On poverty, surviving, taxes and economic justice in America
April 9, 2016 2:04 PM   Subscribe

"The Throwaways" by Melissa Chadburn, from 2012. (Via. tw: mentions rape, but not graphically.)
posted by zarq (24 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
and here in mid-2016 we are careening to a pretty decent Left vs. Right presidential election.

Now, it looks like the Left alternative will be what was the center 50 years ago, while the Right will be a doubling-down on Goldwater, Goldwater combined with spooky Dominionism if we're extra lucky.

As of now the conservatives have lost their majority on the SCOTUS, one they've had since the 80s.

Maybe they'll be booted out of the House & Senate like in 2006 again, but that's a 'reach goal' right now.

back to the FPP, revenue gov't extracts from the private economy via taxation does not disappear from the economy, all that happens is that gov't pays people with this money to provide goods and/or services to other people, or gives the money to somebody directly to spend back into the private economy.

thing is, our current economy is so asymmetrical its problems go much, much deeper than simple wage multiples the C-suites enjoy.

the author mentioned severance taxes and they are actually at the heart of the reforms we need to effect

we need to tax people getting something for nothing in this economy -- profiting from the mere ownership of wealth not the creation of new wealth -- and the big resource companies are at the front of this list, along with all the specuvestors in real estate buying up the supply to rent out to the 'other half'.

our economy is pretty unbalanced right now, maybe as bad as the Soviets were getting ca. 1980, maybe not.

back in 2010 I thought maybe we'd follow Japan into 20+ years of deflation flat economy, but our demographics are this decade are much different from the prospect they were facing when their housing/asset bubble collapsed:

https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?g=46JS

by that graph, opposite in fact.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 2:45 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


I note the following errors in her piece:

1. GE paid $2.5 billion in income taxes in 2010. On top of that, they doubtlessly paid hundreds of millions in dollars in property taxes and payroll taxes. I'm assuming she was being sloppy and referring to federal income taxes, although that's unclear.

2. I mean, in 2010 his salary was $21,428,765.00. That was his total compensation, of which salary is a part.

3. Google also employed a tax evasion strategy by housing their licensing and patents outside the US, so they got to enjoy a 10.8 billion dollar profit in 2010.

That $10.8 billion was their pre-tax profit, so their tax strategies wouldn't have impacted it.
posted by jpe at 3:31 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was reading this, interested, and then she pulled the "it's because greed", and she lost me. Really? You can't conceive of any reason other than greed why someone might hold different political beliefs than you? You are asking for empathy and refuse to even try to empathize with the people you are talking about?

People don't sit on their piles of money and rub themselves in a Scrooge McDuck bathtub of gold for funsies while people starve. People have different beliefs about what is best for the world. I hate taxes, personally. But I'm happy to donate both money and time to charity. Is that somehow greed? Or is it a fundamental lack of faith that the government will spend that money better than you would have? Is it a fundamental lack of faith that your money will go anywhere but a giant pit? A hatred of force and coercion?

But no, greed as an idea is far simpler, and it keeps some people in black hats, and others in white hats, and it's easy to justify anything because screw the people in the black hats, right?

This is so frustrating, because it could have been so good, but then failed as so many of these pieces fail. With a lack of serious introspection at their own blind spots.
posted by corb at 4:03 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


So what political belief supports corporate tax evasion, corb? Since she directly referred to that as an example of greed?

Which system of values supports CEO's being paid hundreds of times what their average workers make?

As if we have to ask.
posted by zarq at 4:15 PM on April 9, 2016 [22 favorites]


the idea that charitable givings could wholly replace taxes is pure selfish fantasy.
posted by nadawi at 4:35 PM on April 9, 2016 [36 favorites]


and it's easy to justify anything because screw the people in the black hats, right?

Or, y'know, the people in black hats could just be selfish and greedy.

That's a possibility, too.

I love paying my taxes. I call it 'Civilization Maintenance Fees'. In fact, I'd give alot more if I could assure that it would be spent on infrastructure, mass transit, and the arts. As it stands, all I can do is tell my elected representatives 'I'd like to pay more taxes, please, and I'll give my vote to the person who will tax me more and spend it on maintenance, the metro, and museums"
posted by eclectist at 5:15 PM on April 9, 2016 [33 favorites]


Even in the world in which charity could match taxes, charity is still less charitable because it relies on the idea that the giver gets to decide what causes are deserving. In that world, animal shelters and research for diseases the givers themselves have experienced get tons of money, and those who are economically disadvantaged stay that way.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:16 PM on April 9, 2016 [29 favorites]


Even in the world in which charity could match taxes, charity is still less charitable because it relies on the idea that the giver gets to decide what causes are deserving.

It also relies on the giver's voluntary contribution. The structure of obligation that taxes impose also provides a structure of consistency for funding.

There is a lot of wrong with the U.S. tax code and with the federal budget. But I don't think the best answer is "cut taxes and let people decide to crowdfund stuff." I find the GoFundMe pages for special-needs kids or terminal-illness patients to be so sad. We should not be a society where our most vulnerable and least able have to digitally beg for alms to meet their needs. I can't imagine what it's like to love someone who's dying, to have stratospheric expenses, to beg for money on the Internet ... and then to see how few people will come to your aid.
posted by sobell at 5:56 PM on April 9, 2016 [21 favorites]


corb: "I hate taxes, personally. But I'm happy to donate both money and time to charity. Is that somehow greed? Or is it a fundamental lack of faith that the government will spend that money better than you would have? Is it a fundamental lack of faith that your money will go anywhere but a giant pit? A hatred of force and coercion?"

eclectist: "I love paying my taxes. I call it 'Civilization Maintenance Fees'.

I'll go even further: not only do I love paying my taxes but I also love government bureaucracy. Even though I complain about its inefficiencies and slow pace when I have to deal with it. Why? Because in its slowness and resistance to interference it manages to distribute funds to millions of line items that the majority of people would consider utterly boring and irrelevant to their lives yet that are the lubricant on which our society runs. Of course there is an amazing amount of room for change and improvement and a lot of money is wasted or spent on things that are at least questionable. But that's not the mechanism's fault. It's the consequence of capture by certain interests.

The notion that this mechanism should be replaced by a voluntary, fiduciary popularity contest is at best laughable. Of those millions of boring line items only a few dozen might see meaningful funding. People here in LA also fight against tax increases. As one of the results of this attitude (the resistance to increases in property taxes in particular) the city is decades behind on keeping streets and sidewalks repaired. So, instead of paying property taxes I'm sinking equivalent or, more likely, higher amounts into fixing worn out bearings, struts, tires and wheels on my car at an absurd frequency.

You think people are going to voluntarily donate enough to fix even a few roads? The sooner that nonsensical way of thinking is discarded on the trash heap of history the better.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 6:39 PM on April 9, 2016 [25 favorites]


Look, we could have another round of "are taxes better than private donations?" and everyone will leave unconvinced and kind of pissed at each other - which is why I'm not trying to convince you it's the right way. What I'm saying is - even if you think charity donations are a wrongheaded way to do that, that doesn't mean by virtue of having different beliefs about what is more likely to bring about a better world that it is greedy to have one view rather than another.
posted by corb at 7:43 PM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I have absolutely no problem with people that have different ideas of how money should be spent in governance - that's kinda the heart and soul of a democratic process that develops past the 'common weal' stage. Money is where the rubber hits the road; money is the currency (for lack of a better term, and isn't it funny that there's not a better term, eh) of how we allocate our effort to build a society, and via our efforts, express our values, our norms and mores as a culture.

But a simple refusal to give or take money at all, not a reasoned, while impassioned, debate, over the uses of that money - yes, I'm sorry, but that's greed. If you participate in the society, you have a responsibility, even if you feel that your personal benefit is less than it should be, unless you remove yourself from that society. I would love a world in which an individual's sense of right and wrong could be counted on, as stable as the next sunrise, to ensure that they live up to their responsibilities to a society, but a tragedy of the commons, in a sense this large, means that people die, and I'm not willing to give that point.
posted by eclectist at 8:02 PM on April 9, 2016 [10 favorites]


People don't sit on their piles of money and rub themselves in a Scrooge McDuck bathtub of gold for funsies while people starve.
You've obviously never seen inside Trump's many homes.

When you try to convince yourself that Bill Gates knows better how to spend money for the betterment of mankind, I have one word that sums up his judgment: Clippy. (Yeah, cheap shot, but does anybody want an infrastructure that works just like Windows? Private Control of the internet's infrastructure is a big reason why America's 'net is slower than most of the world's.)

If the stories coming out of San Francisco these days don't convince you that the Rich should absolutely NOT be trusted to portion out the money to make society function, think about how the Pharma industry decides what's the next wonder drug to put all their research money into. Profit (and greed) brings us boner pills and will NEVER bring a cure for anything when a 'treatment for the next forty years' is a possibility.

One of the BEST things about Taxation, and specifically Progressive Taxation, is that it takes AWAY money for discretionary spending from the people whose money-EARNING activities made our society what it is today. Wealth and Success are genuinely COUNTER-indicators for Wisdom and Morality, and have been ever since somebody snuck into the Bible that reference to Rich Men, Camels and Needles. I'd narrowly prefer to let a wino make governmental spending decisions than the owner of the company that makes his wine (partly because I've MET examples of both).
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:18 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't understand the extreme umbrage being taken here. It's fine for someone to believe against the available evidence of all recorded history that voluntary donations could sustain a functional society, but with that belief comes the responsibility to either demonstrate how the act of keeping their money and optionally choosing to give some of it away doesn't align with greed, or at the very least to accept that their beliefs about how the world works that just happen to protect their own self-interest are indistinguishable from greed for anyone who doesn't accept that worldview.

"I have different beliefs about how to bring about a better society" is not a magic phrase one can utter to change peoples' minds about what they know about human nature based on the lived experience of having others take more than their fair share. Your first principles are not self-evident to everyone else, and if those first principles in action look an awful lot like the justifications greedy people use to disguise their selfishness, then it's your job to convince them otherwise.

Rand understood this -- she was a shitty writer, but she seemed to truly believe that her pursuit of rational self-interest would bring about a better world. She did her best to communicate that through her writing, and when people didn't like it, she basically told the haters to go fuck off. If you believe your philosophy is better for the world, then spend more time articulating the causal mechanisms between your actions and the better society you think will come from them, and less time worrying about whether others might think you're greedy.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:09 PM on April 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


the available evidence of all recorded history that voluntary donations could sustain a functional society
Like the 'voluntary donations' of blacks in the American South and all the other Slaves in history?
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:14 PM on April 9, 2016


But a simple refusal to give or take money at all, not a reasoned, while impassioned, debate, over the uses of that money - yes, I'm sorry, but that's greed. If you participate in the society, you have a responsibility, even if you feel that your personal benefit is less than it should be, unless you remove yourself from that society.

I think that you're mistaking, though, how at least some people in some cultures think and work around distributions of money for the common welfare.

Speaking only for self, to give a better impression of where I personally am coming from - I grew up poor, but my family wasn't always poor, so the way I grew up thinking about other people was a combination of "noblesse oblige" - that with greater gifts came the moral obligation to provide more for those who were worse off in your local community - and the Catholic church, which is pretty big on charity and helping those who are truly downtrodden. I don't have a problem with giving money along with time. I've donated to so many charities that I will receive junk mail for the rest of my life because they sell my name to other charities on the hope I'll give there too. When the church passes envelopes for various causes, I always put money inside - down to giving my last five dollars when I was poor and feeling agonies of guilt that it wasn't enough for all the envelopes. Most of my family gives significant money or time, depending on which they have, to various charities that they think will make the world better. My mother focuses on curing diseases. My father focuses on education. My grandmother focuses on orphans. I have more of a broad spectrum, but tend to focus on empowering individuals - whether that be to get out of homelessness, a better education, etc.

But there's a significant difference in how you - or at least, I - think of money you voluntarily contribute, and money that is taken from you with the threat of force or imprisonment. When I donate to my charities or pay for tickets to something they're having or doing or donate in church, I feel good. I feel myself a more compassionate person. I don't always talk about this in intellectual circles where it's not cool, but I feel closer to God. I want to help more. When I donate money to get to a gala, when they pass the hat again I donate even more. It feels good to be charitable. It feels that I am meeting my moral obligation to society that comes with being gifted.

When I pay my taxes, I feel robbed - not only of the money, but of the feeling of charitable obligation. I have less to give to my charities and I bitterly feel the pinch. A lot of that is because I don't like what the government is doing with my money (Hello, Iraq War!) but to be perfectly honest, even if they took exactly the amount of money that I give to my charities, and paid it exactly and only to my most beloved charities, I would still feel robbed. Because if nothing else, they have robbed me of my charity. Money that you give because you are afraid of giving to jail does not have the same moral quality as money that you give with an open and compassionate heart. You don't feel the same about it. You - or again, at least, I, - feel like a shitty person, that has had money stolen from them all year round, and then often has money demanded again come April 15, which you pay because if you don't pay they will ruin your life. When I pay my extra taxes they ask for, I don't feel like a generous benefactor. I feel like a coward.
posted by corb at 12:53 PM on April 10, 2016


Like, to put it in perspective for the tl;dr version - if I made 100K and they took 30,000$ in taxes out of my checks, I would feel like a shmuck. If I made 100K and signed over a check for 30,000$ to a homeless shelter, I would have this massive tide of joy and feel so good about myself for the entire year and desperately look forward to the next year when I could do it again.
posted by corb at 12:56 PM on April 10, 2016


"It makes rich people feel good about themselves" has a really weak historical track record, though.
posted by clew at 2:01 PM on April 10, 2016 [10 favorites]


On the other hand, I budget and account based on the money that actually goes into my bank account each month, and since I generally have enough exemptions, "paying taxes" tends to be the government writing a check to me so I have more money. The money from my nominal income that I 'pay' in taxes was never my money and was never going to be.

I grew up upper middle class. I have never wanted for cash. Money is merely a number somewhere that goes up as long as I am not profligate in my spending. Sure I'd love more money, too. It would make me feel safer. I could buy nicer things without worry. But that would require changing things, taking it from somewhere where it would otherwise go. If I say it should be taken from my income taxes and given to me instead, that money is probably going to come out of food in the hands of someone who needs it. Or government debt that I will be on the hook for later. Or infrastructure repairs that will be more expensive the longer they are put off.

And the thing is, I don't earn that much. I have never earned even the average for individual incomes. I have just always had a safety net through my family and never had to worry. I've always had a chunk of cash in the bank. It's given me so much more peace of mind over people who even make more than me, and who feel like they're struggling and who have to take on extra work to make ends meet. And it's not even that expensive. It's something out society could do for everyone with enough willpower.
posted by Zalzidrax at 4:11 PM on April 10, 2016


Taxes aren't charity.

Anyone who says otherwise is either trying to sell something or utterly fails to understand the concepts involved.

Taxes aren't charity. They're not even "like" charity.

Taxes are fees for living under a government that provides certain services to the people living within its borders, who may benefit indirectly or directly from them. Indirectly meaning that provided services are intended to be offered for the good of everyone. Taxes pay for a military. which maintains and defends borders. They pay for emergency services, including fire and police departments, which help keep residents healthy and safe. They pay for sanitation services, which help keep neighborhoods clean and citizens healthy. They pay for public education, libraries and parks which are long-term contributions to society's welfare. Etc.

Taxes are not voluntary but compulsory. One cannot choose to stop paying taxes. One's personal feelings about how paying taxes makes one feel are irrelevant in that regard. Don't "feel like" paying your taxes? Get fined or go to jail.

"Paying Taxes and Giving to Charity Aren’t the Same Thing"
Millionaires and other wealthy people argue that they would give more to charity if they paid lower taxes, as they surely would under proposals put forth by Mitt Romney and in the House-approved budget drafted by his running mate Paul Ryan.

That assertion is directly contradicted by scholarly studies. We know that when taxes go down, people give less generously [PDF]. Lower taxes mean that what scholars call “the price of giving” goes up; the value of the tax deduction per donated dollar is less.

The notion that the wealthy will pay out in voluntary contributions what they don’t pay in mandatory taxes may seem an attractive proposition to some charities, but it just isn’t so.

While there may be more discretionary money in the pockets of millionaires, it tends to stay there. As a matter of fact, the wealthy give a smaller percentage of their income to charity than do moderate- and low-income people.

They also give to different charities than those with less income. The social psychologist Paul Piff, who studies the effects of income on personal behavior, told The Chronicle last month that “the more wealth you have, the more focused on your own self and your own needs you become and the less attuned to the needs of other people.” He has shown that wealth can make people “more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people.”

posted by zarq at 7:14 AM on April 11, 2016 [7 favorites]


If I made 100K and signed over a check for 30,000$ to a homeless shelter, I would have this massive tide of joy and feel so good about myself for the entire year and desperately look forward to the next year when I could do it again.

Public policy isn't about you and your feelings, it's about establishing rules under which society can function. There isn't a nation state on the planet, not even wealthy petro-states, that don't impose some form of taxation to pay for things everyone needs.

It's true that none of us needed the Iraq war, but we do need roads, nuclear safety regulations, food inspectors, and hundreds of other things that the government does for all of us. You can't make a case against all government spending by repeatedly going to the well of our foreign policy misadventures without acknowledging the uncontroversial parts of government spending, many of which you benefit from.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:28 AM on April 11, 2016 [9 favorites]


Feeling sad about missing an opportunity to voluntarily give because tax dollars go to important social services is sad and sounds difficult but it's really not as big of a human right issue as feeling excruciating pain from dental decay that is creating serious infections, dying of treatable diseases, children going hungry, people being unable to leave dangerous partners without facing homelessness.

Sometimes I think people who faced adversity and got out have some of the biggest blind spots and harmful beliefs that they put onto anyone who is unable to get out without help. Like one person might face paralysis work really hard and be able t walk again YAY another person might work just as hard and it's simply not going to happen.

People are ridiculously bad at understanding the scope of resources needed to provided assistance and services and financial aid to those in need, or to facing the reality that ongoing disability services and financial help is in fact required for a much larger quantity of people than anyone wants to believe.

Making human rights issues around whether the already privileged have good feelings rather than life or death and critical health issues facing vulnerable people is indeed about prioritizing the wants of the privileged over survival needs of the more vulnerable. It's not about a NEED to give charitably- that is a greed. And if taxes deprive some people from the joy of giving in a way that pleases them, because they make giving actually about the people in need rather than the selfish wants of those giving- then all the better. We could use a lot less self absorption masquerading as altruism- it's fake and it does more harm than good all too often.
posted by xarnop at 9:30 AM on April 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


"It makes rich people feel good about themselves" has a really weak historical track record, though.

I don't know. I think "richesse oblige" has a mighty fine track record.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:34 AM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


What if those charitable institutions came up to you and said, "You know, we really prefer it when our funding comes from mandatory taxes?" They'll never say that to you, because they're relying on your goodwill, but goodwill is actually a crappy financing scheme. Things run better when their funding is reliable.

not to mention she was talking about corporate tax evasion. Which is in fact done by people who hoard billions of dollars in Scrooge McDuck bathtubs.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 6:16 PM on April 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Gee, I wonder what could go wrong:
Since the first day of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has said that he gave more than $102 million to charity in the past five years.

To back up that claim, Trump’s campaign compiled a list of his contributions — 4,844 of them, filling 93 pages.

But, in that massive list, one thing was missing.

Not a single one of those donations was actually a personal gift of Trump’s own money.

Instead, according to a Washington Post analysis, many of the gifts that Trump cited to prove his generosity were free rounds of golf, given away by his courses for charity auctions and raffles.
[...]
His foundation, for example, frequently gave money to groups that paid to use Trump’s facilities, and it donated to conservatives who could help promote Trump’s rise in the Republican Party. The foundation’s second-biggest donation described on the campaign’s list went to the charity of a man who had settled a lawsuit with one of Trump’s golf courses after being denied a hole-in-one prize.
[...]
The most expensive charitable contributions on Trump’s list, by contrast, dealt with transactions related to real estate.

For one, Trump counted $63.8 million of unspecified “conservation easements.” That refers to legal arrangements — which could bring tax breaks — in which a landowner agrees to forgo certain kinds of development on land that he owns. In California, for example, Trump agreed to an easement that prevented him from building homes on a plot of land near a golf course. But Trump kept the land, and kept making money off it. It is a driving range.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:53 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


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