And now the ultra-rich are duking it out via email and in the op-ed pages of the nation’s newspapers over how much they should be taxed and why. Warren Buffett fired the opening salvo, complaining that the federal government was coddling the super rich. I don’t think that coddling is quite the right word but this is a family-friendly blog so I won’t suggest a more accurate diction. The bête noire of progressives, Charles Koch, responded:
Much of what the government spends money on does more harm than good; this is particularly true over the past several years with the massive uncontrolled increase in government spending. I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington.
The next salvo has now been fired, this time by Harvey Golub, former American CEO and chairman, in an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal:
Governments have an obligation to spend our tax money on programs that work. They fail at this fundamental task. Do we really need dozens of retraining programs with no measure of performance or results? Do we really need to spend money on solar panels, windmills and battery-operated cars when we have ample energy supplies in this country? Do we really need all the regulations that put an estimated $2 trillion burden on our economy by raising the price of things we buy? Do we really need subsidies for domestic sugar farmers and ethanol producers?
Why do we require that public projects pay above-market labor costs? Why do we spend billions on trains that no one will ride? Why do we keep post offices open in places no one lives? Why do we subsidize small airports in communities close to larger ones? Why do we pay government workers above-market rates and outlandish benefits? Do we really need an energy department or an education department at all?
Here’s my message: Before you “ask” for more tax money from me and others, raise the $2.2 trillion you already collect each year more fairly and spend it more wisely. Then you’ll need less of my money.
That response actually appeals to me more than Mr. Koch’s does. Caesar’s wife must be above reproach.
I’ve said for nearly a decade that I thought the Bush tax cuts were an error (they were mis-targeted, aiming at increasing consumer spending which wasn’t in jeopardy). If I were king I’d start by removing the subsidies, fashionably called today tax expenditures but which used to be called loopholes, the bulk of which go to the rich and ultra-rich. The political problem is that each one of those subsidies has a group to whom they’re a vital interest, a matter of survival. That’s why even capping the mortgage interest deduction at some seemingly high level, say $50,000 is fought tooth and nail by the realtors’ guild.
The following is from a lengthy comment I made in this thread which I felt deserved to be given a post of its own or, at least rescued.
What I found most telling in Mr. Golub’s op-ed is something that I think needs to be heeded: confidence in government at all levels is going down. So is confidence in banks, universities, big business, news media, churches, and practically every other institution we have.
I don’t know whether this is due to more timely and complete information (no man is a hero to his valet), Third Generation Warfare, arrogance, poor governance, coming to the inevitable end of a process that reached its zenith with the Great Society programs of the 60s, imperial overreach, other factors or all of the above.
I don’t think that the president has done much to foster confidence in government. I can’t read men’s hearts but however benign the intentions of the many actions taken by his Administration once things filter down to us here in the provinces a lot of his programs look like the same old favoring of contributors and special interests, politics as usual.
I might add that I don’t think it is possible for anybody who lives in Chicago to believe that all of our problems would be solved if, somehow, Republicans were to vanish into oblivion and Democrats had complete control of the reins of government. IMO that’s simply making excuses, submitting a stump speech as an alternative for a policy position.
That’s the problem with the E. J. Dionne column I commented on earlier today, too. It pretends to be an analysis of policy but it really is political posturing. Go big! (because nothing you propose will actually happen and, consequently, you can’t be held accountable for its disastrous outcome, and you can use your inability to produce a positive program as a club to hit your political opponents with).