Depressing Discoveries About My Libertarianism, Part 1

I have posted about 150 times here at BCC, but as I went back through the archives recently, I realized that the very first post I wrote is far and away the best one. This discovery depresses me in no small measure. One of the things I liked about it is that I let my love of free markets be seen, at least indirectly. I’ve generally shied away writing or commenting on politics since then, after discovering that most of the readers and most of my co-bloggers take a less-than-sunny view of market economics. I’ve told myself that I’m trying to avoid debates; in reality, I’ve realized just a coward. This discovery also depresses me in no small measure. In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about my political ideals, and have discovered several things about myself and my beliefs–nearly all of which–you guessed it–depress me in no small measure.

Over the next little while, and in the spirit of slicing the baloney thin (so no flavor can hide) I’m going to write about these depressing discoveries as they pertain to my libertarian mindset.

For today, I’ll keep it short:

When it comes to providing for the poor and needy through public taxation or private charity, I discovered that I’ve been kidding myself for years: If you decrease my tax rate a little bit, I’m probably not going to increase my charitable donations. Instead, I’m just going to eat out a little more often or watch a few more movies.

I think that if most libertarians looked themselves in the mirror, they’d come to the same conclusion.

Comments

  1. I think it ends up being a bit more complex than that. But yeah, the practical problem of libertarianism is that it’s too much of a pain to give in such a way that people actually get helped. That’s the #1 reason I can’t be a libertarian.

  2. Scott,
    I’m a moderate. I believe in freeish-market economies, but also am a fan of social programs. Your post reminds me of an interesting factoid I heard recently. The wealthy of our country give lots and lots when the economy is good. But when the economy is bad and more people are struggling, the wealthy have the same scarcity mentality most of us do, and give much less. I realize here I’m seeing “the wealthy” as the other. Maybe not fair, but it doesn’t feel like I’m a part of that group.

  3. It occurs to me too that looking back at history, the idea that the wealthy and charitable organizations will take care of the poor has never come to fruition in a way that does all the good that it should. I can’t help but think of Charles Dickens, The Grapes of Wrath, The Jungle and other poignant literature that is a stark reminder of how society really functions.

  4. So true.

    Reagan’s “trickle down” economic theory, in which he proposed that tax cuts to the rich would create more jobs and increase private charity to the poor,did not work. Instead, the poor became poorer and the rich became richer. Fragile populations, including the dying, sick, chronically ill, children, and the elderly, became more vulnerable and disenfranchised. The United States cares less for these populations that many other developed countries.

    I vote for the person whom I believe will best represent and follow the Savior’s teachings. Today, too often politicians from both parties seek to satisfy the demands of their corporate campaign donors rather that represent those of those who elected them. I find this a perplexing problem that deserves public scruntiny and wonder if federally-funded campaigns for president may be a solution.

  5. Katie88–
    Don’t get too carried away here. Despite what the Supreme Court may think when it comes to political donations, there are differences between humans and corporations, and your statement about Reagan’s policies is a touch too blankety for my tastes.

  6. Katie, I think that’s debatable. (Poor getting poorer) Also many people think Supply Side economics were the right answer given the context of the late 70′s. The problem many Republicans have today is assuming that because it was the right thing to do in the 80′s that somehow it’s still the solution to everything.

    Regarding the poor though this week’s EconTalk might be of interest to you. It’s a pretty great analysis of inequality in the middle class and the poor that was quite surprising. It’s the result of a lot of empirical studies by Bruce Meyer. The rich are getting richer, just not quite as fast as some say. However the difference between the 10th percentile and the median has surprisingly decreased. The other factor left out is that all those European countries with policies quite unlike Reagan also have the rich getting richer. Further most of the increase in poverty happened in the late 70′s and early 80′s. The main reason is almost certainly the large increase is single mother families.

    None of this is to deny that the poor need help though. Although I think we might differ in how to help them. While I find the libertarian view that “the market will solve it” or worse that it doesn’t matter to be highly questionable I’m not at all convinced neoliberal solutions necessarily are wise either. Ultimately though the best solution is to provide people jobs.

  7. Clark,
    You are right–it is more complex. I wanted to keep the post short, so I didn’t explain _why_ a marginal change in my tax rate won’t induce more donations. I’ll talk about that later when I am not on my phone, typing with my thumbs.

  8. Good point, Scott. But if you pry much further you discover that historically the origins of money had nothing to do with facilitating barter transactions a la Crusoe, and the concept of marginal utility is as morally bankrupt as it is a failure at actually describing human behavior. And then I’m not sure what’s left of Austrian economics. So, I’m looking forward to the development of this series!

  9. DCL,
    If you hope that I’m going to embark on a critique (or defense) of the Austrian school, you’ll be a bit disappointed. These posts will relate mostly to the intersection of my past and current notions of Mormon libertarianism. To the extent that Austrian school comes up, it will only be as a footnote.

    Also, despite what I said about marginal charitable donations in the OP, if I ever catch you spewing filthy lies about marginal utility again, I’ll curse you even unto the 4th generation. ;)

  10. Now that my tongue is back out of my cheek, I can sincerely say that I look forward to your thoughts on here.

  11. I’m a big “L” Libertarian and I don’t see the problem here. Yes, I would probably spend more money on myself if the Govt. let me have it back. I certainly don’t give away my tax returns! However, the end result of indulging myself more often would be… more jobs, a more dynamic economy, fewer un(der)employed, and less need for social(ist) programs. There will always be poor and needy who are unable to care for themselves. It is our moral and ethical responsibility as individuals to assist in their relief. The problem is that our past and present systems of entitlements have created more poor and needy than they have helped and created generations of otherwise able individuals who are socially and technically incapable of caring for themselves. There is no easy fix. Involuntary redistribution of wealth has never brought meaningful change. A truly free-market is something that we have never had. It is the only truly level and equitable system that allows (requires) all to participate and reap its benefits.

  12. Observer fka eric s says:

    You know that increased consumer spending is better for the econ than a commensurate tax hike. That goes for individuals as well as biz orgs.

  13. @11,
    No doubt. However, this ignores the way the argument I mention in the OP relates directly to helping poor people through charity. Helping the economy, and all its actors, indirectly, is a different issue.

    I have seen countless people argue that the government curtails private charitable donations by taxing would-be donors, and that if the govt would just butt out, then private charities would step up. I have never, ever seen someone say, “The way the private parties would step up is through indirect consumption that may or may not ultimately help a single needy person.”

  14. Involuntary redistribution of wealth has never brought meaningful change.

    Now you’re just being a silly goose. We could discuss all day and night about whether the impact of different redistribution programs is good or bad, but to say that there is _no_ impact is just cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

  15. Mike Parker says:

    “If you decrease my tax rate a little bit, I’m probably not going to increase my charitable donations. Instead, I’m just going to eat out a little more often or watch a few more movies.”

    Which would certainly provide extra revenue and jobs for the restaurant and movie theater industries.

  16. Mike,
    Like I said in 13–that is true. It’s just not the argument that libertarians always make. The argument is always “we will donate more,” not “we will spend more and provide economic stimulus.”

    Stated another way, the argument is always that taxation crowds out direct charitable donations; that is a different argument than saying taxation crowds out indirect economic stimulus. Both are important, but they are not the same, nor are they even close to being reasonable substitutes for each other.

  17. Wawho22 (11) A truly free-market is something that we have never had. It is the only truly level and equitable system that allows (requires) all to participate and reap its benefits.

    Why is it that Marxists and Libertarians often have nearly identical rhetoric? And failures are always due to the system not really being tried.

    There will always be poor and needy who are unable to care for themselves. It is our moral and ethical responsibility as individuals to assist in their relief.

    I think the concern ends up being situations where individuals don’t (or won’t) help. Say sufficient programs to help parents of autistic or disabled children. There are some programs run by charity but they are typically quite insufficient.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some excellent charities out there. But there are often logistical issues of getting help to the right people in the right quantities. Sometimes the market is the most effect method while other times it just isn’t. However while I’m no libertarian I do agree that often government causes many problems. I think regulatory capture is typically the biggest problem. However I just can’t accept the libertarian view that left without government involvement everything would just work out. I just see no evidence for that and merely pointing to government failures isn’t an answer.

  18. Welcome to the Dark Side, Scott. We socialists welcome you, our prodigal son, with open arms.

  19. Observer fka eric s says:

    The direct and indirect giving perspective you reference are precisely how Libertarian view is consistent with Christianity: you are giving through both theories without compulsion by a third party. And whether it is direct or indirect or both, society is qualitatively and quantatively better off than an alternative theory. Even though no L ever uses indirect consumptiion as an explanation for charitable giving, we know its actually happening in such an environment. No one thinks of consumption as charitable giving. But if I spend more on stilton at the mom and pop shop instead of on taxes, I feel better about where my extra duckets went.

    Katie88 – your unqualified statements re reagan results are qualitatively and quantitatively wrong. The economy was hoppin’ and opportunity was off the richter. A cold war and defense economy helped, but reaganomics allowed the econ to thrive.

  20. Btw, Mike, your dad is in my stake. Next time you’re down visiting, let me know!

  21. Eric,
    The point is, no matter how hard you try and convince me otherwise, I will never believe that “I am going to stimulate the economy and help people tonight by eating out,” passes through your head. It doesn’t pass through mine, anyway.

    The L’s I know try to argue that one type of giving is more worthy than another. I actually agree with that–fully and without equivocation. All I am saying is that the more worthy type of giving–the non-coerced–doesn’t happen (and wouldn’t happen) even close to as often as we L say it would/does happen.

  22. Mike Parker says:

    Scott: As coincidence would have it, I’m writing this at his dining room table.

  23. Scott, I’m excited to see the rest of the posts. I remember when I first began questioning the extreme conservative views of my youth. I found myself at a crossroads, one path leading to libertarianism and the other to liberalism. Thanks for sharing your discoveries!

  24. This was fun. And refreshing. I look forward to Part 2 and Part 3 and . . .

  25. No one thinks of consumption as charitable giving. But if I spend more on stilton at the mom and pop shop instead of on taxes, I feel better about where my extra duckets went.

    They don’t think of it as charitable giving because it’s not. It’s not unhelpful, but it isn’t charitable giving. Your stilton splurge (good choice btw) helps the cheese shop owners, but what about the sick, elderly, disabled, children, and others who can’t work at a cheese shop? Some people do need straight up charity. Where does actual charity fit in to your scheme?

  26. Cynthia,
    Dream on. I am, and likely always will be, a libertarian. The motives just shift around a bit.

  27. Scott,
    Quit kicking against the pricks.

  28. Mike (22),
    As bad timing would have it, I am in Logan, UT while you’re down there!

    (also, every comment and the entire OP have been written on my iPhone. I hope you people appreciate what i do for you.)

  29. Great post, Scott. Can’t wait to read future installments.

  30. It would be interesting to compare rates of charitable giving reported on income tax returns (where the charitable deduction is limited in certain ways) to giving reported on gift & estate tax returns (where the charitable deduction is unlimited) to see what the marginal increase is in the latter, to see whether Scott’s intuition is confirmed. I could not immediately google any studies like that, which would have to control for certain factors (such as net worth and the stock/flow differences between ad valorem and income taxes), although the data should be readily available.

    Observer, etc., why can’t the government be just as stimulative if, for instance, it taxes you and then happens to spend the money in the exact same way you would have? I thought the libertarian argument is that government lacks the profit motive and crowds out investment in the real economy by encouraging investment in its useless bonds?

  31. Peter LLC says:

    every comment and the entire OP have been written on my iPhone.

    Speaking of which, are you eligible for an upgrade? Also, your indirect consumption might not help anyone in the US, but think of what it does for the Chinese state coffers!

  32. I must be in the dark. If you eat out more, surely you must tip more. How does that not help the poor?

  33. I confess, sometimes when I’m loading up my cart with cheap stuff from Walmart or Target, I console my consumerism by thinking, “Well it’s helping the people in China have jobs.”

  34. True there (good one, 33). I started out typing the same idea for movie theaters before realising that most of that cash goes to the producers anyways. But that’s not always the case.

  35. I think that if most libertarians looked themselves in the mirror, they’d come to the same conclusion.

    Good thing then that they do not. Navel gazing is the conceit of liberals, who do it better.

    There are two reasons against giving your money to a poor person: 1) it is bad for their soul, 2) it is bad for your wallet. I understand and empathize with the angst that reason 1 gives a compassionate conservative: I too voted for welfare reform despite misgivings, but fortunately some good economic times gave jobs to most who wanted one.

    I won’t even comment on the greedy piglets masquerading as Libertarians clinging to reason 2. You know who you are. You owe it to your own soul to give away your lucre’s corrupting influence before Satan owns you completely. Said more optimistically: If it hurts to give away money, you’re doing it way to infrequently!

  36. I won’t even comment on the greedy piglets masquerading as Libertarians clinging to reason 2. You know who you are. You owe it to your own soul to give away your lucre’s corrupting influence before Satan owns you completely. Said more optimistically: If it hurts to give away money, you’re doing it way to infrequently!

    Wow! That was some refreshing bluntness — preach it brother Weston!

  37. ***Said more optimistically: If it hurts to give away money, you’re doing it way to infrequently!***

    Nice.

  38. Cynthia (#18): you’re a socialist? Or are you using that term as just a way of saying “I support increased social spending on public and welfare programs?” Because, you know, there are dark sides, and then there are Dark Sides. We on the Left like to keep our boundaries lines clear; we’re orderly that way.

  39. Yeah, Cynthia, don’t play with Russell’s emotions like that.

  40. Chris,
    If I am taxed less, I spend more elsewhere of my own choosing. This allows businesses to expand and hire more workers. This means there are fewer people on the unemployment roles.

    You describe the “broken window” concept of Keynes. A kid breaks a window in a store shop. The shop owner now spends money on a new window. Keynesians think that this expands the economy, such as a war does. Instead, all it does is forces the shop owner to spend in a certain area, rather in another area of his own choosing. It is just moving money around. In the case of the federal government, we end up with a very inefficient program. If we were to give every poor family a check for $25,000 a year, we would save hundreds of billions of dollars a year in overhead!

    The tsunami in Indonesia, which killed 250,000 people, showed an interesting fact about human behavior. Europeans, who are used to the government handling welfare and pretty much any/all issues, gave very little from their personal wealth to assist Indonesia. Meanwhile, private Americans donated more than any of the European nations did, as well as more than the American government did!

    While you may buy a Big Mac (which would help the economy), in a moment of local, national, or international crisis, most Americans would impart generously to assist where needed. As it is, we do not think much about such assistance, because government welfare affects our own behavior on how we donate and assist others. We lose our ability to genuinely care, have compassion and charity.

    This is not to say that government can’t nor shouldn’t help. But why the federal government? And why do we allow such a huge amount of waste into the system, when those hundreds of billions could be used to stimulate private business, and give many of those on welfare decent jobs?

  41. #4-#6 and beyond

    As much as fighting over Reagan feels like taking a ride on a Whirl-e-gig in a room of fun house mirrors these days….

    Lets cut Katie some slack. Sure the poor haven’t gotten poorer in absolute terms. I don’t think that is what she meant. The poor have gotten poorer in relative terms and relative terms matter a lot. There is no sane, peer-reviewed economist on the planet, including at UC that will dispute this. More importantly for the libertarian view-point is that the working class – those that actually work full-time ( therefore aren’t broken or even particularly lazy) and are near the median of the income distribution have also gotten relatively poorer compared to those above them. (See the podcast cited earlier. It is about absolute wealth and also about comparing the median to the poor. Inequality went down between the median and the poor because, wait for it…the middle class started looking more like the poor, but as they helpfully point out the poor and the mc did get richer in absolutist terms. Yay them.)

    Almost every graph of economic significance shows a sharp break in 1982. Before 1982, median total wages went up in tandem with productivity beginning in the mid-1980s this ceased to be true. Productivity continued to increase but median wages (yes including health care benefits for those who know about this stuff) basically flattened out (it increases slightly if you include health benefits, but just slightly). Incomes for the top 10% kept up with and even exceeded the rate of productivity growth. Incomes for the top 1% skyrocketed and for the top .1% even more so. (See Saez’s work) These are facts. If we can’t agree on facts it just isn’t even worth discussing further. But most people do accept these facts. The debate then becomes about what explains them.

    So what happened? Why the change? There are 4 major extant theories. 1) It was technology – Skill-biased Technological Change and technology assisted Winner-Take-All Markets 2) Globalization and Trade 3) Institutional policies (holding down the minimum wage, stripping effective collective bargaining rights, tax policy etc.) 4) Norms – it basically became morally acceptable to become very,very rich, to preference stock holders over all other stake holders in the firm etc.

    The last 2 could be seen as being directly influenced by Reagan et. al. The best current work in the area seems to indicate that is it about evenly weighted – 1/3 technology, 1/3 globalization/trade and 1/3 Institutions/Policy/Norms – though some even newer work has cast some pretty significant doubt that trade is that powerful. So yes the world changed technologically and with globalization. Our institutions and policies many rooted back in Reagan filtered these changes in such a way that income inequality has sharply risen in the US and risen, though far less sharply, in most other industrialized economies (the UK looks a lot like the US). The other thing that has happened during this time period is that *risk* has been shifted from organizations and institutions on to individuals workers and families. Separate from income considerations this has had a huge, huge impact and shouldn’t be overlooked, especially in relationship to the OP’s driving insight.

    The question before society now is how much inequality and risk shifting can we take before social cohesion breaks down. There is not doubt that we can use policy and institutions to reign in inequality and share risk. Libertarians (in my experience) like to argue the cost is too high because it constrains absolute growth and growth solves all. It isn’t clear to me that strong evidence shows that these policies constrain growth and I am far more convinced that growth alone can solve our problems. I am absolutely willing to say that I would give up some economic growth to decrease socio-economic inequality and spread risk from there current, what i consider dangerous, levels. We have enough absolute wealth in the US IMHO to afford the luxury of a more reasonable GINI coefficient. For me the most important thing is that we create a society so that those who work an honest days labor can support a family in a reasonable lifestyle (recognizing that reasonable is and will always be a relative term) with decent long run security.

    Sorry for the long comment. I hope this is seen as reasonably balanced and might catch up some readers on the basics of the debate and situation we are facing.

  42. And here’s another argument for Libertarianism that even the Liberals should agree with: big government leads to other forms of welfare. We just spent trillions of dollars bailing out the big banks and hedge funds. How’s that for welfare? Did it make any of us feel good that we were saving the jobs of millionaires and corporate execs? The problem for me isn’t in having government do good things, but that government often doesn’t choose well on how to handle its (our) resources.
    That we could have spent those trillions of dollars given to the big banks from stimulus and QE 1, 2, etc., on paying off mortgages so average people were not being foreclosed upon, seems to have not been noticed by the liberals in the White House and Congress.
    We have literally spent our way into national foreclosure or a second Great Recession! And it was all done in the name of helping someone out.
    Each time government steps in boldly, we have to be careful to see that it ends up not making things worse. LBJ’s war on poverty is as failed a program as the war on drugs. Yes, we helped some truly poor people along the way, but did we take them out of poverty? Or did we leave them poor and actually expanded the number of poor and needy in our country? Personally, I think government would have been more charitable not to have helped them at all.
    Had the government left it to the states and private charities, I believe we would have seen many people lifted out of the welfare roles, and at a smaller cost than the trillions we’ve spent on the war on poverty.

  43. “Stated another way, the argument is always that taxation crowds out direct charitable donations; that is a different argument than saying taxation crowds out indirect economic stimulus. Both are important, but they are not the same, nor are they even close to being reasonable substitutes for each other.”

    I think you’ve run into a problem here in that, while you’re trying to make a clean separation between charitable donations and economic stimulus, the two concepts are closely aligned in the practical world. As Rameumpton noted, spending money enables individuals to be employed. Take that away and there are more people in need of direct charitable donations.

    But I think the larger point (and I mean this sincerely and not as ad hominem) is that if your tax rates go down, and you then donate less, that seems to be more of a personal flaw than an ideological flaw.

  44. Scott’s only personal flaw is that he is open and honest. That he is willing to be honest while knowing that this will bring out the ideological swine, speaks as a testament to him.

    Scott is charitable, forgiving, and kind. While this is really more an assessment of human nature than Scott, those questioning his character…have now been warned.

  45. Rpt “(and I mean this sincerely and not as ad hominem)”

    Chris, call off the dogs, this ideological swine is not questioning Scott’s character. I think you know my point, but to set it out differently, that individuals are less (or are not any more) inclined to give when they have more says less about the ideology itself than it does about where that particular individual is on a personal level. I don’t subscribe to the notion that being libertarian means someone is naturally averse to charitable giving.

  46. My handlers have already called me off. Sorry.

  47. Chris, I am sure that Scott has personal flaws besides being open and honest! For example, he didn’t put an image into this post.

    WJ is right – if tax rates go down and you subsequently donate less, that’s a personal flaw… and that is I think part of Scott’s point: that the bold talk of libertarians giving to the poor may just be talk.

  48. small star says:

    The rich give just under half as much, as a percentage of their income as the poor do. This is the opposite effect you would expect to see if taxes were an issue. Plus, the rich are much more likely to give to status-enhancing organizations than to charities that help the poor. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22FOB-wwln-t.html

  49. WJ (#43): I suppose you could say that is a personal flaw. Do you think that Scott’s confession is not a personal flaw that most people have? It seems to me that this is just part of human nature. If that is the case, what good is an ideology that doesn’t factor in how people are most likely to act? If we were going to do that, why not go for Anarchy and assume everyone will treat everyone else fairly, negating the need for any government?

  50. Good post. I’ve not yet read the comments, but time is of the essence, but my question is that I never thought tax cuts were supposed to create charitable giving. I thought it was supposed to spur spending for things like eating out and watching movies. This makes more movie theaters and restaurants, creates more jobs, etc. Now this is frustrating to me, because it treats the general population like stupid people, but I don’t know that it’s a terrible idea. Isn’t that why we got a tax cut last year and the Jobs bill has a tax cut in it this year?

    Due to an econ class I had a while back, I also think of myself as a libertarian. I just wish that right wing nut jobs hadn’t co-opted the term. It feels kind of like “Intelligent Design” where a certain subset ruined the phrase and everyone else had to move on to “theistic evolution” so as to not associate themselves with the crazies.

  51. Mr. Weston,

    Here’s one I’ve heard just as often: if it doesn’t hurt you to give money, then you’re not giving enough.

    Dilemma!

  52. I’ll believe Scott is charitable when he gives each of us, 20… no…50 dollars! ;)

    Or, he can take us out to McDonald’s with his tax refund check…..

  53. “Dream on. I am, and likely always will be, a libertarian.”

    Even a socialist can be a libertarian.

    “if tax rates go down and you subsequently donate less, that’s a personal flaw”

    Yes, but it’s also an indicator of the fact that many of the economic theories in question here (not just libertarian ones, mind you) are founded on a wholly untenable model of individual and shared human nature.

    Am I the only one who finds it interesting that most of the defenses of a more libertarian approach on this thread are demand-side arguments?

  54. This would be a lot more interesting if it were a post about depressing discoveries about your libertinism.

  55. rah (41) The poor have gotten poorer in relative terms and relative terms matter a lot.

    Relative to what? Relative to the median they have gotten less poor. That was my point.

  56. People, Reagan was many things, good and ill, but an economic libertarian wasn’t one of them. Don’t confuse the issue.

  57. WJ (43) But I think the larger point (and I mean this sincerely and not as ad hominem) is that if your tax rates go down, and you then donate less, that seems to be more of a personal flaw than an ideological flaw.

    It’s an ideological flaw if the ideology presupposes that people don’t do this in general. The solutions are to deny the issue of charity as mattering, which is the route a lot of libertarians take. i.e. yes, we might end up with less charity, but it’s far worse to take someone’s money through taxes. My skepticism there is that despite a lot of rhetoric of not minding if roads, fire departments, police, and armies were private, I just can’t imagine most libertarians wanting to live in such a society. It becomes just yet an other utopian scheme with no particular reason to think it would work.

  58. Um, if it hurts me to give to charity, maybe that’s because I have very little money that isn’t already spoken for. Maybe we should have less judgmental overstatements in our discourse. Just sayin, y’all.

  59. geoff (#49)

    I do think its a flaw that most people have and I agree that it is part of human nature. But I don’t think the best response is to establish a system that forces people to be good. If people are forced to be good, their actions no longer qualify as good. The value is in having the choice, and then making the most out of that choice, which I think is consistent with the whole notion of free agency. I’m just saying don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Why not keep the libertarian concept, while improving the quality of my choices within that concept?

    Minimum standards are necessary, as is the authority to enforce those standards, but a system that prohibits you from killing another person is entirely different from a system that requires you to donate to charity.

  60. WJ,
    The system doesn’t force people to be good. That isn’t even its intent. It does feed poor people, which is its intent. Whether or not it makes anyone good is beyond the scope of economics.

  61. Peter LLC says:

    40: The tsunami in Indonesia, which killed 250,000 people, showed an interesting fact about human behavior.

    Let me guess–that ideologues won’t hestitate to make political hay from human misery?

    Europeans, who are used to the government handling welfare and pretty much any/all issues, gave very little from their personal wealth to assist Indonesia.

    Nonsense. Europeans gave and give substantially from their personal wealth to assist the victims of natural disasters in Indonesia and all over the world. The fact that their labor is taxed at rates far higher than in the US might explain what myopic Americans perceive as an atrophied sense of charity, but keep in mind that a well-funded social welfare net in a representative democracy is itself a very real commitment to the principle of solidarity with the unfortunate that motivate right-minded people all over the world to help the poor, some just more systematically than others.

  62. But if poor people don’t starve…can we really be free?

  63. observer fka eric s says:

    Cynthia (25) – I would drop my change in the homeless dood’s cup on the way out of the store (without questioning whether he will use it to by booze or drugs). Then I would offer professional services on the house to the elderly that evening, who can’t pay for such services themselves.

    DCL (30) But governments all over the planet in the post WWII era have proven time and time again that they willl not and do not spend my money “in the exact same way [that I] would have.” And I like being able to chose (agency) where my money goes over being compelled (loss of agency) some appointee’s administrator. And regarding the useless bonds, you are right about that as well: the government makes useless decisions about most financial affairs. For example, here is an article from 1999 summarizing how the government put pressure on the Fannies to provide sub prime loans to people who could not otherwise afford a more conservative loan: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/09/30/business/fannie-mae-eases-credit-to-aid-mortgage-lending.html In other words, the government does stuff that it thinks is helping people. But most of the time what it is doing is interfering with natural market processes and ends up screwing people even worse than they were to begin with. The government has the best of intentions, but the worst solutions. The policy summarized in this article basically demonstrates the beginning of the financial catastrophy the world is in right now, which has utterly devasted lives across the planet.

    Scott (21), you’re absolutely right: I’ll be the first to readily admit that my cash and/or in kind charitable giving does not increase with a reduction in tax or other gov obligation/compulsion (or commensurate refund). For example, remember the Bush $500 “stimulus” (that I didn’t get, anywaay)? Well, stuff like that would go directly to my interest-bearing account. But I think you would agree that extrapolating a general value on liberal economic perspective based on whether I chose to directly give charitable cash/in kind donations in such a situation–alone and without consideration to other factors at play in such an economy–is not a comprehensive appraisal of the theory.

  64. I am a Libertarian. That said, I would note that I am not an anarchic-Libertarian. I believe there is a role for government. However, it needs to be at the lowest level possible. The massive federal government we now have has shown it is capable of making very rich people even richer, while impoverishing and shrinking the middle class.
    Their efforts may feed the poor, but generally do not help the poor to rise above their situation into something better. Instead, regulations tend to break families apart, encourage babies out of wedlock, and encourage living on the dole.
    I think Pres Uchtdorf’s Conference talk on Church welfare was a great one. It focused on compassion, but also did not neglect the concept of self-responsibility. Given the hundreds of billions wasted in the welfare, Medicare, Medicaid, and other federal programs each and every year, can we not agree that the current system has serious flaws?
    If Medicare and Medicaid collapse from their unfunded mandates (to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars), how then will we help those poor who will suddenly be even poorer?
    And keeping generations of poor stuck in slum projects and in failing government schools is NOT charity. It is a pretense of caring, when in reality it is just a method to keep the poor quiet.
    I have no problem with states and local governments handling welfare issues in their area. The feds should get out of it all. They have failed the American public, just as with many other socialist programs in other countries have failed. Greece is collapsing because of a federally run “charity” called welfare. Again, the wrong kind of welfare charity turns humans into leeches that no longer have compassion or charity, but only insist they get their own entitlements.
    I understand Scott’s concern regarding a pure libertarianism’s risks. However, I do not think that the current system is any better. Do we allow some people to starve physically? Or do we allow the feds to just kill them mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in a slow lifelong process that continues from generation to generation?

  65. Just a couple of comments before I have to hit the road for the day:

    Steve Evans:

    Chris, I am sure that Scott has personal flaws besides being open and honest! For example, he didn’t put an image into this post.

    Are you blind?

    WJ is right – if tax rates go down and you subsequently donate less, that’s a personal flaw… and that is I think part of Scott’s point: that the bold talk of libertarians giving to the poor may just be talk.

    Bingo. That is precisely what I’m saying.

    Brad:

    Yes, but it’s also an indicator of the fact that many of the economic theories in question here (not just libertarian ones, mind you) are founded on a wholly untenable model of individual and shared human nature.

    Not so fast, Anthro-bot.**

    **You’ll just have to imagine what a lengthy rebuke would like here, since I’m not going to type it out on my thumbs. Just trust me–it would be devastating.

  66. Noted, scottyb.

  67. Lets just say that many years ago I changed my major from anthropology to microeconomics (B.S., in more ways than one), and was a lot dumber for it. Ka-zam!

  68. Steve Evans says:

    Scott, I guess my standards for a suitable image are just super-high. That and I’m blind.

  69. Being blind, does this mean Steve E is now eligible for government hand outs? Or should we leave him to beg for scraps from the libertarians here?

  70. observer fka eric s says:

    DCL – Fwiw, and not to digress the thread, I concur that your switch was a huge mistake. Anthro is simply the raddest and I regret not sticking with it, principally because I was graced by gst goofing in class.

  71. I’m not a fan of the idea that taxes restrict my agency to help others – mostly for the same reason outlined in the OP. Like Scott, I don’t really think that I’d be oh-so-charitable if only the government didn’t take so much from me. Even with the taxes I pay, I find that I have plenty of freedom to spend my money on satisfying my own wants rather than another person’s needs.

  72. WJ (59): John C already responded in the same manner I would have. I’ll just add that I’ve heard the argument many times that if the government “forces” people to be taxed to help the poor then their aid for the poor does them no good because it was forced and not their free-will. I realize you didn’t say exactly this, so don’t think I’m accusing you of it, just mentioning arguments I’ve frequently heard. In response to said argument, I’d first say that in our country we can vote for our representatives to make and change laws and as such saying laws “force” us to do anything is hyperbole. Secondly, I’d say that if we willingly pay taxes, happily doing so to help those in need, then it is counted for our good, whereas if we do so grudgingly it is as though we hadn’t helped.

    Part of my reason for rejecting a libertarian approach to helping the poor was reading about how such aid functioned before the New Deal. Ken Burns documentary on the Prohibition briefly discussed how the poor tried to get aid from churches and charities during the time of Hoover and how insufficient it was. Additionally, I found this book ( http://www.amazon.com/Widows-Orphans-First-1880-1939-American/dp/0252030206 ) to be a fascinating look at how different local areas approaching caring for the poor.

    I’m not convinced that my views are correct, but they’re the best I’ve been able to work out based on the information I’ve been able to find. I’m happy to see more discussions like these because they can very often shape my views for the better.

  73. There was a macro version of Scott’s concept tried out about 7 years ago, and apparently is being lobbied for again in congress currently. The idea was to give US companies a tax holiday on profits from foreign operations, so that the money could be “brought back” (a somewhat silly term as it is for the most part already in US banks) and used to create more jobs, expand R&D, etc. In fact, the majority of companies spent the $300 billion or so on repurchasing their own stocks, resulting in big spikes in their share prices, which directly benefited the corporations, and indirectly fattened the wallets of executives and large stockholders as the value of their shares went up.

    Note that I differentiate between the idea of repurchasing stock to enhance share values, which is inherently neither good nor evil, just profitable, and lobbying under the guise of stimulus for a tax holiday that likely will be spent in just the same way as it was seven years ago by the same companies. They in effect took their tax cut and went to more movies and ate out more, metaphorically speaking.

  74. libertarianism + covenant making = the best way to take care of the poor.
    Or in other words, liberty + the gospel = no poor among you.
    A lofty ideal, but an ideal that Heavenly Father expects us to meet, eventually.

  75. SB, those two equations you set up are not synonymous with each other, nor is it obvious that either of them are actually correct.

  76. Yes, we should all be libertarian because God wants us to be. That is why he chose Milton Friedman as his prophet.

  77. Steve, do you hate Heavenly Father?

  78. If He wants me to be a libertarian like Him then I need to strongly think about the relationship.

  79. Steve, didn’t you already do the thinking in the Great Council in heaven? Or did you just flip a coin while sitting on the fence?

  80. #79, if Steve did that, he’d have a better tan.

    Also, this is the first time I’ve heard that the war in heaven was about American political ideologies. This changes everything!

  81. Moriah Jovan says:

    When the Prophet speaks, the thinking has been done for you.

  82. An aside–geoffsn, this–”I’m not convinced that my views are correct, but they’re the best I’ve been able to work out based on the information I’ve been able to find. I’m happy to see more discussions like these because they can very often shape my views for the better”–was the best disclaimer I’ve seen in a while. We should all cross-stitch it and hang it on our walls.

  83. Peter LLC says:

    Greece is collapsing because of a federally run “charity” called welfare.

    No it isn’t. It is collapsing because of rampant fraud, waste and abuse. If social spending had anything to do with a welfare state’s fiscal collapse then Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Belgium should be even worse off given the higher percentage of GDP they devote to welfare.

  84. Kristine – Instead of cross-stitching, let’s make it a more modern-mormon project: If you paint it on a plank of wood I’ll buy one from you. ;)

  85. #61: Peter LLC said: “The fact that their labor is taxed at rates far higher than in the US might explain what myopic Americans perceive as an atrophied sense of charity, but keep in mind that a well-funded social welfare net in a representative democracy is itself a very real commitment to the principle of solidarity with the unfortunate that motivate right-minded people all over the world to help the poor, some just more systematically than others.”

    AMEN. I would add, too, that in countries with an extensive social safety net where I have spend much time, there is a very strong expectation of personal responsibility as well–the idea being that if you are able-bodied and you’re given opportunities for education, healthcare, employment, etc., you really have no excuse for not taking care of yourself and your family. It is harder to blame failure on absence of opportunity.

    Additionally, when we talk about “programs for the poor” we tend to get really sloppy and speak as if the gov’t takes the $ right out of the banker’s wallet and hands it over to the hobo. Federal spending to benefit the poor takes many different forms. If you had shown up in Southern Utah in the 1930s and told my grandpa and uncles that digging irrigation canals (many still in use today, I suspect) for the CCC or the WPA turned then into lazy loafers on the dole, they would have kicked your @$$. Same with the GI Bill after WWII, Pell Grants, etc.

  86. I’ve never thought it was that high taxes discouraged charitable giving, but the mindset that caring for the needy is properly government’s job (not ours, individually) makes people more comfortable with their current level of giving (which wouldn’t be necessary at all if government would just take care of everybody like it’s supposed to). But it’s complicated, isn’t it?

  87. geoffsn (84) – No painting. It’s all about the vinyl lettering.

  88. Moriah,
    I think you meant Profit

  89. Moriah Jovan says:

    I think you meant Profit

    It’s possible. I’m a bit fan of his.

  90. Peter LLC says:

    the mindset that caring for the needy is properly government’s job (not ours, individually)

    I think it’s fair enough to expect a government to perform the jobs it was elected to perform and to use the taxes it collects for their ostensible purposes (in accordance with the principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, of course). I realize that that theory and practice often diverge and institutions can take on a life of their own, but in a representative democracy government ought to be less of a boogeyman and more of an expression of collective will.

  91. I think there is a difference between government stepping in during extreme times of distress under the General Welfare clause (Great Depression, for example), versus managing everything in regular periods of time. While Sweden may have a program that is working, many nations do not. We are more like Greece than we are Sweden, when it comes to inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of government programs and regulations.
    That most of the things our federal government now does can be done by the states, and often better, should be considered. There is little to no reason why the federal government is involved in welfare during most economic periods. Perhaps now during the Great Recession may be a time for the feds to step in, yet so far their efforts have created this mess (regulating economic bubbles) and none of their efforts have done much in the way of stimulating anything. The big stimulus package “saved” 2 million jobs, but at the cost of $287,000 per job. We simply can’t afford such inefficiencies. Yet, Medicare/Medicaid is even more inefficient and wasteful.

  92. S.P. Bailey says:

    I don’t mean to spoil a perfectly good anecdote by bringing up data, but this post brought to mind Arthur C. Brooks’ claim that conservatives who practice religion, live in traditional nuclear families and reject the notion that the government should engage in income redistribution are the most generous Americans. And that conversely, secular liberals who believe fervently in government entitlement programs give far less to charity. Link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/Who-Really-Cares-Compasionate-Conservatism/dp/0465008216

  93. SP, since I am unaware of any secular liberals on this thread, I am not sure how that relates to the discussion at hand.

  94. S.P. Bailey (#92):
    Not to spoil dressed up data with more data, but the divide is actually between the religious and non-religious. Religious conservatives and religious liberals gave the same amount. However, if there is to be a divide in political ideology, secular liberals were much more generous than secular conservatives. This is from Arthur Brooks himself:
    http://geoffsn.blogspot.com/2011/05/who-gives-more.html

  95. If I’m taxed less, it’s going straight into my savings account.

  96. S.P. Bailey says:

    Hi Chris and Geoff,
    I didn’t say it was a perfect fit. I said Scott’s post reminded me of Brooks. I am aware of the fact that we are mostly religious around here. Scott is saying he would likely spend additional disposable income made available to him through a hypothetical tax cut on himself. Brooks makes me believe other religious people may be more altruistic than Scott. Then again, who knows? Maybe Scott is more generous than he lets on and this post is just him humble-bragging.

  97. I think it’s fair enough to expect a government to perform the jobs it was elected to perform and to use the taxes it collects for their ostensible purposes (in accordance with the principles of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, of course).

    Well, of course. I wouldn’t suggest otherwise.

  98. I give 10 percent of my income to the LDS Church. While this does count as charitable giving on paper, it is not donating to the needs of the poor. In other words, your data mostly just proves that religious people give to non-profits…mostly the churches they attend. It says little about genorosity to the poor.

  99. S.P. Bailey says:

    Chris: you seem to assume that no tithing funds benefit the poor. Why? Also, you neglect to mention many other forms of giving of religious people make that does benefit the poor (e.g., fast offerings, food drives, humanitarian relief, disaster relief, thrift stores, etc., etc.)

  100. Chris H. (98): In S.P. Bailey’s defense, Arthur Brookes also looks at donations to secular charities and the religious (both conservative and liberal) gave more than secular individuals. As I pointed out however, Brooks himself has shown the data elsewhere (I source it and show it in my linked blogpost) that religious liberals and conservatives give the same amount and are tied for 1st place in terms of generosity. Again, secular liberals were much more generous than secular conservatives, so if Brookes’ research shows anything, it shows that religion spurs aid for the poor more than anything else, and if political ideology plays a minor role (looking at non-religious individuals), liberals are more generous.

  101. S.P. Bailey says:

    Just assume that all errors in my previous comment are intentional. I am very proud of that third sentence!

  102. If you decrease my tax rate a little bit,….

    …you’ll be more free to show who you really are and what you really value.

    This, to me, is the real issue. Coerced charity is no charity. If you choose to watch a few more movies with your extra money, you have showed “where your treasure is”. If you are made less rich via taxation, you are less free to show where your treasure is.

    Taking large chunks (or small chunks) of wealth from people under threat of jail, and giving it to others destroys the process in which we make ourselves more charitable/Christlike/giving. It robs the giving of its transformative power.

    I think that if most libertarians looked themselves in the mirror, they’d come to the same conclusion.

    Oh, I have, and I discovered I’m a lot less giving than I *need to be* to be like Him. Taking more of my income and giving it to someone else will not help make me more like Him. I have to learn how to do it for myself– of my own free will.

  103. N.,

    I am not trying to make you charitable. Why? Because I do not give a flying rat’s ass about whether you are charitable.

  104. S.P. Bailey says:

    The trend apparent in Brooks’ data is also interesting. Religious conservatives are a large and growing group, while religious liberals are a relatively small and shrinking group. Thus, in terms of dollars/hours donated, religious conservatives give much, much more than any other group. It will be interesting to see whether those trends hold up over time.

  105. Do we really view taxes as limiting our freedoms? Does money=freedom? Certainly money can give us more opportunities which can be viewed as ‘more freedom.’ If we continue with this logic, then that means that the poor are far from free. This would also mean that by very slightly taking away the freedom of some, we can vastly increase the freedom of others. Really then, social welfare programs could be viewed as a significant increase in the net freedom of a society.

    I guess I don’t see taxes as a limit on our freedom. I’m all for “no taxation without representation,” but we do have representation (sorry DC!) and we choose individuals to represent our interests. If we choose as a society to have a social safety net, I don’t view this as “coerced charity” because we all had the chance to vote for it. King Benjamin shows us that we’re judged on the intents of our heart when we don’t have the chance to physically “show where our treasure is.” If we would have given could we, we’re blessed. If we pay taxes gratefully, viewing it as a blessing to help others, we’ll be blessed. If we give grudgingly (either voluntarily to charity or by law through taxes) we don’t receive the blessings.

    Again, I understand how others would have vastly different interpretations, but this is how I see it. I don’t think taxes to social welfare programs as “coerced” or “forced” charity, nor do I think it robs us of blessings.

  106. S.P. Bailey (104): That trend is interesting. However, being a former conservative who has since become fairly progressive in my politics and maintained my religiosity, I like to think that the trend is shifting. I can only base this on personal anecdote, but many friends from my mission and others in my age group have also begun to shift left politically while remaining quite religious. I hope that my own observations are not the anomaly; I’d love to see more data on this.

  107. Moriah Jovan says:

    Do we really view taxes as limiting our freedoms?

    Yes.

    And oppressive regulations, especially for small businesses and those of us who are self-employed.

  108. Moriah Jovan (107): I’d hope you followed that logic through. What do you think then of social welfare programs creating a net increase in freedom in society?

    FWIW, I was self-employed for a few years and worked in a small business. I mention it just to disabuse the idea that small business/self-employed = conservative/small government. I don’t think you’re pushing that idea, but I just wanted to toss it out there.

  109. I think this is right that the issue of a good society is rather different from the issue of charity. I also agree completely with the conservative critique that people give less if they think it’s the government’s responsibility.The problem is that I just don’t think necessary services will be provided by charity nor do I think they should. The ultimate question is what we should expect the government to try and achieve in our society. There I think conservatives and liberals simply disagree with each other. However libertarians seem to be completely out of the discussion by more or less saying the government should do almost nothing and that the nature of services in society doesn’t matter. (I recognize some think that all the services will appear via charity – but I just see no evidence for that and a lot against.)

    My sense of conservatism is that the government should only do what can’t be done by the private sector and that we should be encouraging people to be productive members of society as much as possible and not merely taking care of them. That’s clearly different from libertarianism though.

  110. Clark (109): I like a lot of what you said, especially regarding views of the role of government. I have a question for you though on this statement:

    I also agree completely with the conservative critique that people give less if they think it’s the government’s responsibility.

    How do you reconcile that belief with the data showing that religious liberals (like myself) give just as much as religious conservatives even though I believe that the government has a responsibility to care for the poor? Or that secular liberals give much more than secular conservatives?

  111. MikeInWeHo says:

    All of us would probably rather live in a society where the sick are cared for, the hungry are fed, and the poor are sustained. Can we not look to history for examples of cultures that have come closest to achieving these ideals? Forget endless arguments about taxation and politics. Who has made the most progress? I am genuinely curious.

  112. observer fka eric s says:

    111 – Monaco, Brunei, San Marcos, Switzerland

  113. Moriah Jovan says:

    What do you think then of social welfare programs creating a net increase in freedom in society?

    Please define which social welfare programs. The ones that help the poor merely subsist in poverty, where, if they work and earn any amount above poverty level they are then cut off from the services they need?

    At some point, shouldn’t a social welfare program’s goal be to help the poor out of poverty? I don’t see that happening. All I see is the perpetuation of poverty, always keeping one foot on the neck of the poor and, now, perhaps one foot on the neck of the lower middle class.

    Am I arguing for more money to be thrown at the problem? I don’t know. Am I arguing for all monies to be stripped from the programs? I don’t know. I’m not arguing anything. I’m saying that what we have isn’t doing anything but keeping people in stasis.

    As to my own situation: If I make one dollar more than what I can make to stay in the tax bracket I’m in, I get bumped to the next higher tax bracket, which means I pay more, which means I take a net loss. A huge one. So for one dollar of net profit I’m penalized as if I had made $100,000+ net profit. And I’m so not eligible for any government programs. I would have been better off not making that extra dollar.

  114. If I make one dollar more than what I can make to stay in the tax bracket I’m in, I get bumped to the next higher tax bracket, which means I pay more, which means I take a net loss. A huge one. So for one dollar of net profit I’m penalized as if I had made $100,000+ net profit.

    That’s not true though. Everyone, millionaire or someone making $15,000 per year is taxed at same rate (10%) for the first $17,000 dollars they earn (for married filing). Then everyone pays 15% on the money they earn above $17,000 up to $69,000. And so on and so on. You never cross some threshold that makes you pay a higher rate on earlier earnings resulting in a net loss.

  115. Moriah Jovan says:

    You forgot self-employment taxes.

  116. You bring up a good point. Our tax laws are far from perfect and there is much we can improve. I think that because people discuss things from different ideological perspectives, our discourse can end up seeming to be overly simplistic. I hope that I didn’t seem as though I feel that all taxes are effective or that our current social welfare programs are ideal. Far from it. I’m just more inclined to improve them and continue them while we do so than by slashing funding for them while we create an improved system.

  117. Moriah Jovan says:

    Here’s my problem: If I thought that social programs actually WERE helping people out of poverty, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it. But they seem especially formulated to keep people IN poverty or just one step above it.

    So not only do I feel like my taxes are being deliberately handled to oppress others who are less fortunate than I am, I feel like I’m being punished for not being in that class.

    Just because one doesn’t want his money (aka freedom and choice) taken away from him (capriciously) doesn’t mean that he wants others to suffer. These are not mutually exclusive concepts.

  118. Moriah Jovan says:

    And if it seems like I’m grumping especially over taxes, it’s because I’m doing mine right now and am looking at a hefty bill to pay that, if I had earned just a little less, I wouldn’t have to pay. My increased income sure helped my family and our circumstance this year, but…now I’m gonna have to work more hours to pull money out of my arse–and the way I’ll do that will bite me there next year, too. Worse.

    And then I look at all the time I actually spent working and not spending with my family and realize that, hey, I could’ve spent a lot more time with my family if I hadn’t worked so hard. I coulda relaxed a little.

    Am I resentful? Hell, yeah, I am. Actually, I’m really pissed off.

    Now I’m going to go find some more receipts. I know they’re here somewhere..

  119. I am not trying to make you charitable. Why? Because I do not give a flying rat’s ass about whether you are charitable.

    I think you took my comment too personally. I’m sorry if I have inadvertently offended, or led you to believe I was engaging in some sort of dispute.

  120. First, I hope I didn’t imply that someone who dislikes taxes must want others to suffer.

    I realize that you likely wouldn’t want a government program to set out to help people out of poverty. But since you said if it were effective you wouldn’t have much of a problem with it, what changes would you propose to fix the programs to do so? Which aspects of the programs do you view as problematic?

    I’m not sure I understand your logic in your second paragraph. If you feel that the programs are “oppressing” others who are less fortunate than you, why do you feel you’re being punished for not being one of them? Do you really view the government as oppressing the poor and punishing those who aren’t poor? If yes, do you think this is somehow intentional?

    Lastly, out of curiosity, of those still reading the thread who consider themselves libertarian, how many have spent time living in developing countries, and if yes, which ones?

  121. Moriah Jovan says:

    Do you really view the government as oppressing the poor and punishing those who aren’t poor? If yes, do you think this is somehow intentional?

    Yes and yes.

  122. N,

    Nothing personal.

  123. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 112
    OK, but what about besides tiny, super-rich nations such as those?

  124. Conversely, just because one doesn’t mind having his earnings, property values, or various economic transactions taxed in order to pay for the government to be able (however imperfectly) to do any number of things, including providing a social safety net for the impoverished, doesn’t mean that he is conceding to have his freedom and choice capriciously taken away. The poverty reduction programs that my family and I have personally benefited from—including WIC, foodstamps, the EIC, and medicaid—have in no way kept us in poverty or given us a perverse incentive to remain there. On the contrary they have made it possible to complete graduate school while raising an unusually large number of kids, free from the stress of potential health-related bankruptcy, and without incurring an insurmountable quantity of debt in the process. I recognize that we’re just one data point, but there it is.

    If you don’t think social programs are at least somewhat effective at keeping people out of poverty, you should compare the old-age poverty rates before and after the institution of social security. The system does a world of good, despite its inefficiencies and imperfections.

  125. I’d still like to know what changes you’d propose for the various welfare programs in existence and in what specific ways they oppress the poor. It seems you have a lot of data you’d need to argue out of existence.

    Have you lived in any other countries?

    Who do you view as the group behind oppressing the poor and working classes through the government? Are you big into conspiracy theories? Do you have evidence for the group setting out to oppress everyone through government? I’m curious to better understand how you view things.

  126. “if I had earned just a little less, I wouldn’t have to pay.”

    The tax system, especially for the self-employed, is complicated to navigate. But this is a navigation error, not a systemic problem (except to the extent that the complexity leads to similar navigational mistakes).

  127. Julie M. Smith says:
  128. Moriah Jovan says:

    @geoffsn I didn’t realize I was going to be asked to write a brief on an opinion.

  129. @Moriah, Sorry. You certainly don’t have to. I could just make the assumption that because your views don’t make sense to me that you’re crazy or ignorant or something, but I don’t believe that’s the case at all. As I said, I would really just like to better understand your views because they’re so different from mine it’s hard to really understand.

  130. straight talker says:

    Lefties have such nice ideals for redistributing other people’s money. But what’s the point of such theft? We’ll always have the poor, and at some point you run out of other people’s money trying to change that. I say don’t covet, don’t steal and let nature rule. You can’t put off Darwin forever anyway. We’re not all meant to be breeders and not all genes get thrown back in the pool.

  131. None of our founding fathers considered taxation with representation to be theft.

    It’s funny that you’re fine with the verse about the poor always being with us, but ignore the verse about the earth being full with enough to spare.

    In paying lip service to Darwin, you ignore the very traits that allowed us from a Darwinian perspective to thrive as a species. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/altruism-biological/

  132. Geoff, I’m almost 100% certain that straight talker is a lefty troll trying to make conservatives look like heartless a##holes.

  133. Moriah Jovan says:

    I could just make the assumption that because your views don’t make sense to me that you’re crazy or ignorant or something, but I don’t believe that’s the case at all.

    Look, you asked me a closed-ended question, I gave you an answer you don’t understand and I didn’t elaborate, so you basically called me a crackpot.

    I have a very, very, very long list of what I would do to change the social programs (i.e., not eradicate them), but I am not about to spend hours and hours typing it out and then debating it. Occasionally I comment on blogs, but not often because I don’t have time. Today, I dropped in for a sec, said things I usually don’t talk about online anyway, and do not now have time to follow up after I unintentionally dropped a turd in the punch bowl.

    Trust me, there is nothing I’d like more than to explain my rationale in excruciating detail, but I don’t have the luxury of time.

  134. Brad: Thanks. I thought that might be the case, but last time I was sure someone was troll, I was wrong and caused some serious offense with my sarcastic response, both for the person I mistook for a troll, and our mutual friend.

    Moriah: I really didn’t mean to imply that you were crazy in any way. I really do just want to understand. If you find the time eventually, I really would like to hear your thoughts.

  135. straight talker says:

    Hey, it’s redistribution I object to, not taxation. Also I wasn’t quoting Jesus, but stating the obvious that we’ll always have the poor. Give all your money to the poor if you see fit; but don’t steal mine to make yourself feel good. Lastly, it’s absurd to think all genes get thrown back in the pool. Darwin will win in the end; why fight it?

  136. As pointed out by queno in #95 and mentioned by geoffsn in #131 the problem with libertarian based tax policy is that a very few control the majority of the earth’s bounty. Not much has changed since the time of serfs and landowners. Those few who hold the largest piece of the pie won’t spend the money saved by lower taxes, it just goes on the pile. So while lowering taxes on my middle class income will marginally redistribute my income among serfs, much of it trickles back up to the landowners, and our piece of the pie continues to shrink.

  137. Great comments from everyone on this thread, so my appreciation to you all. I am sorry that my travels meant I wasn’t able to participate in a more meaningful way (besides delivering the death blow to Brad’s arguments–and likely to his entire career, actually–in #65).

  138. Geoffsn (110) How do you reconcile that belief with the data showing that religious liberals (like myself) give just as much as religious conservatives even though I believe that the government has a responsibility to care for the poor?

    I don’t think the effect is tied to whether a person is conservative or liberal but rather what the government is doing. So liberals may favor government programs but both liberal and conservative charity relative to that issue will go down if the government steps in.

    Once again to be clear I don’t think this has much to do with whether the government should be doing something simply because I don’t think it’s the government’s job to ensure everyone is being charitable. Rather I think the government has a job to ensure a certain functioning of the nation as a whole and what that constitutes changes with time.

  139. Matt (136) Not much has changed since the time of serfs and landowners.

    Umm. I think you need to read more history about what it was actually like back then and how many people owned property.

  140. That’s a bit of a metaphor, but the concept is the same.

  141. Glass Ceiling says:

    We are going to have problems with the poor until we educate them. This country discriminates education and then expects everyone to compete.

    Besides, we are still paying for the fruits of slavery. And we are paying for the fruits of classism. I know I sound Communist but I’m not. Until we stop being so suspicious of our poor, we will never know how to help our poor. People don’t run headlong into harm without having been harmed plenty already. And IMO, if you don’t know any poor people (people on the margin of survival ) then, to me, your opinion is suspect. Sure, tour vote counts

  142. Glass Ceiling says:

    Sure, your vote counts like everyone else’s (which means it hardly counts ). But your opinions are suspect to me. I am not saying you have to be poor to have a valid opinion, but you should know a little about the suffering that exists before making sweeping generalities.

    But I agree with Moriah that the problems hurt everyone. We need large changes. Some that tighten the belt, some that loosen it. And I believe that the trend of killing the middle class is undoubtedly intentional. Educated slaves are just too lucrative to pass up.

    Here is an idea : reeducate everyone who cannot pass a basic skill test…and teach then how to raise their kids to value their own education.

    Here’s another: bring back corporal punishment to public schools. One kid can ruin a classroom. And one spanking can keep many would-be jackasses in line . But no! It’s wrong to hurt a child, right? We’d rather have him incarcerated or dead in an alley, and we’d rather have her pregnant at 15 raising another doomed generation.

  143. Glass Ceiling–

    I am not saying you have to be poor to have a valid opinion, but you should know a little about the suffering that exists before making sweeping generalities.

    I like it. It may not feel too classy, begging just to eat. But you know who does that? Lassie! (And she always gets a treat!) So you wonder what your part is ’cause you’re homeless and depressed. But home is where the heart is so your real home’s in your chest!

    We are going to have problems with the poor until we educate them. This country discriminates education and then expects everyone to compete…bring back corporal punishment to public schools. One kid can ruin a classroom. And one spanking can keep many would-be jackasses in line . But no! It’s wrong to hurt a child, right? We’d rather have him incarcerated or dead in an alley, and we’d rather have her pregnant at 15 raising another doomed generation.

    It’s true–there’re so many different muscles we can flex: There’s the “deltoids of compassion,” there’s the “abs of being kind.” It’s not enough to bash in heads, we’ve got to bash in minds!

    Here is an idea : reeducate everyone who cannot pass a basic skill test…and teach then how to raise their kids to value their own education.

    I like it. Don’t worry if it’s hard–if you’re not a friggin’ ‘tard, you will prevail!

  144. Glass Ceiling says:

    Hammer,

    Thanks for the support. :)

  145. Glass Ceiling says:

    Hammer,

    The thing is, poverty is one of the few issues that we go out of our way to not meet head on. We actually try to avoid looking at deeply for fear of feeling obligated.

    I used to fall for the Libertarian philosophy. But the OP is just too correct on the fact that people are not going to give as often as they say they will. And whoever brought up the comment about Dickens and Steinbeck deserves a gold star.

    And as far as President Benson’s political stance, there may be some merit in it…when corporations aren’t leaving, banks don’t run the country, and governments aren’t dabbling in fascism.

  146. And I didn’t think the thread couldn’t get any worse….

  147. Whatchu got against Captain Hammer, Chris?!?

  148. Glass Ceiling says:

    Chris,

    Glad to be there for ya….

  149. I want to challenge all the Libertarians on this thread, (and also the liberals, conservatives, religious and secular, and those of all other persuasions, too) to join me in liking, cheering on, and/or participating in Friday Fast to Feed the Hungry.

  150. What’s wrong with eating out more and watching more movies? You are providing for everyone that worked on those films and work at the movie theatres and restaurants.

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