Wednesday, September 19, 2012

All Good Ideas Go Too Far

Willie Stark (aka Huey Long) in All the King's Men:
"Im going to build a hospital, the biggest that money can buy, and it will belong to you. Any man, woman, or child who is sick or in pain can go through those doors and know that everything will be done for them that man can do. To heal sickness, to ease pain, free - not as a charity but as a right. And it is your right, do you hear me? It is your right. And it is your right that every child should have a complete education.
The Chinese are currently willing to subsidize our plethora of economic rights, but I wish they would stop so we could adopt a truly sustainable balance between rights and revenues. Alas, Romney's latest Kinsley gaffe has set off a firestorm of outrage because it hits home: many people are sustained by perpetual forced charity. Clearly charity is good in some situations--temporary help, even permant help for those truly disabled--but the system is now out of control.

No one likes to think of themselves as parasites so their benefits are redefined as rights, or no different than social security or those taking advantage of tax breaks. Yet taking food stamps and avoiding federal taxes through muni bonds, are fundamentally different. Many would like us to believe that all these omnipresent mandatory transfers (social security) and tax incentives make us all equal recipients of government aid (argued as well as can be by Mark Schmitt here).

 The bottom line is that Arthur Brooks is right when he says people only gain satisfaction via earned success, not charity. This is why, if you want to gain someone's affection, you should ask them a favor as opposed to doing one for them, because the former implies they are truly valued for something they can do, whereas anyone can receive charity. Those who advocate redistribution therefore are strongly incented to convince others and themselves these cases are not charity, but no different than a tax break on muni bonds, or simply a human right that exists via natural law. In a similar way affirmative action supposedly doesn't mean targeted groups are on average less qualified, but you can tell no one really believes this because people get so very emotional if you ever mention this to an affirmative action supporter (people don't get excited when you say 2+2=5).


Anonymous said...

> perpetual forced charity

If it is forced it is not charity, it is theft. Calling a spade a spade will go along way to ending the practice.

Mercury said...

Actually the Chinese have been knocked down to the #3 slot of biggest UST holders. I think the US SS fund is #1 but #2 is our own Federal Reserve, which now prints money out of thin air to buy the vast majority of debt issued by our Treasury every month (over 90% on the long end). Now that's an idea gone too far.

It is also the OTHER big idea explicitly addressed by Romney in his now infamous and secretly recorded speech this May and recently published in 'Mother Jones'

But of course, no one is willing to touch that one with a barge pole because it involves even more ugly math than figuring out how much "47%" is.

Todd said...

Eric--what do you make of the fact that the 47% skew toward the Red States??
Is this an example of Brooksian self-loathing? Red states' clinging to a favorable redistribution status quo? Dog whistle politics?

Anonymous said...

Most of Romeny's 47% are retirees, children, and poor people with jobs. A lot of these people vote Republican (more than 60% of the 65+ vote supports Romney over Obama).

It's Romney's responsibility to convince a majority of voters to support him. He basically says it's almost impossible, there are all these moochers out there, they can't be reasoned with. He dodges his own personal responsibility by calling Obama voters lazy parasites.

What's remarkable is that a good number of the people he writes off as hopeless actually vote Republican. He seems to think that the Republican platform is nothing more than tax cuts and has no idea how to appeal to voters with anything else.

bjk said...

I'd be glad to agree with Brooks if he wasn't on the Kovner gravy train. A man who went from playing the French horn to a life of think tank leisure is not a good spokesman for hard work or earned success.

Anonymous said...

Eric--what do you make of the fact that the 47% skew toward the Red States??

A few problems:

1) Data are old (2008). And WHEN in 2008...prior to crash, after?

2) Ranks by % of pop. per state, instead of U.S. as a whole.

Rank each state's TOTAL number of people with no tax liability (again, according to their "data"):

1) CA
2) TX
3) FL
4) NY
5) IL
6) PA
7) OH
8) GA
9) MI
10) NC

Anonymous said...

^ lol. Nice try bro.

Anonymous said...

^ lol. Nice try bro.

Try reading the numbers and words instead of looking only at the pretty pictures.

cig said...

Imagine all social transfers were re-framed as disability allowances, that is where every transfer payment is based on something the beneficiary is less good than average at for reasons deemed outside their control (e.g. school is paid for kids who were born to crap parents they can't easily replace, old age money is paid to people who are too frail to work rather than merely above some notional age, etc). Do you believe that would lead to markedly fewer social transfers?

It may lower them a bit, but I doubt that it would be by much for a given social standard of how much help the disabled should get, that is I suspect the recipients you don't like (those who both don't deserve and would be better off without transfers because they're not disabled) represent a relatively small fraction of aggregate social spending.

Incidentally, with enough explanation, it's a programme you could probably get most of the left to agree with. After all most of the difference between left and right really boils down to how one defines disability, it's just a pity the core of the debate is so often buried under mountains of rhetorical irrelevance.

Tel said...

For What It's Worth:

That's the 2010 tax data from Taxfoundation against the Real Clear Politics "BATTLE FOR WHITE HOUSE" state by state polling. From what I can find, 2010 is the newest available data (and well past the "crunch" of 2008).

There's a trend in that towards red states having a higher percentage of zero-tax tax returns, but the trend is a bit weak (dangerous to post scatter graphs round here with so many expert opinions, bit by all means have a go if you think the trend is strong). Also, Romney's side has a bigger spread.

If you look at polls on the basis of individual voters rather than by state, you get a much stronger correlation.

Tel said...

Now that I've typed the data in...

Same as above but plotted by total number of zero-tax federal tax returns (not percentage). I can't see any trend in that, but Obama's side now has a bigger spread.

Note that to win an election you would need to be considering the weighting of each state... some are worth more than others w.r.t. electoral colleges. Really you need to get tax data for each electoral college and split it on that basis, rather than by state, if you want a more meaningful result.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

when capital becomes too concentrated there is a natural tendency for working people to be pushed toward subsistence, as a rentier class extracts wealth from them. from an evolutionary perspective, this is maladaptive. the evolutionary adaptive environment optimized humans to live in a much more egalitarian society than capitalism produces in one of its concentrated phases. see Wilkinson's talk at inequality is bad for a society's health, quite literally, regardless of what the false god of Econ preaches, wearing its ideological blinders.