Redistributive Politics? – Grab The Smelling Salts!!

So a 2001 radio interview with Obama has the airwaves buzzing. It’s even made the Post as a fact-check to the McCain campaign’s charges that Obama had criticized the Warren court for not being radical enough. Listen to the whole thing yourself.



…and the rightblogs are all aflutter.

Here’s my friend Bill Whittle, at NRO (hey, cool that he has a gig there, btw…):

If the second highlighted phrase had been there without the first, Obama’s defenders would have bent over backwards trying to spin the meaning of “political and economic justice.” We all know what political and economic justice means, because Barack Obama has already made it crystal clear a second earlier: It means redistribution of wealth. Not the creation of wealth and certainly not the creation of opportunity, but simply taking money from the successful and hard-working and distributing it to those whom the government decides “deserve” it.

This redistribution of wealth, he states, “essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time.” It is an administrative task. Not suitable for the courts. More suitable for the chief executive.

Now that’s just garden-variety socialism, which apparently is not a big deal to many voters.

Here’s Jeff Goldstein:

In Obama’s America, we’ll finally be able to break free of the “constraints that were placed by the founding fathers in the Constitution” – and in so doing, achieve “social justice” through “redistributive change.”

Well, then. Fine .

But this is not the America I knew…

There’s more,

Pardon me while I fan myself.

It’s obvious that neither of them is a big fan of Charles Beard. He’s the author of “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States,” a book everyone interested in US politics ought to read. While I don’t agree entirely with his analysis, the history that he lays out shows clearly how the creation of the Constitution was a balancing act firmly grounded in the affairs of the day, and the conflicts between merchant traders, farmers, land speculators, currency speculators, tradesmen, and landed gentry.

Look, most of my academic career was spent studying political theory and political history. All politics is redistributive; it distributes power and goods (tangible and intangible). For Obama to call for a political effort to tip the balance doesn’t seem any more outrageous to me than, say – Arthur Laffer’s.

The reality is that we have for all of American history had redistributive battles – does Teddy Roosevelt ring any bells? – and had a government that was waist-deep in the economy. It is certainly legitimate fodder to debate what the policies of that government ought to be, and who they are unfair to.

But let’s start by dropping the outrage over the notion that politics can be around distributive issues – if you’re making that argument, you need to read more about the history of politics to have much standing. For Obama to have said this is hardly something to lose one’s water over, whether in genuine or feigned outrage.

It is certainly appropriate to discuss the shortcomings of policies that benefit the poor – I certainly do that enough. But in a world where the wealth and income gaps are widening, and where social mobility is declining, arguments against government even attempting to do something to make some efforts at rebalancing things to a Burkean mean would have be powerful indeed for me to take them seriously.

I’m sure I’ll see some in the comments..

Update: Lawprof Ann Althouse weighs in:

If this alarmed you, chances are, you are not a law professor. Let me tell you that, in this radio interview from 2001, Obama is making the most conventional observation about the limits of constitutional law litigation: The courts will recognize rights to formal equality, but they hesitate to enforce those rights with remedies that become too expensive or require too much judicial supervision and they resist identifying rights to economic equality. Such matters are better handled by legislatures, and courts tend to defer to legislatures for this reason.

Go read her whole post – she deals with all the issues pretty neatly.

64 thoughts on “Redistributive Politics? – Grab The Smelling Salts!!”

  1. Are you f**kin’ kidding me? Seriously, the fact that during our growing pains we did some “social balancing” is one thing, to allow that the Obama’s musings on that topic don’t matter is another entirely.

    He talks socialist, walks with socialists and doesn’t seem too fond of our unfair society. Yeah well I don’t think too much of his hand in my pocket taking for those with “greater needs”.

    Your continued pushing of your nose further up the Obama’s alimentary is not going to change the scent. He stinks and you have jumped on a bandwagon of fools.

    Cordially,

    Uncle J

  2. AL, you know I’m a conservative. I’m a traditional conservative but not a religious conservative. In sort, I think the Founders got it about right.

    Nevertheless, I accept the liberal critique that government privileges big business. IMHO, this depletes the great middle class by providing opportunities to large concerns while regulating small concerns out of the competition.

    The difference between the liberal and conservative approach, admittedly oversimplified, is that traditional (not neo) conservatives want to eliminate the big shot’s regulatory advantage, while liberals want to create compensating regulatory relief to the little guy.

    I think the Constitution is basically on my side. Would Beard disagree?

    BTW, I really learned a lot from Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty.

  3. The people are not going to by this as some plot by Obama to redistribute wealth in any radical way. Not only that, no one would stand for it.

    Even if there was a possibility that it would happen, the McCain campaign has cried wolf so many times, no one is listening to a word they are saying.

    We need a cogent philosophy, not a piecemeal collection of rants. Obama is going to be elected President with a massive majority in both Houses of Congress, Statehouses and State Legislatures and this sort of impotent screed written over an old tape is supposed to be taken seriously?

    You have to come with a hell of a lot more than that! It is humiliating to the GOP.

    By the way, for those who haven’t noticed, the ideas that Obama spouted have been around in the Democratic Party for decades. The way you defeat them is to win elections. Whicxh, it appears, the Party has forgotten how to do.

  4. I think it’s great that you guys like to talk about all these books I haven’t read and these dead white guys who would be baffled by an ATM, BUTTTTTTT!

    I don’t need anything more than “from each, to each” to smell the polio of socialism.

    Cuffy Meigs or Ragnar Danneskjold? At least Rand was willing to spend a 1000+ pages helping 15 year olds decide if they belong to the left or the right. You make me want to disarm you in a redistribution of other means AL. Watch out for my viking pirate ship. The De-Distributioner.

    Cordially,

    Uncle J

  5. Jeff, you can’t “remove” regulation from the polity; it’s an inherent part of it. It’s embedded in our legal definition of property, in our legal and regulatory processes, in our accounting systems for chrissakes.

    Jim, there’s a lot of room to argue about what the balance of policies ought to be. And there’s a long long gap between the kind of leftism that America will accept and what Ayers jerks off over.

    A.L.

  6. There must be some other social good that you can point to. Redistribution in and of itself only empowers a bureaucracy and creates a client class.

    Redistribution in service of promoting societal virtues could be a net positive. Being poor is NOT a virtual. Hard work IS a virtue. That’s why I think the whole entitlement apple cart needs to be tipped over and replaced with some kind of increased earned income credit or negative income tax.

    The key point? No work, no play!

    Pluses: reduced power to bureaucrats and increased power to individuals. What’s not to like?

  7. The latest desperate attempt to change the narrative—take an extremely distorted version of something Obama said and try to turn it into something nefarious.

    Libertarians Orin Kerr and David Bernstein at Volokh, neither an Obama supporter (indeed, Bernstein is anti-Obama), put this nonsense where it belongs.

    All that said, there is no doubt from the interview that he supports “redistributive change,” a phrase he uses at approximately the 41.20 mark in a context that makes it clear that he is endorsing the redistribution of wealth by the government through the political process.

    What I don’t understand is why this is surprising, or interesting enough to be headlining Drudge [UPDATE: Beyond the fact that Drudge’s headline suggests, wrongly, that Obama states that the Supreme Court should have ordered the redistribution of income; as Orin says, his views on the subject, beyond that it was an error to promote this agenda in historical context, are unclear.]. At least since the passage of the first peacetime federal income tax law about 120 years ago, redistribution of wealth has been a (maybe the) primary item on the left populist/progressive/liberal agenda, and has been implicitly accepted to some extent by all but the most libertarian Republicans as well. Barack Obama is undoubtedly liberal, and his background is in political community organizing in poor communities. Is it supposed to be a great revelation that Obama would like to see wealth more “fairly” distributed than it is currently?

    It’s true that most Americans, when asked by pollsters, think that it’s emphatically not the government’s job to redistribute wealth. But are people so stupid as to not recognize that when politicians talk about a “right to health care,” or “equalizing educational opportunities,” or “making the rich pay a fair share of taxes,” or “ensuring that all Americans have the means to go to college,” and so forth and so on, that they are advocating the redistribution of wealth? Is it okay for a politician to talk about the redistribution of wealth only so long as you don’t actually use phrases such as “redistribution” or “spreading the wealth,” in which case he suddenly becomes “socialist”? If so, then American political discourse, which I never thought to be especially elevated, is in even a worse state than I thought.

    Somehow Republicans, or maybe just the sycophant wing, think that accumulation of wealth to them happens without any sort of government policy. This is rubbish. The differential tax rate on capital gains and the mortgage interest deduction are two popular examples of ways in which the government (perhaps for good reason) allows some people to accumulate wealth at a faster rate and others (e.g., renters) not. How slightly increasing the progressivity of the tax code equals socialism is impossible to see. As far as I know, Obama has never called for public ownership of the means of production, at least, not outside those bailouts.

  8. “But let’s start by dropping the outrage over the notion that politics can be around distributive issues”

    So argument is since this destructive behavior has occurred in the past, we aren’t allowed to get up set about it now? Politics has always had an element of jackals dividing up spoils of those that created wealth, but that doesn’t mean it has ever been anything but a bad and dysfunctional element the political process.

  9. AL,

    The problem is that it is Obama jerking Ayers off and fronting his new game.

    They may not ever work together again, but Stanley Kurtz has shown how much money they gave to lefty BS re-education scams.

    The Obama and his Michelle believe most Americans are in dire need of some HOPE and CHANGE and I am not in the mood.

    Cordially,

    Uncle J

  10. It seems to me that Obama was speaking of a much narrower type of redistributive justice — the issue of what remedial measures were appropriate in the context of Brown v. Board of Education. What should the courts do about generations of error? 40 acres and a mule? And he seems to believe that the courts couldn’t and perhaps shouldn’t fix it; and it’s up to the elected branches. Fine with me.

  11. joe, you’re talking about an imaginary politics, a politics that has never existed, a politics that is as false as Rawls’. Politics is about power; it’s about who gets it, who gets to use it, under what conditions it can be used, and what its limits are. Every one of those topics is a legitimate topic for a political discussion or a political dispute.

    Jim, again, you’re reading Obama far differently than I do. He’s someone who grew up in and hung out with people I’m intimately familiar with. And I see in him something far simpler; he’s an opportunistic careerist – like LBJ, like Nixon – who hopes to use the ideologues that supported him just like he used the poor black folks in the church he chose to attend – to get power. Where you see a mole, I see a careerist who speaks the language of “the movement” because it means he really didn’t sell out as he goes to work at the ad agency.

    Yes, there will be a lot of stuff about his politics that will vex me (I’m getting a Life Membership in the NRA this year, budget permitting), and some that will worry me even more (remember, my son’s ass is hung out on a line that Obama can pull in whatever direction he chooses, and I’m confident he’ll have several colossal fuckups) and some that I’ll probably like.

    But my reasons for supporting him – and the reasons you should grudgingly consider not going mental at the mention of his name – remain ones that you should appreciate.

    The fact that he has slimy friends simply means he’s a modern Chicago politician.

    A.L.

  12. AL — you are ignoring the elephant in the room.

    Obama is talking about REDISTRIBUTING money from WHITES to BLACKS.

    Simple as that.

    Reparations for slavery and segregation.

    Why should I send money to Oprah? In fact, since my family FOUGHT at considerable sacrifice to FREE slaves, and opposed segregation, why shouldn’t Oprah send money to ME? If we are going to talk redistribution. After all, she can afford it, and has far more cash than I do.

    Obama wanted the Civil Rights movement to STOP making the courts allow them a place at the lunch counter, provided they could pay for it, and instead REQUIRE the Lunch counter to give EVERY BLACK a free lunch. That’s what he’s saying. He calls it a “tragedy” and you are so in the tank for what Spike Lee called “the Magical Negro” ala the characters in “Green Mile” or “Bagger Vance” who exist only to enlighten and transform uptight White protagonists it’s not even funny. You are twisting yourself into knots to justify your unjustifiable support for the “Magical Negro” Obama who you think will transform or redeem America from original sin and bring about “Whitelighter” unicorns ala Mark Morford’s infamous column.

    That’s thinking worthy of WB’s Charmed, not anything for a serious logical argument and is entirely beneath you.

    Obama’s socialism, stems from his deep-seated hatred of Whites, likely from his abandonment at age 9 by his lunatic mother, so she could write her 300 page thesis on Peasant Blacksmithing in Indonesia. Nevertheless, there he is saying that the courts cannot likely, force Whites to hand over their money to Blacks and it is up to the legislature and executive to do it. Per his caller asking about Reparations.

    Now, maybe you think it’s a good idea in a depression to ask every White person in America to hand over their paycheck and give a good portion of it to Blacks, but I do not think so. For those guilty Whites who are ashamed of their good fortune, I advise them to sell all their possessions, and give their money to Black people, if that is what they want. Using Obama’s resentment and Black Nationalist/Separatism (straight out of Farrakhan’s demand for reparations) to “redistribute” Wealth from Whites to Blacks … in a depression … is a good way to start a lasting civil conflict.

    Obama is not “Leo” from Charmed, the “White Lighter” who will transform America into a race-neutral place by taking money from every White person and giving it to every Black person. He is in fact the worst thing to happen to race relations since the OJ Trial and acquittal by an all-Black jury. He has no magic powers, and his radical racial agenda of blaming Whites for all the ills of the Black community and demanding still “reparations” and redistribution of wealth from Whites to Blacks is a disaster in the making.

  13. whiskey, it’s not 1972, and reparations for blacks is a nonstarter. Why? Because electorally, black politicians depend on Hispanic voters. There are very few solidly black neighborhoods any more, and I’m willing to bet that you couldn’t put together ten all-black Congressional electorates. pushing for reparations would destroy the already-strained alignment and you’d see an implosion in the number of urban black elected officials.

    You’re reading more into this than I believe is there.

    A.L.

  14. I would like to see the whole interview for a start. I would definitely like to know if Obama was going down the 40cacres and a mule route or talking about spending money to overcome the effects of Plessy vs Ferguson. The results of which left most public institutions across the country w/ a set of public facilities which were substandard at a minimum or none existent for AfricanAmericans while African Americans were paying the same level of taxes as everyone else for public facilities. I believe it is the latter.
    As to redistribution all you have to do is look at the budget a take say ethanol subsidies or sugar subsisdies, tax reductions for buying new equipment or tax credits for having more children or the giving of land to the railroad companies to build across the country to understand the Federal Government has ALWAYS had a redistribution of WEALTH POLICY.

  15. “The fact that he has slimy friends simply means he’s a modern Chicago politician.

    A.L”

    When you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas,

    He and his slimy friends gouged the public purse for tens of millions for subsidized housing that was so substandard in construction that they are falling apart and are unlivable,

    Now these were folks he had a duty to take care of and he and his slimy friends walked on their backs on the way to Money and Power,

    IMO makes him slimy too and not just a modern but a typical Chicago Politician.

  16. It’s amazing that you spend so much patience on “Uncle Jimbo” A.L. The man is incapable of being civil for a full sentence, or making more than the most cursory attempt to distinguish between propaganda and fact. Here’s a recap of your conversation so far:

    A.L.: Hey, look, this tape the right blogs are getting worked up over doesn’t say what it’s claimed to say. Furthermore, it’s using concepts grounded in US history and implicit and explicit to every nation in the world.

    Jimbo: F*ck that socialist!

    I mean, I suppose it’s a good thing for the republic that someone makes an attempt to break through the drunken belligerence, but..what a pain in the butt.

  17. Here is the “whole transript”:http://www.foxnews.com/urgent_queue/#50041ecb,2008-10-27. I made this post somewhere else, but I’ll try to bring it into this conversation. (My work won’t let me read the link, so I may be repeating)

    Basically, this whole dialogue makes conversation about the supreme court and the civil rights era. It’s important to keep in mind he’s talking about 40-year old problems, and he rarely discusses financial reparation (instead focuses on basic rights, as covered by others).

    He’s not saying that the court should have interfered, he’s saying that civil rights groups should have relied on the courts less (which are not really built for these changes) and instead should have focused greater attention on getting out the vote and electing favorable senators that could allow them to change things like voter suppression, unequal schooling etc. etc; ie if some of these things had been fixed by the legislature instead of the courts, it’s possible that you could see African American communities of today functioning better than under court orders where some some legislature’s pushed non-compliance.

    Just to clarify: He’s talking about a redistribution FROM Jim Crow/Unequal schooling to a more equal set of rights (that’s clear if you look closer at his entire statement, and not something edited mid-sentence). (see top of page at link).

    Here is the more troubling paragraph, although he doesn’t implicitly say he’s for redistribution (again, misspellings are in the original draft).

    bq. you know maybe i am showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor but you know i am not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts you know the institution just isn’t structured that way. just look at very rare examples where during desegregation era court was willing to for example order you know changes that cost money to local school district and the court was very uncomfortable with it it was hard to manage it was hard to figure out you start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues you know in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that is essentially is administrative and take a lot of time the court is not very good at it and politically it is hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard so i think that although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally you know i think any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts i think that as a practical matter that our institutions are just poorly equipped to do it.

    It’s a little difficult to read, but he argues that the court should not be in charge of redistribution. I don’t think that’s too controversial, especially if he’s still talking about 60’s civil rights movement (the general forum of the discussion). I think the idea is that because he says “could come up with a rational for bringing change through the court” that he therefore thinks it should be done. It’s not literally what he says though, he’s saying court-ordered redistributions are a bad idea, and then the transcript ends. He doesn’t venture any further into those waters.

    You can read deeper into that statement if you like, but he never actually says “I’m pushing for legislative redistribution”.

    [Blockquote tag fixed. — M.F. ]

  18. A previous commenter states, “How slightly increasing the progressivity of the tax code equals socialism is impossible to see.”

    During Reagan, a very much more progressive tax code (higher tax rates quicker) was slightly modified to make it less progressive. Why was that and is that still construed by liberals as “tax breaks for the rich?”

    You can’t have it both ways. More or less progressive, it already punishes those who work and earn more, and redistributes wealth to those who haven’t earned it (but somehow deserve it).

    Flies in the face of 5,000 years of the history of civilization. An 100 years of the failure of redistributionist schemes: Marxism, Leninism, Communism, Socialism, National Socialism, Castro and Chavezism…

    The entire point of the socialist critique of Obama is that he and all of his enablers hide what he really is and what he really believes, because, for better or worse, Americans overwhelmingly object to the inherent unfairness of taking something from anybody by force, and giving it to somebody else. However well-intentioned or “for the greater good.”

    “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

    There’s a reason that’s joke and punchline all in one sentence.

    AL, I appreciate all you’ve done here, you and your colleagues, but this one lines you up on the side of deceit and duplicitousness. And if they’ll lie about economics and social justice, why do you think they can be trusted when it comes to other freedoms (such as the 2nd amendment)?

  19. “Hot Air” has some of the Fox transcript with reconstituted punctuation and spelling, “here.”:http://hotair.com/archives/2008/10/27/smells-like-socialist-spirit/ Comments and a link to the Obama campaign’s response. Steve Sailer has done the same to the block Alchemist quotes in #21 (2nd and 3rd text blocks), with his own added commentary, “here.”:http://isteve.blogspot.com/2008/10/obamas-2001-redistribution-of-wealth.html

    Cut and paste from Sailer:

    bq. You know, maybe I am showing my bias here as a legislator as well as a law professor, but you know I am not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. You know, the institution just isn’t structured that way. Just look at very rare examples where during the desegregation era the court was willing to, for example, order, you know, changes that cost money to local school district and the court was very uncomfortable with it.

    bq. It was hard to manage. It was hard to figure out. You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues. You know, in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that is essentially is administrative and take a lot of time, the court is not very good at it and politically it is hard to legitimize opinions from the court in that regard. So I think that — although you can craft theoretical justifications for it legally, you know I think any three of us sitting here could come up with a rationale for bringing about economic change through the courts — I think that as a practical matter that our institutions are just poorly equipped to do it.

    Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton:

    In this interview back in 2001, Obama was talking about the civil rights movement–and the kind of work that has to be done on the ground to make sure that everyone can live out the promise of equality. Make no mistake, this has nothing to do with Obama’s economic plan or his plan to give the middle class a tax cut. It’s just another distraction from an increasingly desperate McCain campaign.

    In the interview, Obama went into extensive detail to explain why the courts should not get into that business of “redistributing” wealth. Obama’s point–and what he called a tragedy–was that legal victories in the Civil Rights led too many people to rely on the courts to change society for the better. That view is shared by conservative judges and legal scholars across the country.

    As Obama has said before and written about, he believes that change comes from the bottom up–not from the corridors of Washington. He worked in struggling communities to improve the economic situation of people on the South Side of Chicago, who lost their jobs when the steel plants closed. And he’s worked as a legislator to provide tax relief and health care to middle-class families. And so Obama’s point was simply that if we want to improve economic conditions for people in this country, we should do so by bringing people together at the community level and getting everyone involved in our democratic process.

  20. re 40 acres and a mule

    I didn’t mean to suggest that Obama is advocating reparations. The interview is entitled “The Court and Civil Rights.”:http://www.foxnews.com/urgent_queue/#50041ecb,2008-10-27 He’s talking about the mass of issues that followed the Brown decision, namely what to do about segregation? The court took a year, and sought the advise of the attorney generals of the United States and the various states. The result, Brown II, has been roundly critiqued on the right and the left as a failure. Obama’s take is that you can expect the courts to declare what the government can’t do (“negative liberties”), but it’s for political advocacy to address improving society (“redistributive change”).

    The type of redistribution change he seems to have in mind are the issues surrounding unequal school funding. Illinois, in particular, is state in which local property taxes pay over a majority of public education, so there is wide variation in school funding based upon surrounding home values.

  21. _”The differential tax rate on capital gains and the mortgage interest deduction are two popular examples of ways in which the government (perhaps for good reason) allows some people to accumulate wealth at a faster rate and others (e.g., renters) not.”_

    We’re pretty far down the road when the argument goes that because capital gains taxes could be much higher but arent government is therefore a policy advocate of accumulation of wealth. That line of thought seems to indicate all wealth is ultimately the governments and anything they ceed back via ‘low’ taxes is a sop to the rich. Certainly one way of looking at things.

    _”How slightly increasing the progressivity of the tax code equals socialism is impossible to see.”_

    Slightly indeed. Add up _all_ of Obama’s tax increases and we are talking about a massive increase in taxes not seen since the Carter era. Removing the FICA cap alone it an instant 12.5% tax increase on the wealthy. Somebody ought to add up how much more Oprah will be paying the Obama administration and let her know. Nobody is really thinking in those terms.

    More importantly, we arent talking about increasing marginal rates and then funding government programs. Obama’s plan is LITERALLY to redistribute CASH. When he say he will lower taxes for almost all Americans, what he really means is that the 40% of workers that pay 0% federal income tax will be receiving more cash than they contribute (easy when you contribute $0) via the Earned Income Credit.

    McCain has totally missed the boat on this. The EIC is pure redistribution.

  22. _”The type of redistribution change he seems to have in mind are the issues surrounding unequal school funding.'”_

    As an example, certainly. I’m still at a loss as to how shuffling wealth from local school districts that pay for their own schools via property tax to other school districts isnt redistributive.

    Its not identical to handing people cash payments but it certainly devolves wealth from people locally to the government for them to use as they see fit. This doesnt make Obama any less socialist in his tendencies to me. However you slice it, everything Obama has ever advocated involves higher levels of government taking wealth and spending it via his preferred social engineering.

    I’m not saying that disqualifies him from being president, but surely it makes him an old school, big L, tax and spend Liberal, and any attempt to deny this would seem disingenuous.

    Is it really ‘changing the subject’ to make clear just what Obama champions?

  23. Maybe McCain didn’t hit the EIC hard enough because his own health-care plan also features a refundable tax credit, just not enough to buy health care with.

    Look, assuming we’re going to have taxes and not go the Somalia route, some people will have a greater tax burden than others. A progressive tax rate is a sensible consequence of the decreasing marginal utility of money to an individual. My understanding is that McCain is also in favor of a graduated income tax. The only difference is the rates and cutoffs, and Obama’s make more sense in terms of the middle-class economic engine.

    Dadmanly’s vision of government taking your wealth—BTW, Somalia suggests to me that in the absence of government the meaning of “wealth” is unclear—and giving it to undeserving others (of a dark-skinned hue) is obsolete. It’s been replaced by an understanding that we need to fund the government, and that Bush’s supply-side nostrums about tax cuts paying for themselves will, one hopes, stay in the dustbin of history to which the last several years deservedly confine them.

  24. Andrew, your confusing two things.

    I understand and agree with a progressive tax system. Makes sense to me, the wealthy should pay a higher proportion of taxes to some degree (i DO have an issue with a growing percentage paying zero tax, they have no vested interest in not keeping taxes low which to the left is a feature not a bug).

    What i am talking about is ‘negative taxation’. Thats not tax policy, its welfare. In other words, via the EIC you get more _cash_ out of the system then you put in. The government sends you a check for showing up to work. Literally.

    That has nothing to do with whether or not you favor progressive taxation. Its redistribution of wealth.

  25. Mark, I think “Obsidian wings”:http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/10/there-they-go-a.html covered this nicely:

    bq. Hmm. This is a tough one. How can you cut taxes for people who pay no income taxes? Magic? Welfare? Or maybe — just maybe — people who pay no income taxes pay some other kind of tax.

    bq. I know, I know: how could there be any sort of tax other than the (federal) income tax? I have heard that in distant lands there are strange, exotic taxes, like the “sales tax”, the “property tax”, “state and local income taxes”, the “capital gains tax”, “use taxes”, “permit fees”, other fees, the “severance tax”, the “occupational privilege tax”, the “estate tax”, the “gift tax”, the “federal excise tax”, and even the fantastically named “generation skipping transfer tax”. But surely we have no such outlandish customs here! We who live in a country that has only one sort of tax, the federal income tax, can only stare in wonder at those benighted countries where people actually pay taxes whenever they buy a shovel or realize capital gains.

  26. Alchemist, perhaps you could explain this to me:

    Obama says

    bq. am not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts

    and you say

    bq. he never actually says “I’m pushing for legislative redistribution”

    But is not Obama’s point that he wants “major redistributive change”? He states that won’t happen through the courts, but legislation. So he wants “major redistributive change” through legislation somehow, but not through pushing for it?

    Further, what is this:

    bq. a rationale for bringing about economic change

    What, exactly, is the _economic_ change he is talking about, if it’s just about school funding?

    I can see that Obama is talking about school funding and other sorts of government imposed inequalities, but I read his statements as these being just the leading wedge of a much larger “major redistribution” and “economic change”. That’s more consistent with other statements by Obama. One might also note the substance of Obama’s work with Ayers on education and what that says about Obama’s view of educational “reform”.

    P.S. The idea that Chicago inner city schools are broken because of lack of a sufficient revenue stream are laughable if you look at the actual per student spending (“$10,409 per student”:http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-oped0822affluentaug22,0,2890495.story in 2005-2006). If that’s not enough, I would love to see you or Obama provide the actual enough number.

  27. Except that Obama has said he will cut _federal income tax_ for 95% of working families:

    Per Obama’s “website”:http://www.barackobama.com/pdf/taxes/Factsheet_Tax_Plan_FINAL.pdf

    _”A $1,000 “Making Work Pay” Tax Credit. For 95 percent of workers and their families—150 million
    workers overall—the “Making Work Pay” credit will provide a refundable tax cut of $500 for workers or
    $1,000 for working couples. This credit will benefit over 15 million self employed workers and for 10 million low-income Americans, will completely eliminate their federal income taxes”_

    Thats not capital gains, and i’m not aware of a federal sales tax in the US. Obama is sending out checks to people who arent paying federal income tax.

  28. #27 Mark:

    bq. I’m not saying that disqualifies him from being president, but surely it makes him an old school, big L, tax and spend Liberal, and any attempt to deny this would seem disingenuous.

    As would any denial of the fact that Bush and McCain are Big R, tax and spend Republicans.

    It’s what each side views as their spending priorities that seems to be at issue here.

    Over the last 8 years, we’ve had a nice demonstration of the Republican priorities, accompanied by ample evidence that it has presented a huge financial problem for the US. That albatross is not going to release itself from around the necks of that party for quite some time to come. So your arguments about the predicted evils of Obama’s spending priorities ring very hollow.

    bq. In other words, via the EIC you get more cash out of the system then you put in.

    Well, with capital gains tax cuts, the same is true. So once again, the issue is priorities.

    I think most individuals, even wealthy ones, would like to see that their tax dollars are used for productive, rather than destructive, purposes, and are even willing to pay more for that to happen. Cycling government funds back into the economy by directing them at the lower income tiers or infrastructure has a greater chance of improving our overall economy than trickle down, again as we have seen in the last 8 years. That is Obama’s plan, in the broadest sense. I view efforts to portray this as a giveaway to the poor or “untaxed”, or undeserving by some measure, as a particularly cruel form of class warfare.

    It seems that Republicans and Conservatives are more strongly opposed to providing increased resources to their fellow Americans than to Iraqis, doesn’t it? That I cannot understand.

  29. _”Well, with capital gains tax cuts, the same is true. So once again, the issue is priorities.”_

    Huh? How so?

    _”Cycling government funds back into the economy by directing them at the lower income tiers or infrastructure has a greater chance of improving our overall economy than trickle down, again as we have seen in the last 8 years.”_

    Plainly wrong, as every confiscatory tax regime in history has displayed most admirably.

    It has nothing to do with trickling down- it has to do with disincentivising productive activities. Handing people money create ZERO wealth. The pie stays the same size… less the government transaction cost. When people retain the money they earn (despite popular belief in some cicles) they dont stuff it into their matresses or swim in it like Scrooge McDuck. They buy goods and services or they invest with it. This _creates_ wealth. Meanwhile, the worst thing you can do is tell people that anything constructive they do to increase their wealth is going to be largely taken away. This should be fairly straightfoward. The harder i have to work and the more i have to risk for every dollar i ultimately put in my pocket directly affects my economic activity.

  30. G_Tarhune, take your thought to its logical conclusion:

    Lets say you created a perfect redistribution of wealth. Say every penny over $35,000 a year people make is taxed from them, and anyone making less than $35K is given enough to make up the difference.

    Are you really suggesting that that would improve our economy in any way? Following redistributionist logic… no lets call a spade a spade, its Marxist logic pure and simply, this is the ideal situation.

    Ok if this scenario isnt to your liking, please explain why the more modest ideas are more productive. Is there a bell curve of some sort with an ideal amount of redistribution, and if so at what point does it become counterproductive? If you dont know the answer to that i find it hard to support the philosophy.

  31. _But is not Obama’s point that he wants “major redistributive change”?_

    Not necessarily. he’s answering a question. The caller asks “Is it too late for economic redistribution?” He answers “it won’t work in the courts”. He never says whether or not it should be pursued by another venue. The discussion about legislation being a better civil rights venue than the courts is in an entirely different paragraph, where he’s talking about the historic civil rights movement.

    _if you look at the actual per student spending ($10,409 per student in 2005-2006). If that’s not enough, I would love to see you or Obama provide the actual enough number._

    The differences between inner city and suburb schools is certainly more than money (although, via your link, suburbs pay almost the same amount 9,700ish). If I were to guestimate, I would say costs are much higher in inner city schools: for everything from energy, to security, to the cost teachers continually leaving out of frustration. So the costs are much higher before you even get to start buying classroom resources.

    Still, money alone won’t fix these schools.

    But one of the problems with the inner-city neighborhoods is the lack of jobs, grocery stores, accessibility to government offices etc. Putting money into those areas can create a substantial difference in neighborhood quality. Sections of Baltimore (for example) have dramatically improved in the last 10 years, and the economic growth from those projects have helped revitalize the surrounding communities. There are still massive problems, but it’s slowly improving the city.

  32. Glen, the issue of reperations were well-discussed in Illinois when Obama was elected to Senate — it was a central issue in the campaigns. Alan Keyes was for them; Obama was against them.

  33. #39 AL:

    bq. I have always found that rogues would be uppermost, and I do not know that the proportion is too strong for the higher orders and for those who, rising above the swinish multitude, always contrive to nestle themselves into the places of power and profit.

    That’s Jefferson, whom you as you’ll recall quoted in your linked post. As I’ve said before, I don’t see overall good coming in the next four years no matter which rogue contrives to nestle himself into the exalted executive “place of power and profit”.

    I do anticipate that the government will make matters worse by goosing the economy in all the wrong ways, not unlike 1935-37.

    See you at the soup kitchen. If we’re lucky, we’ll both be voliunteers ladling stuff out, not standing in line accepting the dole.

    Either way, domestic wine as anodyne should still be cheap…

  34. A.L.: “Jim, again, you’re reading Obama far differently than I do. He’s someone who grew up in and hung out with people I’m intimately familiar with. And I see in him something far simpler; he’s an opportunistic careerist – like LBJ, like Nixon – who hopes to use the ideologues that supported him just like he used the poor black folks in the church he chose to attend – to get power. Where you see a mole, I see a careerist who speaks the language of “the movement” because it means he really didn’t sell out as he goes to work at the ad agency.”

    Even assuming your analysis is correct, I fail to understand how you could support a politician who reminds you most of LBJ and Tricky Dick. (I agree with you 100% in seeing Nixonian qualities in Obama’s personality, by the way. Only with real charisma. Not good.) I know you think his published policy opinions are to your liking, but when has Obama ever shown any fealty to what he’s said in the past?

    I don’t get it, I really don’t. Lord knows I don’t like McCain either, but I believe he would be better than an LBJ/RMN remix.

  35. Sorry off thread: For those of you in California, you can always drink “Charles Schuab:3-buck chuck”! No store nearby though, have to make a 2-hour trek to Raleigh.

  36. Annoying Old Guy: _The idea that Chicago inner city schools are broken because of lack of a sufficient revenue stream are laughable if you look at the actual per student spending ($10,409 per student in 2005-2006)._

    I wouldn’t argue that money is the sole issue, but Illinois has the largest gap in educational spending between the highest and lowest poverty school districts. “Link”:http://www.aplusillinois.org/issues/compare.asp “PDF Report”:http://www2.edtrust.org/NR/rdonlyres/5AF8F288-949D-4677-82CF-5A867A8E9153/0/FundingGap2007.pdf It’s because Illinois relies more on the property tax to fund public education than about any other state in the union. I don’t think it’s radical for Obama or others to argue that a state income tax be used to fund schools like it is in other states. Would it be a cure-all? Definitely not.

  37. “The people are not going to by this as some plot by Obama to redistribute wealth in any radical way. Not only that, no one would stand for it.”

    When the majority of people rely upon the government for some of their money, the people will support this crap.

  38. _”It’s because Illinois relies more on the property tax to fund public education than about any other state in the union. I don’t think it’s radical for Obama or others to argue that a state income tax be used to fund schools like it is in other states”_

    True, but not the whole story. The Illinois State Lottery was by law supposed to be used 100% for education, instead it is used as a general fund.

    Secondly property taxes are dictated by local communities. If a very wealthy community decides its going to pour money into its local school and make it one of the best in the nation, why is that a negative? We’ve already established that urban schools are being shortchanged on a dollar for dollar basis verses the average. In other words- wealthy districts arent going to keep sending tax money so Springfield can piss it away. Do you want equality for its own sake? Fine, I’m sure Barrington or Naperville will gladly lower their property taxes and cut the funding for their schools so everyone can feel better.

    There might be an argument to be made here if state and federal government had ANY record of converting dollars into success in education.

  39. P.D. Shaw;

    bq. Illinois has the largest gap in educational spending between the highest and lowest poverty school districts.

    So what? Seriously. If Illinois spent $100K/student in Chicago and $250K/student in the suburbs, it would still have the largest gap. Would you still be arguing that’s a problem? Arguing about gaps is a way of evading talking about results.

    I am instantly deeply suspicious of anyone (such as Obama) making such an argument precisely because, IMHO, it’s about envy, not results. It’s the root of redistribution, which comes right back to why I find such in interpretation of Obama’s statement so plausible.

    bq. I don’t think it’s radical for Obama or others to argue that a state income tax be used to fund schools like it is in other states

    Perhaps, but I still consider it expensive and fruitless. Further, if funding differentials were really the concern, the person would argue for state revenue funded school vouchers. Poof, no more funding inequality! That such a thing is not suggested tells me that I am hearing rhetoric, not substance.

    Alchemist;

    bq. one of the problems with the inner-city neighborhoods is the lack of jobs, grocery stores, accessibility to government offices etc.

    Why is there such a lack? Could it be the policies of the city government? Especially ones with strongly redistributive ones? That’s my view, and I think that trying to fund over such things will simply perpetuate the dysfunction to everyone’s long term detriment.

  40. It might also be noted that Illinois has some of the best schools in the nation, and that can probably be largely attributed to the way they are funded.

    What Obama’s plan will do is reduce the quality of the good schools without appreciably affecting the quality of the bad. Only the teachers unions and the education bureaucracy come away with anything.

  41. Since 1970, the Illinois Constitution has required the state to have primary responsibility for funding the public schools. The state currently pays about 28% of school funding and it has never taken primary responsibility for funding.

    I don’t want to drift this thread into an education debate, particularly a state-specific one, but this is the kind of thing Obama was talking about in the interview. The state Constitution has clearly decided these issues. But the courts don’t have the power or ability to run the state’s education system or develop a tax system that complies with the Constitution. It’s up to people to advocate for the educational funding that they want through the political process.

  42. I just think the people would do better to agitate for more effective _spending_ through the political process, rather than throwing more money at a failing system or worrying about making sure no one gets more money.

    I think this hits the bigger point, which is the redistributionist viewpoint that monetary inputs are the primary, if not only, measure of fairness and propriety, instead of whether it’s enough money or even whether more money would help. My impression of Obama is that is his viewpoint in general, not just education, that _effective_ government action is two steps

    # Spend more money
    # Make sure it’s spent evenly.

    Results? Those happen magically if you just follow the first two rules. I have a somewhat different view.

  43. Here is a “slate article”: http://www.slate.com/id/2203237 that essentially proves my argument. It discusses the court cases used in the interview, and how ‘retribution’ is used in those court cases.

    Yes, he’s talking about money in school disricts and how even disricts that break with ‘seperate but equal’ schooling don’t do well when they are mandated from the court.

  44. Somehow i’m not comforted that the language of our courts embraces the concept of redistribution as a sound legal principle. I’m not sure why that should make me feel better.

  45. Milton Friedman, who wasn’t exactly a socialist, proposed a “negative income tax” that isn’t that far from Obama’s “tax credit” system. And Nobel Laureate James Buchanan, who is also no friend of socialism, proposed a flat income tax coupled with a demogrant (a flat percentage of income is taken from everyone, and then a flat amount is distributed to everyone, regardless of need). He lays out the argument for such a regime in Politics by Principle, Not Interest. Eugene McCarthy is the only President so far to propose a demogrant, although I don’t think he coupled it with a flat tax. Nixon proposed something like Friedman’s “negative tax” but the Democrats defeated it in a dramatic opposition movement that Pat Moynihan recounts (although I can’t find the cite to his speech on the topic. I think it was to the APSA in the late 1990s.).

    Both Friedman’s “negative income tax” and Buchanan’s “generality principle” are redistributive, and were designed to replace rather than augment the current welfare system. They were rejected by the left primarily because, although they transfer some wealth, they don’t transfer much power into the hands of the state. Indeed, they’re designed to minimize state power and discretion over “need.”

    So it is possible to favor redistributive programs that are not “socialist” in the sense of statism. Whether this is what Obama advocates is another matter.

  46. For me, the biggest argument I have with redistributionists is they don’t want to redistribute wealth, but cash flow. (Personally, I don’t much like redistributing of either, but that’s a separate point.)

    By redistributing cash flow, you leave the wealthy their wealth – and power – and just nail those who have cash flow but not much in the way of wealth, such as the typical small businessman or professional. George Soros and Warren Buffett will find numerous ways to avoid having their cashflow nailed – and their family foundations insure that their progeny stays wealthy and powerful for a long time – but people who make their income from work or business income get hit with the highest tax rates we can come up with.

    One thing that’s interesting is that, in Europe, with its highly “redistributionist” tendencies, the wealthy families of a century ago are still the wealthiest today. There are very few Bill Gates types versus the number of people who are still rich from coming from nobility or 19th century entrepreneurs. This is because taxes on cashflow keep those at the top there…

    And as for cashflow taxation, the Dems want more!

    Every 3% they raise my taxes is another year I have to work before I can retire. Maybe I’m “selfish” and should work until I’m 85 to finance government boondoggles and comfy pensions for bureaucrats who Serve the Common Good, but I’d rather not.

  47. Interesting points guys.

    I more suspicious man than myself might suggest that distributing cash to the lower classes while not actually increasing their wealth is a good way to keep them beholden to you indefinitely.

  48. Yes, it’s good that you’re not that person Mark. Otherwise you might have made that point. ;)

    Seriously though, Obama’s tax plan has been out for months, and is really not that different from any other tax plan on the market (including McCain’s).

    Can we be realistic about the fact that McCain is just jumping on the bandwagon of a catch phrase? And that this catch phrase fails miserably here because it means something else entirely in these courtroom cases?

    I mean, really, if you’re going to base you’re whole closing argument around one badly misconstrued word, why the hell are you running?

  49. _Seriously though, Obama’s tax plan has been out for months, and is really not that different from any other tax plan on the market (including McCain’s)._

    Yes.

    _Can we be realistic about the fact that McCain is just jumping on the bandwagon of a catch phrase? And that this catch phrase fails miserably here because it means something else entirely in these courtroom cases?_

    No. I disagree that ‘retribution’ is a catch phrase in those court cases. Those court cases talk about what type of remedy is approrpriate for violation of a constitutional right. AFAIK (and I’ve skimmed them in the last few days) none of them talk about “redistributive change.” That’s Obama. Those are his words and his way of explaining the issues. That gives us insight into how he sees the larger issues, even as he promotes what to me is a non-radical tax plan this election cycle.

    I thinks it’s completely appropriate for McCain to try to point out that Obama values a more redistributive approach to governance than he does. Though I think the word “socialism” is a bit over the top.

  50. Astute commentary on Obama by Steve Sailer in his new book (freely available online as a PDF), “America’s Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama’s Story of Race and Inheritance.” It is in one sense an extended review of “Dreams From My Father.” Sailer doesn’t patronize Obama by viewing “Dreams” as a ground-out and turgid politician’s effort at Being Serious–because it isn’t. Instead, he takes as his point of departure that Obama has important things to say in this autobiography, about himself and about how he looks at America and the world.

    Taking Obama’s record seriously for what it is, rather than making it an accessory to our own hopes and fantasies. What a concept!

    Introductory chapter here.

  51. The last two comments threaten to throw me off tangent, so I’ll be brief and to the original points:

    I read half of “The half-blood prince” this morning. I have a hard time taking it seriously (naming a book after Harry Potter doesn’t help me). He dissects every opinion, every fledgling childhood memory assuming that if it is not perfect, it must intentionally manipulated or fabricated by Obama. It is not so different from the soundbyte that started this thread… assuming that Obama has deep sinister problems and/or socialist love that (if you only dig deep enough) will clearly reveal itself.

    Yes, Obama has clearly struggled with his thoughts in his autobiographies (you see that in the longer transcript as well). But I think that struggle makes him stronger, not weaker. For example: take “lincoln’s struggle with depression”:http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200510/lincolns-clinical-depression his need to sit and brood over his decisions actually solidified his thought process in crisis. Now, I’m not saying Obama is Lincoln, but I prefer some heavy thoughts thinking in a president.

  52. alchemist, there is an irony in citing a book (or Atlantic article summary) that dissects every suggestion of sadness and posthumous rumor from 150 years ago to diagnose Lincoln as having bipolar disorder and suffering mental breakdowns, while decrying a contemporaneous evaluation of Obama’s autobiography. If only Lincoln scholars were so “lucky.”:http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/autobiog.htm I say advantage Steve Sailer.

  53. Obama is espousing socialist policies, so that makes him a socialist in my book.

    If you don’t pay income taxes, receiving a “tax credit” payment is not a tax cut, it is socialistic transfer of wealth: a welfare payment. As Obama said to ‘Joe the Plumber,’ Obama believes in “…spreading the wealth.”

    The top 5% of taxpayers earned 36.66% of total Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) reported (AGI of $153,542 or more) and paid 60.14% of all taxes in 2006. The top 25% of taxpayers earned 68.16% of total AGI (AGI of $64,702 or more) and paid 86.27% of all taxes. The bottom 50% earned 12.51% of total AGI and paid 2.99% of taxes. The bottom 40% of filers, according to some reports, paid no taxes. This situation seems more than fair to the middle- and low-income filers.

    Plus, Obama’s (and Democrats’ in general) crap about tax breaks for the rich are lies, because the tax burden (based on rates) on the middle class is much lower now than it was when Clinton was president.

    The above info is from the “Summary of Latest Federal income Tax Data” (dated July 18, 2008) and the “Federal Individual Income Tax Rate History” (1913-2006) that can be found at the Tax Foundation (www.taxfoundation.org) and IRS websites.

    Add together Obama’s tax plan, his plans for socialized medicine and expansion of social programs (more wealth transfers), and the result is a significant move towards socialism. Even Clinton moved right/toward the center on many of the same issues. I didn’t think it possible, but Obama is left of Ted Kennedy.

  54. Say, Mike, little bit of switching horses in midstream there. First you talk about share of AGI, then switch to tax rates.

    Plus, Obama’s (and Democrats’ in general) crap about tax breaks for the rich are lies, because the tax burden (based on rates) on the middle class is much lower now than it was when Clinton was president.

    Suggestion: why don’t you see what happened to the middle class’s share of AGI under the Bush economic program. I’ll give you a clue: it isn’t as pretty as when Clinton was president. The fact that former members of the middle class saw their tax rates go to zero when they lost their jobs is not a point in favor of Bush.

    You might also consider the effect of taxes other than income tax.

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