April 21, 2008

Class Warfare Is a Highway, and I Wanna Ride It

Justin Katz

Things aren't equal on the highway. Some folks happen to pull into pockets of traffic that engulf them for an entire commute, while some ease into the lull just five minutes earlier. Some folks have faster cars; some folks have bigger, more-imposing cars. Some have drivers; some have GPS; some have government plates. Some are in a rush, and some have all the time in the world to cruise. Some have quick reflexes; some have bad vision; some are hung-over; some are on those fancy new clarity drugs that (I've recently read) are increasingly popular among academics.

During a trip, you pull onto the highway and you go, making the best of what you've got, driving according to your personality, state of mind, and various pressures. That's all you can do.

I bring this up because something about David's comment to a recent post of mine won't leave me alone, and the highway metaphor may help to clarify how I view class strata:

Justin, you argue for wealth redistribution favoring the wealthy with your personal anecdotal evidence. True, wealthy people do employ people, own and hold large tracts of land as open spaces that otherwise would be chopped up and developed. Evidence of those positive effects can be seen in our state in Newport, Jamestown, and Westerly.

A veritable army of leaf blowers, cleaning crews, painters and other service people clog the streets of the east side of Providence. Diaper services, too. (since it is less polluting) But you fail to convince with any evidence that the Bush tax cuts are a cause for this. The wealthy are always going to employ people to maintain their property. They have the means and desire to add to their holdings. Good for them! Bravo! And you are right to suggest that they are a positive part of the whole. But the tax cuts were nothing more than a looting of the treasury. The top pays less than what fairness requires. Warren Buffet acknowledged this when he pointed out that he paid a lower percentage in taxes than his workers. Sometime stinks in America. Taxes should be fair and should reflect the democratic construct – we are in this together. You seem to be the one doing the social engineering – let the wealthy few own all of the goods because they know how to handle it. We dummies would just screw it up.

Right from the beginning, David illustrates that my argument didn't traverse the space between us. I have not argued for wealth redistribution favoring the rich; I've argued that commerce is a better mechanism for distributing money away from the wealthy than government dictat. I most definitely did not argue that the rich ought to be considered the masters of economic allocation or that average citizens ought to be deprived on the grounds of ineptitude.

There is nothing fair about a society in which talented and hard-working people fail time and again to achieve just the modest income that would support a reasonably comfortable life with sufficient room for intellectual and spiritual improvement while others sit back and watch fortunes grow that are several generations removed from anything that might be recognizable as earning. I know of families that have kept pets on expensive life support for months on end to bring them back from the brink of death after coyote attacks, while we had to put our otherwise healthy dog down last year because we couldn't afford diabetes medicine. No, the unanswered question isn't whether the situation is fair; it's how we address that inequity from our place on the road as we've found it at the end of the entrance ramp.

Here I must correct another misunderstanding on David's part: neither of my posts in this run have had anything to say about tax policy except to this degree:

For the most part, the funds that support so many local workers building and rebuilding summer homes for the rich are not available for taxation. The owners tend not to be full-year residents, and if they were to find that they could no longer afford to lavish themselves in this way in Rhode Island, they'd find somewhere else to do it. Even with full-year residents, the difference is mainly one of threshold for redistributive pain. The progressives' willingness to insist on the right kind of commerce would certainly result in lost revenue to the state, less money in the state's economy, and lost jobs.

Because I see its circumstances as acutely dire, my focus for commentary has overwhelmingly been within Rhode Island's borders for several years, and in that context, heavily redistributive taxation schemes are an invitation for the rich to avoid paying Rhode Island taxes altogether (or, more likely, to pay somebody else to avoid those taxes for them), and that will hurt working Rhode Islanders both by draining our public coffers and by stemming the economic activity from which all tax revenue is ultimately derived. If a driver knows that you intend to pull in front of him to slow him down below his preferred speed, he won't let you get alongside him in the first place, if he can help it.

To this perspective, I would add one way in which David may have me right that "We dummies would just screw it up": if by "we dummies" he means the population operating by means of a government structure (rather than as individually responsible economic entities). Siphoning off wealth for the government's usage to the degree that left-wingers would consider to be "fair taxation" creates a pinch-point for power, and that is an ineluctable lure for precisely the sorts of people whom a fair — and wise! — society would keep far from the steering wheel. (In some ways, this is Rhode Island's tale.)

If we want fairness, we must pursue freedom. Putting up roadblocks generally proves to be to the advantage of those who already have an edge and to hinder those who would otherwise break free from the snarl of traffic.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

Your highway analogy quickly heads south in the northbound lane. I've driven on the Northeast corridor in a Mercedes and again in a VW bug that needed a ring job and I can assure you that the road looks quite different, dependent upon which auto I'm in. To put it in a Zen context, it's the same road, and it's not the same road.

You sound like Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake." Attitudes like yours brought on the French Revolution.

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at April 21, 2008 1:06 PM

You cannot possibly have read my post with any concern for understanding it and then responded as you have. Inasmuch as you didn't address my actual points, I won't bother to respond substantively.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 21, 2008 7:32 PM


On the federal level, a little research will show you that the top 1% of income tax payers are paying 37% of all income tax now and the top 5% are paying 57%. These are from a few years ago and sourced from IRS and CBO data. Those percentages may have gone up a little since then. What would you suggest is 'fair"? How about we ask the top 7% of income tax payers to send in half again more? Then the rest of us can be completely free riders. Is that the sort of participating citizen of a democracy you aspire to become?

Posted by: chuckR at April 21, 2008 9:37 PM

Sorry Justin Your highway analogy did'nt clarify anything for me. Maybe if Government used some of the country's wealth to fix bridges and roads instead of nation building you'd at least have a safe and smooth ride to go work for the Man.

Posted by: Phil at April 21, 2008 10:56 PM

Great idea, Phil. Why haven't Democrats in the General Assembly done exactly that?

Posted by: Monique at April 22, 2008 3:13 PM

What we have here is a failure to communicate. Justin, I want to respond but time restraints do not allow it right now. But you deserve an answer. I love American highway metaphors. Thanks Justin and OTL for some good ones. Ahh, the American highway; a cold can of beer between the legs, one good hit of pot and America’s freedoms come into plain view. If you are causing nobody any harm, you can drive and find your own way. We still, at least legally, despite the new harsh right wing agenda of spying and domestic intimidation, respect the right of privacy and the individual.

Posted by: David at April 22, 2008 4:51 PM

Monique Ask that question of the Executive branch in RI about the time of the December "snow storm" and how they made the roads safe and smooth anyone trying to get anywhere.

Posted by: Phil at April 22, 2008 9:49 PM
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