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by Christopher Chantrill
March 12, 2013 at 12:00 am
WELL, WELL, Mr. President. it looks like “another fine mess you’ve got us into” with the sequester squib. Not that I’m complaining, not a bit. Your government by phony crisis does wonders for the revenue at my usgovernmentspending.com.
But now your chubby partner Ollie in your lefty Laurel and Hardy act is dead.
I read the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger obits on the Bolivarian Ollie Chavez. According to Megan McArdle in The Daily Beast, Chavez’s record on poverty wasn’t so special. In the last ten years the poverty rate in Peru went from 55% to 28%. But in chavismo Venezuela, it went from 49% to just under 30%. Not so great, even with all the free oil money.
But the Chavez obits got me to thinking. If I were a lefty strongman, how would I help the poor?
The big problem for the poor, in Venezuela as in the United States, is that it doesn’t pay to work in the formal economy. Maybe they get a bunch of free stuff, but in the formal economy every dollar earned is taxed to the hilt. In the US a welfare recipient that starts to work faces effective tax rates in excess of 50 percent, and sometimes more than 100 percent. Look at Secretary of Public Welfare Gary Alexander’s slideshow on welfare(pdf) in Pennsylvania to experience the dizzying injustice of the welfare marginal taxes game. Also here.
So before I killed all the lawyers, I would abolish taxes on work for the poor. No payroll taxes, no unemployment taxes, no disability taxes. So it wouldn’t make any difference if a poor person worked in the formal sector or “off the books.”
Second, I would abolish compulsory education and child labor laws. If 80 percent of kids graduating from New York City public schools are illiterate, then what’s the point of public education except as a free baby-sitting service? But if the kiddies are out working (maybe at the same place as Mom) then who needs babysitting?
But how will the kids learn? MIT sent a bunch of tablet computers to an illiterate Ethiopian village a while back and here is what happened, according to Nicholas Negroponte.
“I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch... powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android [to enable the tablet camera],” Negroponte said.
Once those kids have computer skills, why not put them to work to help their parents? I’ve talked to a Mexican who sold chiclets on the street as a child. He didn’t think it was humiliating. He was proud to help feed his family. Maybe a few greedy employers will train their kids up into valuable skilled employees.
Third, health care? I think there’s a good argument for the government to fund basic public health, including vaccination, clean water, emergency and neo-natal.
Where would I get the money for health care? I would tax anyone that has tenure. I mean anyone not working on an “employment at will” basis. If you have tenure, and cannot be fired tomorrow, then you are part of the problem and you must pay a 10% tax on your wages, or contribute 10% to a charity that relieves the poor or contribute volunteer labor to a welfare charity worth 10% of your wages. In addition, if you are in line for a defined benefit pension, then you pay an additional 10%. Call it the Bureaucrat Tax, because goodies like tenure and defined benefit are monopolistic privileges that place enormous costs on other people.
But I realize that this is all fantasy. Clear away the clutter of social programs and social barriers? Give up on government education? Penalize people for demanding security in their work, all the seniority rules, layoff protection, guaranteed pensions? That’s going against the impossible dream that everyone wants, from the poor in Venezuela to the government employee in the US. It’s the guild mentality, that “the individual guild member must obtain the traditional standard of life and be made secure in it,” in the words of Max Weber.
Capitalism says: give up that dog-in-a-manger guild mentality and I will cover you with riches. But most people choose to hang on like grim death to their paltry privileges. That’s what union members do when they rail against “give-backs” as their ailing employer goes down for the count. That’s what the Greeks and the Portuguese are rioting about. People like that end up losing everything.
I guess I’m just not cut out to be a lefty strongman.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America