They Work Hard for the Money

Here’s Andrew Sullivan saying something sort of bafflingly strange about liberals in response to this post by Jamelle Bouie:

Why are so many on the left incapable of acknowledging that many people who are rich – but, of course by no means all of them – earned it the hard way? Until more liberals internalize this, they will fail to persuade America of the occasional need for government because people will rightly suspect that what they are really about is penalizing or diminishing hard work. By the way, I favor an inheritance tax. But I also favor allowing those who work hard to keep as much of their own money as possible.

Okay. So, first of all, are ‘so many on the left’ really incapable of acknowledging that many rich people worked hard to make all that money? Do they want to penalize hard work in response? I don’t think so. In fact, those two beliefs are contradictory.

Serious people outside the Anti-Tax Cult believe two things about taxation: first, that taxes are a necessary evil because they pay for services, and second that the government is often pretty lousy at the actual administration of those services – but nobody else is going to do it any better. Hence, necessary evil.

Naturally taxing something means we get less of it – so you tax carbon, you get less carbon. You tax productivity, it’s quite likely you’ll get less productivity. That’s a fine argument against the income tax on its own merits, but so far nobody has come up with a better alternative. And we still have to pay for all those services. The income tax was devised because it’s a sensible way to levy taxes, not because evil liberals are trying penalize hard work. Nobody likes to pay taxes but we do it because we recognize, as a society, that we all benefit from public roads and public education and so forth. We should also realize that for all the talk of welfare and government hand-outs it’s the very rich in this society who benefit most from government spending.

Of course, Sullivan wants to have his cake and eat it too: he supports many of the big expenditures coming out of Washington during Obama’s tenure but also mocks liberals as being somehow resentful of success who want to punish hard work. I think it’s  much more likely that liberals want to levy taxes to pay for things like the Affordable Care Act which Andrew supported.

And here’s the thing about rich people working hard: yes, many of the rich people in our society worked very hard to get where they are today. But even if they did run the fastest, many also started much closer to the finishing line than their poor or working class counterparts. Having even a normal middle-class family gives someone an enormous leg up. The safety nets of a middle class lifestyle are invaluable: a stable home and family life; increased literacy and access to books and other educational resources; better schools; increased access to transportation, and so on and so forth. Things we take for granted, mostly. The upper class, meanwhile, has built-in business and academic connections and a whole host of other perks and benefits that help hard working upper class kids succeed.

Economic failure (or stagnation) is not a moral failure – it’s just a part of capitalism. It’s built into the system. Functional markets require failure. Until more conservatives realize this, liberals will indeed “fail to persuade America of the occasional need for government” because people will wrongly suspect that any effort by the government to provide assistance or marginalize pain is little more than an attempt to penalize truly successful people’s hard work. Which is a particularly tragic sort of bullshit, true, but bullshit nonetheless.






184 replies
  1. 1
    norbizness says:

    I don’t believe in hell, so I’ll just pretend it’s an eternity of hearing what other people think of Andrew Sullivan.

  2. 2
    Svensker says:

    Yeah, that para of Andrew’s really stuck out when I read that post. “Until more liberals internalize this”? Fuck off, Andy.

  3. 3
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    I would quibble with the phrase “necessary evil.” Taxes are necessary to the functioning of a civil society. The word evil has no place in it.

  4. 4
    MikeBoyScout says:

    So many straw men can be created with so little effort.

    Good for you Sully!

  5. 5
    Bill H says:

    Naturally taxing something means we get less of it

    That is utterly absurd. Are we using less gas?

  6. 6
    Walker says:

    Like most conservatives, Andrew acts as if externalities do not exist. That is why I never take his financial arguments seriously.

  7. 7
    Bullsmith says:

    Explain to me why people who make millions but pay 15% income tax get to bitch about, say cops, who make a tiny fraction of the salary but pay a vastly higher marginal tax rate?

    America’s wealth being increasingly pooled in a very few hands isn’t something “liberals think”, its a simple fact. But no, let’s all agree that it’s those damn public sector workers making too much money that is dragging America down. After all, what successful nation ever allowed a middle class to get comfortable?

  8. 8
    hal says:

    In last weeks New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell makes this point:

    There was a time, not very long ago, when people at the very top of their profession—the “talent”—did not make a lot of money. In the postwar years, corporate lawyers, Wall Street investment bankers, Fortune 500 executives, all-star professional athletes, and the like made a fraction of what they earn today. That era was an upside-down version of our own: when society gazed upon captains of industry and commerce, it marvelled at how ordinary their lives were. The truly rich in the nineteen-fifties and sixties were people who had inherited money

    I wonder how many of todays truly rich are inheritors vs self-made?

    http://www.newyorker.com/repor.....z12ispU2Cl

  9. 9
    El Cid says:

    It’s not as if societies need to pay for their governments. Why punish so many for working hard?

  10. 10
    MikeBoyScout says:

    Warren Buffett wants to penalize himself and the Koch brothers and Richard Mellon Scaife earned their money the hard way. Yep.

  11. 11
    Elia says:

    My sense is that Sullivan believes it’s been far too long since the world received an article about what an iconoclastic rebel he is, so it’s right about now that it’s time to position himself yet again as the conservative Obama supporter who, after drifting steadily towards the left in the past 7 years, has rediscovered the joys of hippie-punching and reasserted himself as one of the Most Serious People since Burke.

  12. 12
    david mizner says:

    No, people on the left are perfectly willing to acknowledge that some rich people work hard (and even that some don’t lie, cheat, lie, steal, or kill poor people, at least not directly.)

    But we don’t mistake wealth for success, much less moral virtue.

    Nor do we ever overlook the fact that the dominant variable determining who gets rich is luck.

    (Nor do we ever mistake Sully for anything but a conservative.)

  13. 13

    Why are so many on the left incapable of acknowledging that many people who are rich – but, of course by no means all of them – earned it the hard way?

    Depends on what he defines as “the hard way.” I don’t consider inheriting money from your wealthy ancestors “the hard way.” I also don’t consider shuffling stocks around at a computer screen making seven figure bonuses “the hard way.”

    Why are so many on the right incapable of acknowledging that many people who are poor or middle class – but by no means all of them – work *harder* than the wealthy who benefit from their production?

  14. 14
    homerhk says:

    This whole debate is a little irrelevant since taxes are the price we all pay for living in a civilised society. I am in the high income tax bracket in the UK and don’t begrudge it at all since education is free, university is basically free and health care is free (albeit that I get private healthcare from my work as well). Roads are generally good etc. I would rather my tax money didn’t go on more weaponry but hey that’s the price of living in a civilised society. The tax that really annoys me, however, is the inheritance tax. My parents came from India with very little to their name, worked their butts off and became economicall “successful”. They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family? I just don’t understand it.

  15. 15
    Holden Pattern says:

    Serious people outside the Anti-Tax Cult believe two things about taxation: first, that taxes are a necessary evil because they pay for services, and second that the government is often pretty lousy at the actual administration of those services – but nobody else is going to do it any better. Hence, necessary evil.

    Or, we’re just fucking grown ups who know that TANSTAAFL, and understand the basic concepts of marginal utility, economies of scale, and the free rider problem. Taxes are no more a “necessary evil” than paying for any other service, and far far cheaper than paying for everything a la carte the way that the schmibertarian children in the conservative movement would have it done in their petulant fantasies.

  16. 16
    Citizen_X says:

    Progressive income taxes tax higher income, not productivity. It is utterly meaningless to compare the “productivity” of two people who are not in the same industry and doing the same job. Otherwise, you’re forced to call a lottery winner more “productive” than a schoolteacher.

  17. 17

    You tax productivity, it’s quite likely you’ll get less productivity.

    Outside of the Laffer Curve, has this been proven?

  18. 18
    aimai says:

    I disagree that the statement “if you tax something you get less of it” makes any sense when it comes to income taxes. Certainly, if something is optional and it is taxed at a very high rate there may be some tendency for some people to refuse to purchase the thing that is taxed (window taxes, salt taxes) but what if the thing is non optional? I actually put high income in the “non optional” category. People who want a high income, and who work to get it, really very seldom reduce their work hours in order to reduce their taxable income. Galt was a fictional character–as are libertarians who think they would go galt *if only they had enough money.* The key thing to grasp is that its all fiction.

    When Mr. Whiney Law Professor Guy wrote his pathetic cri de coeur about how expensive his life was what with the private schools and the huge house and the expensive nights out the hiding-in-plain-sight clue to his tax situation was this: he simply *can’t stop working* hard no matter how high his income tax goes. Because if he did he couldn’t afford to make it in the class to which he aspires. Tax that fucker 90 percent on the last dollar earned and he will still work extra hours–to the extent that he does–because he and his wife have to meet the costs of the lifestyle they want and they won’t relinquish it. Hell, people risk life and limb to acquire *and spend* wealth–its really not big deal to work extra hours.

    Anthropologists and historians of transitional societies–nomadic, agrarian, tribal, corporatist, peasant (all different things but bear with me) know for a fact that in order to force people into a market economy, a cash economy, you have to a) break their ties with non market forces and groups that enable them to earn their living without trading labor for cash and b) tax them so they have to come up with cash periodically. Imperial and colonial states have always forced self sufficient societies and families into the cash and tax nexus *in order to force them to work harder* and in order to pay for the state’s needs in terms of bureaucracy and police/military as well as in order to force workers into the arms of corporations who needed labor. Why should now be any different?

    What’s “different” and has been different since the introduction of income taxes is that the tax is levied on people who aren’t merely property owners–its levied on labor and labor derived income directly. Thus it hits the chattering classes hard and they tend to chatter about it. That makes it painful to hear about because they can really whine. But the fact of the matter is that taxing income is not only quite fair, its also quite likely to force people to work harder, not less. Just as taxing investments hard means that people have to continually reinvest their money to make it work harder.

    aimai

  19. 19
    Emma says:

    It’s Sullivan, the overeducated, self-centered, exhibitionist twit. Enough said.

  20. 20

    @homerhk:

    They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family? I just don’t understand it.

    Do they *have to* pay further? Could they give it away before they died?

    And, fwiw, at least in the U.S., the inheritance tax doesn’t kick in until upwards of several million dollars.

  21. 21
    cleek says:

    Why are so many on the left incapable of acknowledging that many people who are rich – but, of course by no means all of them – earned it the hard way?

    undefined mass of people A refuse to admit that undefined mass of people B grew wealthy by doing undefined task C. therefore: Liberals suck. QED!

  22. 22
    ChrisS says:

    Having even a normal middle-class family gives someone an enormous leg up.

    Indeed. My parents didn’t go to college, they were working poor with four kids. Divorced when I was 14. My mom didn’t really encourage me to go to college because she didn’t really even know what the process was. Plus she had zero idea as to how much money she would be responsible for (In hindsight, none, but we didn’t know that).

    After a a few years of soul-crushing full-time work sandwiched around four years in the military and then part-time work while doing four years of college, I’m just now, approaching the standard of living my family had in 1985 before my father was laid off. I’m 36 and earning just slightly more than someone 10 years my junior who, while not coming from anything resembling a wealthy family, went to college out of high school.

    So I essentially started ten years behind and it definitely affects major life events (buying a house, retirement investments, etc.) and I’m someone who has it relatively good right now.

  23. 23
    Loneoak says:

    @homerhk:

    They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family? I just don’t understand it.

    Because they/you wouldn’t have a penny without the infrastructures built by other people before them, and the work done by the rest of us too. 60% of wealthy is still wealthy.

  24. 24
    Redshift says:

    @Bill H:

    That is utterly absurd. Are we using less gas?

    Yes, we’re using less gas than we would if it cost less. Do you think people pay attention to car gas mileage purely out of the goodness of their hearts? It’s not “absurd” just because people don’t spend their days trying to figure out how to use no gas at all.

    Sure, a large part of that change in price is because of factors other than taxes, but the part that is gas taxes has no less of an effect than any other.

  25. 25
    Guster says:

    Instead of ‘tax,’ use the phrase ‘community investment’ or ‘homeland support,’ and suddenly these conversation sounds a bit different.

    Because the government is sometimes lousy at administration, investing in America is a necessary evil.

  26. 26
    Bob L says:

    Why are so many on the left incapable of acknowledging that many people who are rich – but, of course by no means all of them – earned it the hard way?

    You mean beyond my personal experience with all the rich but useless kids I went to collage with that, as appropriate in our American meritocracy, still are rich, useless and now in positions of authority? In short, people like GW Bush, the rich who would have been gas station attendants if it wasn’t for their parents.

  27. 27

    Since he is the one who brought up the idea of “hard work” . . . .

    How many minimum wage earners work like dogs? Maybe the writer would like to change places with them for a few years?

    Or, even better, be a farm worker. See how that corresponds with the idea of hard work.

    A third option that actually pays more money would be to work as a trash collector. Do you think that the writer would think that was hard work?

    Don’t give me that crap about all the hard work that bankers and Wall Street fatcats do.

    Edited for grammar.

  28. 28
    Mark says:

    I know things are different in other parts of the world, but I’ve been in Silicon Valley for 10+ years. I finished grad school right at the tail end of the boom, so I was never around when *everybody* was worth $10M+, but I can tell you that everyone around here knows people who 1) weren’t born on 3rd base; and 2) are phenomenally wealthy.

    And guess what? Everybody realizes that “being super wealthy” is more about being in the right place at the right time than it is about hard work.

    I have a friend who dropped out of grad school in 1999 to go work for Google. Now he lives in Wash. state to reduce the tax burden on his $50M. But I have another friend who dropped out at the same time to go work for Altavista – worked out well for him, he’s a VP at Yahoo! but he didn’t come away with no $50M. And I have countless friends who went to work at startups that failed who are no less intelligent or hard-working.

    Even if you work in a field where the run up to a big payoff is a lot longer than five years, it has to be obvious that business is not some pure meritocracy and that the stars need to align for pretty much everyone.

    On the positive side, I only know one person who bitches about his federal taxes, and he’s an options trader. I’ve never encountered anybody in the tech sector who openly complains about his taxes. And taxes are certainly not seen as a disincentive to work hard – people do the work because they’re smart and they honestly want to be challenged, and as long as the money is good enough (read: a lot, but not so much that they’d pay significantly higher taxes under any new tax regime) they’re satisfied.

    Who can I imagine working less hard because of the prospect of slightly higher taxation? I suppose if there’s someone who works 80 hour weeks but hates their job, it would be nice to have an excuse to ratchet down the hours. I’m sure many doctors in private practice are bored out of their minds after 23 years of rectal exams and would be happy to knock off on Fridays instead of thinking “FML” as they walk into the exam room and only being comforted that they’ll be able to buy that third boat they’ve been thinking about.

    Sully’s a douche, of course. He works non-stop and he’ll be busting his balls just like he was busting his balls for the Bush tax cuts kicked in. World domination is what drives him, not having 1% more money in his pocket each year.

  29. 29
    BR says:

    Banksters didn’t work hard for their money. They took advantage of a rigged economic system to siphon money from everyone else.

  30. 30
    homerhk says:

    arguingwithsignposts – the law is that any money given away within 7 years of a person dying is subject to the inheritance tax. The threshold is somewhere in the region of £300,000 which is barely the price of a house once the mortgage has been paid off. In my circumstances, I and my brother would have to sell my parent’s house to pay the inheritance tax and I know many people who one would not call wealthy at all having to do the same.

    Loneoak, I am not sure I understand what you are saying – I am perfectly happy to pay the 40 (actually now 50)% income tax on my income. My parents were happy to pay their taxes as well. I am talking about the inheritance tax.

  31. 31
    Holden Pattern says:

    @homerhk:

    My parents came from India with very little to their name, worked their butts off and became economicall “successful”. They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family? I just don’t understand it.

    1) Look, you whiney git, they’re not paying anything — in this hypothetical, they’re dead. You are paying that tax, on income that you’re receiving, just like you would on any other income.

    2) 40%? Really? As a blended rate? I doubt that very much, unless they were making millions in take-home pay, and didn’t do any tax planning at all, and never bought a house.

    3) Also, what arguingwithsignposts said: if there’s any tax payable on an inheritance, it kicks in at millions of dollars, and doesn’t get as high as the number you’re whining about until even more millions of dollars. Poor you, getting millions of dollars just because you picked the right parents, but it’s not tax-free! Cry me a damn river.

  32. 32
    Crashman says:

    Just back from a two and a half week vacation, and no contact with political blogging. Thank you for giving me a reason to not go back to reading Sullivan. I am done with him.

  33. 33
    homerhk says:

    I should just add that in the UK where education is free and university education is also basically free (as well as healthcare), there is little financial obstacle to getting a college degree and progressing from there.

  34. 34
    John Arbuthnot Fisher says:

    I think what’s most offensive about this terrible Sully post is that somehow liberals need to “internalize” the virtue of hard work, as if no liberals work hard and all are simply too feeble minded to appreciate the “hard way” to wealth. Sullivan’s obsessive use of class and race to intellectually justify elevation of the elite (e.g. himself) while wrapping himself in the cloak of equality and openness is sickening.

  35. 35
    Tractarian says:

    I think it’s much more likely that liberals want to levy taxes to pay for things like the Affordable Care Act which Andrew supported.

    Point taken, and this is a good post, but let me just point out that THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT. THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT. THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT. THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT. THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT. THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT. THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT. THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT. THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT. THE ACA DOES NOT INCREASE THE DEFICIT.

    (This particular fact has had an awful time breaking into the collective pundit consciousness, so I thought it bore repeating.)

  36. 36
    Shygetz says:

    @homerhk: Your parents earned that money; you didn’t. So what are you complaining so much about? It doesn’t kick in until over a million bucks, and if you stand to inherit over a million bucks, then in my opinion you should STFU about injustice.

    EDIT: It appears homerhk is talking about UK law, so I take back my comments about when it kicks in: I have no idea. But the part about “You didn’t earn it, so what are you complaining about” still stands.

  37. 37
    Menzies says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    Why are so many on the right incapable of acknowledging that many people who are poor or middle class – but by no means all of them – work harder than the wealthy who benefit from their production?

    This.

    I see this shit a lot, and for once it’s not something I’ve only seen since I got to the continental United States. From fifth grade till I graduated high school I mostly had either old money or kids of businessmen or lawyers in class with me. It pissed me off seeing them act as if their parents had worked hours upon hours in the hot sun or in some dead-end minimum-wage job to get where they were.

    Certainly a lot of our current “captains of industry” got where they are by working hard, but some at least have the decency to admit they don’t have it as bad as the other half.

  38. 38
    cleek says:

    @Redshift:

    Yes, we’re using less gas than we would if it cost less.

    has anyone ever done a study which compares miles per capita in low gas tax states with high gas tax states ? ex. VA and SC have relatively low gas (17.5 & 16) taxes while NC and PA have relatively high gas taxes (26.6 & 31.1).

  39. 39
    PeakVT says:

    Why are so many on the left right incapable of acknowledging that both the marginal propensity to consume and the marginal utility of income decline, so the well-off should be taxed higher than poor, and the very rich taxed a lot higher?

  40. 40

    @Holden Pattern:
    I think homerhk is in the UK, which apparently has different inheritance tax laws.

    1) Look, you whiney git, they’re not paying anything—in this hypothetical, they’re dead. You are paying that tax, on income that you’re receiving, just like you would on any other income.

    I do think this is an important point. An inheritance is a transfer of wealth from one person to another, and thus should be taxed accordingly.

  41. 41

    It’s only bafflingly strange if you don’t know who wrote it.

    To paraphrase Terry Pratchett: What is Andrew Sullivan for?

  42. 42

    “…Why are so many on the left incapable of acknowledging that many people who are rich – but, of course by no means all of them – earned it the hard way?”

    uh-oh, Sully has internalized a very popular myth among the right-wing trickle down cultists: that liberals are anti-wealth. Yet at the same time we’re also the party of all that “Hollywood money.” So how does one hold these two clearly conflicting ideas simultaneously?

    There is something about the right wing brain that allows them to do that constantly. For example, liberals are weak-kneed, tree-huggers who want to offer therapy to terrorists. But at the same time we’re also crazed moonbats who riot at G8 summits and will go postal at the slightest provocation.

    Weird.

  43. 43
    lacp says:

    And don’t get Andy started on that old communist, Dwight Eisenhower…….

  44. 44
    Michael Finn says:

    Here’s what I don’t get, Libertarians had their paradise 225 years ago with the Articles of Confederation. The federal government had no power, it even had to beg for money. That collapsed and the founding fathers got together to come up with the constitution.

    Their paradise lead to Shay’s Rebellion. Shay’s Rebellion was begun by poor land owner’s who had their land taken away by them or their neighbors, they were highly taxed by the state as well. They were the modern equivalent of the Tea Party.

    Why aren’t we shoving this in their faces?

  45. 45
    homerhk says:

    Holden, pls read my comment to Arguingwithsignposts.

  46. 46
    Violet says:

    @Bill H:

    That is utterly absurd. Are we using less gas?

    If gas cost $20/gallon and most of the was taxes then we’d probably be looking at alternatives a lot more seriously than we are now. And yes, people would be using less gas because they couldn’t afford to keep the lifestyles they’ve got now if those gas guzzlers cost ten times as much to use.

    Right now gas is pretty cheap and the price of it has remained relatively stable for decades. The price really should be higher than it is now, as gas is actually cheaper now than it was 30 years ago if you factor in inflation.

  47. 47
    moderately says:

    It doesn’t help that a lot of the people complaining about Obama penalizing hard work aren’t exactly earning their income the hard way.

    When you read that Ann Coulter makes 90% of her income giving a variation of the same speech blasting liberals and Obama, it’s hard not to roll your eyes. Same goes for Bill “Are You Ever Right?” Kristol, John “the old fashioned way to make money is inherit it” Raese, and, of course, Sarah Palin, whose travel fees for a single endorsement are more than most Americans make in an entire year.

  48. 48
    WyldPirate says:

    @homerhk:

    I am in the high income tax bracket in the UK and don’t begrudge it at all since education is free, university is basically free and health care is free (albeit that I get private healthcare from my work as well). Roads are generally good etc. I would rather my tax money didn’t go on more weaponry but hey that’s the price of living in a civilised society.

    You apparently know little about what is going on in your own country…..
    Universities in Britain Brace for Cuts in Subsidies

    Prof. Steve Smith, president of Universities U.K., which represents Britain’s higher-learning institutions, said the government was likely to cut about 80 percent of the current $6.2 billion it pays annually for university teaching, and about $1.6 billion from the $6.4 billion it provides for research.
    To make up for the shortfall, universities would have to raise tuition to an average of more than $11,000, Professor Smith said, and doing so would require Parliament to lift the cap on such fees, now set at $5,260.

  49. 49
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: And ways can be found to get around it. An estate lawyer I know describes the estate tax as purely voluntary.

  50. 50

    @Violet:
    To the point about cheap gas, a lot of people seem to forget the gas price shock from summer 2008 (?). I firmly believe that had a huge amount to do with the economic problems we had later in the year. People living paycheck to paycheck suddenly having to pay twice as much per gallon, and tiny dominoes began to fall.

  51. 51
    Holden Pattern says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    Yeah, homerhk did mention that and I just saw red when I saw the whining about the estate tax. My bad.

    I still don’t have all that much sympathy. I went and looked up the UK tax on this issue, and the way it works currently is 40% of the inheritance over £325,000. Wikipedia says that 94% of estates won’t pay the tax, and the only way that someone would have to sell a house to pay the tax is if the house is basically the *only* asset and it’s worth a lot more than £325,000. People get really hung up on the “house” thing, but at the end of the day, it’s just an asset like anything else.

  52. 52
    BR says:

    Oh, and just to throw this out there:

    Some of the most liberal people I know are also Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who innovate, start new companies, and make lots of money doing so. And then they take that money and reinvest it while also donating huge sums to liberal causes.

    Sort of blows a big hole in Sully’s worldview.

  53. 53

    The people I’ve known who’ve worked hard and made a lot of money are the kind of people who would work hard whether they were born rich or poor, or regardless of what the tax rate is. They’re just people who work hard because they like working hard. They may grouse a little about the amount they’re paying, but they’d be lost without work so they do it even when they’ve reached a level of financial security that they could back away.

    The people I’ve known who cry the loudest about the government taking their shit away are the people who inherited it. Anecdata, I know, but I think lots of this is wrapped up in one’s personality and an inability or unwillingness to empathize with your fellow humans.

  54. 54

    The income tax was devised because it’s a sensible way to levy taxes, not because evil liberals are trying penalize hard work.

    Forgot to mention, but this is something that has stuck in my craw for a long time. Rand Paul just said something ridiculous along these lines, that taxes are a way of penalizing hard work. It’s the while basis of the “Go Galt” stuff.

    I was not raised to see taxes as a punishment. I was raised to see taxes as a civic duty, along with voting and jury duty. You need all three to make democracy work. Well, that and a few other things, but that was how I was raised. No one wants to take a day off of work to do jury duty but my mom and dad drilled it into my head that trying to weasel your way out of this obligation is wrong and un-American. I guess my parents were dirty fucking hippies or something.

    We pay some of the lowest taxes in the Western world. To whine about it and pretend you are being punished when in fact you are simply contributing your share to this great country is wrong. It’s selfish. It’s whiny. It’s elitist. It’s patronizing and condescending. And I’m embarrassed to share this country with those people.

  55. 55
    batgirl says:

    @Shygetz: He/She lives in the UK not in the USA. I really don’t know much about the tax system there or the inheritance tax in the UK so I can’t say one way or the other if the complaint is fair or not.

    Just wanted to point this out to all those beating up on homerhk.

    Of course you are all right in pointing out that while homerhk’s parents earned the money, he/she didn’t which raises broader philosophical questions about the role of inherited money in a capitalist system and the appropriate way to tax it.

    As for anyone here in the US that complains about the inheritance tax, I have no sympathy for them.

  56. 56
    homerhk says:

    Wyldpirate, why would you think that I wasn’t aware of that? I said university was basically free and in comparison with the rates of the US, £5000 is hardly anything esp. with the availability of student loans, grants etc. As it happens, the cuts by the current government (whom I didn’t vote for btw) are imho terrible things to do and I would rather pay a bit more income tax than to see those cuts in education and healthcare being proposed.

    To all you others accusing me of whinging well that may make you feel better but it’s not what I am doing at all. I don’t need the money but in any event what drives me to ask the question is really the conversation I have had with my parents who query why they worked their asses off to provide for us and to leave us a nest egg only to see it go in taxes. from their point of view they would have been better off not saving the money but spending it on themselves (which I keep telling them to do). But their Indian sensibilities won’t allow them to do that.

  57. 57

    @Violet: And gas consumption has gone down over the last 2-3 years since gas prices went up. Cash for Clunkers probably had a marginal effect on usage as well since we traded out a lot of less efficient cars for more efficient ones.

  58. 58
    PeakVT says:

    The tax that really annoys me, however, is the inheritance tax.

    The inheritance tax is essentially a one-time capital gains tax with a ridiculously high threshold. Instead of forcing heirs to calculate the capital gains on each of the individual assets they are receiving, the gift and estate tax provides a much more simple method. And it only affects about 2% of all estates.

    ETA: In the US.

  59. 59
    Mark says:

    @Southern Beale: I grew up in Canada; virtually zero jury trials there. I bristle during my annual visit to jury duty here in California. 12 trips to the courthouse and I’ve never even hit voir dire – certainly we need a more efficient system…

  60. 60
    Violet says:

    I wonder if Sully would name those “so many on the left” he thinks are incapable of recognizing than many rich people worked hard and earned it. He seems to think they’re lurking all over the place. Just who are these “so many”? Are they plentiful like pigeons? Or are they mythical like the unicorn?

  61. 61
    Corner Stone says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    Why are so many on the right incapable of acknowledging that many people who are poor or middle class – but by no means all of them – work harder than the wealthy who benefit from their production?

    Because we are not talking about productivity or income. We are talking about virtue. The wealthy are more virtuous than the poor and that is why they deserve what they have.

  62. 62
    morzer says:

    Andrew Sullivan is David Brooks with manic-depression, a beard, and a husband. Still, at least he doesn’t wear a purple tie.

  63. 63
    Holden Pattern says:

    @homerhk:

    Holden, pls read my comment to Arguingwithsignposts.

    Yeah, I apologize for the specific points about figures, though not the rest. I will say that the UK has an estate tax model that is closer to my preferred model than we do. If people have that much money to leave behind, their children already got a lot of the benefit of the wealth that the parents accumulated, so I don’t see the justice in increasing class inequity by not taxing a fair bit of money that the kids receive for literally nothing except picking the right parents. You’re taxed for your labor, why wouldn’t you be taxed for your nothing-at-all.

  64. 64
    danimal says:

    Why are so many on the Right unable to give up their 70’s style liberal straw men and actually engage with liberals on what they actually believe?

  65. 65
    Corner Stone says:

    Serious people outside the Anti-Tax Cult believe two things about taxation: first, that taxes are a necessary evil because they pay for services, and second that the government is often pretty lousy at the actual administration of those services – but nobody else is going to do it any better. Hence, necessary evil.

    I’m not sure how anyone could believe this statement en toto and consider themselves a “serious” person.
    So it must be some form of snark that I am just not recognizing.

  66. 66
    some other guy says:

    Hey, I’m all for dropping the income tax and capital gains tax to 0% as long as we’re willing to increase the estate/gift tax to 100% for those in the top bracket. After all, why should the children of the rich be deprived of the character-building experience of having to work their way up from nothing to become the Galtian masters of the universe?

  67. 67
    homerhk says:

    I do find the visceral reaction to what I said to be interesting though. I’ve said I’m happily paying the 40% – 50% tax – I’m an avowed liberal (or progressive as they are now called); my parents weren’t born to any great advantage (in fact one could say they were born to disadvantage – my dad’s family – all 25 of them – still live in the same house he grew up in in Delhi) and I dared question the logic behind the inheritance tax. In the main the response I get is not a respectful one but a disparaging one with name calling and calling out my motives.

  68. 68

    @Mark:

    I’ve been to Jury Duty three times in 20 years, actually got to sit on a jury just once. It was a hilarioius redneck crime. Couple of good ol’ boys go fishing, they cook the fish on the gril in foil packets with veggies, some kind of fight broke out after dinner, and then one redneck comes back later in the night with a gun and shoots up the other ones’ house. No one was hurt. But, jeez, how rednecky do you get?

    We all sat in the jury room and said, “well, I got a good fish recipe out of it…”

  69. 69
    Corner Stone says:

    @homerhk:

    They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family? I just don’t understand it.

    Because if they did not then in two subsequent generations you’d have a small landed Baron class that owned everything and used their wealth to influence policy makers to further benefit their lifestyle and wealth accumulation, and all the rest of society who had nothing.
    Or, how the US will be by 2030 or sooner.

  70. 70
    ChrisS says:

    Homerhk:

    For the 2010/2011 tax year, the IHT rate is 0% on the first £325,000 (the “nil-rate band), and 40% on the rest of the value, at death, of an individual’s tax estate. The nil rate band rises annually; tax is only payable on the value of an estate above the nil rate band. For example, all other things being equal, an individual whose estate is £354,000 (the mean London house price in 2007[3]) will pay IHT amounting to 0% of £325,000 plus 40% of £29,000 i.e. £11,600 in all. This is 40% of the amount over the nil rate band, but in this example, 3.2% of the total value of the estate. Those whose estates match the average nation-wide house price of £210,000[4] will pay zero IHT.

    So, A) the threshold is still quite high and nearly half a million US$ is taxed at zero percent, and B) your parents worked for that money, you didn’t. Thus, when it transfers to you and your siblings, it’s taxed as income – in fact it’s taxed at a rate that is far less than income. I’m sure your family will be fine.

  71. 71
    BonnyAnne says:

    That was the post that made me finally decide to stop reading Andrew Sullivan. I couldn’t take the bile and the mockery of the poor any more.

    Andrew should come work for a week in a nursing home as a nurse’s aide, experience the demoralizing, degrading, dead-end-job exhaustion of it all, meet people who are grateful for the job because a) it’s work and b) at $12/hr it’s often better than anything else they can find, and then tell me at length about how the SUCCESSFUL work so goddamn hard for what they have.

    That was by far the hardest and worst job I ever had for $12/hr plus no benefits whatsoever. Since most people are trying to support children and/or parents on that money, nearly every one of my coworkers worked at least 2 jobs and 60 hours a week.

    But I’m sure blogging is hard too.

  72. 72
    Brachiator says:

    Naturally taxing something means we get less of it – so you tax carbon, you get less carbon. You tax productivity, it’s quite likely you’ll get less productivity.

    Neither of these statements is true. The idea of “taxing productivity” is not even particularly meaningful.

    It’s interesting how even conservative publications like The Economist point out how nations like Japan stifle productivity by arcane protectionism and the long standing (and somewhat culturally determined) relationships between banks and industrial giants, among other factors. But Americans get stuck on simplistic ideas about the impact of taxation on “productivity,” with obvious echoes of empty supply side nonsense.

    And Paul Krugman has made some elegant arguments that high marginal tax rates encourage the wealthy to put their money back into the economy rather than hoarding it.

    @homerhk:

    The tax that really annoys me, however, is the inheritance tax. My parents came from India with very little to their name, worked their butts off and became economicall “successful”. They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family? I just don’t understand it.

    I have an answer for you from an American perspective, which has more to do with social rather than economic policy. The US Constitution specifically did away with a hereditary aristocracy. As a side effect, it also did away with the arcane legal system which made sure that the first born male child got the family estate, etc (primogeniture, and all that other funky stuff that drives the narratives of Jane Austen novels).

    This of course, does not mean that there are no wealthy families in the US, but these basic changes, and the estate tax, makes it more difficult for great wealth to be accumulated for centuries in a small group of families. Despite all the often conventional wisdom about a small percentage controlling the majority of the wealth in this country, the DuPont family is one of the very few families that have held wealth for a long time; most other plutocratic families are fairly recent, and typically get deposed by more recent arrivals. Bill Gates and Warren Buffet come from affluent families, but not old money.

    On the other hand, the rich (like corporations) tend to cause mischief if they are allowed to accumulate riches across generations. They always use their wealth to attempt to game the system to protect themselves, and to prevent upstarts and newcomers from having their turn.

    So while I can understand that the kids and family should get some of the estate, I far prefer the example of Andrew Carnegie, who devoted his life to large-scale philanthropy after he made his pile, leaving relatively little to his daughter or other family members.

  73. 73
    homerhk says:

    Holden:

    If people have that much money to leave behind, their children already got a lot of the benefit of the wealth that the parents accumulated, so I don’t see the justice in increasing class inequity by not taxing a fair bit of money that the kids receive for literally nothing except picking the right parents.

    Here’s where you lose me. My parents worked their ass off so I benefitted but because they worked their ass off the fact that I benefitted isn’t just? or that justice requires that my parent’s estate be taxed? How about – my parents worked their ass off so I benefitted by having the opportunity to work my ass off being a lawyer and earning enough so that I could pay 40-50% tax on my salary? oh and by the way, my parent’s income already has been taxed…

  74. 74
    Martin says:

    @hal: Well, I’d say at least as many are ‘self made’ as inheritors. But Bill Gates, the richest out there is also probably among the least ‘self made’ of those out there relative to his worth. Gates stopped writing code long before Windows hit the scene. Sure, he was instrumental in guiding the company and made the final decisions, but most of the ideas that went into the products that made Microsoft so much money didn’t come from him, they came from his engineers and product managers. The marketing ideas didn’t come from him. The retail ideas didn’t come from him. Sure, he deserves to be rich – nobody on the left would seriously argue that he doesn’t deserve significant reward for that, but does he deserve to be rich on a scale that rivals some state government budgets? Hell no. And good on Bill for giving back and encouraging others to do the same. I worry about the lack of structural value of charity (what happens when the charity goes away and no tax base has been established to continue it) but good on him all the same.

    And don’t even get me started on the investment bankers and hedge fund managers. I might have to credit inheritors as more deserving of their money than these jackoffs.

  75. 75
    El Cid says:

    @aimai: Income is not a product exchanged in a free market.

  76. 76
    ed says:

    Don’t worry, in about 20 years, Sully will have yet another embarrassingly late epiphany and suddenly realize he was wrong, then offer up typically pathetic, self-serving non-apology. This will, yet again, be the fault of Fifth-Columnist Liberals.

  77. 77
    Gromit says:

    What is really strange about Sullivan’s post is that Bouie’s closing paragraph explicitly acknowledges “that many people who are rich – but, of course by no means all of them – earned it the hard way” as Andrew puts it.

  78. 78
    jrg says:

    @homerhk:

    The tax that really annoys me, however, is the inheritance tax. My parents came from India with very little to their name, worked their butts off and became economicall “successful”. They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family? I just don’t understand it.

    Wah, Wah, wah. I’ve got a question, too… Why should I cover the tax burden for you with money that I actually earned – you know – by working?

  79. 79

    @homerhk:

    In the main the response I get is not a respectful one but a disparaging one with name calling and calling out my motives.

    I hope that was not what you got from my response. I do know that in the U.S., the “death tax” argument is one quite often advanced by wingnuts thanks to frank luntz and his Orwellian doublespeak.

  80. 80
    cleek says:

    @homerhk:
    but you didn’t work your ass off for their money. right?

  81. 81
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    Why are so many on the right incapable of acknowledging that many people who are poor or middle class – but by no means all of them – work harder than the wealthy who benefit from their production?

    Because it’s necessary to maintain their outrageous, over-the-top sense of victimization… if they don’t feel endlessly put upon by the dirty, little people, they can’t justify the disdain and resentment they feel for them…

  82. 82
    homerhk says:

    Arguing – not from you hence the “main”. I do have to say that there is an undeniable strain in this thread to the effect that those who earn money or whose parents have been economically prudent and saved money are somehow undeserving of that money…or simply just want money for nothing. The fact that I stand to inherit something or that I earn enough money to be in the high income bracket apparently tarnishes and corrupts my view on taxes generally.

  83. 83
    El Cid says:

    Remember, according to the last 30 years of conservative posturing, it makes one a brave and daring rebel to align with and defend the interests of the richest and most powerful.

    Unlike, of course, the Stalinists who run our government and all the libruls continually burning billionaires at the stakes.

  84. 84
    Stefan says:

    The tax that really annoys me, however, is the inheritance tax. My parents came from India with very little to their name, worked their butts off and became economicall “successful”. They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family? I just don’t understand it.

    Your parents won’t pay a further 40% on those earnings when they die BECAUSE THEY’RE DEAD. You can try to tax a dead person as much as you want to, but it won’t really work BECAUSE THEY’RE DEAD. (Just try, for example, to have a dead person write out a check to the IRS. Their hands won’t even hold the pen in place).

    You, however, will have to pay an inheritance tax because THAT’S NOT MONEY YOU EARNED YOURSELF. Your parents made the money, you didn’t. We are taxing you on the fact that you are getting, essentially, free money due to hitting a genetic jackpot.

  85. 85
    homerhk says:

    Cleek, why the hell do you think that they moved from India, worked their asses off and saved money? Maybe it’s a US family thing but I know that I will do the same for my kids and so on and so on.

  86. 86
    Meg says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: That is just what I wanted to say.

    Also they forgot that the rich people can’t get rich without the general public buying their products. Their wealth will be meaningless without the society.

  87. 87
    Chrisd says:

    Okay, the thought that I’m not in complete disagreement with Sullivan this time makes me taste my own bile.

    Liberals do in fact begrudge people who earn shitloads of money by working for it, usually in sectors they do not themselves work in. For example, a lot of commenters here have a blind spot to lawyers’ incomes, being lawyers themselves. As for doctors? Their incomes need to be regulated for the good of the Republic.

  88. 88
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    Actually, I don’t think taxes are evil. They are ways of prepaying for something necessary because some things need to be paid for before their use. Fire and police immediately come to mind.

    I also think that some taxes help productivity. Take education. If more people can read and do math, then more of them can work on my car. This drives down the cost of repairing my car, meaning I can spend that money in other places. It’s a win for a larger number of people.

  89. 89
    SpotWeld says:

    Let’s talk about WalMart a moment.
    An icon of capitalism. A huge corporate sucess story.

    What did WalMart do?
    It reduced costs and increased effiency by utilizing it’s trasport fleet to make delvieries “just in time” it networked it’s inventory and warehouse system to ensure all trucks were carrying cargo, coming and going.

    Product prices were constantly monitored and adjusted.

    WalMart cashed in on America’s taxpayer created infrastructure. Highways, phone lines, the internet, a national workforce with good health and decent education, and so on.

    WalMart is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the money of the American Taxpayer, and yet you will still hear the members of the Walton family playing the victium at being targeted becuase of thier “hard work”

  90. 90
    scav says:

    isn’t the tax not on the money or object per se but more on the transaction, the transfer of money or goods? I mean, are people seriously about to suggest that one should pay no taxes on the purchase of a used car because taxes were already paid when the car was purchased for the first time?

  91. 91
    Smith says:

    Sully is so full of shit. But then again, most of us knew that already, right?

    There are liberals who work hard and know the value of hard work and there are liberals who don’t.

    There are conservatives who work hard and know the value of hard work and conservatives who don’t.

    Why the fuck does this have to be reduced to a liberal-conservative thing? I know the Tea Partiers and their minions think no liberals work hard, but most of the liberals I know work a hell of a lot harder than most of the conservatives I know.

  92. 92
    Mark says:

    @Southern Beale: That story made me laugh my nuts off. Thanks.

    The only things that stick with me from jury duty are:

    1) A woman comes in to the jury room asking to see the supervisor. Apparently she is teaching a government-funded class for new immigrants and she has to show them a video about responsibilities of citizenship, including jury duty. But the jury duty supervisor is refusing to return her calls, and she decided to come down and get refused in person.

    2) The security guards wandered around yelling at people who put their feet up: “This is not your house!”

    3) We were supposed to show up by 9 am. They call the first names at 10 am. But anyone who showed up after 9 am (maybe after 9:03) got a strip torn off them and told that they had to re-start the jury duty process even if they had already been there all week. No excuse was good enough – even car trouble; people still got reamed. Then I heard the person at the front desk take a message for some supervisor (“No, he won’t be here today; he had car trouble.”)

  93. 93
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): I was going to add, but ajax said I couldn’t edit:

    Most liberals don’t have any problem with people becoming rich through hard labor. What we have a problem with is rich people thinking that they did it all themselves, and therefore do not think that they have to think about others.

  94. 94
    Holden Pattern says:

    Arguing – not from you hence the “main”. I do have to say that there is an undeniable strain in this thread to the effect that those who earn money or whose parents have been economically prudent and saved money are somehow undeserving of that money…or simply just want money for nothing. The fact that I stand to inherit something or that I earn enough money to be in the high income bracket apparently tarnishes and corrupts my view on taxes generally.

    OK, pay very close attention:

    1) “Those who earn money” is a straw man. Stop it.

    2) “those who earn money or whose parents have been economically prudent and saved money are somehow undeserving of that money…or simply just want money for nothing.”

    In fact, inheritance is the textbook definition of “money for nothing”. You didn’t even spend the money to buy a lottery ticket. So yeah, you’re not deserving of that money in the sense that nobody is deserving of the money that their parents earned. And whining about the tax rate on money that just turns up on your doorstep based on your luck in parents is, in the best possible interpretation, bad form.

    3) The US over the last decade or so has a history of wingnut distortion and exploitation of lies and complaints about the “death tax”, funded by the Waltons and other wealthy families. There is really no patience for those complaints among people who aren’t fans of a neo-capitalist feudal system. So you hit a nerve. But even after you realized that, you kept poking, which says a lot about you.

  95. 95
    ItAintEazy says:

    @Holden Pattern:

    I also love those “poor immigrant that got rich” stories because those immigrants obviously came to that specific country to exploit that country’s freedoms and amenities in order to become successful, but then they turn around and refuse to give back to the same country that made them successful in the first place.

    This is the reason why I think illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, who pay taxes on their income despite the fact they will never benefit from government services that they pay for, have more patriotism in their left thumbs than your average teabagger.

  96. 96
    tofubo says:

    when ‘the rich’ make their money w/out a functioning infrastructure, w/out an educated workforce, w/out a judicial system to enforce contractural agreements, w/out a sound banking system (okay, stop laughing), and w/out the benefit of a GSA number for gov’t contracts, then we’ll talk

    until then, we’ll keep up the class warfare, cus we’re still losing

  97. 97
    FlipYrWhig says:

    I have yet to meet or hear of any rich person who “earned it the hard way.” I guess inventing things is “earning it the smart way,” so to speak, but the “hard way”? Fuck no. There is virtually NO correlation, in my experience, between working hard and earning wealth.

  98. 98
    Emma says:

    homerhk: I was sort of sympathetic until you got here: How about – my parents worked their ass off so I benefitted by having the opportunity to work my ass off being a lawyer and earning enough so that I could pay 40-50% tax on my salary?

    You’re a lawyer and you don’t understand that the inheritance tax is not a tax on your parents’ income but on yours? Basically, you’re getting a lump sum of money, and it is taxed. Even then, the first 300,000 or so (a little over half a million US) isn’t. So if your parents are leaving you, say, 600,000 pounds, you will be taxed 40% of 300,000. Which means that after paying the tax, you would still get roughly 480,000 pounds. By today’s exchange rate, that’s 763,007.73 U.S. dollars.

    Poor you. Not.

  99. 99
    Shygetz says:

    @homerhk:

    How about – my parents worked their ass off so I benefitted by having the opportunity to work my ass off being a lawyer and earning enough so that I could pay 40-50% tax on my salary?

    It beats the hell out of working your ass off being a short order cook because your parents couldn’t support your education.

    oh and by the way, my parent’s income already has been taxed…

    This is just silly. First of all, the estate tax doesn’t tax your parents income, it taxes yours. Second, all money is taxed multiple times. When I get income, it comes from someone else paying me money that they’ve already been taxed on…so I shouldn’t get my income taxed?

  100. 100
    jrg says:

    @homerhk: NO ONE IS SAYING THAT THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD TAKE YOUR ENTIRE INHERITANCE!

    Jesus Christ, this is not that complicated… If the rest of us have to pay taxes on money that we earn, you should pay taxes on the money you inherit. Money is changing hands either way.

  101. 101
    Stefan says:

    I don’t need the money but in any event what drives me to ask the question is really the conversation I have had with my parents who query why they worked their asses off to provide for us and to leave us a nest egg only to see it go in taxes. from their point of view they would have been better off not saving the money but spending it on themselves (which I keep telling them to do). But their Indian sensibilities won’t allow them to do that.

    You use the phrase “see it go in taxes” as if that means the money somehow disappears. But as you yourself acknowledged, the UK has a system of free public education and healthcare which has to be paid for by taxes — so instead of saying “see it go in taxes”, your parents could feel some satisfaction that they joined a society where they worked their assses off to contribute to their fellow Britons being able to live in a society where people didn’t want for basic education and healthcare simply because they lacked the money to pay for it themselves.

    The money they earned goes to help others. Can’t they find satisfaction in that, or are they do feel the need to keep it all for themselves and their immediate family?

  102. 102
    Kiril says:

    Naturally taxing something means we get less of it – so you tax carbon, you get less carbon. You tax productivity, it’s quite likely you’ll get less productivity.

    Does income = productivity?

  103. 103
    Tom Hilton says:

    Obviously nobody gets really wealthy without a certain amount of luck. Jonathan Cohn makes that point as well today, but adds the even more important point that nobody gets wealthy without taking advantage of the government services that somebody else paid for. That’s the point Andy misses so completely that it doesn’t occur to him to try to argue it.

  104. 104
    Martin says:

    @homerhk:

    How about – my parents worked their ass off so I benefitted by having the opportunity to work my ass off being a lawyer and earning enough so that I could pay 40-50% tax on my salary? oh and by the way, my parent’s income already has been taxed…

    Christ, I really wish we’d just go back to jacking up the cap gains rate and hit the inheritors that way. Maybe the zombie lies would finally end.

    The whole point of the estate tax is to simplify the settling of an estate and the collection of taxes in exchange for the government taking a higher rate on exceedingly large estates. They don’t need to do that. They could just ask each inheritor to pay cap gains on their portion of the estate based on their individual rate.

    This isn’t a double tax. Remember they’re dead and you aren’t inheriting their income, you’re inheriting their assets. It’s a tax on you against assets received, just as if you sold stock, or a house, or anything else. The company whose stock you sold is also taxed. You also pay taxes on your house. It never dawns on anyone to call those double taxes, but some Republican strategist says ‘Hey, let’s call it the death tax and proclaim that we’re being double taxed’ and everyone left and right buys into it without even running it once through the frontal lobe. The government taxes the estate because the estate needs to go *somewhere*. But the tax calculations are a LOT easier at the estate level, and the government is assured that nobody is going to cheat on those taxes because, oh yeah, people used to fucking cheat on gift taxes and unreported cap gains all the goddamn time.

    Are we now at the point that we’re telling people leaving $3.5M or more that they shouldn’t be taxed?

  105. 105
    artem1s says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    In addition to paying $4.50/gal for gas eating into a tight budget, it suddenly seemed very, very stupid to live 50 miles from where you worked. I think this was a pretty big factor in the collapse of the housing market.

  106. 106
    catclub says:

    @homerhk:
    “They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family? I just don’t understand it. ”

    You could argue the same thing for ANY spending.
    I earned this money and paid taxes on it, why should the guy
    who I give $50000 for a car have to pay taxes on it?

    I earned this money and paid taxes on it, why should the man whom I pay to rake my lawn have to pay taxes on it?

    Well, because for HIM, it is income.

    Just like it is income
    for YOU if your parents’ estate gives it to you – or to some poor man in the street.

    Everybody pays taxes on their income, why is that so hard?

    I think because you already think of your parents’ estate as yours.

  107. 107
    morzer says:

    @homerhk:

    Can I be one of your so ons, please? Alright, pretty please!

    Seriously, the problem with Sullivan’s post is that he takes what is part of human nature (resentment of others’ good fortune) and simply designates it as a liberal trait. Obviously, this is both lazy and dishonest – but it is absolutely typical of how Sullivan builds his arguments on any issue you care to name. In this respect, he’s a slightly upmarket version of Coulter and Malkin, differentiated only by prettier prose and more self-righteous advertising of his superior humanity.

  108. 108
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @homerhk:

    what drives me to ask the question is really the conversation I have had with my parents who query why they worked their asses off to provide for us and to leave us a nest egg only to see it go in taxes. from their point of view they would have been better off not saving the money but spending it on themselves (which I keep telling them to do). But their Indian sensibilities won’t allow them to do that.

    Tell your parents, Fuck you, from me.

  109. 109
    Shygetz says:

    @homerhk:

    I do have to say that there is an undeniable strain in this thread to the effect that those who earn money or whose parents have been economically prudent and saved money are somehow undeserving of that money…or simply just want money for nothing.

    Note to homerhk: Money that you inherit is, by definition, money for nothing. It’s money that your parents earned, which you are entitled to solely by tradition, not due to any inherent virtue on your part.

  110. 110
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    Well… at least we can all be thankful that the sale of luxury goods is back at pre-crisis levels

    That’s some good news, innit?

    Naturally taxing something means we get less of it

    Then perhaps we should put a tax on Sullivan… no?

  111. 111
    stuckinred says:

    It’s not all that hard to beat the rap on this tax.

  112. 112
    Brachiator says:

    @Emma:

    You’re a lawyer and you don’t understand that the inheritance tax is not a tax on your parents’ income but on yours? Basically, you’re getting a lump sum of money, and it is taxed. Even then, the first 300,000 or so (a little over half a million US) isn’t. So if your parents are leaving you, say, 600,000 pounds, you will be taxed 40% of 300,000. Which means that after paying the tax, you would still get roughly 480,000 pounds. By today’s exchange rate, that’s 763,007.73 U.S. dollars.

    Huh? I don’t know all the details of the UK system, but in the US, the inheritance tax is on the estate (take a look at Form 706), not the income after it is distributed to heirs. In a related way, the gift tax return (Form 709) is a tax on the person making the gift, not on the recipient of the gift.

    And then, there is the wonderful world of trusts, but this is too arcane even for this noble crew.

  113. 113
    Stefan says:

    Arguing – not from you hence the “main”. I do have to say that there is an undeniable strain in this thread to the effect that those who earn money or whose parents have been economically prudent and saved money are somehow undeserving of that money…or simply just want money for nothing. The fact that I stand to inherit something or that I earn enough money to be in the high income bracket apparently tarnishes and corrupts my view on taxes generally.

    Look, if you inherit money YOU ARE GETTING MONEY FOR NOTHING. You didn’t work hard for it (in fact you didn’t work at all for it), it’s a pure gift, a transfer of income from one party to another.

    The key here is when you write “that those who earn money or whose parents have been economically prudent and saved money are somehow undeserving of that money” — if its your parents and not yourself who have been economically prudent and saved money, then yes, you are actually “undeserving” of that money in the same sense that you are undeserving” of any present that anyone gives you — it’s not anything you actually earned yourself by your own work or intelligence, it’s a pure gift, not compensation for work performed.

    The only effort you put in was the effort required to be born to well-off parents, i.e., none. You’re in the position of someone who wins the lottery and then complains that he has to pay taxes on his winnings.

  114. 114
    cleek says:

    @homerhk:

    Cleek, why the hell do you think that they moved from India, worked their asses off and saved money?

    beats me, and is also irrelevant.

    you didn’t work hard for their money, though. right ?

    whatever you stand to inherit isn’t money that you earned. right ? (if it was, you should’ve been given a salary)

  115. 115
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    @Shygetz:

    It’s money that your parents earned, which you are entitled to solely by tradition, not due to any inherent virtue on your part.

    Yeah, and therein lies the rub… I’ve known some folks who inherited some pretty sizable lumps of money from da & ma and I’m not sure there was one who DIDN’T believe there wasn’t something inherently virtuous about the arrangement…

    Quick question… if the inheritance tax is so crippling to accumulated wealth in this country, why are we so awash w/ financial dynasties these days?

  116. 116
    jonas says:

    People who haven’t inherited vast wealth, but have made something of themselves tend to be hard workers who were also in the right place at the right time. Success in America has always been about hard work + a lucky break or two somewhere along the line. As people have pointed out, there are a lot of hard workers out there who have nothing to show for it, especially these days. Those breaks should be randomly distributed in a fair society. Increasingly, however, they’re not. Access to the social, cultural and educational capital needed to reach for the next level of economic advancement is just plain out of reach for most folks today — not to mention the setbacks that can come with a serious illness, loss of your home, having to care for a parent or relative, etc.

    We have made choices as a society over the past generation that have immeasurably enriched a small class of elites by making sure that those who are already well off get most of the “lucky breaks” in society by having access to political power (e.g. “Government Sachs”), education, health, and other opportunities –such as being able to inherit massive wealth without having to pay any taxes on it. If some poor schlub wins $10,000 from a scratch-off lottery ticket, he has to pay taxes on that. If some multi-millionaire snuffs it and his children are in line to each get $10 million, they get it scott free? How is that fair? Then again, the wealthy, they are different from you and me.

    They can ring up their senator on his personal cell phone because they’re in his “Gold Leadership Circle” of donors or something and gripe about it.

    The inheritance tax is not a tax on the person who earned the money; that money (we wish) has already been taxed. It’s the heirs who are being taxed for essentially a bunch of unearned income. Pretending otherwise is just sentimentality. The inheritance tax should be an acknowledgment that at least half of any great fortune made in America was due to luck and needs to be reinvested back into the society that made those lucky breaks possible. The heirs can have the half that was made through grandpa’s hard work.

  117. 117
    toujoursdan says:

    Some wealthy people earn money through hard work (just like middle class and poor people), but about 70% of the wealthy in this country received their wealth through marriage or inheritance.

  118. 118
    David Brooks (not that one) says:

    A while back I heard someone, and it may have been Bill Gates, point out “it’s a lot easier to make your second million than your first million”. That’s the most succint defense of a progressive tax that I have ever heard, and it hits right at the heart of the “work hard for your money” argument. That leaves the rich bastards having to rely on the “personal net value to the economy” argument.

    Also too: “It’s my money”. No, it’s not, in three senses. First, nobody can prosper without the commons (Thom Hartmann’s favorite point). Second, a currency with stable values is the creation of a government, and never let them forget it. And, wIthout currency stability, the value of “your” money is meaningless when you can’t predict, let alone control, whether your next meal will come with a $10 or a $10,000,000 check.

  119. 119
    homerhk says:

    Funnily enough, being called a whinger and being told to fuck off hasn’t really persuaded me. Having said that, I appreciate some of the more thoughtful posts especially on the point about the income having been taxed before. I will rethink this issue.

  120. 120
    cleek says:

    @Chrisd:

    Liberals do in fact begrudge people…

    ok, Mr Mindreader: what am i thinking now ?

    hint: it rhymes with “speak for your elf”

  121. 121
    docdonn says:

    Naturally taxing something means we get less of it – so you tax carbon, you get less carbon. You tax productivity, it’s quite likely you’ll get less productivity.

    not really, e.g., if our taxes build/maintain roads between factories and markets, productivity increases… or funds education that produces more educated/productive workers, etc, etc

  122. 122
    tofubo says:

    @catclub:

    the house they bought for 75,000 back in 1950 and is now worth 750,000 (okay, 950k two years ago) or the company they started for 10,000 that is now worth millions had taxes imparted on that wealth created when ??

    (and yes, purposefully excluding local property taxes and already paid income taxes paid on salary and dividents during the years, apples and oranges)

  123. 123
    burnspbesq says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    Outside of the Laffer Curve, has this been proven?

    If you believe in the diminishing marginal utility of wealth, then the Laffer Curve follows more or less logically. We’ve just never had tax rates high enough to move onto the segment that bends back toward the X axis. Nor are we likely to.

  124. 124
    Stefan says:

    Cleek, why the hell do you think that they moved from India, worked their asses off and saved money? Maybe it’s a US family thing but I know that I will do the same for my kids and so on and so on

    I presume they came to the UK from India to take advantage of the UK’s greater wealth-making opportunites, wealth-making opportuntities that exist, in large part, because the UK has a taxpayer funded system of rule of law, courts, contract enforcement, public education, healthcare, etc. that permits a vibrant highly productive capitalist economy. I also presume that when they emigrated they know full well that the UK collected taxes at a fairly high rate, so they came in with their eyes open.

    So it looks like they got exactly what they came for, but are now complaining that they have to contribute to the very society that welcomed them, gave them a home and allowed them to become successful? Poor show, old man. Poor show.

  125. 125
    Davis X. Machina says:

    Naturally taxing something means we get less of it – so you tax carbon, you get less carbon.

    You tax estates, you get less death.

    Think of it as a health-care measure.

  126. 126
    Jules says:

    @homerhk:

    The tax that really annoys me, however, is the inheritance tax. My parents came from India with very little to their name, worked their butts off and became economicall “successful”. They already paid 40% tax on their earnings throughout their life, why should they (or their estate) have to pay a further 40% on those earnings if they want to give it to family?

    Because you did nothing, nothing to “earn” that cash except to be lucky to have been born.

    and really, I know that a lot of the top %5 wage earnings in this country work hard, but I don’t give a shit. To whom much is given much is required. They can stop whining about how they are being picked on or go Galt already.

    I’d like to know why the Tea GOP Party and folks like Sully refuse to admit that MOST folks who make $50,000 or less work. their. asses. off.
    Everyday, for shit pay at crappy jobs with no hope of ever enjoying a vacation (can’t afford one) or even retirement.

  127. 127
    Emma says:

    Brachiator: I based it on this: Not everyone pays Inheritance Tax. It is only due if your estate – including any assets held in trust and gifts made within seven years of death – is valued over the current Inheritance Tax threshold (£325,000 in 2010-11). The tax is payable at 40 per cent on the amount over this threshold. which I found here. I rough calculated from there.

    And also please notice this: Since October 2007, married couples and registered civil partners can effectively increase the threshold on their estate when the second partner dies – to as much as £650,000 in 2010-11. Their executors or personal representatives must transfer the first spouse or civil partner’s unused Inheritance Tax threshold or ‘nil rate band’ to the second spouse or civil partner when they die.

    So homerhk would get even more.

  128. 128
    Shygetz says:

    @burnspbesq: You don’t even need diminishing marginal utility; if you have progressive taxation and assume that a person is only willing to work for a net profit of $X/hour, then the Laffer Curve follows. But, we’re not anywhere close to the peak of that curve, IMHO.

  129. 129
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    @Jules:

    I’d like to know why the Tea GOP Party and folks like Sully refuse to admit that MOST folks who make $50,000 or less work. their. asses. off.

    For the same reasons the old men who start wars try to convince the rest of us there’s something noble and even romantic about young people marching off to blown to bits defending ‘their honor’…

  130. 130
    burnspbesq says:

    @Shygetz:

    This. There is nothing inherent in the Anglo-American legal system that requires the state to allow dead people to decide who gets their assets after they die. The state could, if it chose, confiscate everything, and the US Constitution could have been written to exclude such confiscation from the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause.

    The estate tax, in a technical sense, is an excise tax on the privilege of transmitting property at death. It’s an essential backstop to an income tax that only taxes income when it is realized. One could devise and administer an income tax that marks a decedent’s property to market at death, taxes the unrealized appreciation, and allows a step-up in basis, and the economic results would be substantially similar to an estate tax.

    I have almost no sympathy for people who bitch about paying estate taxes. Be happy your parents did well enough to leave you anything.

  131. 131
    El Tiburon says:

    Anyone remember Andy on Bill Maher’s show a few years ago?

    He was about to fucking cry because he felt the libtards were making too much fun of people with faith.

    What a fucking crybaby douchebag.

  132. 132
    Paris says:

    The standard analysis ignores one aspect of capitalism – that it is designed to self destruct. Progressive taxation is required for the stability of the system. Recent history is a case in point but its been repeated many times. When income inequality (or wealth in absolute terms?) gets to a certain point, the wealthy have no place left to invest money, speculation results, causing a collapse and misery. I think of it as a simple four stroke engine without a governor – pedal to the metal until it burns itself out. If you you don’t recycle the cash (redistribution!!) then its dies.

  133. 133
    NobodySpecial says:

    Okay, first off, stop listening to the little racist and you’ll be a lot better off.

    Second, the next rich person who starts whining about how HARD their life is should be exiled to a housing project, given a part time job at a fast food restaurant, and be forced to live on 70 percent of poverty level for a year.

    Then when they’re done, if they feel like doing penance in sackcloth and ashes before hanging themselves, it’s all good.

  134. 134
    beergoggles says:

    Sullivan has the economic knowledge of mcbargle and the racial understanding of the authors of the bell curve and still takes jeff goldstein seriously about the middle east.

    And you want to have an honest argument with him?

  135. 135
    El Cid says:

    If you truly support the spirit of entrepreneurial capitalism, you would be opposed to large inheritances, since it causes the proliferation of wealthy interests who are not self-made by their own talents in the marketplace.

  136. 136
    les says:

    @homerhk:

    I do have to say that there is an undeniable strain in this thread to the effect that those who earn money or whose parents have been economically prudent and saved money are somehow undeserving of that money

    I think the undeniable strain is your inability to acknowledge who earned what. You did not earn your parents’ estate, yet you object that you are taxed on its receipt. In what sense are you “deserving” of 100% of your parents’ estate? You “earned” it? How?

  137. 137
    Martin says:

    @homerhk:

    Cleek, why the hell do you think that they moved from India, worked their asses off and saved money? Maybe it’s a US family thing but I know that I will do the same for my kids and so on and so on.

    See, this is the best argument made *for* progressive taxes.

    If the US, which is differentiated from every other country exclusively by it’s government (unless you want to argue breeding stock), is a more attractive place to earn and save money, then shouldn’t the government receive appropriate tax revenues to prolong that differentiation?

    In other words, if government plays no role in the earnings of these individuals, then they should be equally successful in India or Pakistan or France or Uruguay. If everything is down to my own hard work, then it doesn’t matter what government you choose.

    But if people are better able to get ahead in the US, that must be due to *something* that the US is doing right. Why not ask those that have benefitted from that something to give back proportionately to the degree to which they’ve profited?

  138. 138
    catclub says:

    @Corner Stone:
    “Why are so many on the right incapable of acknowledging that many people who are poor or middle class – but by no means all of them – work harder than the wealthy who benefit from their production?”

    While most people with functioning hearts were cheering for the Chilean miners, the Galtian supermen were all mumbling – lazy fuckers.

  139. 139
    NobodySpecial says:

    @les:

    In what sense are you “deserving” of 100% of your parents’ estate? You “earned” it? How?

    Genetically, which is why folks like that should get the nickname ‘Sun King’.

  140. 140
    JohnR says:

    “Why do so many on the ..”

    Well, mainly because they’re people and therefore tend to ‘know what they know’ regardless of any actual data. I find it vastly amusing that Sullivan has the nerve to talk about the need for other people to internalize some article of his faith – it’s that whole ‘internalizing’ idea that leads to all sorts of human disasters; fanatic ideologies and philosophies that ignore reality in favor of some Utopia which will magically appear if only the herds internalize whatever “TRUTH” they’re convinced is the only way to go. Your assumptions determine what road you take – which is why we all should examine our assumptions before we get too snotty about our feeble-minded opponents.
    As Earl Weaver liked to point out, it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts; most of us are still stuck at that knowing-it-all stage.

  141. 141
    fasteddie9318 says:

    homerhk, all I can say is that for somebody who professes to have such a high opinion of America, you sure are in a hurry to see it become a plutocracy (well, assuming it isn’t already).

    Jefferson, his 1785 letter to Madison:

    I am conscious that an equal division of property is impracticable, but the consequences of this enormous inequality producing so much misery to the bulk of mankind, legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property, only taking care to let their subdivisions go hand in hand with the natural affections of the human mind. The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree, is a politic measure and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right.

  142. 142
    Tom Hilton says:

    @Martin:

    This isn’t a double tax. Remember they’re dead and you aren’t inheriting their income, you’re inheriting their assets. It’s a tax on you against assets received, just as if you sold stock, or a house, or anything else.

    Exactly. It’s like complaining that sales tax is a ‘double tax’ because you’ve already been taxed on the money you’re spending. Generally speaking, taxes aren’t levied on money but on transactions (property taxes are the only exception I can think of off the top).

  143. 143
    Sloegin says:

    In Sully’s world, people on the left fail to recognize that the rich earned their wealth the hard way. But people on the left are also 5th columnists… As much as he blogs otherwise, Sully’s Tory lizard brain still predominates on his reflexive world view.

    As for estate taxes; it’s an essential tool for maintaining capitalism. Once you reach a certain level of wealth, it becomes *impossible* to not gain and concentrate more and more of it over time. The leverage power of such wealth unbalances markets and competition.

  144. 144
    Davis X. Machina says:

    It’s as if the idea of ‘luck-egalitarianism’ had never been dreamt of, or the phrase uttered.

  145. 145
    catclub says:

    @toujoursdan:
    “Some wealthy people earn money through hard work (just like middle class and poor people), but about 70% of the wealthy in this country received their wealth through marriage or inheritance.”

    We’ll let you all decide which one Thomas Friedman is.

    Earth flattening ain’t beanbag!

  146. 146
    beergoggles says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    You tax estates, you get less death.
    Think of it as a health-care measure.

    You my dear sir, win.

    And mockery sure beats putting “(citation needed)” at the end of every one of Sullivans ‘facts’.

  147. 147
    different church-lady says:

    You tax productivity, it’s quite likely you’ll get less productivity.

    We don’t tax productivity. We tax income.

    Income is not the same as productivity. That conceptual linkage is the whole damn problem right there.

  148. 148
    wasabi gasp says:

    Maybe more rich folks should accentuate their hard work over their riches, like the way coal miners rub black shit all over their faces before coming out of the hole.

  149. 149
    Brachiator says:

    @Emma:

    I based it on this.

    Yeah, there are exemptions and exclusions, etc, but the basic principle is that estates are taxable, not the income after it is distributed to heirs.

    Oh yeah, and no US estate tax at all for those lucky enough to die in 2010.

    Good link, by the way, on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

  150. 150
    Midnight Marauder says:

    @homerhk:

    Funnily enough, being called a whinger and being told to fuck off hasn’t really persuaded me.

    Shockingly enough, those were not the comments designed to persuade you that you were grossly ignorant on the subject you brought up for discussion. They served as reminders that you were becoming increasingly dense in your responses.

    Having said that, I appreciate some of the more thoughtful posts especially on the point about the income having been taxed before. I will rethink this issue.

    Because that’s what they were written to do.

  151. 151
    toujoursdan says:

    Well, one would have to agree that higher gas taxes translates into lower gas usage. Compare the size of cars and type of infrastructure that the U.S. with its low gas taxes has, versus the smaller cars, more compact cities and higher public transit use in Canada, Europe and elsewhere.

    I just can’t make the leap that higher taxes = less productivity. France has a higher productivity value than the U.S. and parts of Africa with almost no taxation, have far lower rates of productivity. The U.S. had relatively high rates of taxation in the 1950s, when the top rate reached 93%, yet had a very productive economy with an expanding middle class.

    It’s an assertion I’ve never seen quantified.

  152. 152
    ChrisS says:

    @Paris: the wealthy have no place left to invest money, speculation results, causing a collapse and misery.

    You mean like the tech stock bubble, housing bubble, and (brief) oil bubble?

    It’s an easy concept. If I have $10 million sitting around earning 4% and someone sells me on a way I can earn 8% (or more, much more), I’m chasing the 8%.@

    jonas:
    People who haven’t inherited vast wealth, but have made something of themselves tend to be hard workers who were also in the right place at the right time.

    Bill Gates didn’t inherit massive wealth, but his parents were wealthy and supported him (morally and financially) in his endeavors. In 1968, he had access to a computer. A little black kid in MS would have been lucky to have electricity.

  153. 153
    dhd says:

    I think some other people addressed this but I’m too busy to read all the comments.

    Naturally taxing something means we get less of it – so you tax carbon, you get less carbon. You tax productivity, it’s quite likely you’ll get less productivity. That’s a fine argument against the income tax on its own merits, but so far nobody has come up with a better alternative.

    Obviously taxing income is not the same as taxing productivity. One of the reasons we have a progressive income tax is that we are taxing something to get less of it – namely, income inequality. The purpose of a progressive income tax, just like an inheritance tax, isn’t just to get more money out of rich people in order to run the government, it’s to redistribute wealth to avoid creating a permanent overclass and underclass. I realize that this is exactly what the voices in Glenn Beck and Joe the Plumber’s head tell them, but in more rational parts of the world people are willing to admit that this is true, and that it’s actually a good thing.

  154. 154
    El Cid says:

    @fasteddie9318: Thomas Jefferson was not a real Founding Father God. To protect our youth from this proto-Communist, Texas’ textbook board replaced him with Ronald Reagan.

  155. 155
    Benjamin Cisco says:

    The most offensive thing about Sully’s latest screed is that anyone with an IQ over 50 that’s ever read him before bothered to read this one.

  156. 156
    Benjamin Cisco says:

    The most offensive thing about Sully’s latest screed is that anyone with an IQ over 50 that’s ever read him before bothered to read this one.

  157. 157
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Midnight Marauder: Jesus, kick him while he’s down, why don’t you?

  158. 158
    WereBear says:

    @toujoursdan: Compare the size of cars and type of infrastructure that the U.S. with its low gas taxes has, versus the smaller cars, more compact cities and higher public transit use in Canada, Europe and elsewhere.

    This is as much a function of existing infrastructure and population density as it is gas taxes. Have you seen some of those roads in European cities, designed back when everyone had goat carts?

  159. 159
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    @Brachiator:

    Oh yeah, and no US estate tax at all for those lucky enough to die in 2010.

    There’s a really good black comedy waiting to be brought out in that statement…

  160. 160
    The Republic of Stupidity says:

    @ChrisS:

    A little black kid in MS would have been lucky to have electricity.

    But would experience no problems getting the chair under other circumstances…

  161. 161
    polyorchnid octopunch says:

    @homerhk: Because I’ve very little doubt that they will be leaving you with significantly more cash despite the tax than they would if they’d stayed in India. This is because we do shit using taxes that make our lives and economies better. You have to kick in… deal with it.

  162. 162
    toujoursdan says:

    @WereBear:

    I find it hard to believe that tract home, megastore, freeway connected, car dependent suburbia that is almost unique to the U.S. would have developed as it did if gas wasn’t as cheap as it is here. Cities may not have been as compact as Europe, but they would have been far more compact than they are now (probably closer to Canadian cities which generally still have large walkable downtowns and significant car free populations.) Cheap gas and auto transportation made gargantuan suburbia possible (and will spell trouble for us once petroleum starts to deplete.)

  163. 163

    […] Juicers Doug J and E.D. Kain are irked with Andrew Sullivan‘s statement that, Why are so many on the left incapable of […]

  164. 164
    Midnight Marauder says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    Jesus, kick him while he’s down, why don’t you?

    Best time to kick somebody, I’ve always heard.

  165. 165
    grumpy realist says:

    The other reason why we have an estate tax is because usually a) a sizeable percentage of that estate is due to capital gains, and b) there’s a step-up in basis at the date of death.

    OK? Unless you want to make death a taxable event and then have to deal with the hassle of finding out what price and when Great-Aunt Minnie bought those initial 500 shares of Corp C (bought out by Corp D, merged with Corp E, had five stock splits during the 58 years she held it)….and then have to do that for EACH ONE of the stocks she held…

    Think of the step-up-in-basis/estate tax as a quid-pro-quo that saves you a hell of a lot of research and IRS paperwork.

    (There are cases–such as transfers to trusts–when you actually are required to dig out the entire history of a security and it’s an absolute bitch. My family had set up a trust based off my mother’s estate and we had to track down the history of some stock that she had inherited from one of my uncles who had inherited it from a grand-uncle.)

  166. 166
    Brachiator says:

    @The Republic of Stupidity: RE: Oh yeah, and no US estate tax at all for those lucky enough to die in 2010.

    There’s a really good black comedy waiting to be brought out in that statement…

    When I teach tax classes to inhouse staff, I refer to 2010 as the year of the Sugar Daddy and Sugar Momma. You find somebody incredibly wealthy and incredibly old, marry them and find a way to ease them off this mortal coil by the end of the year, and you’re in the money.

    On the other hand, there may be an uptick in the employment of body guards and food tasters by old codgers this year, especially if they receive visits from “loving” relatives they have not seen in years.

    And while their dogs may love them unconditionally, they might keep an eye out for their cats, who have been known to secretly re-write wills.

    Oh yeah, and you know who benefited from this estate tax gap year? The family of Yankee owner George Steinbrenner:

    Born on the Fourth of July, George Steinbrenner left the world stage with a great sense of timing, too.
    __
    By dying in 2010, the billionaire and long-time New York Yankees owner’s wealth avoids the federal estate tax, which could save his heirs enough money to field an entire team of Alex Rodriguezes, The Associated Press reported.
    __
    Mr. Steinbrenner’s death of a heart attack at the age of 80 on Tuesday came during an unplanned yearlong gap in the estate tax, the first since it was enacted in 1916. Political wrangling has stalemated efforts in Congress to replace the tax that expired in 2009….
    __
    Forbes magazine has estimated Mr. Steinbrenner’s estate at $1.1 billion. The federal estate tax in 2009 was 45 percent, with the $3.5 million per-person exemption. If he had died last year, his estate could have faced federal taxes of almost $500 million, depending on how the estate was structured.

  167. 167
    ChrisS says:

    @toujoursdan:
    I’d agree. America’s blank slate for development went hand-in-hand with the cheap gas. Subsidies for highway development (interstates), bridges, and tunnels plus the drive-thru window, drive-in movie theaters, cup-holders, back-seats are what made the American driving experience unique. And gasoline would have to have been hugely expensive to limit that kind of car-dependent development cost-prohibitive.

    Driving was fun, gas was cheap, and there was plenty of space to build. A recipe for disaster so good that people still can’t grasp the actual cost of it all.

  168. 168
    Erik Vanderhoff says:

    @Tractarian:

    Wait, are you saying that the ACA does not increase the deficit?

  169. 169
    DaddyJ says:

    I regard the “liberals want to punish hard work” argument as the same kind of dishonest rhetoric as “Muslims hate us for our freedoms.”

    I’ll readily acknowledge that a successful investment banker works hard. But the notion that an investment banker works “harder” than the guy who crawls into a storm sewer with a pressure hose is utter crap.

    Those who want to push the tax burden onto those who can least afford it are the ones really trying to punish hard work.

  170. 170
    Binzinerator says:

    @SpotWeld:

    WalMart cashed in on America’s taxpayer created infrastructure. Highways, phone lines, the internet, a national workforce with good health and decent education, and so on.

    The big box retailer model is successful due to what I call cost shifting, and it shows how key our roads are for this whole big-box retailer/regional mall thing we have in America.

    In the old mom-and-pop store model, the factory/producer used mass transport like trains and trucks via major routes to ship goods to a distribution center/warehouse. More mass transport via trucks from the warehouse supplied the neighborhood stores, again along a relatively smaller number or routes. The individual routes from the store to the consumers’ home were short but necessarily many. This was the set up for the corner stores and small town main streets.

    WalMart et al did away with the mass transport of goods from warehouse to local retailer. Now the individual provides that part of the distribution — and he drives much further now to regional malls and big box stores which unsurprisingly look like warehouses because they are the warehouses. So the individual consumers’ routes are still necessarily many but now are much longer. Which translates into a lot more of road miles per ton transported.

    The consumer of course still eats the costs of distribution either way. Trouble is, ultimately it’s more expensive (fuel, pollution, roadway maintenance and construction) to distribute goods the Walmart way, but those additional costs are also borne by the consumers and in ways that don’t show up at the cash register.

    This is why I call it cost shifting.

    Consumers don’t recognize that the dollar they saved at Walmart was made possible by them coming a long way to get the product, rather than having it shipped closer to home. They’ve spent the savings and more in mileage and time getting to the warehouse, and in taxes for increased road maintenance and infrastructure to get access out to the big box retailer.

    Walmarts changed the distribution model so that goods seem cheaper but the even greater costs of less efficient distribution involved are paid by the consumer outside of the store.

    Getting back to SpotWeld’s point, the Walmarts model (or any of these warehouse-like discount stores or big box retailers) could never have happened without this taxpayer created infrastructure.

  171. 171

    […] of beating back a silly right-wing point about Resentment of Teh Rich & Successful will admit the following: For all the talk of welfare and government hand-outs it’s the very rich in this society who […]

  172. 172
    ChrisS says:

    The consumer of course still eats the costs of distribution either way. Trouble is, ultimately it’s more expensive (fuel, pollution, roadway maintenance and construction) to distribute goods the Walmart way, but those additional costs are also borne by the consumers and in ways that don’t show up at the cash register.

    Yep … and as an added bonus the profit from the transaction gets shipped to Bentonville and concentrated in the hands of a tiny few instead of being recirculated in the small-town economic engine.

  173. 173

    @ed: Exactly my reason for not reading Sully. He’s an idiot (yes, a good writer can be an idiot) who has to make these painful, agonizing realizations over and over again. Usually, he has to be hit on the head several times with personal anecdotes in order for him to change his mind.

    Rich people are rich basically because they do what is valued. They (as a class) do not work harder than other people. They are lucky in that they chose the right jobs.

    Taxes are not evil. They are our civic duty. I am baffled as to how this has changed so much in the past few decades.

    @homerhk: I will try to be respectful in my response. I would like to point out to you that I am in the same category as you (but living in the states). My parents weren’t rich growing up. They met in Tennessee while attending grad school, and they both have worked extremely hard all their lives. They pay full taxes to both the US and Taiwan with no complaints at all. They believe in social justice, and they both are in fields that potentially pay very well (my mom less so these days).

    If I am in the situation that you are when my parents pass away, I will pay whatever taxes without murmur because I did jackshit to earn the money. I will be extremely lucky and grateful if it is the case, but I did not earn it.

  174. 174
    Ddeele says:

    @homerhk:

    The answer is that inherited wealth inevitably creates a hereditary class of wealthy people (thus “rulers” in a capitalist economy).

    I have nothing against those people, and I don’t begrudge them enough wealth to keep them from having to work if they don’t choose to, but they have no business controlling the civic life of our nation.

  175. 175
    Ddeele says:

    @El Cid:

    Thomas Jefferson was not a real Founding Father God. To protect our youth from this proto-Communist, Texas’ textbook board replaced him with Ronald Reagan.

    Actually, they replaced him with Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin. Corporal punishment is still prohibited in Texas schools, but self-flagellation is encouraged.

  176. 176
    mclaren says:

    Because the plain fact is that no one who is rich ever made that money by working hard and playing by the rules.

    Every great fortune is based on a crime.

    Every. Single. One.

    Bill Gates? Lied to IBM and scammed the guy who wrote CP/M-86 out of his life’s work for nickles and dimes.

    Oracle? Stolen from the academic who invented relationship databases, ripped off pure and simple from academia. In fact, the Orcale theft is the reason why universities now require researchers to patent their work.

    The Bush family fortune? Began when Prescott Bush helping grease the wheels for the Third Reich to arm itself in preparation for conquering Europe and murdering millions of Jews.

    No great fortune ever started with some huge crime at center of it.

    People who work hard never earn millions. You make millions by lying, cheating, stealing, killing, colluding, conspiring, murdering. The more people you murder, the faster you make your fortune.

    In the system known as capitalism, no one can make huge amounts of money without committing some vast crime. That’s just the way it is. Deal with it, bitches.

  177. 177
    mclaren says:

    Naturally taxing something means we get less of it – so you tax carbon, you get less carbon. You tax productivity, it’s quite likely you’ll get less productivity.

    This is clearly and obviously not true. The facts prove it. Just look at the rate of growth of U.S. GDP during the 1950s, when the top marginal tax rate was 90%. It was 5%. What’s the rate of U.S. GDP growth after the senile sociopath Ronald “The cruel man with the kindly smile” Reagan reduced top marginal tax rates to 36%? GDP growth plummeted to 2.1%.

    The evidence is in. The historical record is clear. The higher the tax rate, the greater America’s productivity.

    And it’s obvious why.

    Because when the top marginal tax rate is high, entrepreneurs really have to bust their humps to make a lot of money. If the top marginal tax rate is low, entrepreneurs don’t to work very hard to take home big bucks…so they don’t.

    QED.

  178. 178
    El Cid says:

    Actually, productivity in the US has been rising, and who gives a flying shit? The increased profits available from increasing productivity are not shared with the fucking workers.

    People still talk as though we’re in some 1960s Better-Brighter-Tomorrow land in some labor union paradigm in which increased productivity leads to more wealth for all.

    It fucking doesn’t. No corporate chieftain has to share the gains of productivity with your ass, and you can’t make him. You just get to work more hours with fewer benefits for stagnant or less pay and you’ll fucking like it, pal, whether productivity went up or not.

  179. 179
    mclaren says:

    @El Cid:

    Actually, productivity in the US has been rising…

    No, actually it hasn’t. Take a look at the historical figures.

    The single biggest jump in productivity in the U.S. economy occurred just before WW I when Henry Ford invented the assembly line. Productivity took off like a skyrocket.

    Then productivity stalled out. After 1942, when U.S. war production cranked up, productivity skyrocketed again, but then stalled out after WW II.

    But then the transistor and the integrated circuit were invented and with them, computers, and by the end of the 1950s productivity rose again.

    Then productivity stalled out starting in 1969 when the first middle eastern dictator nationalized the first oil well and the cost of oil went through the roof. Productivity plummeted starting with the Arab Oil embargo in 1973.

    Then the personal computer got invented and productivity jumped briefly, then stalled out again. Then the internet took off and productivity jumped briefly once again, and once again stalled out.

    Productivity jumped once again when U.S. companies started outsourcing, but high oil prices clobbered that and as oil prices continue to rise, outsourcing will become less and less productive. Eventually, as oil prices climb high enough, globalization will shut down because it’ll become too expensive to ship goods from some third world factory to America.

    Productivity dropped recently because in many industries it’s gotten as high as it’s going to go. When there are only 2 people left on the factory floor and all the other workers are robots, you can’t get much more productive. When you outsource your accounting dept and your design department and your R&D department and your engineering dept and your customer service department and your shipping and billing depts to the third world, there’s nothing more you can outsource.

    In fact, one of the big causes for the global slump after the year 2000 was that economists thought the internet would give a permanent boost to productivity but it didn’t. Instead, it gave only a short-term increase, after which productivity slumped and stalled out.

    In actual fact

    the average return on assets (ROA) of American companies has steadily fallen to almost one quarter of what it was in 1965. That is despite (or because of) new technology, the Internet, personal computing, mobile connectivity and the insane hours we all work.

    “Where did our productivity go?” Margaret Heffernan, Interactive Business Network, 5 October 2010.

  180. 180
    El Cid says:

    @mclaren: Jesus fucking Christ. You really think I was talking about going back to the 1920s? I would posit that worker productivity in industrializing nations was higher in agricultural and manufactured goods output in 1850 than in 4,000 BC.

    You described an entire series of the last several decades’ worth of productivity increases, associated with technological and other contextual changes, and somehow you must have thought that this contradicted what I wrote. It didn’t.

    In fact, when measuring labor productivity output, it does not alter the labor productivity statistics when noting various market and technological changes. If productivity rises, it rises. Whether it’s because of American stick-to-itiveness or the spread of information technology — it’s still there.

    Productivity then steadily rose from the oil shock etc. of 1973 right up until our recent bubble burst and economic collapse.

    Now, remember, there is a difference between the measure of labor productivity and the rate of growth of that measure. It is the latter which has drastically reduced since the 1960s.

    The labor productivity measure continued to increase until, well, recently. The rate of growth was lower than several decades ago, but increase it did.

    Perhaps someone might assume that I argued that productivity had continued to rise during one of the most severe worldwide economic collapses in decades with concomitant rises in un- and under-employment, but if it takes it, no, I would not include post-collapse figures into measures of the last few decades’ worth of productivity output measures. (By the way, yes, I had seen lots of coverage of the fact that worker productivity has dropped since the rise of the ‘Great Recession’, and that it is arguably a good thing.)

    Second, the major point was that productivity gains were increasingly disconnected from better pay and benefits for workers. That is also still correct.

    Rather than the rising productivity continuing to increase per capita earnings, household earning increases were primarily due to increased workforce participation in the household, particularly by women joining the workforce and by increasing numbers holding down a full time job plus additional work.

    Mind you, I’m not arguing for the worth of the measure of worker output productivity as a frame of reference.

    If I had been arguing that the statistic used to represent labor productivity in this country was, say, the most significant measure to use in evaluating the economy and the relation between capital and workers, I might be contradicted by the editorial noting the way that outsourcing has removed what should have been important data for measures of labor productivity, effectively undercutting the current measures. But I wasn’t arguing that.

    It really, really has been a very common assumption and assertion that as productivity rises — not just productivity growth rates, and by “productivity” they meant the standard common measures of labor productivity — that quality of life can then improve for employees through a greater return on pay and benefits.

    Labor productivity as a statistic is also collected as a measure by the ILO for national economies worldwide, and you see a general worldwide rise among the larger economies as measured in GDP / hr worked.

    Likewise, when citing the lowered ROA, the measure of labor productivity still indicates this trend:

    Among the key findings, U.S. companies’ return on assets (ROA) have progressively dropped 75 percent from their 1965 level despite rising labor productivity.

    The point of the question “where did our productivity go” was not to emphasize a loss in productivity, but to note that raw increases in productivity were not translating into returns as it would have suggested given typical discussions of the benefits of productivity.

    Let’s say you were to limit the measure of labor productivity to federal employees themselves. Then still, too, we see a significant net rise in productivity for the last several decades that measures were kept. There is the trend, but what does it mean in terms of what we can say about federal employees and what is output?

    In real terms, labor productivity as a measure is just not that useful a figure, and there are constant debates as to whether or not it’s capturing what it is said to — and not just in terms of the argument that outsourcing removes much of the labor hours, but in terms of the actual basic measures. Economists have argued fiercely about how to calculate the actual measures, and the measures have also changed over time.

    There might have been some silly economists caught up in some nutty hype about how ‘the internet’ was going to boost productivity after 2000, but I don’t recall it being too seriously argued, and in any case, personally I would have easily seen it to be yet another faddish pile of nonsense.

    If it sounded like I was cheering on worker productivity as a true measure of economic benefit, no, I was not.

    Faced with a growth slowdown, economists often point to increasing productivity as the panacea. Manufacturing is generally conceived as the engine for a capitalist economy, because it is expected to operate as the inner mechanism for the self-expansion of the system. This is how it is supposed to work: (1) Improvements in technology and/or increased intensity of labor produce ever-growing labor productivity. (2) The resulting surplus accruing to capital is used to reduce prices and/or increase wages. (3) Either measure leads to increased demand. (4) The increased demand is a stimulus for profit-seeking capital to expand production.
    __
    So much for the standard doctrine. What actually happened between 1980 and 2000 fits none of this. Chart 3 is an index of manufacturing productivity (output per hour) compared to an index of hourly compensation of manufacturing workers (adjusted for prices). Now consider the surprising spread between the two lines since 1980. Prices did not decrease nor was there a rise in wages that would support a significant rise in demand. This widening gap between output per hour and real hourly compensation, rooted in the stagnation of real wages, means that almost the entire gain from increasing productivity since 1980 has been appropriated as surplus by capital. The manufacturing sector neither lowered prices nor increased wages in keeping with the growing output per worker. This (together with the lack of new factory jobs) did not help to provide the effective demand for the growth in output. Instead, as shown in chart 4, employment kept on expanding in the service sector, where a significant portion of the jobs are notoriously low-paid or part-time.

    There have been loads of changes in the US and world economy over the last century, and I’m not dismissing any of it by mentioning the lack of the supposed link between worker pay and the rising productivity which in the constantly reiterated view was supposed to yield those pay improvements.

  181. 181
    geemoney says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: I know this is late, and will likely never be read, but yes. Let some of those bastards that think they work hard go out and do landscaping for 8 hours a day. That is some hard work (that’s not me, by the way. I get to do science, which while difficult, is certainly not hard.) It’s akin to those Wall Streeters that thought they could go out and be teachers. They have absolutely no idea what it takes to commit to that kind of job. No idea.

  182. 182
    Corner Stone says:

    There is nothing I enjoy more than when mclaren and El Cid get into a tl;dr fight.

  183. 183
    Nathanael says:

    The argument for the *progressive* income tax is that we actually want to deter people who are already making gobs and gobs of money (say, a million dollars a year) from spending their time figuring out how to take even more money from people.

    They tend to become socially dangerous at that point, as the people at Goldman Sachs, the Koch Brothers, Murdoch, and various other corporate execs have.

    If you take away their money and encourage them to go off and do something else, by taxing any further income, they may go do something more useful.

  184. 184

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