Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Why I love Tax Day

April 15th is the date that income tax returns are due. It is wisely scheduled as far from election day as possible. Tax Day is awesome because it brings out the idiocy of the loony right. They are having Tea Parties right now in various places, which Paul Krugman (I think) has termed "Astroturf" - fake grassroots efforts. (FYI, the tax protests of the American revolution were not protests against high taxation, but about a very small tax on tea imposed by a distant Parliament in which they had no vote. The issue was political, not economic, but conservatives generally misunderstand history, for the same reason they disdain "ivory tower" education).

So far, of course, Barack Obama's administration has managed to lower taxes on most Americans and raised them on none. I, for example, am looking forward to the new tax credit for buying a new car. And most wage earners will see a dip in the withholding starting this week. Odd time to protest the level of taxation, huh?

But it's not about that. It's about nutso time on the Far Right. Tax Day is for conservative/libertarians the equivalent of shouting creationism in a crowded university. Today, for example, Texas Governor Perry is endorsing a "Sovereignty Resolution" with another wack-o theory about the 10th amendment and states rights. The amusing Texas state resolution orders the Federal Government to "cease and desist" from taking actions beyond the 10th amendment. It is not at at all clear what this is aimed at, since the 10th amendment is just a rule of interpretation, not a substantive provision. But what could the Federal government be doing that is so ultra vires? Torture? Secret spying on Americans without warrants? Um, no - conservatives like that stuff. They are upset, it seems, about unfunded mandates for unemployment insurance contained in the economic stimulus package. I barely typed that without yawning. The resolution demands that "all compulsory federal legislation that directs states to comply" be repealed. (FYI I refer these fine gents to the Supremacy Clause and the 14th amendment, plus some 200+ years of supreme court precedent). And these people claim Obama needs focus?

I love this stuff. Tax Day is the conservative equivalent of a G8 summit: when all the crazies come out. These are the people who argue that the 16th amendment (allowing the income tax) was never really ratified (so they don't have to pay?), that flags with or without fringes in courthouses mean something, that West Virginia isn't really a state, that the Fed is illegal because it doesn't use gold specie, that private clubs can be "militias" under the second amendment, that Texas uniquely has the right to divide into 5 pieces and/or secede, and a whole host of other half-baked legal theories ginned up by autodidacts. This is what irrelevance looks like when your party is devoid of centrists.


Raised By Republicans said...

It's also worth pointing out that Obama's budget actually lowers taxes for the overwhelming majority of people. So this isn't even about high taxes for most people. To the extent it's about taxes at all, it's about higher taxes on people making more than $250,000/year (the median income for a family of four is about $67,000). Not exactly the basis of a widespread "grass roots" movement - thus the "astroturf" approach.

These are nothing more than publicity stunts by a defeated and disorganized party flailing about for a cause to rally around.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Krugman certainly did not coin the term "Astroturf" to mean a fake grassroots effort, but he did apply that label here. And correctly so.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Do you know who did coin the term?

Dr. Strangelove said...

No. It's been around for a couple of years at least.

USwest said...

Someone on NPR the other day discussed tax time and a potential time for civic engagement. He pointed out that while all of us understand, on some level, the need for taxation, we all try to avoid it as much as possible, that we tell white lies on our returns. He pointed out that it was pretty easy to "make a mistake" because of the complications involved. Be he said that studies showed that when we prepare our own taxes we are less likely to tell a white lie than we are if our accountant does our taxes for us. Makes sense. You can feign ignorance.

But then he raised an interesting idea. What would happen if we allowed people to declare where they wanted to direct a portion of our taxes, like say 5%. He pointed out that this might give people a bigger stake, and thus a bigger interest in taxes. Perhaps we'd have a better understanding of the importance of our tax dollars. It would make tax time an opportunity for civic engagement.

What do you all think of such an idea? Maybe we would see the different government agencies competing for our dollars. Maybe they might be more interested in us if they had to work for our taxes a bit more. Hey, the Republicans who are so into personal liberty, and who protest taxes would love the idea. Personal responsibility, a market solution to government, oh, and the earmarks would be decided by the people rather than the congress.

Anonymous said...

Or like collegiate debaters who drop acid and then come up with great ideas like counterplanning the debate topic to make the affirmative non-topical.

Yes, I know that is a total debate geek-out on my part, but I think that shows just how devoid of substance all of the clever conservative/libertarian arguments you posted seem to be.


The Law Talking Guy said...

If the affirmative is non-topical, then, wait, oh my head hurts. Just talk faster man, faster!

USWest: if the government let me dictate where 100% of my money went in taxes, I'd still elect to keep more of it. =)

Pombat said...

Interesting, isn't it, people's attitudes to taxes? I was talking to a mortgage guy at the bank the other day (actually calls himself a 'wealth creation specialist'), and he was trying to convince me that the way to buy a home is not to get a mortgage and buy a home to live in, but to get a mortgage, buy a house, rent it out - negatively geared - and so on and so forth, until you're super-rich and own your home outright, just like he's doing (which is why he has to wear a shirt with the bank's name on each day...).

The reason I'm telling you this is that his first attempt at persuasion was to scribble out some numbers with the amount Spotted H & I earn, and therefore what we pay in taxes, at which point he leaned back in his chair and said "you do like paying the government taxes don't you?!". I'm not entirely sure that I was meant to respond "well, they pay our wages, so it seems fair - quid pro quo y'know". But in hindsight I should've also pointed out that if we all stopped paying taxes, then all these nice things that we take for granted - roads, public transport, education, healthcare (tax-funded here at least), basic utilities like water/electricity supply (infrastructure at least part tax-funded) - would disappear, due to lack of money for them, and then we'd all be really upset. Having said all of which, I'm still with LTG - I'd much rather keep my taxes! (assuming other people pay theirs...)

Personally, I love the idea of being able to direct where some of my tax went, but only if I can veto nutso ideas from others :-)

Raised By Republicans said...

Well put Pombat!

Andrew said...

Torture? Secret spying on Americans without warrants? Um, no - conservatives like that stuff.

Man you are a complete moron. The crowds at the tea parties were not dominated by one political group. There were democrats, republicans, libertarians, etc. And most of the people attending the tea parties never supported secret gov't spying. Why don't you get your head out of your *** and do your own research?

The Law Talking Guy said...

Actually, anon, there were no big crowds. These were staged events for Fox News. And the whole 'tea party' thing was paid for and organized by a lobbying organization run by Dick Armey. I presume this post is part of an organized GOP wingnut blogging effort.

USWest said...

LTG, you may still want to pay less, but at least you would have a little more control over where your taxes go. You could choose, for instance, to fund the EPA rather than the DOD. The idea, I think, is less about making you love taxes and more about seeing their real purpose and taking some ownership over that process.I sort of like the idea. Taxes are part of our civic duty.

Pombat, your mortgage guy sounds like an idiot- or do you say igit. The thing about civil servants is that we tend to be risk adverse, which is why we like nice, stable, government jobs. So throwing money in to grand schemes isn't our style.

I worked with a contractor who up and quit his job one day, told us all he was moving to Eugene, Oregon and buying property that we would then rent out. He would, as part of the deal, offer to do one of several things: Pay one year of medical insurance premiums for them, pay one year of schooling, or they could take a cash bonus up front. But they would not be allowed to do drugs, have guns, or the like. If they broke the agreement, they'd have to pay him back and they'd loose their lease. He thought this would make him rich while helping out the poor, drug addicted, uneducated folks in Eugene.

I decided to shake my head and commend him great idea rather than tell him that such leases were probably illegal, even in Eugene, Oregon.

Two months later, he was back begging to get his old job back. The contractor said, "nope".

Raised By Republicans said...

OK, let's think about the consequences of this "targeted taxes" scheme. Sure it sounds great in a mindless populism kind of way. But what would likely happen? People would only agree for their taxes to go for things that they easily recognized as benefitting them directly. Most people are pretty poorly informed about a lot of things that indirectly benefit them (like clean air etc).

Also, how would we fill out the form? How detailed would the form be? Could I agree that my taxes could fund some defense projects but not others? Could I say yes to clean air but no to endangered species? Would the level of detail in the form become a divisive political issue in itself?

This kind of idea is why direct democracy is such a horrible idea.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Why not make it a lottery? People love lotteries. Every year right after April 15, have the IRS randomly choose ten individual tax returns and award the taxpayer $1m - tax free! This would encourage everyone to file every year. It would also make Tax Day more fun. Sort of an anti-audit (which is equally random and capricious).

I was initially thinking that you could have a TV show with one of those ball-bouncing thingies to choose a social security number, but I realize the problem with this method.

Raised By Republicans said...

A lottery! Great! But you can only win if your return stands up to a kind of superficial audit - that is, if they find you underpaid by some predetermined percentage, you can't win. That might encourage some people to stop fudging their tax returns.

Dr. Strangelove said...

That's a very cool idea. Sure, it's a little bribe-y, but I'm OK with that. I like RbR linking it to a superficial audit... In fact, what if it worked this way: if you are unlucky enough to get audited, the upside is that--if your forms are found to be correct--you are automatically entered in a national multi-million dollar drawing to reward the honest taxpayers. Just imagine people saying, "I hope I get audited this year!"

The Law Talking Guy said...

Perhaps we should also tinker with USWest's program with something like a pledge drive on public radio. If you agree to give *extra* $$ in tax revenue to a particular agency above the current amount due, you could get a T-shirt or a mug. Different government agencies could donate special premiums for more money, like a kilo of heroin, a month's disability payments, pollution credits, or a discontinued F-22 (hangar not included). Imagine what you could get from the National Endowment for the Arts. DOJ could literally provide a 'get out of jail free' card.

Taxes are just so retro.

Raised By Republicans said...

Damn that would start fights. Imagine your reaction to some jackass with an "I Paid For Guantanomo" T-shirt.

Pombat said...

RbR: what would actually happen is that people would, as you say, mindlessly nominate that 5% of their taxes to go to stuff that directly benefits them (kinda like a reverse of the retirement villages that don't pay anything for schools). And the other 95% of their taxes would then be shared out so that the overall allocation of tax dollars was *exactly* as it would've been without people nominating areas, but no-one would tell the sheeple, so they would believe that they'd had an impact, and things were being funding exactly because they wanted them to be.

Lottery would be cool, and I like the idea of linking it to audits too :-)

USWest - the best bit was when he pulled up a spreadsheet to show me how it all worked, put in a $4M figure as his assets, and tried to skate over the fact that they're not worth that much now. And the fact that he wasn't deducting his mortgages from that asset worth. We also had a bit of an argument based on his statement that "property investors are increasing the amount of houses available", his key assumption being fixed number of houses - I pointed out they were just being shifted from one market (sales) to another (rental). He didn't like me I don't think - not used to people, let alone *girls* questioning his dodgy maths - there was also a nice bit where he showed me how you could buy an $800k house now, and in three years have a *one million dollar* house! Yes, but it's the same house mate... It was kinda fun actually, and yep, idiot or eejit - whichever you prefer!

The Law Talking Guy said...

Pombat- the wealth creation specialist may be an ass, but this is an awesome time to buy real estate because of the distressed market. Seriously, if I could buy another property now, I would. Prices will not be this low again likely in my lifetime, nor will mortgage rates. At the end of the day, people need land, land is finite and the population keeps growing.

Pombat said...

LTG: the property market in Aus is lagging behind the US a little, and certainly hasn't dropped as low as the US or UK. Yet. The interest rate probably has a little further to go too, although with two nice sound gov't jobs, we could probably negotiate on that one.

And unfortunately we wouldn't be in the position to buy two places now, it would be a case of buying the place we wanted, renting that out for a couple/few years until we could get a mortgage for another one, re-gearing so that the percentage of mortgage owed on the first one was lowered at the expense of raising it on the second one, and etc. There's also a bit of a tax dodge due to negative gearing, depreciation etc. But the plan would rely on several things: 1, being happy to be an evil landlord (I don't like property speculators - rather sick of paying other people's rent!), 2, property values picking back up again in the not *too* distant future, 3, being happy not to live in the home for a while. So, still mulling it over.

If I was still in the UK now, I'd definitely be buying - the market there has tanked quite spectacularly from what I hear (I have a friend over there sending me house ads for approval, as he's finally getting into the market).

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