Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

SMALL GOVERNMENT CONSERVATIVES REVISITED....Andrew Sullivan has responded to my question about exactly what he'd cut in order to balance the budget without repealing Bush's tax cuts or cutting defense spending. Here's his list:

My back-of-the-envelope wish-list is that I'd repeal the Medicare drug entitlement, abolish ear-marks, institute a line-item veto, pass a balanced budget amendment, means-test social security benefits, index them to prices rather than wages, extend the retirement age to 72 (and have it regularly extended as life-spans lengthen), abolish agricultural subsidies, end corporate welfare, legalize marijuana and tax it, and eliminate all tax loopholes and deductions, including the mortgage deduction, (I'd keep the charitable deduction). For good measure, I'd get rid of the NEA and the Education Department.

Let's unpack this. Remember the ground rules: Social Security and Medicare are running surpluses and are funded by their own taxes anyway, so they get left out of this picture. We're looking for a little over $400 billion in actual program cuts, and we're looking for them in the area of discretionary spending. With that in mind, let's examine Sullivan's proposed discretionary program cuts:

  • Repeal Medicare prescription bill. (This is funded out of the general fund, so it counts.) This program only started this year and contributed nothing to the 2005 deficit. Total savings: $0.

  • Abolish earmarks. Total savings: $25 billion, although I'm being generous here.

  • Abolish agricultural subsidies. Total savings: $30 billion.

  • End corporate welfare. This typically refers to special tax treatment, so abolishing it is a tax increase, not a spending cut. Total savings: $0.

  • Legalize marijuana and tax it. This is so speculative that it seems faintly absurd to include it, and in any case it's a tax increase. Total savings: $0.

  • Eliminate all tax loopholes. This is a tax increase. Total savings: $0.

  • Abolish the NEA: Total savings: $.1 billion.

  • Abolish the Education Department: Total savings: $65 billion.

If Sullivan wants to increase revenue by closing loopholes and increasing the gas tax, that's fine with me. But in terms of actual budget cuts, he came up with only $120 billion, about one-fourth of the actual federal deficit and even that was mostly by the lazy expedient of "I'd just wipe out this program completely," which isn't really even a serious response. I hardly even need to add that every one of the things he'd cut are things that don't affect him personally.

The point of an exercise like this is to force people to set priorities and tell us what they really think the federal government should look like. Based on this, I have to assume that Sullivan wants about $120 billion in program cuts and (at a rough guess) about $100 billion in tax increases. He's still got $200 billion to go.

UPDATE: Max Sawicky suggests that if we actually implemented Sullivan's tax increase suggestions wholeheartedly we could indeed balance the budget. That's certainly possible since "eliminate deductions" and "eliminate corporate welfare" are such vague statements in the first place.

Of course, that's not exactly a "small government" solution, is it? What's more, as Max points out, Sullivan's proposed cuts are no more plausible than "flying to the moon and bringing back the buried treasure." And even if they were, we'd still be in trouble in the long term. As exercises like this always show, serious, feasible, large-scale budget cutting is simply not in the cards. Conservatives should face this reality and stop playing games.

Kevin Drum 1:29 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (164)

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Comments

You don't think he takes the mortgage deduction? Do you, Kevin?

Posted by: Don P. on March 21, 2006 at 1:34 AM | PERMALINK

Is that supposed to be serious commentary? Does anyone not take deductions they're entitled to, even if they'd be happy to see those deductions eliminated? What cant.

Posted by: David Ollier Weber on March 21, 2006 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

For starters, Sullivan admitted he was "not an economist, so I do not know whether this would do the trick entirely, and I'm open to debate on any of the particulars." He also stated he would "prefer experts like Brian Riedl or Veronique de Rugy to propose detailed cuts" and made special mention of Charles Murray's new proposal to abolish the entire welfare state and replace it with with cash grants to individuals. Sounds good to me so far - the Heritage Foundation has plenty more recommendations.

Posted by: Don P. on March 21, 2006 at 1:39 AM | PERMALINK

Instead of guessng, why not try running the numbers through Nathan Newman's budget simulator?

http://www.nathannewman.org/nbs/

Posted by: beowulf on March 21, 2006 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I think you ignored something pretty important here.

... means-test social security benefits, index them to prices rather than wages, extend the retirement age to 72 (and have it regularly extended as life-spans lengthen)...

That's a pretty good wacking of social security outlays, and he doesn't suggest reducing payrole taxes. My guess is that we would probably suggest that the general fund default on its obligations to social security too. That would probably go a long way towards reducing deficits ... as well as ripping off the middle class.

Posted by: blank on March 21, 2006 at 1:50 AM | PERMALINK

Unless there is a complete financial disconnection in real life between general revenues and Social Security/Medicare financing, including bookkeeping shenanigans, I think your ground rule needs work.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 21, 2006 at 1:50 AM | PERMALINK

beowulf:

Other than cutting 100% of the programs like Education, that worksheet pales in comparison to the Heritage Foundation, where you can "save" your own person federal budget to come back and tinker later. http://www.heritage.org/research/budget/index.cfm

Here are their Broad Outline Recommendations:

Freeze 2005 discretionary spending. Remember, the core problem is runaway federal spending, not the budget deficit or taxes that are too low. Budget deficits are merely a symptom of two larger problems: a sluggish economy in recent years and runaway spending. Lawmakers should prioritize economic growth and the low taxes needed to spur growth and recognize that runaway spending represents the most dangerous long-term threat to pro-growth tax relief. As long as federal spending remains low enough to maintain a prosperous, low-tax economy, the budget deficit will solve itself. A positive first step would be freezing 2005 discretionary spending at the 2004 level.

Go beyond belt-tightening by terminating lower-priority programs. President Bushs FY 2005 budget proposal asks most agencies to tighten their belts with a freeze or near-freeze in discretionary spending. While a necessary first step, lawmakers must go further. A family needing to save money would not simply freeze all spending equallyincluding the mortgage payment, food, insurance, vacation, and entertainmentit would fully fund priorities like food, while eliminating spending on unaffordable luxuries such as expensive vacations. Similarly, the federal government should fully fund its highest priorities (defense, homeland security), and eliminate unaffordable non-priorities such as billions on corporate welfare; pork projects; waste, fraud, and abuse; and the hundreds of ineffective, outdated, and unnecessary programs.

Reform the budget process. The current budget process encourages runaway federal spending because of its incentives and rules. Budget resolutions are rarely enforced, meaningful spending caps are absent, and lawmakers can create major new entitlements without proposing any plan to pay for them. Senators and Representatives who generally support spending restraint often bristle when one of their pet programs is targeted for elimination. Budget process reform should be based on four principles: setting a limit on overall spending; presenting a full picture of future obligations in the budget; bringing the President into the budget process, mainly by giving the budget resolution the full force of an act of Congress; and strengthening the enforcement of budget decisions.

blank:

We all need to sacrifice.

Posted by: Don P. on March 21, 2006 at 1:55 AM | PERMALINK

No doubt Sullivan would like to phase out Social Security (means-testing is invariably the first phase of such efforts) while keeping the blatantly regressive payroll tax that's meant to fund it. And you might whack away a few hundred billion from the deficit that way. But it's a non-starter in the real world, where most people are, unlike Sullivan, depending on Social Security for their retirement.

Posted by: kth on March 21, 2006 at 1:57 AM | PERMALINK

Don P.: I'm not an economist either. But that doesn't mean I can't look up a budget number.

Tbrosz: Social Security is running a surplus. There's no point in cutting SS unless you think it should run an even bigger surplus. That is, unless you think the payroll tax should subsidize the income tax even more than it does. Is that what you think?

Also: any reduction in SS would not seriously affect the budget for years, maybe decades. We're looking for cuts right now.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on March 21, 2006 at 2:00 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I have it on good authority that Sullivan is not an economist.

And so we should listen to him.

And that SS is doomed, and that if we killed earmarks everything would be cool, so we should give GW that power.

And I just don't understand your hostility to these ideas, and I don't understand your hostility to Mr. Sullivan, who, if you remember, is one of the smart guys on the other side whose opinion deserves deference.

He works for Time. Got that? Time. Not the Washington Monthly. Time is big, know what I mean?

So be nice and stop using facts and listen to what Mr. Sullivan has to say.

Oh yeah, you're an elitist too with all yoru fancy numbers and knowledge and stuff.

Posted by: abjectfunk on March 21, 2006 at 2:07 AM | PERMALINK

I should add one other thing: the whole point of this exercise is to show that any kind of serious budget cuts are simply politically undoable. Things like Social Security and the mortgage deduction are extremely popular and will never get cut. Likewise, things like agricultural subsidies have strong constituencies that will never let them be cut.

It's nice to talk about this stuff, but when you really lay it on the table you can see just how much pie in the sky it really is. Bottom line: federal spending is popular. It's not going to be cut substantially once you start putting actual programs on the block.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on March 21, 2006 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

Do you really think Sullivan does not take the mortgage deduction?

Posted by: Don P. on March 21, 2006 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin:

Any surplus money from Social Security taxes is immediately borrowed to dump into the general fund. At some point, all those T-Bills in the trust fund are going to be cashed in. Where does THAT money come from?

Your idea that Social Security, or Medicare, can somehow be dealt with off to the side doesn't hold up. Maybe if the surplus trust fund was used to buy gold bullion, you could make that case.

And yes, if Social Security can actually be made less costly, why not cut the payroll taxes? They're loaded toward the lower end of the income scale, and isn't that the ideal economy-boosting tax cut from your point of view? A payroll tax cut might make a balancing income tax increase palatable to lower and middle income groups, who would see a "wash." Upper income groups would take it in the shorts, of course, but that's good, right?

Posted by: tbrosz on March 21, 2006 at 2:14 AM | PERMALINK

That is, unless you think the payroll tax should subsidize the income tax even more than it does. Is that what you think?

I suspect that both tbrosz and I agree that this is what Sullivan is implying. Though, we likely disagree on whether or not this is acceptable.

Posted by: blank on March 21, 2006 at 2:15 AM | PERMALINK

If Sullivan wants to get work on the budget deficit in no small part by tax INCREASES, just what kind of libertarian/conservative might that make him?

Does the man have any idea what he really stands for?

Are ALL convervatives lost in like confusions, just making things up as they go to satisfy their grumpiness when thinking about government?

Posted by: frankly0 on March 21, 2006 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK

If Sullivan wants to get work on the budget deficit...

above should just be

If Sullivan wants to work on the budget deficit...

Posted by: frankly0 on March 21, 2006 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, tax cuts are nearly as popular as federal spending, which is how 400 billion dollar deficits develop. The point is to try to balance the popularity of two opposing forces. I'd be happy (which isn't to say that many other would) to immediately abolish the payroll tax, and replace it with petroleum taxes of some sort, while immediately cutting off 100% of all Social Security benefits for the wealthiest 10% of recipients, in terms of current non-S.S. income, and reducing benefits for those in the 70th-90th percentile. I'd also have a 100% estate tax on all estates, until all Social Security and Medicare benefits paid to an individual had been recovered from the individual's estate. If a citizen wishes to pass wealth on to heirs tax-free, fine, just don't spend the last few years of your life living off younger taxpayers.

What are the odds of this happening? Approximately zero, but simply dismissing it becasue it is unpopular ignores the fact that a lot of politicians get elected by supporting tax cuts, which means that the taxes you prefer have popularity problems as well.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 2:44 AM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: Any surplus money from Social Security taxes is immediately borrowed to dump into the general fund. At some point, all those T-Bills in the trust fund are going to be cashed in. Where does THAT money come from?

All the more reason that the budget must be balanced without relying on the social security surplus to do so. Unless, of course, you are advocating fiscal policy that would inevitably lead to the government defaulting on the government's instruments of debt. Only a republican would suggest that sort of fiscal recklessness.

Posted by: exgop on March 21, 2006 at 3:02 AM | PERMALINK

Yo, trolls...

...What do any of the things Andy Sully mentioned have to do with balancing the budget? And how would they?

They wouldn't, because the 'Welfare State' as they call it is all these things - like roads - that they want, but won't pay for.

Dumb.

Posted by: Crissa on March 21, 2006 at 3:05 AM | PERMALINK

Just try and get rid of that mortgage reduction, I dare any political party. Sullivan is living on Neptune.

Posted by: Jimm on March 21, 2006 at 3:16 AM | PERMALINK

Oops, I mean "mortgage deduction". The only way you'd ever pass that through is to do so as revenue-neutral or beneficial to folks by corresponding lower tax rates for them. They won't give it up so it gets "simper", that's for sure.

Posted by: Jimm on March 21, 2006 at 3:18 AM | PERMALINK

If Sullivan wanted to raise taxes to pay off the deficit, why didn't he just say so in the first place? And is anyone going to care that their precious Bush-given income tax rate isn't going up if they lose all their deductions?

Posted by: Royko on March 21, 2006 at 3:29 AM | PERMALINK

Budget process reform should be based on four principles: setting a limit on overall spending; presenting a full picture of future obligations in the budget;

Posted by: tony on March 21, 2006 at 3:35 AM | PERMALINK

Tax my pot plant!!!

How dare the guy.

Posted by: Matt on March 21, 2006 at 3:45 AM | PERMALINK

I'm surprised no one's mentioned the biggest item Kevin conceded, abolishing the Education Department. Most of that $65 billion goes directly to states and local school districts. So axing this would probably eliminate a couple office buildings full of bureaucrats, but would also pull tens of billions of dollars from local school systems. Also, it would be a complete elimination of all student financial aid.

This just serves Kevin's point, that Sully can't seriously suggest cuts. Nevermind the purely political reality that a push to eliminate the Education Department this year would be manna from heaven for congressional Democrats.

Posted by: mikeWDC@verizon.net on March 21, 2006 at 3:46 AM | PERMALINK

Dems generally oppose means-testing social security because means testing is the entering wedge to abolition of the program. The moment it becomes means tested is the moment it can be conflated with the "handouts for the poor" frame.

Posted by: Dan-O on March 21, 2006 at 3:49 AM | PERMALINK

What political tripe!

You can have small government conservatism or you can have the worlds largest bureaucracy.

You can't have both ( unless you want to mask your fascist statism as ' Libertarianism' like so many of these cheap shills for the CATO institute do )

Some of these fascist statist ' Libertarian ' clowns even coveted the good name of anarchism for a while!

Talk about beyond chutzpah. This insane clown posse and their Austrian economic kool aid are beyond help.

Andrew Sullivan, Hitchens and all that cloud of Trotskycon locusts are beyond help.

Posted by: professor rat on March 21, 2006 at 4:49 AM | PERMALINK

Oh yes, fully find priorities like military spending and homeland defense. Because there's no waste or misallocated resources in either of those groups...er, or something like that.

Honestly, the quickest and most sensible way to get the budget back in balance is to cut defense spending in half. I can think of multiple Cold War era weapons development programs off the top of my head that have so little relevance at this point as to be basically pork. But good luck selling those cuts in the heartland.

The NEA, on the other hand...

Posted by: Sean on March 21, 2006 at 5:45 AM | PERMALINK

Something that should be added to the discussion should be the way that changes in federal budget policy shapes how states form their own budgets. Cuts in some programs or departments (for example education) are likely to force states to tax and spend more money. Such a policy might reduce the federal deficit in a small way, but it's not likely to reduce the typical American's tax burden. W's tax policies have already place greater burdens on the states. But none of these things really matter to tax cut proponents like W or Sullivan or just about every conservative out there. For them "tax cuts" are a religous truth justified by faith alone.

Posted by: Tom on March 21, 2006 at 6:45 AM | PERMALINK

Want to get rid of $400 billion by cuts alone? Cut every discretionary budget program across the board by 50%. You'll hear whining from all sides, but if you're going to do it by cuts alone that's the only way.

A better idea would be cuts at 10-20% across the board plus tax hikes.

Posted by: moonbiter on March 21, 2006 at 6:56 AM | PERMALINK

Why is Charlie posting as Don P. now? I've been away and missed the, er, "transition."

Posted by: shortstop on March 21, 2006 at 7:32 AM | PERMALINK

More than 20 years ago when I worked in the Senate, a thinktank came up with a game that was supposed to teach how politically difficult it would be to actually balance the budget. The idea is that ordinary citizens would be assigned roles -- social workers would play the Pentagon, retired military officers would run HHS -- and then be forced to look at the actual programs to be cut. Then you'd re-do the game, with the players changing chairs.

In EVERY case, to the surprise of the designers, ordinary citizens knocked off the Reagan deficits in less than the time allotted. Why?

Because the choices were CLEAR, and decisive -- there was no 'phasing out', no second and third bites at the apple.

Regardless of party, Congress is generally rewarded for stretching out decisions and blurring responsibility. It's better to get partial credit for three decisions than complete responsibility for one.

And in the end, it wasn't cuts, it was Clinton's prosperity that balanced the budget, AFTER a wholly partisan vote that cost some Democrats dearly -- but Republicans, not at all.

Take the hint.

Posted by: theAmericanist on March 21, 2006 at 7:42 AM | PERMALINK

Sean nailed it. There is no more wasteful govt. program than the Pentagon. For Gods sake, they can't even account for billions in the money they are appropriated. "Defense spending" is a misnomer in any case, given this Administration\s proclivity for wars of aggression.

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on March 21, 2006 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

I love it when Kevin goes past the rhetoric to the core. The armaments industry has this country by the .... But in a service economy with a shriveling manufacturing base you will have a hard time selling military cuts. Not because it is about homeland security, but because it is about jobs in valley's and burgs across this country. In some places the military is the Employment Office.

Posted by: ELR on March 21, 2006 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, abolishing earmarks in and of itself would not save a dollar. Appropriations language is typically written "$x, of which y is for Kevin", or more frequently the earmark isn't even law but is contained in the report language, which agencies follow because they don't want to piss off the appropriators. The point is that if you get rid of "of which y is for Kevin", or have agencies ignore the report language, the appropriation is still $x.

Posted by: Aron on March 21, 2006 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

Sullivan is not an economist. His degree is in political science.

With regard to his specific kvetches:

>I'd repeal the Medicare drug entitlement

Ain't going to happen. Unless it is a part of a more comprehensive package than the looney one that they passed a couple of years ago.

>abolish ear-marks

Ain't going to happen. Ear-marks are one way that congressmen and senators pay off their constituents and donors. For which they get campaign contributions in return.

>institute a line-item veto

That would require a constitutional amendment. What congressman or senator would vote to give the president more power--which a line item veto would do?

>pass a balanced budget amendment

That's been tried, but the proposals have always had loopholes, such as, except in cases of national emergency. Now, who determines whether there's a national emergency? Why congress, of course! It is a meaningless exercise.

>means-test social security benefits

This isn't going to happen either. It would turn SS into a welfare program. SS, as originally envisaged, was an income-replacement program that was intended to induce older workers to leave the work force to make way for younger workers.

BTW, it would be relatively easy for someone to maximize his take under a means-tested SS program: spend (while you're earning it) and don't save. This would exacerbate America's savings rate problem.

>index them to prices rather than wages

Note the above--it was intended to be an income-replacement program. If SS benefits were indexed to prices, and not wages, where is the "income-replacement"?

>extend the retirement age to 72

This is silly. The retirement age is whenever anyone wants to retire. The issue isn't the retirement age, it is the age at which someone starts collecting SS.

>abolish agricultural subsidies, end corporate welfare

These aren't going to happen. Republicans have discovered that the constituencies that they need to get elected love their subsidies and welfare. Regarding corporate wellfare, it would be good to remember that there are actually two constituencies involved: the corporations themselves and the workers. More than a few of the workers at these corporations would not have their jobs were it not for corporate wellfare.

>legalize marijuana and tax it

Not going to happen, either.

>eliminate all tax loopholes and deductions, including the mortgage deduction

This isn't going to happen, either, especially regarding the mortgage deduction. There are too many constitutencies who benefit from the mortgage deduction. Buyers, more than a few of whom could not afford the houses they want but for the mortgage deduction. And sellers, who can price their houses a bit higher than they might be able to in the absence of the mortgage deduction. And, of course, the real estate agents, whose commissions are based on the selling price.

>I'd get rid of the NEA and the Education Department

As Kevin has pointed out, the amount spent on the NEA is in the noise. Defunding the Education Department would do little more than place more of the funding burden for local schools on the state and local levels. In other words, it might reduce federal spending a bit, but it would raise it at the state and local levels. Of course, some states and localities might choose to not increase their funding, but that would probably leave their kids in the lurch.

Andy has shown, once again, that he is an idiot.

Posted by: raj on March 21, 2006 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

How come Tbrosz says we can't take social security and medicare off the table in this discussion because they are funded by payroll taxes and those payroll taxes are currently running in the black? And how come when I hear somebody like Sullivan or Tbrosz talk about tax inequities they always limit their discussion to income taxes, putting payroll taxes over to one side?

Sullivan's list and Tbrosz defense seems to be another attempt to tilt the tax burden even more to the middle class while allowing the rich to continue skating.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 21, 2006 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Excellent fisking, raj!

Posted by: Joel on March 21, 2006 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, abolishing earmarks in and of itself would not save a dollar. Appropriations language is typically written "$x, of which y is for Kevin", or more frequently the earmark isn't even law but is contained in the report language, which agencies follow because they don't want to piss off the appropriators. The point is that if you get rid of "of which y is for Kevin", or have agencies ignore the report language, the appropriation is still $x.

Posted by: Aron on March 21, 2006 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

Well, in fairness to Sullivan (never thought I'd say that) drug prohibition costs us $35 billion a year, or more. Simply ending it would leave us no worse off, because the feds have no meaningful treatment programs today anyway, so no meaningful prevention or cure would be lost.

Cutting the military by half would save about $200 billion. As with drug prohibition, no meaningful programs would be lost. Getting out of Iraq is another $50 billion saved each year- that spending is 'off-budget' now so it's not part of cutting the military budget.

And, face it, by the time Bush leaves office, some agencies will be so rotted with Bushite deadwood that the only realistic way to cope will be to abolish the agency and start over.

But hey, in America, reality is a daydream, right?

Posted by: serial catowner on March 21, 2006 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

Hell, rescinding the Bush tax cuts for those who made over $150,000 would have reduced the 2004 deficit by about $180 billion, plus lotsa interest. But for some reason, the onerous tax burden suffered by people who were so affluent in the pre-Bush years and the terrible prosperity they endured is just too much to bear the thought of returning to.

Posted by: R.Porrofatto on March 21, 2006 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

How surprising that Sullivan didn't mention any cuts that affect him personally.

I'm waiting to hear Andy, as a principled "small government conservative" call for the elimination of government funding for AIDS research. After all this is something that the private sector can handle with far greater efficiency, right?

C'mon Andrew be a consistent small goverment conservative and issue a call for the elimination of government funded AIDS research, asshole.

Posted by: The Fool on March 21, 2006 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

I love it, Andrew Sullivan proposes A Small Government Conservative's Guide to Balancing the Budget by Shrinking Spending, and we get:

5 tax hikes--gas, estate tax, marijuana, closing loopholes & ending corporate welfare;

3 borrowing proposals--lowering social security payouts so we can borrow from the American people and businesses enough through payroll taxes to offset lower income taxes;

2 laws (BBA and line item veto) that would empower legislators to make the touch choices that even he, as a pundit who doesn't run for re-election, doesn't dare advocate for;

5 totally unrealistic cuts that still add up to less than 1/4 of the current deficit.

Here we have a conservative giving us his pie-in-the sky wish list and even then, more than half of it is increased taxation and borrowing, and the remainder is a collection of almost hilariously inconsequential spending cuts that, even if they had a chance of passing, STILL don't amount to a hill of beans.

Sully's defense? He's not an economist. But what he's shown us is that he's not really a small government conservative. Because, I'm sorry to report, when you actually look at the math it is immediately apparent that no such creature exists. There is just a pack of liars who want someone else to pay their taxes.

Posted by: theorajones on March 21, 2006 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Ironinc that Bush campaigned on a pledge to make hard choices. Instead, as illustrated by the last 5 years and in this exchange, Conservative slogans are easy, governing and making real choices isnt.

Posted by: Catch22 on March 21, 2006 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Bottom line: federal spending is popular. It's not going to be cut substantially once you start putting actual programs on the block.

Of course, Kevin. The GOP has been in control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for years now, and you don't see them putting the Department of Education on the chopping block. Republican rhetoric about "small government" is just that -- rhetoric.

Since Congress under either party -- and, by extrapolation, the American people -- want to keep Federal spending at a certain level, the question becomes how to pay for it. The Democrats would prefer to pay for it with tax revenue; the Republicans press their "tax cuts forever" hot button for folks like tbrosz, and wind up borrowing the money.

tbrosz admits that the Republicans spend as much as the Democrats. Yet, for months now, he has refused to admit that GOP deficit spending is more irresponsible than paying for it with tax revenue. That single fact tells you all you need to know to evaluate tbrosz' so-called contributions to this discussion.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Well, in fairness to Sullivan (never thought I'd say that) drug prohibition costs us $35 billion a year, or more. Simply ending it would leave us no worse off, because the feds have no meaningful treatment programs today anyway, so no meaningful prevention or cure would be lost.

I wouldn't be fair to Sullivan on this matter. He ignores the fact that more than a bit of "drug prohibition" is intertwined in the "prison-industrial-politician" complex. In other words, there are two many constituencies--from prison guards to corporatized prisons to politicians that both pay off--for any meaningful reform to take place. It would be nice if there were meaningful reform, but the likelihood of it happening is between slim and none.

With the corporatizing of the US military--what with the military's use of mercenaries (a/k/a "contractors"), the likelihood of there being any substantial reduction in military spending is also between slim and none. Not that more than a few of the "contractors" are ex-military, who can earn more after they leave the military and become mercenaries--er--contractors.

Posted by: raj on March 21, 2006 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

simply dismissing it becasue it is unpopular ignores the fact that a lot of politicians get elected by supporting tax cuts, which means that the taxes you prefer have popularity problems as well.

Sure, Will, because Republicans deliver tax cuts and keep on spending, and the costs of massive deficits aren't as obvious to the taxpayer. The Republicans pretend they can offer for free what the Democrats insist needs to be paid for. I agree that Republican dishonesty is, as ever, a disadvantage for Democrats, but that doesn't excuse the mendacity of the Republicans, or those who vote for them.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

frankly0,

Many libertarians favor "vice" taxes on things like drugs, cigarettes, booze, gambling, etc., so his marijuana taxation makes sense.

Moreover, ending corporate welfare is extremely consistent with libertarianism; corporate welfare and tax loopholes are extremely anti-libertarian; they explicitly grant assistance or favoritism to some segment of the population.

I'm with Kevin on the basic premise of this exercise, but I don't think Sullivan proposed anything here that would remove his libertarian credentials. (His mathematical and economic credentials, maybe, but not his libertarian ones.)

Posted by: jhupp on March 21, 2006 at 9:39 AM | PERMALINK

On whether or not cuts in SS benefits should count toward cutting the budget deficit:
Anyone who says that "it's all federal revenues, separate accounts or not, so cutting benefits will cut the deficit" should be fair and increase the size of the deficit they're trying to eliminate. If they do that, they'll find they're running faster just to stay in the same place.

Posted by: Barry on March 21, 2006 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

Legalizing and taxing pot would quickly lead to pot subsidies for Dole and Monsanto. Total savings - $20 billion

Posted by: B on March 21, 2006 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

If we legalized pot, we'd have the Dutch coming down on our case for making ourselves a worldwide drug-smuggling center and screwing up their law enforcement efforts. Pot possession isn't legal in Holland; it's just not prosecuted below a certain threshold. But it would be typical of the US to move from one stupid extreme on marijuana criminalization to the other, without admitting the possibility of a middle ground.

Posted by: brooksfoe on March 21, 2006 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Two areas of substantial government spending I would cut are:
1) The U.S. Dept. of Education. Probably 99% of these employees never, ever have direct contact with students. Really the only possible purpose for them was to produce the No Child Left Behind Act or something like it. Every state has its own Department of Education lavishly staffed with people who have no direct student contact and do nothing but generate reports that teachers don't have time to read and memos to each other about their next conference in Las Vegas

When I was a teacher and small-school principal, I tried for years to get hired into my state's department of education. Even though I was an active Democrat at the time, I never had the pull to get on that gravy boat.

2)The other big-ticket items at the federal level I would seriously look at cutting are the Joint Strike Fighter program and the Navy's new X-class aircraft carriers, the first expected in 2015 or so.

The JSF airplane was an attempt to save money by building one basic airframe that could be configured to do the job for the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marines. The JSF is intended to be a generalist, which could replace airplanes (in some roles) as varied as the F-16, F-15, F-18, the Marines' Harrier jump jet, and even the venerable A-10.

The pricetage on the JSF has jacked up for two reasons: first, all the services demanded maximum stealthiness, and stealth is very expensive. Secondly, the modifications necessary to make the generalist suitable to all the specialist roles the services demand are still being developed even as the airplane nears production. This makes the delivered aircraft much more expensive every day.

I believe the Pentagon should have held fast to the idea of just going out and buying the best possible airplane to do a specific kind of role.
Do you know what are the most-feared aircraft in the U.S. inventory are, if you happen to be the commander of an enemy ground force? The B-52, which was designed in 1947. The A-10, designed in the late 1960's, the AC-130 gunship, and any of the American helicopter gunships.

The B-52, A-10, and AC-130 have absolutely no stealthiness. They basically appear in the sky and announce, "Here I am, do something about it."

I would put all of the JSF money into updating the old warhorses that work and the rest into buying more F-22 air superiority fighters, then put the rest of the money back into the treasury.

The Navy's next generation X-class large, nuclear powered aircraft carriers are much improved even over carriers as new as the Ronald Reagan. The problem is that they will still be extremely expensive and a lot of people feel the best solution to this role is going to be unmanned aircraft launched from submarines or other, smaller, faster, more stealthy ships, and longer-range refueling aircraft to let more warplanes reach their targets from distant launch points on land (a little plug for Boeing, here.)

Posted by: Michael L. Cook on March 21, 2006 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

The current budget is unsustainable due entirely to two factors. The Bush tax cuts and increased war and national security expenses.

My vote. End the Iraq war and eliminate the tax cuts, and then we'll talk to Sullivan. That would put the deficit within a reasonable percentage of GDP, and nothing more would have to be done, unless you're an idealogue from the Heritage Foundation.

Posted by: David in NY on March 21, 2006 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

I can see this is going to be real fun.

At some point in the future, the countries we owe money to are going to point out that we could pay our debts if we cut the military.

And then the shiste is really going to hit the fan.

Posted by: serial catowner on March 21, 2006 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Say, Gregory, is it also mendacious to completely lowball what the likely cost of a program will be, as has been done (most notoriously; there are plenty of other examples) since Medicare's inception? Or did Democrats have nothing to do with the creation of Medicare, and thus had nothing to do with the completely dishonest cost projections that have been used from the beginning?

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

That Heritage idea about abolishing the welfare state and replacing it with cash payments to individuals reminds me of George McGovern's "thousand dollars for everybody" idea in 1972. It was quickly dismissed as inflationary.

It also reminds me of a old line by, I think, Dick Gregory: "If you put a billion dollars into the ghetto, all you'll get is the biggest four-day craps game you ever saw."

Posted by: wvmcl on March 21, 2006 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Will Allen -- we all know that Bush low-balled the cost of his pharma program, to the dismay of many here and Democrats in Congress as well. What other low-balling are you talking about? The cost of Medicare has grown over the years but largely due to techonological advances made long after its inception. Was it low-balled at the time it was passed?

Posted by: David in NY on March 21, 2006 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

wvmcl on March 21, 2006 at 10:21 AM |

That Heritage idea about abolishing the welfare state and replacing it with cash payments to individuals reminds me of George McGovern's "thousand dollars for everybody" idea in 1972. It was quickly dismissed as inflationary.

True, but that was only part of it. McGovern's proposal was to be administered through the IRS, based on income that was reported on the 1040s (and elsewhere). That recognized that there would need to be a burocracy that would determine whether the individuals were entitled to the cash payments.

That would also be the case with Heritage's idea. The welfare state would not go away. It might be changed a bit, but I doubt it. There would still have to be a burocracy somewhere that would determine whether the individuals were entitled to the cash payments.

Posted by: raj on March 21, 2006 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

To be fair, presumably legalizing marijuana would lead to significant reductions in spending on law enforcement, the legal system, and especially prisons. Not that it's going to happen.

Posted by: KCinDC on March 21, 2006 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

C'mon Andrew be a consistent small goverment conservative and issue a call for the elimination of government funded AIDS research, asshole.

Well, see, in Andy's world, AIDS drugs are gifts from Big Pharma. If he's aware of a little thing called "basic research", it's a dim awareness only.

Is it just my impression, or is scientific illiteracy a requirement for scoring one of those sweet pundit gigs? It's not just Sullivan. If the gasbags who appear on the Sunday afternoon yammerfests had a sophomore-level understanding of physics and chemistry and biology, much of the administration's pre-war disinfo would have been laughed off the stage...

Posted by: sglover on March 21, 2006 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

"Hell, rescinding the Bush tax cuts for those who made over $150,000 would have reduced the 2004 deficit by about $180 billion, plus lotsa interest."

And you're absolutely sure that those tax cuts aren't the only thing that is holding the economy together? Despite all the flaming from libs, I understand there is a lot of evidence that suppy-side economics works. No one denies the Laffer curve is real, the only point of contention is where the maximum occurs.

And regardless, why should someone be taxed more just because they're more successful? Libs love to reward failure. maybe that's why they're hoping Gore will run again.

Posted by: Tom on March 21, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Tom,

I'll speak slowly so you can process it.

This little liberal has two guiding principles that seem to cause Loony Libertarians like yourself to pop a gasket:

1) People should pay back to society in proportion to what they get from society.
2) The strong should protect the weak.

Knock yourself out, Libertarian. Refute either one of these. I dare you.

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Sullivan:

"extend the retirement age to 72 (and have it regularly extended as lifespans lenghten)"

Wow. Just...wow. I'm Andrew Sullivan, and I want you punching a clock until you're in your 70s.

I'm sure Mr. Sullivan would just love having a 71-year-old ambulance driver take him to the hospital if his appendix is bursting.

Un freaking believable.

Great work, Kevin.

Posted by: pk on March 21, 2006 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

I'd like to see serious attention to moonbiter's proposal to cut EVERY discretionary program by 50%.

Is it to include security spending: defense, intelligence, prisons, border control, TSA? What about the courts?

If not, then I don't think you can balance the budget even if you cut 100% of the remaining discretionary spending. That is, unless you consider veteran's benefits, pensions, and interest payments to be "discretionary".

Posted by: liberal shmiberal on March 21, 2006 at 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

No one denies the Laffer curve is real, the only point of contention is where the maximum occurs.

Riiiiight. And that's a trivial problem.

Libs love to reward failure. maybe that's why they're hoping Gore will run again.

This from that camp that's given us Donald "Ain't My War" Rumsfeld, and that most spectacular lifer fuck-up, G.W. Bush himself.

Posted by: sglover on March 21, 2006 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Deport British ex-pats. That ought to save something.

Posted by: on March 21, 2006 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

Getting rid of "missle defense", which isn't and likely won't be, would really be a help.

Posted by: Scorpio on March 21, 2006 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

One thing to remember about the Education Department, one of the keys to the Bush "victory" in 2000 was the fact that he distinquished himself from the, by then, highly unpopular Gingrich/Class of 1994 revolution by being a "compassionate conservative." One of the few actual policies Bush had to back up the claim for the compassionate half of that brand was his support of the Department of Education and opposition to its abolution. In the 2004 campaign, his domestic record, aside from tax cuts, was the almost ceasless repetition of the phrase "No Child Left Behind." The Sullivan deficit reduction plan simply does not take into account the fact that small government conservatism is not popular -- otherwise Bush would have run on that basis in 2000. It is not a politically viable choice.

Posted by: Ron on March 21, 2006 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

How about this for a wacky proposal I've been mulling over?

We all know the baby boomers are reaching standard retirement age and may not see all the benefits they had saved and paid for. Pensions and SS benefits.

It is not fair to take these away from them. On the other hand, it may be a burden to everyone else to supply those benefits.

How about we take away some of the benefits but give them some new benefit? It can't be money, so what else can we offer them?

How about legalized (or decriminalized) drugs? Make the legal age for pot 65. Mild opiates and tranquilizers the same thing.

It will ease their pains and help them pass the time. Any addictions won't really matter. We don't expect them to be productive members of society any more. None of those drug classes are terrible on the body, certainly not as bad as tobacco, ETOH, or God forbid Meth.

Other than totally negating the "DRUGS ARE BAD" meme are there any other negative side effects?

Come on, shoot me down.

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

"1) People should pay back to society in proportion to what they get from society.
2) The strong should protect the weak."

1) I think conservatives would argue that the rich have given more to society than they have recieved. They are the ones that innovate,that create jobs, that provide opportunity for others.

That's obviously an inaccurate generalization. But it may be only mostly untrue. In any case, a better argument would probably be that it's impossible to accurately measure what a person has recieved from society.

2) The chivalric ideal. It would be interesting to see a culture that lived up to that. I don't think there will ever be one, which is sad.

Posted by: Tom on March 21, 2006 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

And he didn't mention missile defense or all the egregious defense spending that has nothing to do with the troops. Social Security pays for itself. Bush just lied a few minutes ago and stated that social security and medicare were mandatory spending that created the deficit. narry a word about 500billion plus for defense and off budget wars.

Posted by: k on March 21, 2006 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

I think that best solution to the Sullivan problem is to legalize gay marriage.

The resulting silence of Andrew Sullivan will be good both for the Democrats as well as the Republicans.

Posted by: lib on March 21, 2006 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

"Wow. Just...wow. I'm Andrew Sullivan, and I want you punching a clock until you're in your 70s."

I think male life expectancy in the US is around 74.5 years. So a man could expect to collect about 2.5 years of SS benefts. Women would be the big winners, as they'd expect to live till 79 and get a whopping 7 years of benefits.

This is anecdotal, but most people I know in their 70s really aren't in shape to do serious labor. I can only assume that since Sullivan's job entails so little effort (witness his inability to actaully look up numbers), he assumes all jobs are that way. What a shock it would be to him to find out that not everyone makes a living by semi-randomly typing away at a computer.


Posted by: Tom on March 21, 2006 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Legalizing marijuana would reduce spending a lot--have you ever lived in marijuana-growing country? There are helicopters in the air all day, every day, all summer--lots of heavily armed DEA units to destroy the pot--and on and on. Don't worry about the tax revenue--just the savings from stopping enforcement would be considerable.

And I don't see why SS and Medicare should be off limits--they are a large portion of government spending. (I mean--I see money coming out of my paycheck to fund them, and I know people who get checks from them--I suppose that makes them spending funded by taxes).

Posted by: SamChevre on March 21, 2006 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think its important to understand that while Sullivan is an easy target because he portrays himself as a "small government" conservative, it is important to understand that he is just symptomatic of the systematic dishonesty of conservatives when it comes to the federal budget.

When it comes to the management of the economy, conservative economics, as it is actually practiced, is nothing but a great fraud perpetrated on the American people and has been that way for 25 years. Ever since Ronald Reagans first budget in 1981, conservatives have behaved in a spectacularly irresponsible fashion. The fact is that spending grew under Reagan as well, even after the huge tax cuts in 1981. The Reagan legacy, when it comes to conservative attitudes to the economy, was neatly summed up by Dick Cheney when he said that Reagan proved that deficits dont matter.

Sure, in theory, conservative economics means small government. Its a great sound bite on the campaign trail. But conservatives have never actually taken it seriously. Why? Because they know that taking a meat cleaver to the federal budget would be wildly unpopular. So in the meantime they focus on cynically handing out goodies to the people in the form of tax cuts, like some banana republic leader bribing the people to vote for him, while never actually intending to fight for the level of spending cuts that would be needed to keep the deficit under control. It was true under Reagan and it was true under both Bushes.

The fact that Sullivan continues to support this nonsense (I supported the tax cuts. Still do.) all the while knowing that spending cuts of the magnitude needed to balance the budget will never happen, even if Bush pushed for them, shows that he is just as bad as an out-of-control liberal who wants a new social program for everything. For all his protestations about being a real conservative, he endorses the most reckless, irresponsible, un-conservative economic policies possible.

It used to be that "conservative" financial management meant keeping debt low and saving something for a rainy day. No longer. That is now a Democratic value, as Bill Clinton proved. A real conservative would have said lets see the spending cuts BEFORE the tax cuts. A real conservative would have resisted tax cuts in the middle of a war. A real conservative would have denounced a half-baked Social Security reform plan that was guaranteed to add even more debt in the transition.

When it comes to economics, Democrats are the real conservatives, and should be loud and proud about that.

Posted by: BradtheDad on March 21, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

No one denies the Laffer curve is real, the only point of contention is where the maximum occurs.

This is ridiculous. Given that federal revenue a mix of a number of taxes, including income, payrole, excise, import duties, estate, and many, many fees, the Laffer curve makes no sense whatsoever. Laffer drew a little diagram on the back of a cocktail napkin--that's what passes for analysis among conservatives?

Posted by: raj on March 21, 2006 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Tbrosz and the rest rest of the idiots on the right continue to cling to the notion that changing Social Security benefits has anything to do with the deficit. The ONLY thing that Social Security has to do with the deficit is that the surplus in the SS trust fund MASKS the true federal deficit by using Enron style accounting. If one does not include the SS surplus in calculating the actual spending defict, the true deficit is about $600 billion per year, not the $380 the administration advertises.

The Congress finances their drunken sailor spending and their giveaways to the rich by borrowing the money from the SS trust fund. In other words, the money pissed away today is being borrowed from the wage earners who are paying the payroll taxes with some expectation of getting the money in the future.

Although Sully and tbrosz continue to place their hands over their ears and yell "nah nah nah nah, I can't hear you" , that is the undeniable fact of how this Congress's reckless actions are being financed. That and borrowing from foreign bond purchasers. Talking about SS payments in the future has nothing to do with borrowing from the surplus now. I'm no economist but I can understand that simple concept.

Another factor which the noneconomist idiots can't grasp is interest. The national debt was $3.3 trillion when W. took over. It is presently $9 trillion. The CBO estimates that by 2010 it will be $11.2 trillion. Under the Repub Congress and Pres., the national debt will explode 340% in just 9 years! What does that mean? It means that by 2010 the amount of interest will be $561 billion per year, more than the entire spending for Medicare and Medicaid combined!

Yet they still want to fully fund defense and homeland security and not mess with tax cuts for the rich. Morons who can't work a calcultor.

Posted by: Dick (no, not that one) on March 21, 2006 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

The Education budget is closer to 73 billion for 2005 and 88 for 2006. You can go to their site and see their excel spreadsheet.

Posted by: anonymous on March 21, 2006 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

"This is ridiculous. Given that federal revenue a mix of a number of taxes, including income, payrole, excise, import duties, estate, and many, many fees, the Laffer curve makes no sense whatsoever."

The Laffer curve is an abstraction which presumes the type of tax doesn't matter much to the outcome (federal revenue). It is possible the curve is not an accurate picture (I've read that people do believe it's parabolic, but I'm not an economist and unable to judge myself).

But the Laffer curve makes at least as much sense as modeling the US economy, with all it's goods and services, as a market where consumers have complete freedom of choice and perfect information. And I've yet to see an big name economist attack that abstraction.

Posted by: Tom on March 21, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK
Legalize marijuana and tax it. This is so speculative that it seems faintly absurd to include it, and in any case it's a tax increase.

Its also a spending cut, inasmuch as federal funds are expended to enforce the criminal prohibition against possession, cultivation, transportation, sale, etc., of marijuana.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 21, 2006 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK
Abolish the Education Department: Total savings: $65 billion.

By abolishing the Department of Education and increasing federal taxes, Sullivan would dry up a lot of resources to actually provide education in the states. Now, this is bad in and of itself for a lot of reasons, but it also undercuts Sullivan's claimed goal of fully supporting defense and security, since doing so will make it even harder (and therefore, more expensive) for the military to meet even its lowered standards for recruits.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 21, 2006 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK
But the Laffer curve makes at least as much sense as modeling the US economy, with all it's goods and services, as a market where consumers have complete freedom of choice and perfect information. And I've yet to see an big name economist attack that abstraction.

I don't know about "big name economists", but its not hard to find much in the academic literature about limitations of rational choice theory, in economics and the other social sciences in which the theory is frequently applied.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 21, 2006 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK
Legalize marijuana and tax it. This is so speculative that it seems faintly absurd to include it, and in any case it's a tax increase. Total savings: $0.
This is incredibly unfair.

How much money are we spending on the DEA? How much money are we wasting keeping drug addicts in jail? Are we serious about balancing the budget or not?

Posted by: Capt. Jean-Luc Pikachu on March 21, 2006 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum: "Bottom line: federal spending is popular. It's not going to be cut substantially once you start putting actual programs on the block."

It isn't just that federal spending is "popular." Federal spending reflects the priorities that were established by "the people"--or at least the representatives of the people--in a government of, by and for the people. We establish these priorities based on what we believe is necessary to achieve the kind of society we want. We fight over these priorities because we have different views on what is necessary for the best society. The usual compromise is to fund agencies with less than some want and more than others want.

Conservatives hate government because they see it as stealing from them and stifling economic opportunity even as they enjoy the benefits of the free, orderly society that is achieved through wise governance.

Liberals understand the value of government but are seduced by the idea that someone else ought to pay for the benefits they receive.

That said, the priority of the federal government right now has to be funding research in sustainable energy and providing incentives for Americans to switch from their addiction to oil. Oil should be taxed heavily. Scientific research should also be a top priority.

The military budget should be cut by 30%--by closing bases used to guard oil sources, by eliminating the obvious weapon systems. We need to stop fighting the Cold War and start focusing on instability caused by competition for resources and the blowback from global climate change.

And how many times do we need to repeat that Social Security is NOT the problem??

Andrew Sullivan isn't an economist, true. But, given their policies, I have to wonder if any conservatives are economists.

Posted by: PTate in MN on March 21, 2006 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Tom --

Your philosophy would be much more convincing to me if you could name a self-made rich person who got rich without somehow involving the government. By that I mean that nothing they bought or sold was delivered on federally funded highways, nothing was delivered by the Post Office, nothing was advertised on the public airwaves, nothing was promoted online (the internet, I believe, was originally a project of the Defense Department), nothing was patented, or copywrited . . . you get my drift.

People don't get rich in a vacuum. There are dozens, if not hundreds of countries around the world with lower taxes and less regulation than the U.S. And yet people still come here to seek their fortunes. Maybe it isn't in spite of our government, but at least in part because of it.

And when someone reaps huge benefits with the help of the United States government, I personally have no problem asking that person to pay a proportionally higher share of the tax burden.

Feel free to convince me otherwise.

Posted by: Greg VA on March 21, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Tom: But the Laffer curve makes at least as much sense as modeling the US economy, with all it's goods and services, as a market where consumers have complete freedom of choice and perfect information. And I've yet to see an big name economist attack that abstraction.

Right off the top of my head, Joseph Stiglitz, who won a Nobel prize for his work on imperfect information and economic decisions. Didn't even have to use Google for that one.

Posted by: alex on March 21, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

Legalize marijuana and tax it. This is so speculative that it seems faintly absurd to include it, and in any case it's a tax increase. Total savings: $0.

First of all, this is not speculative or absurd. Nevada will be voting on legalization and taxation in November and it has a decent chance of passing. Colorado will be voting on a watered down version, and here in Washington State, a serious drug law overhaul is closer than anyone realizes. Also, if at a national level, we legalized it (which would only be likely if other conservatives actually listened to people like Sullivan), we would save billions of dollars per year in reduced enforcement and imprisonment costs. Total savings would be quite a bit higher than 0, and since the market could be controlled within the legal market, the price of marijuana would dip, so even with taxes, it would not be a tax hike.

Posted by: thehim on March 21, 2006 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Much further up in this thread, someone referred to cutting social security as ripping off the middle class.

Don P. (who uses the assuredly legitimate and not at all cowardly e-mail address "I'm baaaaack@Guess.Who") responds with this comforting palliative:

"We all need to sacrifice."

The conservative caveat, of course, is that the "we" who need to sacrifice are those no-good lower income freeloaders who live off of "discretionary spending" -- never the "we" who make (or inherit) plenty of money but can't be asked to sacrifice any more of it for demonstrably beneficial social programs.

Posted by: mattfwood on March 21, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Also, people who keep pointing out the savings in cutting enforcement programs at the DEA fail to recognize two things:

(1) Marijuana is hardly the only drug regulated; and

(2) Even if the cuts were worth $35 billion, as someone speculated above, that's less than another 10% of the way toaward Kevin's $400 billion challenge.

Posted by: mattfwood on March 21, 2006 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Sully's a moron.

He lives in the city and does not rely on a car for his livelihood and transportation to his job. He is unlike 95% of other Americans in that regard. Therefore, (while I *do* support a massive gas-tax increase) - his call for a gas tax is bogus.

We should do away with rent-control on apartments instead, and simply tax the runaway profits thtat will result as anyone with less than a seven figure income is forced to move out of cities, and buy cars like the rest of America.

Then I could stand there and laugh while I watch Andrew Sullivan try to figure out how to operate a manual transmission.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on March 21, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, david, the proposed cost of Medicare was lowballed from the very day it was proposed. Nearly every government program is; that is part of the strategy of getting new government programs passed.

If one believes that the primary purpose of national government is to transfer wealth from age demographics with lower median net worth, to the age demographics with higher median net worth, then the current status quo, except with a higher marginal rate on top earners, is the way to go. If one disagrees with that proposition, however, then scrapping FICA taxes, and changing the way in which the age demographics with high median net worth access tax revenues, is the path to pursue. Of course, the age demographic with a high median net worth has fully convinced itself that it's voting decisions of the past 50 years fully legitimates their doing whatever they wish with wages of those who are younger and less numerous than them, so don't expect anything but self-serving behavior. A large percentage of the people now approaching 60 are among the most self-centered (ever see those pathetic commercials that the market research folks at Ameriprise Financial thought would resonate with baby boomers?) in our society, so an inter-generational battle looms.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Mattfwood,
It's not just the DEA rollback that would save money, it's also the cost of processing the roughly 750,000 people arrested every year, many of whom are sent to federal prison.

Posted by: thehim on March 21, 2006 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

I realize the savings on imprisoning these low-level "criminals" as well, and am in no way blind to or a fan of the prison-industrial complex that profits from our zero tolerance policies.

Some commenters mentioned that, and it is fair to reinforce what they said.

I just thought it was also worthwhile to note that NORMLizing pot does not make the DEA go away -- and furthermore, if we are talking federal budget here, doesn't do much to decrease federal spending. If you have stats on how many of those 750,000 go to federal prisons, please share them. I'll bet that the states foot most of that bill.

Posted by: mattfwood on March 21, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

"And when someone reaps huge benefits with the help of the United States government, I personally have no problem asking that person to pay a proportionally higher share of the tax burden."

Greg VA:

I'm sure I can't convince you otherwise. But I will say that many other American's will have had the same beneifts you outline and failed to become rich. While it would be a mockery to suggest that all Americans start with the same advantages, I think the conservative view is that the government has no right to target those who have earned their rewards, and who play such an important role in the economy.

Perhaps a true conservative could correct me, but I believe the view is that the rich have no obligation to help the poor. Imposing such an obligation is considered immoral. But I probably should not speak for others. For my own part, I merely think it is hard to tell what debt a person has to the state.

Posted by: Tom on March 21, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't we count the number of elected politicians supporting Will's plan to overturn FICA. It's going to take a long time since we can't count any until they exist. There is no one that far out in loonyville. Sorry sweetie, it's not a viable suggestion. Will's primary complaint is that the program has worked to minimize poverty among the aged.

As to pretending that wealth transfer is the "primary purpose" of government right now, this is just stupid. To determine an entity's primary purpose you can look at what they spend the most money on. Transfer payments are not how the government spends money. Only the overhead involved is "spent." A bank cashing your payroll check isn't "paying" you, and only an idiot would claim it was. An honest evaluation of government spending reveals that the government's primary purpose is waging war.

Posted by: heavy on March 21, 2006 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

I just thought it was also worthwhile to note that NORMLizing pot does not make the DEA go away -- and furthermore, if we are talking federal budget here, doesn't do much to decrease federal spending. If you have stats on how many of those 750,000 go to federal prisons, please share them. I'll bet that the states foot most of that bill.

Good points, I agree. The DEA will be with us long after marijuana is legalized, but they will have much less to do if they're not dressing up as soldiers and kicking down the front doors of grandmas with cancer to seize their stash.

I don't have the exact figures on what percentage of those 750,000 go through the Federal system, but I will argue that even many of the local arrests are the result of drug task forces, which are funded federally, but then leave some states holding a very large tab for the imprisonment costs, for which the states then ask for funding from the federal government to build new prisons. I'd imagine that these days, they're not getting that funding so easily.

Posted by: thehim on March 21, 2006 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not a conservative either, but there are plenty of conservatives who recognize the moral obligation that the wealthy have to assist the poor, but they don't think it is the state's role to enforce all moral obligations. I actually agree with them somewhat( I do support some sort of social safety net) in this context; I just wish conservatives would be less willing to use the state to enforce moral obligations in other contexts.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Only an idiot would claim that a social security check sent to Warren Buffett is different than a check sent to Textron for a tank turrett, in terms of what it obliges a taxpayer to do, either now or in the future. Yes, heavy, I understand that my proposal is a non-starter, because most people do think that, or do not object to the fact that, the primary purpose of national government is to transfer wealth to older age demographics, without regard to need.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen: Say, Gregory, is it also mendacious to completely lowball what the likely cost of a program will be, as has been done (most notoriously; there are plenty of other examples) since Medicare's inception? Or did Democrats have nothing to do with the creation of Medicare, and thus had nothing to do with the completely dishonest cost projections that have been used from the beginning?

What David in NY said, Will:

we all know that Bush low-balled the cost of his pharma program, to the dismay of many here and Democrats in Congress as well. What other low-balling are you talking about? The cost of Medicare has grown over the years but largely due to techonological advances made long after its inception. Was it low-balled at the time it was passed?

Yes indeed, the Bush Administration deliberately and deceptively lowballed,/a> the cost of the prescription drug benefit. Now, what do you have besides your assertion that the discrepancies in the costs versus the estimate are a result of deliberate deception?

Anyway, your attempt to change the subject hardly addresses my point -- indeed, it inherently fails to. Republicans have engaged in a deliberate and cynical campaign of cutting taxes but maintaining spending in order to maximize their political advantage. Thus the electoral pitfalls fiscally responsible candidates face is a result of a deliberate pattern of deception and polices that are fiscally damaging to the nation as a whole. That the pitfalls exist hardly excuses the Republicans or those who vote for them.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, I see Will Allen is too stupid to back down when he has demonstrated an inability to read what he wrote. As soon as he admitted that Social Security is a system of transfer payments he has lost the ability to claim that a Social Security check to a rich liberal (how clever of him see the implication, it's not for your Great-Aunt Sally, it is mostly for rich liberals) is the same as a check to a munitions manufacturer. The obligations are different because the funding source is different. One has a dedicated revenue stream - which is why it is a transfer payment, and the other is money spent by the government. Did you understand that Will, or do I need to use even simpler language?

But Will wants us to gut the Social Security system, so he claims that these two things are the same in the same breath that he demonstrates they are different.

Posted by: heavy on March 21, 2006 at 1:49 PM | PERMALINK

Greg:

Your philosophy would be much more convincing to me if you could name a self-made rich person who got rich without somehow involving the government.

For some cases, you have a point. As I recall, Ross Perot made a lot of money doing things for the government. Certainly many companies make much of their money from government projects.

But if you talk about the highways, post office, patents, and other general public services like that, you're stretching it a bit. You'd have to explain to me why all the people who have access to these same general services aren't equally rich.

Sorry, but for many of the wealthy, they simply earned it.

BTW, which countries are those that have lower taxes and less regulation?

Posted by: tbrosz on March 21, 2006 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Pesumably Will Allen would run, literally run, to the voting booth to support a change in SS from its current form to something analagous to the California law which requires every driver to purchase a minimum level of car insurance.

If he would run to the booth for that law, he would probably sprint to the booth for a law which simply abolished SS altogether, and, in theory, left everyone to their own devices with respect to retirement.

Well, he can save time running to the booth, because SS isn't going anywhere. Even people who have never studied "the tradgedy of the commons" or economics realize that the risk-sharing which occurs through SS benefits everyone.

Moreover, even those unfamiliar with portfolio management theory realize the value in having a certain portion of their retirement as "risk free" as is reasonably possible, with the remiander subject to standard market risk.

Finally, it would be nice to increase the number of people, even if Will Allen will never admit it, who understand that government run insurance programs, like SS and Medicare, present completely different issues for voters than legalization or marijuana or foreign policy or the appropriate size of the Defense Department.

Of course, at the moment, too many people do not understand those distinctions, but we're working on it. Especially Kevin in this fine post.

Posted by: hank on March 21, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Tom and Will,

Forget my second point for a minute. Heaven forbid we expect the government to enforce common deceny by asking the strong to protect the weak. Oh no.

Let's talk about the first point and the "rich." In this country there are really only three ways to become filthy rich.

First and most common is to be born into it. In general these people give little to the society that gives them the ability to live safely as Kings among men.

The second way is by "celebrity." Sports stars, Movie Stars, Oprah Winfrey. These people give to society, but they benefit greatly by the huge communication infrastructure and legal infrastructure that our society provides.

Third, and least common of all, is what most conservatives think is the most common. The "self-made" man. The guy who works hard or thinks hard or hustles in a business providing a service to his customers. This guy provides much to society, but this guy also gets much from society. Our system of patents and business laws and criminal laws gives him the infrastructure of a functioning marketplace. Without a functioning marketplace you have no capitalism. Without the enforcement of contracts and penalties for fraud you have no functioning marketplace.

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Uh, Gregory, in case you missed it, I never disputed that Bush lowballed the cost of the pharma benefit. I later merely asserted that Medicare's costs had been deliberately lowballed from the inception of the program, and previously asked you whether that deliberate misstating of the program's costs from the beginning was an example of mendacity or not. If you wish to maintain that the Johnson Administration's estimate of 9 billion in Medicare expenses by the early 90's was made in good faith, well, you just go right ahead.

Heavy, if you idiotically wish to believe that a billion dollars worth of Social Security expenditures imposes a different total obligation on taxpayers than a billion dollars of DOD expenditures, because one expenditure has a dedicated tax assigned to it, you just go right ahead as well. Stupidity seems to comfort you so.

Yes, I want to gut the Social Security system, because I think it unwise to have the age demographic with the highest median net worth be the largest recipients of government benefits, without regard to need.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Will,

What do you think about my crazy idea of taking away some of the SS benefits but giving the oldsters access to some legalized drugs?

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

in case you missed it, I never disputed that Bush lowballed the cost of the pharma benefit.

Yes, you did. I'm glad you didn't dispute it, because the fact that they did is a matter of public record, even if I did boink the HTML in the link above. Chalk up more mendacity to the Republicans.

I later merely asserted that Medicare's costs had been deliberately lowballed from the inception of the program

"Merely assert" pretty much describes a lot of your argumentation, Will. Yes, you asserted that "Medicare's costs had been deliberately lowballed from the inception of the program." My question to you is what evidence you have to back up that assertion.

and previously asked you whether that deliberate misstating of the program's costs from the beginning was an example of mendacity or not.

But your question presumes that the discrepancies in the program's cost was, in fact, deliberate, which is an assertion not in evidence. Indeed, you also asserted that "Nearly every government program is." Can you back up the premise of your question, Will, or not?

But even if -- and please note that I said "if" -- costs for some government programs are deliberately lowballed, they are done so to secure passage in Congress, not as a direct appeal to the voters. And regardless of the original cost estimates, Congress is free to decide whether to maintain or kill programs, based in part on their actual cost. As we've established, voters seem to be prepared to accept the cost of popular programs.

On the other hand, the electoral disadvantage you identified for fiscally responsible candidate is the result of a deliberately deceptive marketing campaign by the Republican Party directly to voters. None of your attempts to change the subject excuses the mendacity of the Republicans or those who give them a pass on their mendacity and vote for them anyway. (I'll amend my earlier, broader statement somewhat to exclude those who are genuinely deceived by the GOP.)

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Presumably, hank didn't read what I wrote, and therefore doesn't grasp that I stated in a post above that I support a social safety net. The rest of his post similarly pointless, and thus not worth responding to.

Tripp presumably believes that one must either support a state which represents a larger share of GNP than is currently the case, or at least no smaller, or one must be an anarchist. Why he believes this is somewhat puzzling.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

tbosz says: "But if you talk about the highways, post office, patents, and other general public services like that, you're stretching it a bit. You'd have to explain to me why all the people who have access to these same general services aren't equally rich.

Sorry, but for many of the wealthy, they simply earned it."

The question isn't whether the wealthy people (or just as likely, their parents and grandparents) earned the money becasue of their talents. The question is whether or not they could have earned it in the absence of highways, post offices, patents, and other general public services.

Most assuredly, the answer is no -- or at least, no, they couldn't have earned money and protected their property so comfortably without the support of a government willing and able to protect them. Since Karl Marx is not in the room, I don't think anyone here is arguing against property rights.

But the explanation for why all the people who have access to these same general services aren't equally rich is that (1) people have different talents, yes; and (2) some people tend to have a lot more opportunities and advantages available to them than just the post office and trash collection. Everyone can take the public highway to Harvard Yard -- not everyone has the talent and desire and money and connections to enroll at the school there. (p.s. Sometimes talent without connections or money is enough to get you in; just as sometimes money and connections are enough, without talent. Right Mr. President?)

The question is whether and how people who earn money within and with the aid of society should be taxed fairly on those earnings.

Conservatives are fond of saying that capitalism and government should ensure equal opportunities, not equal results. But if we do away with progressive taxation, then we are taxing opportunity, rather than results. Is that what you would have us do? Tax work via FICA, but leave the wealthy alone once they get above a certain level because they've earned it? That's something that flat tax proponents suggest. Are you with them on this?

Posted by: mattfwood on March 21, 2006 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Tripp's got it right. The older and more experienced I get, the more and more obvious it is to me that luck, not skill, is the main factor in material success.

I understand, but simply do not agree with those who view "the government" as some sort of forceful confiscation of their property for purposes of handing it over to others.

Some people must just be hard-wired to view the world in a certain way. It's certainly not logical.

Posted by: hank on March 21, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, I almost forgot:

If you wish to maintain that the Johnson Administration's estimate of 9 billion in Medicare expenses by the early 90's was made in good faith, well, you just go right ahead.

Here we see a classic example of Will Allen's rhetorical dishonesty.

I am not making any claim at all about the Johnson Administration's cost estimates, and I challenge that paragon of literacy, Will Allen, to identify any statement of mine in this thread that does. You're the one making assertions on this particular topic, Will. You asserted that the cost estimate was a deliberate deception, and I challenged you to back up that assertion. Until you do so, all I maintain is that you made an assertion you have -- so far -- failed to support, and let readers draw their own conclusions.

And, as I've said, even if -- and do note that I said "if" -- Will's assertion is correct, it is not a true analogy to the systematic deceptions of the electorate on which the Republican Party relies for much of its electoral support, nor does it excuse the Republicans from their dishonesty. One might suspect that Will is trying to distract attention from that uncomfortable fact, but surely not -- why, that'd be intellectually dishonest.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

Hell Tripp, I'd abolish the FDA and the DEA, so you can understand where I stand on that. By the way, sorry for the sarcastic tone immediately above, but the tiresome strawman of either supporting the current size of the state, or supporting anarchism, is just that, very tiresome.

Gregory, please quote me where I disputed that Bush lowballed the pharma benefit, if that is what you are saying; it isn't clear to me. Again, if you wish to maintain that LBJ's estimate of a nine billion dollar Medicare cost by the early 90s was made in good faith, go ahead. If you wish to similarly believe that politicians don't use spending programs to purchase votes, and that they don't lowball the cost of the spending programs to secure passage, despite the fact that critics of such spending program are consistently correct in saying that the estimates will prove to be much too low, you go right ahead.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Looking back, I realize I could have been more clear about this:

Yes, you did. I'm glad you didn't dispute it, because the fact that they did is a matter of public record, even if I did boink the HTML in the link above.

I meant that it's true that Will never disputed that Bush lowballed the cost of the pharma benefit. Of course, I never claimed that he did, so I find it puzzling why a paragon of literacy like Will would even bring the subject up.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

Will -- If I understand Heavy's distinction, it is that Soc Sec and DOD spending are different not because they feel, look, and smell different to the taxpayer ponying up the money, but because they are funded differently (i.e., by different taxes). You try to laugh off that distinction and call it stupid, but weren't we talking about how efficacious it would be to cut the deficit via cuts in discretionary spending?

Also, do you think it is stupid to differentiate between wealth transfers that are self-funding -- and I mean that in two senses, insofar as the whole Soc Sec program is self-funding and as individual workers pay into the system their whole lives -- and programs that take general revenues and use them on discretionary defense expenditures?

Now there could be waste in both types of expenditure -- Warren Buffet's Soc Sec check and an unnecessary defense program. Which do you think is greater: the surplus flowing to Warren Buffet and his ilk via Social Security, or the surplus flowing to Halliburton and Boeing and their ilk?

Posted by: mattfwood on March 21, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

Will, I'm not at all comforted by you. That you cannot grasp this isn't my fault. I've attempted to explain it in simple enough words, but apparently the concept of funding streams is too complex for you. Perhaps rather than wasting your time posting nonsense your time would be better spent reading people smarter than you - pretty much everyone.

Let's face it folks, if we were to magically stop the transfer payments the deficit would balloon. Social Security is a legally different entity than the Federal Government; one which loans money to the General Fund at a remarkably reasonable rate. No one who wants to merge the two is serious about the debt.

Posted by: heavy on March 21, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Will -- If I understand Heavy's distinction, it is that Soc Sec and DOD spending are different not because they feel, look, and smell different to the taxpayer ponying up the money, but because they are funded differently (i.e., by different taxes). You try to laugh off that distinction and call it stupid, but weren't we talking about how efficacious it would be to cut the deficit via cuts in discretionary spending?

Also, do you think it is stupid to differentiate between wealth transfers that are self-funding -- and I mean that in both senses of the concept, insofar as the whole Soc Sec program is self-funding, and that individual workers pay into the system their whole lives -- and programs that take general revenues and use them on discretionary defense expenditures?

Now there could be waste in both types of expenditure -- Warren Buffet's Soc Sec check and an unnecessary defense program. Which do you think is greater: the surplus flowing to Warren Buffet and his ilk via Social Security, or the surplus flowing to Halliburton and Boeing and their ilk.

Posted by: mattfwood on March 21, 2006 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Will -- If I understand Heavy's distinction, it is that Soc Sec and DOD spending are different not because they feel, look, and smell different to the taxpayer ponying up the money, but because they are funded differently (i.e., by different taxes). You try to laugh off that distinction and call it stupid, but weren't we talking about how efficacious it would be to cut the deficit via cuts in discretionary spending?

Also, do you think it is stupid to differentiate between wealth transfers that are self-funding -- and I mean that in both senses of the concept, insofar as the whole Soc Sec program is self-funding, and that individual workers pay into the system their whole lives -- and programs that take general revenues and use them on discretionary defense expenditures?

Now there could be waste in both types of expenditure -- Warren Buffet's Soc Sec check and an unnecessary defense program. Which do you think is greater: the surplus flowing to Warren Buffet and his ilk via Social Security, or the surplus flowing to Halliburton and Boeing and their ilk.

Posted by: mattfwood on March 21, 2006 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know that anyone reads anything here, but perhaps I've just read too many conservative/libertarian arguments against SS and Medicare so its simply too easy to conflate all of them.

However, once again, I don't think its right for Will Allen (if that's what he is doing) or anyone to characterize SS or Medicare as a wealth transfer program. We all know "wealth transfer" is a conservative code-word for the longer concept, which is a re-distribution of wealth from one set to another -- with the implication that it is going from one set of "deserving" taxpayers to another set of "underserving" citizens.

SS and Medicare are insurance programs. SS, in particular, is a lifetime annuity. Moreover its a lifetime annuity which is currently running a very large surplus. Like any insuance product, it will probably be adjusted based upon actuarial assumptions, with the most important being life expectancy, and that will be that.

It is most assuredly not pointless to keep these distinctions in mind.

For example, the Defense budget is most assuredly a wealth redistribution program. Money is taken from the general population, and spent on private contractors who, as part of their business, make spectacular profits for management and shareholders. For quite a while now, the connection between spending and actual protection is not at all apparent.

Compare this to the federally funded highways, which a very high proportion of the taxpaying population actually uses, and you have a program which, although it is technically a form of wealth redistribution, engages in redistribution so broadly that it never is seriously challenged.

Posted by: hank on March 21, 2006 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry about the triple post everyone -- browser went nuts.

Will would abolish the FDA too? Is that for pro-botulism or anti-drug safety reasons?

Surely you wouldn't suggest that we get rid of all pre-screening and simply let the tort system handle it post hoc when food and drug manufacturers screw up, would you?

Posted by: mattfwood on March 21, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory, please quote me where I disputed that Bush lowballed the pharma benefit, if that is what you are saying; it isn't clear to me.

You're right, Will, I wasn't clear, and I apologize. I've clarified my statement.

Again, if you wish to maintain that LBJ's estimate of a nine billion dollar Medicare cost by the early 90s was made in good faith, go ahead.

No, Will, I wish you to support your assertion that LBJ's estimate of a nine billion dollar Medicare cost by the early 90s was not made in good faith. All I am maintaining, and you're giving me good reason to, is that you made an assertion that you have so far failed to support, instead putting words into others' mouths. That's dishonest, Will.

If you wish to similarly believe that politicians don't use spending programs to purchase votes, and that they don't lowball the cost of the spending programs to secure passage, despite the fact that critics of such spending program are consistently correct in saying that the estimates will prove to be much too low, you go right ahead.

Here we see another example of Will's rhetorical dishonesty. In the first place, I made no such assertion. In the second, notice how Will is moving the goalposts, in order to imply that questioning his specific assertion about one program is a belief that "politicians don't use spending programs to purchase votes" -- which is completely irrelevant to this discussion -- "and that they don't lowball the cost of the spending programs to secure passage."

What's even more dishonest about this rhetorical tack is that Will and I have already agreed that the Bush Administration did indeed deliberately lowball the cost of the Medicare prescription drug program. For a guy who so often disparages others' literacy skills, I find this interpretation rich in irony.

Will, you asserted that the original Medicare cost estimates were a deliberate deception. Now, can you defend that assertion, or not? Really. It's time to put up or shut up.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Gregory, the estimate was off by a factor of approximately seven, and people such a Milton Friedman stated at the time that the numbers were ridiculous. Thus, we are presented with two alternatives; the Johnson Administration was either idiotic, or mendacious. Given that idiocy is a worse failing in matters of governance, I was mereley trying to be charitable. If you think the alternative explanation fits better, you're welcome to it.

You also write...

"But even if -- and please note that I said "if" -- costs for some government programs are deliberately lowballed, they are done so to secure passage in Congress, not as a direct appeal to the voters."

....which is disingenuous, in that purchasing votes with promised spending, while lowballing the cost estimates, is every bit as mendacious as what you are accusing Republicans of. This discussion is about Federal deficits. Spending comprises 50% of that phenomena, so how one could say that discussing how politicians propose spending for the purpose of buying votes is not pertinent to this discussion is puzzling.

No, heavy, you just can't grasp that your dedicated funding streams are merely a bookeeping device, without real economic effect. The Federal Government takes in tax revenues, and engages in expenditures. The fact that somebody calls one form of tax or expenditure "insurance" doesn't change anything in regards to the fiscal situation. I don't think it is wise to send checks to the age demographic with the highest median net worth, without regard to need. I don't think it is wise to impose a 15%-plus tax on the employmnet of people at the minimum wage. I don't really have a strong opinion on whether the top marginal rate on income should be 35% or 39%, although I think the marginal rate of 72%, which was in place prior to 1981, was certainly counterproductive.

I think that political bodies tend to not employ capital as productively as private entities, for the simple reason that political bodies can obtain more capital by getting 51% of the electorate to allow them to tax, whereas private entities actually have to convince individuals that supplying more capital will serve the individuals' best interest. Thus, Enron's mendacity becomes obvious, and Enron ceases to exist, whereas the Bureau of Indian Affairs' mendacity becomes equally obvious, but continues on decade after decade. That people who rightly denounce the mendacity which is inherent in the DOD are unable to grasp that this mendacity is every bit as inherent in any bureaucracy, which obtains capital via taxation, is puzzling. I think our economy would be more productive, and would benefit more people, if less capital was directed by political bodies.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory wrote: "It's time to put up or shut up."

He never has bothered to defend his assertions; it's highly unlike that he will start now. It's one of his favorite tactics, along with ad hominem attacks and claims that, because you are asking for evidence, you must somehow be advocating the opposite point and that it therefore behooves you to support that point.

Posted by: PaulB on March 21, 2006 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote: "No, heavy, you just can't grasp that your dedicated funding streams are merely a bookeeping device, without real economic effect."

Actually, there is a very real economic effect, as becomes obvious when you look at the source of the various funding -- who pays, how much they pay, what happens to the money, and so on. In any case, talking about "bookeeping [sic] device[s]" and pretending that they are not real is moronic.

Posted by: PaulB on March 21, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

A no- brainer: let's cut aid to nations that spy on us. Just dumping the top recipient would save $4b this year.

Oops. Do I hear someone knocking on my door?

Posted by: skip on March 21, 2006 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

mattfwood, I think the FDA's major effort should be to ensure full disclosure, so people buying a drug would easily obtain information as to whether there was any empirical evidence that what they were ingesting would do them any good, and what evidence existed as to harmful side effects. I think the FDA as it is currently constructed tends to harm as many people, via the costs and delays imposed in the approval process, as it does by approving drugs which eventually cause harm, but the former harm is harder to recognize than the latter. I think that the prescription drug system does real harm to consumers, while providing little benefit, with perhaps the exception of antibiotics, where the improper use of a drug can reduce it's efficacy for others.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

Paul B., how you label various taxes and expenditures does not affect the total fiscal situation. The state is either engaging in more expenditures than it is taking in taxes, or the opposite, or expenditures and taxes are exactly equal. I agree that how taxes and expenditures are distributed has consequences, which is why I wish to end the practice of levying a tax of more than 15% on minimum wage employment, and sending checks to the age demographic with the highest median net worth, regardless of need. Finally, please quote me in this thread where I have attacked a fellow participant with ad hominem rhetoric, where that participant did not first indicate that this is the tone of rhetoric that was preferred.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Gregory, the estimate was off by a factor of approximately seven

No one is disputing that the estimates proved incorrect, Will. You asserted that the original Medicare cost estimates were a deliberate deception, which means that, as Bush did with the prescription drug plan, that the Johnson Administration knew their estimates were false. Now, do you have actual evidence to support that assertion, or not? Really. It's time to put up or shut up.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen wrote:

...which is disingenuous, in that purchasing votes with promised spending, while lowballing the cost estimates, is every bit as mendacious as what you are accusing Republicans of.

Not so fast, Will! Now you're asserting that politicians purchase votes with promised spending, an assertion not at all in evidence. Nor, as I pointed out, is your analogy at all equivalent. Cost estimates debated in Congress are not at all equivalent to promises that are constantly and deliberately made by Republicans to cut taxes and maintain spending on popular programs. After all, regardless of the initial cost estimates, the fact is, if a program is popular, it remains. So the choice is to pay for it or not. The Republican choice is "not."

But, at least, I see that your intent is, as I surmised, to attempt to defend the Republicans' mendacity by your distractions and false equivalences. That dog won't hunt, Will.

This discussion is about Federal deficits. Spending comprises 50% of that phenomena, so how one could say that discussing how politicians propose spending for the purpose of buying votes is not pertinent to this discussion is puzzling.

Again, Will, your statement is based on the premise that "politicians propose spending for the purpose of buying votes," an assertion that once again is not in evidence. Therefore, your attempt to put words in my mouth is once again mere dishonesty.

But yes, Will, exactly. This discussion is about Federal deficits. Deocrats and Republicans both basically agree on a certain level of Federal spending. The preference of fiscally responsible politicians is to pay for it with taxes, and as you pointed out, the fact that the Republicans pretend that they can maintain popular spending and cut taxes -- a deliberate deception -- does put fiscally responsible politician at an electoral disadvantage, regardless of whether he or she is in a position to propose any new spending at all. The fact that you correctly identify the electoral disadvantage of fiscal responsibility hardly excuses the Republicans for their deception, or the voters who realize it yet give them a pass.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

Clarification alert:

Cost estimates debated in Congress are not at all equivalent to promises that are constantly and deliberately made by Republicans to cut taxes and maintain spending on popular programs.

should be

Cost estimates debated in Congress are not at all equivalent to promises that are constantly and deliberately made directly to voters by Republicans to cut taxes and maintain spending on popular programs.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 4:43 PM | PERMALINK

Will,
You are using fancy woids and all with your transfering wealth from everyone to those the highest median net worth, but I think you are finally getting to my second point - the strong should protect the weak.

Should young Johnny have to pay a dime to keep Granny in the home? You say "Not if Granny has more money in the bank than Johnny does."

Use all the fancy words you want but it really comes down to that, doesn't it?

Should the young poor help the elderly rich?

My answer is "yes," your answer is "no."

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory, you apparently are unaware of the logical exercise by which the cause of a phenomena is determined by looking at the universe of possible explanations, and determining which is most likely. In this case, the Johnson Administration was off by a factor of seven in estimating Medicare costs, despite Nobel-quality economists stating the cost estimates were wildly under what the true costs were likely to be. Thus, we can say with a fair degree of confidence that the estimates were the result of either idiocy or mendacity. If you prefer the former explanation you are welcome to it.

Finally, if you truly wish to adhere to the position that it is not established that politicians propose spending to purchase votes, I'll just end the conversation here. I'm not really interested in establishing for you that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, either.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz, in response to Greg's "Your philosophy would be much more convincing to me if you could name a self-made rich person who got rich without somehow involving the government.":

For some cases, you have a point. As I recall, Ross Perot made a lot of money doing things for the government. Certainly many companies make much of their money from government projects.

But if you talk about the highways, post office, patents, and other general public services like that, you're stretching it a bit. You'd have to explain to me why all the people who have access to these same general services aren't equally rich.

Sorry, but for many of the wealthy, they simply earned it.

The point of talking about highways, post office, patents, etc., is not that those things made the wealthy their wealth, but that they benefit from them far more than the average person does. People with great wealth benefit more from protection of said wealth than Joe Schmoe with $10,000 credit card debt. Big business and their investors benefit more from all of the things you mentioned that smooth commerce than do the labor force who work for them. The only argument you could make there is that labor benefits by having a job they might not have if commerce wasn't smoothed over by the government, but wage discrepancies put the lie to that.

Furthermore, many wealthy people did benefit heavily from direct government bootstrapping, and they routinely refuse to acknowledge it.

Case in point: Barry Goldwater. Of his family he would say, "We didn't know the federal government. Everything that was done, we did it ourselves." But his family's rise came from knowing the federal government intimately. The Arizona Territory his ancestors traveled to in 1860 to follow a gold strike developed as a virtual ward of the federal government, used as a base for fighting the Indian Wars. The money to build the first Goldwater store in 1872 came largely from contracts for provisioning Army camps and deliverying mail. As for Barry Goldwater's generation himself, they benefited greatly from the federal largesse surrounding the Roosevelt Dam's construction. And things went on from there. The government has, over its history, invested heavily in developing places like Arizona, making them great havens for business, which then turns around and refuses to pay the government anything in return.

Posted by: Adam Piontek on March 21, 2006 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

clearly that $.1 billion from NEA got us over the finish line!

Posted by: Chris on March 21, 2006 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

you apparently are unaware of the logical exercise by which the cause of a phenomena is determined by looking at the universe of possible explanations, and determining which is most likely. In this case, the Johnson Administration was off by a factor of seven in estimating Medicare costs, despite Nobel-quality economists stating the cost estimates were wildly under what the true costs were likely to be. Thus, we can say with a fair degree of confidence? that the estimates were the result of either idiocy or mendacity. If you prefer the former explanation you are welcome to it.

So, what you're saying is, no, you have no evidence that Johnson deliberately -- a word you used repeatedly -- lowballed the estimates.

Thank you for admitting, even if in a deliberately deceptive fashion, that you couldn't assertion you couldn't support. Rest assured, those of us familiar with your rhetorical style already knew it, and the rest, I am sure, figured it out quite readily.

Finally, if you truly wish to adhere to the position that it is not established that politicians propose spending to purchase votes, I'll just end the conversation here.

More dishonesty, Will, and sadly, a specific dishonesty I've already called you on. I am not adhering to any position. Rather, you asserted. I challenged you to back up your assertions. You failed. Puttng words into others' mouths, or pretending that challening your assertions is asserting the opposite doesn't change the fact that you failed, and conspicuously so.

I'm not really interested in establishing for you that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, either.

More intellectual dishonesty from Will. By his analogy, Will seeks to imply that his claims are obvious, "established" facts, and that to ask for proof is unreasonable. Since, when asked for proof, Will fails to deliver, the falsehood of this premise is self-evident.

As to "logical exercises," even if it's true that some politicians propose some spending in order to "purchase votes," it does not follow that all politicians do, that all proposed spending is done to purchase votes, or that cost estimates that prove false are deliberately deceptive.

Basically, Will, you've provided us with a bunch of assertions based on your own belief system but for which you can summon precious little evidence, just a rogue's gallery of fallacies. Kind of tells us about your belief system, doesn't it?

We do know, though, that Bush did deliberately lie about the cost estimate of the prescription drug benefit. We do know that Republicans pretend they can offer tax cuts and yet maintain current spending levels, when the deficit proves them wrong. And yes, Will, you were right that in the face of this deliberate and calculated lie to the voters, a responsible politician is at a disadvantage.

But none of your rhetorical games, false equivalences, false attributions or miscellaneous intellectual dishonesty excuses Republicans from the deliberate and cynical lie they tell voters, or from those voters who recognize the lie but vote for Republicans anyway. One is only left to wonder, Will, why you would go to such lengths of intellectual dishonesty in order to distract from that statement.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Will, wishing doesn't make it so. The fact is, there is a dedicated revenue stream and it is Federal Law. There is little difference between Social Security and a (mandated) private system except that you don't like Social Security. Social Security may have a bad habit (also by law) of loaning money to the General Fund, but it is not part of the General Fund and casting it as the same thing is the hallmark of unseriousness. Those acquainted with complex thought understand that things that might appear superficially equal may be different because of the details.

Again, Social Security is in surplus; the program works better than any private program would compare it with any defined benefit pension program you can find that still exists. That you want to get rid of it has no bearing on its utility. That you are attempting to smear its recipients (as if rich liberals were the median recipients) has no bearing on its utility, and the fact that it is in surplus undermines your entire argument for reducing its outlays.

Now, we may agree that taxing minimum wage to fund this transfer payment is a bad idea, but it makes some amount of sense. Those who pay into it, get money out of it. Even better, the system is inherently mildly progressive those who pay less get greater proportional benefits. That everyone who pays in gets money out also helps guard the system against demagogues who could eliminate a means tested system because it was welfare.

Because Social Security is not, by law, part of the General Fund it would make sense only to eliminate the outlays if you eliminate the income. You don't appear to have grasped this simple concept embedded in the notion of revenue stream. If you had, you couldn't argue that reducing the outlays would have any but deleterious effects on the deficit.

As a side note, loquaciousness is not the same as complex thinking it is often merely a tool to obfuscate ones thoughts because his arguments are weak. This is a standard conservative trope used by luminaries like William F. Buckley. It marks the speaker as pretentious even as his arguments mark him simple minded. Stupid ideas in flowery language are still stupid ideas.

Posted by: heavy on March 21, 2006 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory, you write, after quoting me....

"So, what you're saying is, no, you have no evidence that Johnson deliberately -- a word you used repeatedly -- lowballed the estimates."

This is only true if you consider a perfectly valid logical exercise, which reduces the cause of a phenomena to two possibilities, is "no evidence". This would be quite a surprise to any number of litigators or scientists, but feel free to adhere to your position. I think it much more unlikely that LBJ and his staff were idiots than they were dishonest, based upon their body of work, thus I conclude that they were dishonest. Since when did such an exercise in logic constitute "no evidence"?

You also write that you are not adhering to the position that it is not established that politicans propose spending to purchase votes. Now, do you normally ask that assertions be proven when you do not adhere to the position that such an assertion of fact has not been established? I'll restate things, and ignore your dishonest attribution to me that all spending is proposed to purchase votes: If you are seriously asking me to establish that politicians propose spending to purchase votes, you are being as needlessly argumentative as a person who asks that it be established that men have walked on the moon, and I really don't wish to continue the conversation with someone who is operates in such bad faith. Are you seriously asking me to establish that politicians propose spending to purchase votes?

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

heavy, it apparently has missed your penetrating insight that designations of Federal law cannot change the underlying fact that expenditures are in balance with collected taxes, or they are not, and the Federal law is not an unchanging thing. I propose changing both the taxes and the expenditures.

Now, as to your outright lies, I didn't smear anyone, nor did I say anything about "rich liberals". It was you who idiotically implied that a statement regarding sending a S.S. check to Warren Buffett was a generalized statement about "rich liberals" being the median recipient. Are you normally so stupid?

I stated that the age demographic with the highest median net worth received more outlays from the government than any other age demographic, which happens to be true, and proposed ending those outlays for those in the top 10% of non-S.S. income, and reducing it for those in the 70th to 90th percentile, while abolishing the current FICA tax structure. Only an imbecile of towering proportions would interpret this as a statement pertaining to "rich liberals" being the median S.S. recipient. Congratulations.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK

Things like Social Security and the mortgage deduction are extremely popular and will never get cut.

Kevin Drum: "Never" is a mighty long time. Social Security has been cut in recent times. Not that long ago Social Security benefits weren't treated as taxable income. Now they are. That's a cut in my book. Likewise the retirement age was raised -- another cut. I don't think anybody's suggesting that Social Security could be abolished as a program, nor seriously slashed. But I think it's entirely possible, and maybe even likely, that it could be cut some more, probably on a modest scale.

I think you're on firmer ground with regard to the mortgage interest deduction. The only way I see that little goody being trimmed would be if we got rid of income taxation altogether in favor of a consumption tax. Americans won't stand for an income tax shorn of the mortgage deduction.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida on March 21, 2006 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

This is anecdotal, but most people I know in their 70s really aren't in shape to do serious labor.

Yes, but most people you know in their 70's were born, in, like, the 1920s and 1930s. Someone entering the workforce this year was born in the 80s or 90s, and will benefit from advances in medical science today's old people missed. It's clear that the fifty year old in 2006 is a lot "younger" than the fifty year old of 1968.

Although I think we have to be careful about boosting the retirment age ("benefits-eligibility" age for the pedants out there), I think making no moves at all in this direction is simply unrealistic, given increases in lifespan, advances in healthcare, and changes in the workplace.

Much progress in this area could probably be achieved not from boosting the retirement age minimum, but rather by allowing people's starting benefit level to continue to increase the longer they put off drawing their first check. Today, you've got no incentive at all to wait beyond age 70 to start drawing benefits. But what if you love work, and you're in good shape, and you truly don't need to start collecting Social Security? Why not give such people an incentive to start collecting later, if, by waiting until, say, age 73 (or 75 or 81 or whatever), their starting benefit level continued to increase? I suspect the numbers could be worked out to make such a (voluntary) system fair to the individual and a net saver to taxpayers.

Posted by: P.B. Almeida on March 21, 2006 at 7:59 PM | PERMALINK

More brutal dishonesty from Kevin Drum. Medicare does NOT pay for itself. That's a lie. Corporate welfare is NOT all on the tax side. That's a lie. It just keeps continuing. Drum tries to win by redefining the universe as some fantasyland that doesn't exist but allows him to win. How childish.

Posted by: The Peloponnesian on March 21, 2006 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Will, your response contains nothing at all that I haven't already addressed, so we'll just consider my previous statements to stand unrefuted.

I'll only add that I ask that assertions be proven when someone has a history of making unsupported assertions, which, as you prove in this very thread, you do.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

PB,
It's clear that the fifty year old in 2006 is a lot "younger" than the fifty year old of 1968.

Now that's a bold assertion. I doubt you can back that up with any data.

Some fifty year olds are in pretty good shape nowadays but unhealthy lifestyles and bad genetics still take their tolls like they always have.

I think technology is better at fixing some problems like heart disease but I don't think it is making people younger longer.

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen, apparently stung by legitimate criticism wants to pretend that his only example of a Social Security recipient wasn't meant to imply anything. Why, he could as well have used his poor Aunt Gertrude, but just figured we didn't know her and our sympathy for her would have been blunted.

People use examples for a reason he used the example of a rich liberal because it suited his purposes. Now that he has been called on it he calls me a liar for noticing. What a dishonest buffoon.

As to just changing the law, first obviously there is no one stupid enough to run on the platform Will Allen proposes, second his suggestion is to turn Social Security into a welfare program with the corresponding increases in administration costs any such program entails, what with the added burden of ensuring no one in the top 10% gets any money (gotta catch those cheaters). Since he is willing to remove the funding, he will have to replace about 30% of all government income with something (then it really would be what he claims it is already - income). How much is he willing to tax petroleum? How will that affect the economy?

Could Federal Law be changed to suit Will Allen? Sure. If enough people demanded it we could destroy the compact that Social Security has been for 70 years. But to what point? The program works, has for decades and is in surplus (and has been for decades and will be for at least a decade more). Given that it is legally a separate entity, there is no logical justification for Mr. Allen's proposal. There is only his inability, fed by unwillingness, to understand the fundamentals of accounting. Anyone who has worked in a company with more than 50 employees understands the notion of divisions and budgets better than Will.

Tax increases can be sold to the American people as a responsible response to the Republican debt. Will Allen's suggestions do nothing but upend a working program because he doesn't like transfer payments and refuse to accept the difference between a transfer payment and spending. He lives in a fantasy world. His solutions are politically impossible but more importantly they have no intrinsic merit.

Posted by: heavy on March 21, 2006 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

No, Gregory, you simply made an assertion that a perfectly valid logical exercise doesn't constitute proof of any kind, which is nonsensical, and then you made a bad faith request to establish something which is as commonly known as the shape of the earth. You haven't addressed anything. I'll ask again; are you truly requesting that it be established that politicians propose spending in order to purchase votes?

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

Heavy is too dimwitted to grasp that Buffett is the wealthiest person in the country eligible for Social Security benefits, and thus may have been the most recognizable example of a person who is easily able to support himself absent S.S. benefits. Instead, ol'heavy engages in a bunch of silly mind-reading. This level of stupidity is the norm for you, isn't it, heavy?

Heavy is the sort of nitwit who believes that accounting entries can trump fundamental aspects of government spending and taxes, which somehow magically transforms hundreds of billions of expenditures into something else, which isn't altogether surprising, in that he is dumb enough to conflate the divisions and budgets of a corporation with that of a political entity which has the power to tax and print money.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

Will, your response contains nothing at all that I haven't already addressed, so we'll just consider my previous statements to stand unrefuted.

Posted by: Gregory on March 21, 2006 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

I'll ask yet again; do you really request it be established that politicians use spending to purchase votes?

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

Poor Will. So caught up in defending himself from the trivia about his choice of examples forgets to provide even the barest of substance in his post. Of course, anyone so ineffably dense as to fail to recognize the difference between conflation and analogy couldn't really be expected to do better.

What's more, he now tell us that his example (a person who is easily able to support himself absent S.S. benefits) was intended to imply a broader category; the very point I made and the one he spent a previous post denying (I said rich liberals he says people who can easily support themselves a much more modest difference than would warrant his spittle-flecked post).

He is right, of course, that there is a difference between corporations and government. The edicts of the Federal Government have the force of law and changing them requires consent of the governed. Which means that his inane and wildly unpopular ideas are merely uninformed bloviation.

Posted by: heavy on March 21, 2006 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

Well, yes, heavy is enough of a cretin to believe that the set "people who can support themselves" is similar to the set "rich liberals".

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

Will embarrasses himself by his continued posting. When one quotes another, he should try to use the exact words, not eliminate selected ones in order to weaken their argument. To do otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

But it would take someone smarter than him to defend his actual policy prescriptions, so he choses to misrepresent my post and pretend victory. Pathetic.

Posted by: heavy on March 21, 2006 at 10:58 PM | PERMALINK

O.K., heavy is enough of a moron to think there is only a modest difference between the set "rich liberals" and the set "people who can support themselves". Whether it would more accurate to describe heavy as a moron, or a cretin, is likely not worth considering.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 21, 2006 at 11:31 PM | PERMALINK

I guess Will isn't good at reading comprehension either. Does he need a hint? Perhaps he should read each word out loud, slowly, until he figures it out.

Oh, and I'm still waiting for him to extol the benefits of removing more than 35% of government funding and turning Social Security into the largest welfare program in our history. Politically, morally, and fiscally, this would be a disaster.

Posted by: heavy on March 22, 2006 at 12:16 AM | PERMALINK

I'll ask yet again; do you really request it be established that politicians use spending to purchase votes?

Will, since I've already answered that question, I suggest that perhaps it isn't me that has literacy problems around here.

Posted by: Gregory on March 22, 2006 at 12:29 AM | PERMALINK

...and since your response still contains nothing at all that I haven't already addressed, we'll just consider my previous statements to stand unrefuted.

Posted by: Gregory on March 22, 2006 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Tom: I don't recall saying anything about the rich having an obligation to help the poor. I said I felt it was fair to ask the rich to pay a higher proportion of the tax burden, since the stability and infrastructure our government provides helped them to amass their fortunes.

Personally I believe that a society as wealthy as ours has an obligation to help the poorest among us, and government is only vehicle available to do that on a wide scale. But my point was simply that people don't get rich in a vacuum. A healthy economy, a stable system of government, and a sound infrastructure make getting rich much easier, and they don't just happen.

And lets not forget that not everyone sets out to get rich. Teachers, preachers, nurses, firemen, soldiers and such all have other motivations for their career choices. And not everyone is poor because of their own laziness or bad choices. I'm sure that more than a few of the victims of hurricane Katrina are poorer than they ever expected to be.

So, to get back to my original point; since we live in a society in which government provides the stability and infrastructure which enables people to get rich -- and also provides them a safety net in case they fail -- is it unreasonable or unfair to ask the wealthy to contribute a higher percentage of their income to the government. I say it isn't.

Posted by: Greg VA on March 22, 2006 at 1:25 AM | PERMALINK

No, gregory, you've just engaged in yet more tired dishonesty about what you have written, which is exactly what you did the last time we had an exchange.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 22, 2006 at 1:32 AM | PERMALINK

Today's Democratic Party: Fighting for the state pensions of billionaires.

Posted by: x on March 22, 2006 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

This is funny; Will Allen, who still hasn't figured out what the word "quote" means (I knew he was too thick witted to figure it out without a hint - amusingly his incomplete quote was of words I had taken directly from his own post), complaining about the dishonesty of others.

As to 'x' Today's Republican Party: stealing money from the working class to give to billionaires

This is also the heart of Will Allen's fiscal discipline. See, if we eliminated the transfer payments then that means we can eliminate the $1.7 Trillion in treasury notes and cut the debt by 20% in one fell swoop. An odious plan to be sure, but we can't really expect better. Troll repellent - sure he didn't mention that, but he also didn't claim he was going to pay that money back. If he had, it would have blown an even bigger hole in his laughable scheme to balance the budget.

Posted by: heavy on March 22, 2006 at 3:32 AM | PERMALINK

"Legalize marijuana and tax it."

Yes, it probably will not happen, but it should. Eventually the US got rid of prohibition during the depression. Maybe a financial collapse will at least bring some good public policy in its wake.

Posted by: Steve S. on March 22, 2006 at 3:34 AM | PERMALINK

No, gregory, you've just engaged in yet more tired dishonesty about what you have written, which is exactly what you did the last time we had an exchange.

Will, your schtick is beyond tiresome. As always, I'm more than happy to let our respective comments in this thread stand to the scrutiny of anyone who cares to read them, and let them decide which one of us is being honest and which one of us is not.

Posted by: Gregory on March 22, 2006 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

And, of course, the wealthy get to triple dip.

Their tax cuts fuel the deficit and they collect interest loaning that very same money back to the government and due to the tax cuts they get to keep more money to loan back to the government to finance more deficits...

And, let's not forget that a good chunk of the money originated in government contracts in the first place.

And it goes around and around resulting in the biggest transfer of wealth from society at large to the very top of the ever steepening pyramid.

"Census Bureau data show median family income -- half of families have income greater than the median, half have less -- fell 3.6 percent from 2000 through 2004. Incomes for the poorest families fell even further. The only group to gain was the family at the 95th percentile -- that is, richer than 95 percent of all families." WSJ

The collective net worth of the 400 wealthiest Americans -- who, by the way, benefited disproportionately from Bush's tax cuts -- is $1.13 trillion. Andrew Leonard @ Salon

Mortgage interest deduction is terrible tax and economic policy:

This year, it is expected to cost the Treasury $76 billion. And the rewards are greatly skewed in favor of the moderately to the conspicuously rich. On a million-dollar mortgage (the people with those really need help, right?), the tax benefit is worth approximately $21,000 a year. And according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, a little over half of the benefit is taken by just 12 percent of taxpayers, or those with incomes of $100,000 or more.

Posted by: CFShep on March 22, 2006 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Many of the arguments above do not apply to Social Security. See a little animated flow-chart movie, "Social Security: The Real Connections" at http://ecolanguage.net.

The "Trust Fund" is a paid-forward credit account, paid upon a political promise. Everybody gets some back, including the very rich, which one reason why it works so very well: it is politically almost neutral. It is about the only form of mild redistribution (its benefits are in fact regressive) with no moral hazard: Nobody is going to loaf away their life in order to get $2000 a month in old age.

The "economics" has nothing to do with it. (Although it does not happen to be insolvent: see the excellent work at http://bruceweb.blogspot.com/) The fact that total government receipts and expenditures are not in balance does not matter, for Social Security. You cannot raise payroll taxes three times in twenty five years, reduce ONLY income taxes with a high incidence upon the wealthiest, then yell "Social Security crisis." You will be voted out. The tax cuts did not even provide the promised extra economic growth.

Social Security can never be substantially cut because capitalism does not work 100%: there will always be losers, this is not a good thing come retirement age, private investments are never secure, and means testing would make it into a subject for class warfare. That is why even the richest retirees say "Leave it alone."

Social Security as presently constituted is a very very smart program, it makes up for a multitude of problems, and it will not be changed.

Posted by: Lee A. Arnold on March 22, 2006 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Eliminate the dept of education? Not the answer. Our children our our future and we can't sell them short just to save a couple of billion that won't even put a dent in the deficit. And I agree that the gas tax isn't the answer either.

I'm not sure what the right answer is but the fact that we are all talking about it is a positive thing. This is how the rich become rich by brainstorming until they get it right and run with it.

Posted by: OutOfGas on March 23, 2006 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

I too disagree with the gas tax. I learned recently that ExxonMobil has invested over $3 billion over the last five years in research and development which includes the development of technologies to lower emissions, etc. Once subjected to outrageous new taxes, they will understandably lose the ability to invest in such necessary things, leaving us in an undesirable state.

Posted by: SunLover on March 23, 2006 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

It's always tempting to increase taxes on big business whenever we're talking about federal budgeting. The gas tax might seem like a good idea... oil companies seem to be making a fortune these days.

The only problem with increasing taxes and regulations on domestic oil companies is that it could come back to hurt us when they can't undertake the kinds of investments SunLover mentioned. I'd prefer to save somewhere else than sacrifice progress towards cleaner energy use.

Posted by: R. Smith on March 24, 2006 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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