Paying for America

I just paid my taxes, and I have to say, I always take pride when I do so.  I don't like having less money to spend, of course, and the complexity of the process is really upsetting.  But I am proud to pay for democracy, and I feel when I do send money to the DC Treasurer and the US Treasury that that is what I am doing.  The right-wing likes to pretend as if taxes are a burden instead of the price of democracy.  And I suppose, if you hate democracy, as the right-wing does, then taxes are the price for paying for something you really don't want.  Personally, I find banking fees, high cable and internet charges, health care costs, and credit card hidden charges much more abrasive than taxes, because with those I'm just being ripped off to pay for someone's summer home.

Patriotism is about recognizing that we are all connected in a fundamental moral and physical sense, that the war in Iraq is our war, that poverty in New Orleans is our poverty, that public funding to cure cancer comes from each of us and not just the scientists who have made it theirs.  The tax burden we face is a very small price to pay for the privilege of taking responsibility for our own freedom and our own society.  And the hatred of taxes on the right comes from a hatred for this responsibility.  It's childish and immoral and unAmerican.

Now, what is a problem is the complexity of our tax system.  Complexity is a tool that powerful elites can and do use to intimidate and control people without access to capital and connections.  With modern technology, there is just no reason for this complexity anymore except the business coalitions that push for specific tax breaks and the politicians who love them.  This complexity not only upsets and disempowers people like us, it empowers the powerful to skip out on their tax burden.

It's not a coincidence that Grover Norquist, the architect of the right-wing ascension to power, runs an organization called Americans for Tax Reform.  People like Norquist, who are charlatans at heart and deeply unpatriotic and immoral, use the complexity in the tax code that they help to create to persuade Americans that taxes are bad.  This is also true in states all over the country, where it is the unpredictability of property tax burdens and not the amount that causes schools to go wanting for funding.

Our tax code is the DNA of our nation's moral compass.  I am proud to pay taxes because I take pride in America, and paying some tiny burden to keep our society running is an extremely small price to pay for being able to call myself an American citizen.  The old expression 'you get what you pay for' is apt for all sorts of situations.  People tend to express what they value in how much they are willing to pay for it.  I am willing and feel privileged for the right to pay for my country.  The right-wing is embittered to do so, if they do so at all.  And that, more than anything, says something about how much they value this experiment called America.

Update [2007-4-16 18:59:50 by Matt Stoller]: Powerline wants to pretend like we're just discussing different taxing strategies, but apparently his talking points didn't get around in time. Here's what reactionaries really think about taxes.

Great, I am happy that you are so willing to help other people: that is what charities are for Matt.

And, umh, I’d rather choose what to spend my money on, instead of the government and people like you deciding for me what I should do with my own money.

As I wrote, they are spoiled children. And no, I'm not just picking a random wingnut to quote. Grover Norquist built his entire career getting right-wingers to commit to never raising taxes under any circumstances, and the business coalitions underlying the right-wing, coalitions spearheaded by groups like the US Chamber of Commerce, are fighting tooth and nail to help tax cheats.

Tags: Taxes (all tags)



Re: Paying for America
Excellent article.  You have posed a great thought.  We all get grumpy about taxes but, yes, it is so needed to run our country.  To pay for the services and the infrastructure.  People want the services without having to pay for it.  Thank you for reminding us.
And, I agree that Norquist is a charlatan.
by vwcat 2007-04-16 07:04AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

If you ever question whether Grover Norquist is evil, know that he believes that the Greatest Generation is Anti-American.  Here's one of Grover's greatest lapses into honesty, and the reason I'm sure he has me on a special list.  He apparently didn't think that anyone would notice if he went all honest in a Spanish paper.

Each year, 2 million people who fought in the Second World War and lived through the Great Depression die. This generation has been an exeception in American history, because it has defended anti-American policies.  They voted for the creation of the welfare state and obligatory military service. They are the base of the Democratic Party. And they are dying. And, at the same time, all the time more Americans have stocks. That makes them defend the interests of business, because it is their own interest. Because of that, it's impossible to bring to the fore policies of social hate, of class warfare."

by ManfromMiddletown 2007-04-16 07:08AM | 0 recs
The right-wing

Doesn't hate taxes. It hates that taxes are so high to pay for programs that the government has no business being in charge of and for the vastly excessive government bureaucracy. Show me one Republican, conservative, libertarian, or otherwise who has said that a taxes are not neccesary.

by Va Blogger 2007-04-16 07:12AM | 0 recs
Re: The right-wing

I think that post of yours is about to go follow a young girl to see the wizard hoping for a brain.

They implemented the largest cut in taxes ever in the middle of what they themselves claim is some giant epic struggle of civilizations.  I doubt the Romans were pushing for Tax cuts as the visigoths were circling in on Rome, or that the British were doing so in the middle of the Napoleonic wars.

The right hates taxes even more than they hate muslim terrorists.  By their actions do we judge them.

by scientician 2007-04-16 08:08AM | 0 recs
Re: The right-wing

Oh, I think we were. It's just that our right-wingers were honest about not believing in government having any role larger than massacring trade unionists and not giving a damn about the British sailors or rankers. It's the lying that gets me.

by Englishlefty 2007-04-16 11:22AM | 0 recs
Re: The right-wing

Yooooou said it.

by AaronE 2007-04-16 12:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Every year, I get my taxes done at H&R Block, and every year, the tax preparer tells me they've done all they can to save me money.

Every year, I tell them "I don't mind paying, the government needs the money more than I do right now."

This year, money is quite tight, with a new house, kids on the way, but I still said "the government needs the money more than I do" because in a Democracy, the government is US. Paying my taxes is paying for my future children's nation, and I owe my kids tomorrow my taxes today.

by Paradox13 2007-04-16 07:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

I agree, I don't hate taxes, and I am more than willing to pay my fair share.

But this year, having a Connecticut Civil Union, I had to do my federal taxes twice.  Once as if my partner and I were actually married by federal standards (to get the AGI there), and then again the way I had to file them: as "single".

The difference was $7000.  I paid $7000 extra because I can't get married.  I've done my taxes twice many times before (though previously only out of curiosity, not necessity).  And each time, we've wound up paying six or seven thousand dollars more than we would have had our relationship been recognized.  Multiply that by the 11 years we've been together, and you could buy a house in some parts of the country.

by rjact 2007-04-16 07:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Well said.  I have the opposite problem.  For some reason because I am married we are ensnared by the Alternative Minimum Tax but I did our taxes as single people and we weren't.  The tax code makes no sense.

by John Mills 2007-04-16 08:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Don't you love that they kept the AMT but abolished the Dividend tax?

by Valatan 2007-04-16 10:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

If we can ever re-define 'taxes' as 'community investment'  or 'patriotic dues' or some such, we'll start to see some real changes. Maybe 'Homeland Support Funds.' I'd love to see the right complaining about paying too much Homeland Support Investment.

by BingoL 2007-04-16 07:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

You can't rename things!  I'm a right-winger that insists on calling things how they are!  Let's get back to abolishing that death tax

by Valatan 2007-04-16 10:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Great post.  That's exactly how I feel.  GOPers never bitch about those million dollar a mile highways they use to drive their vulgar SUV behemoths down the road, nor do they bitch about five billion dollar aircraft carriers.  And they never complain about the TRILLION wasted in Iraq.

How many women on welfare for the next HUNDRED years in this country would it take to even begin to put a dent in a trillion dollars?

I fucking hate Republicans.

by jgarcia 2007-04-16 07:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

btw, my spouse and I, being same-sex married in Massachusetts, CANNOT file jointly with the feds.  But, hey, I am not bitching.  At least we have full marriage rights in this one state.  

by jgarcia 2007-04-16 08:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

:::GOPers never bitch about those million dollar a mile highways they use to drive their vulgar SUV behemoths down the road, nor do they bitch about five billion dollar aircraft carriers.  And they never complain about the TRILLION wasted in Iraq.:::

It's almost as if they feel that infrastructure and national defense are legitimate governmental functions, whereas paying somebody who has squandered their (taxpayer-funded) educational opportunities to lay around watching soap operas all day isnt.  The nerve of some people.  

by StephenCUA2001 2007-04-17 08:20PM | 0 recs
The Federal Tax Code

is 22 Megabytes of plain text.

I can't imagine a good reason for so much complexity and detail and I belive it's mostly loopholes and giveaways slipped in to let various powerful and monied interests cheat and not pay their fair share.

Also, the personal income tax situation is annoying enough to fill out all the paperwork and forms that I'd guess they could get a way with a tax increase if they simplified things because the net annoyance at taxes would be less. I'm suddenly curious: How much does this complexity cost the IRS? How much extra bureaucracy is required to grind through all the rules on their end and make sure everything was handled correctly? How much money would we save by eliminating needless complications?

by bolson 2007-04-16 07:46AM | 0 recs
Re: The Federal Tax Code

Yeah, I've wondered that as well... you could probably save a massive amount in the reduced audit cost, number of accountants employed, etc by simplifying the tax code.  

Though I think this is a problem with law in general--a ton of unnecessary complexity builds up over the years, and the cost of really understanding the system becomes insurmountable for non-experts.  

by Valatan 2007-04-16 10:49AM | 0 recs
Re: The Federal Tax Code

A large part of the complexity of the tax code comes from trying to close loop holes and tax frauds.  You start with something simple, like "income is taxed," and suddenly, people start arguing that their paycheck isn't income.  So you then go to stuff like, "income is blah blah blah, and it damn well includes your effing paycheck, and yes it also includes that 'side business' of yours."

And so on.

by pseudo999 2007-04-17 09:19AM | 0 recs
Re: The Federal Tax Code

Actually, I think the problem is they don't spend enough checking up on the complexity. Every additional IRS auditor more than pays for himself in recovered funds. Mostly the IRS works on trust, and as such we get screwed out of billions of dollars in unpaid taxes owed, particularly by the very wealthy and the big corporations who can afford to mask their criminality and further afford the paperwork/slap on the wrist, if they do happen to get caught.

by jujube 2007-04-16 04:31PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Well said.  I have no problem paying taxes.  It is the price of a civil society.

Where I have a problem is the inequities built into the system such as the Alternative Minimum Tax (The NY Times has a great editorial on it today).  Why are my wife and I ensnared by this thing b/c we are married but would escape it if we were single?  I saw another poster said he pays more taxes because is gay and cannot get married.  Both of these things make no sense.  

Income should be taxed equitably whether or not you are married are not.  Shouldn't make a bit of difference.  If we got rid of this and other unfairness in the tax, I'd pay my taxes without a peep but until that occurs I will continue to be vocal about this and other inequities in the tax system.

by John Mills 2007-04-16 08:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Tax breaks for marriage are an indirect way of subsidizing children and families.

We can debate the merits, of course, but societies do need their members to keep having enough kids to pay for the next generation.  So there is an argument for finding ways to make child-rearing more attractive.

by scientician 2007-04-16 08:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

This argument is similar to the one the realtors use for keeping the home mortgage interest deduction - homeownership rates would decline.  Don't get me wrong - I am happy to take advantage of the tax break but England doesn't have a mortgage interest deduction and has 67% homeownership which is almost the same as the US.  

I'd love to see data but I suspect you would have little difference in child birth rates if you removed some of the tax code advantages for married couples.  These breaks are very unfair to people who have remained single or can't marry b/c of people's ridiculous fear of gay marriage.

by John Mills 2007-04-16 08:21AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

No idea personally, I wasn't really taking a side in the issue, merely relaying the underlying reasoning behind the policy.

I could be convinced either way by solid empirical data.  Good analogy with the homeownership thing.

by scientician 2007-04-16 08:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

It's worth bearing in mind that England used to have a lot of social housing, but Thatcher sold most of that off to the occupants, thus screwing over both the new owners, who couldn't afford the maintenance on the houses, and their children, who lack houses. So Britain's a slightly different case (and incidentally one where it does need to be made much easier to buy a house - the prices are increasing near exponentially and it's harder than ever to get on the property ladder, especially since so little new social housing is built nowadays.)

by Englishlefty 2007-04-16 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America


by John Mills 2007-04-16 12:21PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

The problem with the AMT is that inflation has made a reasonable progressive-era law look absurd.  The fact that that hasn't been rewritten while a massive number of other reforms have gone through is silly.

by Valatan 2007-04-16 10:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

And this is where the Democrats should take the lead. It is one area where they can say they are actually more aggressive than the Repubs at reducing the tax burden. Hillary, Obama, Edwards - what are your views on AMT? And as sitting senators, are Hillary and Obama going to do any real action on this or just talk ?

by Pravin 2007-04-17 07:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Thank the Republican Congress for not fixing the AMT.  There's really little to no doubt that the AMT will be fixed.

by pseudo999 2007-04-17 09:21AM | 0 recs
Wow Matt

I am impressed.  Also at the positive responses.

Touching really, that there are still people who are happy to pay for a better society.  The right wants us all to only think of ourselves, and to only see that tax line on our pay-stubs as "theft"

We must restore the honour and dignity of what it means to pay taxes.  

by scientician 2007-04-16 08:10AM | 0 recs
Re: Wow Matt


I think the right-wingers are more than happy to pay taxes for this war and a few other "essential" government services, but they think that most government expenditures can be characterized as "social welfare".

It's not that they are selfish about helping those in need, it's that they think "welfare" should be a private issue handled through private charities, and they put their money where their mouth is; Americans in general, and Repubs in particular, contribute more per capita to private charities than anyone in the world.

Let's argue about what the government ought to be doing and who should be paying how much for it, but we should be honest when describing our opponent's position.


by Rove Eats Puppies 2007-04-16 09:36AM | 0 recs
Pro-war anti-tax

I don't know how common this viewpoint is, but one rabid neo-con wannabe at my office is most definitely pro-war and frequently chides taxes as theft at gunpoint. And just thinking about him makes me angry so I'll stop now and go mail my tax check to the IRS.

by bolson 2007-04-16 10:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Wow Matt

I'd be interested to see data on that. I really have no idea, but I'm surprised to hear that Republicans are more generous when giving to charity. Is that as a percentage of income/wealth (if Republicans are generally more wealthy, then they might be expected to give more in dollars, but less as a percentage? likewise with Americans?) or in dollars?

I'd also disagree with the statement that: "right-wingers are more than happy to pay taxes"
Even when it's for a war they support, I've heard many wingers complain about taxes. And really it's hard to complain about paying taxes and then try and qualify it by saying you only don't like some of what it's spent on. I don't want my taxes spent on an illegal war, or the largest military in the world, or faith-based initiatives, or Dick Cheney's salary, or the "war on drugs" or putting people to death or coroporate welfare, but I do want taxes (and more than just mine) spent on roads and science and national parks and clean water and universities and foriegn aid and social security and a fair judicial system and any number of other things that government does and provides. I don't get to choose, so I pay my taxes and I work to elect people who, and pass legislation which, will shift the priorities towards mine.

by jujube 2007-04-16 04:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Wow Matt

What "private charities" are we talking about here?  Because I can easily imagine some really, amazingly rich Republicans donating to one of their very own "private charities" for a tax break.

And when we talk about more per capita, how about more as a percentage of their income?  And how about underlying demographics?  Republicans who are anti-tax are generally the richest.  Simply put, they can afford to give more per capita, and they can even give a greater percentage.  For example, if you making $20k / year, most all of your money goes into the basics.  No room for donations there.  If you made $200k / year, then sure, you can easily donate $10k.  That's more in both raw and percentage terms.

Also, per capita is not an average.  Really, all you need is one Warren Buffet to make everyone else look good.

by pseudo999 2007-04-17 09:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Wow Matt
After posting yesterday, I went and did a little reading, and the obvious thing I was missing is that the largest "private charity" category by far are religious institutions. Something close to 40% of all donations to private charities are to churches. Further, evangelicals are the most generous group when you look at donations to "private charitys" but something close to 80% of those donations are to their churches.
Now churches do many good things, but they don't replace government. They don't build roads, they don't arrest criminals, they don't enforce contracts or defend the country or fund research or protect our food/water supply etc. Even the things they might be credited with, feeding the poor or providing aid to the elderly, they don't do anywhere near as efficiently or broadly as government.
It's fine if republicans want to give to their churches, but that doesn't replace the necessary functions of government, and thus doesn't excuse their owed taxes or even excuse the whining about it.
by jujube 2007-04-17 04:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Count me as another one who doesn't mind paying taxes (and having written some pretty big checks over the years).  I've always thought it disingenuous for the right and libertarians to primarily and generically talk of "cutting taxes" when their real conversation should be about reducing spending, eliminating government programs, and/or shifting to  taxes to fees paid by relevant users.  But like most ideas promoted on the right, using honesty and directness in their arguments is counter to their nature.  

Personally I think the government is in the best position to do quite a lot for society and rather than reducing government spending per se we need to work on priorities and efficiency.  Frankly my experience with both govt and large corporations is that they are equally likely to be inefficient but that a well-run govt program will often be more cost-effective than the equivalent private sector effort.  Obviously both the profit motive and higher pay for upper management play into a sizable part of the difference but I think there is also a level of commitment differential.  Contrary to the conservative line, there are plenty of people out there that are motivated by more than a paycheck.  

by cthulhu 2007-04-16 08:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

I too feel proud to pay my taxes. When I have under-estimated, have to pay additional, I always count my blessings that our business has the money to do so. But I feel best when April 15th comes and I have estimated correctly and don't have to pay extra - like this year! Woooo hoooo!

But being a small business owner, I have to go through a file box full of personal records and put them in order before I can send them to my tax accountant then they add the business income info. There has to be a better, simpler way. Too many forms, too many hoops, too many records. We pay a lot for personal and business tax accounting and record keeping. And I spent a lot of time the past two weeks getting it all in order. (I am not one to record everything as I go! I seem to be too busy trying to get Democrats elected!)

Happy tax day everyone. My wish is that you all have paid in enough and don't have to send a check with your return!

by greenchiledem 2007-04-16 08:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Just a quick point here. You write well, but you seem to have forgotten throughout the essay that America is NOT a democracy, it is and has always been a Constitutional Republic.


by SD 2007-04-16 08:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Ah, the old John Bircher line pops up...

by Matt Stoller 2007-04-16 09:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America


Is the John Bircher (sic) comment meant to discredit the statement that we if fact live in a Constitutional Republic? Would you prefer to live in an actual Democracy in which all rights/laws are subject to the whim of a 51% majority rule? If we did live in such a place, Bush & Co could have really done way more damage during his first term.

Ps I think you meant John Birch? Not Bircher?

by Rove Eats Puppies 2007-04-16 10:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

A John Bircher is one who follows the ideas of the John Birch Society. John Birch was a missionary killed in China, and so far as I know didn't make any particularly erudite comments on the governmental system of the US.

by Englishlefty 2007-04-16 11:31AM | 0 recs
democracy, by any other name...

America is NOT a democracy

I think point is that the USA is not a direct democracy, and that's fine with me because direct democracy beyond about a hundred poeple is a inefficient tiresome debachle.

So, I'll call US a "Constitutional Representative Democracy". Ok, now, did you have a point to make about the subtle consequences of our form of government, or do you just like yelling "america is not a democracy"?

by bolson 2007-04-16 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: democracy, by any other name...


I hate to quibble with you over apparent semantics, but simply claiming that we live in a "Constitutional Representative Democracy" doesn't make it so. The US is a Republic.

I don't know if the previous poster had a point in making the distinction, but I do.

I think the general view in our culture that "we live in a democracy" leads many in our society to justify virtually any unconstitutional action by our "leaders" (Bush et al) simply because they were democratically elected or got a majority vote in Congress. The founders despised Democracy and put in place Constitutional principles in the form of a Republic or order to guard against the excesses and tyranny of a democratic form of rule.


by Rove Eats Puppies 2007-04-16 11:47AM | 0 recs
Re: democracy, by any other name...

But that notion has evolved over the years.  The point of the original Progressive movement was to convert our government to be something more aptly described as a Representative democracy.  That was the motivation behind the direct election of Senators, women's suffrage, as well as initiative, referendum and recall.  

This is not to ignore older reforms that would be argued as a move toward a form of government more resembling democracy, most notably extending the franchise to non-property owners, and the 14th amendment.  

Not to mention that the preamble of the constitution clearly states where the "authority" of the US government comes from--"we the people".

by Valatan 2007-04-16 12:40PM | 0 recs
Re: democracy, by any other name...

There's also the point, widely forgotten, that the US has become less representative, less democratic, over the years.

The Consititution spelled out that we are supposed to have representatives for every 30,000 citizens.  Nowadays, each representative covers something like 300,000 people.

The House should be MUCH larger.  The House is, in fact, in violation of the Constitution.  Technically speaking, We The People, can have them all impeached.

The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative

by JJCPA 2007-04-17 06:03AM | 0 recs
Re: democracy, by any other name...

wow. no, representatives represent double that. 550,000-750,000

by AaronE 2007-04-17 07:14AM | 0 recs
Re: democracy, by any other name...

Read carefully, it says "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand"

The current composition of the House is completely within those rules. There are ~.1 Representatives per every 30,000 people. ~.1 does not exceed one and every state has at least 1 Rep.

by College Progressive 2007-04-17 08:22AM | 0 recs
Re: democracy, by any other name...

Ah... hmmm... I think technically we're a "Constitutional Democratic Republic." founded on liberal philosophic thought and republican government, both of which where denied by the English prior to the revolution.

POL 3225, "American Political Thought"

by AaronE 2007-04-16 12:49PM | 0 recs
Re: democracy, by any other name...

The point of my original comment was the first paragraph where he stated "The right-wing likes to pretend as if taxes are a burden instead of the price of democracy."

That makes the whole thing based on a flawed, completely INCORRECT basis.

The United States of America is one of the oldest constitutional republics in the world.

The fact that a constitution exists that limits the government's power, makes the state constitutional. That the heads of state and other officials are chosen by election, rather than inheriting their positions, and that their decisions are subject to judicial review makes a state republican.

The constitutional republic with its limitations on popular government is clearly involved in the Constitution, as seen in the election of the President, the election of the Senate and the appointment of the Supreme Court." That is, the ability of the people to choose officials in government is checked by not allowing them to elect Supreme Court justices. A republic, as distinguished from a democracy, the people are not only checked in choosing officials but also in making laws.

A Bill of Rights exists in the U.S. Constitution which protects certain individual rights. The individual rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights cannot be voted away by the majority of citizens if they wished to oppress a minority who does not agree the restrictions on liberty that they wish to impose. To eliminate these rights would require government officials overcoming constitutional checks as well as a two-thirds majority vote of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the States in order to amend the Constitution.

John Adams defined a constitutional republic as "a government of laws, and not of men.

In historical usages and especially when considering the works of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the word "democracy" refers solely to direct democracy, while a representative democracy where representatives of the people are elected and whose power to govern is limited by laws enshrined in a constitution is referred to as a constitutional republic.

There is a very good reason that our Pledge of Allegiance refers to our country as a Republic and there is a very good reason that our Declaration of Independence and our constitution  do not even mentioned the word "democracy".

Many people are under the false impression our form of government is a democracy, or representative democracy. This is of course completely untrue. The Founders were extremely knowledgeable about the issue of democracy and feared a democracy as much as a monarchy.

A Constitutional Republic has some similarities to democracy in that it uses democratic processes to elect representatives and pass new laws, etc.  The critical difference lies in the fact that a Constitutional Republic has a Constitution that limits the powers of the government.  It also spells out how the government is structured, creating checks on its power and balancing power between the different branches.

Sorry, but it just bothers me when well spoken, supposedly educated people cannot even understand the differences and either misrepresent or deliberately lie to their reads by calling America a democracy.

by SD 2007-04-16 04:40PM | 0 recs
Re: democracy, by any other name...

Some of the founders.  Good ole Jefferson was a democrat.

by jallen 2007-04-16 05:32PM | 0 recs
Pedantry, and irrelevant

Nobody gives a shit about the difference between a "democracy" and a "republic" in whatever narrow PoliSci 101 sense you are trying to distinguish them.

There are no "democracies" on earth.  No one operates a modern nation by referendum.  So knock off the pointless distinction, as if this damages Matt's point in any way.

In everday parlance, people refer to America as a democracy.  Perhaps that distinction was important in 1776, but it's not now.  

Whether America is a "democracy" or a "republic", there would be a cost to running the state apparatus, and taxes would be the price of that system.  Sheesh.

by scientician 2007-04-17 06:29AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Matt, I so much agreee.

I wish just once that I would hear a politician stand up and say these things.

So many of the problems in American politics come down to the fact that counter-arguments to pernicious ideas are never given voice. This is a great example of one such counter-argument that many proud Americans would relate to.

I would add that in my time canvassing door to door I found many center-right types that would be open to a critical evaluation of the question, "does the government waste money?" There is this correlate myth out there that it does, and there are certainly examples of graft and corruption in the defense industry and in the corporate tax code. A politician who was able to take these complicated mixtures of myth and taboo on in real time would face considerable backlash from the media cartels, but would on the other hand get some support from people not often sympathetic to liberals.

Viva la blogs!

by chimneyswift 2007-04-16 08:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

As the Sun sets on the neo-cons and the righties it will rise once again on the importance of sharing to cost of Democracy! I often equate Taxes with paying for our curches!

by eddieb 2007-04-17 06:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

I'm surprised so many people here are so happy to be forced to pay for a federal government that's twice as large as it was in 1994 when the Republicans took over (look it up -- $2.9 trillion vs. $1.46 trillion), and that includes being forced to pay hundreds of billions yearly for an illegal war of aggression.

The right doesn't hate taxes -- they're collecting more of them than ever before.  They cut tax rates a little to dupe the libertarians (who were once naive enough to believe that the left was the greater enemy of freedom) into staying on their side.

I agree with a lot of people here on a lot of issues, but high taxes is not one of them.  Democrats could make huge electoral gains if they would become the party of less expensive government.  Since George Bush is now outspending Bill Clinton by 62%, there is a lot of room for a Democratic presidential candidate to campaign on cutting the federal budget, while still supporting progressive priorities.

by Lex 2007-04-16 09:14AM | 0 recs
Another ignorant republican troll

The government has VASTLY expanded under the CONSERVATIVE GEORGE W BUSH.  It is just disguised by unbelievably huge lies about the budget.  Take the military (please).  Today's military is supplemented by huge numbers of contractors and paid for by IOUs. It is easily 10 times the size that it was under Clinton, but disguised by Repukeliscum gimmicks.

by dataguy 2007-04-17 05:29AM | 0 recs
I'm fine with paying mine

but it pisses me off when people and corporations get legal cheats out of paying their fair share.

by bolson 2007-04-16 09:58AM | 0 recs
An inequity that no one talks about

There is no adjustment for local cost of living in the federal tax code.  This is fundamentally unjust.  Someone who lives in rural Tennessee and makes $50,000 a year is pretty clearly middle class.  Someone in San Fransisco or New York who makes the same salary is barely scraping by.  Yet they are in the same tax bracket, and pay identical taxes (minus the deduction for state and local taxes).  The former person probably even has a mortgage that they get to deduct, while the latter certainly is renting.  

Surely they can adjust by local HUD prices or something?

by Valatan 2007-04-16 10:56AM | 0 recs
Re: An inequity that no one talks about


With all due respect, this type of inequity is talked about ad nasuem and various attempts over the years to correct these various inequities are the primary reason why the tax code now consists of over 5-million words.

Since the inception of the 13th amendment in 1916 and the subsequent tax code, all forms of special interests (individual and corporate) have put forth reasons why they should get special exemptions and Congress has tried to accommodate them leading to the current state of affairs.


by Rove Eats Puppies 2007-04-16 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: An inequity that no one talks about


there is no cost of living adjustment in the ta code.  It is not the reason the tax code is at five million words.  Giveaways to various special interests are the reason that the tax code is as long as it is.  Adjusting for inequities amongst individuals is barely done.

by Valatan 2007-04-16 11:34AM | 0 recs
Re: An inequity that no one talks about


You are correct that there are no direct cost of living adjustments in the tax code. However, in your example, those who live in San Fran vs Tenn would on average have higher personal deductions for things like home interest and state income tax.

You are also right that the complexity of the tax code is driven by "special interests", but that includes virtually every group who has a "special interest", including the people of San Fran who have a special interest relative to those in Tenn.


by Rove Eats Puppies 2007-04-16 12:21PM | 0 recs
Re: An inequity that no one talks about

Renters don't deduct home interest.  Someone making $50,000 can't buy in dense urban areas with an already high cost of living--rent on a 1 BR in NYC is something like $1500, minimum.  Paying a much, much higher local and state income tax, and getting to deduct those payments is hardly a consolation.

by Valatan 2007-04-16 12:29PM | 0 recs
Re: An inequity that no one talks about


I completely agree with your last post.


by Rove Eats Puppies 2007-04-16 01:05PM | 0 recs
Re: An inequity that no one talks about

The tax code has long since valued home ownership over renting.  It's the "American Dream."  It's pandering to the middle class.  It's the "Heartland" of America.  It generally craps on dense urban housing and is good for suburbia and rural areas.  Next time you hear someone say home ownership is the American Dream, remember that this is the consequence of that viewpoint.

by pseudo999 2007-04-17 09:41AM | 0 recs
Re: An inequity that no one talks about

FYI, i love your handle.

by AaronE 2007-04-17 07:18AM | 0 recs
Re: An inequity that no one talks about

However, generally speaking, a person working the same job in Tennessee as a person in NYC makes less than the person in NYC.  

An engineer in Tennessee may earn a salary of $50,000.  An engineer in the same capacity in NYC would make $65,000.

by JJCPA 2007-04-17 06:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

"And I suppose, if you hate democracy, as the right-wing does"

As a member of the right-wing I object to you questioning our patriotism.

by abwtf 2007-04-16 11:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

>>>As a member of the right-wing

Um, so what are you doing posting here?

by jgarcia 2007-04-16 11:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Is this a closed-shop?

by abwtf 2007-04-16 12:14PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Very much so.

by Englishlefty 2007-04-16 01:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Then act like a patriot.

by Matt Stoller 2007-04-16 11:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

The right-wing likes to pretend as if taxes are a burden instead of the price of democracy.  

There are other ways to fund government services than taxes and there are better methods of taxation than the system we currently have.

And the hatred of taxes on the right comes from a hatred for this responsibility.  It's childish and immoral and unAmerican.

Patriotism is about recognizing that we are all connected in a fundamental moral and physical sense ...  And the hatred of taxes on the right comes from a hatred for this responsibility.  It's childish and immoral and unAmerican.

Or it could be that some of us see (generally speaking) free enterprise as a better motivator and innovator than government.

Now, what is a problem is the complexity of our tax system.

So it's okay for you to want tax simplifiaction but it's childish and immoral and unAmerican for any right-wingers to say the same? (Btw, while we are at it, can you name any Republicans that have advocated plans to entirely end taxation in the United States?)

The old expression 'you get what you pay for' is apt for all sorts of situations.  

I'm guessing you think free government health care would not be one of those situatuions?

And that, more than anything, says something about how much they value this experiment called America.

Did you know that the 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, had to be added to the Constitution to allow income taxation? What does that say about the value everyone from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt had for this experiment called America?

by abwtf 2007-04-16 12:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Sorry, hit Post instead ofd Preview, this should be easier to read

"The right-wing likes to pretend as if taxes are a burden instead of the price of democracy."

There are other ways to fund government services than taxes and there are better methods of taxation than the system we currently have.

"Patriotism is about recognizing that we are all connected in a fundamental moral and physical sense ...  And the hatred of taxes on the right comes from a hatred for this responsibility.  It's childish and immoral and unAmerican."

Or it could be that some of us see (generally speaking) free enterprise as a better motivator and innovator than government.

"Now, what is a problem is the complexity of our tax system."

So it's okay for you to want tax simplifiaction but it's childish and immoral and unAmerican for any right-wingers to say the same? (Btw, while we are at it, can you name any Republicans that have advocated plans to entirely end taxation in the United States?)

"The old expression 'you get what you pay for' is apt for all sorts of situations."

I'm guessing you think free government health care would not be one of those situatuions?

"And that, more than anything, says something about how much they value this experiment called America."

Did you know that the 16th Amendment, ratified in 1913, had to be added to the Constitution to allow income taxation? What does that say about the value everyone from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt had for this experiment called America?

by abwtf 2007-04-16 12:30PM | 0 recs
What the income tax amendment had to say:


1) the supreme court of the late 1800s had a very, very pro-corporate interpretation of the laws

2) That sever wealth inequities had developed in the late 1800s, and that these inequities were beyond the ability of the founders to predict.

3) Even then, it would have been impossible for the Rockefellers or Carnegies of the world to accumulate their wealth without the aid of government.  

Also, I would add that Washington's forthrightness in the face of the Whiskey rebellion would indicate his opinion re: the government's right to collect taxes.  An income tax just didn't make sense in a society that was made up largely of subsistence farmers.

by Valatan 2007-04-16 12:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

You better police up your own side before you come whining over here...

by Nazgul35 2007-04-17 08:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for beer and the bill for all ten comes to

If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men (the poorest) would pay nothing.
           The fifth would pay $1.
           The sixth would pay $3.
           The seventh would pay $7.
           The eighth would pay $12.
           The ninth would pay $18.
           The tenth man (the richest)would pay $59.

So, that's what they decided to do.

The ten men drank in the bar every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement, until on day, the owner threw them a curve. "Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to
reduce the cost of your daily beer by $20."Drinks for the ten now cost just $80.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes so  the first four men were unaffected. They would still drink for free.

But what about the other six men; the paying customers? How could they divide the $20 windfall so that everyone would get his 'fair share?' They realized that $20 divided by six is $3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would each end up being paid to drink his beer.

So, the bar owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the
amounts each should pay.

          And so:
The first four men (the poorest) would still pay nothing.

The fifth man, like the first four, now paid nothing (100%savings).

The sixth now paid $2 instead of $3 (33%savings).

The seventh now pay $5 instead of $7 (28%savings).

The eighth now paid $9 instead of $12 (25%savings).

The ninth now paid $14 instead of $18 (22% savings).

The tenth now paid $49 instead of $59 (16% savings).

Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to drink for free. But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a dollar out of the $20,"declared the sixth man. He pointed to the tenth man," but he got $10!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man. "I only saved a dollar, too. It's unfair that he got ten times more than I!"

"That's true!!" shouted the seventh man. "Why should he get $10 back when I got only two? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison. "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"  The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night the tenth man didn't show up for drinks, so the nine sat down and had beers without him.  But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered something important. They didn't have enough money between all of them for even half of the bill!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college professors, is how our tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most
benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up anymore. In fact, they might start
drinking overseas where the atmosphere is somewhat friendlier.

by neorich 2007-04-16 11:17AM | 1 recs
Re: Paying for America

Only you removed government subsidies to the rich from that equation.  Not to mention high powered accountants and tax attourneys that manipulate the system.  Not to mention the fact that lower income earners are audited at a higher rate than high income earners.  Or that the ric h didn't earn their money in a vacuum.  Or that your example was lifted from Sean Hannity.

by Valatan 2007-04-16 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America


While it may be true that various exemptions and high powered tax attorneys benefit the rich, by definition, one can only receive a "tax break" if one earns money and pays taxes.

Further, none of this changes the metaphysical fact that the top 5% of income earners pay 57% of all income taxes, while the bottom 50% of earners pay only 3% of all taxes.

Who's not paying their fair share?

Also, you're right "that the ric h (sic) didn't earn their money in a vacuum", since most of America's "rich" are 1st generation and "self-made", they made their fortunes by taking risks, creating new products, services and jobs, in addition to paying enormous amounts of taxes along the way.


by Rove Eats Puppies 2007-04-16 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

And government has almost nothing to do with creating the environment under which they gained that wealth in the first place.  We can just eliminate the civil society under which all that happened as a neutral arena.

by Valatan 2007-04-16 01:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

I AM a tax professor (for a very reputable law school), and I will say that your comment is very good! A+!

by J T 2007-04-16 01:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

You're a troll.  That is a right-wing email forward designed to convince people to believe in nonsense.

by Matt Stoller 2007-04-16 01:06PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Superb example of the way our tax system works. I wonder how many other posters have read this. Ferris? Ferris? Anybody???

by recoveredliberal 2007-04-16 04:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Yes, that's how it works.

Ever hear of the "veil of ignorance"?

Imagine you are going to be born into a society, and you have no idea what income level your family will be at birth.  Now design a tax code for that society.

Given that you'd only have a 10% chance of being born to a rich family, I'll bet you'd design a tax code that was progressive in rates, and worked much like that example above you think "proves" taxes are so unfair.

The rich got rich with the help of the society they lived in.  They gained the most from society, they should pay the most.  The only way it will ever work.

by scientician 2007-04-17 06:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

The problem with the current tax code is that it fundamentally violates the concept of equal rights.

The concept of equal rights means equal treatment before the law.  But progressive taxation -- which is what we have now -- means different treatment before the law (the tax law) for different income levels - not equal treatment - and is thus a violation of equal rights.

Progressive taxation, as a means of financing government, separates individuals and assigns them different rights based on their income levels.  Those who earn less than a certain income level pay no taxes and thus have the right to government goods and services free of charge.  Those who earn above a certain income level are denied this right and are forced to pay for whatever government goods and services they receive plus pay for what the lower income earners are receiving.  Different rights for different people are not equal rights.

Of course, one could argue that everyone has the right to reduce their earnings to the point where they pay no taxes and thus everyone has the right to those free government goods and services.  However, if we all did that, there would then be no taxes paid and no government goods and services would be available.  Thus, progressive taxation, as a means of financing government, inherently depends on unequal rights.  Progressive taxation can only work by granting the right to free government goods and services to some while denying that right to others - it can only work by applying unequal rights.

So, if you are an advocate of equal rights -- and all liberals that I know claim to be -- then you should be opposed to our current progressive taxation and instead should advocate a flat tax.

by ObjectivismMike 2007-04-16 11:19AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Equal rights and equal treatment are not the same thing. We all have a right to emergency medical care, but if I'm vomiting blood whereas you've just got a broken finger, I can and should expect to be treated first.

Besides, why should you have the right to be taxed at the same rate as everybody else? You might as well argue you should pay the exact same amount as everybody else. No, you have the right not to be taxed unfairly. And if you think progressive taxation is unfair, congratualations, you have money and are obscenely selfish.

Oh, and if you think a flat tax is fair, look up the concept of marginal utility.

by Englishlefty 2007-04-16 11:40AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

The only thing I think is that there should just be a formula that determines the percentage of tax taht you pay.  A discrete tax bracketing system seems silly to me.

by Valatan 2007-04-16 11:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

You could make an identical argument for paying taxes by a percentage, rather than every american owing 30% in taxes.  

Government services benefit the rich far, far more than they do the poor.  How about we fix that first before we start whining about the progressive tax?

by Valatan 2007-04-16 11:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

rather than 30%, I of course meant $30,000 or whatever

by Valatan 2007-04-16 11:45AM | 0 recs
We don't have progressive taxation

We have regressive taxation.  The poor pay a higher percentage of their income in TOTAL taxes than do the rich.  Combining SS, sales and income taxes, the tax code is either flat or regressive.

We need to up the top rate to 50 % to make the tax code fair again.

by dataguy 2007-04-17 05:32AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

How about the fact that the wealthy use a disproportionate amount of government resources?  The wealthy have money to invest in big corporations.  Big corporations make money in large part due to government activities.  Look at the highways.  See all those semi-trucks moving goods around the country?  Wealthy persons who invest in the companies who's goods are moved disporportionately benefit from the existence of those highways.  

The wealthy benefit from government work in negotiating trade agreements, they benefit from government subsidies, from corporate welfare.  The courts are heavily burdened with corporate legal matters.  

A progressive income tax merely ensures that they pay more when they get more.

by JJCPA 2007-04-17 06:14AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

I know I'm late in replying to this... but here's a question for you.

Does the traditional use of young and physically fit people by the military violate "equal protection"?   Perhaps, but I don't want to see octogenarians and blind soldiers on the front lines.  

For the defense of the nation, you enlist the people most fit to serve in that capacity.

Financing the nation works on precisely the same principle: those who are most fit to pay are those who should shoulder the greatest burden in doing so.  The benefits of society aren't equally distributed, neither are our obligations to it. The best we can do is to develop social institutions that are both just... while also being practical.

by Malacandra 2007-04-17 09:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Matt, I agree with the pride. I'm happy to pay for the right to live in this society.

But I also know that republicans don't hate taxes, they just disagree on what government should pay for....

....which, for the record, I think they are totally wrong about. The government should step in when there is a market failure.

by AaronE 2007-04-16 12:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

AND when there is a service that only the government CAN provide. (Which is my best argument for why volunteering with your church does not excuse you when you vote republican and cut money for services the poor need that no one but the government will provide)

by AaronE 2007-04-16 12:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

As an experienced tax attorney, tax professor, and (fairly) non-partisan commentator on tax and social policy, I have to comment that the conclusions reached by this article are quite a stretch.

I don't recall that complaining about our tax system is unpatriotic. In fact, our country was founded primarily for the purpose of tax revolt! Any public discourse aimed at impproving our complicated tax code should be welcome with open arms, not sneeringly mocked as the article attempted here.

A simpler tax code certainly makes sense to all.

The comment that "Our tax code is the DNA of our nation's moral compass" is pretty laughable. Perhaps a comment to be expected from a high-schooler who snuck into one of my college-level tax courses.

Paying taxes certainly is a solid civic duty. It's not based on morality.

by J T 2007-04-16 12:59PM | 0 recs
it is a serious philosophical mistake

to think of the tax code as our national DNA in any sense, especially morally.

but ok.

I pay taxes as well.

by pyrrho 2007-04-16 01:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

This is so wrong. The tax code says little about our moral compass. What the tax code indicates is that the majority of taxes are paid by the wealthiest people. If we are to look to some contemporary legal government document as the "DNA of our moral compass," the annual budget is a better indicator. It lays out what we are committed to spending in different areas, which is much more important than the multi-volume document that lays out where the money is coming to.

Aside from that, I look to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights as the U.S.A.'s DNA document.

by ptc 2007-04-16 01:46PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

The original post was embarrassingly ignorant.  So much so that I believe the author was trying to foment a polarised discussion, and was stating things that he knows full well (as any informed American would) to be false.  These are frustrating times, but we must resist the temptation to go to extremes and to call each other names.

The founders of this country did not believe in giving government the power of taxation.  It was only the inability of private administrations of the day to adequately orchestrate public services that drove congress to pass a constitutional amendment allowing taxation.  It was most certainly not seen as a fundamental element of democracy, but rather as an expediency in the absence of anything superior.  The founders wanted desperately to avoid giving government the power to control the wealth of its citizenry, but ultimately had no better solution.

Moreover, jumping now to the present day, among conservatives it is only the Libertarians who call for no taxation whatsoever, and even they balk.  Fiscal conservatives in the Republican party are pushing to limit taxation to what is strictly necessary to fund indispensable programs such as the criminal justice system and national defence.  Almost all even concede to using tax dollars for disaster relief, care of the elderly, and for essential scientific advancement.

I believe most of us know all of this.  So, why all the bile?  We're two groups of people who disagree on what, specifically, public funds should be spent on.  Such disagreements are certainly to be expected, even encouraged, in a country of 300M people.  Success as a society begins with a genuine empathy for the opinions of others.  Extremism, however justified it may feel, or even be, is simply not a productive tack in a democracy.  To hate "the other side" so much that you seek for its destruction through misrepresentation and mudslinging is to work against the very democratic ideals that you purport to defend.

So get off your high horse, and I'll get off mine.  Then perhaps we can shake hands with our feet on the ground.

by zenkalar 2007-04-16 02:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

What the hell are you talking about?  The federal government collected tariffs and excise tax, to name two taxes, from nearly the very first day of its existence.  

by Valatan 2007-04-16 09:08PM | 0 recs
Talk about ignorant of history

The other poster forgets (or is ignorant of the fact) that the US Constitution was created to solve the growing debt problem by lack of a strong central government to provide for the common defense, etc...

Geez...we have to get Faux off the air!

by Nazgul35 2007-04-17 08:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Gee Matt, thanks for the civics lesson. I had no idea that taxes were an invention of democracy to pay for itself. Maybe you can take a few minutes when you aren't thinking great thoughts and feeling all warm and wonderful about paying your taxes to explain how all those nasty, evil, totalitarian governments pay for themselves since they clearly aren't democracies.

by recoveredliberal 2007-04-16 04:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Really, this has to be one of the more pompous posts I have read in a long time. I must second what a poster wrote in a comment above: "Why all the bile?"(zenkalar)

by vza 2007-04-16 06:24PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

What? Just couldn't help responding to your patriotic seen on Hugh's site...

Look, we (the "right wing") aren't against paying taxes. I just don't like "how" my taxes are spent by the the government. Most of the money might go to respectable, honest wages for government employees, or defense, or whatever.

But there is a long well documented history of PORK that is without a doubt, the biggest waste of OUR (you and me) money.

I'm certain you'll agree.

I agree that it is US (taxpayers) that keeps the Federal Government running each day, IN SPITE OF CONGRESS! But I believe you might be the only person in America who truly believes that Congress does a wonderful job of HOW that tax revenue is spent.

BTW...I live in the Aloha State (Hawaii) In spite of a second term republican Governor, we STILL are the center of the universe for TAX HELL!! Thank you to a Democrat majority in our State Legislature for over 40 years!!!!!!!!

by pilot16 2007-04-16 06:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Republicans are quite the experts on Pork.  How about you start getting your administration to stop supporting Halliburton like it is before you come bitching to us?

by Valatan 2007-04-16 09:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Is it comforting to assume people who don't agree with you are evil? People who resent paying their taxes hate democracy?!?

Some people believe high taxation stagnates growth, and causes everyone to be more poor than necessary over a long period of time. (Or you could just assume everyone who doesn't enjoy paying high taxes is a fascist. That way you can feel superior.)

Some people don't mind the idea of paying taxes, but believe they are being taxed more than is necessary- that their tax money is being used inefficiently. They resent the waste, and the pork. (Or you could just believe they hate democracy and want a king to rule the US. Then you and your like minded friends could pat each others' backs. How fun.)

But even you would feel your tax rate was too high at a certain point. Even you would think the tax rate was killing the economy if the rate was high enough. If your rate was 70% of your income, for example. At that point, of course, you would not be someone who thought they were being unfairly taxed, or that the taxes were causing more harm than good, instead you would be someone who believes no one should be able to vote.

by Harkonnendog 2007-04-16 07:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

What would you like to see taxes reduced to?  I thought that the Reagan reductions were the ideal goal of conservatives.  Then it was the levels that Clinton and then Bush II reduced taxes to.  What is low enough?  Because it seems like the goal is to get zero taxes for some and huge corporate subsidies and buyouts for the very richest.  

by Valatan 2007-04-16 09:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

What would you like to see taxes reduced to?  I thought that the Reagan reductions were the ideal goal of conservatives.  Then it was the levels that Clinton and then Bush II reduced taxes to.  What is low enough?  Because it seems like the goal is to get zero taxes for some and huge corporate subsidies and buyouts for the very richest.

Actually, as both a conservative classical liberal and a federalist, I'd love to see my federal taxes drop significantly and my state taxes go up.  My federal tax rate is the 28% bracket.  My state tax rate is only about 5%.  I'd much prefer the two switch rates.

The federal government is involved in far too many programs that should be left to the states.  People forget the basic principle of separation of powers in the Constitution is not just between the three federal branches (a horizontal separation), but is also between the federal and state governments (a vertical separation).

The federal government shouldn't be involved in education, housing, health care, and so forth.  Those things should be handled by the states.  The federal government should be focused on two things: the outward interaction between the US and other nations (trade, diplomacy, defense, etc), and the interaction between the states (interstate commerce, transportation, post office, etc).  The states should then be responsible for all of the inward services and needs (schools, fire and rescue, police, etc).

At least, that's what the Constitution says.  The US isn't just a Constitutional Republic, it is a federalist system, with different levels of government having different responsibilities.  The different levels shouldn't be interfering with the responsibilities of other levels.

by grylnsmn 2007-04-17 04:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

I think the tax rate right now is okay.

by Harkonnendog 2007-04-17 01:28PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Great post Matt!

by belili 2007-04-17 05:45AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Interesting perspective.  I've commented on this post at Another Rovian Conspiracy.

Check it out!

St Wendeler

by stwendeler 2007-04-17 07:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Interesting comments. But I note that everyone's take on this seems to be rooted on the taxpaying side. I have actual experience, working for the IRS for over 30 years. So I have a view from the tax collecting side.

The philosophical differences between republicans & democrats, conservatives & liberals, aren't going to be resolved here, of course. And I wouldn't be foolish enough to try it! But let me make a few observations from my "insider" perspective.

First, it is evident to me that the Congress uses the tax code as a kind of shadow legislative system. They use it to govern the economy, and of course, that means that political viewpoints and pork seep into the code sections. When the gay man complains about the disadvantage to not being "married," he's complaining about a social policy established in the tax code as far back as I can see - and I actually had cases under the 1939 version of the Code when I first came on the job. The mortgage interest deduction fosters a policy of home ownership. The charitable deduction implicates decisions about what, exactly, qualifies as a charity.

I've seen code sections clearly intended as giveaways to corporate interests. I've seen sections intended as accomodations for specific individuals whom I could name. And I've seen code sections intended to redistribute income from richer taxpayers to poorer ones.

Second, it seems clear that the Democratic theory of taxation is that if we raise marginal rates, we will collect more money, whereas the Republican theory is that if we expand the economy by lowering rates, we will collect more money. The Democratic theory seems true in the short run, but untrue in the long run. The Republican theory seems untrue in the short run, but true in the long run.

Over and above this, it seems to me that Congress has a kind of "governor" on tax collections that it impliments by regulating just how much money the IRS has to enforce the Code. That is, no matter what the tax rates, the IRS will collect more money if it is given more funding, and less money if it is given less funding. In some instances, the IRS has been given specific funding based on the promise to increase collections by a specific amount in a specific time frame.

Third, the complexity of the tax code has led to a situation where a large number of people and businesses do not consider it wrong to evade taxes. It seems to me that things that would have been seen clearly as fraud and evasion a generation ago are now seen as legitimate, albeit close to the line.

Over my career, I have come to the conclusion that the income tax is the necessary element in the growth of government. Probably the most essential mechanism to making this growth possible was the invention of withholding. The system would fall apart without withholding (which I mean to encompass all the mechanisms by which individuals and business pay their taxes throughout the year, so that the filing of the return is really just a point at which the total payment is finalized.) At any rate, the ability to collect large sums in a fashion that is to some extent hidden from the public, and collect in a predictable manner, gives government the tool it needs to grow ever larger.

I have come to the point where I believe that we should have a Constitutional amendment capping the income tax at some generally acceptable level, subject to being overridden by a supermajority on a temporary basis. I also think that a flat tax is probably the best chance of actually getting something that is a relatively fair tax. (And the Democrats are right - you have to count the Social Security tax as an income tax in doing this.) I do not, however, believe that a flat tax is a simple tax - the complexities of the code are exacerbated by multiple tax rates, but they exist independent of that factor, and I don't see how they can go away, particularly in the business context. My reasons for believing this lie in the knowledge that even something as seemingly simple as deciding what is "income"in the first place is a complicated matter.

And this leads me to a final conclusion - or perhaps it is a fear. I think that the income tax has become so entwined with our economy that to change it significantly might cause severe economic damage, perhaps even another depression. In fact, sometimes I wonder whether our tax system, as complicated & perverse as it seems, has not actually been one of the engines of our prosperity.

Make of these observations what you may. The income tax is not going to go away, of course. But it does seem to me that it is badly in need of reform, and that institutional need to be raised to prevent it from getting out of control again once it is reformed.

by taxman 2007-04-17 06:56PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

...and that institutional BARRIERS need to be raised to prevent it from getting out of control again once it is reformed.

by taxman 2007-04-17 07:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Anybody who is proud to pay taxes is welcome to make himself extra-proud by paying mine.

Taxman is correct at noting that taxes serve two disparate purposes.

One of course is to fund the government.  If you like what our government is doing -- ALL of what it is doing -- then yes, I suppose you could be proud to be paying taxes.  "I am glad to help pay for the occupation of Iraq." (For you right-wingers: "I am glad to help pay for disability payments to crack addicts.")

The other is to enforce social policy: "buy a house", "save for your retirement", "don't be too rich".  From that point of view, if you're proud of paying taxes, you are proud of the chain wrapped around your neck.

by Malvolio 2007-04-17 07:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

:::People like Norquist, who are charlatans at heart and deeply unpatriotic and immoral:::

When did it become acceptable to question somebody's patriotism again?  

by StephenCUA2001 2007-04-17 08:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

"Patriotism is about recognizing that we are all connected in a fundamental moral and physical sense..."  No, patriotism has nothing to do with any feelings of interconnection, patriotism is taking pride in one's nation.

American Patriotism is about pride in a system that respects the individual.  That's not a stretch - our Constitution is the most individualistic ruleset for a government on the planet.  Simply read the notes or books from any of the signers and you'll understand why that is.

Taxation is very un-American because it stresses the collective over the individual.  It's nice you don't mind paying them but shouldn't I, as a 'free countryman' have the CHOICE to determine where my money goes?  If not, why is that?

An aside: dismissing those who don't feel it is honest, right, or honorable to do income-redistribution via the tax system as 'spoiled children' make your arguments weaker, not stronger.  

by Incarnate 2007-04-18 07:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

When I was a young lad I took a job as a mechanic's helper. The first car to come in after I was hired was in for a transmission rebuild. I remember being amazed as I watched the mechanic moving around under the car as it sat up on the rack, firing his air gun like an automatic weapon as bolts rained down on us. It seemed like he had that transmission in pieces on the work bench in about ten minutes.

That memory came to mind when I read Dale's masterful deconstruction of this post at

by Aldo 2007-04-18 07:30AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America
Total Kaos Challenge to Matt Stoller.
by Total Kaos 2007-04-21 05:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Paying for America

Dear Matt Stoller:

In the name of all sane people everywhere, please accept this World's Most Gullible Moron award. It's the least we could do.

There's also a five dollars coupon for Pizza Hut under it.

Keep up the good work in financing the ruling class. Each and every one of us who has had to deal with the State and its arbitrary unjust laws really appreciate it. Thank you very much.

by Francois Tremblay 2007-04-21 09:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Wow

This is a very optimistic post. And makes me sad to read it.

by nezua limon xolagrafik jonez 2007-04-23 01:35PM | 0 recs


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