Taxes, Saints & Sinners

Taxes, Saints & Sinners

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DebateLast week in response to allegations made by James Maule of Mauled Again that the leaders of the anti-tax, anti-big government movement are dishonest and their followers ignorant I wrote If you Oppose Tax Increases You’re Stupid, Exploited or Dishonest.

Maule has now rebutted with a post titled If you Like What Tax Cuts for the Wealthy Brought Us, Are You Uneducated? Exploited? What?. In it, he makes three main points, each of which I have republished in block quotes. My responses follow.

MAULE’S POINT #1: Anti-tax conservatives are selfish people

Maule says:

Pappas asks if I think “all small-government, anti-tax conservatives are motivated by self interest?” Yes, I do. Many are motivated by financial self-interest, as more than a few have admitted to me to my face or in emails. One person said, “I am selfish.” At least he’s honest. Others are motivated by the self-interest of being let alone by government, and that’s clear from their complaint that government is too big and intrusive. They want to do what they want however they want to do it, with no restrictions on their “freedom” and “liberties.”

Some of their advocates, of course, claim that they take this anti-tax position because lower taxes mean more jobs, but the experience of the last decade taught us that lowering taxes, in the long run, caused jobs to vaporize, helped the rich get richer, and left everyone else with incomes and assets that declined in real terms.

My response:

Maule thinks we should accept his conclusion that anti-tax conservatives are selfish based on his personal conversations with some of them.¹ Unless he conducted a scientific survey of a representative sample of conservatives and used proper statistical sampling methods to extrapolate the results of that survey to the entire population of conservatives, we have no such duty.

In any event, I applaud Maule for admitting that he believes conservatives are, as a rule, selfish.² By doing so, he has effectually conceded my larger point, which may be summarized as follows:

That pro-tax, big government liberals sincerely and passionately believe they are morally and intellectually superior to those who oppose tax increases.

Similarly, without offering any corroborating evidence, Maule expects us to accept his conclusion that tax cuts have destroyed the economy, made the rich more rich and the poor more poor. But this itself is misinformation. Just listen to economist and political philosopher Thomas Sowell:

Poverty and economic disparities are the raw materials from which the political left manufactures a sense of moral superiority, self-importance and political power. Against that background, it is understandable how they strive to keep poverty alive as an issue, even as they claim to want to end poverty, by playing lady bountiful to the poor.

Even as they define deviancy downward, many of the progressive intelligentsia define poverty upward, so that people with amenities that even the middle class could only strive for, two generations ago, are still called “the poor” or the “have-nots.”

Except for people who can’t work or won’t work, there is very little real poverty in the United States today, except among people who come from poverty-stricken countries and bring their poverty with them.

Talk about “the working poor” still resonates in politics, but most of the people in the bottom 20 percent of American households are not working full-time and year-round. There are more heads of household who work year-round and full-time among the top 5 percent of American heads of households than among the bottom 20 percent.

The left has striven mightily to make working no longer necessary for having a claim to a share of what others have produced — whether a share of “the nation’s” wealth or “the world’s” wealth. They have also striven mightily to inflate the number of people who look poor by counting young people with entry-level jobs, who are passing through lower income brackets at the beginning of their careers, among “the poor,” even though most of these young people have incomes above the national average when they are older.

Maule is correct when he says that there is mis-education on the subject of taxes. But most of that mis-education comes from the left, not from the right.

MAULE’S POINT #2: Statistics showing that the rich pay a greatly disproportionate share of taxes are flawed

Maule says:

To rebut the claim that “the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes,” [Pappas] points to the statistics showing that those with higher adjusted gross incomes pay disproportionately higher shares of taxes. For example, 22 percent of income is earned by those who are in the top one percent of income, yet pay 40 percent of income taxes.

What these statistics do not show is the amount of income excluded from adjusted gross income by the wealthy, with tax breaks and loopholes not attainable by those without the means to invest in tax shelters and other devices. And, of course, Pappas does nothing to define “fair share,” even though there is much support for the proposition that regressive taxes are not fair.

My response:

Ignoring or dismissing facts you don’t like is not evidence.

Here Maule uses a debating ploy that is often used by intellectuals when faced with statistics that fly in the face of their a priori ideological conclusions: He professes, without offering a shred of evidence or pointing to a single contrary study, that the statistics I cite are wrong. But instead of proving my evidence wrong, he simply declares it to be wrong and then proceeds to demand that I prove his declaration false.

In short, Maule’s belief that the IRS statistical chart I cited is flawed is proof only of his desire that it be flawed.

For good measure, here are links to six more studies that show that the rich already provide the lion’s share of the federal government’s tax revenue:

I anticipate that Maule will find a “problem” with each of these studies. In the event he is unable to do so, I anticipate that he’ll resort to accusing the authors of intentionally deceiving the public in order to further their selfish, right-wing agendas.

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter what Maule thinks about the myriad studies whose conclusions conflict with his preconceived ideas about the way the world works. Reality is immutable and, although it is perfectly reasonable for well-meaning, intelligent people to debate whether or not it is a good thing that the rich pay a disproportionate share of taxes, it is not reasonable for them to question whether or not the rich actually do so. That fact is no more in dispute than that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

MAULE’S POINT #3Pappas opposes higher taxes because he is either already rich or plans to be rich some time soon

Maule says:

Pappas thinks that those who think he takes his position on account of being ignorant or exploited are shoving the debate into “the abyss of pejorative and character assassination.” Because I don’t think Pappas approaches this as does the tea party or as does Sarah Palin, I don’t consider him to be within the “uneducated and exploited” crowd.

Either Pappas is already among the wealthy, or he is so sure or desirous of joining their ranks that he subscribes to their outlook. Surely he cannot think that the nation is economically better off now than it was before the wealthy engineered their tax cuts a decade ago. Or perhaps he does so think?³

My response:

Even though I listed six perfectly reasonable, non-selfish justifications for opposing high taxes and the continued expansion of government, Maule insists on assigning to me a selfish motive. He does this by making the assumption that I am either rich or plan to be rich some time in the near future. In other words, he believes I hold my views not for the reasons I state in my blog post, but for the ulterior reason of increasing my personal wealth.

Here again Maule proves my larger point: Namely, that he and progressives in general view those of us who have a vision of government and economics that differs from their own to be morally or intellectually inferior… or both.

But at least he hasn’t called those of us who oppose President Obama’s government-expanding policies racists… yet.

Footnotes:

¹  If you’re prepared to accuse a man of selfishness, one would hope that before you did so you would endeavor to find out more about him than his simple stance on taxes. But Maule does not say whether in his conversations with these “selfish” conservatives he made any inquiry at all as to whether and to what extent they contribute their time and resources to private charity. 

This would be important to know especially in light of the several studies that have shown that Republicans give more of their time and money to private charity than do Democrats. Of course, I wouldn’t dare offer those studies as dispositive evidence that Democrats are selfish. 

²  Maule’s opinion of conservatives and conservatism is a tragic one for any American to have, but it’s particularly disturbing in this case because it’s held by a member of the Academy who has, supposedly, committed himself to the idea of intellectual open-mindedness.

³  Maule is correct. Most of us are indeed worse off today than we were ten years ago. But that hardly means that we’re worse off because George W. Bush lowered the top tax rates. Correlation is not causation. There are thousands of subtle and not so subtle differences between the 1990’s and the 2000’s, any one or a combination of which might be responsible for our current predicament. Cherry-picking a single difference and assigning it all of the blame is both simplistic and silly.

So simplistic and silly, in fact, that anyone can do it. Like thus:

The reason we are worse off now than we were in 2000 is that during the 90’s, when we had higher tax rates on the rich, corporations moved their operations overseas in record numbers. The flight of the job creators eventually caused the massive rates of unemployment we began seeing in 2007.

About Peter Pappas

Peter is a tax attorney and certified public acccountant with over 20 years experience helping taxpayers resolve their IRS and state tax problems.

He has represented thousands of taxpayers who have been experiencing difficulty dealing with the Internal Revenue Service or State tax officials.

He is a member of the American Association of Attorney-Certified Public Accountants, the Florida Bar Association and The Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants and is admitted to practice before the United States Tax Court, the United States Supreme Court, U.S. District Courts - Middle District of Florida

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