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February 21, 2010

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I suspect it would also be difficult to balance the budget without axing entire categories of spending once the global economy collapses.

All quite true, von; but isn't it just a tad aggrandizing to describe a hack like Glenn Reynolds as a "public intellectual"? The Instahack hasn't put up a post with any intellectual content in years.

Ordinarily when I read that superlative, "that's the stupidest thing I've ever read", I try to top it somehow.

In this case, I cannot. I'm in total agreement that that's the dumbest, most poorly researched, ill-thought out suggestion I can ever recall seeing anyone propose — and I even read through some of McMegan's greatest hits this week!

I hope Megan posts in support of the Ol' Perfessor. That comment section will be GLORIOUS.

"I suspect it would also be difficult to balance the budget without axing entire categories of spending once the global economy collapses."

Horrifyingly, that's the intent.

14th Amendment, Section 4: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."

Reynolds, as a private individual, is not of course bound by this. But he should probably think about why they bothered to include it.

It's a particularly egregious example of the bipartisan fallacy that deficits and debts (or wars or policies or programs) started under administrations or Congresses of another party don't count, or can be repudiated, or ignored.

In my opinion this tendency is more pronounced on the right - what else is "starve the beast" but an announced intention to precipitate a financial crisis and use it as a pretext to destroy those programs you disapprove of, rather than openly arguing for ending them? - but I think (not just for the sake of faux-balance, either) that it is common on the left. It isn't how Obama has approached things, which I think is to his credit. He has accurately described the causes of the present budget outlook, but has not washed his hands of the problem just because much of it originated before his inauguration.

Anyway, back to the idea of default - only a complete lunatic would bring it up except as a Modest Proposal, in which case I have a much more less economically-destructive suggestion: just take everyone on a nice long ocean cruise when they turn 65 and throw them off in the middle of the Atlantic, thus solving the balance problems of Social Security and Medicare in a flash, reducing the payroll burden on employees and employers alike (why pay for Social Security you know you'll never need?), and providing an important source of protein for the Atlantic fish stocks. Everyone likes cod, right?

I just turned 66, so I'm safe now, right?

Cod-food. Sorry! It's that or tax increases!

Krugman says some smart things on this subject today.

O.K., the beast is starving. Now what? That’s the question confronting Republicans. But they’re refusing to answer, or even to engage in any serious discussion about what to do.

Well, some of them are suggesting that the US should default on its debt.

Wait, he said "serious discussion", sorry.

Your suggestion is seriously, dangerously stupid. Indeed, it's so stupid I'm going to spell it out for you: S-T-P-I-D. Yeah, that's right. Your idea is so stupid that, because of it, you can now spell stupid without a "u".

Surely you meant:

Your suggestion is seriously, dangerously stupid. Indeed, it's so stupid I'm going to spell it out for you: U-U-U-U-U. Yeah, that's right. Your idea is so stupid that, because of it, we can now spell stupid with only you.)

Fixed.

As Quiddity put it, the radical idea will probably be moderated to 'just' defaulting on those obligations to Social Security while still paying the interest to foreign bond holders.

If it were a suggestion, it would indeed be stupid. In as much as it's the equivalent of muttering, "I suppose he'd lose some weight if he got cancer, but it might not be worth it." upon seeing a 600 man fused to the couch, and still stuffing his face, it was at most tasteless. And not even that, given that the US isn't an individual.

And, the answer is "No.", it wouldn't; Just like the hard core alcoholic, if cut off from booze, breaks out the Sterno, the US, if cut off from borrowing, would just print money.

Reynolds, knowing that he is not an expert in economics, did not make a suggestion. Reynolds asked a question on his blog. Informative answers were appropriate, but rudeness, not.

It's questions like that that killed the archbishop of Canterbury.

And if you insist on interpreting Reynold's question as a policy proposal, there are 2 that come immediately to mind:

1. Balancing the budget could be as disastrous as default, so don't balance.

2. The only way to achieve balance is to default, so default.

Why was one chosen over the other? Incivility impedes understanding.

Most of the cod are fished out, aren't they?

Bartlett writes somewhere in his piece: "Unless one posits that all federal taxes would simultaneously cease ..."

Jacob Davies writes: "Just take everyone on a nice, long ocean cruise when they turn 65 and throw them off in the middle of the Atlantic."

Add Reynolds stupid suggestion in there to the complete the hat trick.

There was a big room full of people (some over 65) in a vibrant political movement on the ascendancy to power in America last week, whom I could have stood in front of and posited all three of the foregoing proposals, and this morning I would be the leading Republican candidate for President of the United States.

The fish ARE being fed the chum of stpid in America and the fish are now piranha. The waters are foaming red.

It's a lethal infestation, a mortal threat.

Time for some dynamite fishing.

If the US Government defaults on its obligations, the US will be forced to run a balanced budget. This because no one will lend a single dime to the US.

This is not true. Lots of countries have defaulted on their debt and still manage to borrow on the international markets. It's just not the case that a single default cuts you off from lending forever, as even a little knowledge of the financial world would tell you.

(Indeed, in some cases (Latin America in the 1940s and 1950s) countries which had not defaulted had no real advantage in terms of access to financing over countries that had!)

Yes, Reynolds' idea was very stupid - the effects of a US default would probably be catastrophic - but so was this part of von's response.

Incivility impedes understanding.

This implies that there is something of worth there to be understood. Or, that Reynolds' "thought experiment" was offered in something approaching good faith.

Neither was true. This was just some guy with a blog committing the idle belches of his mind to print, without giving a half-second's consideration of how the reality would actually play out.

That's not "discourse", it's wanking in public.

Dismissive replies are pretty much the appropriate response. Bartlett's thoughtful takedown actually gives Reynolds' piece far more consideration than it deserves, although I'm glad he wrote it because it's a useful prophylactic against all of the boneheads who would be inclined to embrace Reynolds' musings as a stroke of genius.

Shorter me: Just because Reynolds uses his blog to blow idle farts in our direction doesn't mean we are obliged to carefully consider their bouquet.

"Stick a cork in it" seems an entirely appropriate response.

A historical question: when did "let's blow it up and see what happens" become the default conservative position?

It's enough to make me nostalgic for Eisenhower.

Reynolds, knowing that he is not an expert in economics, did not make a suggestion. Reynolds asked a question on his blog.

that's always his defender's excuse. Reynolds never really says anything, he just links approvingly, with a rhetorical question or a glib little fillip. why, you could never assume he actually meant what he said!

no, taking bloggers literally is only the proper course when Reynolds is accusing someone else of being an idiot. in that case, it's fine to dissect and parse and read-between-lines. more than fine, it's SOP. just don't hold him to the same standard.

"The Chum of Stpid"

Thanks, Thullen. Great new band name!

"Yes, Reynolds' idea was very stupid - the effects of a US default would probably be catastrophic"

Hence, "With more collateral damage, of course." Reynolds doesn't disagree that it would be a stupid course of action. You simply ignore the latter part of his statement, because taking it into account would spoil the five minute hate.

The problem is that "collateral damage" doesn't begin to describe the consequences of a US debt default.

It's as if you were discussing ways to deal with your toothache and someone suggested that throwing yourself under a train would have the same effect as seeing a dentist, although with more collateral damage.

Technically true. But unlikely to be regarded as the sort of thought worth sharing with the world. And if made in apparent seriousness, I think you would be justified in wondering about the sanity of the person making it (or whether they really would rather see you dead).

Brett,

I just don't think it's reasonable to interpret Reynolds' post as a serious question about default. If he were an earnest sixteen-year-old it would be, but he's not. He's a law professor. That doesn't make him an economist (not by a long shot) but it does suggest that he ought to have some idea of the consequences of a default.

The problem is that "collateral damage" doesn't begin to describe the consequences of a US debt default.

"Collateral damage" is a deliberately indescriptive phrase, Jacob.

That's the point: It's neither a serious proposal, nor a serious question. It's just an expression of exasperation concerning the unlikelihood of our balancing the budget.

Brett,

Do you have any evidence at all that Glenn Reynolds is interested in "balancing the budget"? Has he ever expressed exasperation about the unlikelihood of raising taxes, for instance?

--TP

How dumb is it to address someone you're calling intemperate by saying

Bruce, I’m not trying to turn the United States into Zimbabwe. That would be the guy in the White House, whom you seem surprisingly anxious to defend.

But it's not racist to call Obama another Robert Mugabe. They have so much in common besides the color of their skin, like ...

To be fair, I don't think that comparison is about racism. It's a common idea in the wingerverse that Obama is printing so much money that the US is about to fall into a hyperinflationary spiral, consensus reality notwithstanding.

Obama. Not Bush and the GOP when they were in charge. It's a new thing.

These people are beyond ridiculous, and that is both obvious, and an understatement.

The comparison is always to Zimbabwe, never Weimar Germany. Funny thing, that.

It's a common idea in the wingerverse that Obama is printing so much money that the US is about to fall into a hyperinflationary spiral, consensus reality notwithstanding.

Oddly, this would be pretty similar to the default some of these people want. Creditors get stiffed, economy crashes, etc.

Unwarranted Comment pimping:

Glenn Reynold's thinking is often far more screwy than the overly heralded Instapundit site is given credit for.

For example, remove the partisan lens, think about our national security and ethics from a global perspective (the only one that works, since it involves global challenges) and what then does Reynolds merge into?

Two points I made in that comment and one or two others in the last two days on capitalgains, have been taken up by Bartlett -- someone whose ability to try and be objective and not automatically partisan I have long admired -- in subsequent posts by him.

Reynold's response (which obviously Bartlett was going to see, and as you note above, is vintage Reynolds) and the idea of "starving the beast."

I said it has never worked, and never will. Reynolds, of course, for the same reasons, is a big fan of it.

(Btw, here's a bunch">http://wemisleadyoufollow.blogspot.com/2009/07/speaking-of-glenn-reynolds-and.html#uds-search-results">bunch of examples of how wildly misleading (and illogical, and uber partisan) Reynolds is, with a few including spawn Althouse to boot, as a bonus.)

That's the point: It's neither a serious proposal, nor a serious question.

It's pretty strange that he said in the update he was looking for a thoughtful reply, then.

But then again, he also whined about getting a very thoughtful reply from Bartlett in the same sentence, so maybe that wasn't said in earnest.

Brett,

It's just an expression of exasperation concerning the unlikelihood of our balancing the budget.

Wonder what Reynolds thinks of Clinton, then. Has he ever supported any tax increase? If not, he's absolutely not entitled to be exasperated.

Here's something interesting to me:

Some people want to "starve the beast." "Cut taxes and watch government shrink. It's the only way," they argue.

Then again, some people think tax cuts increase government revenues. "Cut taxes and watch the money flow in to the Treasury," they say.

The odd thing is that there are so many who are in both camps. Some serious dissonance reduction going on there.

I read the original question as a weird sort of scorched earth rhetorical question. "Hey, let's go right ahead and starve the F*%^K out of the beast!!! BWAHAHAHAHAH!!!"

It wasn't a question, but a proposal. It wasn't a particularly serious proposal, but to pretend it was a sincere question is stupid.

It was irresponsible and unserious and perfectly worthy of a smackdown.

This reminds me of a Daily Show clip from a while back making fun of Fox News's use of rhetorical questions. ("Are Democrats Hurting National Security?") John Stewart asked something to the effect of "Is Sean Hannity's mother a whore? I'm not saying she IS a whore. I'm just asking!"

Does Glenn Reynolds sniff glue all day? I'm not saying I have any reason to think he does, but it would explain a lot. I'm just asking. Not casting dispersion mind you. . .

But then again, he also whined about getting a very thoughtful reply from Bartlett in the same sentence, so maybe that wasn't said in earnest.

Yeah, funny how that works, isn't it?

Look, I'd be willing to be Reynolds earns significantly more income from his blogging/political activities than he does as a law professor.

And some how manages to do so without a single post exceeding 55 or 60 words.

So rather than complaining about intemperate responses from an actual expert maybe his time would be better spent actually thinking through what he writes before he hits post.

Although to be honest, I'd love to be able to go to YouTube and see some "Leave Brittany Glenn alone!!" videos!

I think "irresponsible" is the best way to describe the situation. Reynolds thinks the backlash against his question was unjust because he wasn't proposing it, simply asking about it. but the point is that he was making it a subject of consideration within the realm of public discourse: and we should never be considering a default on U.S. debt, period. the idea of the U.S. defaulting on its debt is not only catastrophic in terms of the human suffering it would cause, but it is literally unconstitutional; and as Bartlett said, market mechanics make it pretty much impossible at any rate.

in short, it should've been self-evident to Reynolds that defaulting on the U.S. debt is not an option that should be seriously discussed. it would be less damaging to simply make a massive deficit correction that matches government spending to revenues immediately, and cuts 1 trillion in spending overnight. the effects of such a correction would be devastating to the citizenry and impoverish senior citizens and medicaid recipients. but the effects of a default would go so far as to undermine the ability of the United States Government to even govern the country; not to mention that a default on U.S. debt would probably lead to the dollar immediately being withdrawn as the reserve currency of the world.

as soon as the validity of our debt is questioned, the whole system collapses, and society goes down with it. It was irresponsible to bring up in the context that he did. that's why the backlash is justified.

I don't think you have to support tax increases to be serious about wanting a balanced budget. Our budget isn't unbalanced because we're taking in too little revenue, it's unbalanced because our government is deliberately spending more than it takes in. "Stimulus", remember? That's all "stimulus" means, spending more than you've got coming in.

Increase revenues, and the spending would just go up to exceed the spending again. Who in Washington wants to stop stimulating the economy? Where's the political payoff in that? The votes to be bought, the kickbacks to be arranged?

Hell with it, I'm going to stick to the baby pictures, you enjoy your hate. Just keep it to five minutes a day, ok?

Brett, I take it that the second "spending" should be "revenue," in "the spending would just go up to exceed the spending again."

There are plenty of government programs that the Left is in favor of cutting or reducing, but many of them happen to be Defense programs. Which spending are you mad about? NEA grants? It's unserious to pretend that the vast majority of our money is not going to defense spending or bailouts.

How would you balance the budget without tax increases? The math part is easy, it's leaving with the consequences that would be intolerable.

Vast majority of our *discretionary* spending, sorry.

Brett,

I sincerely do wish the best for you as a person. I hope you live to post pictures of your baby son's children here. I love you, man.

But when you say idiotic things, I will not shrink from inviting you to contemplate your idiocy. "Our budget isn't unbalanced because we're taking in too little revenue, it's unbalanced because our government is deliberately spending more than it takes in" is one of those idiotic things. It's idiotic because of the word "deliberately". That word implies that "our government" doesn't make its spending plans based on what it needs to spend to get re-elected. It implies that "our government" plans its spending by looking at tax revenues and saying, "Let's spend more than that." If that's what you really think, then I offer my good wishes for your mental, as well as physical, health.

--TP

Brett,

Our budget isn't unbalanced because we're taking in too little revenue, it's unbalanced because our government is deliberately spending more than it takes in. "Stimulus", remember? That's all "stimulus" means, spending more than you've got coming in.

Stimulus means temporarily spending more when the economy is in a serious downturn, with the purpose of getting things going again.

Increase revenues, and the spending would just go up to exceed the spending again.

It didn't under Clinton. Now, it's an endless blog argument who deserves credit for that, but let's leave that issue aside and just recognize that, as a % of GDP, revenues increased and spending dropped. So your claim just doesn't stand up.

fivethrityeight.com has a great set of charts on the subject of federal budget.

"There are plenty of government programs that the Left is in favor of cutting or reducing, but many of them happen to be Defense programs."

So stop talking about it, and FREAKING DO IT. Go ahead, I dare you. Who's to stop you? You had a year with a President of your own party, and super majorities in both chambers. Go ahead, list the programs stacked up like cord wood.

Oh, wait, you frittered that year away, spending all your time increasing spending, didn't you?

You had a year with a President of your own party, and super majorities in both chambers

Yeah, it's not like the GOP would have filibustered defense cuts.

Since Mr. Reynolds doesn't appear to accept comments on his posts, I guess I'll whine here about how profoundly stupid he is.

Who does he think has most of the treasury bonds? It's not China. It's not Japan. It's American insurance companies, banks, retirement funds.

Reynolds really needs to know something before he asks smug, stupid questions.

Brett, when you reveal that you think "the Left" had "a year" with a supermajority to accomplish its program, you reveal that your definitions of both "the Left" and "a year" are ... idiosyncratic.

--TP

Reynolds is not a public intellectual. At best--and truly at best--he is a law professor at a fifth-rate law school with an incredibly thin record of research and scholarly publishing. In truth, he is a freaking rube who routinely posts approving links to racist, idiotic trash.

And he thinks the response to his half-baked, ill-informed question was "intemperate"? Passive-aggressive is far too kind a label for this punk. If he had any brains or any integrity, he would simply own up to the ignorance of his comment. Wingnuts can never be wrong apparently, even though they have been perfectly wrong about everything for almost 9 years.

In fairness to Reynolds, he is not used to being called an idiot by high profile people. Usually it is just random bloggers or Andrew Sullivan calling him out, and those can be easily handled by having the poo-flinging monkeys in the PJTV/Malkinverse publish their personal information or by linking to Dan Riehl and RS McCain calling Sullivan a fag or if all else fails, linking to some bullshit at the NRO or Taranto's Opinion Journal and claiming that is what he really meant.

Being called out by Bruce Bartlett has him off balance.

Who does he think has most of the treasury bonds? It's not China. It's not Japan. It's American insurance companies, banks, retirement funds.

Reynolds really needs to know something before he asks smug, stupid questions.

Even funnier, for years he has been posting about the impending pension fund meltdown, and clearly has no idea what is in those pension funds.

I think this post, and Bartlett's post, are going way overboard. Reynold's question was a bit of reducing things to the absurd. The meta-question is, how absurd is the chances of the US defaulting on its debt?

China recently sold 5% of its T-bills. Articles by Chinese generals in Chinese publications have called for China to use its economic power against the US when we offend them, by doing things like selling weapons to Taiwan or meeting with the Dalai Lama... and in China, generals don't publish articles like this unless the government wants to send us a message. Social Security no longer has a surplus, so we can't finance deficit spending by using that surplus. In short, our ability to finance our deficits is rapidly diminishing, and our vulnerability is rapidly increasing. What happens if NATO decides to embargo Iran until it gives up its nukes, and China responds by dumping T-bills and no longer buying US debt? Even the threat would make us pause.

Maybe this is a stupid question, but can someone tell me why we can't roll back the US budget to 2006 levels? Or why we can't put the unspent stimulus package money back into the treasury, and pay back $300b of those T-bills? Yes, it will be unpopular. Do it anyway.

I'd have a lot more respect for Obama if he would have spent the last year preparing everyone for the inevitable scaling-back of the entitlement state instead of trying unsuccessfully to convince everyone that government-supported healthcare for an additional 30m people will lower our healthcare costs.

Or why we can't put the unspent stimulus package money back into the treasury, and pay back $300b of those T-bills? Yes, it will be unpopular.

And kinda sorta really truly defeats the purpose.

I don't get that you really understand how things work.

Shorter me: Just because Reynolds uses his blog to blow idle farts in our direction doesn't mean we are obliged to carefully consider their bouquet.

"Stick a cork in it" seems an entirely appropriate response.

Okay, von's post made me lawl, but this is gold.

our ability to finance our deficits is rapidly diminishing

Since we're currently running trillion dollar deficits and having no trouble at all selling 10 year T-bills yielding only 3.7%, I would say that you are assuming facts not in evidence. The US at present has no difficulty whatsoever financing its deficits.

What happens if ... China responds by dumping T-bills and no longer buying US debt?

Probably "nothing".

Not that China can actually do so anyway: http://mpettis.com/2010/02/what-the-pboc-cannot-do-with-its-reserves/

In any case, the US has enormous headroom to raise taxes. In the event of a serious economic threat in the form of a radically increased cost of borrowing, it could raise taxes - raising even a trillion dollars a year (much more than would be necessary) would still leave US tax rates lower than those of Germany or the UK. No question that it would hurt, but it wouldn't leave us living in mud huts.

This is roughly what's going to happen anyway, and everyone knows it - Republicans, Democrats, anyone with two brain cells to rub together. There are not going to be major cuts in spending on Social Security and Medicare or on defense. There is nowhere else that can be cut enough to make a difference. So there will be tax increases.

And here's the thing that's really going to upset starve-the-beasters: when those inevitable tax increases happen, they're going to be "shared sacrifice for the good of the nation", and voters are going to lap it up. If Americans think there is a good patriotic reason that taxes have to go up, and all the other options involve letting grandma starve in the street, they will suck it up and pay those taxes. And what they'll find is that it isn't that bad, and especially if whichever party is in power remembers to provide some goodies in exchange - you know, healthcare, jobs, education, maybe some nice parks - they will start thinking, hey, maybe this whole tax-and-spend thing isn't such a bad idea after all.

(You know why they'll think that it's not a bad idea? Because it's not a bad idea. I don't want the government to tax more and spend more because I want to punish billionaires and destroy the American economy in order to hasten the downfall of the capitalist system. I want the government to tax more and spend more because I think that would be an excellent investment in the future of the country, and that a cut in present consumption levels would be a small price to pay for the dividends such investment would pay down the line from here.)

Enter DEMOCRATS and VOTERS. VOTERS are throwing lit matches at DEMOCRATS, who are pleading pitifully for them to stop.

Enter REPUBLICANS, agitated and scared.

REPUBLICANS: OH NO! The deficit is going to EXPLODE AMERICA!!! WE MUST ACT!

VOTERS: Oh no! That would be really bad! What can we do?

REPUBLICANS: Well, we were thinking of cutting off Granny's Social Security and Medicare and letting her starve in the street.

VOTERS: That seems ... bad. Do you have any other ideas?

REPUBLICANS: Er.... nope.

VOTERS: Anyone else got any ideas?

DEMOCRATS: Well... we could raise taxes. (flinching pre-emptively) Don't get mad! We're sorry! We're sorry!

VOTERS: Jesus Christ, stop cowering. You mean, we can raise taxes to head off this scary doom crisis thing, and that means Granny won't starve in the street?

DEMOCRATS: ... well yeah.

REPUBLICANS: NO NO! GRANNY MUST STARVE! Or there will be doom! DOOOOO-

VOTERS: Listen, you, shut up. Now, about those tax increases...

VOTERS and DEMOCRATS exit, discussing plans.

REPUBLICANS sit, dejectedly.

REPUBLICANS: Well, that didn't go exactly the way I imagined it.

"when those inevitable tax increases happen, they're going to be "shared sacrifice for the good of the nation", and voters are going to lap it up."

Riiiight. God alone knows why politicians don't just skip right to the massively popular tax increases, and rake in the votes, instead of running deficits year in and year out.

Here are the basic principles driving our tax and spend policies:

1. People like to be able to spend their own money on what THEY want to do with it. Thus, they don't like being taxed.

2. People like to have somebody else spending money on what they want. Thus, they like government spending, IF it's for something they approve of.

1 conflicts with 2, if you're balancing the budget, and not redistributing wealth. There are two approaches to resolving this conflict:

A. "Progressive" taxation. Pick some goats to really screw over, and spend the money making a lot of people happy. The latter outnumber the former, you win. Until you've eaten all the rich, which is why you can only take this so far.

B. Borrow the money, and plan on your children paying the debt. This works, too, for a while, and a while can be a LONG while, as long as you're still short of the knee of the exponential.

The problem for strategy B is that every "stimulus" takes us further up that exponential. We're now at the point where about half of the annual increase in the debt is just rolled over interest, and that's with historically low interest rates. Should interest rates spike, the situation could get dicey fast.

Brett's making some good points. In particular, if this is really true:

about half of the annual increase in the debt is just rolled over interest

it seems like we got a problem.

I also agree that, in today's political climate, Jacob's prediction of widespread public embracing of higher taxes is probably not realistic. It's been a long time since making a shared sacrifice for the common good has sold well here.

The only counter-points I'd like to make are these:

I don't see that we're anywhere remotely near the point of "really screwing over" or "eating" the wealthy. When all federal taxes are considered, the US has a modestly progressive tax regime. The very wealthiest, in fact, pay a somewhat lower effective tax rate than folks slightly lower down the ladder.

It would be a political lead balloon, but in fact there is headroom to raise top marginal rates *if that is what we need to do*.

The only other point I'd make is that we'd all do well to remember which party "proved that deficits don't matter" and which party actually achieved a positive bottom line in living memory. And then, vote accordingly.

Deeds, not words, y'all.

I'm supportive of the Keynsian approach to addressing economic recession, but I don't think increasing levels of debt are something to ignore.

As a practical matter, we can raise more revenue, or we can make big reductions in entitlements or defense. We would also do well to aggressively look at ways to trim growth in medical expenses, specifically, but that's a very complex problem, and will take a very long time -- a generation or two? -- to resolve.

The available levers are raise revenue, or trim entitlements and defense. If the economy picks up significantly, raising revenue will start taking care of itself. If it doesn't, IMO it's time for the relatively more fortunate to pick up more of the tab. They've had a very, very, very good ride for quite a while now.

which party actually achieved a positive bottom line in living memory

I think you need to unpack that a bit, russell. If you're talking about the later Clinton years, we're all fairly familiar with which party was in the White House, and which other party was the majority in Congress. Which one of them are you thinking delivered a "positive bottom line"?

Wasn't the majority party in Congress, in the later Clinton years, too busy spending most of its time thinking about the President's "positive bottom line" (if that's what the kids are calling it these days) to have any time to spare to consider how to achieve a positive bottom line in the economy?

The Republican Party in Congress, when Bill Clinton was President, appeared to be primarily concerned with attacking Clinton... just as (when Bush got into power) they appeared to be primarily concerned with bootlicking Bush.

Wasn't one of the chief complaints of the Republicans in Congress against Nancy Pelosi once the Democrats became the majority party, that she actually made them show up and do some work on a regular basis? (The others being that she was female, that she was pro-choice AND a grandmother, and that she was a Democrat?)

Brett: Riiiight. God alone knows why politicians don't just skip right to the massively popular tax increases, and rake in the votes, instead of running deficits year in and year out.

Because there is no perception that we are anywhere near a crisis point in regards to debt. And Americans have a - I think, quite sensible - aversion to trying to solve potential problems before they have manifested themselves, a source of great frustration to both parties.

I wasn't saying that promising big tax increases is, right now, a winning political strategy.

But if you think tax increases are unpopular, wait until you try to sell people on the idea that the only alternative to that is massive cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

And here's the other thing, nothing prepares the ground for a really big tax increase like a really big increase in inequality. Inequality means that you can in fact vote for someone else to pay for stuff. It'll be sold as "shared sacrifice", but the truth is that if it comes down to major cuts in entitlement spending or tax increases that naturally fall hardest on the wealthy, there will not be any confusion over who is paying.

On "eat the rich", it depends what you mean. The common idea that high levels of taxation will actually hurt rich people or harm the incentive to work seems dubious - progressive income taxes were raised quite high during and after the New Deal era, and yet, the rich survived just fine. You can live very well in this country on, say, $300,000 a year. Progressive taxation also preserves relative income ordering, which is the major welfare function of income above a certain level. As far as incentive to work or feedback about which career choice to make goes, I'm not convinced that prospects of very high incomes are what drives most people to choose a career, but in any case since relative income ordering remains the same, the feedback function is preserved.

Now what Brett may have meant by "eat the rich" is that you do eventually reduce income inequality this way to the point where a flattening of the income distribution makes it harder to impose high rates. This is a perfectly accurate assessment of the dynamic. But: you also fatten up the lower part of the distribution enough that you can still raise enough revenue even when you relax the tax rates. (Then you overreach with tax cuts and the whole cycle starts again.)

I agree that there is a worrying level of debt and the fact that so much US debt is short-term means that it's very vulnerable to interest-rate spikes. This is a reasonable concern although we're not at a crisis point just yet.

What I'm saying is that when the crisis point arrives, the result is actually going to be a big progressive tax increase, not the hoped-for massive cutback in entitlement spending.

I don't think this is controversial, I think it's well-understood by politicians of both sides except those who are outright delusional; it's just not talked about for obvious political reasons. What's crazy is that anyone took seriously the idea that provoking a debt crisis after a long period of increasing inequality would be a great way of ensuring permanently low tax rates.

It appears the counterargument, such as it is, is something like: the Republicans were too busy investigating Bill Clinton's penis to pass a budget.

Someone must have snuck in there and passed one for them, then?

Also, that the 1998 budget, which was passed in 1997, was substantially interfered with by the Clinton impeachment proceedings, which began in late 1998.

Time travel is the only solution to this quandary.

I don't see that we're anywhere remotely near the point of "really screwing over" or "eating" the wealthy. When all federal taxes are considered, the US has a modestly progressive tax regime. The very wealthiest, in fact, pay a somewhat lower effective tax rate than folks slightly lower down the ladder.

Really though. The amount of panic about the poor, beset upon uber-wealthy in America is just bizarre. Especially because so much of the concern comes from people that are paying a higher effective tax rate than Paris Hilton.

Only in America, where the notion of a public option for health insurance sent the hoi polloi into a frothing rage in the streets. Down = up.

"Especially because so much of the concern comes from people that are paying a higher effective tax rate than Paris Hilton."

I do believe there are two dynamics at work here.

The first is, many people do believe that the uber rich fund much of the job creation in our society. To the extent that they continue to invest capital in stocks, buy corporate bonds, etc. this is true. For it to really be true we should figure out a way from a tax incentive basis to highly incent direct investment in small business. Perhaps not just a lower marginal tax rate as per capital gains but tax credits on losses in those kinds of investments that are more favorable (they aren't that great today).

Second, without thinking, people equate this race to highly tax the wealthy with being unAmerican. The American dream in every movie, etc. is the poor guy working hard, hitting it big with his business acumen and becoming Bill Gates. That isn't realistic, but if anyone gets there they don't want even more of their money to go to the government.

In the end, anyone here just throw in an extra 5k on their tax payment at the end of the year because they have it? Anyone file a short form when they can save a few thousand by itemizing? No? No one wants to give more thann their share.

In the end, anyone here just throw in an extra 5k on their tax payment at the end of the year because they have it?

Who budgets to have an unspent $5k at the end of the year?

Not me. We just don't have that kind of slack in our budget.

Warren Buffet, Donald Trump and Bill Gates have each criticized the tax system as being overly beneficial to...them!

They say that the American system is screwed up because, as Buffett put it, he pays a LOWER effective rate than his secretary.

That, too, is unAmerican, but the information is just not in the public domain because they minute you raise the point, you're accused of being a socialist and engaging in class warfare.

Another nice Buffett quote: "if there IS a class war, My side is winning."

Which should be obvious. But it's not. Instead, a centrist, right leaning (by global standards) President pushing a cautious, incremental agenda is accused of trying to turn America into a socialist dystopia. There are so many misconceptions in popular political understanding in America, it's hard to know where to start.

The first is, many people do believe that the uber rich fund much of the job creation in our society.

As I said, there are many misconceptions.

In the end, anyone here just throw in an extra 5k on their tax payment at the end of the year because they have it? Anyone file a short form when they can save a few thousand by itemizing? No? No one wants to give more than their share.

This is true, if tautological, but also beside the point.

Because I don't know how to italicize here and I don't want to screw up every subsequent post, I will just say that I am responding to Marty's quoted words in the above post:

No, I did not donate an additional five thousand dollars to the government because I make less than 35,000 pretax income. Marty refers to "more than their share," which makes it sound as though there's a pair of stone tablets lying around which list everyone's fair share. No. We (voters and the government) decide what budgetary outcomes we want to achieve, how we think we can achieve them, and then attempt that. I think we'd have better government if I were required to pay an additional, say, $700, and if millionaires were also required to contribute an equivalent or even slightly larger fraction of their income / capital gains. I argue this because I think the cost, to me, of losing $700 would be more than offset by benefit of the programs we could fund with that increase. I think that same calculation holds true (depending on the proposed increase) for the majority of Americans. The exceptions are people who are very rich and who do not need social programs.

Given what happened after 2001, arguing about how much credit to give Republicans for what happened in the Clinton years seems like arguing about how much credit to give your friend for working with his wife to pay down their credit card debt and accumulate some savings, without mentioning that immediately afterwards he ran off to Vegas with a cocktail waitress and blew their savings at the craps tables.

Who do not need social programs *as much.* Sorry.

Slarti,

I am perfectly willing to give the Republican Congress credit for Clinton's surpluses. All I want to know is whether it was the same Republican Congress that deserves blame for Dubya's deficits.

Eric,

Was it really "the notion of a public option" that "sent the hoi polloi into a frothing rage"? Or was it a determined propaganda campaign that did it?

--TP

Slartibartfast has obviously lost track of the tiny detail that was Senate Whitewater Committee, founded May 17, 1995. In general, Jacob's right: but it is irritating to see that Republican party history is whitewashing over the party focus in the Clinton years of spending hours and money to find something - anything - with which to impeach a Democratic President. That Republicans would prefer this was forgotten before they wheel out the next committee to find something with which to impeach a Democratic President in 2011, is unsurprising: that Republicans very badly want to take credit for the economy doing so well in the Clinton years is also unsurprising: that Slarti is happy to bring up the Republican version of history in a thread discussing the latest conservative silliness about the economy is least surprising of all.

Was it really "the notion of a public option" that "sent the hoi polloi into a frothing rage"? Or was it a determined propaganda campaign that did it?

Yeah, but in the end, the result was the same. You had people without health insurance arguing against receiving it, and people with Medicare arguing for the government to stay out of it.

"I argue this because I think the cost, to me, of losing $700 would be more than offset by benefit of the programs we could fund with that increase."

Just so we are clear, the challenge is not in what you charge Warren Buffet. If Warren Buffet really belived that the tax system was unfair he is in a unique position to do something about it, he could pay more.


There are two misconceptions in all of this discussion, first is that taxing the uber rich at 90% would make a difference, it doesn't. To make a difference you have to get down to the level of people making between 150k and 250k a year, somewhere, and the you don't make much of a dent.

Of course, the REAL challenge is that most people that make 35k would not vote for paying $700 more even though they would, as Julian points out, get more positive benefit than a 35M guy paying $700,000.

It is the basis for all Democratic politics to convince the 95% that the uber rich are their enemies. But the math doesn't really work.


"This is true, if tautological, but also beside the point."

It is certainly not beside the point. If the great majority of Democrats feel that they can build a better country by giving more to the government, then write the check. I have seen written here a dozen times at least how people would be willing to pay more. So create a movement for a voluntary tax increase for all people that believe that, or quit taking all those deductions. Get Warren Buffet and Eric Martin to lead a tax revolt, to pay more voluntarily. Volunteer to pay 8% more to pay that debt off that Tony P keeps talking about. Do something yourself instead of demanding other people do something. Lead, don't complain.

It is the basis for all Democratic politics to convince the 95% that the uber rich are their enemies.

and all Republicans are card-carrying, hood-wearing, cross-burning KKK members.

in case you were wondering.

"in case you were wondering."

Thanks for clearing that up, some of it was buried in the implications.

All I want to know is whether it was the same Republican Congress that deserves blame for Dubya's deficits.

Some members were the same, others were not. But it wasn't my point that Republicans were/are paragons of fiscal responsibility; my point was more that russell's statement could be taken two (or more, possibly) ways, and I was wondering which of those he meant.

Volunteer to pay 8% more to pay that debt off that Tony P keeps talking about.

Marty,

I can't believe you still have that backwards.

--TP

"Marty,

I can't believe you still have that backwards."

I don't have it backwards, I recognize that if you want to pay down the debt you can't reduce the amount that is taken in by the IRS, evrything after that is semantics.

Marty, when I referred to millionaires, I was not referring to Warren Buffet. Warren Buffet is orders of magnitude richer than a millionaire. I don't know how many people have an annual income > 1 million. Furthermore, we don't need to be fixated on million dollars, although it is a nice round number. Why can't we tax people making 150-250k a year an additional 2%? Are you arguing it would be net detrimental? Would they commit mass suicide?

Please also note I did not propose (in my hypothetical or anywhere else) taxing the uber rich at 90%. I proposed taxing them at a proportional increase roughly equal to (or greater) than the proposed $700 to my $35,000, which is 2%.

Also:

"But the math doesn't really work."

is something that needs to be demonstrated, not asserted; I will cop-out on this because I am lazy and suspect I'd screw the math up.

"Lead, don't complain" is glib and unhelpful. I want the rich to give much more money than I do, both absolutely (easy) and proportionally (less easy). I want this because it would help me and many other people. So I should cut a $5000 check to the government to prove to you that I am serious? I VOTE for tax increases. That's how I try to lead. Unless you meant that I should actually run for office, I don't see your point. My $5000 diffused throughout the budget would make no marginal difference. It would hurt me deeply. It would be more sensible, though not much more realistic, to tell me to donate the money to Oxfam or something if I care so much about the poor.

If you're talking about the later Clinton years, we're all fairly familiar with which party was in the White House, and which other party was the majority in Congress. Which one of them are you thinking delivered a "positive bottom line"?

Historical budget data from 1970 to 2009 can be found here.

What you will see is a significant and consistent reduction in the national deficit in *every* year of Clinton's presidency, whether D's or R's held the majority in Congress.

It took 6 years to make it all the way from red ink to black, but the decrease in the deficit was consistent, and consistently strong, in each year of his presidency.

Some of that was the tech boom, some was Social Security surplus, and some was public policy initiated and championed in the White House. In each of those years.

Clinton was not necessarily my favorite guy, but he's the only President in my living memory who anyone can reasonably claim to have taken the federal deficit seriously.

many people do believe that the uber rich fund much of the job creation in our society.

Some of the "uber rich" do, and some don't. Both receive favorable tax treatment on the income they derive from investment.

Why's that?

For it to really be true we should figure out a way from a tax incentive basis to highly incent direct investment in small business.

Let's make it really true.

Tax incentives for investment should only apply to funds that actually provide net new capital to businesses.

Venture capital, IPO stock purchases, direct capital investment.

If you're buying paper from the guy who bought it from the guy who bought it from the guy who actually invested in the original operation, you're gambling, not investing. No tax incentive.

Works for me.

The American dream in every movie, etc. is the poor guy working hard, hitting it big with his business acumen and becoming Bill Gates.

Not everybody watches the same movies you do, Marty.

It is the basis for all Democratic politics to convince the 95% that the uber rich are their enemies.

First, I have to ask you what living Democrat you're talking about.

The folks riding that hobby horse these days are the tea baggers.

Second, there is no need to for any convincing. The "uber rich" make it only too clear, from their own words and actions, that as far as they are concerned, if this ship sinks, they're gonna be in the lifeboat, and the rest of us can pound sand.

""Lead, don't complain" is glib and unhelpful. I want the rich to give much more money than I do, both absolutely (easy) and proportionally (less easy). I want this because it would help me and many other people. So I should cut a $5000 check to the government to prove to you that I am serious?"

Julian, I wasn't suggesting you should do that. I believe that your willingness to VOTE for a $700 tax increase is on target, and if the Warren Buffets and and people here who quote him were willing to implement a voluntary tax increase then I believe it would help you.

My concern is with people who do make much more than 35k would raise taxes on others exorbitantly because they would "be willing to pay more". I find them hypocritical in that I suspect they itemize and take every deduction they can each year to minimize their tax bill while writing about how willing they are to pay more.

I am sure that generalization is as accurate as others, but, in general, I suspect it is true. At 35k I am sure you pay your fair share.

It is the basis for all Democratic politics to convince the 95% that the uber rich are their enemies. But the math doesn't really work.

Marty, that's just hand waving. Democratic politics is about being suppine to corporate interests - just slightly less so than Republicans. Tim Geithner. Larry Summers.

And, as requested, show your math.

If the Estate Tax goes back in, that's a serious infusion of cash. If we create additional brackets at the top, and tax them at higher rates, that's a serious infusion of cash. If we close the hedge fund loophole, ditto.

Even if there are modest increases on the 250-350K earning familiies, so be it. I myself am willing to pay it.

Just so we are clear, the challenge is not in what you charge Warren Buffet. If Warren Buffet really belived that the tax system was unfair he is in a unique position to do something about it, he could pay more.

Which would to very little. Come on Marty, you're a smart guy, you know about the free rider problem. You don't enact laws, or not, by asking individuals to act in such a way. Does. Not. Work. Ever.

It is certainly not beside the point. If the great majority of Democrats feel that they can build a better country by giving more to the government, then write the check. I have seen written here a dozen times at least how people would be willing to pay more. So create a movement for a voluntary tax increase for all people that believe that, or quit taking all those deductions. Get Warren Buffet and Eric Martin to lead a tax revolt, to pay more voluntarily. Volunteer to pay 8% more to pay that debt off that Tony P keeps talking about. Do something yourself instead of demanding other people do something. Lead, don't complain.

See, above. This is not a serious argument, but rather very immature sophistry. You can do better.

Julian, I wasn't suggesting you should do that. I believe that your willingness to VOTE for a $700 tax increase is on target, and if the Warren Buffets and and people here who quote him were willing to implement a voluntary tax increase then I believe it would help you.

So, implementing taxes on the very wealthy, closing the hedge fund loophole and allowing the Estate Tax back in would not help. But me and Buffett (and a few others) voluntarily paying more (while the vast majority of Americans in our bracket doing nothing) would help.

Got it.

I'd like to take this moment to invite anyone who cares to do so to demonstrate, from the historical record, a meaningful and consistent correlation between changes in the top marginal federal income tax rate, and the health and general robustness of the economy.

I'm not even asking for cause and effect. Just a credible and consistent correlation, from the historical record.

For "consistent", please read "demonstrates a repeatable pattern". I'd even settle for "happened more often than not".

The big boogieman here is the claim that raising taxes on the wealthy is going to break the economy overall.

I call BS. At a minimum, I call "show me".

US history only, please. The floor is open.

Donald Trump, Bill Gates and most multi-millionaires and billionaires are the children of multi-millionaires.

Another American myth, is that most of the wealthy in the US, “did it on their own”

Eric,

Before you question my maturity you should actually THINK rather than react. What value to the argument is saying Warren Buffet thinks the tax system is unfair, what does that mean to anyone?

In the same post I am asked to show the math, which has been shown here many times, and then told Warren Buffet's impact would do very little, which is exactly right.

I find the most immature argument is the argument that when others don't feel that they can or want to pay more they are bad, while hiring a tax accountant to make sure you don't miss a deduction or credit.

For those asking whether or not the Republicans or Clinton had more to do with the surplus....

Didn't the GOP shut down Congress a few times rather than accept the tax increases Clinton pushed?

Didn't they lose? Because I remember them shutting down Congress, claiming it Clinton's very modest tax hike was going to cause the second Great Depression and possible lead to the rule of Satan on earth.

And then they finally gave up, and passed something pretty close to what he'd wanted, and we ended up with a surplus.

Maybe I'm remembering wrong, but to the best of my memory the huge budget fights of the 90s ended with the GOP losing.

"But me and Buffett (and a few others) voluntarily paying more (while the vast majority of Americans in our bracket doing nothing) would help. "

I was under the impression that the vast majority of Americans in your brackets agreed with you. Or thats how I perceive you present it.

I find the most immature argument is the argument that when others don't feel that they can or want to pay more they are bad, while hiring a tax accountant to make sure you don't miss a deduction or credit.

Since I don't hire a tax accountant and am sure I don't put out nearly enough effort to find every deduction or credit that would apply to me, I guess I don't have to worry about my maturity.

With that, I think there should be more brackets with higher tax rates at higher marginal-income levels. I'm willing to have my tax rate go up, so long as I'm not the only jerk at my income level who is subject to it. Fair enough?


Marty, I know that Warren Buffet's donation to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn't qualify as income tax (and I don't know how much was deductible as charity), but he did give 37 of his roughly 44 billion dollar net worth away in 2006. So Buffet anticipated your request that people who are bemoaning the system actually do something about it. Buffet did something about it. Has he won you over?

"Buffet did something about it. Has he won you over?"

Yes. No holds barred. But if he had made it a one time tax payment of 37 of 44 billion dollars it essentially would be a drop in a bucket in the grand scheme of things, a ten percent increase in taxing his income would be just a smeaningless by itself, as Eric points outl. Even taxing everyone at his income level wouldn't meet the need, there just aren't that many of them.

What you will see is a significant and consistent reduction in the national deficit in *every* year of Clinton's presidency, whether D's or R's held the majority in Congress.

First: thanks for clarifying, russell.

But: sure, there was deficit reduction every year. Including the first, which was budgeted under G. H. W. Bush. Dunno how one can explain that. Possibly there was something going on in the economy.

But also: sure, Clinton spoke much about addressing the deficit, so props to him for that. I just don't think you can hang the whole thing on him, given that the annual budget bill is passed by Congress.

Possibly the electorate cared more about deficits back then, and said so. It's the only explanation I can think of that makes any sense to me.

What value to the argument is saying Warren Buffet thinks the tax system is unfair, what does that mean to anyone?

Marty, a statement against one's interests is often treated with more weight because of the ostensible lack of...well, self interest.

I was under the impression that the vast majority of Americans in your brackets agreed with you. Or thats how I perceive you present it.

What gave you that impression? I listed three people, honest enough to admit the truth about how the tax system benefits them at the expense of middle/lower class Americans. And suddenly I'm arguing that the vast majority in that bracket feel that way?

Huh?

Even taxing everyone at his income level wouldn't meet the need, there just aren't that many of them.

Define "meet the need"? It wouldn't, by itself, balance the budget but (coupled with estate tax and hedge fund loophole as above) add a lot to the coffers.

I find the most immature argument is the argument that when others don't feel that they can or want to pay more they are bad, while hiring a tax accountant to make sure you don't miss a deduction or credit.

I'm not sure anyone said that the uber wealthy were "bad" for not wanting to pay more. I know I didn't. Also, again, you show an inability to grasp the free rider problem. People will, as a rule, seek to limit their taxes paid within the system created.

Thus, if you want to actually change the amount of revenue coming in, you have to change the system, not the preferences of a few people on a blog.

The immature argument is one that ignores the potency and prevalence of the free rider dynamic.

voluntary tax increase

Just a note, if the IRS discovers you have overpaid your taxes it is obligated, by law, I believe, to return the amount of the overpayment to you. So the idea that you can just "voluntarily" pay more is not quite right.

Now, to be sure, you could certainly overstate the amount of income you earned on your 1040 and then pay additional taxes on the higher, fictitious amount, such that, in effect, you've "voluntarily" paid more taxes. On the other hand, you sign your tax return pursuant to the statement "Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return and accompanying schedules and statements, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are true, correct, and complete." Which, you know, wouldn't be the case if you were intentionally overstating your income.

Marty,

What you have backwards (willfully, I'm starting to think) is the idea that I am suggesting we should "volunteer to pay 8% more".

My modest proposal, like any proposal, would have to be adopted 'voluntarily' in the same sense as the current tax code was adopted 'voluntarily', but our individual obligations under it would be no less compulsory than they are now.

You, Marty, would not "volunteer" to take on your fair share of the national debt to pay interest on. Neither would I. Quite the opposite: you would be assigned your fair share, as would I. Your interest payment would be just as compulsory as your taxes. Your taxes would be 8% LOWER. Your interest payment might be more, less, or exactly the same as, your tax CUT -- depending on how big a share of the national debt you were assigned.

What you're trying to avoid is the question of what "fair share" of the national debt you, or I, or Warren Buffett, should each get assigned.

Right now, it's the tax code that assigns you a share of the national debt to pay interest on, every year. If you paid $10K to the feds last year, you chipped in $800 worth of interest on the national debt. If the average interest rate on the national debt last year was 4%, your $800 interest payment serviced $20K worth of debt. Scale those numbers up or down according to your actual tax bill, and the 2:1 ratio doesn't change. Somebody who paid $1 million in federal taxes last year serviced $2 million worth of the national debt, last year.

Maybe you think the current tax code is as "fair" a way to assign each of us a piece of the national debt to pay interest on as anything could be. If you think so, say so.

Maybe you think we should either raise taxes (across the board? on you instead of Warren Buffett?) or cut spending (on the Air Force? on Medicaid?) in the next few years so as to eliminate annual deficits. That would stop the growth in the debt, but the accumulated debt would still be there. Somehow, the money to pay interest on it would still need to be collected from you and me and Warren Buffett according to some formula. Okay: what formula?

--TP

Eric, Hmmmmm... the potency and prevalence of the free rider concept. I understand it, it means that even if everyone else doesn't can't, or doesn't want to, spend their money on what you want to spend it on they should because you think it is important.

As I said, it was a generalization, and maybe you don't make sure you get every deduction. I find the concept akin to objecting to the stimulus and then taking credit for pieces of it. Kind of getting to have it both ways.


I understand it, it means that even if everyone else can't, or doesn't want to, spend their money on what you want to spend it on they should because you think it is important.

No, that's not it. The free rider problem, in this instance, arises when you expect citizens to voluntarily pay more if they think tax rates are too low when gauged against the necessity to fund the government functions. Citizens will not do so individually, voluntarily, if they believe that others (the free riders) will not. In fact, many people will free ride.

Thus, societies enact society-wide rules to eliminate the free rider problem, and the problem of inaction it creates.

Incidentally, there are a lot of expenditures of the government that I do not agree with, or want to spend my money on. In fact, if my student loan/credit card debt are any indicator, I "can't afford" to spend tax money on either the Iraq or Afghanistan wars, or the out of control Pentagon budget.

But such decisions are not, for good reason, left to be made by taxpayers on an individual basis. As with tax rates.

Come on. This is so very basic I can't really believe you don't understand this.

I find the concept akin to objecting to the stimulus and then taking credit for pieces of it.

No, that's not really it either.

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