Raising taxes: what’s the actual argument?
November 28, 2012, 10:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I asked this deep in some comment, but am bringing it up here just in case there’s an actual answer:

Why is raising taxes even on the table? Has someone made a rational argument for raising taxes and I missed it? Who? Where?

Note, I understand the power-politics reason why raising taxes is on the table. Raising taxes is on the table because the (D) party has the Senate and the Presidency and made gains in the House, so they will try to push their POV, which is, always and perennially, Let’s raise taxes! (Fun medical fact: you can tap a lefty on the knee with a doctor’s hammer, and he’ll blurt out “Let’s raise taxes!”)

There is also a very circumstantial reason why raising taxes is on the table, i.e., because the “Bush tax cuts”™ are expiring, and so, if Something Isn’t Done, then some taxes will go up automatically.

I get all that but that’s not what I’m asking. What I’m asking is: why do the (D)s want to raise taxes? Or let me clarify (because perhaps the answer to that is psychological, and that’s not what I’m going for): what is their rational argument for raising taxes?

In other words, pretend I’m a simpleton. (I know, it’s hard.) And I ask a lefty, innocently: “Wait, so why should any taxes be raised? At all? On anyone?” Their verbal answer (even if it’s not their actual, subconscious motivating answer) will be “Because _______”. I’m wondering what goes in the blank space there.

Is it ‘the deficit’? But that can’t be right. No lefty that I have seen anywhere in any recent memory gives a rat’s ass about the deficit. Actually even that is overstating things. No lefty gives a flying fuck about the deficit. Correction: no lefty gives a flying rat’s fucked ass about the deficit. Lefties want Stimulus! More Stimulus is better! However much Stimulus was done isn’t enough! ‘The deficit’ is not a consideration at all. We should spend X and if we do spend X then X wasn’t enough because we should really spend 2X. For all X. ‘Deficit’ schmeficit. This is crystal clear from basically all lefty commentary from anywhere.

So it can’t be ‘the deficit’.

Perhaps it’s ‘fairness’? Because, like, it’s ‘unfair’ if so-and-so pays X while whatshisface pays Y? But that’s not an argument for raising anyone’s taxes either, per se. You could always just reduce the taxes paid by so-and-so till the discrepancy becomes ‘fair’, whatever you think that means. (If that makes so-and-so’s taxes go negative, i.e. they get an EITC or whatever, so be it! After all, whatever’s ‘fair’.)

What’s that? Lefties reject that approach because it would make ‘the deficit’ bigger and they totally care about that?


Seriously, what am I missing? Where is the actual argument?

10 Comments so far
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I think what goes in the blank is “the rich have too much money”. This is classic Marx talking and it is not for nothing that in its most virulent form, the commies were hanging the rich (or even just the folks who were doing O.K., like the kulaks) from ropes.

Comment by Fake Herzog

I think that’s the answer I just got here, yes:

Comment by Sonic Charmer

That’s part of it, the mythology of the 1% and widening inequality. Another part might be that the sensible wing of the Democrats is not comfortable with 1.5 trillion dollar deficits, and Obama was told to stop doing that right now. Speculation on my part, but I can’t believe that there aren’t any Democrats who find that kind of red ink unsustainable.

Notions of fairness also play a part, but it’s slippery because AFAIK no one has ever come out and defined their terms, saying that X is a fair tax rate while Y isn’t. I wonder, if you were to press the issue, how many lefties you could get to acknowledge that a 90% tax rate is not just unfair, but downright thieving and confiscatory. I think almost all of them would hem and haw about the context and so forth so as to not have to declare that they don’t see a problem with it at all.

I don’t know, not many arguments here save for the hypothetical deficit one.

Comment by Matt

“Another part might be that the sensible wing of the Democrats is not comfortable with 1.5 trillion dollar deficits, and Obama was told to stop doing that right now.”

This beggars belief. What’s so special about this particular size of deficit that we suddenly need to ‘stop doing that’? I don’t, for one second, believe that any lefty sincerely believes that. What they believe – correctly, I guess – is that this level of deficit helps give them *leverage* for their let’s-raise-taxes obsession.

I agree that there is a ‘sensible’ wing of the left that finds this level of deficit ‘unsustainable’ – but *only* if that means raising taxes, not cutting spending. Which just means that, to them, raising taxes is an end in itself, not the means. And I’m still curious why they want that so badly. Or at least, why they’d *say* that’s what they want.

” I wonder, if you were to press the issue, how many lefties you could get to acknowledge that a 90% tax rate is not just unfair, but downright thieving and confiscatory.”

None, as long as that 90% rate is a *marginal* rate, above some level of income that they deem ‘enough’.

For example, a 90% marginal rate on *their* income, + one dollar would be fine. Or even a 90% rate on a little bit less than that would be ok with them, as long as others are coughing it up too. Again that’s because it still helps with the bigger-fish-in-smaller-pond dynamic I discussed here….

Comment by Sonic Charmer

Nothing special about 1.5 trillion, only that it is a very large number even compared to the Bush years, which were noted for their fiscal insanity. I sense that the people in the Democratic party who actually have some understanding of math have taken a sort of “ok, we’ve had our fun, but this can’t go on forever” perspective. Maybe I’m wrong though, I speak as a complete outsider.

As for why taxes and not spending, because the general lefty view is that the government should provide more services, so they don’t want to remove any of them that are already there. It would purely be a sense of fiscal sanity that motivates higher tax rates rather than an ideological commitment (for this purpose only, lefties do seem to have an ideological or maybe just an emotional connection to high taxes, which just makes it easier)

That said, I think you could get lefties on board for cuts in defense spending. In terms of patronage, defense spending mostly goes to Red State types working at Lockheed Martin or somesuch, so lefties have no reason to want it.

“None, as long as that 90% rate is a *marginal* rate, above some level of income that they deem ‘enough’.”

Yeah, I was thinking of the actual 90% top marginal rate of the postwar era that guys like Yglesias seem to wax nostalgic for.

Comment by Matt

which nobody paid, except (ironically) lower-class mostly black entertainers and sports figures who hit it big and didn’t know how to avoid the tax. but lefties never bring that bit up!

Comment by A Lady

I want a leftie to explain to my why Yglesias is wrong when he proposed that the government collect net zero tax (on whom it chooses) and to then borrow all of the money for its operating costs. After all, rates are really low! Imagine the piles of cheap chalupas and racial spoils that would come in the form of tax credits!!

Comment by Dave

Lefties are so appallingly innumerate it beggars belief. They want to raise taxes because “taxes fund spending” (this is not actually true, but it is their dim awareness that Stuff does need to be paid for somehow, and the answer is always ‘more taxes’ because they are innumerate fruitbats.)

It’s like how they hate corporations and etc, except apparently when those corporations have a crony deal to hand out Stuff (like the one with the contract for Obamaphones who rakes in nasty nasty private profits on upsells to a massive captive customer base other corporations can only dream about having).

So that’s the argument, a hazy awareness that you gotta pay for Stuff somehow, so, uh, TAXES 4EVA.

Comment by A Lady

If you want guys like Buffet to shut the hell up, and the limo liberals to flee in terror. Stop talking about income taxes. Start talking about taxes on wealth instead, or taxes on social status and position. Then you’ll see just how real their redistributionist desires are (hint, not very, they want to hamstring their up and coming competition who is heavier in assets and income that can be taxed at higher rates). How about a MASSIVE tax on legal and accounting and wealth management services? Like 10,000% or so?

Comment by Jehu

Bill Voegeli nailed it in his book, Never Enough. The left cannot tell you what the “fair” tax rate would be, because they WANT to leave it open-ended. They don’t want to fix an amount that will be enough money to accomplish their program goals: first of all, because they cannot or will not measure program achievement (for fear of embarrassment?), and second, because if they did, they would have to acknowledge either (a) success, at which point the program ceases to expand, or (b) failure, at which point the indisputable argument would be to close the program down. Either result would be a tactical defeat for the left.

The left doesn’t see >$16T in debt or >$1.5T annual deficts as a BAD thing; the left sees the debt & deficits as justification to expand their grasp on the economic product of society. In the eyes of the left, the debt and deficits are GOOD things.

Comment by colocomment

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