emphasis is mine):

image“And lurking at the bottom of this morass one finds flagrantly irrational ideas about the human condition. Many of my critics pretend that they have been entirely self-made. They seem to feel responsible for their intellectual gifts, for their freedom from injury and disease, and for the fact that they were born at a specific moment in history. Many appear to have absolutely no awareness of how lucky one must be to succeed at anything in life, no matter how hard one works. One must be lucky to be able to work. One must be lucky to be intelligent, to not have cerebral palsy, or to not have been bankrupted in middle age by the mortal illness of a spouse.

Many of us have been extraordinarily lucky—and we did not earn it. Many good people have been extraordinarily unlucky—and they did not deserve it. And yet I get the distinct sense that if I asked some of my readers why they weren’t born with club feet, or orphaned before the age of five, they would not hesitate to take credit for these accomplishments. There is a stunning lack of insight into the unfolding of human events that passes for moral and economic wisdom in some circles. And it is pernicious. Followers of Rand, in particular, believe that only a blind reliance on market forces and the narrowest conception of self interest can steer us collectively toward the best civilization possible and that any attempt to impose wisdom or compassion from the top—no matter who is at the top and no matter what the need—is necessarily corrupting of the whole enterprise. This conviction is, at the very least, unproven. And there are many reasons to believe that it is dangerously wrong.”
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That is what socialism has to offer us. Socialism reminds us that humans are inherently social animals. Humans literally can’t survive without others. Many infants die if they aren’t touched, despite how well they are fed.
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It was odd that Sam Harris had to or even wanted to explain that he wasn’t a socialist. He clarified his position by pointing out that he is a libertarian in many ways:
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And I say this as someone who considers himself, in large part, a “libertarian”—and who has, therefore, embraced more or less everything that was serviceable in Rand’s politics. The problem with pure libertarianism, however, has long been obvious: We are not ready for it.Judging from my recent correspondence, I feel this more strongly than ever. There is simply no question that an obsession with limited government produces impressive failures of wisdom and compassion in otherwise intelligent people.
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And…
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It was disconcerting how many people felt the need to lecture me about the failure of Socialism. To worry about the current level of wealth inequality is not to endorse Socialism, or to claim that the equal distribution of goods should be an economic goal.
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His reponse just goes to show you how little socialism is understood. Chomsky is both a socialist and a libertarian. Chomsky explains that libertarianism arose out of the the socialist workers movement.
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To put it simply, socialism promotes an egalitarian society that is fair and just. Socialism, however, doesn’t necessitate the equal distribution of goods. It only requires the equal distribution of opportunities and equal public benefits for public investments. Socialism is the opposite of our present plutocratic socialism. Instead of redistribution to the few, the benefits of our shared society go to benefit to all who are a part of that society. It’s the simple understanding that no person is self-made. Even Sam Harris understands this despite apparently, in his defensiveness, not realizing that socialism isn’t such a crazy idea.

Tax Cuts: Reagan vs Bush

I’ve been thinking about Republican presidents recently. I had a particular thought comparing Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Reagan is remembered as great by conservatives and remembered as less than perfect by liberals. Either way, the best liberal argument is simply that Reagan would be considered a RINO by today’s Repbulicans. Bush jr is the closest these far right purists have come to their ideal of a ‘real’ Republican. That is a sad state of affairs.

I only want to point out one detail: tax cuts. Both Reagan and Bush campaigned on fiscal responsibility and both implemented tax cuts once in office. The comparison, on this point, ends there. Both Reagan and Bush faced economic problems after having implemented tax cuts, but they responded differently. As everyone knows, Bush kept the tax cuts to the bitter end. Neither 9/11 nor the wars following could stop Bush from implementing and maintaining his tax cuts. It is hardly fiscally responsible to massively increase spending while cutting taxes. I realize Starve the Beast seems like a wonderful policy to wealthy Republicans, but it can’t honestly be called fiscal responsibility.

So, what did Reagan do when it became obvious that tax cuts were failing and the economy was in trouble? He increased taxes. I was just reading that Reagan raised taxes 16 times. These tax increases also included the largest, at least at that time, tax increase during peacetime. Reagan was imperfect in his fiscal responsibility. He made the same mistake of increasing defense spending just because a big military gives rightwingers a hard-on.

Both Reagan and Bush followed the policy of Starve the Beast. The difference is that the latter did so with more enthusiasm. For Bush, reality was less important than ideology. That is what the American public gets when they elect a born-again fundamentalist. Reagan must be given blame for creating the deficit we now have, but his relative moderation kept him from having created an even greater deficit had he refused to increase taxes.

This is centrally important. Republican politicians haven’t shown they’ve learned any lesson from Bush’s failure and Reagan’s willingness to compromise. I was just listening to Boehner speak and he basically said that Republicans don’t plan to change which seemingly implies that there perfectly fine with the Republican policies during the Bush administration. Like Bush and unlike Reagan, they would want to keep all tax cuts (especially tax cuts for the rich) no matter what is going on with the economy and no matter how many wars are going on. They want to push Starve the Beast to its inevitable conclusion of economic crisis and broken budget. The Tea Party’s platform seems to fit perfectly into the vision of Starve the Beast. The Tea Party turned out just to be a maneuver for the GOP to reign back in former Republicans who strayed away because of Bush’s unpopularity.

Sadly, most of the American people and most of the American media won’t see past the GOP rhetoric. The resignation and cynicism right now is overwhelming. Even Obama doesn’t seem to genuinely believe in the hope he campaigned on.

Public Opinion On Government & Tea Party

I’m endlessly confused (and curious) about trying to understand public opinion and where it’s heading (see some of the posts on my US Data page), but it usually seems clear to me that Americans are becoming more liberal on at least social issues. Issues of the government and economy are a bit more complex. When I listen to the conservative rhetoric about fiscal conservatism, I’m left deeply confused considering how it compares to the Republican record. I really don’t see a clear connection between fiscal responsibility and fiscal conservatism. I’ve even argued that liberals are the new ‘fiscal conservatives’, although I don’t mean to dismiss the few fiscally responsible conservatives such as Ron Paul.

The main confusion is that the data I’ve seen shows that most Americans identify as conservative. I even think I’ve seen data showing the number of self-identified conservatives has been growing. But on many specific issues most Americans are becoming more liberal and progressive. I suppose there are many ways to make sense of this seemingly contradictory data. First, it’s not really contradictory. Labels of self-identification don’t necessarily have any relationship to the actual social and political positions people hold. Labels such as liberal and conservative are relative. Since the data shows the country moving left, it wouldn’t be surprising if most Americans were to some extent aware of this trend. So, maybe most Americans feel ‘conservative’ relative to the increasingly liberal direction the country is going in. However, compared to the conservatism of the past, most Americans today are definitely liberal.

Anyway, the reason I’m writing yet another post about this topic is because I’ve come across new data that confirms the previous data I’ve seen. Here is the new data:

http://projectvote.org/voter-poll-results

I came across this polling data from this site:

http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do;jsessionid=9F4259A9B9DBBAC1A619FD723F6ECE38?diaryId=20244

The poll looked at the 2008 voters and looked at the different demographics.

“We wanted to learn more about the views of the black, youth, and low-income voters who overwhelmingly participated in 2008 election,” said Lorraine C. Minnite, director of research for Project Vote. “These voters represent roughly a third of the electorate, they will play an increasingly important role in American politics, and they fundamentally believe in a government that does more, not less. Yet their voices are largely ignored, and their views are not being represented.”

Instead, the new report says, over the past two years the opinions and values of these populations have been drowned out by the anti-government rhetoric of more affluent, older, and mostly white Americans who have organized under the “Tea Party” banner.

“The winning coalition in 2008 included an unprecedented number of young voters, who were more racially diverse than any cohort in the history of American politics and more progressive than any young voters since the 1960s,” said Peter Levine, director of CIRCLE (Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement). “The new poll from Project Vote provides essential information about these young people’s hopes and beliefs in 2010.”

That verifies other data about the Tea Party. The average Tea Party supporter is slightly more white, older, and wealthier than the average American (and so it’s not surprising that the ). But the biggest difference is seen in the positions they advocate. Ignoring the demographic data, Tea Party supporters simply don’t represent the views of the average American.

The poll finds that the policy preferences of these three voting constituencies are far more closely aligned with the views of average Americans—represented by the poll’s national sample—than the minority views of the self-identified Tea Party sympathizers.

Most helpful from the second link is the summary of the specific views supported by majorities of black, young, and low-income voters:

  • Increasing taxes on investment income, increasing social security taxes on incomes greater than $107,000, and ending combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as a means to reduce the deficit.
  • Spending money on infrastructure, as do two-thirds of all 2008 voters.
  • Spending the same or more on income support programs such as Food Stamps for less well-off Americans. Two-thirds of Tea Party sympathizers support spending less.
  • Tea Party sympathizers, while almost universally dissatisfied with the way the country is going, report they themselves are doing very well: more than three out of four say their personal economic situation is fairly good or very good.
  • Meanwhile, one in five young voters, and nearly two out of five black voters and low-income voters, reported that there were times in the past 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food for their families. Just over one in 20 Tea Party supporters said the same.
  • Strong majorities of black voters, young voters, and low-income voters agree that government should work to provide for the needs of all citizens. Half of all voters agreed with that sentiment, while only one in five Tea Party sympathizers agreed.
  • Together, the three “surge” groups represent a larger portion of the electorate than those who self-identify with the Tea Party.

At the same time, I came across some other data:

http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1735/political-compromise-unpopular-neither-party-favored-on-economy-four-in-ten-say-cutting-tax-cuts-for-wealthy-hurts-economy

The first thing I noticed is that mostly Republicans identify with the Tea Party. No surprise there, but what was rather telling is that most Independents identify with the Democratic Party, more than identify with the Tea Party. So, the Tea Party can’t honestly claim to be the party of Independents.

The one area that the American public leans slightly conservative is in being less supportive of compromise. This piece of data is significant in another context because it substantiates the claim that Democrats are in reality more bipartisan than Republicans (which I spoke about in a previous post: )

One of the areas where the liberal view predominates is the American public’s view on tax cuts for the rich. Most Americans state they want the tax cuts for the rich to end. This new data shows that most Americans don’t think ending the tax cuts for the rich will hurt the economy. They either think it will help or that it will have no impact at all. According to this data, Republicans are the only demographic that has a majority opinion of it hurting the economy. However, going by the various polls, even the Republicans are split on whether the tax cuts for the rich should end or not.

Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich

I’ve written about tax cuts for the rich in some other posts, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the aspect of public opinion. I don’t have any commentary. I just wanted to post the data showing a majority Americans want the tax cuts for the rich to end.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20016602-503544.html

Fifty-three percent of Americans agree with Mr. Obama that the tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire, while 38 percent do not, according to the poll, conducted Sept. 10-14.

Two of three Democrats think it is a good idea, and most independents (55 percent) agree. Most Republicans (57 percent) think it is a bad idea.

A small minority of Americans (19 percent) think it is a good idea to let the tax cuts expire for households earning under $250,000 a year – a policy no elected official in Washington is promoting, given the state of the economy.

Meanwhile, one third of Americans believe the Obama administration has raised taxes. Fifty percent think taxes have stayed the same, but only 8 percent think taxes have gone down. In fact, most Americans received a tax break in 2009.

This poll shows the majority of Americans support Obama on the issue of taxes. And yet it also seems to show most Americans are oblivious of the fact that they agree with Obama. They’re unhappy with Obama because they think he has raised taxes, but he hasn’t. This is the product of the right-wing spin machine. Conservatives are good at tellng a narrative so compelling that people either ignore the facts or just assume the facts agree with the narrative.

As for tax cuts for the rich, even the Republican party is closely split with 43% of Republicans wanting them to end. I don’t know of any polling data of Tea Party supporters. They’re more conservative than the average Republican and I’d guess they’re for continuation of tax cuts for the rich because that seems to be the position of Tea Party leaders such as Palin and Beck. However, the Tea Party likes to portray itself as independent. Polling the Tea Party would be a good test of their claim of being independent considering a majority of independents also support the ending of the tax cuts for the rich.

And it’s not just one poll showing this majority. Apparently, a majority of polls show this majority.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/09/dear_dems_you_can_win_the_argu.html

* A new National Journal poll finds that 56 percent support ending either all the Bush tax cuts or just the ones for the wealthy, while barely more than a third want to keep them all.

* The new Gallup poll shows that 59 percent of Americans — and a majority of independents — supports either ending all the Bush tax cuts or just the ones for the wealthy.

Indeed, Gallup finds that Obama’s proposal — ending the tax cuts for the wealthy but not for everyone else — has the support of 44 percent, more than any other solution.

* A CNN poll in late August found that a majority, 51 percent, favors ending the tax cuts for the rich, and another 18 percent favor ending them all.

It also found that among independents, 44 percent favor ending the tax cuts for the rich, while another 21 percent favor ending them all. Letting the tax cuts for the rich expire has majority support in all regions of the country except the south.

* A recent CBS poll also found a sizable majority, 56 percent, think the tax cuts for the wealthy should expire.

[…] Here’s another one: A recent Newsweek poll found 52 percent support letting the tax cuts for the rich expire, while only 38 percent support keeping them in place.

The CNN poll found the Republican party was 50/50 split on continuing tax cuts for the rich, but most interestingly Republicans showed the stronger support than even Democrats in ending all tax cuts. So, Republican voters are being true to their fiscal conservative ideology while the Republican leadership is being hypocritical and not representing those who voted them into office.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/20/only-50-of-gop-supports-e_n_689326.html

Only half of all Republicans and self-identified conservatives favor extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, a new public opinion poll shows. Fewer say they favor extending the Bush tax cuts just for those making less than $250,000 a year.

A study released by CNN on Friday suggests that Republicans face a curious public opinion deficit in their efforts to keep tax rates at current levels for income groups across the board. The party’s base isn’t entirely sold on keeping the rates in place. But they also don’t favor raising them on the wealthy and no one else.

Top officials in the GOP have said they will fight the president’s proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts for the lower and middle classes while allowing those for the wealthy to expire. But few voting blocs appear to back that approach.

According to the survey, only 26 percent of self-identified moderates back extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Only nine percent of liberals said the same thing. Conventional wisdom would hold that Republicans would be the chief proponents of the proposal. But only 50 percent of conservative respondents said they want tax rates for the wealthy kept in place — the same percentage of Republicans support a full extension of the Bush tax cuts.

As for extending the tax cuts for those making under $250,000 a year, 69 percent of liberals support that approach, 53 percent of moderates, and only 36 percent of conservatives.

Meanwhile, every single age group polled by CNN favored extending tax cuts for just the lower brackets over extending them for all groups (including the wealthy). So too did respondents from every single region of the country.

I’m not sure what all of this means. Tax cuts used to be popular. Does this represent a shift? Even Tea Party supporters who are the most right-wing of the American public have grown critical of the Republican leadership and yet the Republicans in Washington keep pushing the unpopular tax cuts for the rich. Will this issue be a turning point in public opinion? Will the GOP be forced to return to the fiscal conservatism last seen during Eisenhower’s administration?

Previous posts with data, commentary or videos related to tax cuts for the rich:

MSNBC w/ Cenk: Reich – Middle Class & Wages

Cenk Uygur on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Reaganomics & Tax Cuts for the Rich

National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity

Failure of Conservative Morality in Politics

Liberals are the New Fiscal Conservatives

Cenk Uygur on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Cenk Uygur has been slowly breaking into the mainstream for a while. He now has his own segment on Ratigan’s show.

It’s interesting that Cenk Uygur used to be a Republican. This makes obvious why he left the Republican party.

The question I wonder about is: What is the motivation for Republicans being for and Democrats being against tax cuts for the rich? Many like to argue that both parties are in the pocket of the wealthy elite. But if that were the case, Democrat politicians should support tax cuts for the rich as much as Republicans do.

Reagonomics & Tax Cuts for the Rich

Rich and defenders of the rich (who have an unfounded belief that one day they will be rich) love to argue for tax cuts for the rich. Afterall, they earned it. The people working in the factories didn’t earn it. The indigenous who were living on natural resources the rich took away didn’t earn it. The taxpayers (which excludes some of the wealthies US companies that pay no taxes at all) who bail out the rich didn’t earn it.

Who owns most of the wealth? The best way to determine this is to add all wealth and invested wealth. The only factor that should be excluded is the wealth invested in the houses people live in because it can’t easily be translated into tangible wealth and in this market many people lose their homes after investing lots of money into them. So, going by all wealth accept for homes, the top 1% own more wealth than the bottom 95%.

How do wealthy people get their wealth? Most wealthy people are born into and grow up with wealth. Most wealthy business owners received larged start-up money, inherited a business, or inherited other forms of wealth.

Another way of thinking about wealth is wealth disparity. Ever since Reagonomics, the wealth disparity has increased to the highest in the developed world.

http://counterpunch.org/pollin02222006.html

“At the simplest factual level, it is not accurate that Reagan’s tax policies were responsible for bringing inflation down, from an average rate of 8.2 per cent under Nixon, Ford and Carter, to 4.6 per cent under Reagan. The main force here was the stringent monetary policies imposed by then Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker. Volcker was appointed not by Reagan but by Jimmy Carter in 1979… Volcker did indeed break the back of persistent and rising inflation brought on primarily by the four-fold oil price increases in 1973-4 and again in 1979. But he achieved this at a very high cost… real wagesi.e — . the buying power of your dollars of wages — peaked in 1973, the period of high inflation. Average real wages fell sharply throughout the Reagan presidency. The average figure for those eight years, at $15.72 per hour (in 2005 dollars), was 7.6 per cent below the average hourly wage under Carter of $16.95, and 9.6 below the Nixon/Ford peak of $17.39.

…This decline in real wages, beginning in the late 1970s and accelerating sharply in the 1980s under Reagan, is also a crucial link in understanding why inflation did not rise up as unemployment fell in the 1990s, contrary to expectations of virtually every single economics textbook. The standard theory held that when unemployment gets too low, workers gain in bargaining strength. They then push up wages, and businesses pass along these additional costs in the prices they charge consumers. This means rising inflation. But beginning in the 1990s under Clinton, unemployment fell, to as low as 4.0 per cent in 2000, but inflation stayed low. What happened?

Former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan’s own answer to this question (as reported by Bob Woodward in Maestro, his book-length hagiography of Greenspan) was that U.S. workers had become increasingly “traumatized” in the 1990s, and as such did not feel sufficiently secure to attempt to bargain up wages even at low unemployment. …if one would have to pick the single most important turning point over the past 30 years in the treatment of U.S. workers, I would choose Ronald Reagan’s decision to summarily fire more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who, as members of PATCO, the air traffic controllers’ union, went on strike eight months into Reagan’s presidency, in August 1982. This early attack by Reagan was followed by eight years of relentless hostility to the organized working class.

But Reagan did not attack the organized working class only. More broadly, Reaganomics entailed a dramatic new framework for fiscal policy, the area in which Mr. Roberts was likely to have primarily involved as a Treasury official. Reagan’s fiscal program was fundamentally about tax cuts for the rich, a massive expansion in military spending, sharp reductions in social expenditures, and an acceptance-or better still, an embrace-of large-scale federal government fiscal deficits on these terms. All of this should have a familiar ring to those who have followed the course of economic policy under George W. Bush.

No doubt Mr. Roberts recalls President Reagan’s frequently recounted stories about “welfare queens” driving to pick up government checks in their Cadillacs. It was through repeating stories like this that Reagan was able to build support for an assault on even the minimal welfare state programs that had been operating prior to his taking office. It is no surprise that the individual poverty rate rose from 11.9 per cent under Carter to 14.1 per cent under Reagan. ..large-scale fiscal deficits create persistent pressure for a permanent contraction in social spending by the federal government… Remember the Reaganites, as with the Bush group, apparently experienced few qualms about throwing more money to the military while cutting taxes for the already overprivileged.”