Get Your Free Stuff Right Over Here!

John McCumber

John McCumber is a cybersecurity executive, retired US Air Force officer, and former Cryptologic Fellow of the National Security Agency. In addition to his professional activities, John is a former Professorial Lecturer in Information Security at The George Washington University in Washington, DC and is currently a technical editor and columnist for Security Technology Executive magazine. John is the author of the textbook Assessing and Managing Security Risk in IT Systems: a Structured Methodology

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68 Responses

  1. Philip H says:

    When I moved from DC to Mississippi I took a 5% pay cut due to loss of locality pay. I am doing much much better here in many ways – and I did well there too. So yes, location matters. The real estate people got it right.

    What you are missing here is that this is NOT just a debate about how much is spent – though repealing the Trump tax Cut will in fact reel money back in from the top 1% and corporations – the debate is HOW it should be spent. We “choose” to fund roughly $790 Billion a year for “defense” which encumbers a whole bunch of the agencies you work with. The President, on behalf of beleagured Americans (many of whom are either on out right strikes now, or leaving the workforce until they are better paid) has drawn a line and said we should spend half that much on things like paying people to take care of our elderly, and making sure everyone has better internet, ad lowering our national carbon foot print so we stave off the huge economic bill for the climate crisis.

    And bluntly – I would much rather my taxes go for that sort of thing then a bloated military-industrial complex that managed to fritter $1Trillion away in Afghanistan. And its worth noting that while the top 1% may indeed pay more absolute dollars in taxes, their effective tax rate has been driven consistently down over the last 40 years under the lie of Trickle Down (

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Philip H says:

      But none of this addresses the fact that politicians regularly lie about who will be taxed to pay for X, and about the ability of that group to realistically pay for X.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Philip H says:

      You’re comparing total military spending to a proposed increase in social spending. Total social spending already utterly dwarfs military spending. Government spending on health care alone is twice what it spends on the military. Long term, military spending is down from over 30% of total (federal, state, and local) government spending in the 60s to just under 10% in 2019.

      The debate really is over total spending, not allocation of spending. The Democrats are not proposing to fund this new spending by cutting military spending. As far I can tell, they’re not proposing any military cuts at all.

      And its worth noting that while the top 1% may indeed pay more absolute dollars in taxes, their effective tax rate has been driven consistently down over the last 40 years under the lie of Trickle Down

      The chart on the web page you linked doesn’t actually show much of a decrease over the past 40 years. Here’s a table with the actual data for all five quintiles and the top 1%. If you look at the actual data, you’ll see that the top 1% pay the most in federal taxes not only in total dollars, but also as a percentage of income.

      Furthermore, while average federal tax rates for the top 1% show no consistent long-term trend, you can see a clear long-term downward trend in average federal tax rates for the bottom four quintiles (aside from the jump in 2013 due to the end of the payroll tax holiday).

      If you feel entitled to more, then own it. Just stop lying.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Incidentally, the reason this happens with the tax rates is that, contrary to what the hacks in the media try to insinuate, Republican tax bills usually cut taxes across the board. Then when Democrats get back into power, they raise taxes on the top 1-5% but leave the tax cuts on the bottom 95% in place, or even cut their taxes further. The end result is that taxes on the very top go up and down depending on who’s in power, while taxes on the bottom 95% pretty consistently go down. Aside from the expiration of the payroll tax holiday, the last significant middle-class tax increase was the payroll tax increase in 1986.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Huh. I actually had the history of the Social Security tax wrong. I was under the impression that there had been a sharp increase in 1986, but in fact the tax rate had increased fairly steadily every 1-3 years at an average of about 1.2 (x2) percentage points per decade between 1950 and 1990. There was no sharp jump, and the increase in the 80s was not especially large.Report

      • Philip H in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        You’re comparing total military spending to a proposed increase in social spending. Total social spending already utterly dwarfs military spending. Government spending on health care alone is twice what it spends on the military. Long term, military spending is down from over 30% of total (federal, state, and local) government spending in the 60s to just under 10% in 2019.

        You are being too cute by half. You and I both know that the bulk of military spending is on the discretionary side of the sheet – the bulk of the healthcare spending is on the mandatory side of the sheet. Biden is proposing additional discretionary social support spending. and i made the comparison because it happens to be a neat way to look at the magnitude of “too much spending.”

        So yes, the debate is over the allocation of discretionary spending. Mandatory spending won’t ever be cut – neither Republicans nor Democrats have the stomach for that, and frankly its a self limiting problem as the baby boomers die costs will go down. Republicans do like to demagogue on it though.

        As to your other people’s money comment – its my money too. I want it spent differently then it is. I want the rich – who can afford it – to pay more, especially for the things their much beloved capitalism inflicts on the rest of us. I’ve never hidden any of that, so I’m not sure what you think I’m lying about.Report

        • Pinky in reply to Philip H says:

          The rich people’s money is yours?Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Pinky says:

            No, it belongs to the indigenous people.

            The government expropriated it then distributed it to the proletariat through a land reform scheme. They even made a tv show about it starring Michael Landon.Report

          • Philip H in reply to Pinky says:

            It actually belongs to the labor that created it for them. That Jeff Bezos keeps the vast majority of it rather then sharing it – or returning it to the broader community that supports him via taxation – is the problem.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Philip H says:

              I’d go further, to say that the idea that Jeff Bezos owns ANY of the wealth created by Amazon is a political question, to be determined by the collective body.

              It’s not like on the 8th day of creation God reached out and wrote “This here land belongs to Jeff”.

              The establishment of land rights, and legal recognition of contracts are all political structures erected by the people for our use and benefit.

              I deliberately write in confrontational tones to challenge the idea that the distribution of wealth is just some unassailable artifact of nature.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to Philip H says:

          I see this rhetorical swindle a lot, where someone will act like “mandatory” spending doesn’t really count in order to “prove” that military spending is more than a fraction of government social spending. The only difference between the two is that “mandatory” spending is on auto-pilot and “discretionary” spending has to be reauthorized every year. Really, “mandatory” is a misnomer—programmatic spending is a more accurate way to describe it.

          Anyway, this difference is not nearly as important as you’re trying to imply that it is. A lot of discretionary spending is basically untouchable, too. Democrats can’t just say “We’re not going to have a military this year” and zero out military spending. In fact, Biden’s proposed budget doesn’t cut it at all.

          That said, even though it doesn’t really matter because the distinction is largely meaningless, you’re wrong about the spending bill being an increase in discretionary spending. It’s scheduling new multi-year spending programs, which means that most of the new spending would be classified as mandatory spending.

          That aside, let’s be clear about this: When you said, “What you are missing here is that this is NOT just a debate about how much is spent,” that was objectively wrong. Democrats are proposing $3.5 trillion† in new spending over the next ten years. They are proposing funding this with higher taxes, not with cuts to other spending. Republicans are not proposing $3.5 trillion in new military or other spending. This is absolutely a dispute over the level of spending.

          You’re lying by insinuating that there’s some meaningful sense in which rich people don’t pay as much in taxes as you do.

          As to your other people’s money comment – its my money too. I want it spent differently then it is. I want the rich – who can afford it – to pay more, especially for the things their much beloved capitalism inflicts on the rest of us.

          Leftists really are economic incels.

          † Actually more like $5 trillion; the proposal games the cost estimates by scheduling some of the more expensive provisions to end sooner, but the plan is to extend them indefinitely.Report

  2. JAK says:

    Money and property are both products of the state. The idea that government distribution of wealth gives some people “free” stuff at the expense of others is blind to this simple reality.

    Individuals are, simply put, incapable of creating wealth without the apparatus of the state. As Thomas Paine put it in Agrarian Justice:

    “Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.”Report

    • Philip H in reply to JAK says:

      interesting perspective. Libertarians seem to think otherwise.Report

    • Reformed Republican in reply to JAK says:

      I would disagree with Paine. Put a man on an island, and he possesses the island and everything on it, without a state. If he builds shelter, tools, grows crops or herds animals, he is building wealth.

      Is there a an upper limit to the amount of wealth that can be generated by one person? Yes. By combining resources and specializing, the sum total of wealth that can be generated is greater than what can be created by the sum of the individuals. However, that is not due to the apparatus of the state, it is due to the cooperation of the individuals.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to JAK says:

      I’ve taken to calling it the Third Actor Agency Problem.

      Notice how the essay proceeds from the premise that the property rights are defended, contracts adjudicated and judgement enforced.

      Notice the passive voice. Who is doing all this defending, adjudicating, enforcing? The government of course, the third actor in any engagement.

      And most importantly, does the government have the right to say no? Does it have the right to set terms and conditions on its servitude?Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

        No, it doesn’t, because the government MUST be the servant. I mean, we call the agents of the government “public servants”.

        And the whole reason we can is because being part of the government is voluntary.Report

        • Philip H in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          The government must be the servant of all, not just parties to a transaction. As such, yeah government must have agency in these situations to intervene against one or all parties if doing so promotes the greater good.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Philip H says:

            But it remains a servant. It’s agency needs to be limited as much as possible while still permitting it to function.

            Did we all not read about the judge in TN last week, one exercising her own agency to abuse children under the color of law? I just read this morning about a school in Hawaii that called the police on a 10 year old girl because she drew a picture of her bully, and the police arrested the girl and interrogated her with her mother present.

            I know you and Chip have this idealized image of government agents exercising their agency for the greater good, but that ignores that those agents have a considerable scope of opinions as to what constitutes the greater, or the public, good. I’m sure that juvenile judge in TN thought she was exercising her agency for the greater good.

            We regularly have posts and conversations about the fallout of some agent of government exercising agency in a terrible way, and yet there is still this idea that they should have more?

            Trusting to the agency of the employees of government is a cop-out, it’s a dodge because crafting smart, effective policies is hard, and sometimes near impossible to get right. It the hope that where the legislators get it wrong, the bureaucracy will get it right(-er). And sometimes it does. And sometimes it gets it horribly wrong.

            And let’s face it, we’ve created a system where the incentives benefit those who are really good at politics, and frankly not much else. So hoping that the agents who can exercise agency will do so by placing the good of the citizen, or the greater good of the public, ahead of what is good for them personally, is the anomaly, not the norm.

            So no, the agents should have very limited agency, and the public should be very careful about what agency is permitted to them.Report

            • Philip H in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              I so appreciate that my work, and the work of my 12,000 NOAA colleagues is so easily reduced to derogatory platitudes for you. Likewise the EPA and USDA and most of Interior. My image of government agents exercising their agency for the greater good comes from two decades of personal experience working across all levels of government. Its not idealistic.

              Government is not some mythical other creature – its Americans of a variety of backgrounds doing good hard work society claims to want done. We don’t do it for the pay or the fame or the glory – and frankly politics doesn’t enter into it at the career civil servant level either. The incentives for my success that exist as a civil servant in the Biden Administration existed in the Trump administration. The barriers to success do as well. My agency can’t succeed because – bluntly – we have $12B or so in congressional mandates with a $5B budget. Failure for us is backed into the system.

              Your beef isn’t with career civil servants at most levels (that TN judge is a real exception tot he rule FYI). Your beef (and mine) is with the politicians who set the boundary conditions for the civil service to succeed. Lousy boundary conditions generally equals lousy results. Garbage in – Garbage out.Report

              • J_A in reply to Philip H says:

                I would point out that, in principle, Oscar is [was] expected to exercise his own agency on behalf of [Boeing] and its shareholders, under the general policies that the Boeing Board of Directors and the Boeing C-Suite executives crafted.

                And because it is difficult for the elected Boeing Board of Directors and the Boeing C-Suite executives to direct every detail of the organization, they hope that the Boeing employees will get the details right-er. Sometimes they won’t (Hello, 737 MAX) and we will all know about it. Most times they will, and we will call that a Wednesday.

                I would be surprised if Oscar is arguing that Boeing’s agents should have very limited agency, and the Boeing shareholders/board should be very careful about what agency is permitted to them. But I have been surprised by my fellow humans beforeReport

              • Phjil;ip H in reply to J_A says:

                Just remember – private sector ALWAYS right (though not good or just). Government ALWAYS wrong, even if good or just. Its a great rubric to parse most anything around here.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Phjil;ip H says:

                Who has the greater power, government or private corporations/persons?

                I get real tired of saying this over and over, but the libertarian perspective is not Corps Good, Government Bad. It’s Concentrated power is bad, and government has more concentrated power than corps do. It’s like facing off against a guy with a gun, and a guy with just fists, one of those two will command more of your attention than the other.

                And if the guy with a gun is, say, a cop, who can pull that trigger and probably get to sleep in his own bad that night…Report

              • InMD in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                In fairness you do run into the issue of government capture by powerful private interests.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to InMD says:

                Yep, which creates the catch-22 of a government powerful enough to keep powerful private interests in check is one that is powerful enough for private interests to try and capture; conversely, a government whose power is diffuse enough to not be worth capturing will struggle mightily to keep powerful private interests in check.

                So you need the cop with a gun, but you still need to keep an eye on the cop with the gun, because he has a gun, and not the best track record of using that gun wisely (while also keeping an eye on the people who want to control that cop). Who knew that being a good sovereign collective was so much work?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Philip H says:

                I never said I had a beef with civil servants as a group (way to NOT give me a charitable reading, btw). Most civil servants don’t have anything resembling power over their fellow citizens (you don’t hear about NOAA scientists abusing authority with weather satellites). To take J_A’s point below, they follow the edicts of their appointed heads and produce work to satisfy those edicts. Those edicts constrain the agency of the employees to a degree (you can’t just take budget provided by tax payers and go spend it how you want, even if you spend it on something that is part of NOAAs mission). Same as when I worked for Boeing, or as I work for Siemens now. I was obligated to follow instructions within the constraints of my profession (oh, hey, another constraint on agency – an engineer has to follow good engineering practices, and they have to report safety concerns to the regulatory body).

                When I talk about constraining the agency of civil servants, it’s mostly as a question of enforcement. We wouldn’t want an enforcement agent just deciding to crack down on a person or group for kicks and giggles. Or deciding to not take action against an entity for hiding safety issues.

                They are both obligated and constrained by policy and law as to how and when they can/should take an enforcement action.Report

        • Brandon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Alphabet? Intel? I don’t call these agents of the government “public servants.”

          The Alphabet Agencies are rather skilled at finding ways to make their interference legal.

          Or are you talking idealized government?Report

        • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Does the collective body of citizens have the right to say “No”, or set the terms and conditions of their participation?

          For example, do the citizens have the right to say “we refuse to enforce any contract involving a minor “?Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

            The collective has whatever rights and powers it chooses to, the agents of that collective do not.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              So the collective delegates power to its agents, such as empowering judges and police to adjudicate and enforce.

              And the collective does this according to its own agency and whims.

              “We choose to enforce this contract but not that one, to support this property claim but not that one.”Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Sure, just ask Kelo.

                However, the collective does not make such choices about individual cases. The collective creates policies about what kinds of claims are enforced, and which ones are not, and the agents of the collective are bound to obey those policies, with (ideally) little room to exercise their personal agency over such decisions.

                You keep doing this motte & bailey with respect to the agency of the collective and the agency of agents of the collective. The collective as a whole is sovereign. The agents of the collective are not.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                The collective as a whole is sovereign. The agents of the collective are not.

                I agree wholeheartedly.

                But then connecting this back to the essay, the sovereign collective body is free to demand that, in return for recognizing Chip’s property claim, that Chip pays a higher tax than Oscar.

                There’s nothing inherently unjust about this. It is debatable, as all things are, but not inherently unjust.

                The sovereign body isn’t “taking Chip’s stuff” because they were the ones to give it to him in the first place.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                I’m not saying it’s unjust (might not be a good idea, but that is a different question). The thing about your 3rd Agent problem (it’s an agent problem, not an agency problem) is that it has three requirements (that I can think of):
                1) The agent is constrained by the will of the collective. It can not act or yield power the collective have not granted it.
                2) The collective can not alter existing agreements without paying a cost.
                2) The agent (and the collective) must respect the right of exit. Should the collective alter the policies by which the agent may act, individuals must be free to exit the domain of the collective (i.e. you don’t like it, move to Somalia).Report

              • PHilip H in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                1) cops. enough said?
                2) The collective in the US very much wants a lot of existing agreemtns altered – and in their favor – but Congress and the White House disagrees no matter who is in power.
                3) no I have read (especially here) is arguing AGAINST exit. Id be thrilled if the bad apple cops were driven out of law enforcement by vaccine mandates. But until liberals and leftists stop being called told to leave because we want to teach honest American history you might want to sit on this one a bit.Report

              • Pinky in reply to PHilip H says:

                Remind me why cops get an “enough said”, but any other criticism of government is an indictment of the fine people at NOAA.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to PHilip H says:

                You are thinking too specific.

                1) Cops are a fine example of point 1 breaking down.
                2) And the collective can, but it will incur a cost. The collective should be very cognizant of that cost before deciding to alter the terms.
                3) Frankly, I agree with you, a whole lot of people should exit, both professions and the country. WA state just lost a whole bunch of proud civil servants who couldn’t be bothered to get a shot.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                The football coach wasn’t that good anyway.Report

  3. Rufus F. says:

    This, too, is cynicism.Report

  4. Pinky says:

    “Offering “free stuff” products and services to 51% or more of the electorate while vilifying opponents is a tactic as old as human government.”

    Forgive me if this is a nitpick, but I don’t think it is. The idea of a government pleasing the majority is pretty new (or at least rare enough in history to be new on a vast scale). The usual is to take from the 93% to benefit the 7%. The idea that we can have a spoiled, privileged majority class living off the work of a minority, that’s radical.

    There are two things at work here. One, that the people in power will game the system to get more of what they want. Pretty common. Two, that the majority is in power. Fairly rare. Combine them, and you’ve got a majority gentry class. I don’t think that’s ever been tried.Report

    • Brent F in reply to Pinky says:

      There’s a common idea that voting unearned privileges and welfare for the underclass is how Classical Mediterranean democracies fell.

      Despite that well, never happening, ever. At all.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Pinky says:

      The practice may not be old… but the strategy of garnering support (or at least minimizing dissent and upheaval) by making such promises may indeed stretch back.Report

    • North in reply to Pinky says:

      That’s a very good catch and I agree. Government catering to its majority is a very new concept in historic human government terms though it’s quite venerable now in absolute individual timescales.Report

  5. Saul Degraw says:

    Warmed over Reganism-Thatercism refuses to die and now thinks bitcoin is the savior.

    I am perplexed about how many libertarians will slag on Marxists (real or imagined) for wanting to create a society that never existed and going against human nature. Yet it seems to me that lots of libertarians also want to create a society that never existed and one that is based on their imagination of what think think John Locke would have created if given the chance.

    This is a world well beyond John Locke’s level of technology and sophistication. There have also been services offered by the state in exchange for taxes in every society. People generally seem to like this way of being. Yet libertarians bang on and on about how horrible it is because muh taxes.Report

  6. J_A says:

    I’m not sure I can see the difference between public services and free stuff. Perhaps someone would care to enlighten me

    Are roads free stuff? What about police? Firefighters? stormwater drainage?

    I also do not understand this voluntary thing about being part of/under the government the that Oscar mentions above. For instance, I did not voluntarily agree to fund flood insurance for houses inside the 1,000 year flood plain or in the path of hurricanes. And yet, every day in HGTV I see shows about million dollar beach houses being subsidized by my tax dollars. Let them get their own insurance if they want to live there.

    And for sure I did not agree to invade Afghanistan. Where’s my refund?Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

      Politicians and government employees are not obligated to work for the government, hence there is no moral/ethical issue if their agency is limited with respect to their duties as a government employee. I say this about cops all the time, and these days about a lot of other people (e.g. folks who don’t like employer vaccines mandates). If you don’t like the perfectly reasonable and legal restrictions your employment places upon you, no one is forcing you to work there.Report

      • J_A in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        Oscar, with [really, for real] all due respect, I think we are talking past each other. Some of it is my fault, not understanding your post, some yours, perhaps not not being clear enough.

        This is a post allegedly about the 51% voting itself free stuff. Stuff allegedly paid for by taxing the 49% unfairly. Stuff that the 49% didn’t agree to pay for, or not to carry an unfair share of the cost.

        We have all heard variations of that claim. It’s Libertarianism 101.

        My question, again, is, what is free stuff, and what is public services. Services I do not use, like a riot control trucks in Minnesota, , or a jet fighter, or insurance for beach houses in the FL Panhandle, I’d rather not pay for. But apparently I’m not entitled to a refund for those, because those are “public services”. Someone voted itself a bunch of goodies on my dime.

        On the other side, I’m happy to pay for more renewable energy, or for a bigger budget for NOAA, or for maternity AND paternity leave. But those are deemed “free stuff”, and it’s very unfair that Americans would have to pay for those.

        And i really do not see the difference between my free stuff and someone’s public services. It’s all things that as Americans we have, through a very convoluted system that I also not fully approve of, have agreed to set up and pay for.Report

        • Philip H in reply to J_A says:

          And i really do not see the difference between my free stuff and someone’s public services. It’s all things that as Americans we have, through a very convoluted system that I also not fully approve of, have agreed to set up and pay for.

          Exactly. We the collective citizenry have instructed our government through our elected representatives that this is what we want. And we have yet to actually instruct our government through those same representatives to take anything off the table. So it needs paid for. Right now we do that – again collectively – on a massive credit card. And we back that card with taxes. If you don’t want to be taxed for the services you demand you have a problem.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

          Regarding your first point, that’s a question of agency which is not actually related to the OP, but I think we got that cleared up.

          As for the free stuff, my take on the OP was less about ‘free stuff’ and more about politicians proposing large spending that benefits all, or a minority,, and promising to pay for it by increasing the taxes on a different minority (as the opposite of majority, rather than racial or ethnic). If the fed wants to go on a massive infrastructure spending spree (and frankly, they should, it’s needed), then the tax hike should be across the board and they need to sell it.

          If they can’t sell it on it’s merits, then they need to look at existing spending and where money can be taken from. But selling it by promising to only tax group X is disingenuous. And probably as effective as Trump promising to get Mexico to pay for his wall.

          In addition, oftentimes, the claim that a given spending can be paid for taxing X is a bald faced lie, because there is no reasonable way for X to be taxed sufficiently to pay for the project (something the CBO and other tax policy orgs often point out).

          It’s a way to play groups off each other, and right up there with politicians blaming one demographic for, say, an increase in crime in order to drum up funding for police, when the reality is that the demographic isn’t to blame, only a very tiny subset of a bunch of demographics are.Report

          • Philip H in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            According to Treasury, properly enforcing existing tax law nets $168B in revenue. In addition reversing the 2017 tax cuts nets $170B annually. That pays for the $350B annually in the Build Back Better legislation and is a striaght forward solution Sure, we will still be in a deficit, but that’s been along time coming and won’t be reversed for a long time either.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Philip H says:

              I posted a link downthread that says that.

              I have no problem with Biden coming out and saying, Hey, we are going to crack down on tax cheats who don’t follow the law as it exists. But raising taxes before you get that enforcement problem solved won’t actually get you the revenue you desire, and it will force a tax hike on the middle class, because the middle class is less likely to dodge taxes.Report

    • Pinky in reply to J_A says:

      I won’t try to give a precise definition, but there are two concepts I find valuable.

      First is the public good, which Wikipedia defines as “a good that is both non-excludable and non-rivalrous. For such goods, users cannot be barred from accessing or using them for failing to pay for them. Also, use by one person neither prevents access of other people nor does it reduce availability to others.”

      The second concept is the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, which is a bias toward solving a social problem at the lowest possible level.

      Your examples – Roads can be excludable and rivalrous, so probably don’t make it as public goods. But realistically, a person can only do so much (like, a driveway) before the individual’s costs become absurd and the benefits become shared. So I can see them as a public service. Likewise storm drainage. Police and firefighters are similar, but it’s impractical to have multiple emergency services like cell phone companies. Flood insurance is a tough one, because of moral hazard, but once a flood occurs, it’s doubtful that a local area can recover without broader help. As for defense and wars, to the extent that they’re successful they provide benefit to all in a way that no one can be excluded from, and despite my ongoing dispute with the House of York, personal wars are usually impossible.Report

  7. J_A says:

    Engaging a bit on the actual original post, I am surprised to see the author trotting out the canards of “the progressive rates of the income tax are unfair”.

    If Jeff Bezos paid 40% of this income in taxes, it would be an enormous amount, certainly. But, ignoring for a moment that he probably pays no more than 5% of so in real life (a guess), given that, unlike me, Bezos income is not really only what it is in his W2, 60% of what Bezos makes will be more than enough for him to buy a new mansion every day, and a new helicopter every week. At some point, Bezos, or even me, who actually pays over 30% of my gross income in federal income taxes, run out of things to spend money in, and we just save the excess.

    On the other hand, the people we are criticizing here, those who are not carrying their fair share, like that Amazon warehouse employee or Prime driver, at the end of the year do not have excess money to save, or even any disposable income to buy a single family helicopter. I mean, these people might want ME, and Bezos, to pay for bus routes so they can go to work. And roads. They want ME and Bezos to pay for roads, roads that neither ME nor Bezos will ever drive on. I, for sure, never consented for those roads to be built.

    Further, we hear that -again- “61% of people do not pay [federal income tax]”, while the author conveniently elides any mention of state taxes, sales taxes, and payroll taxes.

    And yet, for some reason, I only pay payroll taxes on roughly 25% of my gross income. Bezos pays payroll taxes on such a small fraction of his income, that it probably shows as 0.00% in his W2. But that’s not a benefit that share croppers, Walmart greeters, port stevedores, or nurse assistants enjoy. I wonder why. A similar thing happens to sales taxes. Since barely 10-15% of my income is used to buy food/clothes/cars/jewelry/60″TVs/yachts, sales taxes are barely an issue to me. I’m sure that’s the same for the 61% of the people, those that don’t pay income tax, because if those taxes were in any way relevant to those people, the author would have mentioned those.Report

  8. LeeEsq says:

    When did politicians offer free stuff? Most welfare state advocates are pretty forward about the high taxes needed to support public services. The idea of politicians bribing the public with free stuff is something that exists in the mind and not reality.Report

    • Pinky in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think it’s more the idea politicians offer some people free stuff (and generally more people than those they recommend higher taxes for).Report

      • Jesse in reply to Pinky says:

        If we head the wealth distribution of Germany or 1970’s America, I’d be for higher taxes on the middle class. In the end, we do need higher taxes to pay for a social democratic welfare state long-term, but we can worry about that once the rich are correctly taxed.Report

        • Philip H in reply to Jesse says:


        • Jaybird in reply to Jesse says:

          An interesting observation:

          Personally, I’d prefer getting rid of loopholes (even some of the so-called “loopholes”) to raising the rates.Report

  9. Michael Cain says:

    Less “free stuff” than that any complex modern society is going to have to worry about the question of establishing a floor under outcomes.Report