Sunday, February 17, 2008

The big Orwellian Liberal lie about American "selfishness"

I'm not an Ayn Rand Libertarian Objectivist or anything, but I do think she was onto something about the virtues of selfishness--although not in quite the way she would have meant it.

This comes to me after several weeks in the Delaware blogosphere in which

(a) people who don't want opt-out or mandatory organ donation have been castigated as selfish for not wanting to share their organs after death, even if they have profound religious or philosophical doubts about the process....

(b) people who oppose abortion on moral or religious grounds have been accused of not giving a rat's ass essentially about living, breathing children....

(c) people who object to the tax increases (and potential loss of choices for them) involved in various schemes for universal health care have been portrayed as unfeeling toward the millions of uninsured....

Orwellian Progressive guru George Lakoff repeatedly makes the case for progressive taxation in terms of the idea that wealthier Americans have used a disproportionate share of our "common" infrastructure and therefore should be paying higher taxes:

Ordinary people just drive on the highways; corporations send fleets of trucks. Ordinary people may get a bank loan for their mortgage; corporations borrow money to buy whole companies. Ordinary people rarely use the courts; most of the courts are used for corporate law and contract disputes. Corporations and their investors — those who have accumulated enough money beyond basic needs so they can invest — make much more use, compound use, of the empowering infrastructure provided by everybody's tax money.

The wealthy have made greater use of the common good—they have been empowered by it in creating their wealth—and thus they have a greater moral obligation to sustain it. They are merely paying their debt to society in arrears and investing in future empowerment.

This is the fundamental truth that motivates progressive taxation.

It is a truth that undercuts conservative arguments about taxation. Taxes provide and maintain the protecting and empowering infrastructure that makes our income possible.

Our tax forms hide this truth. They do not indicate the extent to which taxes have created and sustained the common wealth so you could earn what you have. They make it look like the empowering infrastructure was just put there by magic and that the government is taking money out of your pocket. The most likely truth is that, through the common wealth, America put more money in your pocket than it took out — by far.

But this situation is threatened by conservative tax policy. Through unfair cuts in taxes paid by the wealthy, through payment for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and through borrowing abroad to pay for the tax cuts and Iraq, the common wealth is being drained and the infrastructure allowed to fall apart. We need to return to a fair tax policy that recognizes financial responsibility incurred by the compound use of America's empowering infrastructure.

Let's unpack this a little:

Ordinary people just drive on the highways; corporations send fleets of trucks. So what? Ordinary people pay registration fees and fuel taxes; corporations pay increased registration fees and vehicle taxes because heavier vehicles cause more wear on the roads. Truck fleets also have to purchase fuel in state-regulated programs that prevent them from seeking the least expensive fuel and guarantee a higher fuel tax rate. Truck fleets are required to meet specific weight standards and pay fees to maintain that system. Truck fleets have to be piloted by drivers with special licenses (that cost more to get and maintain, to say nothing of training drivers for the tests), and those drivers have state-mandated limits on how many hours they can drive per day, limiting the use of the vehicles in ways that private vehicles are not. All of the additional taxes and fees associated with operating a truck fleet are all paid before a corporation (or a sole proprietor business) makes a penny of profit.

So the point is here, that the business (a) pays more in taxes and fees to use the infrastructure in the first place, and (b) that is not therefore a legitimate argument to be made using that to justify higher post-profit taxes. If you don't think the taxes and user fees are high enough to pay the costs, then raise them. But the idea that after you have paid all of society's established fees to use infrastructure you owe something additional is .... ludicrous.

Moreover, what Orwell/Lakoff willfully ignores in his redefinition of terms is that progressive taxation of incomes primarily hits upper middle class people rather than huge corporations or the extremely wealthy. And here's where I get incredibly tired of people telling me that my family is selfish for not wanting to pay more taxes:

We're a two-income family, both professionals with advanced graduate degrees. Our combined incomes allow us to support a six-person family in reasonably comfortable but not overwhelmingly affluent style. To insure that we have enough money set aside for retirement, can afford the college we want our children to attend, to take good vacations, or just to have the money to do whatever the hell we please, both of us work second jobs of one sort or another at least 6 and sometimes 9 months out of the year.

And our incomes are taxed at the 31% Federal Income Tax rate. But George Lakoff and the people who think we're selfish want us to pay more, because we work hard to make as much money as we need to secure the life we want for our family.

But what our Progressive brethren and cistern don't want you to think about when they're telling us we're selfish for wanting to keep as much of our money as possible is this:

I served 21 years in the US military--both active and reserve, incurring not just risk but long separations from my family....

My wife has devoted years of her own educational career working with children in disadvantaged communities....

We adopted a special needs child out of state custody, paying the whole freight ourselves without any subsidies....

We directly support a three-generation extended family that takes not a penny of government benefits, even though my daughter and her son surely qualify....

Everyone in our family devotes hundreds of hours per year in voluntary community service, from youth league coaching to providing free professional services to volunteer organizations....

And there's more, but I don't want to make a case for sainthood or even pillars of the community because there are so many people in our middle-class neighborhood who do more. I'm making an argument for normalcy.

Most middle-class and upper-middle class families in American spend thousands of dollars and contribute thousands of hours to their communities. Nobody forces them to do so; nobody gives them service learning assignments.

So for self-appointed Progressive or Liberal politicians or political theorists tell me that I should be paying more because I am essentially free-loading on our shared commonwealth, or that I'm insensitive because I'm not ready to pay more taxes to support new social programs at the expense of the work I do for my own children, I have a simple message for them:

Get screwed.

1 comment:

Duffy said...

He's mixing apples and oranges. People and corporations are two different things. Make this about individuals and I'd argue that rich people use less infrastructure than lumpenproles.