27 January 2012

Unexpected Things from the Left

People whose political leanings are obvious, tend to be equally obvious in their proclamations. Republicans talk about tax cuts, deregulation, God and the flag. Liberals like me talk about regulation, fair taxation, effective government programs, freedom of speech, etc. So every once in a while I think it's a good idea for people from one side of the aisle to talk about ideas they like from the other side. Here are a few of mine.

Corporate taxation. Liberals love the idea of taxing corporations, because many on the left see it as some sort of punishment to inflict on institutions we see as inherently evil. I couldn't disagree more. First of all, corporations aren't evil: corporations are simply abstract legal entities devoid of any human qualities, and as such, they are incapable of evil. The humans who run them, on the other hand ARE capable of evil, but they are not directly impacted by how much or little their corporations are taxed, as evidenced by the out-sized pay-packets they receive regardless of corporate performance. Where corporations excel, however, is creating jobs. So why do we want to tax them at all? Every dollar they keep is a dollar that can go towards job creation, while every dollar that goes to the wealthiest people who invest in them, is a dollar towards idle capital that does little for the country. This is what Republicans like Eisenhower knew, which is why the marginal tax rates on personal income were so high. So, leave corporations alone and raise the marginal tax rate on personal incomes. In other words, tax the hell out of the people behind the corporations, but leave the real job creators, the corporations themselves, alone.

Foreign policy: Contrary to expectations, many (most?) liberals are not anti-war; just anti-stupid-war. This is clearly seen in the way many of my fellow liberals and I distinguish between the Iraq and Afghanistan wars: we opposed the former because the intelligence was flaky at best and anyway Saddam wasn't involved with 9/11; we supported the latter because the Taliban proved themselves to be an actual threat to the US and as such were fair game.

Illegal immigration: I part company with many of my fellow liberals on this issue. I have nothing against immigrants and certainly nothing against the many ethnic minorities who make up the immigrant population. I think it's foolish and hypocritical of anyone of non-Native American descent to oppose immigration, since such people wouldn't be here without it. But immigration can't be a free-for-all and turning a blind eye to illegal immigration isn't fair to the people who wait patiently to come to this country legally. There's also the question of rule of law: we take our strong institutions and rule of law for granted here, but there's nothing inevitable about them and they can be weakened over time if as a country we routinely allow large groups of people to ignore laws just so we can either assuage our liberal guilt (on the left) or pander to business's need for cheap labor (on the right). Soon we will start to flout other laws as expediency demands it. Soon thereafter, corruption overtakes the system and the country we love is gone, destroyed not at the hands of the immigrants, but at the hands of the citizens who neglected rule of law.

I am in favor of something pretty shocking: taxing the poor and giving to the rich. OK, it's not actually as bombastic as it sounds. I am actually in favor of equalizing wealth disparities through greater net redistribution towards the poor. But one thing I learned when living in Norway is that for such equalizing policy to work, all members of society have to be seen as contributing, just as all must benefit. If only one segment of the population contributes (those making over a certain amount) while it is only those below them economically who benefit, resentment and bitter division are inevitable. We see this all too vividly in our current political and social discourse. The poor resent the rich and the rich resent what they see as subsidizing the poor, who pay no net income tax. So bring everyone into both the giving and receiving. Everyone who earns anything, even one penny, should have to pay some of that in tax, however small the amount may be. In this way they have the self-respect of knowing they are contributors and the wealthy can't claim that only they are giving. On the other side of the economic spectrum, we should oppose attempts to introduce means-testing for Social Security. Do the rich NEED that extra money? No. But does society need all contributors to be beneficiaries to maintain the social contract? Absolutely. So by all means cap Social Security, but don't eliminate it for the rich, or we will suffer even more division. Having said that, though, this also justifies removing the income contribution cap: the wealthy should have to pay their percentage of Social Security contributions on ALL income, with no limit.

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