I think conservatives who speak for other conservatives have been contaminated. Under the pervasive influence of the liberal media, they have unlearned calling a cat a cat. Here are two current examples.
There have been many recent Democrat calls for a tax on the rich, on millionaires, on billionaires, on owners of private jets. Why owners of private jets, of all things, make liberals see red, I don’t know. It would be interesting to speculate on this but, I digress, already.
I read the WSJ and the Weekly Standard, I watch television, mostly Fox News and the French language TV5 but also sometimes CNN and even MSNBC (at the gym, trapped on the elliptical) to Rush Limbaugh in the morning, to a very good local conservative in the evening (a former station colleague), and to NPR most afternoons. It turns out even NPR sometimes invites conservative voices. Every time I read or hear a conservative deplore or reject the Democrats’ project to tax the rich more, his argument is couched in terms of economic practicality:
“If you tax the rich, you are taxing those who create jobs; if you do this you are contributing to the continuation of high unemployment, and to the perpetuation of the current stubborn economic crisis,” the argument seems to go.
Sometimes the argument is even weaker and sounds like this: “The rich are not really rich, they are just small businesses.”
This makes me wonder the following: If these causal links were shown to be non-existent, spurious, if the rich were really rich, would it then be fine to tax the rich (however defined)?
I, for one, think not. Taxation is the taking of money from innocent people by the government’s superior force. Yes, it’s done by force (although I have a hilarious video of Harry Reid stating repeatedly that the income tax was “voluntary.”) The taking is done by a government we think of as legitimate because we share the perception that “democracy” (please, don’t quibble with me here) makes it legitimate. And I sure think it beats Soviet rule or Al Assad’s, or Qaddafi’s mad forty-year extortion scheme. But the seizure of private property by a constitutional, democratic government leaves three big moral problems intact. First, a democratic government at best represents a small minority of the population. I mean 50% of those who do vote among those who are allowed to vote. (By the way, it’s fifty per cent of the votes plus one vote, NOT fifty-one per cent as I keep hearing and reading.*) I agree it’s the least bad solution to a complex problem but it’s only that. It’s nothing to write home about, so to speak.
The second moral issue associated with taxation with representation is separate from the first. It is the constant, universal drift toward ever-increasing inclusion of that which may be taxed, of how much ought to be taken. The Founding Fathers were well aware of this problem and they tried to set limits, without much success, historically. And the federal constitution does little to protect us from the fiscal tyranny of states and of municipalities (as here, where I live, in the People’s Green Republic of Santa Cruz).
The third moral issue is simple: Taking is taking, no matter how many agree that the taking should occur. Libertarians have a pleasant way for expressing this: “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep meeting to vote on what’s for dinner.” Personally, I am willing to admit that taxation is a necessary evil for the time being. If nothing else we probably need taxes to protect our constitutional form of government, our lesser of several evils, against the barbarians, the savages, the murderous morons. (Fill in the blank.) I say “probably” because I wish we could maintain armies on the basis of public subscription alone. In the meantime, I want to insist that taxation is frankly bad. It’s like illness; it’s like death; it’s nothing to smile about.
I would expect my conservative spokespeople to stake their ground without timidity and to assert first the real, most fundamental reasons why we oppose taxing the rich. They are the same reasons we oppose taxing anyone: It’s immoral to take other people’s property. The burden of proof rests squarely on he, she, anyone who wants to enlarge the scope of this immoral act. That’s every single time.
The second example of conservative softness comes from the current (10/5/11) “occupation of Wall Street” by a collection of what seems to be confused, disoriented younger people. I heard several callers – whom I did not not suspect of being leftist plants – on the Rush Limbaugh show referring to the demonstrators as “kids.” The people I saw on television in the various towns where they have gathered are not kids. Every one of them seemed easily old enough to be a second lieutenant in the armed forces. There were also quite a few captains! Calling them “kids” is, of course, a way to excuse their moral incompetence, to say that they are not bad, whatever comes out of their mouths. It’s a way to suggest that we should be indulgent, not hold anything against them.
Bullshit, I say. We should hold people to their word and criticize them mercilessly if they are older than sixteen and if they deserve it. Bad ideas are dangerous and some spread like wildfire. The Soviet gulag originated in part on bad ideas, around 1890. One young man interviewed on Fox News seemed to me to be about 24 or 25. (I am good at this sort of guess; remember that I was a college professor for thirty years.) The Fox reporter asked him why he was there at all. The demonstrator said nearly exactly, “I have $80,000 of college debt and I can’t find a job.”
I am sorry for him. I wish he would find a job, even a good one. I hope we will soon be replacing the economically absurd elected federal government we have now with one that knows what to do to promote economic growth and thereby create new jobs. (And why does the ugly suspicion cross my mind that nearly all of the young demonstrators voted for Obama or did not vote at all?) Yet, if I were in contact with that demonstrator I would tell him a couple of things.
First, I would say, that when I graduated from college, I did not have a $80,000 debt, or a $8,000 debt, or $800, or $80, maybe not even an $8 debt. And no, I did not have rich parents who helped me. (My parents contributed zero money. I did not expect them to. The couldn’t have if they had wanted to. They did not want to. We all loved each other in dignity.) And I am not criticizing the demonstrator: His choice but, please, don’t whine! I would ask further: What did you get for you $80,000? Do you have a medical degree, or a dental one, or even a small BS in electronic engineering, or a little anything in computer science? Are you a licensed nurse? There is no unemployment in any of those fields. And if you wanted rather to develop your creative talents, I am for this too. For $ 80,000 plus your natural aptitudes, did you acquire the skills to make paintings you can sell, or even stories, or novels, or movie-scripts, or music? And, if you didn’t, whose fault is it that it did not dawn on you that you lacked talent before the little hand reached 80,000 dollars o’clock?
I will tell you something, you fool: It is not my fault and it’s not the fault of the millionaire on the hill; it’s not dead Steve Job’s fault, and it’s not even Al Gore’s fault (perversely to name a strikingly undeserving millionaire who flies private jets!)
So, I expect my fellow conservatives (especially those with libertarian – small “l” – leanings) to man up. And that includes the women, of course.
* (footnote) Recently, I read this under the pen of a political scientist who had just published a book. If I find the reference, I will ad it in. It’s a mind-boggling mistake. The US Senate may be the only place in the world where 51% and the majority mean the same thing: Fifty-one votes. Now, consider the size of the mistake you are making in an ordinary, little-attended American election if you think it takes 51 % of the votes to win. Suppose one hundred million votes are cast. To get a majority, you need this many votes: 50,000,001. If majority meant 51% of the votes cast, on the other hand, you would need: 51,000,000 votes. The difference is the size of your mistake:
51,000,000– 50,000,001= 999,999 VOTES
That’s the size of real landslides.