Here are links to two long and thoughtful articles worth reading.
The first is Timothy Noah’s ten-part (yes, 10!) piece in Slate on income inequality in America. He explores all the possible causes, in a non-ideological way, and then discusses why it all matters. Among the factors at play: taxes, overseas manufacturing, lobbyists and Wall Street. Check out this graph below to see how the share of the top 10% has grown over the last 40 years.
The second article is Matt Bai’s piece in the NY Times about Linda McMahon’s campaign for senator of Connecticut. Bai explores how a staid, preppy state like Connecticut could possibly elect a cartoonish figure like McMahon, who based on her public statements seems utterly unqualified to be senator. He discusses the long-term trends, including white flight and the loss of industry, which lead to young adults leaving the state and public sector unions gaining power, which leads to a weakening of the traditional political system, which leads to wrestling impresarios running for senate. It’s a long article, but nuanced and thoughtful and well worth reading.
Yesterday I posted about how Alaska politicians talk a big game about wanting the federal government to leave them alone, but in reality they suck down more federal money than any other state. Having just spent a week in Alaska, I brought some photographic evidence of our biggest state’s big appetite for taxpayer money.
Here is the beginning of a beautifully built and maintained trail at the Mendenhall Glacier outside Juneau. You can see that construction of the trail, which must have employed several people to cut brush and grade the path, was paid for by the federal stimulus package. As for the big Bob Marley joint depicted on the sign….it’s unclear if federal dollars paid for that.
Trail paid for by US taxpayers
In Gustavus, a small town which is the gateway to Glacier Bay, a brand new $20 million dock is being built with federal stimulus dollars. I spoke with the owner of my hotel and with the pilot of my whale watching boat, and both said that the dock was completely unnecessary. But it was employing a whole bunch of skilled laborers, so many that they had to come in from Juneau, since Gustavus didn’t have that many construction workers.
The new dock at Gustavus
Here is a photo of all the pickups and SUVs owned by the people working on the dock. Again, these are local workers being paid with US taxpayer dollars.
Construction worker trucks
I have no problem with stimulus dollars paying people to build paths and docks; that is how a government stimulus package works. The government injects money into the system to boost employment and spending. My problem is with a state that talks about how it doesn’t believe in the stimulus or in federal help at all while it continues to take as much federal money as it can.
Posted in Business, Politics, Uncategorized
Tagged alaska, Business, GOP, Politics, Sarah Palin, stimulus package, taxation, tea party, Ted Stevens
Regular Thoughtbasket readers know how I mock the Laffer Curve, a flawed theory that tax-cutting fiends use in order to claim that reducing marginal tax rates will actually increase government revenue as it unleashes a flood of investment and entrepreneurship. See my mockery here and here, for example.
So of course I was heartened to see Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic take up the cause. Enjoy his mockery here.
In a timely follow up to my piece this week on the inherent relationship between taxes and government services provided, Anne Applebaum wrote a great article in Slate about the general hypocrisy of Americans who demand smaller government while castigating their government for not preventing or solving problems like the underwear bomber or the financial meltdown or the BP oil disaster. Ms. Applebaum doesn’t put it this way, but I will: if you want your government to do things, you can’t continually agitate for, and only fund, a small government. Doing things requires resources.
There was a great article in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday about cash-strapped counties letting their rural roads decay from pavement to gravel, since gravel is much cheaper to maintain. It seems telling and appropriate that we are going back to 1940’s road conditions, since we’ve spent the six decades since then overspending, undersaving and generally acting like idiots.
Several of the counties mentioned in the article have put the gravel decision up for a vote, with ballot measures that give citizens the opportunity to choose higher taxes and pavement or lower taxes and gravel. I dig that: let the people decide. But of course, this being America, some people want it both ways.
“Judy Graves of Ypsilanti, N.D., voted against the measure to raise taxes for roads. But she says she and others nonetheless wrote to Gov. John Hoeven and asked him to stop Old 10 from being ground up because it still carries traffic to a Cargill Inc. malting plant.”
So Judy doesn’t want to pay taxes to cover the cost of the road, but she wants the road paved anyway. OK people, let me explain some basic math to you. If you don’t pay taxes, you don’t get services. It’s that simple. If you don’t pay the cashier at Safeway, you don’t get to take your groceries. If you don’t pay at Home Depot, you’re not able to walk out with paint and brushes. Why should government be any different? If you don’t pay for it, you’re not going to get it.
Serious libertarians know this. Their approach is that government shouldn’t provide most services. Cool. I don’t agree, but I get it. Unfortunately, the common approach in our society is more Judy Graves and less libertarian, calling for lower taxes but more services. Less money in, more money out. This is unsustainable, and it’s why Judy and her Ypsilanti neighbors are going to be driving on gravel instead of asphalt.
E.J. Dionne recently wrote a piece about the open Supreme Court seat covering some of the same issues of Republican vs. Democratic messaging that I covered here and here. And a few weeks ago he wrote another article even more explicitly criticizing Democrats for continually losing the war of messages. Why are Democrats so terrible at this game? How is it possible for Frank Luntz to single-handedly kick Democratic ass time and again? I’d be willing to bet that the majority of folks at ad agencies are Democrats….so get them on the team.
You might think, and certainly we would all like to think, that policies and results are more important than messaging. Oh, how sweetly naive! If you lose the messaging battle, you never get to implement the policy and see the results. Messaging is how you get the support of the public, and since most people have very little time and/or attention for politics, your message has to be short and sweet.
Since Democrats can’t seem to get it together to develop appropriate messaging, I thought that I would take a crack at some of the key issues of the day. I don’t claim genius for any of these efforts – I’m a blogger, not a fighter – but maybe they will spark a little conversation and get some more talented folks to chip in.
Judges respecting individual rights
- Judicial activism
- Non-elected officials creating laws
- Understanding the meaning of the Constitution
- Following in the Founding Fathers’ footsteps
- Looking at the spirit of the law if the language is unclear
- Monarchy prevention policy
- Asset transfer payment
- Government control
- Business killer
- Job destroyer
- Public safety measure
- Children’s health initiative
Aid to Poor
- Promoting dependency
- Safety net
- Short-term help for the most vulnerable citizens
- Promoting American capitalism
Questioning Security Policies
- Keeping America safe
- Developing the best security system in the world
- Preventing the deaths of innocent citizens
- Enabling taxpayer bailouts
- Stopping taxpayer bailouts
Raising Tax Rates
- Destroying individual initiative
Reaching Out to Non-allied States
Cap & Trade
- Continuing the American melting pot tradition
Nuclear Arms Treaties
- Weakening America’s defense
- Making America safer by reducing nuclear proliferation
Some dude writing for Salon has a very funny article on why he likes tax day, and it features this outstanding quote:
The Tea Partiers represent the aggrandizement of paranoia, rage and self-pity into a political agenda. It is a “movement,” created by for-profit demagogues whose sole mission is to build audience share at the expense of honest debate about our common crises of state.
I think that pretty much sums up the movement in two sentences. For another great article about Tea Party activists who are taking aid from the federal government even whilst they denounce all government aid, click here.