How Responsible Are You for Where Your Taxes Go?


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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212 Responses

  1. Avatar Barry says:

    “A conservative talking point you’re bound to hear, if you haven’t already: “Why should my taxes pay for baby killers?””

    You’ve covered it well, but the simpler and more honest response would be “You right-wingers made me pay for whatever you wanted, so STFU already”.

    As obvious to anybody who’s had the ‘privilege’ of reading my comments here, I have no more patience or goodwill for the current state of right-wing economics arguments; they’re bankrupt.Report

    • Avatar Kelly says:

      Barry, I think you are my soul mate. You have echoed my heart’s beat so beautifully. Another honest response ” madam/sir I understand you are pro-life. Any life, even the innocent cluster of cells/fetus/child that had nothing to do with the brutal gang rape of it’s 13 year old mother, should be cherished. I understand. I too am a mother. A mother who hopes her daughters will have the freedom to choose their own life, make what they want of themselves. They are amazing kids and every day I look at them , I think what a beautiful world it is that my daughters could be so smart and kind and considerate and loving and and concerned and fair and beautiful and joyous kids, they make me feel a joy in my heart and my peace in my soul that I cannot think how to describe but as sun, and flowers, and soap, and silliness, and smiles. I am lucky. Then, I cannot help but think of other mothers, I know they must feel like I do. And I can picture an Iraqi mother, leaning over her daughter, kissing her good night, giving her heart and soul to the promise of her daughter’s future. So, sir/madam, I can respect that if you can respect that I also honor life and believe that the lives of an estimated 1.5 million Iraqis who have died due our war are also valuable human beings. Do we have a deal? I can respect the fact that you value human life, just as I do”

  2. Avatar Hyena says:

    The answer is “no, you almost certainly wouldn’t want to live in that world”. The change is very large and likely, on balance, to be very bad since the universe of bad outcomes is much larger than the universe of good ones.Report

  3. Avatar tom van dyke says:

    Since the Hyde Amendment is still in force, gov’t money for abortions is illegal.

    The premise here is not operative.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Shorter tvd: I didn’t read this post. But I sure commented!Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        Unresponsive, Jason. The Hyde Amendment makes the jump-off point for the post moot. Planned Parenthood is putting gov’t money in one pocket and then putting abortion money in the other. It’s not a shallow complaint atall, since money is indeed fungible.

        As for individuals earmarking their tax dollars, this does not seem remotely practical or desirable.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          I showed full awareness of the federal ban on abortion funding in the original post. See the second and fourth paragraphs.

          You can’t seriously fault me for ignorance of it.

          Or, if you can, I’m going to fault you for being unaware of the existence of Planned Parenthood. Seems about fair to me.Report

        • Avatar LogicFail says:

          So using your logic: some people spend their tax cuts on abortion. Therefore, tax cuts fund abortion. Therefore, we should raise taxes.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

        If only we could turn Tom’s self righteous wrongness into usable power we would be independent of foreign oil.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          Mr. Pirate, if only folks would respond rather than do not-very-clever drive-bys.

          But I take the drive-bys and shoutdowns as a compliment, since if you had a substantive response, you would offer it. Have a nice day.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            How am I supposed to respond? “Gee, I didn’t know that, Tom?”

            My entire post is premised on the fact that federal money can’t pay for abortions. It’s right there, in so many words: Planned Parenthood can’t spend federal money on abortion.

            I’m sticking to my original comment. You just didn’t read.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke says:

              I read carefully, Jason. You’ve earned that.

              Your second and third examples, war and DEA busts, are legal. They do not follow from the original premise, since fed funding of abortion is illegal.

              But I could have made that clearer. Sorry. It’s a comments section, where ideas are ideally permitted to develop and not just be shouted down.

              Although there is some doubt about that lately.Report

              • Government funding for cell research is illegal. Universities get government funding. Universities do stem cell research. Money is fungible. No more funding for universities.

                I can do this all day, and somewhere in the course of the day we’ll find an intersection between illegal conduct, government money and Tom Van Dyke, cause, y’know, money is fungible.

                Here’s a tip, Tom. People don’t get annoyed with you because you’re a contrarian, or because they’re stupid, or because you hold novel and difficult to understand views. They get annoyed with you because you make a point of being an asshole.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                A lecture on comportment from you, sir, is puzzling. I’ve caught your act.

                The voucher and stem-cell arguments are viable. My counterarguments would take the form that Everson is still up for grabs a bit, that the Founders saw religious education as salutary to the health of the republic.

                “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”—GWash

                As long as “religion” was pluralistic and one was not established to the exclusion of others, they accommodated it.

                As for stem-cells, a university is more than its research labs. If there was a university devoted solely to cellular research, and stem cells were a big part of it, perhaps the fungibility argument would hold more weight.

                Now then, the current argument on Planned Parenthood is not a strictly legal one: a court challenge to the current gov’t funding of PP would surely fail, even using the Hyde Amendment line of reasoning.

                The current controversy is purely political, that the principle of Hyde should be expanded to making sure PP gets no fed help even indirectly in proliferating abortion, and again highlighting the difference with war and DEA busts.

                Now if there’s nothing else, Mr. Comstock, I would appreciate a halt in the ad homs. I see no reason to insult me, sir. I believe I’ve been completely logical about the whole affair.Report

              • You’re confused, Tom. I am frequently vulgar, sometimes too much. That’s not the same thing as being an asshole.

                For example, telling the author and masthead member of this blog that he’s “earned” your reading him carefully, that’s being an asshole; and Erik and Co. repeatedly demonstrate their commitment to maintaining a free-wheeling space by tolerating your repeated assholery.

                I reckon their some method in this. “See, if we put up with Van Dyke, you need not worry about taking a baroque or provocative position in this space. We’ll treat you like a gentleman, even if you don’t deserve it.

                And yes, please, more about how everyone gangs up on you and shouts you down, and how your “having your doubts.”Report

              • Avatar Wimoweh says:

                Yes, a university is more than its research labs, just as Planned Parenthood is far, far more than an abortion clinic. 3% of the Planned Parenthood budget goes to abortions. Over 5 times that amount (16%) goes to cancer screening, nearly 12 times that to STD/STI testing and treatment, another 35% to contraception. (

                As for quoting our founding fathers, it is rather easy to cherry pick quotes to make claims for either side of the 1st Amendment debates.Report

              • Avatar Aaron Pozdol says:


                Like Wimoweh, I’d like to read your response to the fact that just as stem-cell research is a small part of a university, abortion is just a small part of what Planned Parenthood does, despite what some conservative Representatives may think. And regarding the accusation of proliferating abortions, it might be worthwhile to note that PP’s actions arguably prevent abortions that might have otherwise taken place without affective access to contraception and education.Report

              • Avatar Not Saying says:

                I don’t think you’re an asshole. I think you’re trying to have a point/counterpoint.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Your second and third examples, war and DEA busts, are legal. They do not follow from the original premise, since fed funding of abortion is illegal.

                How ’bout that, you’re right.

                You’re still wrong about this though:

                Since the Hyde Amendment is still in force, gov’t money for abortions is illegal.

                The premise here is not operative.

                …because I knew about the Hyde Amendment all along.

                What I’m proposing here — I’d thought it was obvious — is that we set aside what’s currently legal or illegal to fund with government money. Then we let you fund what you want with your money. Want all your tax dollars to go to abortion? Do it. Want all your tax dollars to go to secret military tribunals? Do it! (I’m told they’re legal, anyway…)

                Now, you can consider my idea, perhaps as an example of political theory as performance art. Or you can continue to pound the table about how I’m supposedly ignorant of present-day facts.

                Somewhat amusingly, you can also do the latter even after I’ve demonstrated a clear awareness of said facts.

                But I have to say that that approach isn’t nearly so interesting.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Well, I’d rather de-escalate this, Jason. I didn’t say you were ignorant of the facts, only that examples 2 and 3 did not follow. I don’t know which “conservatives” are using the talking point of demanding an opt-out for their tax dollars, and I quote

                A conservative talking point you’re bound to hear, if you haven’t already: “Why should my taxes pay for baby killers?”

                since when it comes to abortion, Hyde makes it moot. I believe I respected your text here.

                To the thought experiment or performance art: since money is fungible, it seems opt-outs of my personal tax money for x will only be replaced by yours, if you’re in favor of x or just don’t care. So we’d be sticking the already overburdened gov’t with more work, and for only symbolic purposes. “Performance art” would indeed describe it.

                I’m not much in favor of gov’t funding for the arts, particularly “performance art.” 😉

                A bit of housekeeping while I have you on the line:

                Since you took me to task for calling the president an asshole, Jason, I trust you’ll tend to the, um, gentleman who’s doing the same to me on this thread? I’m sure you simply missed it, but it leaves the impression that the color of one’s jersey matters more than the content of his character, or his comments.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Tom, you’re entirely right. I haven’t had my full attention on the thread this evening. Calling anyone an asshole is definitely frowned on here.

                Tony, please refrain. Tom can be difficult. I often think he’s flat-out wrong. But it’s not an excuse.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Thx, Jason. All things considered, though, I’m sorry I asked.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I’m hoping for de-escalation all around. I really am.Report

              • Roger. Ixnay assholeway What about “butthurt crybaby”?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m looking up “stuff that helps”.

                Yep, that ain’t in there.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Jason’s blogs always bring out the best in yous guys!Report

              • Avatar Consumatopia says:

                Sorry to interject, but if we’re still holding onto the “money is fungible” premise, then your proposed solution wouldn’t be good enough for the pacifist or the drug war opponent. For the pro-lifer, Planned Parenthood is doing the objectionable acts and so therefore they want to avoid giving money to Planned Parenthood. But it’s the government itself, not some third party, that fights the wars and harasses the growers. So if you earmark your tax dollars for everything not drug war related, that just means the government can divert other dollars away from the drug war.

                Take the percentage of people who support the drug war. Take the percentage of federal funds that go to fight it. I think we can all agree that the first is probably a higher percentage than the second.

                In fact, “money is fungible” logic wouldn’t even allow me to tolerate social security, welfare, or faith-based initiatives–because all of those entities taking government money might take the rest of their money and do something I disapprove of.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                You’re right, of course. Still, in a flight of fancy, it’s nice to give as many people as possible exactly what they want.Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

            Your not feeding me therefore I win.

            The trolls most desperate response.

            Look it worked this time. I need better dicipline.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Gentlemen—loosely speaking—it’s your ad homs that are trolling. But I’m flattered by your obsessions with me. Since you can’t hang in a fair discussion, you must cheat.

                Sorry to ruin the little echo chamber you’re trying to get going here, but I believe management aspires to something more than Balloon Juice, where your comments would fit just fine.Report

              • Avatar Superluminar says:

                Actually ad homs don’t fly too well at BJ, as the more libertarian comment policy allows people to call out idiocy far better.

                That having been said… Nice post Jason (and I was an asshole on your previous shutdown stuff, shadenfreud much diminished now), I find this kind of thought experiment quite cool. I even havd to agree with TvD on some of his argument here, though I think this because of the emphasis you put on the “fungible” argument, which allows for what Tom is saying. I will be articulating this better in a while..Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Thanks, Superluminar. I do appreciate it.

                In the cold light of morning, I have to say TvD’s argument still doesn’t quite fly, I don’t think. He’s noting the difference between abortion (now currently off-limits for federal funding) and war (now just fine for federal funding), and objecting to me lumping them together in my thought experiment.

                This doesn’t work for two reasons. First, it’s my thought experiment, and I’m allowed to lump or split as I prefer. Second, I didn’t even do the type of lumping that he appears to find objectionable. That is, I didn’t propose to allow federal money for abortion. I wrote:

                perhaps we should start a “Religious Freedom Pro-Life Tax Fund.” All those who are pro-life will never have to see their money go to any organization remotely connected with abortion.

                Which means no money to Planned Parenthood, whether earmarked for abortions or not. In short, I’d be giving conservatives even more of a chance to distance themselves from abortion than they currently have.Report

              • Avatar superluminar says:

                Ok, cheers Jason. This is a bit insiderish baseball, but I needle you because I think you do a great service blogging but are seriously obtuse sometimes. I am going to try and be less snarky in the future tho. As far as the current debate goes, my point is that when the debate turns to “fungibility”, pretty much anything you could name comes under this. I do not think it is a gold grounding for argument on either side.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                The core objection was to “‘my’ taxes” as a personal thing, not “taxes,” which is the actual conservative political argument.

                Subtle, but not sophistic. The “conservative” argument is not for a personal opt-out on moral grounds. That’s a different bag of bananas, and as we agreed, merely “performance art.”

                Again, I could have been clearer.Report

  4. Avatar 62across says:

    I saw the idea posited here once, by Mike Farmer I think, of funding government a la carte. You’d get a menu of potential government services and you’d be able to assign what percentage of your taxes went to what.

    Though such a system would be logistically impossible and I agree with Hyena that the risk of bad outcomes would be far too high, I’d still think it would be a real eye opener for almost all of the country. Far too many people have no clue where their tax money goes (27% on foreign aid, anyone?) and such a system would demonstrate how out of whack the priorities are. I do think it would greatly undermine the plutocracy, as I’d expect corporate subsidies to plummet under such a program.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    (As a child of the 70’s, my first thought when hearing “baby-killers” was not “abortionists” and so the first sentence made absolutely *ZERO* sense to me for a second.)

    Anyway, I remember reading that the lower 50% of earners in this country doesn’t pay income tax *AND* that’s the 50% of the country that sees the most need for Medicaid. That’s the 50% of the country that sees the most need for food stamps. That’s the 50% of the country that sees the most need for a great many things that folks in the upper 50% aren’t likely to earmark *ENOUGH* to cover them… and my suspicion is that, among the 50% that is likely to pay income taxes anyway, the military is seen as something they’d earmark more than stuff like assistance for the poor.

    But my circle may skew that hugely.Report

  6. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    In the latest round of budget cuttin’ blue light sales, the US Institute for Peace is in serious trouble. Even the military wants it kept in place: Petraeus is making a big deal out of this.

    Sounds like a good idea to me. Put the checkbox right next to the dollar for public election funding on the tax return, I’d check it.Report

  7. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    Tom sez, upthread: “As for individuals earmarking their tax dollars, this does not seem remotely practical or desirable.”

    I’m of a mind that the first half is certainly correct. The second one probably is as well, although the jury is *way* out on that one.

    To pull a problem from the school voucher discussion the other day: you can’t turn a sunk cost into a unit cost in accounting. Once people agree that they need a new school *here*, or a new water reservoir *here*, you need to pay the sunk cost to get the thing up and running.

    If you let people pick and choose a la carte, people will pick to choose all the stuff that is currently in unit cost, and not pay for anything that has sunk costs, because they’re bejeebus expensive.

    Until, of course, the reservoir is built, and then they want to change their mind and get in on the unit cost. “Hey, I want my lifesaving cancer drug for $50! It only costs $12 to make! The drug companies are raping me!”

    I can imagine an accounting system that could take that all into account, but it would make our modern tax code look like a game of Chutes and Ladders.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho says:

      “Hey, I want my lifesaving cancer drug for $50! It only costs $12 to make! The drug companies are raping me!”

      If they utilize tax-funded research and slap a government monopoly grant — excuse me, “patent” — on the product & mark it up then yes, they are raping us. Wanna charge whatever? Then pay for your own damn research.Report

      • Avatar Aaron Pozdol says:

        I struggle with this myself, because I’m not anti-corporations. I think I am personally more sympathetic to health-care/pharmaceutical controls because unlike other insured “properties”, our bodies are philosophically defined as part of ourselves in a way that mere property will never be (difference between someone cutting off my leg vs someone wrecking my car with a sledgehammer). To deny access to medical care seems antithetical to any claim to the universalism of human equality.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        I don’t want to digress to heavily into bashing on the drug companies (who after all deserve some bashing). However,

        “If they utilize tax-funded research…”

        There is no such non-animal today, in any industry. Everybody uses the Internet. Ted Berners-Lee “invented” HTML and the world wide web essentially in its current form, while working as a government funded academic. He never filed a patent, he gave it away for free. But it’s still tax-funded research that everybody uses. By this logic, the government ownzers j00. I’ll not even bother to mention all the other gobs of government-funded research that is either in the public domain, or is used to subsidize basically everything.

        If you want to argue that drug companies benefit unfairly by subsidizing their R&D substantially via government funds and are thus recouping expenses they don’t actually have, we can have that discussion. You are going to have to pony up some numbers to the bar, however. Most drug companies are public held and thus their financial statements are available online. I suspect you are correct, but I hear this bandied about *way* too often without evidence to accept it on faith.

        “… and slap a government monopoly grant”

        Yes, our intellectual property laws are completely insane. If you want to talk about that, I’m on board with that too. Please remember that you’re going to be lining up against not just drug companies, but JK Rowling, Bono, Eminem, the RIAA, the MPAA, the manufacturing industry, everybody that holds a trademark, everybody that holds a patent, everybody that holds a copyright, everybody except perhaps the financial industry, and by proxy you’re going up against them too since they’re invested in all of the above.Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    “A conservative talking point you’re bound to hear, if you haven’t already: “Why should my taxes pay for baby killers?” ”

    Actually, you hear this comment from both sides. The difference is over whether the babies in question are killed by doctors or killed by soldiers.Report

    • Avatar Not Saying says:


    • Avatar Heidegger says:

      A full point? Well, if nothing else, we know where Mr. Cahalen stands re abortion. Deliberately killing an unborn baby (abortion) is apparently identical to deliberately killing your enemy (babies) in a time of war. Are soldiers in any way trained to kill fetuses? The conflation of abortion and babies killed by soldiers is noxious silliness to the extreme. Can you name one single instance (pick your own war) whereupon a United States soldier was ever given explicit instructions to target and kill babies, pregnant women, women carrying a newborn child or whatever variation you may want to use? Oh God, I can already hear the lumbering Liberal stampede, “well what about Dresden, Tokyo, Wounded Knee, My Lai, Hiroshima and on and on…can we please limit this to one on one directives? By the way, do you really stand by this? ” The difference is over whether the babies in question are killed by doctors or killed by soldiers.” At the very least, I’d say there exists a rather large age differential. It’s interesting that during the Vietnam War, our honorable, courageous, and noble soldiers were frequently spat upon in airports all over the land with the accompanying shrieks of “baby killer”, “baby killer”. And the women that were shrieking these cruel words were almost unanimously supporters of abortion. So, where do you stand on this issue: would you have been among the spitters? Were and are our soldiers in fact, “baby killers”? Please elaborate. Thanks.

      And the question you posed was never answered: “Why should my taxes pay for baby killers?” Well, why should they?Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        Ah, no, that was a rhetorical point.

        I shall not equate the two. They are incommensurable.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          Pat–thanks for the reply–must run now. Looking very much forward to continuing our discussion.

          Naturally, we have a disagreemant about the definition of the word, “incommensurable” or how it’s applied. See ya.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        > our honorable, courageous, and noble soldiers were
        > frequently spat upon in airports all over the land
        > with the accompanying shrieks of “baby killer”,
        > “baby killer”. And the women that were shrieking
        > these cruel words were almost unanimously
        > supporters of abortion.

        I don’t think you get from A to B that easily, Heidegger. I don’t dispute the first half. I don’t think the second half is really relevant. The women (what, no men said this) that were shrieking those words were probably hippies, yeah. And young and ignorant of what was actually going on over in Vietnam. But that doesn’t carry you over to “everybody that thinks that war is immoral thinks that abortion is moral”.

        But yanno, I’ll actually answer your question for you.

        Tax money shouldn’t ever go to an immoral purpose. However, given the way we have chosen to govern ourselves (which has many advantages including decreasing the probability of lots of immoral things) our tax money will occasionally go to immoral purposes. If you have a conflict with this, your choices are to try to address the immoral purpose via the law, or by swaying public perception, or by reducing the immoral consequence by trying to make it as infrequent as possible (I personally think the last one is the most effective, but to each his or her own). You don’t get to stop paying taxes: that’s the entry fee to be here. You don’t want to pay taxes, go find another country that has a government that you find less immoral and live there.

        I agree with Tom, a la carte government won’t work. Trying to reform the tax code to provide a la carte services just winds up being a largely cosmetic game.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          Hey Pat, I can go from A to Z in a blink of an eye!

          And your words of encouragement have left me with no alternative: I, Martin Heidegger, shall run for the office of President of the United States. Yes, I’m officially running for President. Not sure what party–maybe my favorite, The No Nothing Party. Numbskulls for Liberty. I would also reduce the budget to the exact level as the budget of 1802–$40,000.

          My choice of Vice-President would be, Tom Van Dyke. If he declines, maybe Mr. Robert Cheeks. Maybe even Pat Cahalan! Although I might stick you in the Treasury Dept.–Secretary, naturally. Come to think of it, Mr. Cheeks would be my choice as Secretary of Defense–a gun lover like no other. Chris will be nominated for every possible position that exists. He still might not be happy, though. It’s probably Dictator or nothing for the ever crotchety Chris. BlaiseP would have to be my official dueler–swords, arrows, pistols, you name it–we all know the outcome of any such duels and we also know who would be wearing the smile after such duels. An BlaiseP would absolutely be the head cheese at the Minister of Culture. Finally, after 200+ years we have someone fluent in more than their native lauguage! Running late–so long, gentlemen.Report

          • Avatar Heidegger says:

            Try, “Know Nothing” Party.

            I had to make this official–just literally threw my hat in a ring. And I would make it illegal for any dance other than the Curly Shuffle to be performed in any public place.


      • Avatar irtnog says:

        actually, I think you’re quite wrong about this. almost no soldiers were spat upon at airports, and in at least one case, the spitting was done by someone on the political right. i would be interested in even one case of a woman “shrieking these cruel words” while also being a supporter of abortion. you write that this was frequent.

        as to the comparison, if someone kills me because they intend to do so, it’s murder; if it’s through neglect, it’s probably manslaughter; but in either case, i’m dead and it’s a crime. so if “deliberately killing an unborn baby” (do you mean a viable fetus?) is worse for you, it doesn’t make the baby any more dead than the baby killed in a military action. there are differences, however; the second baby may be an actual, born baby, and the person who caused its death and the instruments of that death were both directly paid for by the government. so, why does the first bother you more?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I remember when the argument was “there is no proof that this ever happened!” until Delmar Pickett Jr. surfaced and stood by his story (which was broadcast in 1971).

          Now it’s become the first couple of sentence fragments in your first paragraph.Report

  9. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Er, yeah. Well.

    “The shallow conservative counter: “Money is fungible. Whatever they don’t spend on other things just pays for more abortions.” ”

    This is the same reasoning that people use to explain why school vouchers constitute government support of religion and so violate the First Amendment.Report

  10. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    Another interesting rider from the GOP Budget –

    “Prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from collecting information on multiple sales of rifles or shotguns to the same person.”

    But of course gun rights folks just want law-abiding people to get guns. Of course.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

      I think the gun rights folks actually just don’t want a file on them at the ATF.

      I’m on board with that. I don’t want the NSF reading my email either. Or the Administration (current or otherwise) without a warrant, because it’s sitting in a gmail account somewhere.

      I know a lot of guns-rights folks and zero of them are interested in criminals getting guns.

      They might have silly reasons for being guns-rights folks in some cases, but wanting to avoid having the feds have a file on you is a pretty normal human reaction. All the guys at JPL sued over it, for another example.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        But guns rights people do want to make it more difficult for the ATF to be aware of possible criminals getting guns by say, keeping track of who is buying large amounts of guns.

        If you don’t want a file, don’t buy multiple guns. After all, unless you’re in a John Woo movie, you can only use one to defend yourself anyway.

        You have a Constitutional right to not be searched without a warrant. You don’t have a Constitutional right not to have the local police or even the FBI say, “hey, this guy’s a possible criminal so let’s keep tabs on him.” Ya know, a stakeout. Same thing with the ATF. They’re not breaking down doors. They’re keeping track of threats.

        So yes, I want the ATF to be aware who has 37 rifles on their property in the middle of Montana. I know that makes me an evil big government type who wants to take everyones guns, but so be it.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

          If I were cutting federal spending, I would cut all spending for the ATF and disband the agency. Alcohol, tobacco, and firearms are our friends, not necessarily at one time, though.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

          Jesse, show me something that actually establishes a strong correlation between “buys lots of guns” and “commits crime”.

          Because all the people I know who buy lots of guns are gun collectors. And if I’m a criminal, all I want is one gun. Why would I buy more than one?

          Certainly there may be case of someone who spends lots of money to buy guns to sell guns to bad guys (why you would do this when you can grow pot and sell it to a dispensary at substantially less risk to your personal health and the potential for jail time is beyond me, but okay, it can happen). So then what you have to look at is, “Can the bad guys get guns anyway?” and the answer is going to be “yes”.

          I suspect the domestic arms runner is a largely a myth. Not that there certainly will be zero cases of someone being a domestic arms runner, but I really doubt it is pervasive enough to warrant an entire federal bureau to keep track of the possibility that someone in the legal gun-buying populace is also an illegal gun-seller.Report

          • Avatar Hannah says:

            There seems to be a problem on the border. The feds were tracking guys that were buying LOTS of guns and allowed them to be taken into Mexico in hopes of catching the “big fish”. Lost track of them. Many folks upset. This report was circulating just a couple of days ago.Report

          • Avatar Hannah says:

            Sorry. Neglected to mention there are quite of number of violent deaths close to our border. And I’ve heard rumors that the Mexican government is pretty upset with our gun policy – or at least, how many of our guns wind up down there.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              Yes, and when they showed the tables and tables of confiscated American guns that they were upset about, they were all military-ordinance style guns that you can’t legally buy as a citizen in the United States. Full autos and whatnot.

              They’re not getting those guns from commercial gun manufacturers and resellers in the United States. They’re certainly *not* getting them from Joe Random Dude who is buying boatloads of civilian-style M-16s and then converting them in his garage. It is very difficult to sell guns in the U.S., you basically need to allow the ATF to crawl up your behind and pitch camp there. It’s even more difficult to get a license to modify firearms.

              Personally, I think this is high political theater on the part of the Mexican government, but that’s just a suspicion on my part.Report

  11. Avatar Creon Critic says:

    Would I want to live in a taxpaying a la carte world? No. Any given expenditure would constantly need double majorities and supermajorities. The criteria would still include citizenship and community input by way of electing representatives, but with the plutocratic addition of disproportionate power for high taxpayers. Such a system would further empower the already powerful and it isn’t like the voices of the well-to-do are suppressed in American politics today. As Schattschneider wrote, “The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.” Also, the American political system isn’t bereft of veto points.

    Those who pay more in taxes would get an even stronger voice in public policymaking – “terrible collective action problems” puts it mildly. Looking at the budget cuts program in the UK and proposals thus far in the US, I see a lot of reductions in programs for the vulnerable: education maintenance allowance and child trust funds in the UK for instance (, Pell grants, food stamps, low-income housing in the US ( In being allowed to determine destinations of tax dollars individually, the political system would establish a veto particularly accessible to the wealthy. Political deference to higher taxpayers would increase and low earners would be faced with more indifference and further marginalization.

    Of course citizens should be able to exercise their conscience based concerns. Through their votes, through their activism, through their donations, campaigning, and volunteering. But not through taxpaying a la carte.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Even if it were only a symbolic gesture, I can’t see the harm in objecting to paying for war or abortion on moral grounds. If it were possible to put that money into the US Institute for Peace or some fund for women and children’s issues.

      We have the notion of the conscientious objector. Most countries do. If the Roman Empire hadn’t been quite so insistent on demanding everyone burn a pinch of incense to Caesar, they might still be in business. Ask the British how that taxation without representation business went over in the time of George III. Getting people of conscience’s backs up without a good reason is just nonsense, politically.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger says:

        Mr. Blaise, why do people (historians even) so frequently get Hitler’s religion wrong. It bugs me to no end. They , forever, claim that Hitler was a Lutheran which is just nonsense. The insufferable Pumpkin Head–Chris Matthews–bellows constantly about Hitler’s religion being Lutheran and what’s more, the guests that make such assertion sheepishly apologize. He WAS a baptized Catholic, a choir boy, no less and he used his Latin lessons and Catholic hymns to fine tune his vocal skills. Unfortunately, these techniques worked. And so did the clerical error that went from–“Hiedler” to “Hitler” was another stroke of Undivine Providence. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Austrian was and is, a very Catholic country.Report

      • Avatar Creon Critic says:

        The tension between community obligations and individual conscience, I couldn’t have picked a name like Creon Critic without being really interested in how the line drawing goes. There have been two really interesting posts over at Volokh Conspiracy recently on the issue, “Absolute Religious Exemption from Occupational Licensing and Disciplinary Regimes?” and “Court Strikes Down Rule Requiring Pharmacists to Distribute Emergency Contraceptives”. To what extent can pharmacists interfere in dispensing medication due to their religious beliefs? The cases where the pharmacist refuses to transfer the prescription or return it to the customer are particularly interesting to me.

        Getting people of conscience’s backs up without a good reason is just nonsense, politically.

        It depends on what you’ve decided is a “good reason”. I think my position ends up as being soft communitarian, there’s definitely a legitimate space for conscience that ought to be respected, but that space has limits. The collective action problems and the wealthy getting extra votes via tax returns make me wary of the theorized taxpaying a la carte. We may be talking of slightly different things, as I read Jason’s post he asked about a world where every taxpayer determines where their money goes. Your example brackets domains with abortion money alternatively channeled to women and children’s issues, military spending channeled to USIP instead.

        To me, the hypothetical world of individual taxpayer decided tax destinations undermines democracy and community. Taxes cease to be public money but government overseen obligatory donations – you must give some percentage of your income, but where is up to you. But would the republic fall apart if the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act passed? No.

        Ask the British how that taxation without representation business went over in the time of George III.

        But we do have representation. I concluded my comment highlighting the avenues those of conscience can pursue, “Through their votes, through their activism, through their donations, campaigning, and volunteering.” Through convincing fellow citizens those of conscience might win important victories.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          All perfectly reasonable points. Yet consider how these issues of conscience have become serious irritants, burrs under the saddle of the body politic. These issues have been called Wedge Issues, but I have a different metaphor. These issues have become Fulcrums for every unscrupulous would-be Archimedes armed with a very long political lever in his attempt to move the world. If we examine the slavery issue, far enough removed in history for dispassionate observation, we see troublemakers on both sides, (especially Henry Ward Beecher) making political hay in the field of that Peculiar Institution with no intention of removing it: it was far too useful, politically.

          We must not deny persons of conscience their right to object to abortion and war. Your points about voting and activism fall on cynical ears: these we have in plenty and the issues still remain as irritating as ever. The tax return could be a useful plebiscite, though it is not one now.

          Back in the day, I made up some custom stationery in my copier. It featured a copy of my voter’s registration card in the upper right hand corner. I would write my complaints to my representatives on that stationery with a calligraphy fountain pen, in a good standard italic hand, short and to the point. I always got responses. I remember complaining about a vote against the Clean Air Act, Paul Simon wrote back about Texas inserting its own exemption into the bill and that’s why he couldn’t vote for it. I wrote back, thanking him for his explanation. It is possible to communicate directly with a politician.

          But when it comes to these Fulcrum Issues, there must be some Out for people of conscience. If they demand exemption from paying for what their consciences declare to be wrong, how can this be undemocratic? Un-republican, perhaps, note the miniscule r. In a republic, we elect representatives who are free to do what they feel they must, delegating power to the elected, arming them with the mandate of a period of time in power. But in a democracy, the people do have a direct say in the doings of government. I cannot see the harm in using the tax form as a vehicle of vox populi.

          Perhaps I have misunderstood you. This is a very inadequate response.

          The Theban commons with one voice say, No.
          What, shall the mob dictate my policy?
          ‘Tis thou, methinks, who speakest like a boy.
          Am I to rule for others, or myself?
          A State for one man is no State at all.
          The State is his who rules it, so ’tis held.
          As monarch of a desert thou wouldst shine.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            There’s already lots of exceptions built-in for abortion funding. This does not seem to have assuaged the consciences of the pro-life movement.

            I’m not so sure that your proposed olive leaf to sections of the taxpaying politic is a tactic that works.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Once again, Pat, you’re just making far too much sense. I remember Henry Hyde, even then a corpulent, elderly white-haired figure, sitting on the trunk of an old Cadillac convertible, years ago as I sat on the Main Street curb in Wheaton Illinois, watching the July Fourth parade. Hyde was a much-loved man and his balks against federally funded abortions still stand.

              What can be done about the Robespierres in these sections of the taxpaying politic? Hell if I know. They could be ignorant or the facts or willfully wrong on the facts. Using my Fulcrum metaphor, I feel certain it’s the latter. A little caveat: I’m of the opinion every abortion is a tragedy. I’ll have a valid opinion on abortion when I grow a uterus. Furthermore, everyone has his/her own bright line beyond which our ethics call upon us to condemn it: is it rape, incest, underage pregnancy, [insert your own bright line here]? Abortion is fundamentally a woman’s issue. Arguably, there’s are father’s issues at stake, but I never hear anyone, least of all the anti-abortion crowd, pointing out that part of the debate.

              Eventually, the Robespierres and Marats and Dantons run out of steam and the crowd turns on them, but not before they’ve completely screwed up the revolution. Sigh. I’ve offered my little theoretical olive branch. It’s nothing but an accounting trick, but it has the benefit of possibility.Report

      • Avatar Heidegger says:

        Dammit–me, an idiot. “Austrian was and is, a very Catholic country.” Please make that AUSTRIA was and is a very Catholic country!Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke says:

      “Those who pay more in taxes would get an even stronger voice in public policymaking…”

      Verrrrry interesting point!Report

      • Avatar conradg says:

        Don’t they already have a stronger voice in public policymaking?Report

        • Avatar Matthew Gerring says:

          Sort of, except that people with the most tax liability also tend to be the people with the greatest ability to avoid it. Note that General Electric paid $0 in taxes this year.Report

  12. Avatar Maxie says:

    Why should my tax money support a bunch of dead beat corn farmers who can’t make it on their own?Report

    • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

      Good point, Max. Here’s another (maybe): Not everyone has ‘skin’ in the game, as Barry says. About 50% of the population/workforce (?) doesn’t pay taxes. How-a-bout everybody pays a minimum of 10%, which as the song says is ‘good enough for Jesus?’ I wonder how much more income the feds would derive?Report

      • Avatar pphillips206 says:

        I keep seeing this repeated without challenge here. The bottom 50% may not pay “income taxes” but everyone who works pays taxes in the form of the payroll taxes, which for many constitute a higher percentage of income than many in the top half pay.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          Payroll taxes are “insurance,” but most of that money’s fungible, since the Social Security Trust Fund is a fiction.

          Payroll taxes are 6.2%, I believe. Surely some of the rich pay less, but surely some pay more. 6.2% is not that high, far lower than any “flat tax” proposal.

          Other mitigating factors:

          —The working poor at least theoretically get value, a personal return: SS, Medicare
          —Employers match the 6.2%, making it a two-fer for value @ 12.4%
          —“Negative income tax” programs like the Earned Income Credit at least partially offset the payroll tax.

          That the poor don’t pay “income taxes” is literally true, and substantially true as well. The argument pretty much holds.

          The real canard has been the great hay made over “tax cuts for the rich.” My back of the envelope said the Bush cuts totaled $60B, borne out here, I think

          a fraction of the $trillion-plus deficit. Eating the rich will not solve the current crisis.

          Of course this whole “shutdown” theater was over a lousy $30-40B.

          I look forward to corrections, as wonkage ain’t my thing. But I think I’m in the numerical literacy zone here.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            Thanks Tom, well done!Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              Well done only if you believe that 6.2% = 0. (In fact, it’s 7.65%; Tom omitted Medicare). Otherwise, your assertion that some working people pay no taxes is false. In addition, this tax (unlike income tax) is paid on the first dollar earned and that no deductions are allowed.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                …again, well done, Tom. Democrats do taxes like they count votes.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Greetings Bob, The Great One, The Knock ’em Dead when they’re least expecting it, Bob. Bob, I just love your comments. And I always get a chuckle when it becomes apparent the person you’re arguing with hasn’t a clue they’re being eviscerated! They really do not have a humorous drop of blood in their body and they’re simply not intellectually capable of understanding underlying, subtle, multidimensional, nuance in words. What’s really funny is that the credentialed, certifiable eggheads are usually the most clueless! I mean, come on, talk about dull as dishwasher! Hey, just thought of a new name for this site–How about, Dullards ‘r Us!Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                I forgot to add–anyone that can talk for 72 straight hours about pensions, has some serious mental health issues and disorders. Nothing we can’t fix though, right? Right!

                Where’s Baudelaire when you really need him..Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                p.s. I certainly don’t mean everyone–there are some hysterically funny folks around here and I never miss reading them.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Oh, and since the employer’s half comes out of what they would otherwise pay the employee (ask an economist), make that 14.2%. Still sound like zero, Bob?Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Mike, get some rest, a change of diet might help, and just a little exercise and I’m sure you’ll have your epiphany.
                Also, and seriously, who won the spending ‘showdown’? The commie-dems or the GOP? I’m really just curious what people think!Report

              • Avatar dexter says:

                Bob old pal, You think the debate is between commie-dems and the GOP, while I think the debate is between those who think like Jesus and care about the poor and the fascist pigs. I will say that the pigs won and I do include President Obama in the latter category.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                “Blessed are the bombdroppers.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Dex, you really need to watch out for the whole “fascist pigs who don’t know that they’re fascist pigs because they think that they think like Jesus” thing.

                It’s really, really, really pernicious.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Well, by my estimation, Obama did a pick and roll, dropping everything else so Boehner would have to go back to his mouthbreathing pro-life crowd without Planned Parenthood’s scalp.

                The pro-life crowd will pull Boehner’s pants down and beat his ass like a bald-headed stepchild for this failure.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                I believe Boehner won a vote [and therefore a debate] in the Senate over Planned Parenthood funding.

                It could be interesting. Its critics say it’s the world’s largest abortion provider, responsible for 1/4 of US abortions, is rolling in dough from its abortion business and doesn’t need gov’t money, and 97% of the pregnant women who come to it get abortions.

                [I vouch for none of these charges—I don’t know and neither do I expect “reliable sources” like the NYT or other arms of the Dem Party to go investigate.]

                But I bet now they will, esp if any of these charges are inaccurate. [Not so much if they’re accurate.]

                Better to have an unveiling of the facts and a debate than cutting funding that will only be restored a later date anyway.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                The pro-life camp is Verra Verra Fashed. They know Boehner sold them out.Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                Ah, the old “I’m losing the argument so I’ll pretend it’s the other guy’s fault”.

                Bob, you lied, pure and simple.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Thank you for the addition of the Medicare %age, Mr. Schilling. It’s not a subject I’ve wonked on and I appreciate your correction. Again, the Medicare is “insurance,” and the employee putatively receives a direct benefit in his dotage.

                However, in your second comment, since the matching %age is money the employee never saw, it doesn’t necessarily follow that if abolished, the employer would give it to the employee rather than keep it for himself.

                The “tax cuts for the rich” point seems to have held. I’d like to see one of those PPP surveys ask Democrats if they know what a pittance the well-demagogued “tax cuts for the rich” really amount to, and how not-responsible they are for the current deficit. [$60B out of $1.6 trillion.]Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                However, in your second comment, since the matching %age is money the employee never saw, it doesn’t necessarily follow that if abolished, the employer would give it to the employee rather than keep it for himself.

                You don’t believe that labor markets follow supply and demand? I’m skeptical about that too, to be honest.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                I dunno, Mike. It’s an ancillary argument anyway; disregard it if you wish. The EIC is more significant since it can range up to 16% with one child and 21% for 2 or more, more than offsetting the 7.65% or even 15.3 or whatever yr figure is.

                [The childless working poor are the only ones who don’t break even here.]

                And again, there’s the fact that payroll taxes are “insurance” that putatively yields a direct benefit to the payer, and doesn’t go to the general fund that finances trillions in gov’t largesse. [And even some for essential services!].

                So far, the “tax cuts for the rich” point seems to have held as well.Report

  13. Avatar anon says:

    Actually, there are a number of Quakers (and others) who don’t pay taxes to fund wars. There are different methods, but I know several people who only pay a percentage of their taxes, based on the percentage of the federal budget that goes to things other than defense. They often donate the balance of their tax bill to good causes, so as not to personally benefit from the act of conscience. There’s also a “pay under protest” campaign to send a letter when you file your taxes saying that you’re paying under protest, which is a smaller step but won’t result in fines and things. Google War Tax Resistance to find out more.Report

  14. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I, for one, am intrigued at the concept of budget making by plebiscite in the antepenultimate paragraph of the original post.

    Everyone would have something like the Combined Federal Campaign booklet and by April 15 include on the tax forms the 5 or 6 digit codes of those agencies and/or departments they want to fund and to what % (and just keep it on the discretionary side). The first year I imagine there’d be a radical shift in budget priorities, but after that it might be relatively stable year over year – after all, we re-elect around 90% of the congress people every other yearReport

  15. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    How responsible am I for where my taxes go? Somewhat. I do what I can as a citizen to vote for candidates who spend tax money on projects and programs with which I morally agree, while voting against those candidates who would fund things I think to be immoral. However, I don’t really have a whole lot of power here, and I so can choose either to be lose sleep by my inevitable material cooperation with injustice or to tolerate it because I dig democracy. I choose the latter.

    While I like the idea of greater clarity about where our tax money goes, I’m not sure a line item taxation system would work. But I’m no expert.Report

  16. Avatar b-psycho says:

    While it touches on both moral objection and the unfortunate disconnect between taxes and spending, this ala carte taxation thing basically acknowledges an anarchist philosophical point & attempts to reconcile it with government still existing. Nice thought experiment, though obviously implausible.

    I do wonder what people would choose their taxes to go to if they actually could choose though. Some respectable pollsters could do a survey pairing a chart of where federal spending actually goes with a mock-up check form for where the taxes should go.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      la carte taxation thing basically acknowledges an anarchist philosophical point & attempts to reconcile it with government still existing. Nice thought experiment, though obviously implausible.

      Quite right, actually. My political thinking is very much informed by anarchism, though I don’t subscribe to it myself.Report

  17. Avatar Gracious Palmer says:

    Thank you. Finally, a voice of reason and sanity. How refreshing.Report

  18. Avatar LT says:

    If I opt out of paying for certain programs, should I be allowed to benefit from that program? For example, if I don’t check Medicare as part of my allocation will I be allowed to collect benefits when the time comes? How about benefits shared only in the aggregate? If I don’t fund the EPA am I allowed access to clean air? If I skip the CDC do I lose protection from future epidemics? Defense and a free society, infrastructure and a strong economy, and so on. Shared benefits are unavoidable so everyone needs to share the cost. Symbolic allocations without any risk of forgoing the real benefits is a meaningless statement.Report

  19. Avatar conradg says:

    The solution here is rhetorical, not in any way workable. You of course know that. You can’t have taxpayers deciding where their individual tax money goes, because then all kinds of necessary spending won’t happen since it won’t have sponsors. We have a congress to do this job. We have a representative democracy. People should understand that, and if they don’t they shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    In that vein, when a conservatives says they don’t want their tax money being spent on abortions, I usually tell them not to worry, that their money was spent on $600 hammers and $5000 toilet seats for the military. My money got spent on abortions (or more accurately, to funding non-abortion activities at places like Planned Parenthood that also do abortions). So they can rest easy.Report

  20. I think that 100% may be too much to deal with now. But I’d propose that each tax payer would re-allocate 10% of their taxes to be un-spent from the general funds, or specific program, and spent on any programs that they designated. That way “popular” programs would get an increase in their funding.

    Not only would this lead to a direct decrease/increase in funding, but the results would allow people to put their money where their ideals are, but as the summary results would be public, they would allow legislators to determine the public will.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      As lots of people have noticed (and lots of others haven’t), my initial idea is totally unworkable, no matter how superficially appealing it might be.

      But 10% allocation? I think you’re onto something here. That could work. It’s an obvious increase in autonomy for the individual — it doesn’t frustrate the democratic/representative ideal too much — and it will give people a sense of connection to the acts of the government.

      I really, really like this.Report

  21. Avatar wickedzeus says:

    Planned Parenthood is also funded by private donors, with a membership base of over 700,000 active donors whose contributions account for approximately one quarter of the organization’s revenue.

    Why is this a problem when only 3% of their funds go towards abortion? Just pay for those from private donations and stop this bullshit “debate” and let’s talk about the serious problems we have to deal with.Report

  22. Avatar Gus says:

    If all money is fungible, then stop telling me the ‘Faith Based Initiative’ isn’t really the full employment act for the religious who can’t get a real job. Or to put it another way, why are tax payers subsidizing ‘works’ to get you into heaven?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I can’t stop telling you that, Gus. I never started saying it! I’ve been against that whole idea from the outset. (I am an atheist, which I don’t expect you necessarily to have known.)Report

  23. Government is about sharing our resources to do what we as a society agree is worth while. Once we start Nit Picking, then we reduce the Common Wealth… That is why I am willing to pay for religious benefits and ask others to pay for Women’s health…

    Of course we can decide that we no longer want to maintain a shared common purpose. Eliminate funding for Women’s health though Planned Parenthood because they also do abortions, and eliminate funding for Churches, because they also do religion… There is almost no organization that is funded by the Government that is accepted by everyone, and has no side activities that is fully accepted, so lets agree that morally objectionably activities, such as Abortion, for some, and Religious proselytizing, for others should not be directly government funded, but other common goods, women’s health and food kitchens can be even if they are run by agencies that do other “objectionably” activities.Report

    • Avatar b-psycho says:

      “Government is about sharing our resources to do what we as a society agree is worth while.”

      Problem is, society in practice regularly contradicts itself and people agree on very little. Meanwhile, most of those resources get “shared” upward, regardless of what any of us think about it.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        Indeed. It strains the definition of “shared purpose” to say that I share your purposes by contributing money against the dictates of my conscience.Report

        • Avatar stillwater says:

          Why not just eliminate the clutter and wonder if anyone should even contribute any money to government (ie., pay taxes) if any such contribution violates the dictates of their conscience? Surely there are people who think this way. Why isn’t that a plausible view?Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            It is a plausible view!

            This is what I meant when I said elsewhere on the thread that my thinking in the post is informed by anarchism. Theoretically, anarchy has a lot going for it. In practice, anarchies are rare. They’re not nonexistent, and they’re not all failures, but they’re rare. Theory doesn’t have a good explanation for this. It should.

            What prevents me from adopting anarchy is that I don’t claim the ability to provide for all of the eventualities that would arise. I can’t even imagine them all. It seems hubris to imagine that we can. My solution is to favor piecemeal tinkering in the direction that seems right. I expect that the results of experiment will be more reliable than the results of a priori reasoning.

            One term I’ve seen for people in my shoes is “agnarchist.” I don’t know whether or not there is a state in utopia. I’ve never been there. I feel more confident about righting obvious wrongs in the present conditions, without necessarily referencing utopia when I do so.Report

            • Avatar stillwater says:

              It is a plausible view!

              Plausible as a principle upon which to construct a society? Or plausible for someone currently enjoying the benefits of an existing society?

              My own view is that anarchism is fundamentally unstable – at the conceptual level as well as in practice. General defense (eg., standing armies), contract enforcement, policing, infrastructure, courts, provision of necessary utilities, etc., all require a form of centralized authority, and that begins the long (or short) road towards centralized governmental power and the ensuing disputes and general grumpiness. Assuming private property is permitted in the anarchist society, differential abilities of individuals to accumulate wealth, thereby accruing disproportionate power, is another way centralization is inevitable, with even less certainty that general grumpiness won’t ensue. I don’t hold anarchism in high regard. But maybe you could right a post making a better case than I have.

              As an aside, these issues remind me of Mancur Olson’s Logic of Collective Action, and his theory that states arise from stationary bandits (ie, roving bandits who figured out that staying put and taxing people is more lucrative than raiding and destroying). I think the impetus for anarchism derives from precisely this understanding of societal power structures. But even if that view is justified, tearing it all down won’t lead to better outcomes, only temporarily worse outcomes leading to a very similar situation at the end of the day.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                I think anarchism is plausible when reasoning from first principles. There is a significant body of anarchist literature arguing that the vast disparities of wealth we see now are the product of the corporate mode of economic organization, and that this mode depends on the state to continue. Get rid of it, and there would be less economic inequality. Kevin Carson is among those arguing in this direction, and I know he often drops by this site.

                His view may have some merit to it, but what’s the right method of testing it? Doing away with the state to get at corporations is exactly the sort of radical social experiment that I can’t possibly sign up for. We need a smaller-scale trial to be able to test the idea without sacrificing everything currently good about society, which is still a lot.

                Moves in this direction? End all forms of cash and tax-deduction subsidy for now-favored corporations. Abolish or severely limit copyright. I don’t favor ending corporate personhood, in that it would lead to the curtailment of individual rights as well, but that’s a debate we had in this space months ago, and I’m not wanting to revisit it right now.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              Theory actually does have explanation for the uncommon presence of social bodies which are anarchies. Dunno how plausible you’d consider it to be, but:

              We have agriculture. So most people (at least in the first world) don’t have to work at producing food. Typically this leads to a disconnect from the old Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and people’s time. They now spend *most* of their time thinking about things above the physiological needs.

              Throw this together with human’s social binding tendencies, and transitive trust, and the tendency for those who want power to seek it out, and you get the case where Leader Bob can get aggregate power and then use it maliciously (in comparison to the individual will of the members of the aggregate) and keep that leveraged for a while.

              So, it’s hard to *stay* an anarchy, because leaders show up, and they offer bread and circuses, and enough people are unconcerned with food that they have spare resources to throw at the possibility that they won’t have to provide themselves circuses any more… but they’re concerned enough with what they have to do this week that they don’t audit the leader to prevent nefariousness.Report

  24. Avatar Richard Gadsden says:

    The leap in the last paragraph changes things completely.

    All the way to there, you were saying “why should I fund things I am opposed to”, and suddenly you switch to “I should only fund the things I support”. There are a huge category of things – the vast majority of government expenditure – that I neither support nor oppose.

    If every taxpayer could put in a list of all the things they didn’t want money going to, but not a list of where they would like their money to go, then it would solve the moral complaints, without endangering the principle of democratic control of taxation. Sure, some things would have a large fraction of taxpayers withdrawing, but (a) many, probably most taxpayers wouldn’t bother sending in their do-not-fund list and (b) some people would still favour even the most unpopular program and (c) the government could fund it from borrowing anyway – bond-buyers aren’t going to be filing moral objections to how their money is spent.

    I like the idea of conscientious objection to taxes funding individual projects. Just don’t include debt interest in the things you can refuse to fund, and even the hard-core libertarians’ taxes will still be useful.Report

    • Avatar Richard Gadsden says:

      Also, line-item funding won’t work.

      I want 100% of the needed funding to go to Constellation (the NASA return-to-the-moon program). If we can get 100%, then great; if we can’t get 100% then I don’t want any money to go to it; underfunded space programs that drag on for years and soak up NASA funding before they get cancelled a decade later are one of the great wastes of taxpayers money of the last 30 years.

      How do I allocate an amount of money to achieve that?Report

      • Thanks for pointing out my “Speaking out of 3 sides of the mouth?”, Really…

        1) My preferred position is to be able to re-allocate about 10% of my taxes, enough to have some effect and voice, but not enough to immediately cripple our representative government.

        2) My second best is to have people, including me, accept that we can “control” our Government thru the ballot box and public opinion polls, with a recognition that we all will be paying for some things or organizations that we dislike in the common good.

        3) My worst is the 100% re-allocation. position with the problem that all groups are despised by various sets of voters, and thus that we don’t want a society, but just lots of “You are on Your On” individuals.

        Of course that is what a discussion/vote is for, deciding what path to follow, and I suggest that the 10% re-allocation might be an reasonable thing to try as a start, and perhaps this proposal would get consensus agreement to be tried, and then see how it works out, to see if it should be increased or whatever.

        As far as the “Spend 100% but not 90%, problem, Perhaps there is no simple fix, but that it might be a gradual thing that Congress and the other Voters could deal with next year… No Voting, and I expect Social Choice system is fool proof, but we can perhaps move toward one that seems more effective.


  25. Avatar Michael Kidd says:

    It’s an interesting idea, and I would love to see the look on the neocons’ faces when defense gets gutted by 50%. But really, if we go down this road, why stop at taxes? Why not let voters manage all aspects of the government: economic policy, foreign policy, health care, etc? Representative democracy came about because there was no way in large polities to allow for direct input from all citizens. But the internet has made the once unthinkable possible. The results couldn’t be worse than what we’re getting from the current group of criminals and incompetents running the federal government.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      One word. California.Report

      • Avatar Michael Kidd says:

        I agree with you, but the problem in California is that you have two levels working at cross-purposes: the representatives of the people, who write the legislation, and the people themselves, who then hamstring the legislation through voter initiatives. If you built a new system from the ground up (since we’re dreaming, why not dream big?) that took advantage of modern technology, you could do it in a way that would make participation from the people the centerpiece of the process instead of an after-the-fact reaction to it.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          If there is one absolute rule in large-scale politics it is this: the masses are asses. Federalist 30:

          The present Confederation, feeble as it is intended to repose in the United States, an unlimited power of providing for the pecuniary wants of the Union. But proceeding upon an erroneous principle, it has been done in such a manner as entirely to have frustrated the intention. Congress, by the articles which compose that compact (as has already been stated), are authorized to ascertain and call for any sums of money necessary, in their judgment, to the service of the United States; and their requisitions, if conformable to the rule of apportionment, are in every constitutional sense obligatory upon the States. These have no right to question the propriety of the demand; no discretion beyond that of devising the ways and means of furnishing the sums demanded. But though this be strictly and truly the case; though the assumption of such a right would be an infringement of the articles of Union; though it may seldom or never have been avowedly claimed, yet in practice it has been constantly exercised, and would continue to be so, as long as the revenues of the Confederacy should remain dependent on the intermediate agency of its members. What the consequences of this system have been, is within the knowledge of every man the least conversant in our public affairs, and has been amply unfolded in different parts of these inquiries. It is this which has chiefly contributed to reduce us to a situation, which affords ample cause both of mortification to ourselves, and of triumph to our enemies. Report

          • Avatar Michael Kidd says:

            Is that really the road you want to go down? The Federalists wouldn’t have allowed the “masses” to vote at all. It’s the Voting Rights Act, not the Constitution, that ensures that principle.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Yeah, see, you’re thinking the same way I am: there ought to be some sort of plebiscite for issues of conscience, a release valve of sorts. You’ll still end up paying your taxes, it’s just a question of not paying for something of that sort.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            Yes, Bp you’re right. Democracy isn’t a workable political order.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            Isn’t it this attitude that got that whole ‘secessionist’ thing going?Report

  26. Avatar TrueLiberal says:

    As an anarchist and in full belief of the absolute moral superiority of a stateless society, I find this idea quite appealing, if difficult to implement.

    I do notice however, most people in this thread still cling to the elitist idea of one expending another’s labor for one’s own purposes.

    The American experiment is about personal autonomy and individual sovereignty. We are citizens, not subjects! We own ourselves! Sovereignty was shifted from the ruling class to “We the People”. (see “Milton” or “The Enlightenment”)

    If I expend a portion of my life, which I own, to increase my wealth, the product of that expenditure should be mine to choose. Anything less is theft, coercion or conscription.Report

  27. Avatar David Gross says:

    American Quakers have a long history (back at least to 1666) of refusing to pay taxes for war. See the extensive collection at, much of which can also be found on-line at my website ( A handful of conservatives and anti-abortion activists have also used tax resistance as a tactic, but in the U.S. it’s mostly been pacifists, anarchists, and anti-war activists.Report

  28. Avatar Jaybird says:

    One idea re: taxation that I thought was pretty interesting was put *EVERYTHING* you want the government to do on a list. Absolutely everything. If you think that the government ought to purchase Grateful Dead cds for tweens? Put it on the list!

    We have the list prioritized and work our way down it. I imagine that Defense, Medicare, and Social Security (in whatever order) are the top 3. Then we move to #4 if we still have money. Then we move to #5 if we still have money. And, when we run out of money, we stop.

    If we make it to #1,294,312 (which is where I imagine the Greatful Dead cd idea might be) and we still have money? Great! We can buy the cds for tweens! Box of Rain! “Walk into splintered sunlight, Inch your way through dead dreams to another land. Gotta get down to the bus stop. Gotta catch my bus. I see my friends!”

    If, however, we run out of money at #8, then #9 isn’t going to get funded.

    Some years we make it to #20.
    Some years we don’t. Maybe most years we don’t.
    We can experiment with tax rates and see how many numbers we get. Raising rates gets us here… lowering them gets us there… maybe the laffer curve is more like a sine wave and there are little peaks and troughs all over the thing. Experiment! Find out! And if we don’t have enough money to pay for #20, we don’t have enough money to pay for #20.

    Anyway, I know that that is a pipe dream… but, as pipe dreams go…Report

    • Avatar Brendan says:

      I don’t understand. How would your idea solve the problem of money allocation? You say we would write out a list of everything we think the government should “do”. So if I say they should “do” defense as priority number 1, how much money goes toward defense? Or are you saying I would actually have to write down how much of everything I want and the exact destination of every dollar?

      But this would entail every citizen writing out his/her own federal budget in the form of a priority list. Not only do I doubt that people have time for this, but I doubt it would produce successful policy. For instance, most Americans would list “subsidies for parents purchasing Justin Bieber albums for their children” ahead of “microloans for small businesses in Kabul”. Meanwhile, those same Americans might list “bomb Afghanistan” as a top priority. My point is, the complexities of counterinsurgency warfare and many other functions of the federal government are not to be left up to the average taxpayer, who would partially see your priority system as an opportunity to list of things the government should buy for them.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        No, no. The congress would still be in charge of putting the Federal Budget together. It’s just that there would be no debate over putting something *IN* the budget. Someone want it in there? Wham, it’s in there. It may be in there as #1,294,312… but it’s in there.

        We just go down the list until we run out of money and if we don’t get to #1,294,312 (and we won’t), we don’t.Report

        • Avatar Brendan says:

          I’m just wondering how we decide exactly how much money goes toward each item on the list? That would play a critical role in determining whether we run out of money at #500 or #1,294,312.Report

  29. Avatar frog in a pot says:

    The shallow liberal answer would be go for it.And guess what?Their taxes will be the same amount since no taxes go to pay for abortion.So how can you be pro-life and be pro-war AND pro-torture?
    Hmmm…they need babies born {preferably poor ones} to send to their wars for profit.When you profit from death you need new life to replace them.Cant have a deathcult without the sacrifice.Report

    • Avatar Heidegger says:

      Ah, a Communist!! Greetings fellow proletariat! “hey need babies born {preferably poor ones} to send to their wars for profit.”

      Yeah, that’s what it’s all about. Drag minorities out of their homes, schools, throw him a uniform and off the war he goes while all the rich kids go on to be doctors and lawyers and such! Sounds like the same old idiotic boilerplate the Lefties always use–and it’s lies, lies, lies! Hey jackass, in case you didn’t notice, people who join our armed forces do so on a VOLUNTARY BASIS. There is no conscription or draft involved. In the meantime, I’m going go out find the nearest DuPont manufacturing facility to protest the use of napalm. Care to join me? Time for the frog to hop back in the pot–frog legs are so delicious!Report

    • Avatar Heidegger says:

      Hey Frogger–you keep this up, I just might have to sic the honorable soldier, BlaiseP to really give you a good ass kicking!

      To so dishonorably besmirch and diminish our armed forces by suggesting they join the military only because they are poor and stupid (which is a total lie if you do your research.) SHAME ON YOU you despicable, contemptible lous. How about they join the armed forces because they LOVE their country and WANT to serve her. I doubt such sentiment could ever cross your mind. Hey, go back, drag out your bong, fill her with Mexican’s finest, an toke, toke away the day–Abbie Hoffman for president!! Dead or alive–doesn’t matter. Free H. Rap Brown! Jerry Rubin for vice-president. Huey P. Newton for sec. of defense!Report

      • Avatar Hannah says:

        You, sir, are not fun to read. Can you try to be a little less disagreeable?Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          Hello Hannah. Or is it Welcome, Hannah!

          I promise, I’ll try and be more fun. Unfortunately, I believe I’m the only commenter at this site that is involuntarily committed and confined to a State Mental Institution. And as soon as I get out of these God-awful four-point restraints, I’m going to raise hell like you’ve never seen anyone raise hell!

          If you want to visit me some time, I’d love it. Just please don’t be put off with my appearance–I get around this hospital in one of those “Silence of the Lambs” carts–depending on my behavior. If I”m a good boy they give me one of those TV dinners–remember them? Went over really big in the 50s. If I’ve been a bad boy, I get three bowls of hot steam. Better than nothing?!

          The hospital where I’m confined is Atascadero. I’m glad I have a new friend. Thanks. Who knows–maybe we’ll be married the same day you come visit me! I look forward to a long and meaningful relationship dear Hannah. Hope you don’t mind spoon-feeding me. So long, Mrs. Heidegger! You’ve saved me dear girl in ways you could never imagine. Any chance you could smuggle in a piano when you come. Thanks honey–you’re a peach!Report

          • Avatar Heidegger says:

            I forgot to mention dear Hannah, that those TV dinners they give us are over 60 years old. I’d give my right arm for a few cans of Spaghetti O’s when you visit. And I’d give my right and left arm for a banana split! Hannah, beautiful Hannah!……(hope I’m being too fast)

            “SHE walks in beauty, like the night
            Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
            And all that’s best of dark and bright
            Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
            Thus mellow’d to that tender light
            Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

            One shade the more, one ray the less,
            Had half impair’d the nameless grace
            Which waves in every raven tress
            Or softly lightens o’er her face,
            Where thoughts serenely sweet express
            How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

            And on that cheek and o’er that brow
            So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
            The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
            But tell of days in goodness spent,—
            A mind at peace with all below,
            A heart whose love is innocent.”Report

            • Avatar Heidegger says:

              Hope I’m NOT being, not being, not being, too fast. I can’t lose you over typos. Hey, just checked with an orderly–guess what—there is a chapel here!! As in, going to the chapel and we’re going to get….tell me this isn’t Fate!!

              Here is our song as we walk down the aisle! Fate, I love thee so! Again, I hope I’m not going too fast, darlin’!


      • Avatar irtnog says:

        honestly, do you know any kids who joined the military from your local high school? no doubt, some of them do so for patriotic reasons. but that patriotic urge wasn’t helping fill recruiting quotas four years ago. in reality, a lot of kids join the military because it’s will pay them a salary, house them and feed them, and require few if any skills ahead of time. that’s why there’s been no problem filling recruiting quotas for the past two years. no one’s gotten more enthusiastic about the military’s continuing role in iraq and afghanistan, but a lot of young men have decided that it’s the only way they’re likely to see a decent paycheck.

        saying this isn’t besmirching and diminishing our armed forces, it’s just stating the facts. many people LOVE their country and WANT to serve, but they often do so for economic reasons. and it’s no big surprise that the enlistment rate from families with very high incomes is low.Report

  30. Avatar Big Pimping says:

    As Kristen Schaal of the Daily Show pointed out, if you really don’t want your tax dollars going to abortions, you have to come up with a parallel currency system: Stork Bucks.–kers—stork-bucks

    Same applies to people who don’t want their money going to war, DEA raids, government-enabled prison rape, etc.Report

  31. Avatar Leslie says:

    Why should I pay for bogus wars I don’t believe in? Wars kill babies too.Report

  32. Avatar George Arndt says:

    There is both a conservative and liberal argument for funding Planned Parenthood.
    Government funding for contraception is cost effective. When poor people have more children, this requires more government funding in the long run for health care and other forms of public assistance. And many children who are born in poverty tend to not to get a college education and thus will generate less tax revenue. And they are more likely to end up in prison (which costs taxpayers 30,000 for room board and free health care every year)
    Many “pro-lifers” have no problem gutting the very programs which help poor children and their families. The far right wants the poor in this country to have more babies but have less money to pay for them. In the deep South, with high birth rates among the poor and less money to fight poverty, we have what amounts to third-world conditions.
    Most of what Planned Parenthood does is not abortion. They are SAVING the lives of mothers and their children, too by giving them a free or reduced rate health care.Report

  33. Avatar Matt says:

    I would beg to differ on one count. Some. Quakers. Pay. Taxes. As someone raised Quaker, I have known a few brave souls who did the math and sent the IRS a check for the non-military portion of their taxes, then (as per Quaker tradition) accepted the consequences.
    Within the Quaker community there is a diversity of views on the morality of paying taxes, given that a large part of tax money goes to support programs of state-sponsored murder, which we have never supported. As there is no official dogma on this point (or any point of faith), each Quaker is entitled to decide for him or herself, and to tread the line between pragmatism and cowardice.
    -Matt, Moscow, RussiaReport

  34. Avatar Mark says:

    With all due respect to many of those opposed to the current system of taxation, I find this argument rather ludicrous.

    We, all of us, live in a democracy. Yes, I know, it’s not the democracy of your grandparents and we could argue the merits of oligarchy v. socialism until Mark Levin has a stroke on live radio (something that would be rather interesting to hear – sort of like an audio car accident), but let us put aside that argument (and thoughts of Mr. Levin’s on-air demise) for another thread.

    We elect people to represent us on every level of government. These people determine the cost of our federal, state, county, parish, city, town, village, and school operations. In turn, we all pay taxes to finance their operations.

    We may not like or agree with all – emphasize ALL – of these operations. We may not like or agree with all of these politicians. We may prefer these governments only when the leaders that all of us, as Individuals (cap for emphasis), personally favor.

    Hell, we are probably still upset when Our Leaders (emphasis again) call the shots and still finance this program or that department that we despise or are told by some pundit to loathe.

    But disagreement is democracy. So is agreement. Agreement that we will abide by the rules, by our government “of, by, and for the people” whether we elected the individuals that currently occupy the seats of government or not. Whether we favor all of their decisions or not. Whether we like the current situation or not.

    Sometimes, it sucks, quite frankly. But most times, we just ignore it, because as bad as it may well be, it’s a hell of a lot better than anarchy or civil war in the streets every damn time someone disagrees with the hiring of a school superintendent, the funding of Department X, the city’s contract with the cops, or National Public Radio.

    Government is you. Government is not something “out there” – and I don’t care what Bonzo and the pundits told or tell you. So when’s the last time you made it to a city council meeting? A school board session? A town board monthly get-together? When’s the last time you voted? Not just in the Presidential election – but the off-year county or parish legislature votes? Or the annual school budget?

    It’s “of, by, and for the people”, kids. So are you taking part in your government in the most basic of ways, or, with all due respect, are you sitting around in front of a computer, whining and moaning about how government “out there” (sic) just don’t (sic) care ’bout you no more?Report

    • Avatar tom van dyke says:

      I love this “nonpartisan” cynicism. The Dems drove us into the ditch, but it always must be said first that the Reps suck worse, just on general principles.


      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Reagan created the complete disconnect between revenue and spending. Clinton, briefly, ran a surplus.. This so horrified Bush that he insisted on a tax cut and then proceeded to fight two wars completely off-budget. Yup, all the Dem’s fault.Report

        • Avatar tom van dyke says:

          If there were no such thing as Congress, this argument would make more sense.

          Clinton was fiscally responsible, tho, credit where it’s due. The GOP congress, too. Since then, presidents or Congress, meh.Report

          • Avatar Mark says:

            Yes, Tom, you caught me. It’s all an attack on Conservatives and Libertarians. Democrats and Liberals are the saints and Conservatives and Libertarians are evil. Conservatives and Libertarians are the victims and Democrats and Liberals the evil perpetrators. It’s all your or their fault.

            You are quite wise, Tom.

            Now, that you’ve fired your two volleys of “My Side Is The Victim, The Others Are Evil”, send me the paperwork, I’ll submit to such in writing, and forward it to the partisan boss or bosses of your choosing.

            Then, if you don’t mind, would you consider ditching the damn partisan sniping and self-victimization for maybe five or 10 minutes and consider that maybe two people can discuss a point without going all “Your Mama” on each other’s political and policy standings?

            I understand it’s a lot. I also understand that organizations and individuals exist on BOTH (emphasis) sides of the aisle that reward 24-7 blind defense and self-victimization of the home team and all-out word warfare on their “other” side. I understand that you and I can or do both make a few bucks working for one side or the other.

            But is it possible, just possible, to remember that the U in USA stands for United and that United, while perhaps not in policy or position, does extend to the fact that our nation, past, present, and hopefully future, has been, is, and will be comprised of people who agree to ditch the petty sniping and backbiting and find ways to live and thrive in a democracy?

            Is that too much to ask? Or am I impinging on your freedom by somehow asking you to consider something other than the schoolyard sniping?

            For Levin, add Ed Schultz. For Bonzo, add JFK. For pundits, pick both sides of the staged cockfights dubbed cable and network news. the rags, the policy houses, and the Internet.

            Side note: I listen to and read Mark Levin strictly for laughs. I grew up working with thoroughbred horses. One day, Levin, like one of those hot sires I handled as a teen, is going to throw a veritable shoe on-air. It won’t be funny. It wasn’t when I was a kid. It’s sort of like a living explosion, sans the C4, that detonates right before your eyes. And it is a pain in the butt to clean up afterward. Some people watch auto racing for the accidents; others own police scanners to visit the scenes of burning fires and fatal auto accidents.

            I listen to Levin for the self-imposed stroke and/or heart attack headed that guy’s way. Terrible of me, I know, but in these times of reality television, the pending remake of “Wonder Woman”, and Andrea Mitchell’s interviews on the “financial crisis”, one finds so little entertainment and/or credibility.Report

            • Avatar tom van dyke says:

              Bonzo, sir? You sort of deflated your bladder with that one.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Because “Kenyan Marxist” and “Northern Warmonger” [1] are well within civilized discourse, but you don’t mess with St. Reagan.

                1. And “abolitionist”, but for some reason that term has lost its sting.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                If you’re going to insert yourself into this, Mike, my objections to the sometimes likable/sometimes evil Mr. Cheeks’ signature pejoratives are on record.

                So here I am getting lectured by a faux nonpartisan who can’t keep a civil tongue in his head and you jump on my ass.


              • Avatar Mark says:

                Bladders, monkeys, and B-movies.

                Somewhere in there one can find the next blockbuster summer hit from Hollywood or MTV/Fox reality show.

                Doesn’t do much to nix all the partisan self-victimization and endless whining, but does keep the natives appeased.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                But that’s Mark Levin’s entire stock in trade. It mattereth not a whit what fresh hell looms over the horizon, we may count on The Great One to blame it on the Kenyan Marxist’s appeasing the poor and sucking up to assorted Authoritarians.

                It’s a Symphony for Single Cymbal and Mark Levin plays it every day. Well, so do a good many folks around here, too. Their endless bathos and ululations remind me of hired mourners at the funeral of an unloved relative.Report

  35. Avatar Matthew Gerring says:

    I would absolutely prefer to live in that world.

    Given everything that is required to compete in our current political system, there is not likely to be any viable candidate for any office with authority over my tax dollars who could relate to me enough to even nominally represent my circumstances and beliefs.

    As some in this thread have said already, voting for representatives is supposed to be the means through which we control how our money is spent, but my spending priorities are almost never on the ballot.

    In some states, individual citizens and corporations have the ability to enact new spending priorities, taxes, and fees through the initiative process, but the hurdles are still very high, so it’s still the case that only the measures able to gather the most money behind them have a chance of passing.

    On the other hand, even giving very coarse, general controls over where tax dollars go to taxpayers would allow any individual (or corporation) to represent themselves to the government at no cost.

    That sounds a lot more fair to me. I would be willing to accept the chaos and disruption in government. If nothing else, we would learn a lot about how the population really feels about the composition of the federal government.Report

    • Avatar Mark says:


      I take it you’ve re-dug your uncle’s backyard bomb shelter, acquired the first version, bound, leather volumes of Ayn Rand’s Collection, stocked up on C-rations, purchased the personalized howitzer, and loaded up on freshwater and ammo for those quiet nights of civil war and anarchy.

      Another possibility, just for giggles and to save a few bucks, might be to attend a series of public meetings, get involved, vote in every election, and back up your existing stake in the game. Not as sexy or as potentially violent, perhaps. Probably rather boring, staid, and slow-moving, but one hell of a lot more active, involved, and informed.

      From my experience, adults get involved, learn the game, and realize it’s not as corrupt or inept as they once believed. Children go to the mattresses, make like John Wayne wannabes, lock’n load, and keep whining about the “unfairness” and “corruption” of it all.

      To each his own, I guess.

      Good luck purchasing your own Stealth bomber.Report

      • Avatar Matthew Gerring says:

        Assuming you didn’t hit the wrong reply button, you’re barking up the wrong tree, my friend.

        I am an avid, frequent, and involved voter, and I came to my current political stance after working in politics for two years on both a volunteer and professional basis.

        I worked for the Obama campaign and was so knowledgeable about the details of his policy proposals that I was sent to a policy Q and A session for law students.

        From my experience, people get involved, realize the system is far more corrupt than they ever imagined, and either make their peace with it or drop out to do something more effective.

        I chose the latter. Good luck with the constant rationalizing and cognitive dissonance you have to go through to choose the former.

        Also- I can’t stand Ayn Rand, although I can understand why you would make that particular assumption. It sounds like you have some serious biases to revise. Not everyone who feels disenfranchised by our political system fits the same profile.Report

        • Avatar Mark says:

          As to the allegation of incorrect assumption, I enter a plea of partial guilt.

          I figured you to be either of Randian stock or, more likely, some youngster, perhaps a former or current political hack, who’d tried his/her hand at an election, found the campaign dirty tricks exciting, the policy work boring, the constituents unacceptable, and lucrative and/or more thrilling challenges elsewhere – say a hedge fund, white shoe law firm, or the latest video game.

          Color me incorrect on the former and rather accurate on the latter.

          You got a gig in college, thought it would be “cool”, found it a bore and a tough slog, and entered the barrister world. One can never have enough good lawyers, I always say.

          You’re like many before you. Thought you’d clean everything up before your 35th birthday, get a six- or seven-figure gig for a decade, and then spend the balance of your life saving whales or rediscovering your lost youth. No staying power. No stamina. No willingness to accept that, sure there’s BS, incompetence, and my personal favorite, John P. Normanson nepotism all throughout the political landscape. You’ll find crooks and criminals, do-gooders and idealists, fools and fumblers, the witty and, well, the twitty. Hang with it awhile, and you just might get a thing or two done. Make it a career and you could well realize that public service still remains exactly that for the balance of your nation.

          But quitting is so much easier. Blame others. It’s the system’s fault. Or the pols’. Or the crooks’. Never, never, is it your own lack of patience and fortitude, or you unwillingness to admit that while politics and public policy are not exactly what you saw in Wag The Dog or that stupid NBC TV show a few years back, both are still worthwhile endeavors. Boring, sure, but worthwhile.

          Just do me one favor: Ditch the damn D.C. shtick. “Cognitive dissonance” is almost as bad as “framing the message” and every damn “Gate” scandal ever invented. It’s so tired, so cliche, so Dick Carlson’s Boy in a useless sorta way. Stop typing like Frankie Luntz. Think for yourself. You can do it. I’ve got faith in you, kid.

          And I do mean…kid.Report

          • Avatar Matthew Gerring says:

            Woah. What?

            You’re embarrassingly far from the mark. Literally everything you wrote here is wrong, except for the bit at the end calling me “kid”.

            Please just back up, read what I wrote, and respond to it, instead of responding to the bizarre image you’re projecting onto me.Report

            • Avatar Mark says:

              Again, if I’m incorrect, it would be the first time.

              But please drop the cognitive dissonance shtick. It’s as bad as some paid network hack referring to “tons” of anything other than in 2,000-pound increments.Report

          • Avatar Heidegger says:

            Sigh…”Youth is wasted on the young….”Report

          • Avatar b-psycho says:

            There’s two “eh, screw it” responses to witnessing political corruption:

            -“eh, screw it, this system is hopeless”
            -“eh, screw it, I’mma extract my piece and who cares the consequences”

            Boredom has nothing to do with either.Report

  36. Avatar Boonton says:

    What’s interesting is that often the exact opposite argument is made by conservatives in relation to aid for the poor. They tell us again and again that a person who is taxed, say, $500 that goes for aid to some poor family is NOT the same as a person who voluntarily gives $500 to a charity to help the poor family. Note that this argument seems to be premised on the idea that the $500 in taxes is being imposed to help the morality of the taxpayer rather than the more pragmatic cause of helping the poor family.

    In regards to abortion, it sounds like they are trying to play it both ways. If helping the poor via the gov’t doesn’t count as the taxpayer donating to ‘charity’ then why does the gov’t funding abortions (which it doesn’t do but let’s say it does) count as the taxpayer funding them?

    A more rhetorical note might be to respond that conservatives who like to harp on the point are adopting Osama Bin Laden’s theory of citizenship. Recall that he justifies terrorism on the grounds that since civilians both pay taxes and vote (well sometimes they do) then attacking them is no different than attacking a column of troops that they are indirectly supporting.Report

    • Avatar Brendan says:

      I think conservatives DO look at $500 in taxes going to a poor family as charity, but they don’t LIKE this type of charity, as they claim they personally should be entitled to decide which charity their money goes to. For instance, many conservatives refer to programs like government welfare and food stamps as “handouts”. Well, “handout” is just a derogatory term for “charity”, but the word “handout” seems to imply a charitable donation that is given to someone who does not deserve it or is given in a manner that exacerbates a particular problem rather than solves it.

      Take welfare for example. As a side note, I personally am more liberal on an issue like this, but I am well-versed in the opposing side of the argument because my father is staunchly conservative. He believes that welfare, in the form that is now, is structured in a way that breaks up poor (mostly black) families: women have an incentive to have more children to receive more welfare money, but no incentive to marry the father(s) of the children for fear of losing their welfare eligibility. Many of the black males who are raised in such a situation, without a strong father figure, end up dead or in jail sometime in their 20s (as statistics show).

      This is not to say that my father does not believe in charity, as he does donate some of his earnings to private charities, one of them being a program that pays the tuition for poor black children who want to attend private school. This leads me to believe that conservatives (at least in my father’s case) are against government-funded “handouts” not just because they want a say over where their money goes, but also because they look at where their tax dollars go and feel that, if given the opportunity to make the funding decisions themselves, they could personally solve societal ills more effectively than the government does.

      The problem is that there is no law requiring people to donate money to private charities, but there is a law that requires everyone to pay taxes. Maybe the solution is not necessarily to allow everyone to earmark each dollar they send to the government, but to give people a choice as to how a certain percentage of their tax dollars are spent. People can choose where, say, 25% of their tax dollars go, and they can choose either a government program or a private charity. A certain percentage must go toward a program/charity that strengthens the country’s economic safety net, another percentage must go toward preventing disease, another percentage can go toward fixing whatever moral problems the citizen sees as most pressing, etc. The intended purpose of each percentage is mandated by the government, but how the money is spent to that end is left up to the taxpayer. This would also force government programs to compete with private charities, and the programs/charities that perform the best would probably get the most money.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I think it’s that they prefer “charity” to “the government doing it” because they have direct control over the strings attached to charity doing charity but less direct control over the strings attached to “the government doing it”.

        This results in the government strings being much more intrusive and disheartening than the charity’s, I think… but that’s probably a pretty strong digression.Report

        • Avatar Boonton says:

          It seems that there’s a disconnect here. Is charity by gov’t putting too many strings on people or not enough? When you complain about it increasing out of wedlock births, for example, it seems like you’re demanding more strings (such as no increase in payments for additional kids, a lifetime cap on welfare payments….which BTW is current policy).

          But then a ‘no strings’ welfare policy would look a lot like the negative income tax which sought to give everyone a base amount of cash and let them decide what to do with it (housing, food, medical care, school, booze or whatever). But the negative income tax for the poor never got off the ground because of its lack of strings.

          But for entitlements, though, a variation of the negative income tax seems to exist by pretending that people own their entitlements. Medicare cuts are ‘death panels’ and the gov’t telling people what they can’t do….when in reality almost everyone who lives more than a few years beyond 65 is taking out more in Medicare than they ever put in.

          What seems to be the case, unsurprisingly, is that people want strings on money going to ‘those other people’ but not themselves. Notice that the dismay about welfare above appears totally ignorant of the fact that many of these rules were dramatically altered under Bill Clinton’s welfare reform over a decade ago. If social security was cut 1.5% three years ago I’m sure Brendan’s father would know have known about it the moment it happened, yet he probably hasn’t kept track of anything that’s changed with ‘welfare’ since the 1980’s.

          but to give people a choice as to how a certain percentage of their tax dollars are spent

          I say no. You have a choice, it’s called voting. In reality almost none of your tax dollars really goes to anything that can be called charity. While some spending may never reach you (you may never become unemployed, you may be exceptionally healthy in your 60’s and then drop dead of a heart attack unexpectedly or you may die the day before you get your first social security check), the fact is almost all gov’t spending is either ‘insurance’ for you (against unemployment, poverty in old age or lack of medical coverage) or is stuff we have decided collectively to support (wars, national parks, the debt etc.). Almost none of it really goes to things that you can honestly call charity if you take charity to mean funds allocated to help people you are reasonably sure you will never be part a member of.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Different people want different strings.

            And adding another form to fill out or another hoop to jump through or another interview to pass is easy enough to explain to your constituents (“We want to see these benefits going to… THE CHILDREN!!!”) as well as the workers (“we’re going to need to hire another position for the office to handle this additional paperwork”) to overcome any opposition. (After all, someone who doesn’t think that Food Stamps need to be monitored to make sure that cigarettes are not purchased probably hates children or, at least, don’t care about the thought of a child going hungry.)

            While a charity has to sing for its supper all day, every day. Some charities will have these strings attached, some will have those. And people will donate to the ones that have the strings they find most attractive (and diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks).

            The gummint, by contrast, has nothing but upside when it comes to adding more and more intrusive strings.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Put another way, there are folks out there who would be *PROUD* to provide a sample for drug testing every week.

            While I, Jaybird, would pass with just as many flying colors as these people, I am opposed to drug testing (let alone weekly (!) drug testing).

            The people in the former group don’t see drug testing as particularly intrusive… or, more creepily, it’s “just intrusive enough”. It’s not seen as intrusive enough to object to and, hey, only people with stuff to hide would be opposed, right?Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          I just want to know how giving away someone else’s money can be characterized as “charity”? And Red States give away
          much, much more money to real charities than do Blue States. It’s not even close. “Average Red State Generosity Index Score = 35.37, Average Blue State Generosity Index Score = 19.45”. I don’t know if Bill and Hillary’s giving away their used underwear is included in this study.

          Nothing makes Liberals more happy than to give away other people’s money. It’s what they live for. It’s in their blood. Gives them that nice tingly feeling that they’re being more compassionate, caring, empathetic. And let’s face it: they’re complete, lying, pathetic frauds. You want a good laugh, look at the tax forms for Massachusetts. There is a special box that you can sign that will let you pay a higher tax–in more tha 7-8 years, since its inception, only a handful have ever checked the box that would allow them to pay their taxes at a higher rate! And how about billionaire John Effin Kerry? You know, they guy who served in Vietnam. The King of Frauds and Gigolos–surely you’d think he and Mama T would toss a few pennies to the unwashed, filthy masses. HA! Think again. They’re Liberals for God’s sake. Pathetic, congenital liers and hypocrites. Let them eat cake just rolls so nicely off their tongues.
          Q: What do you get when you offer a Liberal a penny for his thoughts?
          A: ChangeReport

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            WD, Mr. H—a mirror image of the lefty cant that’s taken over hereabouts.

            Except that you’re the court jester and these people take themselves seriously. And when the clowns in the court outnumber the jesters, well, a number of people have voted with their feet. Including most of management, it seems.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Except the Lefties know how to spell liar.

              There are two tiers of conversation here. There’s the thoughtful work put in by a fair number of bright people, which is why I came over here.

              And then there’s the Peanut Gallery. I’m of half a mind to write a Greasemonkey script to filter this joint so I don’t have to bear witness to about half the bullshittery.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Am I must assume, that the omniscient one, Blaise, has NEVER made a typo? I’ve seen dozens coming from you–shall I point them out when they occur? I know how you long for omniscience, but think you’re a long, long way from entering that realm.

                I mean, come on–are you really that petty?
                Such pettiness make it hard for me to believe you love Bach. I’m starting to think you are really much more about facades, appearances, hokum, obsessively needing to be reminded how great you are. And you found the right place—there are no shortages of water carriers, coat holders, boot lickers, rump swabs that will worship your every word.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Go boil your head. What’s with you carrying on about Lefties, etc. ? You’re becoming something of a waste of pixels, Heidi. Keep it up and I’ll Greasemonkey you out of my browser.

                Façade, hokum, et. al. I am a very great fan of Mr. Bach and taught all my children to play and sing his works. We were a pretty sight at my Christmas parties, kiddoes in elf costumes and me under a top hat, playing selections from the Musical Offering.

                If I am petty, it is because it’s all you give me to work with, here. I am not sure how much longer I will stick around: I tell you for a fact most of what I read in the comments ist nur Dreckscheisse. Ich bin nicht willkommen: Du hast sicher das gemacht.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Because you were a freaking soldier, and you take so lightly that Ayers had planned on setting explosives and blowing up a dance for soldiers at Fort Dix–yes, if the Greenwich Village Townhouse bombing hadn’t gone awry, the nail explosive devices that were directed at Fort Dix would have killed everyone on the same floor at Fort Dix.

                United States Soldiers, and you mock them? You freaking mock your former comrades in arms with all your disgusting, despicable bullshit lies. Your Comrades, almost got slaughtered and only Providence saved their lives and you say now, you wished they-Ayers/Dohrn had done more! I’m sorry, but you’re just a freaking nutbag terrorist. Eternal shame on your pathetic, worthless ass.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Heidegger, I’m not sure BlaiseP and his epigones get that you’re just echoing them and their vituperations. And well you’re aping it.

                Performance art is usually a monologue. Only Andy Kaufman and perhaps Charlie Sheen took “You suck” as a compliment, and the only proper response.

                I do hope BlaiseP & epigones are doing Andy Kaufman—whom I loved and did not walk out on. I thought he was great. I do hope there’s another level going on here. It would be so entirely fucking boring if their leftist cant is all there is to it.

                Even our court jester Heidegger has a certain self-awareness of his absurdities and absurdity. These other guys, I just dunno. This blog is getting very weird.Report

              • Avatar Boonton says:

                Actually everyone more or less forgot about Ayers. He kept to a quite area of politics (local education reform) that wasn’t competitive (since he didn’t run for office, there was never anyone who ran against him who had an incentive to review just exactly what he did). Like many in American history, he reinvented himself as a local do-gooder which no one ever really questioned. No doubt he was probably described now and then as an ‘ex-60’s radical’ which to most people probably meant ex-hippie. It helped also that his father had a lot of money and clout among Republicans and Democrats.

                I do agree with you that the failure of the Reagan administration to prosecute him for conspiracy to murder US soldiers allowed him to regain legitimacy. For 12 years (Reagan thru Bush I), the Republicans who ran the Justice Dept. opted to give him a pass. That was spitting on US soldiers and I wouldn’t blame you if you never voted for the GOP again because of it.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Killer app, BlaiseP, where Lefties can exclude everything they don’t want to hear. Count me in as an investor. You’re a friggin’ genius, dude.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                If only it was worth reading, Tom. If only you’d exhibit some spirit, some honest repartee, something beside this flabby prose of y’all’s, it’s like listening to John Philips Sousa played by an organ grinder with an amphetamine- addled baboon trying to dance at the end of his chain. Grow up. Write something I might want to respond to: you’re indulging my instinct for recreational cruelty with this endless shrieky crap in defense of the obviously indefensible.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                You don’t want to discuss Democrat race-baiting, BlaiseP? I don’t blame you.

                Write that killer app. I just done tore up yr Atwater, and you really don’t know why the blues is more than the last refuge of those who can’t learn more than 3 chords.


              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Have Groupies. Have FUN!Report

          • Avatar Boonton says:

            It would seem then that liberals enjoy most taking money from themselves and giving it to people in Red States.Report

          • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

            > And Red States give away much, much more
            > money to real charities than do Blue States.
            > It’s not even close.

            > Average Red State Generosity Index Score =
            > 35.37, Average Blue State Generosity Index
            > Score = 19.45?

            Since I never got an actual citation out of Tom on the previous thread where this came up, can you provide this? (I like the qualification of “real charities”).

            The fact that you have hard numbers here leads me to believe you’re reading ’em from somewhere.Report

            • Avatar Heidegger says:

              I shall indeed, Pat–(am off to pick oranges and cotton) And I promise the citation will NOT be the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine!

              Do you know that it was only you and Mr. TDodd that got those jokes we were throwing around re OISM. I still, to this day, laugh at that very, very funny line of yours! See ya later. HReport

  37. Avatar Kyle says:

    On one unserious hand, judging by federal borrowing habits, it’s probably just as likely that China and not your tax dollars is paying for baby killers which let’s face it is not ridiculously out of character.

    On the other, more serious, hand while individuals have no particular right to see their taxes spent in particular ways, I’m sympathetic to the idea that fairly large minority groups of people can legitimately claim harm in the government using tax revenue for state supported life deprivation.

    To the former idea, allowing individuals to completely earmark tax revenue – though it need not be dysfunctional – would essentially turn the government into a network of quasi-legitimate non-profits. This could be good, could be bad, I don’t know but it isn’t and wouldn’t be government in any real way.

    However, few things are as irrevocable as death and the protection of life is of such prime religious and secular importance that ones right to life and by extension right not to be deprived of said life arbitrarily by authority that it’s the first inalienable right recognized in the declaration of independence and implicitly a justification for separation from the state. I think there’s something legitimate in recognizing the literal importance of life and death as being something that deserves higher scrutiny than perhaps regular legislation – precisely because it implicates the whole of the Republic.

    I also think that there are practical benefits to appeasing large blocs of very passionate people fighting for moral causes – that they view as more important than the state – for the sake of social/governmental stability.

    I didn’t get a chance to skim all of the comments so maybe some of this has come up already.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

      > I’m sympathetic to the idea that fairly large minority
      > groups of people can legitimately claim harm in the
      > government using tax revenue for state supported
      > life deprivation.

      I’m sympathetic to it too. I’m fairly unconvinced that we can have a uniform method of addressing this, though.

      For one thing, you don’t get to decide standing. The government does, and there’s obvious troubles with that.

      For another thing, “fairly large” is tricky. There’s also problems of establishment there: if “fairly large” group of religious persons claim harm and get address, but “slightly less than fairly large” group doesn’t… ick.Report

  38. Avatar NoPublic says:

    I used to have the “money is fungible” discussion back when we were shipping grain to Russia. It never went very far then either. It’s only relevant these days if you’re making the point from a right-wing slant. Because everyone knows that only left-wing causes are morally indefensible.Report

    • Avatar Boonton says:

      The problem with the fungible money discussion is that it’s a very mushy idea that should not be made unless some ground rules are set in place beforehand.

      One sensible rule IMO is that money that is exchanged should cease to be considered as belonging to the original person….. For example, if a school teacher teaches for a month, earns $4,000 and then gives $50 to a political group lobbying for increased teacher pay, that isn’t the taxpayer ‘paying for’ lobbying against the tax payer. The money ceased to belong to the taxpayer the moment the teacher finished her teaching for the month…just like if the guy you pay to fix your roof spends his money on porn and beer, well that’s his money the moment the last nail was driven.

      Likewise if I’m buying something, I’m paying only for that something. If I pay a ticket to see a movie in a theater, I’m paying for that movie and not some other movie the owner may show later in the year….even if the owner uses the ‘profits’ from one movie to show the other at below cost.

      Conservatives, though, enjoy a odd type of socialism where they try to lay claim to 100% ownership whenever a single penny is provided. If Museum A gets a $5,000 grant to show some Van Gough painting that is touring the country, then everything that is ever displayed there for the rest of time is being ‘supported by taxpayers’ even if the place’s operating budget is $50 million a year. But this only works when they want it to work. I don’t get to tell BP not to drill in the ocean because I filled my car up at a BP station a few times last year.

      In other words money is indeed fungible but the line between my wallet and your wallet is NOT. When it leaves one wallet and hits another the money may be as fungible as you care to pretend but where it lands isn’t. Where fungible does matter is when we are talking about accounting. The Social Security Trust fund, for example, is fungible in the sense that sometimes it makes sense to talk about it as though it’s real and other times it makes sense to talk about it as though its fiction. It’s really both in the same way your kid’s allowance is both a real thing that represents money that goes from you to them but is also just a label you put on spending that’s really your own.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Eh, it’s not limited to that. Remember the objections to “faith-based initiatives”? Good times.Report

        • Avatar Boonton says:

          I don’t object provided it’s clear you’re paying for a secular good (i.e. a soup kitchen).Report

        • Avatar F says:

          Many of the objections to faith-based initiatives were rooted in the fact of the government directly paying for goods and services for citizens in which religious material were delivered as part and parcel of the purchase. It has less to do with what religious groups did with the money we gave them than the fact that part of the service being provided included that religious component.Report