Posts Tagged ‘taxes’

This is your not-often-enough reminder that you should all be following Charles Davis. He writes about important stuff, in a way that’s both easy to read and alarmingly effective at slapping you directly in the face with the fucked-up-ness of what he’s describing.

His latest advice is: Don’t pay your taxes.

The revolution can’t come soon enough.

And while I’m at it, Broadsnark is someone else I need in my life, because, well, sometimes I forget to be angry. And then she tells me about how many people get locked up for years without a trial in the US, and then I’m pissed off in a very focused manner all over again. Which is the only sane way to be, really.

Today I may have lived up to my screenname for the first time all month. I plan to have a go at being much more diligent once distractions like moving house have settled down. Until then, please bear with me while I continue to fail at creative discipline.

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I’ve been finding more and more things about which to disagree with Penn Jillette, as I’ve been learning and making up my mind about libertarianism. He’s still a great guy, and a fantastic performer, and I have not a shred of doubt that his politics are consistently driven by compassion and humility, even when I think he has the wrong idea.

But I know just about enough now to have some kind of opinion about this recent Penn Point:



If a billionaire like Warren Buffett thinks he’s not being taxed enough, why doesn’t he give the government some cash? He clearly wants the government to have more of his money, and there are ways he can just make a donation. That should make him happy and feel like he’s doing good, right?

Penn knows why Warren Buffett doesn’t do this, obviously. Buffett’s smart enough to give a lot of his money to, for instance, Bill Gates, who might do something with it such as vaccinate children, rather than to the US government, who are more likely to use it to start another war. So why does Buffett talk like he wants the government to have more money?

This is where I think Penn’s missing the point. It’s not that Buffett wants the government to grow bigger and richer and stronger, and have more money in an absolute sense. But if it’s going to insist that it needs to raise funds to pay for all its shiny wars and such like, then someone like Buffett is best placed to take the hit.

If he knew that a donation from him would directly reduce the tax burden faced by all his countrymen in households earning below $20,000 a year, I think he might consider it. But that’s not how the government operates, so instead he’s acknowledging that the mega-rich are in a better position to take on an increased burden than the millions living below the poverty line. To the extent that taxes have to be collected, Warren Buffett is advocating shifting the balance so that slightly more of the burden rests with billionaires than is currently the case.

Of course, whether the government really needs to be collecting as much money through taxes as it plans to is another matter. Any possible savings on favoured governmental extravagances, like extended military actions and imprisoning people for victimless crimes, should be fully explored before we start deciding that money needs to be collected at all. I don’t know if Warren Buffett’s brought this up much, and maybe it’s something he should be putting more emphasis on.

But I don’t think it’s fair to conclude from his remarks that he’s a devout statist, or that he’s a hypocrite for not writing President Obama a cheque. “Let’s give the government more money” might be a deeply problematic rallying cry from any angle, but at least he understands the relative privilege of his position, and recognises the hardships of others, more than many of his class seem capable of.

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Here’s a thorough examination of federal revenue data which shows just how unfair it is for all those horrible poor people to go without paying any taxes at all, and how rough America’s billionaires have it as a result.

Oh, wait.

It actually further undermines the efforts to paint the less wealthy half of America as leeches, which I mentioned a little while ago.

As you actually look at the data, the sound bite of “Half of Americans don’t pay any taxes” becomes “Half of adult Americans don’t pay federal income taxes”, and then “18% of adult Americans don’t pay any federal taxes”, before finally arriving at something which might accurately describe the “freeloading” situation:

Once you count those who pay income taxes, those who pay payroll taxes, the elderly (who are more likely to be retired) and those earning less than $20,000 a year, fewer than 1% of American adults remain who aren’t contributing.

(That poverty line of $20,000, by the way, is less than 0.2% of the total annual income of the average CEO on Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.)

And that’s just federal taxes. The number of people genuinely not paying any taxes goes down even further if you assume that they ever buy stuff.

Absolutely nothing about the idea that the lowest earners in the country are the ones who should be paying the greatest price for the debt crisis adds up. Pretty much across the board, the richer you are, the smaller the proportion of your income that the government takes from you.

And yet, in some parts of the media, the cries of class warfare only seem to go one way.

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It’s another anarchistastic day here at Cubik’s Rube.

Here’s an excerpt of a book by a guy called Larken Rose, in which he makes some interesting points about government as a religious belief. Here’s a video in which he argues against the US Constitution.

He makes a case worth considering. Specifically, he sets out to highlight the inherent ridiculousness and injustice of the bit of the Constitution which says that “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes“, by comparing it to a document he’s drawn up himself declaring his right to come and take your stuff.

It’s a striking analogy, but what’s frustrating is quite how much stock he seems to place in it. It’s very interesting to look at what his own manufactured documentation has in common with the US constitution. It’s less interesting to just insist “look, they’re exactly the same” and not examine why people might tend to think that one has more validity than the other.

The idea that some guy you don’t know can give himself permission to rob your house and take your stuff, and justify it with some fancy fonts and a few irrelevant signatures, is obviously ludicrous. That’s his whole point. But most people will be able to list what seem, at least superficially, like some pretty compelling reasons why it’s not the same when the government does it. People justify taxation by pointing to all the public services it’s used to pay for, for example.

You might not think any of these justifications hold water; I guess an anarchist would assert that there’s nothing of importance currently done by the government which couldn’t be achieved instead through other, cooperative, voluntary means. But if you have a rebuttal to what most people would consider the obvious place to take the argument next, then let’s focus on that. It might be more useful than simply marvelling at how almost every single person on the planet must be some kind of mindless sheep to believe something so idiotic.

Give the statists a little credit, is my point.

While I’m at it, let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum of attempted anarchist proselytising.

In my sporadic and episodic reading of An Anarchist FAQ, I’ve waded through a fair few pages of talk about “neo-classicism” and “post-Keynesian economics” and “marginal productivity theory” and the like. Now, I’m certainly glad that someone’s analysing these things from an informed economic view, but for most people starting to feel disillusioned by capitalism, government, or the world in general, these seem like secondary and rather esoteric concerns.

The main, burning question about anarchism for me, which I suspect would be shared by a lot of the uninitiated, and for which I’m still yet to reach an answer, would be something like: “You know, the government does, like, quite a lot of shit, and so, like, if there was no government, then, like, how would any of this shit get done?”

Be honest: something like that is what goes through your mind whenever I start blathering on about this stuff again as if it were remotely practical, right?

If anarchists actually have a coherent plan in response to this obvious line of questioning, I think they should really make that more of a front-line argument. Most people won’t really even consider anarchy as a plausible option, no matter how many texts you publish demonstrating capitalism to be totally fucked up in principle. And if you want to insist that’s because we’ve been brainwashed by the manipulative oligarchs into thinking that things have to be this way, then fine – just be aware that it doesn’t actually change anything, no matter how many times you point that out to us.

Okay? Good. Well, off you go. Back to smashing the system.

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And while we’re talking about taxes and whatnot, there’s an excellent post at Skeptic Money that looks at the popular claim that half of Americans “don’t pay taxes”.

That’s how Rick Warren put it in a tweet recently, expressing his annoyance that so many of his countryfolk have so little income that the law currently doesn’t consider it justified to claim any tax from them whatsoever. It’s the poor who should contribute more.

Of course, this is complete bullshit.

Significantly less bullshit is the original claim, before it got mangled and distorted into an ideology that someone found more comfortable: nearly half of American households pay no income tax.

That’s an approximation of the Tax Policy Center’s findings a couple of years ago, and although it’s a very different thing from what Rick Warren said, it still sounds rather shocking at first. It seems to imply that a lot of people are getting away with making no significant financial contribution to the welfare of the country as a whole, which seems a bit much, given that many of these people are surely making a liveable wage.

But that only seems like a problem until you consider the other kinds of tax people pay, beyond the federal income tax.

America’s got a lot of different kinds of taxes.

Sales tax means that buying goods – your average day-to-day stuff – often requires you to throw money the government’s way. Gasoline tax means you’re getting taxed by the government every time you fill up your car. Property tax hits homeowners and renters alike. And even people who don’t pay federal income tax get lumped with something called a FICA tax, which pays for things like Social Security.

Skeptic Money uses a hypothetical example and some estimated numbers, to show just how wrong it is to describe the poorest half of Americans as paying “no tax”, and how misleading it is to declare that they pay “no income tax” without providing any context. When all the above deductions are considered, as the blog post describes: “So… no income tax; just 30% of their income paid in taxes.”

This is what billionaire Warren Buffett is talking about when he says that his last tax bill, as a percentage of his taxable income, was lower than that of anyone else working in his office.

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