Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On the morality of taxes

Many conservative columnists have been writing lately about how immoral it is for the government to take money from one person and give it to another. While I agree with the general principle, I think it's a good example of how conservatives go wrong by talking about grand philosophies that don't really make much sense in the world as it actually is. Of course it's good to remind people what taxation really is: the taking of property by force. Despite the fact that you have to pay and go to jail if you don't, a lot of people for some reason forget that hard reality. It's just another example of how you can get used to something and think of it as perfectly normal if it's been part of your life as long as you can remember.

However, that wave of logic ends up crashing on the rocks of "What do we do about the poor, hungry children?" Some conservatives may insist that only voluntary contributions should help, but voluntary contributions have never been enough to do anything but keep children from starving to death, except in some especially generous localities(mainly small towns).

In my opinion, we should all understand that taking money from people who earned it is a very serious matter. It's not something that should be done blithely just because we want to spend money on something that would be nice to have. We need to understand the very real impact of taxation on individuals and families. Even the poor end up paying 15-18% of their income in taxes every year due to sales taxes and payroll taxes. The middle class pays a similar percentage, and for most middle class families, taxes are their first or second largest bill. Many liberals agree that the poor and middle class are overtaxed and want to raise taxes on the rich. The problem with that is that taxing the rich doesn't yield all that much revenue. The big money is in the middle class and upper middle class. The only way to get big revenues from taxing the rich is to define the rich as households making more than $75,000. While that is certainly well off(in most areas), you're talking about a rather large percentage of people these days. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd really be mad if I "made it" to that income level and now had to pay 50% of my income in taxes, kicking me right off the ladder of progress back into the lower middle class.

Since we've established that taxation is a very serious matter, we need to make sure that our money is spent wisely, and only on things that are absolutely necessary. Not things that are just kinda nice or nifty. That means we should build a national defense. We should feed and provide health care to poor children. We should provide a basic safety net for adults temporarily down on their luck.

What we should not be taking peoples' money away from them at gunpoint to pay for are local projects of limited value(such as the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and statues of Robert Byrd), unlimited support for people who will not work or are to morally dysfunctional to hold down a job, corporate welfare, or subsidies.

In all, unnecessary spending probably accounts for a good 20-30% of the budget. Keep in mind I didn't say "wasteful", just unnecessary. Not only that, but even worthwhile programs tend to grow faster than necessary. We need to limit the growth of those programs to population + inflation. I haven't seen many domestic programs benefit from 10% annual spending hikes. They often performed just as well on 3% annual spending hikes.

Conservatives need to fight against the tax and spend mentality, but they need to do it intelligently. In 1995, the Republicans entered Congress and immediately started attacking programs for the poor and elderly, when there was a good $100 billion in corporate welfare and another $50 billion in agricultural subsidies to knock off. Not to mention $30 billion worth of pork.

That's why I support John McCain. McCain knows where the unnecessary spending is. He knows where the outright waste is. He has been a staunch opponent of unnecessary spending for decades. He will make sure that whatever money we pay will be spent well. He will fight Congress on behalf of taxpayers. Although there are many other decent candidates in both parties who oppose unnecessary spending, all others have more important priorities. And as Bush and even Reagan have shown, when a President has higher priorities than controlling spending, the only way to get Congress to do what they wanted was to give in on spending.

For fiscal conservatives, there is only one really reliable choice in this race: John McCain. If you have "other priorities", such as the war on terror, family values issues, or immigration, that's fine, but understand that spending WILL increase in order to get Congress to move on those issues. Congress only responds to bribery. Unless controlling spending is priority #1, it won't get done at all.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Glenn Reynolds rocks!

Oliver Willis, along with a lot of the rest of the lefty blogosphere, has taken to bashing the Blogfather lately for the supposed crime of being a libertarian/conservative and fooling people into thinking he's a moderate. They also don't like the fact that he links to blogs that make vicious attacks on the left, to which Reynolds doesn't really say whether he agrees or not.

These folks just don't get Reynolds. Reynolds primary role in the blogosphere is his personal opinions second, expanding and promoting the blogosphere itself first. He's not called the Blogfather because he was the first big blog. He wasn't. Andrew Sullivan came before him, as did Steven Den Beste and Josh Marshall. What earned Reynolds that title was that no one did more to grow the blogosphere through encouraging and linking to smaller bloggers. Getting readers motivates bloggers, and unfortunately a lot of good bloggers stop blogging because no one is reading. Readers are like fuel. When you post a few things and no one cares, you tend to do something else. If readers write in asking for more stuff, you give them more stuff. Then if you get an Instalanche, you're probably set for life. Wouldn't it be nice if the big lefty bloggers would link to their smaller counterparts? They mainly link to each other in a kind of elitist back-scratching racket.

So Reynolds spends a good 80% of his blog space linking to other posts he finds interesting. If he wrote long comments about everything he posted, he'd be posting more than Den Beste did in his heydey.

As to his ideology, it's not as if he pretends to be anything other than what he is: a libertarian/conservative. He posts a lot of attacks on the right as well when they try to do things to limit our liberties. What's more, unlike the heated, cursing posts written about him, his responses are always gentlemanly and good humored.

I've been reading him avidly since 2002(Sullivan was the first blog I ever read. I discovered Instapunit through Sullivan linking to him). There is no single blogger who is more valuable to the blogosphere, even if one doesn't agree with everything he posts.

So, all my loyal readers, let's give Glenn Reynolds a Francoislanch as a thank you. Read his blog, and more importantly, read the smaller bloggers he links to. I guarantee that on any given day there are at least a few news stories or posts that are interesting and that you'll have a hard time finding anywhere else.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


The latest statistics show that crime is going up again after over a decade of dropping. The question is "why"?

Some people feel that crime is linked to poverty, but if you went and did a line graph with one line representing poverty and the other representing crime, you wouldn't see any observable pattern. Just because mostly the poor commit crimes doesn't mean that crime is caused by poverty.

Others believe that crime is caused by illegitimacy. There's a little more support for this, as crime really started to skyrocket as illegitimacy increased from the 60s to the 90s. It's also well known that children, especially male children, without fathers tend to be more likely to get involved in unsavory activities. But illegitimacy is still increasing and crime went down from about 1993-2004.

Looking at an Excel file from the DOJ breaking down crime statistics by metropolitan area, I still can't find a pattern. Some places crime went up, other places it went down. It's not as if one region saw a major increase and others did not.

I guess the point of this blog post is to demonstrate that humans are sovereign beings who make individual choices and aren't as subject to predictable trends as we might like. Those who believe that all we have to do to change human behavior is implement policy on the macro level have a God complex. We don't have any idea what causes crime other than that for whatever reason, some people engage in criminal activity. Anyone who has known criminals knows that they all have their own reasons for doing what they do. There is no single, or even finite group, of national policies that can address the almost infinite different motivations for criminal behavior.

The only way to fight crime is at the personal level. Raise your children well. Be a good influence on those around you. Intervene when you think a friend or family member or acquaintance is sliding down a dark path. In the end, it's the 300 million individuals who make this country great, not our government. If we all decide to be assholes, not even the best government can make this country work. If we all treated each other as we would like to be treated, we wouldn't even need a government in the first place.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Impressions of the latest Democratic debate

I know I'm a few days late here.

Edwards lost the election. Not by this one performance, of course, but because of a string of errors that show he's simply not ready, even with four years off to do his homework.He attacked the other candidates for not defunding the war. Obama helpfully reminded him that he was leading on the issue long before Edwards was. Edwards also attacked Obama's health care plan for not having an individual mandate. Obama declined to defend that part of the plan, but when Edwards further went on to say that children can't make insurance decisions, Obama pointed out that there is a mandate for children. Edwards, once again, didn't do his homework.

Then there's the remark about higher taxes being necessary to insure our financial stability. He didn't mention that he thinks higher spending is necessary either, but it is part of his plan. Yet another example of extreme economic ignorance on his part.

Clinton and Obama on the other hand, helped themselves a great deal. Clinton looked the most Presidential and Obama looked like the superstar he is. Let's face it. He WILL be President some day, regardless of whether he wins this year or not. Richardson did a terrible job. He's just not good in debates. If he's going to win he's going to have to raise a lot of money and trumpet how qualified he is for the office. The fact that he's so different from all of the other candidates is his greatest strength.

Biden did great in the debate and will probably end up doing a lot better than everyone initially thought once the primaries roll around.

Latest polls show Clinton and Obama widening their lead over Edwards, so apparently Democrats are thinking the same thing I am.