Monday, April 18, 2011

Ross Douthat on Taxes #notintendedtobeafactualstatement

There is a central problem in the way that self-identifying conservatives think about taxation. Here's a perfect example from Ross Douthat's piece in today's New York Times:
All we need to do instead is let taxes rise and keep on rising. This is how the “current law baseline” cuts the deficit: Thanks to inflation and bracket creep, its tax code gradually subjects more and more Americans to rates that now fall only on the wealthy.
Listen carefully to Douthat's complaint. "More and more Americans" will fall into the wealthy category, and they'll become more and more resentful of paying what they have asked others to pay. The assumption behind this attack on taxes is that Americans are a selfish, greedy people. Conservatives assume that the people who want more tax revenues from corporations, hedge-fund managers, and professional wealth inheritors are poor or at least have no aspirations to be wealthy.

"More and more Americans" amassing wealth is of course not Douthat's goal; it's a flaw.

This view of American economic possibility is shockingly stratified: if you're poor, you root against the rich. If you're rich, you have no reason to pay into a social safety net system because you'll always be rich. Douthat's analysis is proper in highly authoritarian, economically constrained societies. The American model of supposedly meritocratic capitalism has no place for this picture of calcified economic position.

If Douthat wanted to actually address how Americans are going to provide for their future, he should be spending his considerable resources of time and influence thinking about how we can make it easier for Americans to break into the wealthy strata. He would be more concerned about helping wealthy Americans give back to the country that made that success possible. Instead, Douthat is concerned only with preserving the status quo: historically low tax rates for him and his wealthy pals.

And just to prove that he isn't at all serious, Douthat promises that 'racial tensions' will foment.
They could have ugly political consequences as well. Historically, the most successful welfare states (think Scandinavia) have depended on ethnic solidarity to sustain their tax-and-transfer programs. But the working-age America of the future will be far more diverse than the retired cohort it’s laboring to support. Asking a population that’s increasingly brown and beige to accept punishing tax rates while white seniors receive roughly $3 in Medicare benefits for every dollar they paid in (the projected ratio in the 2030s) promises to polarize the country along racial as well as generational lines.
I don't know why anyone would pay Douthat for his racist drivel. His capping argument here is that because my Americans aren't willing to invest in Social Security that might go to a recipient with different color skin. Douthat might have a problem with 'brown and beige' people, and certainly projects his racism onto others, casting it as 'their' problem.

He may have a point about the generational divide, but that's also why Congress passed the Affordable Care Act last year; to put in place a system to prevent the 3-to-1 payout problem that Douthat cites. And not by abolishing Medicare like Ryan's Folly (which Douthat touts), but by actually making health care more effective, humane, and affordable. Ross Douthat opposes that plan because a Democrat passed it.

Ross Douthat's argument pretends to address a real problem using the fantasy-world Ryan's Folly. His remarks assuredly were #notintendedtobeafactualstatement.

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