Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You ...

I love government in its appropriate place and have done my duty as a citizen whenever called upon. In return, I have received many rights and privileges, the foremost being the right to live in a free country. America really doesn’t demand much of its citizens. Put another way, it is increasingly easy to avoid actual service to our country, while loudly demanding benefits at public expense. People have become consumers of government services and fewer & fewer people really try to be good citizens. Nearly half of all American households pay no net Federal income taxes.

By now, many people have formulated the question, “what is a good citizen?” This is mostly a rhetorical device, designed to imply that none of us has the right to judge the goodness of others. But since the essence of intelligence is the ability to make reasonable distinctions, let’s set some criteria that most can agree are good citizen traits.

Good citizens:

  • Obey laws, reserving the right to protest peacefully against those they consider unjust.
  • Pay taxes, reserving the right to protest peacefully against those they consider unjust.
  • Participate in American democracy by serving on juries and other public interest organizations, as appropriate.
  • Are prepared to defend his/her country in time of crisis or war, including risking their own lives & property.
  • Are net contributors to their country’s prosperity
  • Are familiar with our country’s Constitution & other founding documents; support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.

These aren’t too onerous. Any normal* American can be expected to do these things and he/she should feel ashamed if they do fail on any of these things. It is what they owe their country.

What does the country owe its citizens? What the country owes you are mostly negative or general things, i.e. the government won’t bother you or unduly interfere with your liberty. It protects your from foreign enemies and domestically if you obey the law, it should protect you from those who don’t. It creates the general environment that allows you to prosper or pursue happiness, but it doesn’t create prosperity or happiness for you. It is up to you to achieve these things and to suck it up if you don’t, because nobody like a whiner.

In well-established tradition, people have expected their governments, especially local ones, to do other things too, such as provide basic services, built big infrastructure projects and establish public parks. What exactly this entails and what it leaves out is a source of constant political debate. In fact, politics was sort of invented to address these sorts of issues.

When our Founding Fathers debated the establishment of our country, they worried about democracy. History had shown that democracy was unstable and republics ephemeral. Bitter experience taught that republics disintegrated because of the perfidy of the people and the ambition of leaders. The people demanded more of their government than their own effort would justify. Ambitious leaders promised more than they could reasonably deliver and called it justice. The founders called it a lack of virtue. Virtue, they thought, it what made a republic successful; virtue, then as now, was in short supply, so they constructed a limited & divided government to narrow the scope for would-be tyrants and demagogues.

My title quotes John Kennedy, who in turn was quoting Marcus Tullius Cicero, one of history’s great orators. Cicero lived during the fall of the Roman Republic. His bold words were meant to hold off the storm, that ending up destroying both the Republic and Cicero himself. “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” is an appeal to virtue. After the Roman Revolution, a autocrat – Augustus - took over. He used the words of virtue very well and in fact created a stable and good government. Generally better and certainly more efficient than the old republic it replaced. The trouble with autocracies is that they depend on personality. Soon personalities such as Caligula and Nero were running the show and it was not pretty. The people had taken the power out of their own hands and traded to a ruler who promised justice and stability but provided neither.

Comparisons of modern America to ancient Rome are way overdone, but the Roman experience in republics and empires is a lesson for anybody. America resembles ancient Rome in ways that all modern western states resemble ancient Rome. We developed many of our institutions and governmental structures from them. America resembles ancient Rome in a way others do not, since our founding fathers were deeply familiar with the classics. They knew Cicero, Cato & Caesar and what each had done. They deliberately based our Republic on classical models, hoping to modify the pattern enough to make it work better. It has … so far.

People will always be tempted to use the political process to get more than their talents and hard work would normally yield them. Most people are very adept at convincing themselves that they deserve more than they get. We still face the problem of people asking too much of their leaders and their leaders being too willing to promise. The founding fathers learned from the failures of the Romans that organizing to get more from the state is a vice of democracies and a danger to republics. I am dismayed when I hear people talk about government as a tool to get stuff for themselves or their organized groups. It is another thing the Romans would recognize – a big system of patronage and spoils. We should get back to virtue.

America has been an exceptional country. Ours is the oldest living written constitution in the world and the longest lasting in the history of the world. Our system endured, when so many others have failed, because we rarely overreached. We endow our government with great power and give it the exclusive right to the legitimate use of coercion. This is fitting & necessary. We limit government to protect ourselves from our government and to protect our government from itself. Many leaders will agree to do what we ask them to do. But we – and our freedom guaranteeing government – will pay a heavy price if we ask too much. And if we let there be too much distance between rights and responsibilities, we go down that old road to tyranny.

-* Normal, BTW, is not the same as average. Normal is what something should/would be. A normal human being at age 18 has two eyes, two legs and two arms and 32 teeth. The average person does not. Think about it.

Posted by Christine & John at May 24, 2011 10:28 PM
Comments
Comment #323537

C&J, I don’t know about the teeth, hair and eyeballs part but it’s a good post. Right up there with Beck and Gary Wood, IMO.

I write a lot about there being too much democracy. And, wouldn’t you know, the most overreaching entity, by far, has been the corporate elite. The elite used democracy to garner the power to rule the country through their ‘corporations’ and ‘institutions’.

The greatest scar on the Republic comes from the Supreme Court giving corporations ‘human’ rights. That law, and subsequent laws relative to corporate personhood have enabled the corporate elite to fulfill the prophecy of every democracy, ‘a small minority ruling over the majority’. Until the voter/taxpayer can come to realize that ‘corporations are not people’ and that ‘money is not free speech’ our Republic will remain largely a gov’t of, by and for corporations.

Example for too much democracy might be this article from the Washington Post.

And, too much democracy has led to runaway entitlements. We have an income tax code of some 70,000 pages, each designed by corpocracy/congress in making winners and losers out of the taxpayers/voters.
The corpocracy can ignore the war clause act or immigration laws, make laws subjugating US law to international law, etc, but still expect you to pay your income tax.

Otherwise - -

Posted by: Roy Ellis at May 25, 2011 12:06 PM
Comment #323539

C&J

A certain irony in your column. Memorial Day is approaching and there certainly is a connection to those who gave their ultimate so that this country could continue to be the Grand, Great, Glorious UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!!

Posted by: tom humes at May 25, 2011 12:37 PM
Comment #323540

Good work C&J, I would add voting for our representatives in government to your good citizens responsibilities list.

Posted by: j2t2 at May 25, 2011 12:57 PM
Comment #323544

Good post Christine and John. I especially enjoyed this paragraph…

“I am dismayed when I hear people talk about government as a tool to get stuff for themselves or their organized groups. It is another thing the Romans would recognize – a big system of patronage and spoils. We should get back to virtue.”

Virtue in a attribute of individuals and not of government.

Posted by: Royal Flush at May 25, 2011 1:59 PM
Comment #323547

Virtue walks hand in hand with morality, and morality is frowned upon by many in America. Morality is a gift from God; but like moralty, God and His statutes are all but becoming a distant memory in America.

Posted by: 1776 at May 25, 2011 3:56 PM
Comment #323561

Roy

Re democracy - some decisions just do not need and should not be made politically. Democracy is a good thing, but it doesn’t apply to every aspect of life.

j2t2

I think if you are satisfied with what is going on, you don’t need to vote. You may opt to allow people better informed or more passionate to make the decisions.

I vote in all elections, but I don’t vote for everybody. Sometimes I don’t know enough about an issue.

Royal

You are right that institutions cannot have virtue or emotions in general. I was thinking of individuals. Individuals should have virtue and not ask too much.

1776

We should be more willing to judge. In fact, our liberal friends are very quick to judge, but they glorify a particular way that claims not to judge.

Posted by: C&J at May 25, 2011 9:41 PM
Comment #323564
Ours is the oldest living written constitution in the world and the longest lasting in the history of the world. Our system endured, when so many others have failed, because we rarely overreached.

Rarely overreached? It seems we were built on overreach if you ask me C&J. The war on Independence was fought against the most powerful nation in the world at the time. We went to war to gain the Southwest part of the nation just 50 years into being a country. We broke apart over slavery a decade later, over slavery we killed a half million Americans, isn’t that a bit of an overreach? We conquered the Native Americans with the use of force because they were of a different religion and skin color, wasn’t that overreach? Building railroad tracks across the country could be seen to be overreach. We went from what was essentially a free market system of individuals into a capitalist/industrialist system and became the leader of the free world after the allied victory in WWII, should we not consider that overreach?

Posted by: j2t2 at May 25, 2011 10:33 PM
Comment #323567

Dunno C&J, I was one of those who, for most of my life, left it to others who were ‘better informed’ to take care of the politics and the country. Now, at 70, I’m skimping on prime retirement/fishing time to flog the keyboard and warn people that something has gone wrong, real wrong with this country, IMO.

You wrote: “I am dismayed when I hear people talk about government as a tool to get stuff for themselves or their organized groups. It is another thing the Romans would recognize – a big system of patronage and spoils.”

I agree. Organized lobbying at the behest of the corporate elite comes to mind. A mainline politico doesn’t consider running for office until his/her ducks are in row with the corporations. Some would recognize that as a bigtime conflict of interest. Certainly, lobbying is a necessary part of representative government. But, we must remove the money influence from that process. Abolish corporate personhood, 3rd party with a diff. attitude and implement real campaign finance reform.

Otherwise - - -

Posted by: Roy Ellis at May 26, 2011 8:33 AM
Comment #323576

C&J,
Good article!

You write:
“… it is increasingly easy to avoid actual service to our country, while loudly demanding benefits at public expense. People have become consumers of government services and fewer & fewer people really try to be good citizens. Nearly half of all American households pay no net Federal income taxes.”

Unfortunately, this canard- that half of Americans pay no Fed taxes, yet still demand services- underlies the reasoning for much of the article, and this canard is deeply flawed. In fact, in addition to Fed taxes, Americans pay for government’s public services in a variety of ways. Most of these other ways are regressive- that is, the burden falls more heavily on the bottom half than on the top- so that, by the time the burden of government is taken as a whole, it evens out. Other methods of paying for government and its services include social security (which is capped at $106,800, and therefore highly regressive), payroll tax (once again, regressive), fees, tolls, sales taxes, property taxes, state & local taxes, and more, virtually all of which are regressive.

Posted by: phx8 at May 26, 2011 6:06 PM
Comment #323577

“Unfortunately, this canard- that half of Americans pay no Fed taxes, yet still demand services- underlies the reasoning for much of the article, and this canard is deeply flawed.”

phx8,

It is indeed a canard. When total taxes, not simply income taxes, are considered, the tax burden by income group is significantly less progressive than generally assumed. http://www.ctj.org/pdf/taxday2011.pdf.

I might add another factor that is frequently overlooked. The lower and middle income groups have been paying payroll taxes in excess of operational requirements since 1983 to fund future needs of SS. That tax is regressive and capped at slightly more than $100,00.00 of income. The SS Trust is required to invest the surplus in US Treasury Bonds. That has provided the government with a significant amount of general budget funds that normally would have to be acquired from additional taxation or borrowing on the open market. In essence, the lower and middle income have been subsidizing higher income tax payers, who in the absence of the surplus, would have been taxed at a higher rate to meet the revenue needs.

Posted by: Rich at May 26, 2011 6:49 PM
Comment #323578

I am not sure that my link worked properly. http://www.ctj.org/pdf/taxday2011.pdf

Posted by: Rich at May 26, 2011 6:54 PM
Comment #323581

Here’s a good one; talk about asking what you can do for your country. These liberals have it all figure out, and I don’t think they are by themselves:

Video: DC Liberals Sign Petition to Ban Conservative Websites

Read more: http://www.newsbusters.org/blogs/stephen-gutowski/2011/05/26/video-dc-liberals-sign-petition-ban-conservative-websites#ixzz1NVUsxHfA

Posted by: 1776 at May 26, 2011 8:14 PM
Comment #323582

Using a conservative web site to prove a conservative viewpoint is just a conservative con job.

Posted by: Jeff at May 26, 2011 8:28 PM
Comment #323584

Jeff

Did you complain about Rich’s use of a liberal web site?

Everybody has a point of view. You have to assess the underlying facts. You don’t get to demonize.

Phx8

The poorer half of the population pays almost no Federal income taxes. They do indeed pay other taxes, but it is still small potatoes. If you earn $20,000 a year, you just cannot pay much in taxes, even if you paid 100% of your income.

But the real test is consumption. The poorest 20% spends more than it ostensibly earns or has in savings. The money is coming from somewhere. No matter how regressive taxes look in theory, large chunks of the U.S. population are now getting more income from government than they pay in taxes or contribute in other ways.
Phx8 & Rich
Social Security was sold to the American people as some kind of insurance/saving program, something people earned.

Re Social Security – it is hard to see how the poor get ripped off when they get more out of Social Security than they put in. That goes for government services in general. If government programs allow you to consume more than you earn in income, it is hard to claim to be oppressed.

Re progressive tax – the U.S. tax rate is progressive in that the rich pay – on average – a higher percentage. They also pay a lot more in real money. But who says tax rates SHOULD be progressive? IMO, all Americans should pay the same % of their income. 10% of a million dollars is a lot more than 10% of $1000, but the % is the same.

Your (Rich’s) article also shows that tax rates are generally higher for the rich, just not dramatically higher. Nor should they be.

I am a little suspicious of the figures on state and local taxes. State & local taxes may be based on sales or property. If the rich just do not buy as much in relation to income, why should they pay taxes.

But this whole argument is falling into the equality trap. Equally of outcomes is not a good thing. Everybody has a responsibility to his/her country. We don’t have a responsibility to equalize income, nor do the poorer segments or the richer segments have an excuse for not contributing to the general good.


Posted by: C&J at May 26, 2011 9:45 PM
Comment #323585

J2t2

It is not an overreach if you win. Then it is a bold move. We make lots of bold moves.

We may view history differently.

The war on Independence was fought against the most powerful nation in the world at the time. – worked – we won

We went to war to gain the Southwest part of the nation just 50 years into being a country. Ditto above

We broke apart over slavery a decade later, over slavery we killed a half million Americans, isn’t that a bit of an overreach? This was not an overreach. This was a terrible situation. Perhaps we could call the desire to abolish slavery an overreach, but I would quote Cicero again, extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

We conquered the Native Americans with the use of force because they were of a different religion and skin color – IMO we conquered the Indians because we could, not because of their religion or skin color. When I consider the alternative, i.e. not having a United States, since that is what would have happened had we not conquered the native people, I have to go with the former. Beyond that, it was not an overreach, since it succeeded.

Building railroad tracks across the country could be seen to be overreach – worked, not an overreach.

We went from what was essentially a free market system of individuals into a capitalist/industrialist system and became the leader of the free world after the allied victory in WWII, should we not consider that overreach? – this one may have been an overreach. In fact, we are talking about the ramifications of this right here in this article.


Roy

Re voting – or not. I don’t advocate apathy. I vote. But there are some races and issues I know less about and do not have a strong opinion. Beyond that, some people don’t keep up at all. They have the RIGHT to vote, but I would not encourage them to do so until they have learned a bit more. There is not virtue in making a ignorant choice. In that case, perhaps the best choice is to let others do it. IF you think they are doing a poor job, then get involved.

IMO - we make it too easy to vote. It wouldn’t hurt to ask people to put forward the same amount of effort they might do to buy a bottle of beer.

Posted by: C&J at May 26, 2011 9:50 PM
Comment #323586
I think if you are satisfied with what is going on, you don’t need to vote. You may opt to allow people better informed or more passionate to make the decisions.

I vote in all elections, but I don’t vote for everybody. Sometimes I don’t know enough about an issue.

If your satisfied with what is going on you should still vote. Voting is a responsibility. If you are not informed enough then it is a problem you need to fix. The exception I can see would be for travelers and people living in a place for the short term not voting on local issues. Allowing someone else who claims to be better “informed” sounds like a buzz word for allowing only the landed gentry to vote.

It is not an overreach if you win. Then it is a bold move. We make lots of bold moves.

Then the South’s use of extremism in the defense of their “liberty” was overreach?

Posted by: j2t2 at May 26, 2011 10:07 PM
Comment #323588
Equally of outcomes is not a good thing. Everybody has a responsibility to his/her country.

C&J how do you figure equalized outcomes from what you said? The outcome is not equal, nor is it kinda equal. In fact it is grossly unequal when you compare the income those in the lower income levels have compared to the high level incomes of the rich. The progressive tax rates in this country do not come close to equalizing the outcome.

It is the rich and the managerial class that pretty much dictate wages and jobs for the working class. They are the other team and the referee. The goal should be an equal opportunity not outcome, but when the ref is the other team an equal opportunity seems unlikely.


If we were to actually adopt the flat tax wouldn’t that actually be the equality of outcomes you are against?

Posted by: j2t2 at May 26, 2011 10:35 PM
Comment #323593

C&J,
You write: “… large chunks of the U.S. population are now getting more income from government than they pay in taxes or contribute in other ways.”

Maybe. I can think of several exceptions. But let’s go with that statement. The bottom 20% consist of many groups, including the elderly, the sick, single mothers and their children, the mentally ill, the mentally deficient and the physically handicapped, and addicts, to name just a few. Is it fair or just to expect those groups to contribute equally? If they do not contribute enough, what then? Is it enough to ensure equal opportunity, and let those who fail suffer the full brunt of the consequences?

In centuries past, many were left by the wayside in the name of free markets, with nothing but the vagaries of charity standing between the poor and a hard death. Today, we find that unacceptable, and remedy the situation with a social safety net, funded in part by a progressive tax code.

Posted by: phx8 at May 27, 2011 1:02 AM
Comment #323600

“Equally of outcomes is not a good thing.”

C&J,

Perhaps, but that is not the problem. The problem is a vast inequality of outcomes which has been growing significantly over the past thirty years. http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/income-inequality-in-america-chart-graph

Despite all the rhetoric from conservatives bemoaning progressive taxes, redistribution, etc., the fact of the matter is that the top 1-10% have captured an increasingly larger share of the wealth over the past few decades. The top 10% controls an astounding 2/3rds of the wealth of the US. That is an even greater percentage when housing equity is excluded.

The stagnation of middle class wages, its growing debt dependence and the reversal of the post war trend reducing the wealth gap should send shivers up the spine of all Americans. The American dream resides in a large and growing middle class. When it falters, we should all begin to pay attention.

Blaming the lower and middle classes for a lack of virtue is a gratuitous slap in the face to the majority of working Americans. It assumes that the growing disparity in wealth distribution is somehow their fault. If they only worked harder, got a better education, had less children, sought less government assistance, etc.

One of the more interesting studies summarized in the link above, is that which contrasted the actual wealth distribution in this country to its perception by Americans and their ideal distribution. What is clear from that study is that both conservatives and liberals alike agree that the wealth distribution in this country is far from ideal. Nobody wants a banana republic of have and have nots. Rather than blaming each other for the problem, it would be better for both sides to accept that fact that we have a problem in this country and begin working together to reduce the disparity.

Posted by: Rich at May 27, 2011 7:47 AM
Comment #323601

phx8


“The bottom 20% consist of many groups, including the elderly, the sick, single mothers and their children, the mentally ill, the mentally deficient and the physically handicapped, and addicts, to name just a few. Is it fair or just to expect those groups to contribute equally?”

i think c&j was referring to people who actually have jobs and earn income. according to the irs for 2008 the bottom 50% of earners contribute only 2.7% of all income tax revenue. i think a flat rate would be perfectly fair. at the very least the tax code should be a zero sum game. you can only break even, or owe nothing. i know of plenty of people who get back all that they paid in during the year and more. that is redistrbution of wealth through the tax code and should be stopped.

http://www.ntu.org/tax-basics/who-pays-income-taxes.html

Posted by: dbs at May 27, 2011 8:00 AM
Comment #323602

rich


“The stagnation of middle class wages, its growing debt dependence and the reversal of the post war trend reducing the wealth gap should send shivers up the spine of all Americans. The American dream resides in a large and growing middle class. When it falters, we should all begin to pay attention.”


then maybe we should stop attacking the very entities that create jobs for the average person, “the evil corporations”. we have the second highest corporate tax rate in the world, and from my understanding we will soon be the highest after japan lowers its rate. we also stifle the the creation of new jobs through piles of asinine regulations that don’t exist in other parts of the world. look at the the gov’ts latest attempt to stop boeing from building a new plant in the south. nothing but politics. they should be able to build that plant anywhere they choose, or would you prefer they build it in mexico.

Posted by: dbs at May 27, 2011 8:14 AM
Comment #323603

rich


“Blaming the lower and middle classes for a lack of virtue is a gratuitous slap in the face to the majority of working Americans.”


so is demonizing those who have the ability to rise to the top, and capture those positions that put them at the top. go apply to be the ceo of one of those large corporations if you feel that way, and then give away the majority of your income.


“It assumes that the growing disparity in wealth distribution is somehow their fault.”

everyone has different ability, and potential. if you have more ability then i do ( assuming we both give 100% ) and end up making far more then i do. whos fault is it that i’m not in your income bracket? that’s not to mention those who do just enough to get by. life isn’t fair, and can’t be legislated so. it’s not fair i’m losing my hair,and the guy across the street isn’t. maybe we should create a new tax to pay for hair replacement, after all attractive people do much better in the job market all things being equal.

“If they only worked harder, got a better education, had less children, sought less government assistance, etc.”

i think you’re on to somthing here. if i have the same ability as the guy with rock star looks i will have to do something to offset that, ie.. work harder than he does to set myself apart. it all boils down to personal responsability. if someone has more cildren than they can afford to support,a and needs gov’t assistance whos fault is that?

Posted by: dbs at May 27, 2011 8:43 AM
Comment #323605

dbs,

We do have a high statutory corporate rate but that is very misleading. Our actual effective corporate rate is much lower due to various tax credits, shelters and subsidies. In addition, much of business profit is reported as personal income (Subchapter S corporation election) avoiding the corporate rate. That is why the US has one of the lowest rates of corporate tax revenue as a percentage of GDP in the developed world. Interestingly, corporate tax revenues have been steadily declining as a percentage of federal tax revenues for decades. That said, both the Obama administration and conservative interests agree that a lowering of the corporate statutory rates, along with eliminating tax loopholes (ala Reagan) would be desirable. Not as much disagreement here as advertised.

Posted by: Rich at May 27, 2011 9:20 AM
Comment #323606

dbs,

I very much doubt that the growing trend in wealth inequality in the US has that much to do with personal competence. Are CEOs today ten times smarter and more industrious than CEOs of post war industrial America? Is he/she so brilliant as to be worth 185 times the average worker’s salary? Is the average Joe today dumber and less motivated than his counterpart of 30 years ago? Perhaps, you should consider other more ominous and obvious structural factors: financialization of our economy, loss of a manufacturing base, global wage arbitrage, growth of multi-national corporations, a consumer economy increasingly dependent upon private debt, etc.

Posted by: Rich at May 27, 2011 9:38 AM
Comment #323607

rich

“Are CEOs today ten times smarter and more industrious than CEOs of post war industrial America? Is he/she so brilliant as to be worth 185 times the average worker’s salary?”

i would have to say that that is market driven. what percentage of the population is qualified to be a corporate ceo, cfo, or coo? possibly less than 1% ? out of that percentage, what is the cream of the crop worth in terms of competetive advantage in the world market?

“Is the average Joe today dumber and less motivated than his counterpart of 30 years ago?”

that’s a tuff one to answer. if you were to say maybe 60 years ago, i would have to say yes. the workers of that era came out of a different time, and IMO did not have the entitlement mentality than many have today. they knew that they were on thier own and acted accordingly. today we have people on extended unemployment that is being funded by federal tax dollars. people who could be employed, but refuse to take much lower paying jobs. this creates an extra burden on those who are working and struggling, and on our economy in general. they refuse to do what they have to do, instead choosing the it’s below my dignaty, or why should i work for that when i can get just as much on unemployment route. IMO this needs to stop. if you were a rocket scientist, and have to pump gas, or scrub toilets for awhile, then that’s what you should do. why should the rest of bear your burden, when you are quite capable of bearing it yourself? once again it comes back to individual responsabilty.

Posted by: dbs at May 27, 2011 10:14 AM
Comment #323609

dbs,

My point is that the general competence and industriousness of both CEOs and the average Joe worker is probably not all that different from 30 or 60 years ago. Yet, there is a widening gap between their respective share of the pie. I don’t disagree with your point that some of that gap (CEO compensation) can be attributed to market forces as companies become larger and multi-national in scope. But whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that the largest segment of our population is being left in the dust. That disparity, in my opinion, is not good for the country. We used to laugh at the banana republics with our strong middle class orientation. Becoming one is no laughing matter.

Posted by: Rich at May 27, 2011 10:43 AM
Comment #323611
then maybe we should stop attacking the very entities that create jobs for the average person, “the evil corporations”.

dbs, it seems these corporations are not doing their jobs as job creation has fallen during the GWB administration and has continued to this day, despite the lowered taxes that was the mantra of conservatives for job creation. Are you suggesting rewarding these corporations for the failure to create jobs in this country? You may cast blame upon the government for the red tape but shipping jobs off to China seems to say red tape isn’t the answer.


so is demonizing those who have the ability to rise to the top, and capture those positions that put them at the top. go apply to be the ceo of one of those large corporations if you feel that way, and then give away the majority of your income.

It seems dbs, that these CEO’s are keeping the majority of their money. This illusion of paying the majority of their money in taxes is just that an illusion, ask Warren Buffett.


Posted by: j2t2 at May 27, 2011 11:09 AM
Comment #323612

rich

1. we need to lure the producers back, and that will be accomplished IMO through incentives not penalties. most importantly manufacturing. obviously this won’t be easy. employee wages and compensation will have to allow us to be competetive in a global market.

2. as individuals our attiude will have to change from one of a disgruntled worker doing as little as possible, because i feel we’re i’m under appreciated, and the man is screwing me. to an attitude of i’m lucky to have this job, and will give my all because no one is forcing me to work here. ie… i realize my personal behavior reflects the calber of individual that i am.

3. the gov’t will have to live within its means. we cannot continue to spend surplus soc. sec. funds in the general fund. this means painful cuts will have to be made to social services, along with the elimination of nonessential gov’t agencies, programs. the pay and benefits of gov’t employees should mirror that in the private sector. gov’t should only provide essential services to the tax payer, and they should be at the lowest cost possible. gov’t does not create the economy, the private sector does. left to continue growing at the current rate gov’t will crush the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Posted by: dbs at May 27, 2011 11:13 AM
Comment #323613

j2t2

“it seems these corporations are not doing their jobs as job creation has fallen”

the primary funtion of a business is not to create jobs, it is to generate a return on its investments. jobs are a by product of a successful business.

“Are you suggesting rewarding these corporations for the failure to create jobs in this country?”

i’m saying we need to create incentives that make it more attractive to do business in the US. this is the only way they will return. painting them as demons, and enemies will not shame them into doing what is against thier own best interest as a viable enterprise. it is gov’t policy that has failed to create jobs in this country.

“You may cast blame upon the government for the red tape but shipping jobs off to China seems to say red tape isn’t the answer.”

it is if you are running a business, and the current climate for growth, and prosperity lies elsewhere. the only way to grasp this concept is to stop looking at it from a purely emotional standpoint, and look at as what would i do if it were my money, an the survival of my business at stake.

Posted by: dbs at May 27, 2011 11:28 AM
Comment #323615
the primary funtion of a business is not to create jobs, it is to generate a return on its investments. jobs are a by product of a successful business.

I agree dbs, yet we continue to hear the mantra of “lower taxes on these corporations and they will create jobs”. The illusion that these are the job creators is a fallacy. The jobs are a by product and labor is considered an evil to be eliminated not encouraged.


i’m saying we need to create incentives that make it more attractive to do business in the US. this is the only way they will return.

The incentive is to do business here, to sell your product you have manufactured in China and then ship it back here to sell. Why should we feel it is the right of a corporation to have free reign to create profit for themselves at the expense of the people of this country?
If we give them incentive they will create jobs! It hasn’t worked yet. They continue to develop technologies that eliminate jobs. Why not a VAT that incentivizes these corporations to produce here as well as sell here? Why not treating them as a business entity not a person with all the rights of people.

it is if you are running a business, and the current climate for growth, and prosperity lies elsewhere. the only way to grasp this concept is to stop looking at it from a purely emotional standpoint, and look at as what would i do if it were my money, an the survival of my business at stake.

I don’t disagree with this dbs. The problem seems to be in the thinking that those corporations that go elsewhere are our hero’s to be pampered for their actions. This Ayn Rand type of hero worship is an emotional response isn’t it? Corporations are business entities that somehow have gained a status as a person but these companies are not people. There is a difference between a small business and the survival of the business and a multinational corporation having special privliges under the guise of creating jobs.

Is it the red tape or the much lower wages and environmental standards in China that is the culprit. It is one thing to set up a branch in a developing country and produce a product for that part of the world. It is another when you then ship the product back here to sell.

Posted by: j2t2 at May 27, 2011 12:42 PM
Comment #323616

j2t2

“Is it the red tape or the much lower wages and environmental standards in China that is the culprit. It is one thing to set up a branch in a developing country and produce a product for that part of the world. It is another when you then ship the product back here to sell.”

so your solution is?

try putting huge import taxes on impoted chinese products, and see how well that works. that won’t bring them back either. when some quit feeling entitled to things others create we might be able to make some progress.

Posted by: dbs at May 27, 2011 1:02 PM
Comment #323621
so your solution is?

First abolish personhood for corporations which would include the right to bribe and lobby our elected representatives, second add a VAT on the trinkets coming into this country from China and other nations that do not have decent labor laws and environmental regulations. Third take a serious look at our support of and subservience to the WTO and IMF. The globalization process is dictated by the corporations not the people of the world. It is time to globalize in a manner that benefits the people not the powerful corporations.

try putting huge import taxes on impoted chinese products, and see how well that works. that won’t bring them back either. when some quit feeling entitled to things others create we might be able to make some progress.

SO the only step is huge import taxes? why not import taxes that level the playing field. The VAT would be dependent upon the wages and environmental laws of the country. Why should the people of this country be expected to compete with third world countries in wages and benefits?

Entitlement goes both ways dbs. Why is it these multinational corporations feel entitled to the benefits of this great nation when they do not contribute enough to warrant such largess? Why do they think they should have special benefits for putting this country in harms way economically?

Posted by: j2t2 at May 27, 2011 3:16 PM
Comment #323622

j2t2

“First abolish personhood for corporations which would include the right to bribe and lobby our elected representatives,”

would you support this for labor unions as well who give the majority of thier cash, and support to the left? in order for this to work we would need to abolish all but contributions from private individuals.

“second add a VAT on the trinkets coming into this country from China and other nations that do not have decent labor laws and environmental regulations.”

you might as well call it an import tax or tariff. in reality that’s what it is. remember this could backfire. these target countries could retaliate by trying to drasticly undermine us in other markets. i don’t like the fact that we are such big consumers of chinese junk either.

i think in general people would be willing to pay a little more for american made goods, so long as the price difference isn’t stark, and the added quality make them a better or comperable value. they would also have to have an appeal in other markets. nothing would make me happier than to see “made in america” mean what it used to in this country and the rest of the world. without the ability to export large quantities of american made goods we would be isolating ourselves. i also think we need to get serious about forcing china, into allowing larger quantities of US imports into thier markets.

Posted by: dbs at May 27, 2011 4:19 PM
Comment #323624

J2t2

Re the South – yes. The South made a terrible blunder when they fired on Ft Sumter. The Civil War was the biggest mistake in American history.

Re voting – a man’s gotta know his limitations. I am significantly more intelligent than the average person, as are you and … some others here, yet there remain many things I don’t know anything about or things that I know things that are wrong. I always vote for president, senators etc. I sometimes do not vote on referendums or some of the local officials.

I do not believe in voting straight party line, which is the alternative to thinking.

Voting, I believe, is a right, not a responsibility. A good citizen will usually be generally involved, which will mean he will want to vote. But if he is satisfied with choices being made, there is no reason why he should vote. Beyond that, there are many people who are not able to understand most issues. If they are disinclined to vote, I am certainly not going to try to get them to go to the polls. I know Democrats hate this idea, probably because they feel the more ignorant segments of the population will vote for them.

Re equal outcomes/opportunity. Nobody has equal opportunity. I grew up in a poor household, but my mother always pushed me to learn and bought me books. I was vastly privileged by the culture she created. Somebody with twice as much money might not be so lucky.

There is no way to compensate for these inequalities. My mother did a good job as a citizen in helping her kids rise from relative ignorance and poverty. Other poor, and many not so poor, parents fail in their duty. But how can we make them comply?

Re flat tax – it equalizes burden, not outcomes, and addresses the issue of ability to pay.

Phx8
Private charity can and should take care of lots of these problems.

Government action is appropriate in some cases, but not all. Government action in the 1960s and 1970s exacerbated the misery of the poor in many cases. The vast welfare estates fostered a culture of dependency and viciousness.
Our society has become vastly wealthier over our lifetimes. Much of what you might attribute to government success is merely the result of general wealth increases. A person sitting on the 20% percentile today has access to more goods and services than a middle class American did in 1955 and in that year we had already made great progress.
Society has a duty to help the less fortunate. That is what our religion and philosophy tells us. Government doesn’t always or even most often be the tool we use to do this.

Rich
Incomes have grown for all groups. They have grown slower for the poorer one.

I am not slapping at the working people. Most of the poor do not work very much. The U.S. economy has indeed changed. There is less scope for unskilled workers. Those hard-working people who used to work as unskilled factor labor now are skilled and doing better quality jobs.

Dbs & Rich
“If they only worked harder, got a better education, had less children, sought less government assistance, etc.”

Exactly. Making poor decisions about such things is the basis of being poor. BTW – nobody ever said they should have less children, but fewer children might help.

Posted by: C&J at May 27, 2011 8:26 PM
Comment #323625

dbs,

For once there is some agreement on this blog between liberals and conservatives that the imbalance of trade and the loss of our manufacturing base needs to be addressed.

Curiously, there is little political discussion or debate about this issue. It is a stealth issue. Corporations have done well by outsourcing their production to China and other countries. Perhaps that explains the lack of political focus.

Both the Bush and Obama administration have basically taken the same approach to China: jawbone them into allowing their currency to appreciate against the dollar and making our exports more economically competitive. But that will result in a weaker dollar and higher consumer costs for all those discounted, Chinese subsidized imports. US corporate profits will suffer. Doesn’t sound very good. What president really wants to abandon a strong dollar, raise the cost of all our consumer goods and reduce the corporate profit of Wallmart? What country for that matter? Apparently, only the Germans have the discipline to bite the bullet and accept the sacrifices necessary to maintain an export surplus economy. Protectionist policies would seem to be out of the question.

As far as I can see, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have any serious proposals for addressing the trade imbalance and consequently our manufacturing base and jobs. In fact, it is striking that the US does not have a national economic development plan.


Posted by: Rich at May 27, 2011 8:53 PM
Comment #323626

“Incomes have grown for all groups. They have grown slower for the poorer one.”

C&J, true but only in a nominal sense. When controlled for inflation, income for the middle and lower classes has treaded water for 30 years. At the same time the debt burden of the middle and lower economic classes has skyrocketed. The national public debt pales in comparison to private debt in the US.

There is not any real dispute that the upper 10% have benefited disproportionately over the past 30 years and that the wealth gap in the US has widened significantly. Do you actually think that this is a healthy development?

Posted by: Rich at May 27, 2011 9:11 PM
Comment #323627

Rich

I do not think it is a good thing that incomes have diverged. But I fear that the remedies might be worse than the disease.

Income inequality has increased worldwide. As you imply, it has to do with globalization. It opens up opportunities for those with skills, talents and ambitions that are competitive in the global marketplace. On the other hand, it enters into competition new workers. An unskilled American worker used to benefit from the protection offered by wide oceans and poor infrastructure. Today, he competes with workers worldwide.

Even w/o globalization, the structure of the economy has changed. The value of unskilled labor has declined as most simple jobs have been automated. One skilled guy does the work of dozens of unskilled ones. He is paid better; they are out of jobs.

The remedy you seem to want is taxing “the rich”. Others have tried that. The rich have ways to avoid taxes or - worse - they may just do nothing.

This is nothing new. In the ancient Greek times, in the 6th Century BC, there was a regionalization. Society got richer, but some got richer faster. It caused all sorts of trouble back then too. The remedy they applied was often tyranny. The word didn’t have the same connotations it later acquired. And it acquired the current meaning for good reason.

Posted by: C&J at May 27, 2011 9:35 PM
Comment #323631

“The remedy you seem to want is taxing “the rich”. Others have tried that. The rich have ways to avoid taxes or - worse - they may just do nothing.”

C&J, your presumption in not entirely correct. I do favor a progressive tax system, particularly when the upper 1-10% has benefited disproportionately over the past few decades and there is wide and growing wealth gap. I think of it as sort of a business partnership. Your responsible for the business liabilities to the extent of your ownership interest. Taxation, therefore, should be reasonably related and proportional to the ownership interest of the country’s wealth.

However, that said, I believe that socio-economic policy should be principally directed at improving the earning capacity of the lower and middle economic classifications. Most reasonable people do not advocate a Robin Hood approach to solving the wealth inequality gap. This will require that we as a society begin to face the problems of globalization, wage arbitrage, financialization, automation, etc. Our consumer driven economy has begun to hit a brick wall of consumer debt. Both parties seem to want to ignore the issues.


Posted by: Rich at May 27, 2011 10:29 PM
Comment #323635

Rich

We have to get cooperation. More and more people feel entitled to being helped. The ask what their country can do for them.

Consumer debt is the doing of consumers buying things they cannot afford and probably do not need.

Re taxation in proportion to ownership interest - business are creators of wealth. We have to be careful with taxes. If you tax something, you create incentives NOT to do it. That is why we tax vices, such as alcohol or cigarettes. Wealth creation is not a vice.

Wealth in society is not distributed by random chance alone. The upper 10% did not “benefit” like it was some sort of gift. They helped create more wealth.

The other important thing to recall is that the 10% changes. You mention a 30 year period. 30 years ago, I was in the lowest 10% of the income. Today I am in the highest 10%. 30 years from now, if I am not dead, I will probably again in the lower income group. Not long ago, I figured out my personal “median” income,adjusted for inflation. In the course of my working life so far, I have made a little less than the median income. There would be no use in equalizing my incomes.

Anybody can be poor sometimes and many of us have been poor… sometimes. But if you stay poor your whole life, you are doing something wrong and should change whatever that is, not rely on a political process to get more for you.

IMO - we have an old and outdated paradigm of wealth and poverty. In the old days, the many poor did the work and wealthy lived on their efforts. This was never completely true, but in a feudal society, it is generally true. In our modern society, it is not. In our society, the most productive people are well paid. Many of the poor produce little or nothing.

Today, if the workers of the world unite to throw off the oppressors and parasites, it would not be the bourgeois they would go after.

Posted by: C&J at May 27, 2011 11:36 PM
Comment #323639

“The upper 10% did not “benefit” like it was some sort of gift. They helped create more wealth.”

C&J, are you sure about that? Over the last few decades, labor’s share of national income has declined while the rentiers’ share has increased substantially. That corresponds with the global financialization of our economy. http://www.boeckler.de/pdf/p_imk_wp_2_2010.pdf

Posted by: Rich at May 28, 2011 7:01 AM
Comment #323645

Your link actually supports what I was saying. First, it shows that inequality is a global phenomenon. Countries with very diverse tax and spending policies have experienced it.

But wage income is not the only way to be productive. In fact, how you deploy resources with financial tools can be more important. Poorer societies of the past worked harder and earned less than we do. One of the secrets of success in modern western societies has been financial deploying of resources. We like to criticize bankers and brokers and they have criticism coming, but when you think about how finance is the lifeblood of commerce, you see they are necessary.

I recall on the personal level, when I first visited Europe more than 30 years ago, I had to made detailed plans, carry travelers checks, exchange currency etc. Today, I don’t hardly think about those things. My credit card works everywhere I want to be and I can get local cash at competitive rates w/o having to deal with all sorts of middle men.

In addition, I can buy books online from Brazil. I pay in U.S. dollars, they get Brazilian reals. The transaction is seamless. You used to have to get all sorts of money orders, permits etc to do such a simple transaction.

Whoever thought up and administers these things is doing men and everybody else a very valuable service, worth a lot of my time and so a lot of money.

Posted by: C&J at May 28, 2011 2:04 PM
Comment #323650

C&J,

The economy certainly has grown over the past few decades as financialization took off. But,how did that happen in a consumer based economy where wages/salaries have remained stagnant during that period? It happened due to an extraordinary increase in private debt supported by asset price inflation. What mechanism provided for that? It was the deregulated highly leveraged financial markets. Who benefited? The holders of those debt instruments. Who were they? Hint, it wasn’t the bottom 90%. What happened when the bottom fell out of the market with defaults on debt and asset prices supporting that debt plummeted? Why, the bottom 90% bailed out the holders of those instruments.

Posted by: Rich at May 29, 2011 8:20 AM
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