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Archive for Monday, March 25, 2013

Letter: Personal interest

March 25, 2013

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To the editor:

Kudos to Robert Evans Sr. for giving voice to an important message (“Party plaint,” Public Forum, March 20).  Yes, indeed, what has happened to the Grand Old Party we once paid heed to and respected? The modern day conservative heart has been frozen solid for a number of years and only thaws slightly when a close family member is affected. 

Sen. Rob Portman and Dick Cheney would surely oppose same sex marriage if their children were not involved. A Republican senator only became an advocate of mental health clinics when his son committed suicide, and those who are opponents of abortion in all cases will change their minds once a daughter is a victim of rape or a life-threatening pregnancy.

Sadly, it might take a horrific personal tragedy at a school, theater, restaurant or shopping center for a legislator to give some thought to enacting sensible gun laws. Let me assure you, however, that once that tragedy strikes close to home, you will never forgive yourself. That’s something for our Kansas delegates to think about before they cast their votes.

Comments

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

It is a good letter. But if a Republican suddenly becomes pro same sex marriage when a child comes out and another becomes an advocate for the mentally ill when a child has a mental illness, what's to explain all this anti tax attitude. Could it be similarly explained by their experience that their group pays an inordinate amount in taxes while other groups seemingly pay little?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Let me put it this way. We have a frequent poster here, Merrill. We have a legislative leader with a similar name, Merrick. Wo pays more in taxes? Well, I have no way of knowing for sure. But I'm going to guess it's the legislative leader. Why? Stereotyping, that's why. We do it all the time in this forum. It's done in the media. The Republicans are portrayed as nothing more than a bunch of rich, white guys who vote for the interests of other rich, white guys. And there is a lot of truth in that. Not completely, but a lot. But one of those truths is that the rich guys are the ones paying an inordinate amount of the taxes. That is their experience. So if the parent of a gay child suddenly becomes pro same sex marriage because his experience has led him to that position, if a parent of a mentally ill child becomes an advocate for mental health services because his experience has led him to that position, then a legislator who has paid more in taxes than others might feel that lowering taxes on those similarly situated is the correct policy because his experience has led him to that position.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Sure.

But those rich guys are also the ones with an inordinate amount of the money, even after taxes. So, it must be greed that motivates them to lower taxes and cut services to those less fortunate.

You don't see a lot of successful businessman deciding to chuck it all and go on welfare - must not be a better deal after all.

Heck, despite your sometime complaints about running a business, you don't seem inclined even to sell it and go become an employee.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Is greed now defined as the desire to keep what you have earned? Or at least to keep most of it?

Remember when the golfer Phil Mickelson said he might move from California to a non income tax state like Florida because his home state's taxes had gone up and he was now paying more than 50% in combined income taxes? It was a public relations nightmare for him, but other golfers had already done it. Tiger Woods lives in Florida, despite the fact that like Mickelson, he grew up in California. When is enough, too much? For him anyway, more than 50% was the answer. I suspect we all have a number in mind and while we may disagree as to exactly what that number is, just because we do disagree doesn't necessarily define that difference as greed.

And while I don't see successful businessmen trading their lifestyles for welfare, I also don't see welfare recipients trading their lifestyles for that of the successful businessman. Is that because they don't see the lifestyle of the successful business person as a better deal?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Or win the lottery and you've gone from welfare to being a Republican.

That aside, my original point stands, that these particular legislators are in favor of lowering taxes for those in similar tax brackets because their experience has been that they've been paying more than those in other tax brackets. You may not agree with that statement. I may not agree with it. I threw it out there simply to explain their motivation, just as the letter writer tried to explain the motivation of the legislator who changed positions on same sex marriage. Just as the letter writer tried to explain the motivation of the legislator whose child had mental health issues.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

And, of course, it's a lot easier to have an accident and lose your savings than it is to either win the lottery or run a successful business.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

I didn't say all Republicans were millionaires. But I did suggest that the legislators in Topeka might have as their own personal experience paying taxes at higher rates than those they govern. If that's their experience, then it would be similar to the experience of a congressperson whose child comes out and that congressperson then changes their position on same sex marriage.

The question then is, do you believe my assumption to be correct, that these legislators have had the experience of paying higher taxes? If my assumption is true, that would explain their behavior. If you believe my assumption to be wrong, then another explanation for their behavior would need to be looked for.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

What?

If you're rich and feel you have too much money, you can just give it away. In what universe is it easy to get from welfare to successful businessman?

Greed is defined as excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness - that's obviously subjective. But I'm not sympathetic to rich folks who have most of the money always wanting more.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

"But I'm not sympathetic to rich folks who have most of the money always wanting more."

I'm curious as to how that would work in the real world. Should Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods simply stop competing in golf tournaments? Or should they compete, but if they win the Masters, should they simply refuse the 2 million dollar prize? What about the brain surgeon who has done well for himself, earning a great deal of money, should he retire and leave the work to a less experienced and less well off surgeon? Is Tiger really greedy if he accepts the prize he worked hard to earn? Is the brain surgeon really greedy for accepting payment for services rendered? Are either of them greedy if they move from California to Florida to avoid high income tax rates? Are you greedy for claiming an income tax deduction that I might not be eligible for? Or is it you who are greedy when you ask others to pay more yet are unwilling to pay more yourself?

All those questions are really just one question, Jafs. What is fair? You know my feelings about that.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Is that a real question?

In the "real world", people can make whatever choices they like - rich people can choose to give money to charities, etc. or they can choose to keep it. They can retire, and open up opportunities for others, or they can hold on to their jobs as long as possible. They can accept $20K/month alimony, or push for more. CEO's can choose to make $1 million/yr, and distribute the other revenues to other employees, or $3 million/yr and keep it for themselves. Those at the low end and the middle have fewer such choices, of course.

As I said, it's subjective, but it's generally pretty clear to me how to use the criteria.

Did you know that the actors in Friends made about $1 million/episode? Is that reasonable to you, or nuts?

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

I wonder why you use the full word for "conservatives" but the diminutive and insulting term "libs" for "liberals"?

Liberals generally believe that the world is more complicated than conservatives, and that their success is not based solely on their own efforts, but also on many other factors, such as their luck in being born to certain parents, race, gender, etc.

And, they don't view taxation as theft.

So, your characterization of "cons" seems correct, but that of "libs" seems incorrect.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

No, Jafs, in the real world people do not make whatever choices they would like. If the government says that you must pay 53% of your income in the form of taxes, as it did with the golfer I mentioned, then you cannot decide to keep more than 50% of your income. That said, I can keep more than 50% of my income. You can keep 50% of your income. But he cannot. Is that fair? (rhetorical question, answer only if you really feel the need).

I mentioned the two M(s), Merrick and Merrill. Who is paying more and who is paying less. Not surprisingly, one advocates for those in the upper brackets to pay more, the other does not.

Enlightened self interest, I guess.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

"Enlightened" self interest would be great, but it's in very short supply. We have a lot of narrowly focused self centered self interest though.

Your first paragraph misses my point nicely - is that on purpose?

Would you rather make a million, and keep half of it, or make $20K and keep it all? Focusing solely on tax rates is misleading and not helpful.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

What part did I miss? You said people can make whatever choices they want. Not true. If I earn "X" amount and the government takes 53%, then my choices are limited to the remaining 47%. My choices have been substantially limited.

"Would I rather make a million and keep half of it or 20K and keep all of it?" That depends. If I made a million dollars selling illegal drugs to addicts and got to pay off the government by sharing my million 50/50, I'd pass. I couldn't look myself in the mirror. Compare that to my chance to earn 20K in a good, honest way, I'd choose that instead. But if the million was earned in an honest way, I'd rather keep it and decide for myself how to best spend it.

That said, I realize every member of society has an obligation to help support the services we all need. So I have no problem at all paying my fair share. And as I've said in the past, I'd be in favor of defining my fair share as more than it currently is, conditionally on everyone else also paying their fair share and everyone paying more.

You asked if an actor should make 1 million per episode. I guess. And Justin Beiber should make "X" for each concert. And Babe Ruth should make more than the President because he had a better year. I guess. Personally, I'd rather pay more to a trash collector than a brain surgeon. If the trash collectors go on strike, you'd really see their value. And that statement would be true right up to the time I needed brain surgery at which time no amount of money demanded would be excessive and to heck with the trash collector.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

You focused on one phrase, and ignored the many examples I gave of the choices people have, and the point I was making about greed.

Again, missing the point. You focus on tax rates, which is misleading. The important criteria is what you've got after you pay taxes. Those who pay higher tax rates have a lot more left over after taxes than those who pay lower rates.

I asked if you thought it was reasonable. I don't. Any more than I think the amounts professional athletes or coaches make is reasonable.

When average salaries in this country are below $20K/yr, I think that it's absurd for people to make such huge multiples of that. Especially when those salaries aren't based on any rational considerations of merit, or contributions to society, etc.

And, thus, when rich folks complain about tax rates, I have little sympathy for them. They have so much more than most people, and much of the time I think there's not a real justification for that in the first place.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Well, again we have some fundamental differences of opinion. The only thing worse than Justin Beiber earning a million dollars for a single concert would be someone saying he would not be allowed to earn that amount. Whether his concerts are worth the money isn't for me to decide. It's for the people to decide. If they go to his concerts, paying a couple of hundred or a couple of thousand, it's their money to spend as they choose. I won't be going, but I might spend my money on a Rolling Stones concert, so yes, Mick Jagger ought to be free to make a million.

My comment above, that every member of society has obligations, you seem to gloss over that. If a person makes a million dollars and pays half of that in income tax, while another makes 20K and pays little if anything in income tax, where is the "every member of society having obligations"? Then, to add insult to injury, the 20K earner says the million dollar earner should pay more, that he's not paying his fair share??? No! That can't be right. Turn that around and you'll have the 20K earner not working his fair share. Which may or may not be true. I have no idea. But do you not see the problem with someone who pays little telling someone who pays a lot that they are not paying enough?

You keep saying rich folks have so much more. If they earned it in a legal way, then they deserve more. Hard work, persistence, good decisions, talent and even luck ought to be rewarded. When more than 50% is taken in the form of income taxes, those qualities are discouraged. Discouraging those qualities is neither good for those individuals nor is it good for society as a whole. Talented brain surgeons need to be doing brain surgery, not retiring or sitting on the sidelines because they've already earned so much that to work more would only incur onerous taxes so high that what's left wouldn't make it worthwhile for him to go to the hospital. Talented actors need to act. Talented singers should sing to those wanting to hear him sing. Have you ever seen the movie Shawshank Redemption, where the character puts on an opera song for the prisoners to listen to? Think about that when you say people's income isn't based on any rational contribution to society. What contribution does a song make? What contribution does a comedy make, or a good novel? Or a half hour of laughs watching Friends?

tomatogrower 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm a Democrat jhawkinsf, and I probably pay more taxes than you earn in a year.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm neither a Democrat nor a Republican and I doubt that very much.

greatgatsby 1 year, 9 months ago

Wow, and the Republicans are the cocky self important ones? GTFO dude.

notaubermime 1 year, 9 months ago

That is undoubtedly part of the reason that they advocate for lower taxes on the extremely wealthy. Another large part of the reason comes from a re-emergent version of social darwinism whereby the lower economic brackets are to be scorned as "takers".

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

I imagine that sweeping ad hominem attacks have never been kosher - they're just enforcing those rules.

It's welcome to me - such things have never contributed to any meaningful discussion or debate.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

I used both the term "cons" and "libs", and I used them in quotes.

No sweeping ad hominem attacks there that I can see.

And, I also used the full words for both conservatives and liberals.

You, on the other hand, chose to use the full term for conservatives, and the diminutive and insulting term "libs" for liberals.

Kirk Larson 1 year, 9 months ago

As my post was removed for perceived sweeping generalization, I shall rephrase. These particular people and others like them, who can only seem to identify with discriminated persons when their loved ones are direct targets of said discrimination, demonstrate a severe lack of empathy, a quality that is vital to humane civilization.

bearded_gnome 1 year, 9 months ago

one underlying assumption in some of the liberal posts above, and in Merrill's postings, is that it is appropriatethat the government determine just how much money is enough money for each person to have. and when you have more than you ought to have, then it is fine to tax the bejesus out of you, that's why the anger was directed at the golfer who stated he was considering leaving california once even more draconian taxes were imposed.

think_about_it 1 year, 9 months ago

“If you are taught bitterness and anger, then you will believe you are a victim. You will feel aggrieved and the twin brother of aggrievement is entitlement. So now you think you are owed something and you don’t have to work for it and now you’re on a really bad road to nowhere because there are people who will play to that sense of victimhood, aggrievement and entitlement, and you still won’t have a job.” —
Condoleezza Rice

gary hamon 1 year, 9 months ago

This was indeed a great LTE. However, if one of my sons were to inform me that he was gay, and wanted to marry his partner, I could only say, I love you son and always will, no matter what. So do what your consicenece dictates you must do. Your mother and I have been married for 50 years now in what has been historically recognized as a union between a man and woman. Somehow to use the word "marriage" in your situation does not fit my image of what marriage means. I would perfer that you use another word to express your love and commitment to your partner . Gays have spent many years trying to estabish their own identity and now seem intent on identifying themselves with what many see as a failed hetersexual institution called "marriage" ( Well maybe not so much in our case after 50 years)

Guess my thinking is why the OLD die off and let God and tne next generation figure it out for themselves. .

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Nice that you would support your son.

Would you support civil unions that give married gay folks all of the same legal rights and benefits as straight ones?

Richard Heckler 1 year, 9 months ago

The GOP is dead thanks to the ruthless corrupt practices of the Rt Wing Anti Women Libertarian Neocon Fundamentalist Tea Party for Economic Terrorism.

33 years in the making. It's gone and the Koch family of money, Wal-Mart family of money,Exxon-Mobil family of money,AMWAY family of money,the military industrial complex family of money and the hard rt wing fundamentalist christian family of money do NOT intend to give the GOP name back to anyone.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

This started as a conversation about greed.

That's defined as excessive or reprehensible acquisitiveness. Subjective criteria, for sure, but I have no problem applying them, and deciding when something is greedy and when it's not.

The millionaire who goes into contortions trying to avoid taxes (legally) because he's just got to have that yacht? Greedy.

The working poor guy who wants to keep a little more of his salary so he can buy a little tv? Not greedy.

Etc.

You're right that people spend their money, and that's what determines some of this mess. But not all of it - some is determined by structures like Boards of Directors, etc. I see no rational reason that teachers, social workers, child care folks should make so much less than actors or athletes (and it makes no difference whether or not I personally like them). Actors and athletes are essentially entertainment - it's nice, but not particularly meaningful. Golf is some folks trying to hit little balls with sticks around a course - what the heck does that do for us as a society?

Is there meaningful art? Yes, but much of today's art is simply entertainment. I have no problem making the judgement that the teacher who teaches a classroom of 20-30 kids is making more of a contribution to society than the actors on Friends (and I liked that show, and watched it quite a bit).

And yet, they make about 300x less.

Now, the next question is what, if anything should be done about it - that's a much harder question to answer. But, it's clear to me that over the last 30 years or so, we've become a more feudal society, of the very rich and the rest of us, which is a backwards move. It undoes some of the great ideas this country is known for, like social mobility and a strong middle class.

Many people like to defend and protect the rich - mostly I think because they think they may someday be rich. But, it's not true for the vast majority of the population. If we truly lived in a meritocracy, with a level playing field, so that those who were successful owed that success to their own hard work and merit, I might feel differently. But that's not the reality in which we live.

Why should successful brain surgeons continue to work rather than retire? Where will all of the jobs for younger people come from if older people keep working longer and longer? I want well trained and excellent brain surgeons, not necessarily older ones.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Well, the discussion began with me trying to explain why legislators in Topeka might be voting in the ways they are and that the reason is very similar to the politician whose child comes out and then the politician changes their position on same sex marriage. Or the politician whose experience leads them to change their minds about mental health services. If it's true, as I speculated, that the politicians in Topeka are paying more in taxes than many others in society, then that experience may lead them to the position that those others in the same position of paying higher taxes should have their taxes lowered.

To change the subject for a second, instead of defining greed, how about defining chutzpa. That would be a person who pays 5% of their income to income taxes telling someone who is paying 50% that they are not paying enough. That's chutzpa. Or is that greed? But that's why I shy away from trying to define fair. Can't be done. Greed also. Too difficult.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Yes, and I mentioned it's because they're greedy.

I'm sure you're right, as I first said, that people tend to base their perspective on their own personal experiences.

Politicians as a whole generally make a lot of money these days, and there are all sorts of little tricks they can use that the rest of us can't - for example, they're immune from "insider trading" prohibitions, and can use that sort of information to inform their investing practices.

Well, you can certainly decide that you can't define greed - I have no problem doing so, and I've presented the definition, and some examples of how easy I find it to use.

I'm not sure why you're so focused on tax rates, rather than the obvious fact that those at the top make more, keep more, etc. even as they pay more in taxes. There's an interesting survey that showed most people believe that wealth is in fact more evenly distributed than it is, and that it should be even more evenly distributed than that.

I have no problem with our financial situation, and I've always felt I have enough, partly because my parents showed me that you don't have to have a lot of money to live well, something I'm grateful for. My concern, unlike the ones you mention, isn't personal - it's based on my perception that the vast divide between the ultra rich and the rest of us isn't good for our society.

We're probably in the lower middle class range, fyi.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Your a lower middle class person, right? That's probably true when it comes to this country, but if you compared your wealth to that of much of the world, you're probably near the very top. In fact, they may define your wealth and your desire to keep it as, you guessed it, greed. So now what, Jafs? Are you willing to liquidate half of your current wealth and share it with the poor of the world? Maybe more than half your wealth, maybe 75% of your wealth taken away before you even see it and spread around the world. Or will you somehow justify your very extravagant lifestyle? Or will you criticize them for imposing their values, their definition of greed on you, you who have done nothing wrong and are just trying to get by as best you can?

Lower middle class, you say! No, Jafs, you're well into the top 5% and unless you're currently sharing the vast majority of your wealth and income, you're in no position to lecture anyone. You're in no position to define greed.

Therein lies the problem, Jafs. Their values, their definitions are just as valid as yours. Mine are just as valid. We might not agree, but no one can rightfully say I'm right and you're wrong. So why try?

notaubermime 1 year, 9 months ago

That is a false comparison. There isn't a global government that people in all countries pay taxes to and receive services for. Not only does that government not exist, we don't have a history of paying into anything like that at higher levels in the past than we do now, nor are we doing better now than we have in recent history.

Federal income tax rates for the top 1% are at or near their lowest point in the past 50-75 years and yet that income bracket is at or near the highest levels of income (even adjusted for inflation) during the same time span. This is a group that is making more, paying less and is complaining that they are being asked to return to income tax rates that are more in line with 50 year averages. Never mind that they are being asked to return to such rates to ensure the continued functioning of government programs that benefit everyone.

Is it really too much to ask for the people who benefited the most from the state that this country is in be the ones who help ensure that we at least maintain this level?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

notaubermime, you ask is it really too much to ask of the wealthy to pay more, when they are paying historic lows. I don't know the answer to that question, because you're asking what is right and what is wrong. You and I may disagree, with neither of us being right or wrong. It's a value judgement, one that two people may legitimately disagree about. It's the same discussion I've been having with Jafs, defining greed, defining right or wrong. It's too difficult.

That said, let's just play around with a couple of numbers. They are neither right nor wrong, just numbers. I googled what the top 1% pay in income taxes. The first blog that popped up (which I admit might not be exactly an authority, but I believe it's pretty close) said that the top 1% pay 37% of all the income taxes. You're saying it was higher at some time, but relative to say the bottom 50%, which pays only 2.4%, it seems quite high. Is that right or wrong, I don't know. But 1% is paying 15 times more than 50%.

Maybe that 1% should pay more. Maybe the bottom 50% should pay more as well. As we know, we're running a huge deficit each year, we have a massive debt, maybe we all need to pay more. What I'm unwilling to do is make a moral judgement (assuming no laws are being broken).

As any frequent reader of this forum knows, I'm in favor of a flat tax, with everyone paying the same percentage, while we eliminate deductions and loopholes. Maybe that's fair, maybe not. That's a value judgement I don't want to make. But I do think it will have some real world effects. First, once we actually start paying for all the services we demand from government, rather than putting it on our children's credit card, I think we will send a more clear message to the government of what we want and what we don't want. I think that once we all pay taxes at the same levels, voting patterns will even out. Right now, the poor vote in very low numbers. While keeping their taxes low might seem to be a generous thing to do, if it has he net effect of keeping them from the voting booth, then they are paying a high price indeed for that generosity. When they do vote, assuming they vote their best interests, I'm assuming they will vote for schools and jobs and they will vote against the military industrial complex and wars of choice. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I don't think so. But if you think you're helping those folks out by keeping their taxes low and shutting them out of the political process, it's a devil's trade at best.

notaubermime 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm not even going to touch your moral relativism arguments. Too long a topic.

Before you talk about the percentage of federal income taxes that the top income bracket pays, you should check out the percentage of this nation's wealth that is owned by the top income bracket.

I don't have any problems with everyone paying something (even if it is just a token $100, but this notion of yours that the poor don't vote because they don't pay taxes is... bizarre. All of the people below the poverty line that I have talked with do not vote because, as you pointed out in the beginning, elected officials are overwhelmingly white and wealthy. They don't believe that anyone in the system is looking out for their interests. Increasing their taxes will not dissuade them of this belief.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

You may not think that the amount of taxes a person pays is related to their tax bills, but I certainly do. During this last primary, 8.6% voted in the city commission election. That's a miserable percentage. But let's suppose there was a proposal on the ballot to quadruple the sales tax. Or quadruple the property tax. Do you think that 8.6% would stay at 8.6%? I don't. Now you may be right that if we raise the taxes on poor people from $1.00 to $1.01, that might not have any effect on their voting. But raise the income tax on the bottom 50% from 2.4% to a flat 20%, and I think they'll come out in droves. I suspect further that if that happened, they'll be electing people who look like them, act like them, come from the same communities as them, have the same concerns as them, etc. I suspect they'll be voting for schools and jobs and better roads in their communities and against foreign interventions and rec. centers on the edge of town. The problem right now is that those who are elected are in fact representing the interests of those who elected them, but not of those who have made the choice to not participate.

Maybe I'm wrong, you're certainly free to disagree. But as things stand now, the poor aren't voting in numbers you'd expect and I see reason to believe that will change anytime soon. Got a better idea?

notaubermime 1 year, 9 months ago

So your solution is "vote or we will financially ruin you"? How very humanitarian of you. You are right in that it probably would get the bottom 50% out to vote in greater numbers to vote it down, but then it would go back down afterwards. You would need to have this measure on the ballot for every election and there is only so long that threats like these remain psychologically effective. Your idea is ephemeral and draconian.

It requires money to win an election and the higher in the government you go, the more money it requires. People in these elected offices are wealthy and represent the wealthy because they are the ones with the financial resources to win office. When wealthy donors help to get you in office, you don't upset the apple cart by voting against their interests.

In my opinion, the biggest part of the problem has nothing to do with the government. The biggest part of the problem comes from a shrinking middle class and consumer habits that favor cheaply produced foreign products. The government has no business getting involved in that.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

And those folks would probably just vote for whomever promised to lower their taxes, and then we'd be right back to where we started.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

I am concerned about the vast inequality of wealth around the world as well as that inequality in our own country, and think it's not a good thing.

If/when it's feasible, we like to give money to charities, including ones in other countries.

But, let's start at the very least with our own country, which we have much more control over, and get it into some sort of reasonable condition.

Also, you're aware, I assume, that we give lots of money to foreign aid (that's tax money).

I don't share your desire to muddy up the waters and claim we can't define anything or achieve any sort of clarity - it's an odd place to promote, in my view.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Also, what nam said.

And, if somebody wants to make a judgement that my living a rather modest lifestyle (for Americans) is greedy, that's their right as well. It's a judgement call, and it's subjective, as I've repeatedly said. That doesn't remove my right to do the same thing.

Just for the record, my lower middle class status is a rather new one - for most of my life, I've lived even more modestly than I do now.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

I'm not as concerned about the vast gap in wealth IF that gap happened as the result of honest endeavors. I, like you, began in very humble beginnings. Unlike you, I am not risk averse. I not only began businesses, but businesses with high failure rates. Some succeeded. One failed miserably. Hey, it happens. But I spent years working 80 hours week. My wife did the same. No, that's not true. She worked more. We delayed beginning a family (until it was almost too late and by necessity, that family was small). We sacrificed. I was all done legally.

With that came some success. Am I morally obligated now to share that wealth with those who were risk averse? With those who worked half as much as I worked? With those who did not sacrifice their self-gratification? No, I am under no such moral obligation to do that. I do have other obligations though, that are neither moral nor immoral. They are simply obligations, which I fully accept. I will pay more than those who chose a different path. I will pay less than those who succeeded more than I. But those obligations are neither moral nor immoral. I support public schools even though I chose to send my child to a private one. I support public transit, even though I rarely ride. I pay for wars I don't agree with because our elected leaders have made that choice for me. But none of those are moral or immoral. But if there comes a time when I say I've given my share and I believe it's time for you to give in kind, that too is neither moral nor immoral.

Or in the immortal words of a great American philosopher: "We can share the women, we can share the wine. We can share what we got of yours, 'cause we done shared all of mine."

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

That's the difference. I am. And, I see the inequalities of opportunity, etc. that lead to a tilted playing field. There have been studies showing that societies in which wealth is more equally distributed result in happier people - Denmark has won the title of happiest people for several years now. My concern is for the greatest good for the most people, rather than outrageous success for a small percentage, while the rest struggle.

So, you're a moral relativist? Or nihilist? Once you remove questions of morality or "fairness" from the discussion, what's left to base decisions on?

Your story is the American dream, at least part of it, and I applaud your success. But you have to know that many other people work hard and never achieve that level of success, and that many wealthy people never worked hard at all, and simply inherited money, invested it, etc.

Define "giving in kind" - without any discussion of fairness, it's impossible to define in any meaningful way. You mention how much income taxes the top 1% make - how much of the income do they have? Should they pay 1% because that's their tier? The same as the income they have? As much as they'll tolerate? Etc.

According to a quick search, they have 40% of the income - but they're only paying 37% of the income taxes. Shouldn't they pay 40% of them?

It's just impossible to remove moral and equity concerns, and then have any meaningful way to create policies. Policies are based on philosophies, and those are based on goals, which inevitably tend to include values.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

I don't believe morality should be removed from all decision making processes. I do believe though that I might have a certain set of values, you might have a completely different set and that we're both equally entitled to each. That said, I think my set of morals are very closely aligned with the majority of Americans. As an example, I believe adults with developmental disabilities should be provided for. I think most Americans would agree with that and even those that do not, they are obligated to provide through their taxes. That's the obligations I spoke of earlier. The problem we're having here is that several groups are being lumped together, as if we all agree what that is. If you define a group as "A" that includes adults with developmental disabilities and child molesters, then you'll see my support evaporate, not because of the inclusion of DD adults, but because of the inclusion of child molesters. Of course, that's an extreme hypothetical. But the local shelter provides a better real world example. There are some there truly deserving of services, at least as I see it. There are others who do not. And because the philosophy of the shelter itself is to lump those two together, they lose my support.

You're doing it as well, when you speak of poor folks. Some poor people are honest hard working people who for one reason or another have been unable to escape poverty. Others, though, are poor precisely because they've made a lifetime habit of poor decision making. Some are criminals. Some are career criminals, junkies, alcoholics, moochers to an extreme. As long as they're lumped together, they'll receive little support from me. That's why I was unwilling to criticize a wealthy person "IF" they did it legally. I put the word if in CAPS so as to make a distinction between them and those who did not earn their wealth legally. I was making and attempt to separate the two. When you separate those who work hard and play by the rules, yet remain poor from those who do not work hard and play by the rules and are also poor, then you will see my support for the former grow and my support for the latter disappear. Of course, this all applies to tax rates. Show me those who work hard and play by the rules and you'll see support for those endeavors, whether they are rich or poor. But to those who do not play by the rules, let them fail, rich or poor.

That's my moral code. You're free to have another.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

So, you're essentially a "legalist".

That's certainly one facet of morality, but it's not all of it for me. There are plenty of things that are legal, but not moral, and other things that are illegal that I find morally fine - gay marriage, drug use, etc.

I think you're missing the fact that the system we have favors the wealthy in a variety of ways, not because of merit or hard work, but simply because they have the most influence in politics (and, perhaps, because those in power are generally the ones who establish the system in the first place, and tend to be wealthy - we came out of a feudal, slave owning aristocratic past).

That's why just "playing by the rules" isn't enough for me to conclude that the outcomes are just or moral.

For example, consider a wealthy person who leaves a lot of money to their children - perfectly legal and "within the rules". That person may have worked hard and merited their success (or they may not have), but the child certainly didn't. And yet, that child comes into life and society with a huge advantage over a child born to less well off parents.

They will go to a better school, meet powerful and influential people, etc. The chance that they will succeed is much higher than the chances many others have, and through no particular merit of their own.

So, you condemn those folks? So far, I haven't seen any criticism of the wealthy, as long as they're not doing anything illegal. Do you believe that all wealthy folks work hard?

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

The system should favor some. Maybe not just the wealthy, but certainly the successful. It doesn't make sense to me to have a system that rewards success and failure equally.

I think you're ignoring some simple human nature aspects of our system, Jafs. As an example, would I work as hard as I do now if the government taxed me at a rate of 99%? Of course not. Would I work as hard if I didn't have the ability to pass my accumulated wealth to my children? Again, certainly not. So while the system you complain about, that which favors the children of some over the children of others, it's also a system that encourages productivity, which is then taxed and passed on to even those who are not productive. So while much of my wealth winds up in the hands of my offspring, some of it goes to benefit other people's children. But if you disallow me the ability to pass my wealth on to my children, my productivity will go way down and I will no longer be able to pay for the public schools that I don't use, or the "T" that I don't ride. Sure, we'll all be equal, equally poor.

Think about it, Jafs, why do you and your wife work so little compared to me? Is it because there is no one that will inherit your wealth? Is your productivity so low specifically because of your inability to pass that wealth on to someone else? You made a choice to not have children, but to impose that on someone who made a different choice would have the net effect of imposing on me a system where I couldn't do with my wealth what I want. Is that what you're advocating?

There are certain things that are uniquely human, Jafs, things that I think you're overlooking. On some intellectual level, I might conclude that there are too many people on this planet. But I'm not going to go out and commit suicide to help reduce the planet's load. Every parent on the planet wants a better life for their child than they had themselves. Better schools, more opportunities, whatever. Take that away from parents and you take away much of their desire to remain productive. If we did that, then once I earn enough to last my lifetime, I cease being productive. I cease paying for public schools, cease paying for the "T", etc. Maybe someone else will pick up the slack. Maybe not. But just because you chose not to have children doesn't suddenly mean that I shouldn't want a private school and a better life for my child than what I had, which was an inner city public school. You freely made your choice. Now you want to impose that choice on me. No thanks.

Just think it through for just a minute, Jafs. If I can't leave my accumulated wealth to my children, where will it go? To the government? Do you really believe that's a better system? That's more moral?

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

Wow.

Didn't answer the question at all. If you believe that hard work and individual merit should be rewarded, then you should advocate for a system that does that - inherited wealth and the tilt in the playing field towards the wealthy go in the opposite direction.

I didn't say we should disallow inheritance - I merely pointed out that it confers great advantages to those that inherit, based on no merit or hard work of their own. And yet, you seem to favor it anyway. So much for a consistent philosophy.

No, that's not the main reason we've made different choices than you have - my wife was raised with strong values about helping others, and so is in the helping profession, and I wasn't indoctrinated as much as you were with the "Puritan work ethic".

Nobody ever suggested that you should kill yourself - but you could also have chosen not to have children, given that you think overpopulation is a problem.

So it never ends, and nobody ever has enough - seems odd to me. I've never understood the idea that children should always have more than their parents do, especially if the parents have quite a lot.

You continue to miss that along with inheritance issues, the system tilts in favor of the wealthy in a variety of other ways, including tax policy. Why are capital gains taxed at lower rates than "earned income"?

I never said you couldn't want private school for your kids, or anything like that. Spending money on a child's upbringing is a substantially different thing from simply passing on vast amounts of money to them at death (although the fact that some have those opportunities and others don't, through no fault of their own doesn't seem particularly just or moral to me).

Seem to have struck a nerve here somehow - hmmm.

The fact is that your kids, through no merit or hard work of their own, have advantages because of your success that other kids don't have, also through no fault of their own. How is that just or moral?

A society that was truly concerned with issues of morality and justice would be structured so that everybody had the same opportunities regardless of the luck of their birth, race, gender, etc.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

You keep ignoring human nature, Jafs. Most every person on the planet accumulates wealth for their own personal use AND for the benefit of their children. It's human nature. It's as much a part of us a the desire to survive.

There are only two real options, either the person who accumulates that wealth gets to decide how to disperse it, or someone else does. You keep saying that passing wealth on to a child that didn't work for it is somehow wrong or unfair. Maybe. But the only other option is worse.

jafs 1 year, 9 months ago

So?

We were discussing whether or not our society is just/moral, and whether or not it rewards hard work and merit. For you those two things are linked. Since luck plays a huge factor in success, I'd say we aren't a "meritocracy", and that our society isn't just/moral in that sense. Your children didn't "earn" the advantages you give them, and children who had the misfortune to be born to crack addicted prostitutes didn't do anything to deserve their fate either.

Personally, I value a lot of things, not just the two you mention, and would like for our society to reward them as well - like integrity, compassion, clarity of thought, creativity, contribution to society, etc.

We could, for one thing, make it harder for people to accumulate vast amounts of wealth, so that the wealth is more evenly distributed (as most people surveyed would prefer). In one example, you mentioned that you wouldn't work as hard if you couldn't accumulate as much wealth. That's fine with me, and maybe better for you as well. Instead of you having one successful business, we might well have two people having two successful businesses, which would be a greater good for a greater number of people.

I've mentioned Denmark, which as won the top honors for the country with the happiest people several years in a row - I believe they're pretty socialist, aren't they? One problem with our society is that people are conditioned to believe that material success will result in happiness, which is obviously not always the case. Are you happy?

The changes in wealth distribution are a direct result of policies like deregulation, started by Reagan, and continued by Bush and Clinton to some degree. Reversing them would simply require returning to previous policies, and maybe coming up with some new ones, since things have changed a bit. As you know, I'm in favor of regulation - I'd regulate the **** out of businesses, especially large corporations. I'd also increase the minimum wage so that it matches what it would be with inflation factored in.

The big problem with my ideas is that, given the influence of money on politics, they'll never happen. But they're good ideas, and they'd work well.

georgiahawk 1 year, 9 months ago

jhawkinsf, that is some right purty dancin your doin! But I think Jafs wants to go somewhere and you just dance! Right purty though! Entertaining! Can you do that whirly-derby thing!

jhawkinsf 1 year, 9 months ago

Swing your partner, do si do. I can do that.

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