Saturday, June 26, 2010

New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes

Today I saw a beverage delivery truck with a brief advertisement for "New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes," a group that opposes beverage taxes. I couldn't help but immediately, in my head, run through the pros and cons of the group's likely position, in addition to the irony in its beliefs.

Let's start with the basics of taxation in general. Taxes are always destructive because they are taken from the only segment of society that produces wealth, the private sector. This is not to say the government does nothing with the money it receives in taxes, but rather to say that the private sector uses money efficiently since it only receives money on condition that its services are desired (the private sector does not simply take money from anyone against their will, only the government is permitted that power through taxation). So we score one point for "New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes" because they appreciate the danger of a tax.

Now we need to get more nuanced. The group explicitly opposes beverage taxes for a number of reasons that correctly reflect the harmful nature of taxes (jobs are at stake, economy is in a recession, etc.). But are beverage taxes the only type of dangerous tax? Of course not, the group is simply comprised of individuals whose interests are aligned with the beverage industry and so their primary concern is about beverage taxes. The detrimental implication here is that the only harmful tax is the beverage tax, an untrue and misleading sentiment.

What about the name of the organization, which purports to be against unfair taxes? How does one differentiate between a fair and an unfair tax? If I were forced against my will to provide a useful definition for a fair tax, I would probably say it is a tax that everyone pays at the same amount (we're all human so there is no reason why one human should bear more or less of a tax than any other human!). Ironically, since the beverage tax is a sales tax, it is precisely that (a tax that everyone pays at the same amount), yet the group claims it is unfair. The shame here is that the group is correct in opposing the beverage tax, but also appears to be approaching the issue from the wrong direction.

And so now we should elaborate on that wrong direction. Is it even possible for any tax to be a fair tax? One could hypothesize that the notion of "fair beatings with a baseball bat" could be described as hitting everyone with the bat equally hard and doing it for the same amount of time. However, it seems like one should also ask the question of whether there is any fairness in administering the beatings in the first place, however fair they might be. And so I would pose the questions: on what grounds can any institution in society forcefully extract wealth from individuals who haven't even done anything wrong? Why is the issue here this tax as opposed to taxes?

I sympathize with "New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes" because it looks as though the heart of the organization is generally in the right place. A beverage tax would indeed be harmful for a whole slew of reasons, especially in the midst of a serious economic downturn. However, the group should think through its beliefs and take those beliefs to their logical conclusions. That is, all taxes are destructive for the same reasons that the beverage tax is destructive. I would guess that with enough thought and without the desire to come off as "reasonable" to the public, the group could one day come to that very conclusion. Don't worry, I won't be holding my breath.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Vindicated on Obama's Mortgage Program

On February 25, 2010 I posted about a ridiculous program that President Obama initiated to try to ban foreclosures. It didn't take much foresight on my part to predict it would fail.

As absolutely shocking as this might sound, the program has turned out to be a failure.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How to Save the World

After more than two years in the midst of the worst downturn since the Great Depression, we have finally found the cure to all of our ills. This cure was not arrived at easily. It required painstaking effort on the part of one man. This one man dedicated countless hours to deep and dedicated research of world history, as well as an unconscionably thorough analysis of the world's most recent advances in all fields. But we have finally been saved by President Obama.
President Barack Obama on Friday urged other G20 countries to boost domestic demand and in-crease exchange rate flexibility to encourage global growth and rebalance the world economy.
I will not even glorify the absurdity of this statement with a rebuttal of my own. Modern economics is dead and this is yet another perfect example.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wait, who is the barbarian/kook/loon?

A few weeks ago I watched Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa, a documentary about a community living in the desert in New Mexico. The inhabitants, while diverse in many respects, all share the desire to get away from modern society. Specifically, their gripe was with the existence of government; they all just want to be left alone.

I sympathized with the predilection for freedom, but could not help feeling horrified and a bit disgusted with the conditions that these individuals live in. We are literally talking about people who did not appear to shower, who live in various enclosures (none of which qualify as a house by even the most primitive standards), and who spend their time simply trying to survive (which they do successfully if the word survive is defined in its absolute most basic sense of "continuing to be alive").

But there was one quote by a woman being interviewed that blew me away when I heard it. In fact, although the quote blew me away a few weeks ago when I heard it, only now do I realize how much more significant it really is.

To paraphrase, the woman stated that there aren't many rules on the "Mesa," other than that you are expected not to kill anyone or steal from anyone. Think about that. These individuals have figured out that a community of people could live by just two rules. They don't need rules about what to believe, how to spend their wealth, what to do in their free time, what not to do in their free time, who to help, who not to help, etc.

What impressed me about the quote a few weeks ago is that it essentially represents exactly what I think. That is, aside from individuals not causing each other physical harm or stealing from one another (the definition of actions that I consider to be wrong/immoral/unethical), what other rules could you possibly devise that wouldn't simultaneously infringe upon those first two rules?

What made me decide to post about this documentary now is that individuals who live under circumstances that would scare the daylights out of just about anybody, have managed to live under just two rules, while the rest of society with all of its advances and luxuries, can't seem to do the same.

I am sure there are objections to the above statement that all amount to "the reason why our society is so advanced is because of all the rules and the reason why their community is so primitive is because they lack rules." There is just one big problem with that belief. The concept of rules is that they exist to prevent something worse from happening that would happen were it not for the existence of the rules. The ideal is obviously to have no rules, assuming of course that everyone acted properly with no conflicts arising. So it seems to me that one of the most basic marks of a society that should call itself advanced and modern, is that it have as few rules as possible, to reflect the fact that it is... advanced and modern since conflict is minimal so rules aren't really necessary.

What it all comes down to is sort of an embarrassment. A bunch of dirty and unsophisticated individuals are living in New Mexico in a more advanced and modern manner than the rest of us. Take away the material differences and that's really what it comes down to.