"The Myth of Ownership."
April 24, 2002 12:52 PM   Subscribe

"The Myth of Ownership." Financial Columnist Stephen Moore's review of a new book which claims that it is a "compelling fantasy that we earn our income and the government takes some of it away from us."
posted by Ty Webb (28 comments total)
from the article, Moore writes:
In Washington, D.C., the private schools provide a superior education at less than half the cost of the public schools. And so it goes with almost every "service" government provides. I always wonder whether those who argue that government is as productive as the private sector have lately been to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

I always wonder who free-market/privatizer types think they're fooling with such statements. If public schools were allowed to handpick their students, as private schools are, then it might be a legitimate comparison.
posted by Ty Webb at 12:59 PM on April 24, 2002

I didn't like how Moore criticised welfare, regardless of your views on it, it doesn't really compose that much of the federal buget, 1 or 2 percent isn't it? Social security, defense and Medicare are the largest expenditures. If you eliminated welfare the effect taxes would be small and you would have other problems, crime, homelessness, less customers at bars.

Guys like Moore piss me off, they think if the government spent any money on social programs, America would turn into some sort of depressed socialist hell-hole like, um, Canada.
posted by bobo123 at 1:29 PM on April 24, 2002

Look over the wreckage of the old Soviet Union. Socialism doesn't work. It doesn't work because there is no way for socialists to properly allocate resources. Only free people operating in a free market can properly allocate resources. Why are we still debating this?

Oh...and the Canadian dollar has fallen to about 60% of the value of the American dollar.
posted by mikegre at 1:46 PM on April 24, 2002

The author is clearly writing for a demographic that does not include me. There's nothing terribly shocking in the ideas he quotes, yet he frames them as though I'm to be outraged. The effect is smug and presumptuous. He weakens his argument with silly jabs like this one:

it reveals how many on the Left really feel about private ownership . . . but won't come out and say so in public.

This is gratuitous derogation of an ill-defined target, and it reveals far more about the author than about the book he's supposedly critiquing. In the end, he wanders off on a rant about government inefficiency and does not appear to notice that he has never actually explained what is wrong with the book's proposal.

posted by Mars Saxman at 1:48 PM on April 24, 2002

Actually he says that the book states that we get our money's worth for the taxes we pay.

His counter argument is that , adjusted for inflation, the average per household tax expenditure is 2x what it was in 1960.

Next he asks if the reader feels the goverment provides services and benefits twice what they were in 1960.

He assumes that the reader does not feel the the correlation between spending and benifits exist and that proves the fallacy of the book.
posted by Mick at 1:54 PM on April 24, 2002

most Americans came to view the great welfare state as an abysmal failure that was creating multiple generations of unproductive citizens.

i might too if he meant the corporate welfare state :)

Estimated amount the United States spends each year safeguarding oil supplies in the Persian Gulf : $50,000,000,000

Estimated value of U.S. crude-oil imports from the region last year : $19,000,000,000
[via rw!]

there was also this article in the nytimes: Bush Policies Have Been Good to Energy Industry and it's kind of ironic in light of this article from the washingtonpost: 2003 Budget Completes Big Jump in Spending
posted by kliuless at 1:54 PM on April 24, 2002

Why are we still debating this?

Um, because casino rules do not a free market make?

Because class warfare and redistribution of income towards the wealthiest end of the economic spectrum is not called class warfare, while pointing out such a redistribution is?

Oh, and those people in Canada own houses at the same percentage as we Americans without that obvious boondoggle called the mortgage tax deduction. Is it just socialistic welfare when only less well off people are subsidized by the state? I don't see a rent tax deduction.
posted by y2karl at 2:02 PM on April 24, 2002

So, um...when do we discuss the book itself instead of berating the columnist for having an opinion?

This post, thus far, seems like a troll to me. An "Ann Coulter" article to debunk right of center thinking. Am I wrong?
posted by BlueTrain at 2:29 PM on April 24, 2002

George Packer/NYT (registration Required)

Think about the sources of unity and resolve. Let's take just one area of domestic policy: taxation. What is more likely to undermine the sense of a common national purpose than making tax breaks for the rich permanent, as House Republicans are trying to do at the president's urging? How about expanding off-shore tax shelters that have become refuges for the wealth of several hundred thousand American individuals and corporations? Or auditing the returns of the working poor at a rate nine times greater than that for returns of wealthy Americans whose money comes from partnerships? Or repealing the alternative minimum tax, which would make it easier for other corporations to do what Enron pulled off and pay no taxes at all? These and numerous other measures almost seem designed to demoralize the home front and make the citizenry cynical at the outset of what the administration insists will be a long and difficult war.

< danacarveyasgeorgebush1st>
Welfare: Bad! Wealthfare: Good!
< /danacarveyasgeorgebush1st>

It's only cynicism if you're broke and bitter; them that gots
git, laughing all the way to the bank--it's good! for the country.
posted by y2karl at 2:32 PM on April 24, 2002

y2karl writes: "...and redistribution of income towards the wealthiest end ...."

It's redistributed when it's taxed and then given to another group. It's not redistributed when it's earned.

As for corporate welfare, end it now.
posted by mikegre at 2:55 PM on April 24, 2002

As for corporate welfare, end it now.

If we did that, the economy would implode. Whether that's a bad thing or not is up to you.
posted by solistrato at 3:05 PM on April 24, 2002

Can't really discuss the book, as I haven't read it. But here's the NYT Review (registration required) to which Moore, to some extent, is responding.

The thoughts in this book deserve examination... Unfortunately, their carefully developed arguments are mixed with a hostility to inherited wealth that will make it easy for those who are paid to promote hatred of taxes to dismiss them as soak-the-rich types with nothing new to say.

Seems like the NYT reviewer had it pretty much pegged: They are soak-the-rich types, but what they say could spark some interesting debate if it weren't for those "paid to promote hatred of taxes." Yup.
posted by sj at 3:14 PM on April 24, 2002

What's the quote from Gibbon? Something like that the beginning of the end of any empire is when the rich rise to power so that they can reallocate the funds of the state to themselves? I think I got it mostly right.

As for Canada, my Canadian friends say that while you do get paid less there the quality of life and the pace of the culture more than make up for it. It ain't worth it killing yourself to maximize your dough when all you are doing is making yourself (and often many others, indirectly) misearble.

When it's Welfare as in keep-the-poor-from-starving we should end it with impunity. When it is welfare as in make-sure-Enron-doesn't-pay-taxes-ever even talking about it might send the market into a spiral. Human Life, Quality of Life > Cash Money.

I'd pay 80% of my income if it meant free education, medical care, a massive increase in energy (fusion) research and humane treatment of the elderly. Funny thing is that if we were to stop overspending on corporate tax credits, stupid defense projects and the like we could have all that for what we're paying now.
posted by n9 at 3:54 PM on April 24, 2002

mikgre wrote: "Socialism doesn't work."
mikgre wrote: "As for corporate welfare, end it now."
sjc wrote: "If we did that, the economy would implode."

So... What is it that doesn't work again? My poor liberal brain is all confused here. Oh, I see free markets don't work unless they have a socialist system to prop them up.

Or... is it that they seem like they don't work because the world hasn't seen a real one, but instead we just see one spoiled by socialism? Oh, OK, just like the world hasn't seen a real socialist system, only one spoiled by capitalism; so everybody who doesn't like socialism thinks it can't work.

I get it now. Boy that gosh darn world just keeps failing to be black and white!
posted by badstone at 4:38 PM on April 24, 2002

mikegre - The fall of communism doesn't tell us dick about socialism. Many of the critical services in the good ol' U S of A are socialized.

Sorry to break it to you. Breath deeply. It's okay, no one's going to hurt you here...
posted by NortonDC at 5:03 PM on April 24, 2002

I'd pay 80% of my income if it meant free education, medical care, a massive increase in energy (fusion) research and humane treatment of the elderly.

If you spend 80% of your income for something, then it ain't free.
posted by groundhog at 7:18 PM on April 24, 2002

It's redistributed when it's taxed and then given to another group. It's not redistributed when it's earned.


CEO paycheques increased an average 54% this past year. Average corporate earnings, however, fell by nearly 20%. Can't say as those fat bastards actually earned their wages... wages that could more appropriately have been spent on avoiding downsizing. Money was redistributed like mad last year... from the poor, made poorer, to the rich, made richer.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:37 PM on April 24, 2002

By illigitimizing corporate welfare the economy would implode? The corps and the rich would be paying their fair share. Much like here in Washington. . .

Corporate restaurant chains absolutely abhor doing business in this state. Progressive minimum wage and fees for just about every other facet of operating a restaurant, where elsewhere in the country these things are a given. But, why shouldn't these companies have to pay their employees living wages? In Colorado and most every other state the minimum wage for tipped service industrial workers is a cool $2.13 an hour. Effectively these corporations pay absolutely nothing to have a staffed house. Regardless of whether the employees are tipped or not, the corporation gets the fruits of its employees' labor free of charge. So, as it goes, they don't like it that the system is set so their Washington stores and franchises appear to be underperforming. Difference being, they have to pay their dues here. And I don't see any of these restaurants, casinos etc, avoiding the state. They're here and doing just fine, only having to fairly "spread the wealth", as it were.

Same goes with the larger issue of corporate welfare. Outlaw it. Fatcats still get their exorbitant pay, only it's not a free ride anymore. They won't like it one iota. It will take time, growing into this "accountability to society" thing we've all been enduring for centuries.
posted by crasspastor at 8:05 PM on April 24, 2002

My god. I can pick bottles for better than $2.13 an hour.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:40 PM on April 24, 2002

All right, crasspastor! Thanks for that.

mikegre, as for It's not redistributed when it's earned,well, it's redistributed when taxes are cut and cut for the people holding all the money, as detailed in the quote from George Packer up there, which you found convenient to ignore.

It's redistributed when, say. the corporate income tax is a joke. I temped at Deloitte and Touche ten years ago, running a copier and running off the corporate income tax returns for the partners of the largest law firm in town. A guy declares a $600, 000 income and zeroes out on taxes--none paid. And that was the smallest fry. More than a couple made over a mil--but they all zeroed out. $0 in corporate income taxes--for every last partner--zero taxes paid on millions of dollars. Now that is redistribution of wealth--in the words of Dick Cheney--Big Time.

I don't see the Republicans agitating for a cut in the payroll tax,--not when there's all that loot to raid if they get to 'privatize' Social Security--no sirree. But dang, that capital gains tax sure is hobbling the economy. Let's get rid of it. Let's hoard the wealth. Those are your casino rules.
posted by y2karl at 9:06 PM on April 24, 2002

I'd pay 80% of my income if it meant free education, medical care, a massive increase in energy (fusion) research and humane treatment of the elderly.

Fine, good for you. If I was making millions of dollars, I could and would do such a thing. Just don't force anyone else to do it. It is not philanthropy (as noble as you make it sound) unless it is voluntary.

Feel free to bitch about payroll taxes, but the Republicans are afraid to cut them, because it is FICA (a payroll tax) which funds Social Security, everyone's much loved wealth transfer program.

The fact is, the tax code is unfair, to everyone but interest groups (those rich folks you so love to hate) who get to manipulate the legislative process for our 7,600 page long federal tax code.

Government, by upholding contract law and persecuting fraud, helps guarantee some economic prosperity(by removing key risk factors). In order to do this, they need operating funds, taxes. This does not mean that government creates income, or property, and it does not mean that initially, the government owns everything, and out of the goodness of its heart allows us our precious income. We are entitled to the fruits of our labor, the government is not born with the right to take it by force. If any of you have read the Declaration, you will remember that our nation was created upon the principle of consent of the governed. The idea espoused by these two authors is diametrically opposed to this principle, because in their system, it is not the people who are consenting to fund the government, it's the exact opposite.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:29 PM on April 24, 2002

The idea espoused by these two authors is diametrically opposed to this principle, because in their system, it is not the people who are consenting to fund the government, it's the exact opposite.

Um, no. Their argument is straight outta John Locke, from which you get the verbiage for your lovely little Declaration thingy. (That politics degree finally gets me somewhere.) The people consent to have the government as guarantors of their property, and taxation is the insurance policy against living in a world where it's dog-eat-dog and your natural rights can go to hell. Which means that the securing of personal property is entirely contingent upon government:

whereby any one unites his person, which was before free, to any common-wealth, by the same he unites his possessions, which were before free, to it also; and they become, both of them, person and possession, subject to the government and dominion of that common-wealth, as long as it hath a being.

The point isn't that the state takes away your property and gives you it back, so much as you owe your right to what you call 'private property' and 'freedom' and 'liberty' to the state, because the 'natural' right to life, liberty and property, unfettered by the state, is also subject to people who are quite happy to take those things away from you. And as Locke put it, being part of society means giving up a little bit of your natural freedoms in order to minimise the risk of losing all of them.
posted by riviera at 4:01 AM on April 25, 2002

riviera wrote: ".....means giving up a little bit of your natural freedoms....."

Well, if you're in the higher tax brackets and you add in all the other taxes you pay (sales, property, etc.), you will be paying over 50% of your income to the government. Which can also mean that you're working from January through June for the government.
posted by mikegre at 5:44 AM on April 25, 2002

mikegre: And, in return for that money, you get protection from crime and foreign invasion, enforced rights, roads down which the products you make your money from travel, water and sewer lines that the private sector will neve be able to handle because of overhead, environmental laws to keep your property worth much to speak of, hopefully in your area for quality of life (which includes the environment but also parks, the arts, etc.) The Internet wouldn't be here if not for government too, remember. So you're paying, in probably nine cases out of ten (of course there is waste, and probably always will be - not that it's not worthy battling), for civilization.
posted by raysmj at 7:11 AM on April 25, 2002

i'd also just like to say that the government maintains the money system! (although the federal reserve isn't technically a government organization, more like quasi-governmental or pseudo-private, i.e. not very democratic :) so without government there would be no wealth per se! at least not as we know it :)
posted by kliuless at 7:46 AM on April 25, 2002

Well, if you're in the higher tax brackets ... you will be paying over 50% of your income to the government.

Bullpuckey. If you're in a higher tax bracket and paying anything over 25%, you're in dire need of a tax accountant. I daresay that most wealthy people pay proportionally less tax than most middle-class/lower-middle-class people.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:59 AM on April 25, 2002

raysmj wrote: ".... of course there is waste..."

But that's the point raysmj.
posted by mikegre at 11:09 AM on April 25, 2002

five fresh fish - Maybe you're right for greedy, everyone for themselves, libertarian-run, "mine! mine! mine!" Canada, but not for the egalitarian, fair, just and civic-minded United States of America.
posted by NortonDC at 11:57 AM on April 25, 2002

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