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September 17, 2003

TAXING THE POOR....Jacob Levy, in an apparent effort to be contrarian, has for some reason decided to use his space in The New Republic this month to defend the Wall Street Journal's infamous "Lucky Duckies" editorial from last year. You remember, that was the one where they complained that the poor don't pay enough income tax, and suggested that if only we taxed them more maybe they'd become a rich source for new recruits in the Republican war for endless tax cuts.

Jacob argues that the Journal has a point:

The general form of these arguments ("lucky duckies" as well as the arguments from the left) is: If we subject everyone to the same rules, institutions, or conditions, then there will be political demand to make them fair or otherwise tolerable. If we only subject some people to them, then some may be unfairly singled out or burdened; there will be opportunities to divide the citizenry, play the interests of some against those of others, and to undermine the overall desirable outcome.

But in making this rather rarified argument, Jacob completely misses the real criticism that liberals have of the "lucky duckies" thesis, and I can't tell if this is deliberate on his part or if he genuinely doesn't understand it. Here it is:

The poor already pay a lot of taxes. The Wall Street Journal is completely full of shit.

Between sales taxes, excise taxes, property taxes, and payroll taxes, the poorest 20% of Americans pay about 18% of their income in taxes. You can quibble with the exact numbers, but it's plain to everyone that the poor, in fact, are already pretty heavily taxed.

That's the reason for liberal outrage against the Journal's egregiously dishonest argument, and it's a very down to earth one. The WSJ editorial page is written by very smart, very well informed people, and since they know the real tax burden on the poor perfectly well, it is only their distinctively radical brand of intellectual dishonesty that allows them to pretend otherwise.

Low (or nonexistent) federal income taxes on the poor are the only thing that keeps the American tax system from being downright regressive, let alone flat. I suspect the Journal might not mind changing that, but surely Jacob doesn't agree?

Posted by Kevin Drum at September 17, 2003 04:04 PM | TrackBack


Comments

18% is pretty heavily taxed? I'll keep that in mind for future reference.

BTW how does that stack up with the entitlement programs that the poorest fifth get, which the next poorest fifth don't get? Remember your state outlays/inlays post a few posts down? Can we apply the same taxes paid/benefits received analysis?

But hey, if you want me to agree to kill sales taxes in trade for a nearly flat taxation system. (Or one with very small steps and no exemptions) I'm all for it.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at September 17, 2003 04:29 PM | PERMALINK

Wheeee! Even baseball managers know better than to stick with a lousy strategy.

Posted by: squiddy at September 17, 2003 04:32 PM | PERMALINK

Right on target, and well put.

Posted by: Jeff Weintraub at September 17, 2003 04:33 PM | PERMALINK

What a worthless, shitty rag TNR has become. Its sad.

Posted by: Trillian at September 17, 2003 04:35 PM | PERMALINK

"BTW how does that stack up with the entitlement programs that the poorest fifth get, which the next poorest fifth don't get? "

-Sebastian

Umm, which entitlement programs would that be? TANF? Food Stamps? Clue me in here, Sebastian, because it seems to me that the vast majority of entitlement programs (SS, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, OHSA payments) Are received by both of the lowest quintiles (and others, besides).

Posted by: epist at September 17, 2003 04:38 PM | PERMALINK

OT: Buh-bye Grasso. Corrupt bastard.

Posted by: squiddy at September 17, 2003 04:40 PM | PERMALINK

I would go even further and point out that the middle class especially, and most of the poor pay for most of government. The progressive income tax, when applied to earned income has two effects. First, the high wage earners get pay raises to bring their incomes back into equilibrium; thus raising the fee for services and products above their natural market value. Second, there is a hidden tax in the form of job losses as high taxes that cannot be afforded move jobs overseas.

The thesis make one sensible point. If the poor really knew what government cost them, they would have much less of it. The problem is folks like Kevin, who believe that taxes can be shifted to the rich wage earners, and that as a plain lie causing poverty and misery to the poor who believe him.

However, if you want to talk about progressive taxes on people I call the filthy rich, well that we can do. There is a level of progressive taxation that is fair, but its nothing like what Kevin foists on unsuspecting poor people.

Posted by: Matt Young at September 17, 2003 04:42 PM | PERMALINK

18% is pretty heavily taxed? I'll keep that in mind for future reference.

18% is pretty heavy taxation when you're pulling down $8,000, $12,000, or even $15,000/year. Makes it kind of hard to purchase necessities like food. That's of course not the case when you're making $80,000, $800,000, $8,000,000, or $80,000,000/year.

And I think you're missing the whole disgustingness of the "lucky duckies" meme. "Whoo, you can barely make ends meet, you're stuck in a dead end job, but you get food stamps. You lucky ducky!" Man, I'm sure loads of us would kill to be in that position.

Posted by: Geoff Green at September 17, 2003 04:43 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you specifically say that the Journal discussed INCOME taxes. Then you say that they are full of shit and go on to list every tax EXCEPT income taxes and say they pay "a lot of taxes."

And remember, payroll taxes are offset by the earned income tax credit.

That being said, Levy is right. Why would a person have any incentive to fight for lower taxation if it isn't going to affect them? Sales taxes, property taxes and other local taxes are usually the same for all people. Florida has no state income tax, and I'll bet money that if it was put to a vote by initiative it would easily fail with rich and poor alike rejecting it.

Posted by: Jay Caruso at September 17, 2003 04:44 PM | PERMALINK

Sebstian, not to sound too Marxist here, but yeah, if you make $10/hour for a 40 hour week (pretty generous in many places), and have to try and pay rent, utilities, eat, dress and pay bus fare on less than $1312/month (forget health care, a car, or any kind of entertainment) 18% is a pretty high tax rate.

However, if you make $100,000 a year, you're not exactly struggling to survive when your taxed at an effective rate of 35% and take home $5,416/month.

And if you're in that $1,000,000 bracket, even at 45% (which I'm not sure anybody actually pays), you're take home is $45,833. You'll have to excuse me if I lack a little sympathy for the struggles of these people.

What gets missed in all of this dicussion of percentages are the real numbers. The reality is that there is a baseline of income below which mere survival is difficult at best, and another baseline above which one is simply enjoying considerable luxury. I tend to feel a little more strongly for those at the bottom.

Or to put it another way, if the WSJ people think the poor are so lucky, why don;t they volunteer to join them? I'm sure they'd find any number of those "lucky duckies" would be willing to swap positions and deal with the horrors of high taxes on dividends.

Posted by: Doug-E-Fresh at September 17, 2003 04:48 PM | PERMALINK

You're right that the poor pay lots of taxes, Kevin; the sales tax and property taxes see to that.

You can't use that BLS chart as evidence, though, as I pointed out here. As I pointed out at my blog, the BLS themselves say that it's misinterpreting the raw data.

Posted by: Jason McCullough at September 17, 2003 04:49 PM | PERMALINK

"And remember, payroll taxes are offset by the earned income tax credit."

Only if you have kids; it's virtually impossible to get it otherwise.

Posted by: Jason McCullough at September 17, 2003 04:50 PM | PERMALINK

Why would a person have any incentive to fight for lower taxation if it isn't going to affect them?

Maybe they have other causes besides yours.

Posted by: Demetrios at September 17, 2003 04:58 PM | PERMALINK

Jason: as I pointed out, you can quibble over the numbers, but the fact that the poor pay quite a bit in taxes already is hardly controversial.

Jay: the WSJ clearly was trying to imply that the poor don't pay much in taxes. It's just a horrendous argument, even if they do include a footnote saying "of course there are other taxes, but...."

Sebastian: yes, of course I would call 18% high for someone making $1000 a month. And while the poor do receive government services, the middle class and the wealthy receive quite a bit themselves.

BTW, you might be surprised at what kind of tax policy I would support. You're right that it would certainly be progressive, but it would also be more transparent, and for that reason (and others) I'd like to get rid of sales taxes and excise taxes and replace 'em all with an income tax. I agree with conservatives that people should know clearly how much they're paying, and only then can we all decide whether it's the right amount.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at September 17, 2003 05:00 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a novel suggestion - perhaps the middle class,very wealthy and corporations should receive *fewer* government benefits.

Then we might lower everyone's taxes

Posted by: mark safranski at September 17, 2003 05:06 PM | PERMALINK

Doug E Fresh, normally I don't point this out, but you spelled "your" AND "you're" wrong in that post.

"You're" = "You are".

Posted by: Xhenxhefil at September 17, 2003 05:07 PM | PERMALINK

"Here's a novel suggestion - perhaps the middle class,very wealthy and corporations should receive *fewer* government benefits."


This is the best idea I have heard on this board. We would all be amazed if we calculated the government services that directly or indirectly supported the filthy rich. I wish I had a reference to a site that actually catalogues all these services.

Posted by: Matt Youngy at September 17, 2003 05:11 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I'm at the same time a terrible typist and I tend to misspell because I go to fast. I messed up "to" and "too" in an earlier post today. Need to learn to proofread.

Posted by: Doug-E-Fresh at September 17, 2003 05:12 PM | PERMALINK

While its certainly true that the poor pay a lot in taxes, that doesn't weaken Levy's argument. He's simply stating that its unhealthy in a democracy for people to be in a position where they enjoy the benefits of a public good without being asked to make sacricfices for it.

You could solve this problem without imposing a greater burden on the poor by fully harmonizing the tax system and the EITC program, and then doing away with all other welfare-style social spending and rolling those benfits into the EITC (i.e. incresasing the value of the EITC by shifting spending from other programs like WIC into the EITC pool). If done properly, you could create a system where every household would enjoy some of the benefits of a tax cut, and every household would bear some of the pain of a tax increase. That way every citizen would share in the costs and benefits of government in a measure proportional to their material standard of living.

In other words, if congress passed a tax cut, they would have to automatically increase the value of the EITC, so poor people would share in the benefits. But if congress passed a tax increase, they would have to automatically reduce the value of the EITC, so poor people would share in the costs. You could do this and still keep the system as progressive as you like (the specific numbers mater less than the basic structure). For example, you could pass a tax increase that increased a $100,000 a year household's tax bill by $5,000 a year, and only cut the EITC benefit for a $20,000 household by a few hundred dollars a year, given that the pain would probably be roughly equal for the two households, relatively. Or you could pass the reverse tax cut / EITC increase. What's important is that all citizens face a pleasure/pain curve with regard to increases or decreases in the size of government that's roughly right-sized for their income.

Posted by: sd at September 17, 2003 05:15 PM | PERMALINK

For the working poor, food stamps, housing assistance, and subsidized day care are a subsidy to the employer. They allow the employer to offer a salary that is lower than what the employee needs to survive, and still get useful work out of the employee. Without this subsidy, either the employer would have to pay more or the employee would be less productive due to malnutrition, lost time to handle issues with the kids, etc.

Posted by: Joe Buck at September 17, 2003 05:22 PM | PERMALINK

"Jason: as I pointed out, you can quibble over the numbers, but the fact that the poor pay quite a bit in taxes already is hardly controversial."

Oh, I'm not arguing, I'm just tired of seeing that chart misused. The BLS data is useless for calculating tax burden.

Posted by: Jason McCullough at September 17, 2003 05:22 PM | PERMALINK

sd makes a good point.

I think he means create a kind of universal negative income tax. But I would add two additions:

Require a 10% mandatory savings, or simply put some of the negative income into a personal account. The account would be used partially to offset public medical services and to create a personal retirement account.

On a similiar vein, I would make day cash labor tax free with the same mandatory 10% savings. And I would make day labor legal for all residents currently residing in the US, regardless of legal status. This addition would finally make it a legal transaction to hire oneself out without government interference.

Posted by: Matt Young at September 17, 2003 05:25 PM | PERMALINK

SD says:
In other words, if congress passed a tax cut, they would have to automatically increase the value of the EITC, so poor people would share in the benefits. But if congress passed a tax increase, they would have to automatically reduce the value of the EITC, so poor people would share in the costs. You could do this and still keep the system as progressive as you like (the specific numbers mater less than the basic structure). For example, you could pass a tax increase that increased a $100,000 a year household's tax bill by $5,000 a year, and only cut the EITC benefit for a $20,000 household by a few hundred dollars a year, given that the pain would probably be roughly equal for the two households, relatively. Or you could pass the reverse tax cut / EITC increase. What's important is that all citizens face a pleasure/pain curve with regard to increases or decreases in the size of government that's roughly right-sized for their income.

"Gosh Buffy, the tax increase means you'll have to drive around in a Pontiac instead of a BMW, you poor girrl you."

"Damn Terrance, another $800 on top of your $200 tax credit and you can buy insurance so you can drive that beater of yours, save two hours a day on the bus and get a second job to go to."

Sound equal to me you lucky duckies.

Posted by: Wolf at September 17, 2003 05:40 PM | PERMALINK

Oh Jesus Wolf, were you reading my post or just looking for something to be snarky about? The whole point was that there is some calibration that can be done between the pain felt by a poor family and the pain felt by a well-off family. Maybe its $20 in pain for a poor family = $2,000 in pain for a well-off family. Maybe its higher, maybe lower. I don't know the answer to that and neither do you.

Or perhaps its your belief that poverty brings with it some sort of intrinsic moral worth and that wealth brings with it some sort of intrinsic moral decay, and that therefore no amount of pain is too much for the rich and no amount of benefit too much for the poor.

Oh and "Buffy" was a nice touch. The fact that a family headed by a Chicago cop dad and a Chicago public school teacher mom makes well over $100,000 a year and isn't close to living a life of luxury is irrelevent when you can hide behind tired cliches.

Posted by: sd at September 17, 2003 05:47 PM | PERMALINK

In honor of this thread, let us give thanks to Supply Side Jesus

Posted by: sidereal at September 17, 2003 05:55 PM | PERMALINK

The WSJ's idea that Lucky Duckies (unbelievably crass already) should be taxed more to make them more sympathetic to the "heavily" taxed upper classes reminds me of a similar but opposite idea proposed by Arthur Laffer nearly 20 years ago. (Remember him? Supply-sider, inventor of the infamous Laffer curve. It was a laugher. Get it? Har har)

Ahem. Anyway, he proposed giving every member of congress a million dollars, (albeit facetiously, at least I assume), so they'd legislate on behalf of millionaires. Apparently Congressmen in the 80s didn't know what it was like to have a million dollar portfolio.

My brilliant idea was to make everybody a millionaire, say at 18. We'd all feel the pain of big bucks and be properly sympathetic.

Am I the only one that feels that our government spends the bulk of its resources on defending and enhancing wealth? From the fire-fighter to the empire defense fund protecting property is job one. They who have it should pay for this service.

From a Newly Made Lucky Ducky.

Posted by: dennisS at September 17, 2003 06:26 PM | PERMALINK

He's simply stating that its unhealthy in a democracy for people to be in a position where they enjoy the benefits of a public good without being asked to make sacricfices for it.

please, tell us what kind of sacrificies someone making $20K a year should make so that those making $200K/yr can feel good about their contributions.

Posted by: ChrisL at September 17, 2003 06:49 PM | PERMALINK

ChrisL wrote:

"Please, tell us what kind of sacrificies someone making $20K a year should make so that those making $200K/yr can feel good about their contributions."

The kind of sacrifices that impose upon that person an amount of pain roughly equal to the pain felt by someone making $200,000 a year would feel. Its not going to be the same dollar amount. Its not going to be the same percentage amount. But there is a level of (progressive) taxation at which people at every point on the income spectrum would share in the common sacrifices of a democracy by giving up a share of their income that is roughly equal in the reduction of their utility that it entails.

Do you really believe that someone making $20,000 a year has no obligation to the common good, while someone making $200,000 a year has a massive obligation to the common good?

Liberals always get mad when conservative accuse them of "class warfare" simply for saying that the wealthy aren't paying their fair share. And they're quite right to be mad. But what I'm seeing on this thread really is class warfare - contempt for the wealthy coupled with lionization of the poor and the implicit suggestion that they aren't common citizns of one polity but enemy tribes.

Posted by: sd at September 17, 2003 07:00 PM | PERMALINK

"Please, tell us what kind of sacrificies someone making $20K a year should make so that those making $200K/yr can feel good about their contributions."

The problem is that the person making $20k believes, because of the nonsensical rhetoric of the left, that taxing the upper middle is always a net gain. It's not generally a net gain. The person making $200k is more likely a person who deferred his salary for a long time to achieve a skill level needed to provide services to those making $20k. Its that simple. You have more people dying of heart problems because future and current heart surgeons exited the field as taxes rose, or they raised their fees and peformed fewer surgeries.

If we are talking about unearned income, or businesses that benefit from hidden government protection, then we can consider a filthy rich tax.

You cannot simply re-tax an earned income because you suddenly see it as a free tax. This earned income is usually tied, via the market, to the larger class of folks making the average. He may be providing services or products or hiring the middle class; in an implied free market contract.

Posted by: Matt Young at September 17, 2003 07:17 PM | PERMALINK

I'm more offended by TNR than the WSJ. This is not news, that op-ed was ripped to shreds. I believe TNR today is integrally dishonest, agitprop. The blogger Roger Ailes argues that their new Easterbrook column attributes to the Washington Post a dubious claim of blackmail by Chief Moose that comes instead from WorldNetDaily. I sent that item to the Post.

Posted by: John Isbell at September 17, 2003 08:14 PM | PERMALINK

The person making $200k is more likely a person who deferred his salary for a long time to achieve a skill level needed to provide services to those making $20k. Its that simple.

"More likely" means what, exactly? Back it up. I'm familiar with any number of counter-examples, back-slapping hacks, connivers and phonies. For every surgeon there are probably dozens of salesmen. You could do with a little more experience in business.

The sad truth is that luck has a lot to do with how much money one ends up making. The accident of birth is the single largest discriminant, but accidents continue through life. Few who reach the top of the pile did so strictly by sheer excellence or effort.

Posted by: bad Jim at September 17, 2003 08:17 PM | PERMALINK

Well bad jim, it did used to be the case that educational level was the best determinant of wealth, but with the government outlays eating 40% of the economy, and regulations another 10%; it seems you are right.

The best work ethic is not to work, sadly, unless you have a government job.

Posted by: Matt Young at September 17, 2003 08:33 PM | PERMALINK

Matty —

You have more people dying of heart problems because future and current heart surgeons exited the field as taxes rose, or they raised their fees and peformed fewer surgeries.

Really? Did all those heart surgeons, prospective or otherwise, exit the field in Cadillacs driven by welfare queens? Citation, please.

If we are talking about unearned income, or businesses that benefit from hidden government protection, then we can consider a filthy rich tax.

Oh, Matty. Matty, Matty, Matty.

1.) Would your definition of "unearned income" cover assets one has done nothing to earn or produce, e.g., an inheritance?

2.) "Hidden government protection." Now, what might that mean? Offshore tax shelters? Farm subsidies? Mortgage deductions? All of these (and many more!) are government giveaways, whether or not one chooses to see them as such. Is that what you mean by "hidden"?

3.) A "filthy rich tax" — now, that's an interesting idea. Really outside-the-box, thin-edge-of-the-wedge stuff. So, let's say I live in Dimebox, Texas. I have $350,000 a year income from a trust (oil wells, y'know!), no kids, no spouse. Am I filthy rich? What if I live in Manhattan (New York, not Kansas)? Okay, what if I live in Manhattan, Kansas? Or what if I live in Dimebox, TX, but I'm a quadraplegic and I need 24/7 assistance? What if I live in Manhattan, NY, and I'm just a paraplegic but I live in a fifth-floor walkup? What if I live in Dimebox, KS, (assuming there is such a place) and I'm not a quadraplegic or a paraplegic but I am allergic to corn and I need to buy several dozen HEPA-filtered AC units a year plus some medical marijuana and I have a doctor's certificate to prove it and it's all very expensive as my accountant will document so don't you dare tell me I'm filthy rich — would I be exempt from your tax?

Please explain.

Posted by: nina at September 17, 2003 08:39 PM | PERMALINK

Well nina,
I will skip most of your rant n rave, but touch on a few pointers.

Medical doctors do respond to tax increases. I have heard the tales of this from hospital administrators. Generally they will cut down their practice when taxes are too high, or retire early. They are not interested in debating the rant n ravers of the world, they have a much easier time adjusting their schedules to avoid the hassles of sudden tax increases.

In fact, this is the common practice of upper income skilled workers with liquid assets. Upon the first instance that the class warfare nuts get into power, they begin a strategy to maximize their income by shifting out of earned income. There is a study in this phenonema done after the Clinton tax increases. You may be aware of the shifts in income if you watched wages drop and stock options rise for the executives of the industry.

This is a fact of life, as much as nuts like Kevin and you would like to play the redistribution game, it is always the middle and lower class that suffers from your collective ignorance about simple economics.

As far as the filthy rich, there is a case for a progressive tax, and when you can calm down off your high horse of class warfare, it might be worth a discussion.


But I will tell you and Kevin this. One thing the right and left have in common is a incessant desire to take money from the poor and middle class and give it to government. How in the world the big government nutcakes can have such an atrocious hatred for the poor and middle class is beyond me.

I have utter disgust for ignorant big government nuts on the right and on the left, they do nothing but harm the poor and kill off the middle class. Kevin is one of the worse enemeies of the poor, filling them with vitriol about class conciousness and false hopes of a government bailout. He is as bad if not worse than that nutcase that runs the Free Republic, Jim Robinson. Another big government nutcase that bemoans the disasters that his own big government policies cause. Kevin has spent 40 years in driving up taxes in California and shifting the wealth of modest middle class Californians out of the state. Then he, along with his right wing compatriot, Jim Robinson bemoan and complain about increasing poverty in the state. Its disgusting.

Posted by: Matt Young at September 17, 2003 09:06 PM | PERMALINK

Just a thought experiment:

How much government you want determines how much tax is taken. The first debate should be about this, but lets just assume current spending levels and leave it at that. Also assume everyone likes the shape of government spending.

Taxes should be fair. This is where the current debate is. I agree with using real numbers in this debates, percentages are too deceptive. Our current system is a compilation of decades of good, bad, indifferent, corrupt and outdated laws. Should we scrap that system? If so what would be fair?

Case 1) 20000/year 2 kids, single mom at WalMart. Works 50 hours week.
Case 2) 100000/year 2 kids single mom at Century 21. Works 50 hours week.
Case 2) 100000/year 2 kids single mom heiress. Works 5 hours per week.

Show me a system using real numbers for these 3 individuals thats fair to all. Also lets ignore real world factors like political contributions from case 2 and 3. What would be a workable system?

Last exercise, show how unfair the prior answer is to at least 1 of the 3 cases. Thats the easy part.

Posted by: Raptor at September 17, 2003 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is one of the worse enemeies of the poor, filling them with vitriol about class conciousness and false hopes of a government bailout.

Um, Kevin…seriously, when was the last time you spoke to poor folks about class consciousness?

Kevin has spent 40 years in driving up taxes in California and shifting the wealth of modest middle class Californians out of the state.

Um, Kevin…you've personally been driving up taxes in California? I thought you were a marketing dude.

Posted by: P6 at September 17, 2003 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

Matt Young:

Can you give me an example of any country that runs like you wish it would? One in which the gov't is very small, and the people are well off, and their economy is doing well?

Or is this simply an ideal we should strive for? I can't think of any place that would meet those criteria.

Posted by: Timothy Klein at September 17, 2003 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

The best work ethic is not to work, sadly, unless you have a government job.

Who can argue with this?

Posted by: bad Jim at September 17, 2003 10:37 PM | PERMALINK

Matt provided this assertion: "You have more people dying of heart problems because future and current heart surgeons exited the field as taxes rose."

And so Nina requested: "Citation, please."

To which Matt responded: "Medical doctors do respond to tax increases. I have heard the tales of this from hospital administrators."

This don't count as no citation, where I'm from. Matt, I think you're still on the clock. I join with Nina in saying, "Citation, please."

Posted by: Patrick Meighan at September 17, 2003 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is one of the worse enemeies of the poor...He is as bad if not worse than that nutcase that runs the Free Republic...Kevin has spent 40 years in driving up taxes in California and shifting the wealth of modest middle class Californians out of the state.

That's it, I'm organizing a petion drive for the recall of CalPundit!....can we get it on October ballot? OK, March then...dang librul justices! :-)

Posted by: Dazir at September 17, 2003 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

Jacob is probably auditioning for a position at Slate.

Ah, the joys of hackdom.

Posted by: hackenkaus at September 18, 2003 01:36 AM | PERMALINK

I'm with Patrick, eagerly waiting for Matt to back up with something that resembles evidence, his claim that "people are dying of heart problems because future and current heart surgeons left the field as taxes rose."
For all the anecdotes about physicians abandoning their practices (almost always because of insurance fees, not taxes!), there's essentially zero hard evidence for this. One might also ask what they decided to do, after they left the field, that would keep their income intact. My father was a cardiologist who at one time sat on a state board that looked at things like insurance costs and hospital fees. Physicans often talked about quitting because of expenses, or stress, or workload, but very few of them actually did so.

I also have to point out that very, very few people die of heart disease because of a scarcity of heart surgeons. Most people die of heart disease because... they have heart disease! In a many cases surgery can't do much for that. That being said, the procedures where surgery can help -- for example, with angioplasty for blocked arteries -- are increasing. Unfortunately, bad eating habits, a lack of exercise and things like that mean that if you live beyond retirement age your chances of suffereing from heart disease are pretty good. Raising or lowering taxes isn't going to change that.

Posted by: Keith at September 18, 2003 01:47 AM | PERMALINK

I didn't read the article, but I've seen this idea. Conservatives (I listen to Limbaugh too) believe that about 50% of Americans do not pay income tax. Libertarians also (a shout out to the Neil Boortz listeners in the house!) think that if the percentage of people not paying taxes grows much higher, this block could democratically vote to redistribute the rich's money, giving it to themselves by way of government welfare. The only remaining honest workers would be a minority, and helpless.

No, I'm serious. It's a widely held belief, not total fringe stuff. That's where this idea of taxing the poor comes from, if the poor can be made to feel a little sting, they won't be so quick to raise taxes.

It also travels in the guise of creating a sense of shared burden and identity. I don't know why conservatives believe that a WalMart employee would feel solidarity with a software engineer if you make the poor girl pay an extra 20 bucks a year. As if the difference in marginal tax rate was the main cause of the split in self-perception.

Even if the plan worked, wouldn't a poor person scheme, "hey if I pay this 40% tax (nothing to me, I don't work!) I can get Bill Gates to pay 40% also, and I'll get a share of the loot."

But conservatives don't let commonsense or reality intrude on their desire to scape-goat other groups. Which is what this is. Politicians realize they can get poor ignorant whites to vote against their economic interests, if they can get them to blame other groups (welfare recipients and their Democratic trough-fillers) for their station in life.

Masterful, really. Republicans enlist poor people (and other, susceptible whites - Libertarians?) to enact their wealth-friendly policies. It's the genius of identity politics, and it's the main thing that, paradoxically, keeps the poor from actually voting to seriously redistribute the booty.

Here's the facts:
1) according to the Health and Human Services website, about 5.7 million people receive assistance from the federal welfare program. That's 2.1% of the population. Above, a conservative implies that most of the lower quintile receives welfare, and maybe the second quintile. Doesn't look likely.

2) on the same site, it mentions that total federal spending for the new, reformed welfare program is 16.5 billion, or .75% of federal outlays. Less that 1% of our government spending. But conservatives sure like to make a big stink about it. I wonder why.

**This does not include medicare, obviously, nor medicaid. The only federal welfare program after the reform of the 1990's is the TANF. This replaced AFDC (food stamps) and some others. Block grants are made by the feds to the states to do with as they will. This includes job training programs, food stamps, child care, etc. The block grants are matched at about 80% (I think) by the states, and there are other state programs, separate from these.

** And yeah, I know, welfare distorts incentives, the safety net becomes a hammock, I've heard it. Somehow, I don't believe conservatives are looking out for the best interests of the poor here. A practical or ethical discussion of welfare is another discussion entirely. If they're trying to argue that poor folks are taking their money through welfare, then they're talking numbers, and they don't add up.

Posted by: andrew at September 18, 2003 01:51 AM | PERMALINK

I just read the article (I really should do that first :)...and it makes a nice argument, the ethical case for a shared burden. So, my screed above about poor people voting to redistribute rich people's money doesn't apply to Levy's article, more to some of the conservatives here. (and the ones on talk radio specifically, where I first heard this idea).

Posted by: andrew at September 18, 2003 02:11 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, give them a sub-standard education--as they do in states like Alabama--to make sure that they stay poor. And tax them to the hilt--as they also do in Alabama.

Certainly a formula for success as far as some people are concerned.

Lucky duckies? I don't believe so.

Posted by: raj at September 18, 2003 05:41 AM | PERMALINK

I can back andrew up on the claim that the rank and file conservatives believe that most Americans don't pay income taxes. My father, who's somewhat conservative, and generally one of the more well-informed people I know, was shocked to hear that I, as a grad student, owed a fair percentage of my income to the federal government.

We also have to keep in mind that the middle class is the primary beneficiary of the mortgage tax break, something which (obviously) the poor are going to be fairly unlikely to take advantage of. Middle class famililies with a mortgages are the true "lucky duckies" of the american tax system.

Posted by: Constantine at September 18, 2003 06:17 AM | PERMALINK

"It is easier for a rich man to enter heaven seated comfortably on the back of a camel, than it is for a poor man to pass through the eye of a needle."

So sayeth Supply Side Jesus.

Posted by: Sven at September 18, 2003 06:21 AM | PERMALINK

It is all part of the Rush Limbaugh economy. He keeps saying that if you want to discougage something, just tax it. The Republicans strongly oppose poverty (especially for themselves) so they tax it under the assumption that all the poor people will become rich to avoid paying tax.

Posted by: zombeywoof at September 18, 2003 07:13 AM | PERMALINK

I thought of this during the CA budget meltdown, and this thread makes me think of it again. I don't know any numbers, but if the minimum wage was raised to say, 13.00/hour, would that provide enough tax income at present rates to help the problem of government programs being cut? And I know that the chamber of commerce types claim that jobs will be lost, but someone has to make all those burritos; eventually the industries affected would work out a pay system that takes into account a livable wage. Anyone have any numbers on this idea?

Posted by: Jim at September 18, 2003 07:32 AM | PERMALINK

Jim at September 18, 2003 07:32 AM writes

>I thought of this during the CA budget meltdown, and this thread makes me think of it again.

Um, Jim, do think of perpetual motion machines, too? Your suggestion reminds me of something like that.

Posted by: raj at September 18, 2003 07:35 AM | PERMALINK

Whoa there, Matty boy! Sit down, take a deep breath, unknot your knickers, wipe off your screen. Switch to decaf. Have a beer or four.

A few rhetorical pointers:

• Best to avoid rants, especially in a post accusing another poster of ranting.

• Try supporting at least one or two of your arguments with sources a bit more credible than, say, a chat with unnamed experts. You can get started by using this newfangled Google thing. It's fun, it's easy, all the kids are into it!

• If you have trouble finding credible sources of support, consider the possibility that you're a flaming, gibbering loon and your arguments are steaming piles of dung.

I guess things work differently back on your home planet, and it must be hard to adjust. But just try these little tips and eventually you'll be able to pass as a sentient, possibly rational human.

We're all rooting for you, Matty!

Posted by: nina at September 18, 2003 09:08 AM | PERMALINK

To suggest that most citizens, whether poor or rich, vote about taxes based on their own material interest is ridiculous...
If this were true, we would find that wealthier and more educated people (currently the more heavily-taxed) would be consistently in favor of more tax cuts than the poor (for arguement's sake, lets say the poor are at least somewhat more lightly-taxed). Yet many of these "lucky-duckies" already vote for conservative, anti-tax politicians, while those higher up on the tax burden scale tend to more often vote liberal. The trend is especially clear with regards to level of education, generally a good marker of higher-income status.
How would the WSJ explain this phenomenon, which doesn't fit their narrow and false economistic view of political behavior?

Re: the "Tax-fleeing doctor" debate: again, a focus on narrow economic concerns obscures the real reasons why people take certain jobs. I would be very surprised to find a large number of doctors leaving their field because of a heavy tax burden, unless this burden really was throwing them into the ranks of the lower-middle class (something which is not even close to being true under the current tax code). Someone who has trained to be a doctor and has spent such efforts to be respected in his or her field is unlikely to give up the social prestige and security associated with medical practice simply because of a routine tax increase. People don't "shop around" for occupations in the same way they "shop around" for groceries...please, let's be serious...

Posted by: kokblok at September 18, 2003 09:21 AM | PERMALINK

I've read some of Matt's comments elsewhere. Before I get to some comments and questions in general, tell me Matt, who is going to be in charge of enforcing this MANDATORY 10% savings account? (Not another government worker pray tell)?

Will someone explain to me this notion of unearned income? I mean, come on now, if I didn't earn the income how can it me mine? Let us remember "unearned" income is not subject to SSI taxation! I don't know anyone below 2oK in earned income enjoying this loophole. And while I'm on the subject of SSI, why is there a cap on paying in once a certain level of earned income is attained?

Don't try and tell me that SSI witholding is not a tax. If I can't deduct my contribution from my pre-tax income, what the hell is it?

Posted by: Tony Daniel at September 18, 2003 09:47 AM | PERMALINK

There's an interesting contradiction in the WSJ position. (Surprise)

The conservative claim about income inequality is that it isn't much of an issue because of high income mobility, and that the poor don't resent the rich because they expect to be rich someday.

If so, why would the lucky duckies to favor soak-the-rich tax policies?

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov at September 18, 2003 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

Andrew,

Just a point. Food Stamps haven't gone the way of the block grant just yet, that is, welfare reform didn't quite integrate the suite of welfare programs quite as you imply.

Thus, Food Stamps are still an entitlement program, whereas cash assistance (welfare/TANF) is no longer.

However, Bush and the House have already indicated (and, indeed, voted) to dismantle this floor as well, with the aim of creating a capped block grant program out of Food Stamps.

Posted by: Jeb's Neighbor at September 18, 2003 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Jay: "Florida has no state income tax, and I'll bet money that if it was put to a vote by initiative it would easily fail with rich and poor alike rejecting it."

It's the same here in Washington. The latest panel to look at the state tax structure recommended an income tax. (This was in November 2002.) Kevin, they agree with you on tax reform.

Here's some excerpts from their report:
"While previous study groups were directed to provide recommendations, the 2002 study group was charged with developing multiple alternatives to the existing tax system. Alternatives, to the extent possible, were to be designed to increase the harmony between Washington’s and its neighbors’ tax systems, to assist commerce and business creation, and to encourage home ownership. Alternatives were to be guided by:
* Simplicity of administration and collection;
* Economic neutrality among taxpayers;
* Fairness among taxpayers;
* Stability; and
* Transparency (i.e., taxpayer awareness of how, when, and how much taxes are paid)."

Here's their recommendation about a flat rate income tax:
"A majority of the Committee recommends the adoption of a flat rate personal income tax to be used to reduce the state sales and use tax rate and eliminate the state portion of the property tax. The state portion of the property tax should be made available to local governments and/or schools. A majority of the Committee considers the use of the proceeds of an income tax appropriate for any of the following:
* To reduce the state sales and use tax rate,
* To eliminate the state sales and use tax,
* To reduce business taxes, and/or
* To eliminate the state property tax and share all or part of it with local governments and/or schools."

Note they want to reduce or eliminate sales, use, and property taxes.

A graduated income tax was also discussed:
"A majority of the Committee recommends the adoption of a graduated income tax, but more members favor the flat rate personal income tax."

And a replacement was proposed for the entirely screwed up Business and Occupation (B&O) tax system:
"The majority of the Committee recommends, in addition to a personal income tax, a corporate income tax to replace the B&O tax."

Posted by: Ab_Normal at September 18, 2003 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

The WSJ's idea that Lucky Duckies (unbelievably crass already) should be taxed more to make them more sympathetic to the "heavily" taxed upper classes reminds me of a similar but opposite idea proposed by Arthur Laffer nearly 20 years ago. (Remember him? Supply-sider, inventor of the infamous Laffer curve. It was a laugher. Get it? Har har)

The poster's idea that the WSJ said this reminds me of... lying. The WSJ did not suggest the poor should be taxed more.

Posted by: David Nieporent at September 18, 2003 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Wait a minute, you cant lump in payroll taxes with income tax! SS was sold as a retirement account, not an government revenue stream (even if its treated that way). That money will theoretically be returned to the payee with interest. Income taxes are a straight transfer of wealth.
The whole premise of this argument completly and unfairly misses the point of the WSJ article. Those who dont pay income tax, but do pay payroll tax still do not have a vested interest in insuring a fair tax structure, or proper spending levels for those taxes. Because their payroll tax is never subject tax cut debates or spending bills. If I make 1$ below the first tax bracket, how does my payroll tax enter in to how i vote on taxing and spending? This argument is disengenuous.

Posted by: Mark Buehner at September 18, 2003 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

A couple of thoughts:

(1) Taxes can never be counted on to be the sole and effective source of a person's investment in society. The unemployed and the elderly poor will always have an economic incentive to protect or expand certain benefits regardless of the income tax structure. Likewise, every group has an incentive to see spending increase that benefits their own group (e.g. rich have better incentive to support subsidies for pro sports stadiums with more luxury boxes). Ultimately, society's fate is most directly tied to the willingness to voters and politicians to make decisions based on what is best and most just for society as a whole.

(2) Examining the perspective of the non-poor, increasing taxes on the lucky duckies could produce the exact opposite of the WSJ intended effect. The poor should still support unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, spending on schools etc. as they still get a good return on their spending. However, if a bigger chunk of their meager check is going to support luxuries such as a war in Iraq, Homeland Security (who buys $5000 home security systems, the rich or the poor?), spending on roads and infrastructure (who is more likely to repave a cracked home driveway?), support may wither for those programs which only make sense to the middle class and rich.

Posted by: Chuck Smith at September 18, 2003 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

If the poor really knew what government cost them, they would have much less of it.

What a load of horseshit. I have a favourite Samuel Johnson quotation saved up for arguments like this:

Poverty is very gently paraphrased by want of riches. In that sense, almost every man may, in his own opinion, be poor. But there is another poverty, which is want of competence of all that can soften the miseries of life, of all that can diversify attention, or delight imagination. There is yet another poverty, which is want of necessaries, a species of poverty which no care of the publick, no charity of particulars, can preserve many from feeling openly, and many secretly.

That hope and fear are inseparably, or very frequently, connected with poverty and riches, my surveys of life have not informed me. The milder degrees of poverty are, sometimes, supported by hope; but the more severe often sink down in motionless despondence. Life must be seen, before it can be known. This author and Pope, perhaps, never saw the miseries which they imagine thus easy to be borne. The poor, indeed, are insensible of many little vexations, which sometimes imbitter the possessions, and pollute the enjoyments, of the rich. They are not pained by casual incivility, or mortified by the mutilation of a compliment; but this happiness is like that of a malefactor, who ceases to feel the cords that bind him, when the pincers are tearing his flesh.

That want of taste for one enjoyment is supplied by the pleasures of some other, may be fairly allowed; but the compensations of sickness I have never found near to equivalence, and the transports of recovery only prove the intenseness of the pain.

As for sd:

But there is a level of (progressive) taxation at which people at every point on the income spectrum would share in the common sacrifices of a democracy by giving up a share of their income that is roughly equal in the reduction of their utility that it entails.

Read the above quotation, sd.

The tax burden for the poor can mean the difference between eating well and malnutrition; it can mean the difference between having a secure roof over one's head or living out of a motel; it can mean the difference between coping with health problems and going under.

There is a qualitative difference between the 'pain' that means you can't take that ski holiday in Aspen, or the 'pain' that means you can't run that second SUV, or the 'pain' that means you can't afford an MRI everytime you get a migrane, and the pain that means you can't pay rent, get to work, or get basic healthcare.

It's a logarithmic curve.

Posted by: nick sweeney at September 18, 2003 01:14 PM | PERMALINK

"The tax burden for the poor can mean the difference between eating well and malnutrition; it can mean the difference between having a secure roof over one's head or living out of a motel; it can mean the difference between coping with health problems and going under."

But of course that is absurd. Once one adds the EIC, food stamps, medicaid, and any other number of federal state and local programs geared at the working poor, they are taking far more out of the system than they are putting in via payroll taxes. Anyone who is malnurished in this country has only themselves to blame. The poor in our country live nearly as well as the poor in the nannystate countries of Europe, and stratospheres above the rest of the world. Plus their upward mobility is unparalled. They are more likely to be overweight than underweight. They have cars and air conditioning. This is unprecidented in the history of mankind. 100 years ago being below the poverty line meant starving to death. Now it means not having cable.

Posted by: Mark Buehner at September 18, 2003 01:19 PM | PERMALINK

Before you can count payroll taxes as part of the burden borne by the poor, you have to answer a very simply question:

Is participation in Social Security a burden or a blessing?

If the former, then the solution is to phase out Social Security. If the latter, then you can't count payroll taxes as part of the poor's tax burden, since you're claiming that they're better off paying into Social Security than they would be keeping the money and not getting Social Security.

So which is it?

"We also have to keep in mind that the middle class is the primary beneficiary of the mortgage tax break, something which (obviously) the poor are going to be fairly unlikely to take advantage of. Middle class famililies with a mortgages are the true "lucky duckies" of the american tax system."

Another dumb idea. How do we get rid of it without crashing the housing market? I'm all ears.

Posted by: Ken at September 18, 2003 01:33 PM | PERMALINK

But of course that is absurd.

But of course it is also true. Otherwise there'd be no call for, say, the Orange County Food Bank. Or at the very least, it wouldn't be asking for donations, since there's no reason for anyone to call upon its services.

Anyone who is malnurished in this country has only themselves to blame.

Oh, those lucky duckies, gorging themselves on Fritos and beef jerky!

They are more likely to be overweight than underweight.

Malnourishment is not about body weight. It's about access to nutritious food. Work long hours? Don't have a car? Live in an area where Safeway won't go? It's the convenience store for you.

They have cars and air conditioning.

Oh, yes. They all have cars. Funny how in all the American cities I've spent time in, I've noticed that public transport is once again segregated, this time economically. Being white and taking the MARTA is quite an experience, compared to Britain. You might as well wear a badge saying 'underclass'. Being white and riding the Hartford bus, also. And if you rely on the bus, your access to labour is limited, and thus your upward mobility.

100 years ago being below the poverty line meant starving to death. Now it means not having cable.

The federal poverty level for a two-person household is an annual income of $14,000. I'd like you to work out just how that translates into no more hardship than 'not having cable'.

Posted by: nick sweeney at September 18, 2003 01:36 PM | PERMALINK

"But of course it is also true. Otherwise there'd be no call for, say, the Orange County Food Bank. Or at the very least, it wouldn't be asking for donations, since there's no reason for anyone to call upon its services."

You're missing the point, the fact that there is an Orange County Food Bank ensures that people arent starving to death in this country. Is it somehow more noble for the government to give you all your wants but not charity?

"Oh, those lucky duckies, gorging themselves on Fritos and beef jerky!"

Which pound for pound is more expensive than fruits and vegatables. Whose fault is poor nutrition?

"Malnourishment is not about body weight. It's about access to nutritious food. Work long hours? Don't have a car? Live in an area where Safeway won't go? It's the convenience store for you."

Again, these are lifestyle choices, not financial burdens. Doesnt a large percentage of the poor live in cities? Arent there 24 supermarkets within walking distance of just about everywhere in LA and New York? Food stamps dont buy apples? This is an example of poor decision making, you cant legislate that.

"Oh, yes. They all have cars. Funny how in all the American cities I've spent time in, I've noticed that public transport is once again segregated, this time economically. "

Certainly not all poor people have cars. But there is better than a car per person in the US. Somebody is driving them, and we dont all have 5. Ever think that people use public transportation because they choose to? Like because its cheap and conveniant?

"And if you rely on the bus, your access to labour is limited, and thus your upward mobility."

That is ridiculous on its face. How many billions of dollars worth of commerce goes on in New York City or Chicago.

"The federal poverty level for a two-person household is an annual income of $14,000. I'd like you to work out just how that translates into no more hardship than 'not having cable'."

Lets see, food stamps=you're fed, EIC puts more cash in your pocket, public housing=free rent, medicaid and emergency rooms=free medical, public education=free education, not even to mention all the job training programs and whatnot available. If I subtracted my taxes, my mortgage, my food bills, and I didnt have a car payment, there is no way Id have anything like 14,000$ left, and I am firmly in the middle class (one of the 'suckers' paying income tax). Somehow, I get by.

Posted by: Mark Buehner at September 18, 2003 01:52 PM | PERMALINK

Chuck Smith wrote: "Ultimately, society's fate is most directly tied to the willingness to voters and politicians to make decisions based on what is best and most just for society as a whole."

Hoo boy. Judging by what I read and see, this society is fscked. It's all about "what's in it for me and screw the hindmost".

Posted by: Ab_Normal at September 18, 2003 02:42 PM | PERMALINK

Mark B —

Again, these are lifestyle choices, not financial burdens. Doesnt a large percentage of the poor live in cities? Arent there 24 supermarkets within walking distance of just about everywhere in LA and New York? Food stamps dont buy apples? This is an example of poor decision making, you cant legislate that.

Interesting that you consider "working long hours" a "lifestyle choice" for the working poor. Well, actually not interesting, just smug and callous. As is your assumption about supermarkets in poor urban neighborhoods. In NYC, grocery stores in low-income areas are sad and grotty spectacles. The produce is especially crappy: mostly long-storage stuff, like yucas and other tubers; onions and garlic, elderly and sprouting; very few perishables, e.g., lettuce or greens, all well on their way to perishing. It's stuff that any produce manager at any suburban Safeway would pitch it straight into the dumpster. And it ain't all that cheap, either.

So let's say you've made some questionable lifestyle choices yourself, and you work long hours for not a lot of money, and you've got to get yourself (and probably a family) fed every night. Want to buy some rubbery broccoli and fatty hamburger and then go home and cook it and clean up? Or would you rather spend less money and time to get some greasy Chinese takeout?

But, hey, you don't have you worry about those kinds of decisions, because you've made the best possible "lifestyle choice" — not being born into the wrong family in the first place. Clever, clever boy.

Posted by: nina at September 18, 2003 02:44 PM | PERMALINK

Ken,
I'm not sure if your comments regarding SSI were directed at my previous post, forgive my response if you were not commenting to my point.

Is SSI a burden or a blessing, is not the point of my argument. All I am saying is that if one cannot deduct the tax, thereby reducing one's tax liability, it is a disproportinate and regressive tax on the lower income brackets.

And remember, "unearned" income, ( I love the term), is not subject to any SSI payments by the recipient.

I don't think you'll have to worry about eliminating SSI. If the recently enacted tax cuts are allowed to continue past the sunset time lines, the administration and their proponents will have effectively phased out the entitlement for future recipients. I suspect that has been the agenda all along.

Posted by: Tony Daniel at September 18, 2003 02:49 PM | PERMALINK

This graph does not make sense. The Tax Foundation's website indicates the break point of adjusted gross income is about $55,000 in 2000 for the top 25%. The break point for the top 10% is $92,000. How does the graph indicate that the top 20% has income of $112,000? Admittedly, there are many significant tax free income sources (sale of personal residence, municipal income are the biggest). But an average of $20,000 for each one of the top 20%?????

The federal average income tax paid for the top 25% is 19%. THIS IS BASED ON THE AGI (see the Tax Foundation site). Taxpayers in the top quintile do not pay any of the other taxes?

How is income defined? Is it taxable income, does it include Social Security, does it include municipal income or gain on the sale of home, does it include the cash or in kind benefits that is otherwise non taxable?

Note also that several of the taxes mentioned are "sin taxes". Upper income people are not as likely as low income to smoke. I do not know if alcohol taxes are based on the cost of the beverage, on the alcohol proof, or what. Tobacco taxes are clearly regressive in effect.

The graph may be correct. I doubt it. If anyone can show me otherwise, I am open to correction.

Posted by: Andy at September 18, 2003 06:08 PM | PERMALINK

Mark B--

You are an unpleasant debator with absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
Please, enlighten me about "lifestyle choices"! You act as though every person is equally free to choose whatever the hell he or she wants...of course, some of the problem is that there are "pathologies of poverty", but these existed long before the creation of government programs to deal with poverty. As someone who grew up on welfare, I can tell you that everything you said is bullshit. You simply dont understand the kind of choices that have to be made in these situations. The idea that the poor are sitting around like economics grad students around making rational calculations about getting government aid, etc. is ridiculous. It is always extremely shameful to take this path, as you would know if you were ever anywhere near to having to take it...i'm not saying that the poor are saints, but please...

Practices dont take place in a tabula rasa world of equal opportunity. Please try and situate yourself for once.

Posted by: kokblok at September 19, 2003 07:25 AM | PERMALINK

As someone who has had to live on a budget and also has tried to eat healthily, I can say that healthy food is more expensive when measured by price per calorie.

Yeah, a pound of apples may be cheaper than a pound of fat, but which will fill you up better? And when you are hungry, you want to be filled up.

And protein? Show me a cheap source of high-quality protein without fat.

Eggs and peanut butter - high fat.
Tuna fish - relatively expensive, and worry about mercury.
Low fat meat - too expensive.
Soy protein - tastes like @@@@.
Whey protein - okay, but you better go mail order in bulk for a reasonable price.

Posted by: Tripp at September 19, 2003 08:03 AM | PERMALINK

Tripp,
Eating healthy can be more expensive, especially when you live in rural areas or inner cities with crappy supermarkets. Or, and this is hardly a marginal population these days, in PRISON.

But, still, one could reply by pointing to the very healthy and cheap traditional diets of many cultures...mexican rice and beans ain't expensive, nor are healthy chinese-style meals. I wish they would serve them in prisons...

Of course, I do not agree with those who say that poor nutrition is a simple "lifestyle choice" by the poor. First of all, it is not only the poor that eat this shitty, cheap, and filling food. Here the question is not one of material wealth, but of level of education/culture. These two are generally somewhat closely correlated, but one can find many educated people who are poor enough to qualify for food stamps (perhaps you, Tripp, in your scrimping days) and many fairly wealthy people who are not very well-educated or "cultured" (small businessmen who made it big, etc.). These wealthy but poorly-educated people tend to have the same kinds of eating habits as poor, uneducated people. (many studies have been done, but the pioneering one was in Bourdieu's monstrous work "Distinction")

The descision to "eat healthy", which to this generally well-educated web discussion group seems perfectly normal and unproblematic, is actually kind of a weird descision. A lot has to happen for someone to make that descision--there has to be some strong motive. In many ways, eating "well" is itself a class marker, one that more educated people use to set themselves apart from the lower orders. Having a good diet has become a way to preserve or enhance one's status among peers. When one is going out on a high-powered business lunch, it would be unseemly to go to McDonalds. For people in many fields, especially women, dieting and general care-for-the-body are seen as neccesary prerequisites for career advancement (are the wealthy women who go through tortorous diet regimes really making an independant "lifestyle choice"? I think not). This is not the case for the poor, or for those who have become wealthy in certain "uncultured" fields.

Posted by: kokblok at September 19, 2003 08:40 AM | PERMALINK

Sebastian: yes, of course I would call 18% high for someone making $1000 a month. And while the poor do receive government services, the middle class and the wealthy receive quite a bit themselves.>>

Case in point: My We Hate Big Government And Welfare Queens small Florida town gets lots of federally subsidized flood insurance, state subsidized windstorm insurance (and property owners howl loudly when they can't get it at rates they want) and the entire property insurance market has been propped up by state government ever since Hurricane Andrew.

When our local representative discusses what's wrong with people who get more than their share from the government, I doubt he had that in mind.

Posted by: Fraser at September 19, 2003 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

In fact, this is the common practice of upper income skilled workers with liquid assets. Upon the first instance that the class warfare nuts get into power, they begin a strategy to maximize their income by shifting out of earned income. There is a study in this phenonema done after the Clinton tax increases. You may be aware of the shifts in income if you watched wages drop and stock options rise for the executives of the industry. >>

That's an argument for taxing capital gains equally to anything else, whether it's done by raising c.g. taxes or lowering income taxes.

As for SSI Not Being A Tax Because We Get It Back, have you noticed the same politicians who push this view also claim we're not going to get it back unless they privatize it, and that all the money saved for us is really going to retirees now? Can't have it both ways.

Posted by: Fraser at September 19, 2003 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

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