What are "taxes"? They are the means by which the social contract is fulfilled. What is "the social contract"? It is an agreement among the members of society to share the burden of living with one another: building and maintaining infrastructure and social institutions, caring for all the people. What is a "rhetorical question"? It is a question everyone knows how to answer. The answer to the Biblical rhetorical question, "Am I my brother's keeper" always has been, and is still supposed to be, "yes."
There are two kinds of people in a society. The first kind understands the social contract and is willing to pay his or her fair share of taxes. In the modern United States, these people are often called "Democrats." The second kind of people have a different idea. They believe that they are rugged individualists and can "go it alone." They believe that taxes are an unfair burden placed upon them by the rest of the society. We often call these people "Republicans."
Rugged individualists believe, on the one hand, that, even though they may own businesses that require workers to keep them running, it is one's own business, the purpose of which is to make as much money as possible. Owners ought to pay workers as little as possible while charging consumers "all that the trade will bear." One ought not to have to pay taxes on the profits of that business because it is not the business of the "government" to interfere with trade in any way, even though that trade takes place within an area occupied by the entire society which has installed a government to regulate the social contract.
Rugged individualists believe in "family values," so long as it is their own families we are talking about and not the families of other segments of the society. Rugged individualists understand that "charity begins at home," and they ought not to have to pay for educating other people's children, or taking care of the impecunious poor, or helping the helpless elderly who are no longer able to pay the taxes they ought to pay. Rugged individualists can afford to educate their own children and care for the members of their own families. Everyone ought to be able to do the same. "If I can do it, so can they."
There ought not to be subsidies for anything — except for farmers, most of whom are big-business people these days; except for airplane manufacturers, which make billions from the "armed forces" of the government — what President Dwight Eisenhower called "the military-industrial complex." Except for AIG when it nearly went bankrupt, and except the other big lending institutions whose greed led them into the “derivatives” pyramid scheme and the current bubble explosion. Except for the Savings and Loan institutions of America when they finished milking their clients and did go bankrupt, causing the American public to pay twice for making rich people richer. Except for Enron, which spent a summer cheating the residents of California and causing brownouts and untold hardships to the consumers and then went bankrupt after feedng its profits to its executives and colluding with Arthur Andersen accountants to cheat the government of its taxes.
Now that the mortgage market and the stockmarket have crashed, plunging the United States into what the dilapidated and discredited George W. Bush administration is calling an impending “recession,” but what old timers (like me) recognize as a full-blown Depression, What is going to happen? The wealthy members and institutions of society are going to have to begin to pay their fair share of taxes, like those that have been paid for years by the middle classes. Financiers don't like it, especially those who make their money through owning property: the mortgage-holding banks. These "rugged individualists" don't need the rest of us. If they can keep control of the government, maybe they can stave off paying the taxbill instead of finding the “loopholes” the corrupt Congress has set up for them in the tax code. What was the Republican "Contract with America"? It was, and it still is, an anti-contract. It is an abrogation of the social contract. It is a way of stripping the middle classes of what little money they have and handing it back to the wealthy, where it "belongs."
Here is another rhetorical question: Who voted for this failed (for the middle classes) Bush doctrine these past eight years? The answer is, the elderly, who now find that Medicare costs too much in taxes for rugged individualists to bear. The parents of children who now find that the mandated Bush “No Student Left Behind,” and other un- or under-funded education programs are going down the tubes. The middle class mothers and fathers of teenagers who discover that the Republicans still want to destroy public higher education by cutting “unnecessary public programs” — "let their kids go to Cornell, Columbia, Harvard or Yale, like my kids." There is no bread? Let them eat cake.
And now the Republicans want to hold onto the power. Who can blame them? That’s a rhetorical question, too. The answer? The voters of the United States of America.
Excellent! Thanks. I read “Contract” to a very passionate liberal and it was the first time he ever stopped long enough to listen to me. We both thought it was excellent.
Lew, this is great! You've hit every nail on the head. I'm sending it up to Alfred's computer so he can enjoy it too. Undoubtedly he will pass it on to friends. He sent a letter to the publisher of the local paper last week, on the importance of voting NO on Question 1, and subsequently was lambasted by furious anti-tax Libertarians who accused us both of being "loafers" who want to live on public tax money while we waste time playing with clay and writing poetry. He was instructed by one yahoo to "buy your own clay, Al," and asked if his wife had received a tax-payer-subsidized grant to edit his letter.
Alfred was tempted to reply, and I toyed with the idea of telling the writer that I've never received — or asked for — a grant to write anything. But we both decided that adding verbal fuel to the fire only encourages ideologues, and tightens the logic-tight compartments around what passes for their thoughts.
Besides, I approve of cultural grants and state support of the arts, and don't want to be misunderstood as negative about them or the artists who do apply for them, and who produce, thanks to them, valuable work that we might not have otherwise. What I think is that arguing with people who value their ideologies more than the society they live in and the people who live in it with them is futile: they can't hear a word.
PS: A friend of mine says, "Fine; people who don't want to pay taxes should not have to, but they must be required to buy their own fire engines." And I'd like to add, they must build their own streets, roads, bridges and tunnels for their exclusive use, too.
Wouldn’t that take up quite a bit of space?
Yeah, but hell, people who can get The Market to correct itself and do everything right must know how to work wonders with Space too, right? And Time, for all we know! Just have faith, Lew.
Lew - are you the author of this piece? Just wondering.
Would you please mail it to the Ayn Rand Institute? I'm tempted to ask them all to hand in their copies of Atlas Shrugged. It's not bad enough that Rand's favorite writer was Hugo and that she imitated his style — a beautiful irony, too — but the idea of the powerful elite going on strike is laughable. Who the hell do they think is going to take out their garbage?
Thanks, Lew. Good essay--good points. AND, not only would they need to buy their own fire engines, they'd need the firehouse and salaries for the firefighters and supplies for the volunteers or paramedics.
The little boats for water rescue, helicopter patrols, gasoline, and pilot time ... usw.
There's a whole lot to it even in a podunk coastal backwater like this. Cheers to you for so effectively pointing it out.
I know I'll hate myself in the morning ... but here goes ... first off, I am not well-versed in the area of politics — so I never get into it with anyone — so if my question sounds naive forgive me … do you think that the Democratic liberal "grillion-aires" in Hollywood (La Streisand and her ilk) really, really, really pay all the taxes that they're supposed to? ... don't you think that they hire very expensive CPA's to find clever ways and enormous loop holes within which they can find all kinds of write-offs? You don't honestly believe that it's just the GOP'ers who don't pay all their taxes do you? Uh oh - here comes the Turco tsunami of liberal verbiage ..... Duck!!!!!!
I don’t know, Ann,
Do you? Were Hollywood “grillion-aires” what I was talking about? I thought I was talking about the social contract and how Democrats and Republicans differ in their attitudes toward it.
I take it that my essay annoyed you; may I therefore assume that you are a Republican? If you are, may I ask you what you have in common with the wall street bankers who are currently engaged in once more looting the public treasury — my money and yours? May I ask if you think that the last eight years have been competently administered by the current administration? Did you enjoy being lied into the war in Iraq? Was any money or time wasted during the aftermath of Katrina? Do you approve of the methods of torture used in Guantanamo Bay (it was a nice place when you and I were kids and my ship visited Bayonne and Cuba, and I visited you in New Jersey; I personally wouldn’t want to be at Gitmo these days).
Your reply to my article does not address any of the things I was discussing in it. What you have done is to do what the Bushwhackers do: change the subject; talk about irrelevancies; set up straw men to set afire. I don’t know, Ann, what the Hollywood grillion-aires do with their money, I just know what I do with my money: I pay my taxes with part of it, don’t you? And I don’t begrudge those taxes, so long as we all play on the same level ground. Do you cheat on your taxes? I never have.
P. S. “Liberal” is not a four-letter word. This is from my computer dictionary:
1 the values of a liberal society tolerant, unprejudiced, unbigoted, broad-minded, open-minded, enlightened; permissive, free, free and easy, easygoing, libertarian, indulgent, lenient. antonym narrow-minded, bigoted.
2 a liberal social agenda progressive, advanced, modern, forward-looking, forward-thinking, progressivist, enlightened, reformist, radical. antonym reactionary, conservative.
3 a liberal education wide-ranging, broad-based, general.
4 a liberal interpretation of divorce laws flexible, broad, loose, rough, free, general, nonliteral, nonspecific, imprecise, vague, indefinite. antonym strict, to the letter.
5 a liberal coating of paint abundant, copious, ample, plentiful, generous, lavish, luxuriant, profuse, considerable, prolific, rich; literary plenteous. antonym scant.
6 they were liberal with their cash generous, openhanded, unsparing, unstinting, ungrudging, lavish, free, munificent, bountiful, beneficent, benevolent, bighearted, philanthropic, charitable, altruistic, unselfish; literary bounteous. antonym careful, miserly.
Caring people come in all shapes, sizes, colors and from all political persuasions. I know democrats who would give you the shirts off their backs; and I know generous republicans who would joyfully do the same.
My remarks to Ann's, above, apply to yours as well: They are irrelevant to my argument which was not about personal qualities such as generosity, but about the differences in attitude toward social responsibility between the Democratic and Republican parties. Surely, you agree that there are such differences, don’t you? Otherwise we wouldn’t need a two-party political system.
Don’t you know businessmen who are personally very generous people, but who would cut any corner, even cheat, to make a buck? I certainly do; one of them was a dear older friend (and former student) whose business behavior made me cringe. (I was his partner in one of his more marginal, and altruistic, business ventures: A publishing company.) Don’t you know other business people who would sooner fail than do something unethical? So do I. Which party is more likely to condone the behavior of these very different types of people?
Excellent piece — Thanks for writing it.
If being a liberal would make me such a kind and caring person and I could be part of such a magnanimous society, why do I still wanna' be a conservative? Uh, that's a rhetorical question.
No, Ann, it’s not,
Because the answer to the question you pose is not generally known. And liberalism won’t “make” anyone into a liberal person; in order to be one, first you have to be a “kind and caring person.”
I personally have no idea why you would “wanna' be a conservative.” I have never understood why any American of Italian background would wish to be one, particularly in view of the model we have of Mussolini. I remember during the Second World War how ashamed I was that Italy was run by such a pompous and despicable ass. Here are some other definitions of “conservative” from my computer dictionary which, again, you may check in a dictionary of your choice:
1 the conservative wing of the party right-wing, reactionary, traditionalist; Republican; Brit. Tory; informal redneck. antonym socialist.
2 our more conservative neighbors may object to the modern architecture being proposed traditionalist, traditional, conventional, orthodox, old-fashioned, dyed-in-the-wool, hidebound, unadventurous, set in one's ways; moderate, middle-of-the-road, buttoned-down; informal stick-in-the-mud. antonym radical.
3 he wore a conservative blue suit conventional, sober, modest, plain, unobtrusive, restrained, subtle, low-key, demure; informal square, straight. antonym ostentatious.
4 a conservative estimate low, cautious, understated, moderate, reasonable.
Lew, Like I said, I'm a neophyte when it
comes to politics so I don't get into it on any level. I'm a fan of CNN, I've listened to the
pundits — I've listened to the talking heads — read the NYT's every morning and
my own regional newspaper — some are conservative — some are liberal. I weigh the input and make up my own
mind. But to sit here with you and
opine on a subject in which I cannot intelligently discuss would simply make
myself look stupid. (I was going to use "ass" but that would make me
a democrat). Yes, I know all the definitions of "conservative" — I
looked them up when you sent me the first list ... thought I'd find some that
weren't so "Red State" ... but didn't. As
to Mussolini. My mom and dad and
their entire families (and other Sicilians I have talked with) all praised
Mussolini for cleaning up crime-ridden pre-war Sicily and ridding it of the
staggering number of outlaws and criminals. No question, the guy was an autocrat — but he did some
really good stuff for Italy/Sicily.
Of course his downfall was his hookup with Hitler. But I hope you're not
saying that all Italians should be liberals. Nonsense! I can
think of one important Italian politician who was ultra-conservative and he was
the best thing that ever happened to New York ... Rudy Giuliani. Sometimes you
just have to be a little iron-fisted to get things done right. There was a time
when New York was a drug and crime garbage dump and it was truly dangerous to
work in and visit New York — when he came into office that all went away
... the transformation was
spectacular. Yes, it's true,
not everyone agreed with his methods ... but he got the job done — and people
came back in droves — which put lots of money in the NYC coffers. So sometimes you can't have it both
ways ... I realize the drug problem still exists ... just as it does in every
corner of this country — but the level of safety, cleanliness, orderliness
during his tenure was outstanding. Ann P.S. when I used the term "ass" I
meant "donkey" ... hope you didn't take it the wrong way I’m not going to comment on this one, Ann. It speaks for itself. Lew
Like I said, I'm a neophyte when it comes to politics so I don't get into it on any level. I'm a fan of CNN, I've listened to the pundits — I've listened to the talking heads — read the NYT's every morning and my own regional newspaper — some are conservative — some are liberal. I weigh the input and make up my own mind. But to sit here with you and opine on a subject in which I cannot intelligently discuss would simply make myself look stupid. (I was going to use "ass" but that would make me a democrat). Yes, I know all the definitions of "conservative" — I looked them up when you sent me the first list ... thought I'd find some that weren't so "Red State" ... but didn't.
As to Mussolini. My mom and dad and their entire families (and other Sicilians I have talked with) all praised Mussolini for cleaning up crime-ridden pre-war Sicily and ridding it of the staggering number of outlaws and criminals. No question, the guy was an autocrat — but he did some really good stuff for Italy/Sicily. Of course his downfall was his hookup with Hitler. But I hope you're not saying that all Italians should be liberals. Nonsense! I can think of one important Italian politician who was ultra-conservative and he was the best thing that ever happened to New York ... Rudy Giuliani. Sometimes you just have to be a little iron-fisted to get things done right. There was a time when New York was a drug and crime garbage dump and it was truly dangerous to work in and visit New York — when he came into office that all went away ... the transformation was spectacular. Yes, it's true, not everyone agreed with his methods ... but he got the job done — and people came back in droves — which put lots of money in the NYC coffers. So sometimes you can't have it both ways ... I realize the drug problem still exists ... just as it does in every corner of this country — but the level of safety, cleanliness, orderliness during his tenure was outstanding.
P.S. when I used the term "ass" I meant "donkey" ... hope you didn't take it the wrong way
I’m not going to comment on this one, Ann. It speaks for itself.