Poor people don’t call the shots
There’s an interesting back-and-forth going on between Charles Davis and Radley Balko (with E.D. also offering a few cents of his own) over whether or not it’s a wise idea to link income tax rebates for the poor with overall government spending. Davis, in a word, did not like this idea (actually, his antipathy was expressed in two words: fucking bullshit); and saw it as a byproduct of the mistaken assumption that programs for the poor are the primary causes of government growth and debt.
Apparently Balko found Davis’s response to be uncharitable and various other things that are not nice at all, and then there was much frowning and shoving and hurt feelings that transpired between the two over Twitter and Davis’s comment thread. To be sure, this is all par for the course when it comes such things.
In the interest of addressing Balko’s complaints more professional-like as well as clarifying his reason for disagreement, Davis has taken to his blog once more and penned the amusingly titled, “Someone on the Internet is wrong!” Brush aside all the background and the tit-for-tat, and this is the nub of Davis’s position:
Reducing the amount that poor households receive in tax rebates so that they “at least feel the bite of” of any future growth in government spending, as Balko writes in his tax day post and which Kain supports in his comment above, is asking them to feel the bite of spending that won’t actually benefit them. And while I’m all for awareness raising, those households poor enough to qualify for a tax rebate are the least able to afford a $1,500 reduction in their income, especially in a time of high unemployment and stagnant wages. So yes, let’s make Social Security and Medicare taxes more progressive, as both Kain and Balko would like to do, but let’s not play games with the rebates poor households receive. The vast majority of Americans already oppose America’s wars and asking poor people to share the pain of such government spending that, again, doesn’t benefit them — to say nothing of the vast majority of “government services” that serve the rich, from intellectual property to corporate personhood, but don’t show up as budget items come appropriations time — strikes me as a pointless and potentially harmful attempt to address a problem that proponents of the reform haven’t really demonstrated exists.
I’m going to agree with this. In general, I’m not fond of the strain that I see sometimes in politics (on the right and left) that advocates policies which are kind of paternalistic in essence, whether it’s the “save you from yourself” kind or the “learn the consequences of your actions” kind. Let’s just try to do our best not to use the law to teach lessons, and simply focus on creating policy with first-degree benefits. Inflicting pain on the assumption that it will inevitably lead to better behavior doesn’t even work for training dogs, so why think it’ll work any better for human beings?
Davis then zooms out to look at how a lot of these kinds of policy ideas are founded upon an implicit assumption of power dynamics that is askew, assuming that public policy is largely determined based off of the whims and fickle passions of the thoughtless masses:
In his next 140-character message to me, though, Balko pretty much validated [my] “superficial” critique, writing that “there’s substantial support in low-income tax brackets for many programs you list [in your piece], including wars [and] stadium subsidies.” The dubious premise, again: poor people who don’t pay taxes are responsible for the growth in state power and government spending.
First, two-thirds of the public supports bringing the troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. More to the point, though, does anyone actually believe that things like wars and long-term military occupations are fought at the behest of the voting poor? Or that ballparks are built for corporate sports teams, not because the rich people who own them have a lot of money with which to buy political influence, but because poor people want their neighborhoods destroyed so people from the suburbs can enjoy a ball game and a $9 hot dog?
At the risk of making a personal attack, what if not “superficial” can you call the belief that the state invades countries and gives corporations billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded welfare because that’s what voters — poor voters, no less — want?
I don’t really understand where the idea that “the masses” — generally considered to be the poor and not-so-educated — are the ones running things ’round here comes from (besides Ayn Rand’s novels and Nietzsche’s less engaging rants…and most episodes of “The Simpsons” that deal with politics). Certainly any fair-minded look at government expenditures would lead one to conclude something quite different; and, moreover, that something (the state is overwhelmingly geared towards satisfying the rich and powerful) would be far more in keeping with the history of the state as it’s always been.
(x-posted at Flower & Thistle)