Sunday, January 06, 2008

Comfortable in My Delusions

“And sometimes it seems that all I have to do is worry
Then you’re bound to see my other side
But I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
- The Animals (1965)

I read a piece by George Will a while ago. He’s a good man, a skilled writer. I admire him. In the piece, he lit in to Mike Huckabee. He spent a bit of time playfully skewering Huckabee’s “fair tax” plan. Then he dove in, with this carefully aimed broadside:

“Huckabee fancies himself persecuted by the Republican “establishment,” a creature already negligible by 1964, when it failed to stop Barry Goldwater's nomination. The establishment's voice, the New York Herald Tribune, expired in 1966. Huckabee says “only one explanation” fits his Iowa success “and it’s not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people.” God so loves Huckabee's politics that He worked a Midwest miracle on his behalf? Should someone so delusional control nuclear weapons?”

I’d say that was meant to hurt, wouldn’t you? It’s clear that Mr. Will has a great deal of contempt for Mike Huckabee’s populism and what he perceives to be Huckabee’s application of his evangelical faith.

I’m an evangelical, a Mike Huckabee supporter. I take it, by extension, that I’m probably every bit as delusional as the candidate I’m backing. About the only defense I can muster is that I’m content in my delusions.

I don’t know what Mr. Will’s delusions are, but I feel quite comfortable in sharing some of mine. I’m a Boston Red Sox fan. From the early fifties, up until the “Curse of the Bambino” was finally laid to rest in 2004 I actually believed that my beloved Sox were the best team in baseball. I never could understand how a team as un-talented as the New York Yankees would win just about every pennant. I know they had Mantle, but we had Teddy Ballgame. They had Moose Skowron, but we had Jimmy Pearsall. And, sure, Yogi was a pretty good catcher, but so was Sammy White. I was delusional, for sure, but so were millions of others in Red Sox nation.

But, more to the point, I share some of Mike Huckabee’s delusions. I actually believe that the Almighty Himself does take great interest in our political campaigns. I’m even delusional enough to believe that God actually cares about the poor and the downcast. If I read Holy Writ properly, I think that Jesus himself was downright delusional in this regard. I must be a raving lunatic, then, to think that the Sermon on the Mount is more than just a bit of flowery rhetoric. And, I’m probably as mad as a March hare to believe that the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is every bit as instructive for politicians, plumbers, pig farmers, paleontologists, pipe fitters, Pharisees, and pundits today as it was two thousand years ago.

Mr. Will cites statistics to prove that Mike Huckabee is a lunatic. The middle class is decreasing in size, he asserts, because more and more are moving into the economic stratosphere. I suspect that’s true in Foggy Bottom and Silicon Valley, but here in the Heartland it isn’t. I think if Mr. Will were to take a short walk down Sixth Avenue here in Emporia, Kansas he’d see that the fastest growing businesses are the payday loan shops that gouge the men and women who cut cows down at Tyson Foods with exorbitant interest rates. He might get to see what a town looks like when about twenty percent of a town’s families are living in poverty. He might get to see a lot of low wage workers living in shanties at the mercy of slum lords. He might get to see the anguish a lot of folks here feel when they see jobs being shipped offshore or blue collar workers being displaced by someone who is willing to do their job for a couple of bucks less an hour. I think Mr. Will might come spouting statistics, but folks here might then remind him that it was either Mark Twain or Benjamin Disraeli who said that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. But then, a lot of this city’s working poor are every bit as delusional as Mike Huckabee and evangelicals like me.

I could go on about Huckabee’ “fair tax” plan, but what’s the point. I’m not quite delusional enough to think that it’s ever going to happen. Our bloated government, with its enormous appetite for our hard earned money, isn’t going to let go any time prior to the Parousia, and they probably won’t want to let go then, either. No, the I.R.S isn’t going away. Not that it shouldn’t. We Christians like to think of things like that as hoping against hope, more like pipe dreams than delusions.

The more I think about it, the more comfortable I’m becoming in my delusions. I think I might even be in good company. Weren’t Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Micah, and Habakkuk all delusional men? And, my Lord, think of John the Baptist. Why, all that foolish talk of the man with two coats giving one away, the axe being laid to the root of the tree, or the nonsense about broods of snakes and vipers. Absolutely, stark raving mad. And, what about the Apostle Paul and Peter, the first “Vicar of Christ?” Wasn’t it Paul who called himself a “fool for Christ?” And, finally, there’s Jesus himself. Wasn’t He considered by many to be a madman? Didn’t his enemies accuse him of being in league with the devil?

They say confession is good for the soul. Well, I’ve owned up to some of my delusions and must say that it’s true. I feel quite good right now. The only thing I have left to do is to impose on some of my fellow evangelicals and ask them to shed some of theirs. I think it might be time for us to shed the delusion that “Rush is always right.” I think it might be time for us to shed the delusion that Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity aren’t our resident theologians or puppet masters. I think it might be time for us to shed the delusion that our theology and world-view doesn’t, and shouldn’t, spring from the wellspring of the Republican National Committee. I think it might be time for us to shed the delusion that Jesus is some sort of un-caring, un-feeling cosmic capitalist who thinks the sun rises and sets daily at Republican Party headquarters.

And, I think it might be time for those in power who have for too long assumed our un-questioning allegiance to the Grand Old Party to disabuse themselves of that delusion. Events in Iowa were quite revealing. There’s a fresh breeze blowing in the political air. Down has become up and up has become down. Hope and vertical politics, at least for a few days, have triumphed over the power of mammon. It feels wonderful. Given that, I’ll continue in my current delusions, thank you.


Choicemaker said...

George Will writes well as long as he talks baseball, and other sand-pile activities of shallow humanistic patty-cakes, and avoids Transcendent Criteria of the mind.

Huckabee's mental criteria is not man-made, thus, it makes plain Will's non-value? system? obviosly to be a product of needful self-justification and pedestal-elevating in his own ego- needful myopic eyes. "I'm my own god." Tell 'em, free rider.

The Creator said, "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.'" We hear you, diaper-mind Georgie.

semper fidelis
Jim Baxter

P.S. Mike Huckabee is m'man! I'd take him in my rifle-squad, anytime!

Anonymous said...

Economist Dale Jorgensen, Harvard University, was commissioned to find out what portion of current prices were represented by costs for complying with the federal income tax code (i.e., embedded tax costs). He concluded that 22% (average) of every retail dollar, spent by consumers, constituted a price-embedded tax. Thus, in addition to individual income tax and FICA withholding, individuals are unwittingly paying these unseen, embedded business tax costs with every purchase of a new product, or service.

Under FairTax, prices would fall, due to removal of embedded business tax-related costs. Concurrently, wages may rise due to a mix of factors, including reversion of withheld pay (or some portion thereof) to employees, advancement opportunities due to business expansion resulting from retained earnings, and/or increased demand for labor accompanying increased competition (from that expansion). Where profits (or wages) appear lucrative, competition will move into the market space, driving out excesses (immediately present after FairTax is enacted), arriving at new "market-adjusted" prices.

For FairTax to constitute 23% of new transaction cost (i.e., "market-adjusted" price plus FairTax), a mark-up of 29.9% (tax exclusive rate) on the new "market-adjusted" price is necessary. (Before balking, consider what we're paying now if income tax rates are converted to tax-exclusive sales tax rates on net income instead of percentage of gross income. The following figures can be compared to the 29.9% FairTax mark-up: Fifteen pct bracket = 17.6%, twenty-five pct bracket = 33.3%, twenty-eight pct bracket = 38.9% (! really), and thirty-five pct bracket = 53.8% (! that's how bad it is).

In order to make FairTax a progressive consumption tax (such as that recently called for by Warren Buffett), all citizen-families are simply sent a monthly consumption [tax] allowance, called a "prebate." This prebate is intended to reimburse taxes on necessities for every citizen family without need for record-keeping or reporting. Moreover, the direct payment bypasses the creation of a tax code specifying exempted products and services around which a lobbyist industry could grow. The amount is variable, based on family size, and is equal to the FairTax rate on poverty-level spending, as defined by the Dept. of Commerce. At present, a family of one would receive ~$200/month, a family of four, ~$500/month. Thus, the "effective" FairTax rate paid by citizens, will *never* equal the full 23%. Of course, U.S. visitors (legal, and illegal) will pay the full FairTax when they purchase anything new, at retail (used are not taxed again). Under FairTax, working families will have their whole paychecks (minus any state or local income tax withholding) plus their monthly family prebate.

Additionally, citizens will no longer have to spend the average 50 hours per year preparing their federal tax returns. Having more monthly income may result in using credit less, and saving more. Larger savings will make it easier to purchase a home, at a lower interest rate and monthly payment. (Thus, mortgage deductions are no longer applicable when income is not the basis for taxation).

But is FairTax actually fairer? To provide substantive answers, Prof.'s Kotlikoff and Rapson (10/06) have concluded,

"...the FairTax imposes much lower average taxes on working-age households than does the current system. The FairTax broadens the tax base from what is now primarily a system of labor income taxation to a system that taxes, albeit indirectly, both labor income and existing wealth. By including existing wealth in the effective tax base, much of which is owned by rich and middle-class elderly households, the FairTax is able to tax labor income at a lower effective rate and, thereby, lower the average lifetime tax rates facing working-age Americans.

"Consider, as an example, a single household age 30 earning $50,000. The household’s average tax rate under the current system is 21.1 percent. It’s 13.5 percent under the FairTax. Since the FairTax would preserve the purchasing power of Social Security benefits and also provide a tax rebate, older low-income workers who will live primarily or exclusively on Social Security would be better off. As an example, the average remaining lifetime tax rate for an age 60 married couple with $20,000 of earnings falls from its current value of 7.2 percent to -11.0 percent under the FairTax. As another example, compare the current 24.0 percent remaining lifetime average tax rate of a married age 45 couple with $100,000 in earnings to the 14.7 percent rate that arises under the FairTax."

Further, per Jokischa and Kotlikoff (2005) ...

"...once one moves to generations postdating the baby boomers there are positive welfare gains for all income groups in each cohort. Under a 23 percent FairTax policy, the poorest members of the generation born in 1990 enjoy a 13.5 percent welfare gain. Their middle-class and rich contemporaries experience 5 and 2 percent welfare gains, respectively. The welfare gains are largest for future generations. Take the cohort born in 2030. The poorest members of this cohort enjoy a huge 26 percent improvement in their well-being. For middle class members of this birth group, there's a 12 percent welfare gain. And for the richest members of the group, the gain is 5 percent."

The current income-based tax system is also more expensive to run, because of the manner in which the tax code is gamed by politicians and lobbyists. Politicians realize great power, and attract constituencies for support, by granting tax favors (i.e., credits, deductions, exemptions) through lobbyists. Fully, fifty-three percent of Washington lobbyists are there because of the tax code! The tax code is continually changing, making it more complex - more difficult to understand. And, the salaries and costs of tax lawyers and lobbyists end up in higher prices of the products and services we buy. Additionally, the time and money required to keep records, file returns, report for audits, retain accounting and legal help, pay IRS penalties and interest, is time and money lost for other productive, or recreational, activities. Depriving us of the use of withheld wages increases our expenses through zero-interest withholding, inflation, return preparation time, and interest paid on credit cards and loans that otherwise may not have been necessary. Summed up, the cost of tax compliance, nationally, has been estimated to range anywhere from $265 billion to twice that amount, depending on the extent to which tax-avoidance consultation is sought and utilized. These expenses constitute a substantial hidden tax which is incomprehensible to the average working American. And the FairTax gets rid of all of it for most Americans, and most of it for business owners.

We, as FairTax advocates, believe that government should serve We, the People, with a fair tax system that will not enable politicians to pit poor against rich (creating barriers to achieve wealth, adding tax penalty to the sacrifices made for personal success). Nor do we want politicians to continue using business as a tool to hide taxes from consumers, often villifying business, which discourages entrepreneuship, personal achievement, economic growth. Liberty and happiness depends on restoring the fruits of labor to those who produce them. We believe that the tax function should align with economic growth, not against it, that government should be paid for in the same manner as working Americans - when, and because, something is sold!

As things stand at present, the system primarily benefits politicans who cater to special interests through lobbyists who game the tax code. The politician seeks to capture them as constituent voting blocks, dependent on continued syphoning of taxpayer dollars to their members' benefit. This is increasingly repugnant to the average working American who often finds it difficult to meet the needs of his, or her, own family in an environment where federal and state business income taxes substantially contribute to trade inequities resulting in the loss of American jobs! Thus, the Sovereign are continually degraded by features of Congress's income tax policy. The most rapidly-growing needs-based "special interest" group has become the Citizens! You see? Congress has nearly all the power; and We, the People, have become We, the Serfs, robbed and enslaved. Getting the federal government's hands out of our family paychecks is the single most important reason to replace the income tax with a consumption tax, the FairTax.

Many of us have joined in order to build a national movement to free ourselves, our family pocketbooks, and our businesses from confiscation of income, and punishment of productivity. And this we say to our federal representatives,

"Either scrap the code and enact the FairTax, or we intend on replacing you with someone who will."

(May reproduce in whole or part. - Ian)

PS Forget Geo. Will - he's a STAR don'tcha know.