Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Young Pundits In Love

Look out, K-Lo. Mitt Romney has a new stalker, one allowed to be out after 10:00 at night.

What Tax Dollars Can’t Buy By Master ROSS DOUTHAT

OVER the last 30 years, the U.S. economy has generated more large fortunes and more stress for the middle class. While the rich have grown extraordinarily rich, median wages have barely increased, the costs of health care and higher education have jumped, and socioeconomic mobility has lagged behind that of other developed nations. Americans have never begrudged the wealthy their success, as long as they had a chance to rise higher than their parents, and perhaps get rich themselves. But our era of diminished expectations is putting that in doubt.

My God, that Ross Douthat is a reasonable, knowledgeable man! He acknowledges our problems and disappointment in a balanced, middle of the road way.

From the drum circles of Zuccotti Park to the hustings of Barack Obama’s re-election push, a suddenly invigorated liberalism thinks that it has the answer to this angst: a renewed demand for higher taxes on America’s richest 1 percent. And if all you care about is reducing measured income inequality, then the Occupy Wall Streeters and their Democratic admirers have it right. Tax millionaires sufficiently and you’ll end up with a more equal society. The tallest poppies will be trimmed, and some of their income will find its way to someone’s else pocket.

Sure, if all you care about is a society in which an obscenely wealthy few lord over the teeming masses, on whom they are inflicting ever more poverty and control. But would it be fair to pick the pockets of the rich? Yes, they use more resources while pushing more and more of their operating expenses on the taxpayer, but let's face it, if you want to tax their money you'll have to take it out of their cold, dead hands. All that money buys a lot of mercenaries.


But true social mobility and broadly shared prosperity are not so easily achieved. Remember that those tax dollars, once collected, would not be disbursed with perfect effectiveness to the most deserving members of the American middle class. Instead, they would be used to buy a little more time for our failing public institutions — postponing a reckoning with unsustainable pension commitments, delaying necessary reforms in our entitlement system and propping up an educational sector whose results don’t match the costs.

And if you were to tax the rich, Mr. and Mrs. Middle Class, it's not like you'd get the money anyway! It would all go to the undeserving old fogies and little "urban" kids. Not you.

More spending in these areas won’t necessarily buy us more mobility. The public-sector workplace has become a kind of artificial Eden, whose fortunate inhabitants enjoy solid pay and 1950s-style job security and retirement benefits, all of it paid for by their less-fortunate private-sector peers. Some on the left have convinced themselves that this “success” can lay the foundation for a broader middle-class revival. But if a bloated public sector were the blueprint for a thriving middle-class society, then the whole world would be beating a path to Greece’s door.

So the best thing to do is to let the rich evade paying taxes. Just like Greece.

Our entitlement system, meanwhile, is designed to redistribute wealth. But this redistribution doesn’t go from the idle rich to the working poor; it goes from young to old, working-age savings to retiree consumption, middle-class parents to empty-nest seniors. The Congressional Budget Office’s new report on income inequality points out that growing Medicare costs are part of the reason upper-income retirees receive a larger share of federal spending than they did 30 years ago, while working-age households with children receive “a much smaller and declining share of transfers.” Absent reforms, this mismatch will only grow more pronounced: by the 2030s, Medicare recipients will receive $3 in benefits for every dollar they paid in.
If the rich pay taxes they'll just go to pay the old people's hospital bills.  What do you care?--you're not old.

Then there’s the public education system, theoretically the nation’s most important socioeconomic equalizer. Yet even though government spending on K-to-12 education has more than doubled since the 1970s, test scores have flatlined and the United States has fallen behind its developed-world rivals. Meanwhile, federal spending on higher education has been undercut by steadily inflating tuitions, in what increasingly looks like an academic answer to the housing bubble. (If the Occupy Wall Street dream of student loan forgiveness were fulfilled, this cycle would probably just continue.)

And don't even get me started on the kids, the losers.

The story of the last three decades, in other words, is not the story of a benevolent government starved of funds by selfish rich people and fanatical Republicans. It’s a story of a public sector that has consistently done less with more, and a liberalism that has often defended the interests of narrow constituencies — public-employee unions, affluent seniors, the education bureaucracy — rather than the broader middle class.

What does the middle class get when we tax the rich? Nothing! Those selfish, greedy unions and old folks and schoolteachers grab it all!

The alternative to this liberalism should not, however, be the kind of reverse class warfare currently being championed by the not-Romney candidates in the Republican field, whose flat-tax fantasies would ask working Americans to bear more of the burden for public institutions that have been failing them for years.

Ummmmm, Romney. Sigh.

Rather, it should be a kind of small-government egalitarianism, which would seek to reform the government before we pour more money into it, along lines that encourage upward mobility and benefit the middle class. This would mean seeking a carefully means-tested welfare state, a less special interest-friendly tax code, and a public sector that worked for taxpayers and parents rather than the other way around.

He'd get rid of government and thrash those liberal special interest groups and lift good freedom-loving Parent-Americans up from the clutches of the teeming masses.

This was the potential message that had some of us excited about the prospects of either a Mitch Daniels or a Chris Christie candidacy. Given his background and his bank account, Mitt Romney is an unlikely champion for a more egalitarian conservatism. But it wouldn’t be the first time that an American patrician has emerged as a champion of the common man.

Oh Mitt, how patrician is your nose and how noble is your brow! Lift your mighty swift flaming sword and pierce your enemies with it! Love us, protect us, tell us we're special!

15 comments:

Ken Houghton said...

"Yet even though government spending on K-to-12 education has more than doubled since the 1970s, test scores have flatlined and the United States has fallen behind its developed-world rivals."

During the time when inflation has increased sixfold, and GDP has increased nearly 15-fold.

Gosh, I promise to be impressed.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Mitch Daniels?

Doghouse Riley has the goods on that @($*(&!
~

fish said...

Hmmm, let's see. Devout Catholic gets the chance to demonstrate that his moral center isn't really about preserving the Republican status quo by supporting the Catholic doctrine of wealth redistribution and protecting the weak. Imagine my surprise when he chooses power earthly power over god. I think in his belief system, there are bad results when you do that.

Anonymous said...

From the drum circles of Zuccotti Park ...

Is this the new conservative "under the bus"?

-aws

antonello said...

Oh, yes: those sinister drum circles, like the ones in Lord of the Flies! Next they'll be brandishing sharpened sticks - for the piggy, though, rather than Piggy. Can we rescue our pious scribes, our Megans and Rosses, the besieged inheritors of civilization, from the barbarian hordes of Zuccotti?

Smut Clyde said...

our entitlement system

Is that the official Goodspeak term now for "social security repayments, unemployment insurance, etc."?

cynic said...

Bob Somerby can school this idiot on what has *really* happened to test scores in the last three decades. but no, Ross Douthat continues to be blissfully ignorant and fact free.

Tragedy is, through him, his readers remain ignorant and fact free and continue to be convinced that our kids stink.

Downpuppy said...

Either Master Douthat can't do math or he gets his facts from Megan -

postponing a reckoning with unsustainable pension commitments, delaying necessary reforms in our entitlement system and propping up an educational sector whose results don’t match the costs.

which utterly ignores the massive medical establishment whose out of control costs are the only real problem (at least until the oil, food & environmental crises start to really bite).

Downpuppy said...

Also, too...

It's always a good time to add a link to Chunkier Reese

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/03/fear-of-reese-witherspoon-look-alikes-on-the-pill.html

KWillow said...

Douchehat: "Taxes can't do the things today that they did very well, superbly in fact, for about 50 years."

Why? He don't know.... Maybe its Because of OLD PEOPLE?

Batocchio said...

The story of the last three decades, in other words, is not the story of a benevolent government starved of funds by selfish rich people and fanatical Republicans.

Of course it damn well is, but he will lie shameless to deny it. (And the truth Ken pointed out upthread.)

Douthat truly is Chunky Catholic Bobo. They're both just concern trolls, with Douthat less skillful, more socially conservative and more whiny. Still, they're both trafficking in the ol' gambit: "Stop! That obviously good measure could lead to preposterously unlikely consequences! Wouldn't you prefer to kiss the ass of an aristocrat instead?" Also: "Reasonable centrist moderates pick the conservative position."

Downpuppy said...

Talking about MFGlobal, we see 2 new things : Megan's new plan is to just throw discussion topics out without taking a side. (In the case of MF Global, that lasted about 10 minutes, until the firm admitted to stealing client funds) The other is that Megan was able to answer a simple question in comments clearly and accurately:

It's different. A broker is acting as your agent. With a bank, you're actually making them a callable loan. If they go broke, you stand in line with the other creditors.
Think of a brokerage account as like a safety deposit box. They have no independent access to it; they safeguard it, and they follow your instructions as to how it should be traded. This is like discovering that Citibank had broken open its safe deposit vault and pawned the valuables to cover its losses in mortgages.


Strange days, indeed.

bill said...

"But it wouldn’t be the first time that an American patrician has emerged as a champion of the common man."

I assume he's talking about FDR (he's surely not talking about either of the Bushes), in which case he's just refuted every one of his own arguments in this predictably sappy-assed column.

Anonymous said...

http://www.balloon-juice.com/2011/11/02/megan-mcardle-is-always-wrong%E2%84%A2-occupy-wall-st-income-inequality-division/#respond

Susan of Texas said...

McArdle, Douthat and Brooks are all trying to spit-polish economic inequality now, with predictable results. I'll go over McArdle's article even though everyone else has already done it, just because it looks fun.