Sunday, September 25, 2011

What is Elizabeth Warren's point?

The lefties on my radar were enthusiastic this past week about a stump speech on taxes from "consumer advocate" and 2012 senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren.

Warren's statement, which can be read by clicking the image at the beginning of this post or heard in the video at the end, does a great job of dismantling an argument that no one is actually making.

If I find someone arguing that rich people shouldn't have to pay any taxes, I'll be sure to send them to Warren's Den of Intellectual Dishonesty. But as it stands, she is getting a lot of mileage with empty rhetoric.

From The Economist:

Of course, not unlike a tea-party Republican making the case for small government, Ms Warren paints in over-broad, simplifying strokes. It is not actually true that "the rest of us" paid for the roads, the education of workers, or police and fire protection. Some of us paid for them, and some of us paid a lot more than others. Rich people, for example, have paid and continue to pay more than the rest of us.
I hear on NPR almost every morning the debate phrased as "should the rich have to pay a little more." Did I just wake up in Estonia? We already have a progressive tax structure, where the rich pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes, but the left seems to forget that detail and acts as if taxes are flat.

I understand and respect the progressive tax viewpoint. Wealth brings diminishing returns to someone's quality of life. In effect, the rich can afford to lose a bigger percentage of their money. That's a reasonable position.

But just how unbalanced are they willing to make the tax structure? Is there a point where they will be satisfied the rich has paid enough? We want details, not vague hand waving. I understand there are many other types of federal taxes than income tax, but the rich are already paying more of the taxes than anyone else, and here's Elizabeth Warren acting like they don't pay any.

Warren's rhetoric is a cover to justify arguments that unchecked amounts of wealth belong to the government because the government made a limited contribution to its creation.

So not only did the rich help pay for it, they paid for more of it than anyone else.

Keep a big hunk of it? Just how much are we talking about? This is drivel, and I have no idea what she means by "pay forward for the next kid that comes along" either.

Everyone should pay taxes Liz, not just the rich, and for all the reasons you mentioned.


  1. Warren's speech has gained so much traction because it opposes the bullshit extremism from Teabaggers. She is articulating part of the reason for taxes; on this, the other side acts like taxes bring zero benefits. I think people, including myself, have taken to what Warren has said because it's refreshing to hear someone say, "Hey, we need taxes. Stop pretending like we don't."

    Yes, what Warren said is rhetoric. (I don't know her exact positions, though I suspect she favors repealing the harmful Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.) But that doesn't mean you can set up strawmans yourself. For instance, you've said her argument is a cover for unchecked wealth to be given to the government. How do you know this? What if she favors going back to Clinton era tax rates (back when we say the largest economic boom in world history)? How is 39% unchecked?

  2. To expand on what Michael Hawkins has said, I think you're incorrect when you state her quote "does a great job of dismantling an argument that no one is actually making."

    Her quote is not necessarily a call for increasing taxation of the rich (well maybe in this instance it is, I don't fully know the context of her statement - though it doesn't have to be). Rather it is a DEFENSE of our current progressive tax structure which is being challenged.

    There are some libertarians who view rights - particularly property rights - as natural or divine and under no circumstances should they be rescinded or relaxed for the "better good." Taxation, is viewed as an infringement on property rights, because it uses force to essentially steal the result of one's labor and implies we don't wholly own ourselves - a concept natural-rights (deontological) libertarians disagree with.

    Political dialog has reached a point where the legitimacy of government and taxes itself is being questioned.

    Not every libertarian invokes the wisdom of Miltion Friedman. Instead, some conjure the warped musings of Ayn Rand.

  3. The reason I say the argument is a cover is because when members of the left talk about raising taxes on the rich, they typically speak about the principal of having a progressive tax system over a flat one instead of giving a specific amount of how "progressive" the tax system should be.

    We already have a large amount of tax inequality, even with the Bush/Obama tax cuts on those with high incomes, so just how unbalanced should it be?

  4. Thats the Question I always ask, Michael (conservative Michael). What is the most someone should pay out of their earnings? 50%? 60? 70? 80? 90? 100???

    In many states the top tier is already near or over 50% when you count all taxes together, so how much is "the fair share"?

    Until that question is answered, I don't see how anyone can make a claim that a person or group isn't paying theirs. I think 35% is plenty for anyone to pay.

    Another thing, Warren Buffet's secretary also ONLY pays 15% if she has investments, or sells her house (and profits). This nonsense about Buffet paying less than his secretary is a complete lie. Capital gains tax is paid at the same rate by everyone and that money was already taxed once before it was invested, potentially at the top rate.

    And (liberal) Michael, exactly what "extremest bullshit" are you talking about? Several European countries have a flat tax that works wonderfully, or perhaps you mean the national consumption tax that some favor over an income tax (like Herman Cain, go Herman!. Without further explanation I just have to assume you aren't talking about reasonable, fair and effective tax issues like either of those.

  5. I finally found the original context, and it does appear she's referring to increases in taxes as opposed to defending the present tax structure. Specifically, she's referring to Obama's present proposal. I will refrain from judging her until I take the time to totally review the nature of our tax structure.

    Now I'm not excusing or condemning Elizabeth Warren specifically but I think this is just one instance of the hyperbolic nature of modern political discourse which transcends party lines.

    I'd like to also add that while her specific argument is misdirected, it is still valid and worthy of resurrection. You're still incorrect to say no one is arguing for a flat tax. Ron Paul has espoused the flat tax and elimination of income taxes. There ARE people - even elected people - that are challenging the legitimacy of taxation.

    While I may or may not support increased progressive taxes - at least there's a balancing act being played out

  6. Jeremy, let me clarify. I did not mean that no one is advocating flat taxes, I meant no one is advocating that the rich pay zero taxes.

    When you ask if the rich should have to pay more, like NPR does, the answer can change depending on the interpretation of the question.

    Should the rich pay a total dollar amount more than other people? Yes

    Should the rich pay a higher percentage of their wealth? Maybe

    Should the rich pay a higher percentage of their wealth then they do now? Probably not

    Jeremy, even though you did the homework and found out the context, I have to say in this case the context is less important. She is being praised for this as a self-supporting statement, not criticized, so I think it's OK to be context neutral - even though the context helps my case.

  7. I've been discussing (read:arguing) this with people all week and find myself stuck stressing two points:

    1.Choice. All these things that "the rest of us paid for" are monopolized by government (well, not COMPLETELY, and I think you'll find the richest companies hire a comparably high percentage of private school grads and have private security.) It is impossible for any business to exist without using these services the government has monopolized.

    2.This is an argument against anarchy, not libertarianism. Some people are both anarchists and libertarians, but not as many as the media have people believing. Same thing for "Tea Party" and "Libertarian". These, too, have been inseparably linked by the media for a lot of people, but the Tea Party is a political movement and libertarianism is a set of ideas. This is like saying every socialist supports Stalinism.

    There are a lot of different breeds of libertarians, but almost all of the ones I talk to and read support government protecting private property and understand that, short term, government control of transportation and education predates modern economic reasoning and can't just be thrown away. Even the "warped musings" of Ayn Rand supported taxes, to pay for the protection of private property (the only point E.W. feels necessary to emphasize a second time.) These just, unfortunately, aren't the libertarians that are highlighted by liberal or conservative (Republican) media.

    Michael Hawkins - You should find some actual Tea Partiers and yell at them, instead of at generally reasonable libertarians. Your argument in this particular comment is: We should support some bullshit because it's not as wrong as some other bullshit that somebody somewhere else said.

  8. I don't see what's so hard to understand about my reference to extremist bullshit; Jeremy got it. Teabaggers are pretending that taxes are useless and, if anything, offensive and morally wrong.

  9. Thanks for the clarification. I do think I misread you. That said, I still believe there are enough people out their making deontological arguments regarding the morality of taxation to warrant keeping Warren's quote around.

  10. The only point you make is that it's an argument against complete anarchy and absolutely no taxes, which is position held by a fraction of a percent of Americans.

    You imply that every Tea Party member believes that, which is hugely false.

    You discredit an entire movement which started out of legitimate complaints by calling them "teabaggers", which is a reference to someone putting their testicles in someone else's mouth.

    You're not exactly making valid positive arguments about what Warren is saying. You're not exactly engaging in respectful dialogue.

  11. Ms Warren and Mr Hawkins are repeating the common exaggeration that conservatives oppose all taxes. The related argument is that conservatives oppose all government. Both ideas confuse conservatives with anarchists.

    Conservatives, generally, prefer a limited government, confined to the narrow role outlined in the Constitution, as well as low taxes. Personally, I think government is too large and growing at too fast a clip, and current tax rates are fine where they are.

    My current opposition to progressives is against their desire to raise tax rates. Raising rates right now would be economic suicide.

  12. I'm not saying conservatives, or teabaggers for that matter, oppose all taxes. I'm saying their rhetoric is undermining the very concept of taxes. It pretends as though if government would just go away, everything would be perfect. That may not be what they actually believe, but their words are effectively saying as much. Warren is reaffirming that taxes are necessary, that we actually want them in many instances (such as when we demand pot holes get filled), and that they are not morally wrong. That's the appeal to what she is saying.

    And teabagging includes placing one's testicles anywhere on the face, not merely in the mouth. For the record.

  13. Interesting thing Michael (liberal) there are huge numbers of private highways around. I keep forgetting to mention.

    I don't think their rhetoric undermines the importance of taxes. The fact is that government ends up doing almost everything less efficiently than the private sector. Less government than we have now is what I hear being advocated and lower taxes than we have now as well.

    Lets just remember that "the rent is too damn high" does not have the same meaning as, "there should be no rent."

    (if you didn't get "the rent is too damn high" reference, just google it.)

  14. I know my memes.