Tax and spend

by Henry on January 29, 2004

David Bernstein has a couple of very weird posts, railing against the liberals in his head for not liking George W. Bush. His main proposition: that liberals stereotype their opponents, and hate them when they don’t live up to their stereotypes. Seems to me that Bernstein is engaged in a wee bit of stereotyping himself. Chez Bernstein, liberals are obsessed with massive spending increases, clumsy protectionism, and boondoggles in space; all good reasons to love George W. The fact that they don’t demonstrates their fundamental irrationality (in fairness, Bernstein says that conservative Clinton-hatred was irrational too).

Bernstein’s non-argument rests on the premise that there’s no good reason for liberals not to like Bush – he’s overseeing a massive increase in government spending. I don’t need to belabour the obvious – there are many, many legitimate, policy-related reasons why liberals may believe the Bush administration to be a disaster. There are even more reasons for social democrats like myself. Under Bush, the relationship between who bears the brunt of the tax burden, and who gets the benefits of government spending is tilting further, so that politically well-connected corporations are prospering at the expense of of poor and middle-income taxpayers. That’s not something that any liberal or social democrat worth their salt is going to want to sign up to, and Bernstein knows it. The only explanation that I can think of for these truly strange posts is Bernstein’s own discomfort with Bush. He doesn’t like the Bush administration much, but isn’t much happier with the company that he’s starting to keep. I guess he’s afraid he might get liberal-cooties or something.

Update: Michael Froomkin has similar thoughts; see also Brad DeLong.

{ 22 comments }

1

Brad DeLong 01.29.04 at 6:09 pm

Nah. He’s just bored and being a troll. There’s not even a pretense of an argument there.

2

MDtoMN 01.29.04 at 6:31 pm

Of course, Liberals don’t love to spend money, they just like to do things that require spending money. Republicans can’t actually articulate arguments against spending money to do those things – military protection, scientific research, education, infrastructure, libraries, environmental protection, social security – so they spend their time pretending they don’t even exist. It’s just some money hole Liberals love to throw money down. If I believed that, I would probably be a Libertarian too.

What really bothers Liberals is that Bush is Spending money like crazy, but he is having negligible positive impact on the things we care about, and often a negative impact.

3

Ted Barlow 01.29.04 at 6:48 pm

I agree with Brad. This line:

“In fact, spending has gone through the roof, as any good liberal would desire.”

kind of gives away the game.

Roy Edroso has some comments, too.

4

BigMacAttack 01.29.04 at 6:59 pm

MDtoMN,

‘What really bothers Liberals is that Bush is Spending money like crazy, but he is having negligible positive impact on the things we care about, and often a negative impact.’

Please supply the metrics. So we can judge.

5

Russell Arben Fox 01.29.04 at 8:07 pm

As Matthew Ygelsias has admitted in a couple of posts today, Bernstein isn’t entirely wrong. Indeed, one might (if you squint when you read Bernstein’s post) imagine a certain kind of civic liberal (Mickey Kaus, maybe) that would fit his description: someone who likes at least some of Bush’s intentions (regarding education, marriage, immigration and the like) and how he spends money on them. The problem is, as mdtomm implies, Bernstein’s a libertarian, and can’t imagine that anyone who approves of some kinds of government spending isn’t actually a statist who approves of all forms of government spending. But egalitarians are more discerning than that–which is why we get angry at the man. We’re looking at missed opportunities here, which in a lot of ways are far worse than plain old stupid or bad policies.

6

Kieran Healy 01.29.04 at 8:11 pm

At least he didn’t mention his book.

7

BigMacAttack 01.29.04 at 8:25 pm

Russell Arben Fox,

Missed opportunities is so vague as to be almost meaningless.

Basing hatred on something as nebulous and imprecise as missed opportunities is preposterous.

Which is exactly the point. Committing to some objective set of criteria would expose the fraudulent nature of the hatred.

8

MDtoMN 01.29.04 at 8:34 pm

Ahhh… Metrics for things like education, environmental health, military strength, crime, and the economic well being of the working class and middle class.

I am a lowly paralegal, and I cannot provide these to you with my present resources. Please arrange to provide me with $100,000, and I will find a way to measure all of these wonderful things and make them available.

However, each politician/proponent must make his case, so I urge President Bush to show me the metrics that reveal that his policies HAVE in truth helped the things I care about. Show me that his excessive spending has helped me more per dollar than the Clinton Administration’s policies. then we can talk.

9

Sigivald 01.29.04 at 8:40 pm

Henry: “Under Bush, the relationship between who bears the brunt of the tax burden, and who gets the benefits of government spending is tilting further, so that politically well-connected corporations are prospering at the expense of of poor and middle-income taxpayers. “

Uh. Say what, now?

While I agree that the relationship is tilted, and tilting further, I’d have thought that the way that “the rich” pay almost all of the income tax and “the poor and middle class” get most of the benefits (welfare to the poor, mortgage deductions to the middle class, scholarships and subsidised education to both, etc.) …

And yet here you’re saying that somehow “well-connected corporations” (name names, give stats, tell me how this is different than in 1999?) are benefitting at the cost of the poor and middle class (huh? who’s taking what from them, how?).

I look forward to hearing the explanation.

mdtomm: What if Bush’s money merely had as much effect per dollar as Clinton’s? Is it not an improvement to spend more, if all you care about is sum-total benefit from spending? (Not that I suggest that spending is what the Federal Government should be doing, but that’s implicit to your criticism, so assumed for sake of argument.)

10

BigMacAttack 01.29.04 at 8:51 pm

MDtoMN,

So your default position is hatred of Bush. I need to prove to you that Bush should not be hated. Thus the contention that your hatred is an irrational product of your cultural affections.

So if I can somehow prove that Bush’s spending has helped the anonymous you more per dollar than Clinton’s spending you will no longer hate Bush?

If I could somehow create a magic formula that calculated how much each dollar of federal speding benefited you and it turned out that Bush’s spedning only helped as much as Clinton’s, would you still hate Bush?

What about if the difference was a penny, a nickel, a dime? How much difference per dollar before you hate?

11

MDtoMN 01.29.04 at 9:04 pm

I was somewhat joking above in my second post.

No, I don’t hate Bush. Why do you think I do? I said nothing that suggested hatred. I just think he’s a bad president. His foreign policy has been the main reason for this. I do not think we took a sufficiently aggressive or intelligent approach to the rebuilding Afghanistan OR Iraq. As a result, I do not think he has solved any of those fundamental problems.

Second, it’s not about how well off I am, It’s about my perception of how well off the country is . And more of my friends are unemployed than ever before. More of us seem to be working more for less. The debt is growing, which intelligent economists tell me can have negative impacts in teh future. The administration has done nothing about global warming that I can take seriously – much less even admit it exists. They essentially ended research in stem cells, which might mean increased suffering by millions. They have not improved education as far as I can see. Etc etc.

Also, their mendacity truly bothers me. When Bush will spend months at speaches talking about his love for Americorps, then sign a bill that severely cuts their funding, that bothers me. etc etc.

12

Paul 01.29.04 at 9:25 pm

So your default position is hatred of Bush. I need to prove to you that Bush should not be hated.

This whole everyone-hates-me-everyone-Bush thing sounds like classic paranoia to me. Have Republicans become a party of tin-foil-hatters or just the ones who show up here?

13

BigMacAttack 01.29.04 at 9:48 pm

Paul,

At the verey least part of the topic of discussion is Bush hatred.

‘David Bernstein has a couple of very weird posts, railing against the liberals in his head for not liking George W. Bush. His main proposition: that liberals stereotype their opponents, and hate them when they don’t live up to their stereotypes.’

When the topic of discussion is Bush hatred talking about Bush hatred is not paranoia.

If somone brings up UFOs and I say belief in UFOs is irrational I think is a bit of stretch for another person to claim that I am a tinfoil hat wearer for talking about UFOs.

Which is essentially what you have done. Just substitute Bush hatred for UFOs.

14

Paul 01.29.04 at 10:16 pm

Perhaps you aren’t representative then, um, Bigmac. But lately, the zeal with which Right Blogostan and conservative pundits hunt for “Bush Hate” in every corner and their fervent denunciations of same, make me wonder. It all starts to look like someone has a major persecution complex.

15

Conrad Barwa 01.29.04 at 11:23 pm

Chez Bernstein, liberals are obsessed with massive spending increases, clumsy protectionism, and boondoggles in space; all good reasons to love George W

Very odd, Liberals and those on the Left as a rule don’t really warm to military Keynesianism accompanied by large tax cuts for the upper-income brackets. This ire is quite mis-directed.

16

oneangryslav 01.30.04 at 12:17 am

Wow, as a self-professed liberal, I want to say that Bernstein is absolutely correct. Why, it would make me ecstatic if Bush spent trillions of dollars paving every single square mile of American forest land, installing electronic bugs in every single household, and building a church at every single intersection. I’d just sit back, close my eyes, and relish the thought of all that money being spent! Boy, Bernstein sure knows liberals.

17

braden 01.30.04 at 12:36 am

Hmm, it seems that what Bernstein wanted to say is that the policies of this administration are inconsistent with his libertarian philosophy. Instead he just spits out…’Don’t ask me to stop supporting Bush your the ones that should switch’.

18

CN 01.30.04 at 1:22 am

While I agree that the relationship is tilted, and tilting further, I’d have thought that the way that “the rich” pay almost all of the income tax and “the poor and middle class” get most of the benefits (welfare to the poor, mortgage deductions to the middle class, scholarships and subsidised education to both, etc.) …”

WTF are you talking about? The rich pay the income taxes???? Not in this country.

19

john 01.30.04 at 1:59 am

The richest 10% of Americans paid 61.3% of federal taxes in 2000.

The rich have always paid a disproportionate amount of the income tax. This is not so much a function of the tax system as it is of the fundamental income equality inherent in a capitalist society. The wealthiest Americans make so much more than the poor that creating a tax system where they (the rich) do not shoulder most of the tax burden would be difficult at best.

I feel that assigning value to the worker, rather than to capital, creates a view and a politics that cannot function in a large society, and, in the presence of other societies that are based on free-market systems, inevitably fails regardless of other circumstances. A society that values the worker can never match the productivity and growth of the free market. Sweden is an excellent example. They provide an extremely high standard of living, but I would feel safe betting that much of the invention that allows them this does not originate in Sweden (medicine is an excellent example).

Have you ever watched a man try to dig a hole with his bare hands? He works very slowly. Give the same man a shovel, and watch his productivity, in holes, skyrocket. The value lies in the shovel: the hard truth of the world is that there are many more workers than shovels. The effects of globalization and outsourcing upon the American workforce provide an excellent example of this.

As for the liberals, I think they would not be so rabid if they had a solid candidate. Dean was interesting, but anyone dumb enough to scream in public while running for office is too stupid to be the president. And then, you have Kerry. I miss Bill Clinton.

20

Kevin 01.30.04 at 5:05 am

Bernstein is just putting out a familiar straw man to pummel, and gaping in wonder at why it’s such an easy target.

I mean, I’m all for increased attention to domestic social programs, but, unlike the caricature, it isn’t the attention/money but rather how that attention/money is used. Go ahead and try to help out the public education system, for example, but listen to the fricking teachers’ unions, set sensible goals, and fund the damn thing properly.

I don’t dislike Bush for what he does (on many issues), but for how he does it.

21

Kimmitt 01.30.04 at 11:05 am

Bernstein tells us a lot more about conservatives than he tells us about liberals. The insane assertion that liberals view government spending as a good in and of itself, rather than as a means to an end, gives us great insight into the workings of the conservative mindset.

22

Sigivald 01.30.04 at 7:31 pm

Really, kimmit?

I take it, then, that if I was to take the assertions of Any Random Liberal and tell you that they provided me a valuable insight into the workings of the Liberal Mindset(tm), that you would not argue against this belief on my part?

Or perhaps you’d realise that just as there is no one “the Liberal mindset” that one can validly infer via the ramblings of one Liberal, there is no “the Conservative mindset” that one can infer from the words of one Conservative – especially when doing so in a derogatory manner. In other words, if it’s wrong for Them to call You bad because [insert name here] is a Liberal and said [stupid thing], the reverse is true as well.

Suffice it to say that Conservatism in general is not a macrocosm of Bernstein’s thought processes any more than Liberalism is a macrocosm of a 19 year old college Green’s.

(Mind you, I say this as someone whose sentiments are almost equally divided between old-liberalism, libertarianism, and political conservatism.

I don’t feel particularly personally offended by attacks on conservatism, as I don’t primarily identify as a Conservative. However, I have this strange… call it… liberal desire that criticisms of Conservatism in general be based on strong, rational grounds, rather than smug-sounding jibes about “their” thought-processes based on some individual’s statements. Much like I desire that criticisms of Liberalism or Libertarianism be based on the same. Of course, I have a reflexive dislike of any position that ascribes to all people of a political bent a specific mindset – as if the one must follow from the other!)

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