Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Really Mystified

I missed this yesterday: Jonathan Chait takes apart Amity Shlaes, who is apparently ready to junk the Constitution and give the Articles of Confederation another try. You might think that Chait is exaggerating, but, no, he really isn't; she refers to the Articles as "our tradition" compared to the newfangled income tax.

Ah well. Chait is exactly right; Shlaes embrace of the Articles gives away the game, which has been about pretending (or, perhaps, ignorantly believing) that the Constitution was written to restrict the power of the federal government, when in fact exactly the opposite was true.

I'll add one thing: the substantive point that Shlaes seems to be embracing is almost certainly wrong, too. She's daydreaming about a scheme that would have the states raise tax money and then pass it along to the federal government, which she suspects would be a good idea because she thinks the US is suffering from "fiscal illusion" -- that people aren't aware of how much they pay in taxes because governments hide the true size of taxes from people. That's something that theoretically could happen, but I'm confident that if anything what the United States has is the opposite. Surveys find that people always believe that taxes have recently gone up, even then they've been cut; while federal income tax is obviously not the only tax out there, we also know that a lot of people who feel oppressed by tyrannical levels of federal income tax actually pay none at all. The truth is that most people who take home a paycheck do in fact know about the tax bite out of that paycheck (even if they mistake exactly which tax it is), and that's by far the bulk of federal tax revenues. Sales taxes (or even more so, a VAT) are far less obvious than a payroll tax or income taxes.

No, what really is "stealth" in the US system isn't taxes -- it's spending, particularly spending done through the tax code.

Which is neither here nor there, anyway. We know what the American people want: less spending overall but more spending on practically every specific category; lower taxes for most and higher taxes on the rich, except when you actually do raise taxes on the rich they don't like it much; and balanced budgets. I'm willing to place a strong bet that shifting who collects taxes, or even what kinds of taxes are collected, won't do much to unmuddle that mess.


  1. This is really giving away the game for that part of the right wing that has been fetishizing the Constitution: It's just sloganeering rather than any sort of deeply considered ideology. I would be delighted to see some Tea Party members attacking Shlaes over her contention that replacing the Articles with the Constitution was some kind of grave mistake, but I doubt we'll see much of that.

  2. I'm willing to place a strong bet that shifting who collects taxes, or even what kinds of taxes are collected, won't do much to unmuddle that mess

    ... unless & until the GOP abandons Southern Strategy rhetoric.

    The sole domestic policy of the Republican Party is a vague fear that Government is going to tax Us and give it to Them, who are mostly lazy swarthy poors.

    That's all that Mitt Romney has-- it's why he barely has any policies at all, and gears his campaign at telling lies designed to make people think that the president is some kind of foreigner. His "fiscal policy" is to cut revenues by around $5 trillion, then make up for it with some yet-unspecified, apparently impossible secret plan.

    In the 1950s, resentment at the government was not the animating principle of membership in the Republican Party. They even had fiscal conservatives. Pres. Eisenhower was furious at Congressional Democrats for proposing a tax cut when we were running deficits: "Eisenhower... thought no issue more flagrantly demonstrated [Democrats'] partisanship than their bill to cut taxes... Eisenhower considered such an idea reckless and dangerous at a time when he was trying to narrow the deficit in the federal budget. He urged Republican leaders to “denounce the Democrats every step of the way.” ... [H]e condemned the tax exemption at a press conference on 23 February [1955] as “some kind of heights in fiscal irresponsibility.” ... Eisenhower won in the Senate, thereby stopping what he considered a sordid Democratic effort “to buy votes with the public’s money.”"

    In the meantime, though, the conpiratorial, resentnful Birchers that Ike could shrug off have become the driving force within the GOP. If the GOP effort to heighten anti-government resentment (once explicitly linked to anti-minority resentment, but no longer so explicit), then we'd have a more reasoned public discourse and, therefore, public opinion. Unfortunately, there are no signs of maturity or patriotism in the Republican Party.

    I imagine the title of this post reflects that it's all almost enough to make a man sit right down and cry.

  3. The historical reality of the Constitution is that it expanded the power of our federal government while still restricting it. It's hard to imagine anyone really disagreeing with that.


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