Why the American people shouldn’t make tax policy

I think it’s fair to say first, that while I’ve been gone for a while from posting to this blog, I haven’t been living under a rock, nor completely out of touch.  So there are lots of thoughts and opinions I have concerning the recent events in the US financial and governmental spaces.  I will do my best to not talk at length about past issues nor cast too much one sided blame, mostly because I think the entire mess was avoidable, and the politics surrounding the debt ceiling, jobs creation, etc are so far out of control that I simply must state, everyone in Washington that was in office for the last 6 months simply doesn’t deserve to be re-elected.  Period.  I’ll consider a pass for freshmen (2 years of less in office) in the Congress that didn’t stand purely on party lines, but rather stood up for common sense and practical solutions (should any of those actually exist).

But that’s not what prompted me to post today.  Nope, this post is directed at everyone in America.  Yep, at me and you and all of our neighbors.  You see, there is a popular stance right now (favored in the democratic circles, but popular all over) that somehow taxing the rich is a great way to resolve some of our debt problems.  This allows that group to “protect” the entitlements programs where we spend a huge volume of our budget.  In still other circles (these being more of the republican ones, but again not exclusive to them) the cry is to reduce spending, and not allow taxes to be raised.  Both of these positions are popular positions and both do have some degree of merit…  however…

Let’s take a look at a few items related to each stance.  First the tax the rich argument.  Let’s face it, we ALREADY tax the rich (despite the rhetoric heard in many left leaning media sources).  The “rich” (we’ll talk a moment about why that is in quotes) account for about 3% of the population, and roughly 26% of the income earned that was taxed.  Yet the top 5% of earners pay roughly 60% of the taxes.  So about 5% of the people, earn roughly 30% of the income, but pay 60% of the taxes.  Should the Bush Era Tax Cuts expire, and I suspect they will, that percentage will only go up.  With our progressive tax brackets, you pay higher and higher percentage of tax as your earning go up (capped in the 35-40% range I belive, but I’m not sure on that).  For the record and to ensure I try to stay fair, from that same report, out of the 4 million people that are “rich”, 1470 didn’t pay any income tax and the corporate taxation problem (handouts plus tax breaks) is one that simply must be solved.  But where did the definition of “rich” come from?  Why is that level chosen, when in fact different areas of the country have different costs of living, making it likely that in some places 200,000 feels rich, where in others it just feels ok.  But even if we go after the rich, what then?  We generate $750 billion over 10 years, or $75 billion per year.  Now that IS a lot of money, but compared to the actual debt, it’s peanuts.  It is something, which as they say is better than nothing, but still peanuts compared to the problem.

So what about spending cuts?  Sure everyone can talk about the waste in government, and everyone can point to stupid things that we’ve seen the government do and buy.  But where is the real money going?  Let’s look at the spending we did in 2010 for our data.  24.5% of our money was spent on Defense (I didn’t dig enough to know if this includes or excludes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), followed by Health Care (23.7% with 13.1 percent being Medicare), Pensions (21.7, with 20.4% being Social Security), Welfare (14.5%), then we have Interest on our Debt (5.7%).  We spend more on interest on our debt than we do on Education (4.1%), Transporation (2.7%)  and Protection (Police, Fire, Courts, Prisons)(1.5%).  Ok really?  We allowed our debt to get so high we spend more on interest than on our schools and roads?  Anyway, let’s see that makes huge elements of the budget untouchable in the current political environment.  Cut defense (do you want the terrorists to win?), medicare or social security or welfare (why do you hate old people and the poor?), so that leaves the next biggest category.  Interest on our debt.  Hmm even politicians probably realize that can’t be cut, so on to the next line items, schools, services, and roads.  Yep, let’s cut the things that made this country an economic power house, so we can recover the economy.  Makes sense I suppose to someone not looking at the budget, or doing math, or thinking about it.  If our politicians can’t compromise on ideological issues, we get stuck taking the cuts in the programs they can agree to cut that hurt the population the most.

So why is this post pointed at the American people?  First, I’ll just say it.  As a collective group, we are too stupid to make rational policy about multi-trillion dollar budgets.  Sure I don’t like paying taxes, nor allowing our defense to get weak, nor take money out of social programs.  I want to have it all and not pay for it.  Wouldn’t that be great?  As a populace, that is exactly the message we send to our government, and it just isn’t possible.  I’m not defending their actions, becasue IF they were leaders and not poll-following, vote-grabbing, self-serving, special-interest-puppets they could calmly tell us that we’re too stupid to make these decisions, they’d get into a room and discuss, debate, and decide on actions that were good for us despite our short sighted whining about taxes and services etc.  Of course, that would also require them to act for the people, not for themselves and we don’t seem to have those guys (or gals) running for office much anymore.  They’d also risk not getting re-elected because they acted for the good of the country and not the good of selected voting blocks in their district or party (yeah I’m talking to you Tea Party).

So while everyone likes to complain about the idiots in Washington, and I’m easily in that category, let’s remember, we send them there, we tell them (through polls and things like blogs) what we think about their actions, and through their lens of “job security” they try to please everyone, while pleasing the special interests, making compromises on issues, and trying to stay vaguely close to on top of the polls so they have a job in the future.  Which is why I say, “The American People Shouldn’t Make Tax Policy, we’re too selfish and stupid as a collective group to do so effectively.  We like WalMart; goods and services for cheap, even though they are cheap goods and services, and that’s no way to run a coutry’s financial policies.

Now that I’ve pretty much angered everyone who got  this far in the post, thanks for reading.  🙂

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Failed Education System

This article is very interesting and it sheds some light into the reasons that schools appear to be broken.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/print/2011/06/the-failure-of-american-schools/8497/

I think it is fair to say that if only some of what he says is true, it’s pretty scary for our future.  My previous post on education pales by comparison to this.

Not a Factual Blog Post

Wow, I know I shouldn’t be surpised, but seriously?  John Kyl?  SERIOUSLY?  Citing statistics so grossly inaccurate as if they were true.  A seasoned senator such as you should know better…  or do they?

After all, facts are facts, and although we may quote one to another with a
chuckle the words of the Wise Statesman, “Lies – damned lies – and statistics,”
still there are some easy figures the simplest must understand, and the astutest
cannot wriggle out of.  ~Leonard Courtney, speech, August 1895, New York, “To My
Fellow-Disciples at Saratoga Springs,” printed in The National Review
(London, 1895)

Hmmm, so we had this problem in 1895 as well.  I guess politics leads people down the path of wanting to tell whatever story results in votes.  No surprise there.  What’s surprising is we let them.  In 1895 maybe the media couldn’t fact check so rapidly, nor respond so broadly, but that’s no excuse today.  We catch and respond in less than 24 hours.

In addition, there are facts and there are opinions, but opinions are never facts no matter how factually based.  So let’s call it what it is, saying something not intended to be factual means you lied, intentionally.  This isn’t just some “misinformation” euphemism (to go with many other euphemisms for lying we’ve used over the years) and it was not a mistake, he lied, and got caught.  The question is what will done about it?  Granted I like the Steven Colbert approach, but it isn’t likely to generate change in a meaningful way.

What we need is a system that doesn’t reward lying for votes with re-election.  But that’s up to the “masses” and if history is any teacher, they are being failed by our education system and the uneducated are more likely to believe the lies, making this a tough problem to resolve.  Which came first, the failed education or the lies?

Education Matters

Just a quick view on the employment stats, broken out by education level.  This is from the US Department of Labor, so clearly not a global data set, so your mileage may vary for other countries.

People who had less than a GED (High School Diploma) had an unemployment rate of 17.6 and 16.5 in Jan 2010 and Jan 2011 respectively.  High School graduates had rates of 11.5 and 10.7 in those same time frames.  If you had a bachelor’s degree your rates were 5.1 and 4.5 in the same time frames.

I would guess this SHOULD provide a pretty good evidence that the state of education is directly tied to the employment state of the country, and therefore fixing education would go a long way to fixing the job situation.  I’m less confident that the politicians will do anything about the problem, since the trend seems to be cuts.

Nothing profound

Just wanted to say Happy New Year, and best wishes for a prosperous New Year as well.

I approve of this sign….

No shirt, no shoes, no service.  And I don’t want to see your underwear while I eat.

Seattle Dress Code Sign

Full blog post at: http://blog.seattlepi.com/sassycitygirl/archives/216795.asp

Islamic Cleric Speaks out against terrorism

Ok old story but I just am getting around to posting it…

Maybe this happens more often than I know of, but I think it’s great that this is happening.

http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/03/11/britain.fatwa.terrorism/index.html

Maybe if more religious people spoke out against people using their religion as an excuse to commit crimes and acts of violence, then we’d have less terrorism, abortion clinic bombings, and general stupid stuff going on.

Update 8/12:

New video produced by moderate Muslims condemning terrorism.  It was covered by CNN.  Another Muslim summit, denouncing terrorism, from the same cleric who issued a fatwah against terrorism.  In addition, this is a good article describing the controversy and the issues around the building of (among other things) a Muslim Center and Mosque near ground zero.  Specifically the point being made about the marginalizing of Islam being the exact wrong thing to do when trying to avoid extremism in that religion.  Worth a read, even if you don’t agree with the placement of the Mosque.