Who’s Taxing Whom?

Fair warning: what follows is a bit of a rant and contains nothing particularly new.  But the fiscal follies of our overlords are unhinging me, and as misery loves company, I hope to share my derangement.

———–

I’ve been a little obsessed with light bulbs lately, as regular readers know.  I  continue to be dumbfounded at the depth, passion, and naked-mole-rat-stupidity of the GOP drive to ensure Americans waste money on illumination.  Following a thought from one commenter, I’m bracing for the claim that bans on whaling are really an unconscionable assault on the liberty of the people to light their homes with oil lanterns.

But as I thought about the implications of the Republican House caucus’ relentless drive to undermine America’s energy security, I started to fixate on a penetrating glimpse of the obvious:  the entire GOP approach to the federal government’s fiscal policy is a vast tax hike on most Americans.

That the GOPsters approach to policy will raise the cost of living in America is, I think obvious by this point:  when you privatize public goods, by and large those goods cost more for the individual user to access.  (There is a lot of detail obscured by that blanket statement, and certainly some instances where it might be otherwise, but the health care system (about which more below) is a familiar example of the basic problem, and there are many more.)

Republicans would say, I think, that cost isn’t the issue.  Government shouldn’t pay for much that it does now and that individuals can make better choices about priorities and so on.  They’d add that government musn’t pay for that which it can’t; that, to use a cliche repeated over and over again, that the government must behave like any household would, and not spend money it doesn’t have.

That last is nonsense, of course.  I’m actually working on a next book that tells a grand story of fraud and deceit at the birth of the idea of government debt — and that tale turns on the ways that governments aren’t like households or small businesses.

For now, though, the point is that if you take the Republicans false metaphor at face value, then you see that despite the brave promises of “no new taxes,” the practical, household consequences of their actions add up to a huge stealth tax increase that differentially falls on to working people, the middle class, and the poor.

And yes, as noted above, I know I’m restating the obvious, but bear with me.  Let’s  take my lighting fixation for a spin.  Recall that the energy efficiency standards that so offend the current Republican caucus* are predicted to save each American household $50 a year.

Now back to that bill-paying session over the kitchen table Republicans are so wont to imagine.  Maybe liberty is beyond price.  Whatever it’s called though, this extra hit of four or five bucks a month would feel exactly the same as if the GOP had voted a $50/home surcharge on each of us to subsidize light bulb makers or power generators:   We wouldn’t have that money no more, and it’s by GOP choice that this increase in our burdens would such cash out of our pockets.

A latte a month may in fact be a worthy price to keep the dead hand of statism from our necks.  But what about cost of aging?  Remember the Paul Ryan plan that virtually the entire GOP congressional caucus has endorsed.  That scheme switches the cost of medical care for the elderly to those old, ill people and their families.  Now we’re not talking cups of coffee any more, mere Franklins a year; rather, we’re in the realm of beaucoup  Benjamins.

Again this is surely familiar to all here, but just as a reminder, the gap between the vouchers Ryan’s plan provides and the projected actual cost of senior’s health care is about $12,500,  according to a CBO analysis, $6,000 more than the out-of-pocket charges to be borne were Medicare left unchanged.

And is there any choice here, really, for any household that loves its grandparents (or just folks of an age that in my case is coming up rather sooner than seems plausible)?

No there is not.  We could enact the old Jewish mother light bulb joke,** but our only real options were the GOPsters to achieve their long-cherished goal of killing Medicare is to pay the freight or die faster.

Death and taxes — there’s a reason the two are such close kin, after all.

Old news, get over it — I get it.

But the point I want to make, the meme, to use a word I mistrust, or a shove to the Overton window, is that all this talk of the holding the line against taxes and so on is bullsh*t when we’re working at the level of that holy kitchen table.  There, the only thing that matters at the level of individual Americans’ bank accounts is that GOP policies raise the cost of being an American in ways that are indistinguishable from brutal, huge tax increases.

If politics is perception then it’s important to do what the Bush clan was brilliant at — take your opponents’ seeming strength and hang an anvil around its neck.  And here, as we see every day (and many posts here remind us), the GOPsters using the power of government to impose huge new costs on us all that we have in practical terms no way to avoid.  The resulting drain of our dollars is not a tax in law, of course, but the resulting holes in my wallet feel exactly the same as if it were.  And, of course, the bitter last jest is that under the Republican approach, we pay more to get less.

So I’d like to see every Democrat running, and the chattering classes as well, all raging about the GOP stealth tax on the American way of life.  I’d like to see the ads that make that connection with couples in their kitchens talking about this GOP tax assault, how cleverly it’s been disguised, how hard it bites.  I’d like to see sneering and rage and bitter remorse at the thought that any all-American family of voters was taken in by all that no-tax deceit.  I want to make it impossible for any GOP thug to hide behind Grover’s tissue of a pledge when next the polls open.

No new taxes?  Hell and death (and taxes)!  No GOPster should be allowed to say that unchallenged.

*Recall also that the standards were approved with bipartisan support in 2007 (including sponsorship by GOPster Fred Upton, currently  chairman of the  House Energy and Commerce Committee, who now fights the good fight against light bulb efficiency), and signed into law by that notorious state-socialist, George W. Bush.

**Q:  How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?

A:  “None!  I’ll just sit here in the dark.”

Images:  Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885

Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of an Old Jew, 1654

 

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62 replies
  1. 1

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    (I don’t know, but it’s a funny straight line. Who’s got the punchline?)

  2. 2
    RalfW says:

    I just installed a new halogen 43W blub rated at 800 lumens, bought at Ikea. The sort of bulb the pate-eaters in France have probably had for years, while we had GE “soft white” crap that burned out after 600 hours of use.

    The kind of bulb that meets the new “No Lightbulbs for YOU!” law specifically creates a market in.

    It’s excellent. Crisp white. Fits my bathroom fixture very nicely. So much light output I unscrewed the 60W bulb next to it.

    The demagoging of the law that was passed is utter bullshit and folly.

  3. 3
    Martin says:

    It’s not a tax hike if you hand all of your money over to corporations. That’s patriotic post-9/11 economic stimulus.

  4. 4
    The Fat Kate Middleton says:

    “utter bullshit and folly” – great bumper sticker material under the words “Republicam Party”.

  5. 5
    Thoughtcrime says:

    arguingwithsignposts – July 18, 2011 | 7:12 pm · Link

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    A. None. They’re supposed to keep their base in the dark.

  6. 6
    Origuy says:

    “How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?”

    None, the private sector will take care of it. Besides, it’s Obama’s fault that it’s dark.

  7. 7
    Mike Kay (Chief of Staff) says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Nobody knows — it’s never been done before.

  8. 8
    Luthe says:

    I continue to be dumbfounded at the depth, passion, and naked-mole-rat-stupidity of the GOP drive to ensure Americans waste money on illumination.

    You’re insulting naked mole rats.

  9. 9
    Thoughtcrime says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    None. The invisible hand of the market does it.

  10. 10
    trollhattan says:

    “How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?”

    They hold a special session to prey pray for illumination.

  11. 11
    Bill Arnold says:

    Long-term health care has always been the middle-class inheritance task in the U.S. It’s a bit stochastic since some parents with assets die before spending all their money on long term health care.
    Payment of parental health care bills by children is just quicker and more direct, in effect (due to human nature) an additional inheritance tax for people who’s parents are poor and have no assets.

  12. 12
    Martin says:

    I just installed a new halogen 43W blub rated at 800 lumens

    Once the LEDs come down in price, that’ll be around 12W. I’ve got a 210 lumen flashlight that runs on a pair of AA batteries – 3V @ 700mA.

  13. 13

    @Bill Arnold: A question for you and anyone else about this: Say a parent dies after a lengthy illness and the bills for medical expenses are transferred to “the estate.” Do those bills automatically become the responsibility of the children? Or do the bills essentially die with the patient (absent any collections from the estate).

    Thanks.

  14. 14
    Loneoak says:

    One of the highlights of my high school years was confronting Upton at a school-trip-to-DC. He was our Rep in West Michigan. I chewed him out in front of 50 other high school students about 1) shutting down the government including my father’s job, and 2) the assault weapon ban. It was delicious.

  15. 15
    Loneoak says:

    “How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?”

    None. They ask their male prostitutes to do it.

  16. 16
    scav says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    Say a parent dies after a lengthy illness and the bills for medical expenses are transferred to “the estate.” Do those bills automatically become the responsibility of the children? Or do the bills essentially die with the patient (absent any collections from the estate).

    Vague neuron kick. I think it’s complicated and depends and I think there was a scandal about companies systematically and illegally sitting down with the descendants and trying to shame them into paying bills they didn’t legally have to. Anybody else got a spare neuron firing? I’m out.

  17. 17
    Thoughtcrime says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    None. They don’t screw lightbulbs, just the working class and the poor.

  18. 18
    kdaug says:

    Prof, rant on.

  19. 19
    General Stuck says:

    Republicans visa vi conservative always has had the chief element of resisting change, unless of course, that change put more money in the pockets of the rich.

    They had built a cogent, at least electorally, movement for decades and reached the brass ring of complete control of government, only to see it crumble directly into a complete dem control of government with an unlikely color of dem president.

    All of it failed, their big ideas, or was abandoned for the lure of selling out their small government anti regulation preaching with all sorts of violations of orthodox conservative belief, from costly and unnecessary foreign interventions, to becoming big time spend and borrow liberal light, and the mother of all fail, going hat in hand to the taxpayer to bail out their foolishness on Wallstreet, and elsewhere.

    So what we are seeing now is a bunch of entitled white people scooping up the broken shards of their philosophy to try and keep the dream alive. And it is only natural they covet the shiniest, most pure elements of their broken movement, to tell themselves the problem all along, was just not enough purity of belief and deed, and only if they conduct these little ideological attacks on animate things like lightbulbs of the future, that they had previously supported because it made fucking sense to – the hope is, if they can turn back the clock to better and more familiar times, of enough small things, then one day they will wake in the republican paradise they have always dreamed about. And finally defeat all this progress nonsense coming from pinko liberals. IOW;s, they have declared war on progress itself to restore order in their ranks and elsewhere.

    Everything now, must be defined as the conservative way, or the liberal way. Hyperpartisanship, in watts, in this case. It is the wingnut way to hold the Overton Window in place, that has been moved their way for several decades now, and may well be reversing course, or at least they fear it might.

  20. 20
    Francis says:

    Debts in excess of the value of the estate are NOT transferred to the heirs (or everyone would have a huge party before they die, transfer their assets to people they like while still alive, then dump their debts on their enemies post-mortem).

  21. 21
    jl says:

    One theory I have is that the true believers in the Reaganite Morning in America movement have been driven mad by the failure of their ideas.

    Even the real, historical, non Zombie, non mythical, non AtmanGohead, Reagan betrayed their dreams when he raised taxes and started serious negotiations with Gorbachev. But his political genius, and political success allowed the movement to lie to itself that victory was coming.

    Mythical Reagan had ushered in the path out of the wilderness, and they would arrive in the land of free market imperial Morning in America, even if Reagan would not because he had disrespected AtmanGodhead Reagan by banging his staff against the rocks and commanded the income tax hike money to flow.

    Things just haven’t worked out for them the way they had hoped. Liberalism as a political movement, and preference for moderate liberal New Deal policies among the populace have not been exterminated.

    Their policies do not pan out, and they lash out looking for a reason. Various minor priests, such as Bush I and II are revealed to be traitors.

    The true believers have gone mad searching for their paradise that stubbornly remains beyond their grasp.

    That is one theory I entertain from time to time.

    And then, there are the political swindlers, filibusterers, and beach combers, who are naturally mad, and figure they can come out on top in the chaos created by their madmen.

  22. 22
    Thoughtcrime says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    None. Republicans prefer dim bulbs.

  23. 23
    gnomedad says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Just one, as long as it’s a real, ‘Murkin, God-fearing, incandescent lightbulb!

  24. 24
    gelfling545 says:

    @arguingwithsignposts: In general you are not liable for bills of anyone not your dependent unless you have co-signed. The estate, however, must exhaust any funds to settle debts.

  25. 25
    gnomedad says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    You can change my lightbulb when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

  26. 26
    scav says:

    gnomedad:

    Just one, as long as it’s a real, ‘Murkin, God-fearing, incandescent with rage! lightbulb!

    tweaked a little, with apologies.

  27. 27
    Tonal Crow says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    None. They’ll hire an illegal immigrant to do it, then refuse to pay him and report him to the ICE for deportation.

  28. 28
    scav says:

    No Hopey No Changey Lightbulbs.

  29. 29
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @scav:

    Just one, as long as it’s a real, ‘Murkin, God-fearing, incandescent with rage! lightbulb!

    After all, what good is a King James Version light bulb when you can’t even be sure some goddamn windmill didn’t produce the electricity?

  30. 30
    jl says:

    True, really for reals no tax slavery or burdensome regulations free market light bulbs do not need changing, silly. But there aren’t any, because of the damn government.

    The s * s H * l * s T GW Bush could not see this obvious truth.

  31. 31
    Mike Kay (Chief of Staff) says:

    Are you guys watch Lawrence O’Donnell — this Obama video is fabulous.

    http://youtu.be/CemfB_Z6elY

  32. 32
    Jamie says:

    The GOP— protecting your right to be really really stupid. It fits on a bumper sticker.

  33. 33
    scav says:

    OT query. I know there are IT geeks here. SOP to take down the entire NI DNS servers after a breach?

  34. 34
    JPL says:

    What does Edison want? A group of idiots that are stuck in time using their ipads and iphones or folks that want to move on. I want my 100 year old lightbulb but if you don’t give me a new iphone I’ll kill you. I know folks like this, how about you.

  35. 35
    JPL says:

    btw..this is a stupid discussion and Edison is rolling and rolling and rolling over in his grave. Life and technology moves on.

  36. 36
    Ruckus says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    None. They are not smart enough to figure out how to turn on the switch to know the bulb is burned out in the first place.

    None. They think the light just shines from above.

    None. Lightbulbs have screw threads, so they will try to put them in the wrong orifice.

    None. They think a light bulb is that thing that lights up over one’s head when they have an idea. As they aren’t about to have any new ideas, they see no need for changing them.

  37. 37
    JGabriel says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    NONE! We don’t believe in change! NO COMPROMISE!

    .

  38. 38
    Jeffro says:

    Eight good ones for tomorrow’s water cooler – a bargain at twice the price!

  39. 39
    JPL says:

    JGabriel, that’s not true, they want their iphones and ipads. They just think Edison or whoever was the most perfect person evah even if it means paying the power company more.

  40. 40
    Anne Laurie says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    One to hold it, two six to turn him, and some number between several and infinity to call press conferences attacking the President’s sinister refusal to sign their “Act to Repeal the Job-Killing, Anti-Patriotic Law of Gravity”.

  41. 41
    Earl Butz says:

    The problem with the Republican stance on lightbulbs is not whether bulbs are energy-efficient, or not. Given an infinite supply of energy, efficiency is a moot point.

    The problem is simply that the pool of energy is NOT infinite, and every watt that someone burns is a watt that someone else can’t use. That’s the issue that, once again, the GOP avoids and the Dems fail to capitalize on. Soon either we start using more efficient light bulbs, or you’ll be doing without light for a certain amount of time each day.

  42. 42
    MikeJ says:

    Republican light bulbs ruin the Tampa baseball stadium.

  43. 43
    Mike G says:

    Repukes are the people who scream about a 5c a gallon tax going to the government to build roads, but shrug as terrorism-sympathetic Arabs jack up the price by $2 a gallon.

    Because profits are sacred. They’re happy to sacrifice if a corporation is making a profit out of it.

    And they’d rather go bankrupt than pay 30% less for single-payer health care.

    Bone-stupid ideologues.

  44. 44
    efgoldman says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Can’t be done, because you have to unscrew the old one to the left to remove it.

  45. 45
    Ruckus says:

    efgoldman

    As you frequently do, coming in with the winner.

  46. 46
    Chad N Freude says:

    @Anne Laurie:

    “Act to Repeal the Job-Killing, Anti-Patriotic Law of Gravity”

    AL –
    Not only is this capital-H Hilarious, but to post it in a Tom Levenson thread is capital-G Genius.

  47. 47
    Trollenschlongen says:

    I would like to report that the BF and I purchased compact florescent bulbs for the recessed lights in the kitchen today, at Home Depot for an unbelievable price. I keep thinking there has to be a catch, but we can’t figure out what it would be. They are compact florescents, “guaranteed” to last 8,000 hours or seven years, 65 watt equivalent. They were in a two-pack for just $2.65 for the pack. WTF?

  48. 48
    Caz says:

    Not only are you totally brainwashed, you don’t even seem to know what conservatives actually stand for. Either that or you’re just outright lying – and I don’t think you’re lying. Ignorance truly is bliss I guess.

  49. 49
    Brachiator says:

    @arguingwithsignposts:

    Say a parent dies after a lengthy illness and the bills for medical expenses are transferred to “the estate.” Do those bills automatically become the responsibility of the children?

    Generally speaking, no, but it can get complicated. However, some people think that all debts are magically forgiven at death and that heirs should have immediate access to any assets in the estate.

    Of course, most people don’t leave estates of any consequence.

  50. 50
    Ben Mays says:

    Tom,
    Over the weekend I got a typical House of Ras pushpoll on the subject of lightbulbs. They asked did I trust the government to rollback the ban if the new lightbulbs cost too much and didn’t work as well as advertised.

  51. 51
    Ben Cisco says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    Light bulb? Ben Franklin didn’t need no stinking lightbulbs; he used lanterns with oil harvested from by Gawd WHALES! also, too, on his ride to warn the British and people of that nature, and also he wrote Little Richard’s Almond Joy.

  52. 52
    Brachiator says:

    That last is nonsense, of course. I’m actually working on a next book that tells a grand story of fraud and deceit at the birth of the idea of government debt—and that tale turns on the ways that governments aren’t like households or small businesses.

    OK, I will be on the lookout for this book.

    I recall a very lucid discussion in The Age of Federalism concerning Alexander Hamilton’s efforts to have the new federal government assume state debts incurred during the Revolution. As I recall, there was a fair amount of fraud and speculative dealing surrounding this assumption of debt. And Jefferson and Madison greatly opposed Hamilton on this, but in the end Hamilton was the better economist than the other two founders.

  53. 53
    trollhattan says:

    @Trollenschlongen:

    Holy shit, the “reply” thingie appeared briefly!

    As to the question, perhaps the local utility is partly subsidizing the price? I got a 10-pack of the curly type for three or four bucks at Costco that way. Win!

    How many Republicans…?

    They just sprinkle some Tussin on it and wait for magical thinking to take charge.

  54. 54
    Kyle says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    They never have to — they’re perpetually incandescent with rage.

  55. 55
    Odie Hugh Manatee says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    One. The first one stupid enough to pay an illegal immigrant to replace it because the rest of the House GOP are cheap bastards. Then the House Teahadist GOoPers will turn on the member that hired the poor brown guy, plus they will have the illegal immigrant deported.

    It’s a long answer but I have learned long ago that the dumber the subjects are, the longer the answers explaining their stupidity are.

  56. 56
    serena1313 says:

    Privatizing government services has mostly escaped the public’s attention because, for whatever reason, neither politicians nor the media have been willing to discuss it. Iam glad Tom brought this to the forefront because this is a discussion worth having — albeit long over due.

    If I had to make a choice between paying the government in the form of taxes and paying private enterprise I’d choose the former. Granted either way the money comes out of our pockets, but I’d argue ultimately we’ll end-up spending more for goods and services provided by the private sector than the government; It is a simple matter of profit vs non-profit respectively.

    “Big” government and an efficient, effective, smart government are not mutually exclusive. The size of government should be equally matched to meet the needs of its citizens. In other words in order to effectively govern a country with a population of over 300 million people requires “big” government. Paying federal taxes in exchange is certainly more desirable, IMHO, than paying the private sector more to deliver the same goods and services for a profit, but has neither the power nor interest in governing. That is the discussion we should (and need to) be having.

  57. 57
    Wilson Heath says:

    I recall a David Cay Johnston column that talked about he and his neighbors creating their own special little taxing district to gain bargaining power to get a better deal and better service on garbage hauling in their neighborhood than the fully private laissez faire system that preceded.

    Yes, they were wealthier for taxation. Imagine, people turning to collective-action solutions to make them better off, like, oh, say, government?

  58. 58

    Late thank you to those who responded to my question regarding medical expenses. On a somewhat related tangent, i wonder if people realize what gutting medicare would do to all those huge end-of-life medical bills wrt health care providers?

    Enough people with no estate die leaving huge, unpaid and uncollectable medical debt would be something ugly.

  59. 59
    MarkJ says:

    Well I have to quibble with your reasoning a little bit. Allowing the continued manufacture of inefficient incandescent lightbulbs only imposes an extra expense if you’re stupid enough to keep using them. If it can be avoided, it’s not a tax. The new efficient bulbs will still be available and anyone who wants to save $50 per year can save $50 per year.

    I agree on medical expenses – virtually everyone will incur fairly catastrophic bills at some point if they live beyond their 50s. Even a simple (not compound) fracture – say a broken arm – is probably tens of thousands of dollars these days. Get cancer or heart problems and you’re talking bills in the hundreds of thousands, which only the Galtian overlords could afford to pay without insurance.

  60. 60
    mellowjohn says:

    How many house GOP members does it take to change a lightbulb?

    there’s no mention of light bulbs in the bible!

  61. 61
    twiffer says:

    @ 59 MarkJ: two points on this:

    Allowing the continued manufacture of inefficient incandescent lightbulbs only imposes an extra expense if you’re stupid enough to keep using them. If it can be avoided, it’s not a tax. The new efficent bulbs will still be available and anyone who wants to save $50 per year can save $50 per year.

    first, the regulation was the driving force behind creating more efficient bulbs. without it, there is no reason to spend the capital on R&D. second, while it may be still considered stupid, people will continue to buy the less efficent bulbs, because they will be less expensive to purchase (though not in terms of energy cost).

    what bothers me (and i should be used to it) is there is no benefit to repealing the regulations, beyond ideological points. granted, that seems to be all that matters to these people, since that is what they believe will get them re-elected.

  62. 62
    Dr J says:

    I am not seeing the important point being made clear–when someone chooses to use inefficient light bulbs, they are not simply paying more themselves for the cost of using the light bulb; they are increasing the demand for electricity and thus raising the cost of that electricity for EVERYONE! Same for the guy who thinks it is a matter of personal liberty to continue to drive his 3 mpg Hummer if he is willing to pay the cost of the gas. He is increasing the demand for gas and thus increasing the cost of it for everyone. Same with the glibertarian freeloaders who think the government has no right to compel them to get health insurance, but when they use the system and don’t pay, then everyone has to pay higher medical costs and higher insurance premiums.

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