Ferguson, disorder, and change

by Chris Bertram on August 20, 2014

Watching the nightly demonstrations and confrontations from Ferguson, I was reminded of James C. Scott’s discussion in chapter 1 of his Two Cheers for Anarchism of the role of riots, confrontations, violence and disorder in effecting social change. They don’t always, or even usually, make things better. They sometimes makes things worse. But police violence, racism and radical social inequality are not going to be ended just by voting for the US Democratic Party, or even by a black President.

Scott:

It is a cruel irony that this great promise of democracy is rarely realized in practice. Most of the great political reforms of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have been accompa­nied by massive episodes of civil disobedience, riot, lawbreak­ing, the disruption of public order, and, at the limit, civil war. Such tumult not only accompanied dramatic political changes but was often absolutely instrumental in bringing them about. Representative institutions and elections by themselves, sadly, seem rarely to bring about major changes in the absence of the force majeure afforded by, say, an economic depression or international war. Owing to the concentration of prop­erty and wealth in liberal democracies and the privileged ac­cess to media, culture, and political influence these positional advantages afford the richest stratum, it is little wonder that, as Gramsci noted, giving the working class the vote did not translate into radical political change. Ordinary parliamen­tary politics is noted more for its immobility than for facilitat­ing major reforms. (pp. 16–17)

{ 172 comments }

1

Brian Weatherson 08.20.14 at 12:32 pm

It’s true that voting for national Democrats is unlikely to change what’s going on in Ferguson. But is it so obvious that voting for Democrats at all won’t change things, or that voting full stop is irrelevant, especially given the difference that could be made in primaries? Given the successful efforts that local white power brokers (both GOP and Dem) put into making it hard for African-Americans to vote, the powers that be there don’t think so. (See, for example http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/08/18/1322606/-Ferguson-s-election-turnout-is-terrible-by-design-Here-s-how-to-fix-it.)

It’s hard to believe that having a white GOP mayor, in a town that is less than one third white, and which voted 5/6 for Obama, isn’t part of the problem.

2

Chris Bertram 08.20.14 at 12:37 pm

Brian, I didn’t say that voting was “irrelevant” or made no difference, but that “police violence, racism and radical social inequality” are not going to be ended just by voting Democrat.

3

J Thomas 08.20.14 at 12:46 pm

Police departments are organizations which resist change.

To really effectively change one, it’s probably best to start a new organization. Hire new people to staff it, and give them a region to patrol that fits their numbers. Make it clear there will be no new hires for the old organization. Gradually increase the size of the new one, slowly hiring the ones judged best from the old one along with new outsiders. Veterans must be rehired slowly enough to incorporate them into the new structure, you don’t want them to clump together and do things the old way.

Meanwhile, as the old police force downsizes, many of them will look for other work because it’s better to find a job when you have a job.

When the new group is big enough to patrol the whole area, the old one is disbanded.

You can’t expect very much change from an existing police force just because it has a new mayor, or a new police chief.

4

Brian Weatherson 08.20.14 at 12:47 pm

Fair enough. And I agree that racism and radical social inequality won’t be ended that way. But I suspect voting locally would make much more of a difference to police violence.

Of course, this is just because of the slightly odd nature of Ferguson. There are plenty of towns that bad where the underprivileged couldn’t win even if they all voted, and there it is unlikely voting would make a difference. But I think police violence in Ferguson is an unhappy choice to highlight the limits of democracy.

5

Rob 08.20.14 at 12:50 pm

If democratic political institutions are slow to change, it’s more likely because the constituencies those institutions respond to are themselves not radical–not because a cabal of the rich prevents change. The story of the French revolution, for example, is the story of a small upper middle class faction forcing radical change upon a country that would probably have voted against it, had national elections been held. In that case, the enlightened self interest of Robespierre, Danton, et all, along with the truly terrible conditions of working class life at the time, made the French Revolution a net positive. But given the political class we have today, and relative affluence of the country (even the working class is pretty well off, in absolute terms) make replaying such a violent event considerably more risky.

6

Ronan(rf) 08.20.14 at 12:58 pm

“Police departments are organizations which resist change.”

Haven’t some of the bigger police depts in major cities reformed their police depts pretty significantly ? (here’s an example)

http://www.fastcoexist.com/3022154/using-social-networks-to-track-and-predict-gun-violence

so meaningful reform is possible.

7

J Thomas 08.20.14 at 1:04 pm

Haven’t some of the bigger police depts in major cities reformed their police depts pretty significantly ?

Probably so, and it’s worth looking carefully at how they did it.

But in general the easier way to get an organization to change is to create a new organization.

The usual response of existing organizations to demands for change is to create some sort of interface to help buffer them from those demands.

8

ZM 08.20.14 at 1:12 pm

Re: police reform
There was an article in The Guardian today by the police chief who had been in charge at the anti WTO protests in Seattle, who rued confronting the protestors there in a military fashion, and said the Ferguson police hadn’t seemed to learn the lessons he had learned then:

“I was the city police chief during 1999’s so-called “Battle in Seattle,” the clash between anti-globalization protesters and my police officers. I realize now that the way we looked – and the way we behaved – provoked and exacerbated the violence. My decision to authorize the use of so-called “hard gear” (black uniforms with ballistic helmets and face shields, and the use of chemical agents) in our interactions with nonviolent, nonthreatening World Trade Organization demonstrators heightened tensions and put everyone – cops and citizens – at greater risk. The militarization of the WTO protests did untold damage to our efforts to build a positive, trusting partnership with our community.

I’m saddened to have watched the situation unfold in Ferguson and see almost none of the lessons I’ve tried to offer since then put into effect. It’s difficult to implement any best practices when the everyday relationship between a city’s cops and its citizens is so broken.

It may be too late to have prevented violence in Ferguson, but the community and others like it must come together now and make immediate changes to establish a baseline of behavior for law enforcement – to abide by today and to build upon for the future. The situation in Ferguson is no longer just about Michael Brown’s death: it’s about systemic racism and patterns of neglect, about leadership and the ability to influence angry, sometimes criminally motivated, individuals. Beyond the lifted curfews and long after the National Guard’s presence attempts to restore some semblance of peace, real accountability for everyone’s actions – cops and citizens – is imperative.”
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/19/ferguson-police-force-punish-cops

9

bob mcmanus 08.20.14 at 1:18 pm

…are not going to be ended just by voting Democrat.

So you and Brian are agreed that voting Democrat will get us what, 80% of the way to an egalitarianian society? 85%? 90%?

And although I welcome Direct Action whenever and wherever it arises, I think it has also been co-opted and rendered into mere Spectacle. Lessons of 1968.

10

Ronan(rf) 08.20.14 at 1:30 pm

11

Ed 08.20.14 at 1:31 pm

Liberals have the odd notion that elections in the United States are free and fair, with all the votes cast counted and recorded. That leads to hilarious results when something like the city of Ferguson draws public attention.

12

Chris Mealy 08.20.14 at 1:35 pm

From what I’ve read the reform acts came about because ruling classes were genuinely afraid of the people in the street. The cops in Ferguson don’t look vey scared.

13

Ronan(rf) 08.20.14 at 2:00 pm

re-reading my link at 10, it’s very james scott-ish aswell, with all that emphasis on metis and localised (ground level) knowledge or what have you.

14

LFC 08.20.14 at 2:19 pm

Ed @11
Liberals have the odd notion that elections in the United States are free and fair, with all the votes cast counted and recorded. That leads to hilarious results when something like the city of Ferguson draws public attention.

Glancing at the Daily Kos piece linked by Brian W., one finds a reference to municipal elections being scheduled as stand-alone dates and to turnout in the last municipal election in Ferguson being something on the order of 11 percent. When turnout is that low, it’s not a question of votes cast not being counted, it’s a question of the votes not being cast. Hence your reference to “liberals” and their “odd notion[s]” would seem to be, in this case, misplaced.

15

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 08.20.14 at 2:39 pm

When turnout is that low, it’s not a question of votes cast not being counted, it’s a question of the votes not being cast.

The beatings will continue until morale improves?

People tend to grow discouraged when the game is rigged against them.

Imagine you voted for change, and a substantial majority of the population did the same. And you got a President who services Wall Street primarily, just like the President you voted against.
~

16

Brett Bellmore 08.20.14 at 2:54 pm

People tend to get discouraged when they think the system is rigged against them, whether or not it is so rigged. Then, being discouraged, they don’t try, and not trying, the outcome is the same as though it were rigged against them.

Ferguson has an unrepresentative government, because a large part of the community aren’t bothering to vote. No evidence has been presented that if they did show up to vote they’d be met with fire hoses or attack dogs, or their ballots would be thrown out.

Nobody even needs to do any of that, so long as they don’t bother voting, because they’re convinced the system is rigged. Ever stop to think liberals themselves might be “rigging the system” against blacks, by persuading them that there’s no point in trying? That you, yourselves, are rigging the system, BY telling them there’s no point in trying?

17

mpowell 08.20.14 at 3:05 pm

Democracy is tricky. You have a bunch of voters who aren’t really interested in investing a huge amount of time in researching candidates or the state of politics at all. It’s actually quite a lot of work to figure out what policies you prefer and which candidates will enact them, especially at the local level where a lot of the relevance is in the details. And then, even if people did the work, you have to find a representative candidate to rally around which is a complicated process that usually comes down to forming parties, having party activists doing a lot of the choosing, and having career party workers and politicians whose interests then become partly detached from the people whose views they purport to represent. It’s messy all around and hardly surprising that people choose not to vote much.

Higher participation rates in Ferguson would probably result in a black mayor and police chief and, at the very least, the policing would be a hell of a lot less obviously racist and provocative. But if the town was only 40% black I wouldn’t count on this outcome. And that’s not to say that the governance on any other dimensions would be any better either.

18

mds 08.20.14 at 3:06 pm

Imagine you voted for change, and a substantial majority of the population did the same. And you got a President who services Wall Street primarily, just like the President you voted against.

Yeah, that’s what discourages the overwhelming majority of residents of Ferguson from voting in a municipal election, all right. Why, only 54 percent of African-American voters in Ferguson could drag themselves to the presidential voting booth in 2012, as opposed to 6 percent in the 2013 municipal elections. Must be Obama’s Wall Street agenda.

19

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 08.20.14 at 3:07 pm

Ever stop to think liberals themselves might be “rigging the system” against blacks, by persuading them that there’s no point in trying?

No. I’ve seen no evidence that liberals are persuading people not to vote. Feel free to post any that you have.

What I see on plenty of blogs (Driftglass, LGM, etc.) is ritual denunciations of Ralph Nader, Glenn Greenwald, ‘emoproggies’, etc. (feel free to add your own Emmanuel Goldstein) for not cheering the lesser evil sufficiently.

1. Hump cynical corporatist Dem legs
2. ????
3. Dems win the elections!

Here are two people who ARE costing the Democrats elections: DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and DCCC chair Steve Israel. They are following Rahm Emanuel’s strategy of pushing right-wing Dems only.

If you want the Dems to win elections, you might try calling for the return of Howard Dean’s 50 State strategy, which Obama and Rahmbo ditched in 2009. Tell the DCCC when they call you (as I did) that they’ll never see another dime from me until they bring it back.
~

20

Layman 08.20.14 at 3:15 pm

“Ferguson has an unrepresentative government, because a large part of the community aren’t bothering to vote. No evidence has been presented that if they did show up to vote they’d be met with fire hoses or attack dogs, or their ballots would be thrown out.”

You don’t need attack dogs to discourage voting; you just need to make it harder to do. Ferguson’s municipal election schedule is designed to suppress turnout, by scheduling it in off years rather than to coincide with state and national elections. And it works: Black voter turnout in Ferguson for the 2012 national elections was 54%, while turnout for the last municipal election was just 11%. Ferguson pays a premium in election costs just to keep a separate municipal election cycle, and that decision is under the control of the mostly-white city council. I wonder why they don’t change it..?

21

Ed 08.20.14 at 3:16 pm

LFC 14, if about a quarter of the ballots cast in American elections are routinely not counted but instead discarded, this explains both the low levels of turnout in American elections and also the low levels of support for parties other than the two two. Both voter turnout and support for third and minor parties is really low in the US compared to other countries that hold elections, including places where a majority of the population is illiterate or its widely known that the elections are rigged. No one has really succeeded in explained the reason for this. I think the simplist explanation and the one that best fits the evidence is routine electoral fraud. This fits well with the actual procedures by which votes are counted in American elections, which are unusual, and also US electoral history (the standard US history book explains that electoral fraud was the norm until about the time of World War II, and then people just stopped doing it).

No, I don’t think the explanations that people don’t particularly care who runs the government of their city, even to the extent of running the risk of getting shot by a hostile police force, or that the elections are scheduled at odd times, satisfactoraly explains the situation.

22

Anarcissie 08.20.14 at 3:25 pm

Is it actually hard to vote in Ferguson? I find the 12% level of electoral participation rather interesting, especially given the reported level of public resentment of the police and other authorities.

23

Layman 08.20.14 at 3:48 pm

Even at the national level, midterm elections for Congress have much lower voter turnout than years with Presidential elections (~37% vs. ~50%). Special elections for Congress are dramatically lower than that, with some recent examples below 15%.

Turnout for off-cycle elections tends to skew older and whiter. So, if you want to give disproportionate voting power to older, whiter people, schedule your election as far away from regular national election schedules as possible.

24

mud man 08.20.14 at 3:56 pm

J Thomas #3: Police departments are organizations which resist change.

Not true, they have totally embraced the change towards militarization.

BTW, in the Coast Guard lifeboat service, the rule used to be: you have to go out; you don’t have to come back. That’s pretty extreme (and has been modified), but the idea that as a cop your first duty is to protect yourself is new.

25

Brett Bellmore 08.20.14 at 3:56 pm

“You don’t need attack dogs to discourage voting; you just need to make it harder to do. Ferguson’s municipal election schedule is designed to suppress turnout, by scheduling it in off years rather than to coincide with state and national elections. “

THAT is your idea of “harder to vote”? Exactly as easy to vote, but a different year?

This stuff really is hard to parody.

26

LFC 08.20.14 at 3:57 pm

Ed @21
It’s necessary to distinguish betw. turnout in pres. and congressional *general* elections, which are low in the U.S. compared to a lot of other countries, and turnout in U.S. primaries and lower-ballot (municipal, county) elections, which tends to be even lower, sometimes much lower. So if you want to encourage low turnout, schedule a municipal contest *separately* from anything else. Contrary to your comment, this has little to do with scheduling at “odd” times. It has much to do with scheduling the municipal elections separately.

Why are U.S. voter participation rates in general lower than in other countries? I’m sure there’s an academic lit addressing this question, but I’m not familiar w most of it, so I don’t know the possible answers. However, I *do* know that in a context where voter turnout is generally low compared to other countries, if you want to get it even lower for a specific contest, one way to do that is to schedule the contest separately from anything else.

Your assertion that voter fraud is the best or most logical or most parsimonious or whatever explanation for generally low turnout rates in the U.S. is complete speculation on your part, unsupported by anything except your own notions of “logic” and unsupported by so much as a single reference to what must be (and indeed, is) an enormous political-science lit. on voting rates and participation. Someone unfamiliar with most of this lit., as I am and as you appear to be also, wd be well-advised to be cautious about making sweeping, global assertions along the lines of “the reason voter turnout rates are low in the U.S. is that a quarter of all ballots are routinely thrown out and not counted.”

27

Trader Joe 08.20.14 at 4:01 pm

The candidates themselves are also often a factor and quite often the machinery and process of getting onto a ballot is also heavily controlled by incumbent power. If the choice is between and old white guy with an R or an old white guy with a D …its little surprise that there isn’t much enthusiasm to vote above and beyond the other factors mentioned.

What will be interesting is whether anyone from the rioting masses decides to toss their hat in the ring and make the ballot. Beyond that, if such person does make the ballot, what portion of the assembled masses bothers to make their vote heard given all that’s happened.

28

Anarcissie 08.20.14 at 4:04 pm

So a large number of people, especially those who are not older and not whiter, care about confirming their tribal or other affiliation by voting in an election they can’t materially affect, whereas they don’t care about what happens in a local election they can possibly affect, one whose results may impinge directly on their lives. This seems counterintuitive, but I have to admit I’ve run into it as an activist trying to get people to vote in, for instance, school board elections. I wish I understood this.

29

Layman 08.20.14 at 4:07 pm

“This stuff really is hard to parody.”

And apparently even harder for you to understand…

30

Ronan(rf) 08.20.14 at 4:09 pm

“THAT is your idea of “harder to vote”? Exactly as easy to vote, but a different year?”

Even by your standards, Brett, this really is disingenuous.
If you were actually interested in working class black communities voting more often in local elections, electing more represenatative and responsive officials and by extension developing a greater stake in the process(or whatever) as your #10 suggests, then you woulnt just dismiss this reality laid out by layman (and here)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/08/15/how-ferguson-exposes-the-racial-bias-in-local-elections/

but would actually show some interest in discovering why this interesting phenomenon exists and how to correct it. But you’re not interested ,you’re just grandstanding(as always)

31

Layman 08.20.14 at 4:17 pm

“So a large number of people, especially those who are not older and not whiter, care about confirming their tribal or other affiliation by voting in an election they can’t materially affect, whereas they don’t care about what happens in a local election they can possibly affect, one whose results may impinge directly on their lives. This seems counterintuitive, but I have to admit I’ve run into it as an activist trying to get people to vote in, for instance, school board elections. I wish I understood this.”

First of all, it isn’t necessary to understand it in order to to recognize that it’s true. Because it’s true, manipulating election calendars can be an effective means to manipulate results.

Beyond that, reasons suggest themselves. Older people have more free time and flexibility to accommodate the time it takes to vote, which is why they are proportionally over-represented in most elections. In places like Ferguson, whiter people tend to be wealthier, which impacts things like transportation, voting opportunity, organized turnout machines, etc. Younger, poorer, working people have to vote before or after work, which may conflict with child care responsibilities, may have transportation issues. They may not be given time away from work to vote.

These factors are mitigated to a greater extent in national election cycles because there is much more money committed to turnout efforts – in effect local candidates are getting a subsidy from the national election money.

32

bianca steele 08.20.14 at 4:17 pm

Anarcissie @ 28

Might be interesting to remove uncontested elections from the list and see what it looks like then. (Then you might want to remove “contested only by people with no experience whatsoever.”) For the statistics, at least–presumably where you’re working, there are organized opposition candidates.

I assume the research takes this into account and someone with JSTOR access or ability to navigate government stats sites has already looked into it, but it would be interesting to know for certain.

33

Brett Bellmore 08.20.14 at 4:21 pm

“Even by your standards, Brett, this really is disingenuous.”

No, seriously, I think this is a joke. A sick joke. Scheduling an election in an odd year the moral equivalent of fire hoses and attack dogs? This insults the memory of people who fought REAL obstacles to voting.

Is there some reason you can’t admit a lot of people are prevented from voting by their own apathy, not external obstacles?

34

Ronan(rf) 08.20.14 at 4:27 pm

Of course part of it is apathy, of course part of it is a failure of local political and social black elites etc etc .. the reasons for complex social phenomena generally aren’t monocausal as per libertarian theology.

35

NM 08.20.14 at 4:39 pm

“police violence, racism and radical social inequality are not going to be ended just by voting for the US Democratic Party, or even by a black President”

“People tend to grow discouraged when the game is rigged against them”

Naturally, “just voting” won’t change things. Complaining that even though you voted for him the president followed someone else’s agenda who happened to have more power seems a little naive. The lesson would seem to be that building strong mass & party organizations is crucial, esp. at the local level. Then you have influence, both on local politics & police forces, and on national politics. The Tea Party would appear to be quite a good model for how to do things: clearly, despite relatively small numbers, they have been highly effective. One suspects that if Occupy had built a comparable organizational structure, rather than fearing organization and “power”, we might be a lot further. To paraphrase the German student leader Rudi Dutschke, we must create 2, 3, many MoveOn, LowWageNotOK, etc. organizations. I recognize that doing this is HARD, esp. when dominant media are stacked against you, in a post-Fordist economy and given conventional collective-action problems and sheer inertia. But just complaining about Obama’s supposed mendacity, etc., is not very helpful.

I’ve always found the “game rigged, people discouraged” argument curious. The game is always rigged – since when have elites given up wealth or power voluntarily (i.e., when not under some degree of coercion)? But since “the game”, rigged or not, is the only one in town, why drop out since that means resigning yourself to your lot? Surely the answer must be to organize and fight.

36

Anarcissie 08.20.14 at 4:42 pm

As far as solving the problem of participation goes, one could make registration and voting compulsory, like jury duty, make election days required holidays, and permit voting by mail. I gather high participation is not really desired. However, this doesn’t answer the question of the disparity between rioting, demonstrations, innumerable bitter complaints currently featured in the media, and an almost all-White police force, on the one hand, and a microscopic 12% participation in elections on the other. Something is missing from the picture.

37

Layman 08.20.14 at 4:44 pm

“Scheduling an election in an odd year the moral equivalent of fire hoses and attack dogs?”

Did someone, somewhere make this claim? Or is this rhetorical excess?

38

cassander 08.20.14 at 4:45 pm

@ J Thomas 3

You are absolutely correct that changing existing organizations is virtually impossible, but the point is irrelevant. the existing PD and their union would never allow what you propose, and even if you could arrange some political miracle to allow it politically, laying of the existing force without cause might very well be illegal, depending on the state of civil service laws in MO.

39

Brett Bellmore 08.20.14 at 4:58 pm

“I’ve always found the “game rigged, people discouraged” argument curious.”

It isn’t that hard to understand, if you aren’t commited to viewing the Democratic party as a benign institution.

Democrats once kept blacks on the plantion with attack dogs and lynchings. Today, you keep them on the plantation with paranoia and apathy. You’ve crafted them into the ideal constituency: Consumed by the belief that the system is rigged, that they are surrounded by deadly enemies. Equally consumed by the conviction of their own fundamental impotence to do anything about this. You’ve made yourselves their only hope, supporting you their only chance.

This has reaped you a rich reward, 90% plus support. So it’s understandable that you’d stick with it.

But it has had it’s downside: You’ve made them convinced every action of their own is futile, and voting is an action. So it’s getting harder and harder to get them to show up at the polls. You have to ramp up the fear still further to motivate them.

So you’ve created a group of people who can’t be bothered to vote, but who will riot at the drop of a hat. Congradulations!

40

Billikin 08.20.14 at 5:02 pm

Bob McManus: “So you and Brian are agreed that voting Democrat will get us what, 80% of the way to an egalitarianian society? 85%? 90%?”

42% ?

41

Billikin 08.20.14 at 5:08 pm

Brett Bellmore: “Ever stop to think liberals themselves might be “rigging the system” against blacks, by persuading them that there’s no point in trying?”

What liberal does that?

Perhaps you are confusing pointing out that the system is rigged with telling people that they are powerless to do anything about it? Haven’t you heard liberals talk about empowerment?

42

Omega Centauri 08.20.14 at 5:08 pm

I do think Brett’s point about discouragement is at least partially operative here. Most likely at some point in the past there was reason to think voting would be ineffectual. Once that attitude gets entrenched, it can become self supporting. Obviously the local powers that be are doing their best to encourage this condition to continue as long as possible, running elections when they expect black versus white turnout to be near-optimal for own their side. But nevertheless a determined organizing effort could change this in the next election.

43

Plume 08.20.14 at 5:13 pm

Brett @39,

You really are the perfect little useful idiot for plutocrats. In just one post, you managed to be deeply patronizing, condescending and offensive toward blacks, all but calling them weak-minded sheep, who can’t see that they’re being led to the slaughter house by those evil Democrats.

And this?

So you’ve created a group of people who can’t be bothered to vote, but who will riot at the drop of a hat. Congradulations!

If you think killing an innocent teen is “at the drop of a hat,” you’re beyond redemption. And, please, get some new talking points. They were old back in the 1960s.

44

NM 08.20.14 at 5:17 pm

@Brett Bellmore

How do the Democrats discourage Blacks and convince them of their fundamental impotence? Please list some specific measures, programs or actions that Dems have taken to that effect, and explain what the mechanism underlying them is.

45

Harold 08.20.14 at 5:21 pm

Do you think that once people are become caught up in the court and prison system they will be able to exercise their right to vote? How naive. Follow the money (this is going on all over the USA, BTW, in poor areas, black and white).

Via Daily Kos
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/08/18/1322691/-The-Seamy-Underbelly-Of-Ferguson-Starts-To-Appear

Victoria Bekiempis of Newsweek brings to light a white paper by the Arch City Defenders
http://www.newsweek.com/ferguson-profiling-police-courts-shooting-264744

Despite Ferguson’s relative poverty, fines and court fees comprise the second largest source of revenue for the city, a total of 2,635,400,” according to the ArchCity Defenders report. And in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, “or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.”…

Exacerbating the problem, the report says, are “a number of operational procedures that make it even more difficult for defendants to navigate the courts.” A Ferguson court employee reported, for example, that “the bench routinely starts hearing cases 30 minutes before the appointed time and then locks the doors to the building as early as five minutes after the official hour, a practice that could easily lead a defend net arriving even slightly late to receive an additional charge for failure to appear.”

This is beyond horrible. On the heinous scale it is right at the top along with the judges in Pennsylvania who sent juveniles off to private for profit prisons in order to earn kickbacks.
It might be instructive to ask ourselves what would have happened to Michael Brown if his jaywalking offense had been handled in what appears to be the “normal” manner in Ferguson. Based on what I just read, I would have to think that he would be issued summons for jaywalking and then might possibly have been obstructed from appearing, adding additional warrants and fines that he would not have been able to pay. And that’s probably the BEST outcome he could have hoped for.

He might also have been arrested for shoplifting, assault and jaywalking, all with escalating penalties and punishments – he may have found himself to be labelled a felon, in which case his hopes for a future in heating and air conditioning would have been dashed as most companies require background checks and bonding.

So in Ferguson Missouri, it would seem that the future of Michael Brown became irremediably clouded once he jaywalked and drew police attention to himself.

46

Jim Harrison 08.20.14 at 5:21 pm

There’s an irony here that doesn’t get recognized as often as it should. The political institutions that were designed to thwart democracy make it hard to do anything whatsoever, including things that economic elites want done. It’s hard to make the justice system less racist, but it’s also hard to build a modern railway system or even keep the bridges from falling down.

47

Billikin 08.20.14 at 5:23 pm

Brett Bellmore: “THAT is your idea of “harder to vote”? Exactly as easy to vote, but a different year?”

Voting is more than just marking a ballot. Many if not most people also have to travel a significant distance to and from the polls and wait in line for periods of time up to hours. They may also have to arrange for someone to look after their kids. And when does that person vote? If the municipal vote takes place at a different time than other elections, then those difficulties are doubled.

Approximately doubling the difficulty of voting does indeed make it harder to vote.

48

Jenna 08.20.14 at 5:24 pm

Primary elections, special elections, and local municipal elections often have a lower turnout than nationwide general elections.
The nationwide general elections are publicized by the parties and the media. The contestants are on tv, newspapers and the Internet talking about what makes them different from the other side. There is a nationwide countdown to election day. People talk about it.
Local elections, primary elections and special elections don’t get nearly as much publicity. If you intend to vote, you usually have to dig up information on the issues and contestants yourself. Perhaps there’s a local paper covering the election where you can find your answers.
Have you read a local paper in your town in the past month? Where did you get it? Was it delivered? Did you find it for free in a doctor office(that’s where I found one for my town). Who frequents the areas where the paper is found?
Do you know where your polling place is? I do, because I have lived in the same place for decades. I know how to get in and out of its parking lot and have the route planned from work or errands.
My polling place is a suburban church, the parking is simple, it is well marked, and it has been the polling place for my precinct for over a decade.
Do you come from a family or community that is accustomed to voting and having its voice heard? I do, and my family made going to the polls a family trip. We used to all walk down together, even before I was old enough to vote. Awareness of politics was traditional in my family, and seems to be so in the neighborhood as well. We have remarkably high turnout for off year and special elections, and a history in town of recalling polititians that displease the neighborhood. We kicked three polititians out last year.
In my family it was considered a fine idea to take voting day off as a holiday. Why not? We could afford it(yay for office jobs with paid vacation days!) and we have always had enough vacation days to make it seem a reasonable plan.

So, occassionally I think about what voting day might be like if I had a different life.
What if I had no paid vacation and the polls were only open while I was scheduled to work? What if I didn’t find a copy of the local paper and didn’t know the local candidates? What if I didn’t have a family tradition of finding election day on the calendar months ahead and marking it? What if I had moved recently to a new apartment and didn’t know where the local voting place was? Is my registration still good or do I need to reregister? Do I have time for that?
For me, in the life that I do have, voting is easier than not voting. The pattern is there, the place is easy, I have information, and I was brought up with the idea that if I want to be able to complain, I should vote. I can see, though, that not everyone is me, has the traditions that I have, or the access. For national elections, people are willing to make more of an effort to vote. Sometimes, it is an effort.

49

Barry 08.20.14 at 5:36 pm

Brett Bellmore

“Democrats once kept blacks on the plantion with attack dogs and lynchings. Today, you keep them on the plantation with paranoia and apathy.”

You are a disgusting liar.

50

Billikin 08.20.14 at 5:39 pm

Brett Bellmore: “Democrats once kept blacks on the plantion with attack dogs and lynchings. Today, you keep them on the plantation with paranoia and apathy.”

No, the people who used to oppress Blacks, those Democrats, became Republicans.

51

Harold 08.20.14 at 5:43 pm

To repeat: in 2013, the Ferguson Municipal Court issued 24,532 arrest warrants and 12,018 cases, “or about 3 warrants and 1.5 cases per household.”

This is beyond Dickensian, it is more like Victor Hugo.

52

Billikin 08.20.14 at 5:48 pm

Jim Harrison: “It’s hard to make the justice system less racist, but it’s also hard to build a modern railway system or even keep the bridges from falling down.”

To keep the bridges from falling down merely takes responsibility on the part of legislators.

53

Plume 08.20.14 at 5:50 pm

Billikin,

It’s more accurate to just say conservatives once did this. Or righties in general. The right, regardless of political party, has long been the ideological home for racism, xenophobia, homophobia and the vast majority of our social pathologies.

I’ve had this argument countless times with Republicans, who think they win the battle in 2014 by saying the Dems once had a corner on racists. Yes, they did, when it came to the parties in existence at the time. The GOP didn’t even start until 1856, and the difference between that party and today’s couldn’t be starker. For instance, Lincoln actually appointed a card-carrying socialist to his cabinet, Dana — a guy who edited Marx’s European correspondence. In today’s GOP, this would be enough to get Lincoln banned from the party permanently. It wouldn’t fly in the Democratic party, either, of course. But it wouldn’t cause the rending of garments, the gnashing of teeth and the fainting spells that would appear among the GOP faithful.

It’s not the party that matters. It’s the ideology. Parties change, oftentimes dramatically. Ideologies stay fairly constant, give or take.

54

Harold 08.20.14 at 5:51 pm

Offender funded “justice’. The privatized probation industry
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/23/get-out-of-jail-inc

With municipal budgets under enormous strain across the country, the [private] industry has also pitched itself as a source of revenue for small courts. “If your municipality is looking to reduce incarceration rates and to increase the collection of fines and court costs in the municipal court, please give our office a call today,” the Georgia-based Freedom Probation Services advertises. In return for an exclusive contract with a municipality, companies like Freedom Probation offer their services to courts for free. The private-probation business has established a presence in such states as Utah, Missouri, Montana, and Colorado, although its home remains in the Cotton Belt.

The industry aims to shift the financial burden of probation directly onto probationers. Often, this means charging petty offenders—such as those with traffic debts—for a government service that was once provided for free. These probationers aren’t just paying a court-ordered fine; they’re typically paying an ever-growing share of the court’s administrative expenses, as well as a separate fee to the for-profit company that supervises their probation and enforces a payment schedule—a consolidated weekly or monthly set of charges divided between the court and the company. The system is known as “offender-funded” justice. But legal challenges to it are mounting, amid concerns about abuse, corruption, and the use of state penalties to collect private profits. In a wide range of cases, offender-funded justice may not result in justice at all.

55

Bruce Wilder 08.20.14 at 6:11 pm

Rob @ 5: The story of the French revolution, for example, is the story of a small upper middle class faction forcing radical change upon a country that would probably have voted against it, had national elections been held. In that case, the enlightened self interest of Robespierre, Danton, et all, along with the truly terrible conditions of working class life at the time, made the French Revolution a net positive.

That two sentence summary gets pretty much everything about the French Revolution wrong.

First of all, a vast majority in France were dissatisfied with the ancien regime, even — or especially — the reactionaries. For those paying attention, controversies like the infamous Affair of the Necklace enacted the loss of legitimacy. France had serious problems, but no apparent capacity to address them. Its administration, rationalized by absolutism, was expedient in an extreme, and, yet, encumbered by an absurdly complex and arcane legal system and such bizarre practices as venal office. Its 18th century economy had prospered in its commercial centers, driven by the expansion of overseas trade, even as it lost its overseas empire, but at home, an agricultural revolution sputtered and wages fell steadily, leaving an urban working class near desperation and a small army of vagabonds wandering the countryside. Militarily the most powerful state in Europe, France could not seem to win a war without losing the peace. Its national identity, educational and cultural institutions were deeply entangled with the Catholic Church in a complex love-hate relationship, even as Enlightenment ideas and liberal ideology gained prominence. Despite the commercial vitality of the cities, France had no banking or financial system, and relied on Dutch and Swiss expatriate financiers to manage its increasingly desperate national finances; its system of taxation was oppressive, corrupt, deeply unfair, and fatally insufficient.

In the event, it was reactionary conservatives, who brought on the crisis, through a long campaign of intransigent resistance to inconsistent royal efforts at reform. The reactionaries were reaching for a return of function and power to the nobility, as they pressed for the revival of ancient forms in the calling of the Estates General. The King acceded to calling the Estates General, because France was bankrupt: the ancien regime had literally failed and was near collapse, before the Revolution had even started.

When the Revolution did start, far from being a small upper middle class faction forcing radical change, it was mass action from below that drove events toward the abolition of feudalism, the declaration of the Rights of Man and, eventually, the deposing of the King. In the convention, it was lawyers whose previous careers carried few distinctions and little promise, who made the speeches and resolutions. Mirabeau was famous for a series of scandals so extravagant they would embarrass a Kardashian. There was so little elite leadership directly involved at times, that it is actually mysterious, say, why the women of Paris marched on Versailles or what triggered the Great Fear, which swept the countryside. What conspiracy reduced the great fortress of Bastille to rubble? What set off the slaughter of the Swiss Guards? Danton cried, “l’audace”, but who told the men of Paris to kill the enemies of the revolution in prison before leaving town for the frontier?

In material terms, the French Revolution was anything, but “a net positive” for the generation most affected. The Revolutionary leadership were mostly lawyers — the ancien regime’s arcane legal system had created a numerous class of legal drones. The practical bourgeois of Marxist imagination were curiously absent, and the result was endless argument and ineffectiveness. The abolition of feudal dues had little net economic effect, as land rents rose to make up the difference. The liberal consensus in favor of “free markets” and “hard money” made it difficult to solve the problems of food shortage and currency shortage in any sensible or sophisticated way. Circumstances called for state provision and rationing grains, but instead the government wobbled between draconian price controls amidst rampant inflation and shortage of currency, and laissez-faire freeing of the grain markets in the shadow of famine. The armies sent to defend the frontiers ended up looting Germany and Italy to solve the economic problems Paris could or would not solve. The Revolutionaries were simply not competent and, as a result, the Revolution went on and on and on, every reform repealed and then tried again. They could write constitutions, but couldn’t enact one, and make its institutions work. They could cut off heads and drown priests, make fine speeches and accumulate fortunes from bribes, graft and inside-dealing. The disestablishment of the Catholic Church removed from France all the institutional means of charity and aiding the poor, so the poorest and most oppressed fared the worst, in the prolonged misery of the ten years of Revolution.

In the end, it took the man on horseback, Napoleon, to force on France the reforms, which were obviously needed in the 1780s, but which the Revolution could not get done. Napoleon settled relations with the Catholic Church. Napoleon forced the legal reforms of the Code Napoleon. Napoleon instituted the Bank of France. Unfortunately, it was not in the Great Man’s nature to make a lasting peace, though he accomplished that as well, inadvertently.

I think we ask too much of Revolutions, when we expect them to mark out boundaries of radical change — black on one side, white on the other of some date in the calendar.

Revolutions are punctuation in the flow of the neverending story. Like punctuation, they help us make sense of what is otherwise one long, run-on stream, without separation of chapters, paragraphs, sentences, and without emphasis or thesis or outline.

Change itself, though, is generational and completes its work on a calendar scale encompassing the passing of generations, over the course of forty or seventy or a hundred years. As was the case for France in the 18th century, many reforms succeed in bringing about change, ultimately, by failing. The repeated, de-legitimating critique and complaint and the frustration it represents is the long work before revolutions, and the slow realization of promises made, but not kept, is the long work after.

56

Steve Williams 08.20.14 at 6:13 pm

Jenna’s post @48 is excellent.

57

Harold 08.20.14 at 6:14 pm

Sara Stillman, “The Economics of Police Militarism” (The New Yorker, August 15, 2014)
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/economics-police-militarism

Missouri was one of the first states to allow private probation companies, in the late nineteen-eighties, and it has since followed the national trend of allowing court fees and fines to mount rapidly. Now, across much of America, what starts as a simple speeding ticket can, if you’re too poor to pay, mushroom into an insurmountable debt, padded by probation fees and, if you don’t appear in court, by warrant fees. (Often, poverty means transience—not everyone who is sent a court summons receives it.) “Across the country, impoverished people are routinely jailed for court costs they’re unable to pay,” Alec Karakatsanis, a cofounder of Equal Justice Under Law, a nonprofit civil-rights organization that has begun challenging this practice in municipal courts, said. These kinds of fines snowball when defendants’ cases are turned over to for-profit probation companies for collection, since the companies charge their own “supervision” fees. What happens when people fall behind on their payments? Often, police show up at their doorsteps and take them to jail.

From there, the snowball rolls. “Going to jail has huge impacts on people at the edge of poverty,” Sara Zampieren, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me. “They lose their job, they lose custody of their kids, they get behind on their home-foreclosure payments,” the sum total of which, she said, is “devastating.” While in prison, “user fees” often accumulate, so that, even after you leave, you’re not quite free. A recent state-by-state survey conducted by NPR showed that in at least forty-three states defendants can be billed for their own public defender, a service to which they have a Constitutional right; in at least forty-one states, inmates can be charged for room and board in jail and prison.

America’s militarized police forces now have some highly visible tools at their disposal, some of which have been in the spotlight this week: machine guns, night-vision equipment, military-style vehicles, and a seemingly endless amount of ammo. But the economic arm of police militarization is often far less visible, and offender-funded justice is part of this sub-arsenal. The fears that Cobb and Ahmed describe—court debts that lead to warrants and people who are afraid to leave their homes as a result—compound the force that can be wielded during raids or protests like those on the streets of Missouri. Debtors’ fears change their daily lives—can they go to the grocery story or drive a child to school without being detained? “It deters people who have legitimate problems from calling the police, and removes the police’s ability to do what they’re supposed to be doing—helping people in the community respond to emergencies,” Karakatsanis said. It erodes the community’s trust in and coöperation with law enforcement.

58

Harold 08.20.14 at 6:35 pm

I find fascinating and provocative Bruce Wilder’s comment about the French Revolution (@55) and wish I could read more of his thoughts in a more permanent form than the internet.

59

Barry 08.20.14 at 6:40 pm

The traitor and terrorist Nathan Bedford Forrest later in life set up a ‘Negro Mart’, where blacks could be rented out (after being convicted of whatever the court felt like).

This is just the same thing.

60

Shatterface 08.20.14 at 6:42 pm

“Ever stop to think liberals themselves might be “rigging the system” against blacks, by persuading them that there’s no point in trying?”

As a rule of thumb, if your conspiracy theory requires parties to act against their best interest – e.g. discouraging the people most likely to vote for them from participating – it’s probably best to check your tinfoil hat hasn’t got holes in.

61

Ogden Wernstrom 08.20.14 at 6:49 pm

Brett Bellmore, times vary:

Scheduling an election in an odd year the moral equivalent of fire hoses and attack dogs?

I have failed to find the post which used the term “moral equivalent” in comparing something to your straw gauntlet.

So you’ve created a group of people who can’t be bothered to vote, but who will riot at the drop of a hat.

I think you misspelt “hammer”. Or “striker”, if the officer was using a Glock.

62

cassander 08.20.14 at 6:51 pm

> it was mass action from below that drove events toward the abolition of feudalism, the declaration of the Rights of Man and, eventually, the deposing of the King.

this is nonsense. it was not the masses swearing oaths on tennis courts, it was the lawyers and intellectuals of the third estate, the very definition of middle class. Sure, eventually the parisian mob got involved, and drove things on relentlessly the way mobs always do, but that can hardly be called a mass uprising.

63

Plume 08.20.14 at 6:52 pm

Another key in the downfall of the ancien regime, as Stacy Schiff points out in her excellent bio of Franklin, was the massive amount of money given to the American revolutionaries. It all but bankrupted the government. The American government in waiting basically refused to raise sufficient funds via taxes and never paid the French back.

Basically, in order to stick to the Brits, the French admin/aristocracy poked out their own eyes. If revolutions are mere punctuation, then geopolitical machinations, before, during and after them are pretty much always question(able) marks.

64

Rob in CT 08.20.14 at 7:03 pm

People tend to get discouraged when they think the system is rigged against them, whether or not it is so rigged. Then, being discouraged, they don’t try, and not trying, the outcome is the same as though it were rigged against them.

Without endorsing Brett’s overall line of argument (Democrat plantation! Check it off on your Bingo card!), the fact is that not even trying does result in certain defeat. Is the deck stacked? Sure. Always has been. If anything, it’s less stacked now than in the past. The tilt can be overcome.

The Democrats can and should point out the various ways the GOP works to make voting harder (voter ID laws, restricting the length of time certain polling places are open) or otherwise discourage likely Dem voters (including lying about when/where the polls are), but that cannot be it. They have to work just as hard to get their voters to the polls. And that takes time and money. They pull it off reasonably well in Presidential elections. They appear to do it poorly in mid-term elections, and abominably in local elections.

65

Plume 08.20.14 at 7:04 pm

Ogden,

And that part about “creating a group of people”? That’s pretty tough to match for hyperbole, presumption or as a way of demeaning an entire group of Americans. As if the Democratic Party were some kind of Doctor Frankenstein, in his lab, repeatedly yelling “It’s alive!!”

66

Harold 08.20.14 at 7:16 pm

Although I wouldn’t call it “nonsense”, I have to agree with Cassander about the lawyers constituting the middle class. Also, with the greatest respect, I wonder if it makes sense to call, avant la lettre, the nobility of the ancien regime “reactionaries”. (This word does get bandied about, calling Geoffrey Pullum).

Our family visited Versailles in the 1990s and went on the paid guided tour they offer (we were hoping to see baby Mozart’s violin, which we heard was there, since our offspring took music lessons, but it was not on offer. At any rate, rather naive American tourist in our group asked the guide, “Could you tell us, I’d really like to know, what *really* caused French Revolution?”. Our guide, probably a French graduate student, was a true and certified monarchist (in the usually understood traditional definition of the term) who wore his hair in long, carefully curled ringlets. He answered, “You did. Louis XVI lent the Americans money and they never paid us back.” It was the 50th anniversary of D-day, and I was tempted to mention something to that effect, but I kept my mouth shut. He claimed Marie Antoinette would have paid Mozart’s debts, had she known about them. (I suspect the violin must be in Vienna.)

67

Meredith 08.20.14 at 7:20 pm

Jenna @48: “Perhaps there’s a local paper covering the election where you can find your answers.
Have you read a local paper in your town in the past month? Where did you get it? Was it delivered? Did you find it for free in a doctor office(that’s where I found one for my town). Who frequents the areas where the paper is found?”

The demise of local newspapers is a huge national problem, I suspect. Those local newspapers that have managed to survive are usually owned by a large company that skimps on hiring local reporters. Local news sources available only online are problematic, in my experience, both because they, too, have few local reporters and because, well, they’re online — you’re not going to see copies around (at the doctor’s office, at newsstands) and learn they exist, much lest pick them up to read.

68

engels 08.20.14 at 7:26 pm

They have to work just as hard to get their voters to the polls. And that takes time and money.

Sounds like there’s a bit of a lack of enthusiasm among ‘their’ voters’. It calls to mind an old Russian joke: they pretend to represent us, and we pretend to vote…

69

LFC 08.20.14 at 8:14 pm

The idea that the causes of the Fr Rev, something historians and others have been arguing about for a v. long time, will be settled on a CT comment thread is unlikely. That said, no one seems yet to have mentioned the role of peasant revolts. (See e.g. T. Skocpol, _States and Social Revolutions_.)

70

stevenjohnson 08.20.14 at 8:37 pm

Bruce Wilder @55

Reactionaries stifling attempts at reforming the taxation system is not actually the same thing as being dissatisfied with the old order. It’s like saying Republican efforts to abolish the welfare state means they are disenchanted with America.

The practical bourgeois hires a lawyer to deal with the arcane feudalism. The practical bourgeoisie also doesn’t waste time thinking about big picture stuff like constitutions and republics and revolutions. The small fry taking a chance can do that. In general, writers and other intellectual workers who angle for a patronage job tutoring noble sprats or manning their libraries conduct themselves different from those who write more for a commercial market. The many lawyers in the French Revolution lived careers devoted to profiting from the conflicts between the modern bourgeois economy and the stultifying feudal layers. It makes no sense to conclude that they weren’t part of the bourgeoisie because they weren’t the big shots.

Obviously, the notion that Napoleon was the great reformer assumes the counterfactual that if either the Brissotins or the Robespierristes had kept power they wouldn’t have done what Napoleon did. This is trickily counterfactual, but it also omits property transfers. One may sensibly argue that it’s not a great revolution till money changes hands! It was not Napoleon who sold church and emigre lands, but the Feuillants, Brissotins and Robespierristes. In particular it was not Napoleon who did away with monarchy but Napoleon who tried to foist its return upon the French. It was the revolutionaries, in particular Robespierristes et al. who weakened monarcy so thoroughly that neither Napoleon nor the Allies who could replant the monarchy with roots deep enough to survive.

71

cassander 08.20.14 at 8:55 pm

steven @ 70

I would posit that the difference between napoleon and his predecessors was not in the substance of his policies, but in his ability to put down the mob and end its cycle of elevations and deposings. In the same vein as Lenin or Cromwell, he was just the first one ruthless and powerful enough to put down all the other factions and re-establish the state’s monopoly on violence. Under himself, of course.

72

rea 08.20.14 at 8:56 pm

the massive amount of money given to the American revolutionaries.

(1) The French government was massively in debt from the wars of Louis XIV and Louis XV, not to mention the palace of Versailles. The War of the American Revolution was maybe the last straw, but far from the sole cause.

(2) Much of French spending on the War of the American Revolution was not on assistance to American revolutionaries. There was major, expensive fighting in the Caribbean.

(3) As with the US today, the problem was not so much government spending or even government waste, but an irrational tax system under which the upper classes were not paying their share.

73

rea 08.20.14 at 9:00 pm

It was the revolutionaries, in particular Robespierristes et al. who weakened monarcy so thoroughly that neither Napoleon nor the Allies who could replant the monarchy with roots deep enough to survive.

With notably rare exceptions, like Napoleon, Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis Phillipe, and Napoleon III

74

Bruce Wilder 08.20.14 at 9:12 pm

cassander: this is nonsense. it was not the masses swearing oaths on tennis courts, it was the lawyers and intellectuals of the third estate, the very definition of middle class

I don’t know what you are getting bothered about. I was responding to an assertion that a “small upper middle class faction” drove events in a radical direction against the probable will of the great majority of the country, and that’s very far from the truth. There was no haute bourgeousie of radicals. The lawyers, who played such a prominent role were of the professional middle class, but often occupied fairly marginal niches in their previous lives. They were the apparatchiks of the established order, frustrated in their ambitions and carrying those frustrations and resentments. But, more than that the representatives of the Third Estate had been selected in an elaborate process of elections, in which everyone who paid taxes could vote; interest and turnout were high, and in that process great petitions of grievances were assembled. The Third Estate representatives were well aware that they came to Versailles as the representatives of a dissatisfied people, with the deck of rules and procedure stacked against them. However cynical some may have later become, they were idealists at that moment, when on 17 June, the denobled Mirabeau and the Abbé Sieyès pressed upon them the idea that they were a National Assembly.

It was not only the lawyers and intellectuals, who swore the tennis court oath — there was only one dissenter from the oath among the 500-odd representatives of the Third Estate, only roughly half of whom were lawyers. The tennis court oath was sworn on 20 June, the country priests and the liberal nobles joined the Third Estate to confirm the formation of the National Assembly soon after.

Necker was dismissed on 12 July, the Bastille fell on 14 July, the Commune established in Paris on 15 July, la Grande Peur (the Great Fear, as the revolt of the peasants was called) commenced on 17 July continuing through 3 August. The National Assembly was responding to the Great Fear when on 4 August (in the words of Georges Lefebrve, shamelessly copied by me from Wikipedia):

Without debate the Assembly enthusiastically adopted equality of taxation and redemption of all manorial rights except for those involving personal servitude — which were to be abolished without indemnification. Other proposals followed with the same success: the equality of legal punishment, admission of all to public office, abolition of venality in office,[33] conversion of the tithe into payments subject to redemption, freedom of worship, prohibition of plural holding of benefices….Privileges of provinces and towns were offered as a last sacrifice.

This was radical change, and it followed directly from mass uprising in city and countryside.

75

Plume 08.20.14 at 9:14 pm

Rea,

Again, read Stacy Schiff on the subject. Yes, the money was given directly to the American revolutionaries, who sent Franklin to get that money . . . and they had indirect support from the French as well in the form of soldiers, supplies, ships, etc.

And, yes, of course, the mad spending by the denizens of Versailles before their support for the American revolution was a huge factor. I, too, have seen Versailles (2007), and its costs were colossal — and far from being the only costs for maintaining the kingdom, etc. etc.

Your third point is spot on. This has always been a major problem throughout the history of ruling classes. The contradiction is obvious. Maintaining a sustainable and growing government apparatus, while trying to avoid collecting taxes from the only people with disposable resources — the rich. And the constant complaints, especially among conservatives, that “we’re going broke” are beyond hypocritical. The right’s endless and highly successful call for reduced taxes for the rich is the key to our debt problems. Roughly 50 years now of almost continuous tax cuts will do that to a budget.

76

TM 08.20.14 at 9:21 pm

Thanks Harold 45. It is always important to keep in mind that those of us who don’t live in “places like that” and are not subject to this grotesquely rigged justice system
cannot even imagine how it really is.

77

Harold 08.20.14 at 9:27 pm

Nice movie about this: Beaumarchais the Scoundrel (Beaumarchais, l’insolent), with Fabrice Luchini as Beaumarchais and Jeff Jeff Nuttall (in a tiny part, as I recall) as Franklin.

78

Harold 08.20.14 at 9:33 pm

TM 76 — Yes, the fish really really stink at the top of our judicial system.

Beaumarchais (author of subversive play, Marriage of Figaro) acted as a secret agent in getting money to the Americans. Film based on play by Sacha Guitry.

79

cassander 08.20.14 at 9:58 pm

@rea 72

>As with the US today, the problem was not so much government spending or even government waste, but an irrational tax system under which the upper classes were not paying their share.

the upper 20% of tax payers have about 50% of income. they pay about 70% of taxes. and that is not income taxes, that is all federal taxes. That number, by the way, is up dramatically in recent decades. in 1979, that same group made about 45% of all income, but only paid 55% of taxes, despite a 70% top rate.

80

cassander 08.20.14 at 10:01 pm

@ bruce wilder 74

>. The lawyers, who played such a prominent role were of the professional middle class, but often occupied fairly marginal niches in their previous lives. They were the apparatchiks of the established order, frustrated in their ambitions and carrying those frustrations and resentments.

I fail to see how this is inconsistent with them being radicals. in fact, the same descriptor could apply to a great many communists in 1917 or islamists today.

81

cassander 08.20.14 at 10:06 pm

@plume 75

>Roughly 50 years now of almost continuous tax cuts will do that to a budget.

No such cutting has happened. taxation as a percent of GDP has been extremely consistent since the korean war about 18%, +/1 1%. There has been no change in recent decades, the 1980-2010 average is identical to that from 1950-1980. the fantasy that reagan permanently slashed taxes, or set off a meaningful anti-tax movement, is just that, a fantasy, though amusingly one common to both the left and the right.

82

Bruce Wilder 08.20.14 at 10:13 pm

stevenjohnson @ 70: Obviously, the notion that Napoleon was the great reformer assumes the counterfactual that if either the Brissotins or the Robespierristes had kept power they wouldn’t have done what Napoleon did.

“assumes the counterfactual” — isn’t that not unlike a double negative?

Napoleon’s role as reformer is simply fact. No counterfactual need apply.

Napoleon’s ability to establish a stable regime was related to his political insight into the festering problems that made the Revolutionary regimes unstable. The big three were the conflict with the Church, the tension with the Swiss bankers and the resulting disarray of currency and finance, and the confusion in administration created by the state of law. A fourth problem — arguably the biggest — facing the Revolution, of course, was the conflict of the French nation-state with the great dynastic imperial powers, and in resolving that conflict, Napoleon did not fare as well, perhaps because he involved himself too personally in the proposed resolution.

One can see the Concordat of 1801 as reactionary — in the long-run, even ephemeral, as, eventually, France fulfilled its Revolutionary commitment to becoming a secular nation-state. Giving the Swiss bankers control of the Banque de France could also be seen as reactionary, since it gave power to wealth, though it also put the national finance on a sound footing, solving the problem that had precipitated the Revolution in the first place.

The Civil Code, and the subsequent reforms of procedure and criminal law, were a huge achievement and went right to the core of what was faulty in the ancien regime: its arbitrary unreasonableness, which could cruel, of course, but also just maddeningly stupid, opaque and unresponsive in its defense of useless privilege.

Napoleon, who knew few scruples in his own political behavior, represented a triumph of Reason and equality in administration and law.

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Bruce Wilder 08.20.14 at 10:22 pm

cassander @ 80

I fail to see how this is inconsistent with them being radicals.

I wish you would make up your mind, instead of placing your views on a lazy susan and spinning it like a top.

84

cassander 08.20.14 at 10:47 pm

@ bruce

>I wish you would make up your mind, instead of placing your views on a lazy susan and spinning it like a top.

I don’t understand your confusion. I’ve consistently maintained that the revolution began as a product of relatively elite agitation, the lawyers of the 3rd estate, not a mass uprising, and that they largely drove themselves to radicalism, though they eventually were aided by the mob. You have been contending the opposite, to quote, “There was no haute bourgeoisie of radicals.” I’m not sure what you think I’m spinning.

85

Layman 08.20.14 at 10:49 pm

“No such cutting has happened. taxation as a percent of GDP has been extremely consistent since the korean war about 18%, +/1 1%. There has been no change in recent decades, the 1980-2010 average is identical to that from 1950-1980.”

Yes and no. Taxes as a percent of GDP declined dramatic in the years following the GWB tax cuts – as low as 14.6 % – and still have not returned to historical levels.

86

Robespierre 08.20.14 at 10:52 pm

Just saying, from a European perspective the organisation of elections in the Usa looks absurd. Why vote on working days? Why not assign a single polling place to a voter? Why on Earth not have universal ID? It’s really not that hard, but it looks you’re not even trying.

87

TM 08.20.14 at 10:55 pm

79: You provide no references. Even if your numbers about *federal* taxes are right, they are useless without taking state and local taxes into account, which in all states are highly regressive.

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/02/soaking-poor-state-state

88

Bruce Wilder 08.20.14 at 10:58 pm

It looks like that, because we’re not really trying.

Nobody believes in voting — everyone is a cynic — and for good reasons.

89

TM 08.20.14 at 10:59 pm

79: You provide no references. Even if your numbers about *federal* taxes are right, they are useless without taking state and local taxes into account, which in all states are highly regressive.

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/02/soaking-poor-state-state

When all taxes are taken into account, the tax system actually looks almost proportional, and not at all progressive :

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/04/do_the_poor_really_pay_no_taxe.html

90

William Timberman 08.20.14 at 11:15 pm

If I can borrow something besides revolutionary fervor and the Code Napoléon from the French, I’m annoyed, but not surprised — to see the hoary right-wing canards, i.e., the-poor-pay-no-taxes, and revolutions-are-instigated-by-outside-agitators appear in the comments yet again. Brett Bellmore seems not to be the only professional troll to have pitched his tent on CT’s village green this week.

91

cassander 08.20.14 at 11:22 pm

@ TM

tax shares: ttp://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?DocID=558&Topic2id=20&Topic3id=22

income shares: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?DocID=458&Topic2id=20&Topic3id=22

as for your sources, comparing the top 1% to the bottom 20% is rather blatant cherry picking. the second one confirms my point, that taxes paid as share of income rises as income does, even to the top 1%, and that this effect is most dramatic for the bottom 40% or so

92

cassander 08.20.14 at 11:27 pm

@Layman

>Yes and no. Taxes as a percent of GDP declined dramatic in the years following the GWB tax cuts – as low as 14.6 % – and still have not returned to historical levels.

taxes were in 2007, under the full bush tax cuts, were 17.9% exactly the historical average. in 2000, they were 20% of GDP, the highest since world war two, and the bush tax cuts served largely to return to the norm before the bush/clinton tax hikes. post 2007 taxes plunged because income taxes are strongly pro-cyclical and we had the worst economic downturn in recent decades. The CBO projects them to be back at or above the historical average by next year.

93

J Thomas 08.20.14 at 11:31 pm

#55 Bruce Wilder

I find Bruce Wilder’s comments consistently interesting. They seem usually quite reasonable, and while he might not always get at the most important relationships — how could anybody do that every time? — the relationships he proposes do make sense and are likely to be important.

I have a lot of respect for his opinions. Except of course on the rare occasions when he says my own comments are idiotic. But everybody has a few lapses.

94

TM 08.21.14 at 12:10 am

cassander 91, I have no time for your dissembling. These numbers are not “cherry-picked”. You are the one focusing on federal taxes and ignoring state and local ones, knowing full well that only the federal income tax in the US is somewhat progressive – pretty much any other tax is regressive.

“the second one confirms my point, that taxes paid as share of income rises as income does” No, the reference (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2010/04/do_the_poor_really_pay_no_taxe.html) confirms exactly the opposite – taxes paid as share of income stays almost constant. The top 1% pay 23% of taxes and their income share is 22%; the middle 20% pay 10% of taxes and their income share is 11%. In case I need to spell this out, a fair tax structure (where the rich are paying “their fair share”) would have to be progressive because those with low income simply have no money left to support the state after paying the bare necessities. I would say this is essentially true for most people in the lower half of the US income distribution – you’d have to be at 70th percentile or higher to have significant surplus income. A fair tax structure would tax that surplus income – not the existential minimum.

95

ChrisB 08.21.14 at 12:12 am

As another counterfactual, assume an Australian/NZ voting system, where
1) voting is compulsory
2) we have preferential voting, so that small radical parties don’t necessarily take (finally counted) votes from large parties
3) we vote at weekends
and speculate on the voting rates under that hypothesis.

Mind you, we’ve still ended up with a teapartyish government, so my high horse is something of a Shetland pony, but still.

96

Brett Bellmore 08.21.14 at 12:18 am

“In case I need to spell this out, a fair tax structure (where the rich are paying “their fair share”) would have to be progressive because those with low income simply have no money left to support the state after paying the bare necessities. “

You know, that depends on what you think is “fair”. A rather large part of the population think “fair” means something like, “paying for what you get, and getting what you pay for”. From that perspective a progressive tax system is wildly unfair, because the services you get from government don’t scale even linearly with your income.

OTOH, you’re quite right that the poor can’t pay for their share of government. But, this doesn’t make not taxing them enough to pay for what they get “fair”, it makes it “merciful”. We want to be merciful, but we shouldn’t confuse it with basic fairness. It isn’t the poor who are getting ripped off by the tax system, it’s the wealthy, who are forced to pay far more than their share.

But people who want big government must have “progressive” taxation: Unless you can concentrate most of the cost of government on as small a minority as possible, you have a tough time selling more government spending, because the average voter actually has to pay for what they’re getting, and is quite likely to conclude it isn’t really worth the cost. But things that are paid for by somebody else are always a bargain, aren’t they?

That’s really all “progressive” taxation is about: Robbing Peter to pay Paul, Joel, and Harry to vote for you.

97

LFC 08.21.14 at 12:35 am

@Robespierre
Just saying, from a European perspective the organisation of elections in the Usa looks absurd. Why vote on working days? Why not assign a single polling place to a voter? Why on Earth not have universal ID? It’s really not that hard, but it looks you’re not even trying.

1) Many, probably most, voters do have assigned single polling places. I always have had, at any rate.

2) Universal ID: If you mean a universal ID card issued to every citizen over a certain age, this has been proposed but runs into political resistance from various sources. Also U.S. states retain control of how their elections are run. It is a federal system. which leads to:

3) The U.S. is not Europe. In some or many respects, that’s to the U.S.’s detriment. But there is a distinctive history, political culture(s), and also the role of the states.

This is not by way of excuses, but just to say the problem is a bit more complicated than “be more like Europe.”

As for Wilder @88, it’s a wild overstatement to suggest that “no one” votes b/c of “cynicism” stemming from dissatisfaction w the political system. yes, there’s some of that, but again it’s more complicated.

98

Lee A. Arnold 08.21.14 at 12:41 am

Cassander #80: “the upper 20% of tax payers have about 50% of income. they pay about 70% of taxes. and that is not income taxes, that is all federal taxes.” #91: “…that taxes paid as share of income rises as income does…”

NOT share of ALL taxes, adding federal, state and local together.

TM at #87 beat me to it, but as nearly as any study has been able to make out, when you add ALL taxes, — federal, state, and local taxes — the quintiles’ share of the total tax burden is almost FLAT, with the exception of the bottom quintile.

In fact, adding all taxes together — federal, state, and local — the top quintile pays a little LESS share than the middle three quintiles.

These studies are hard to do — because each state has different tax regulations — but that is what they have concluded so far.

Yet the Tax Policy Center chart of “Share of After-[Fed] Tax Income (Percent)”, which you link to, shows that the upper quintile’s share of total after-[fed] tax income has grown, from 42% to 48%.

Thus it is hard to argue that the top quintile is paying its fair share of the total tax burden.

Cassander #81: “No such cutting has happened. taxation as a percent of GDP has been extremely consistent…”

You are including increases in Social Security taxes, which took up the slack from the other tax cuts.

And you are not mentioning the increase in the federal budget deficit.

99

LFC 08.21.14 at 12:42 am

@cassander:

One needn’t be an expert on the Fr Rev to know that an explanation amounting to “relatively elite agitation eventually aided by the mob” is v. superficial. The notion that action from below was simply “the [unreasoning, monolithic] mob” is inaccurate, not to mention that it ignores what was happening outside the cities, i.e. in the countryside. (Which did matter.)

100

Harold 08.21.14 at 12:44 am

The wealthy benefit most from big government and ought to be required to pay for it. They ought to be proud to pay for it if they love their country.

101

Bruce Wilder 08.21.14 at 12:47 am

They love their money, Harold.

102

J Thomas 08.21.14 at 12:51 am

You know, that depends on what you think is “fair”. A rather large part of the population think “fair” means something like, “paying for what you get, and getting what you pay for”. From that perspective a progressive tax system is wildly unfair, because the services you get from government don’t scale even linearly with your income.

The way our current system works, something like 37% of GDP is government spending. If you get a dollar and it isn’t from the government, what’s the chance it’s from somebody the government paid? Pretty good, right? How about somebody that’s two steps from getting paid by the government?

If you have income this year, it has almost certainly come directly or indirectly from government.

So, the people who have a lot? They have it because the government set things up so they would have it. If you have 50 times as much as somebody else, what you have gotten from government is far more than what they have gotten from government.

If we had a minarchist government that didn’t do much, it wouldn’t be that way. But right now it is. If the government didn’t have so very much influence over the economy, not unlikely a completely different group of people would be rich. If you are rich now, in a system that is firmly based on crony capitalism, that says nothing at all about how well you would do under a different system. You have your wealth due to the government. But you think you are giving too much of it back….

103

Bruce Wilder 08.21.14 at 12:53 am

BB:That’s really all “progressive” taxation is about: Robbing Peter to pay Paul, Joel, and Harry to vote for you.

Progressive taxation done right is about taxing Peter enough, that Peter doesn’t see the point in robbing Paul, Joel and Harry, given that Peter has to pay 70% of his loot to the government. It takes the edge off the sharp pointy end of the greed stick.

104

Collin Street 08.21.14 at 1:10 am

> If we had a minarchist government that didn’t do much, it wouldn’t be that way.

A government that enforces property rights is a government that — definitionally — gives more to the rich than the poor. [because the rich have more property rights, and property-rights are created/enforced by gvt].

105

Lee A. Arnold 08.21.14 at 1:11 am

I would prefer a technocratic reasoning for progressive taxation, which would be simply to hike upper rates to the point where they almost eliminate budget deficits.

Observe that the phony reasoning, the “makers/takers” reasoning, given for less-progressive taxation of the richest is that they are the ones who spur economic growth. But economic growth has not been any better than usual; in fact obviously it’s a little worse.

Meanwhile budget deficits are yet another redistribution of income upward, via the interest paid on the Treasury bonds, as paid by all taxpayers to the bondholders, and almost all bondholders are in the upper quintile.

Indeed the banks were very careful to proclaim that they “paid back” the monies lent them by the Treasury after the financial crash — omitting to mention that the payback money came out of the pockets of the taxpayers, as interest on Treasuies held by the bankers. Isn’t that clever!

106

cassander 08.21.14 at 1:11 am

Lee Arnold

>TM at #87 beat me to it, but as nearly as any study has been able to make out, when you add ALL taxes, — federal, state, and local taxes — the quintiles’ share of the total tax burden is almost FLAT, with the exception of the bottom quintile.

for the bottom two quintiles would be more accurate. and so what if it is flat above that, that is still a highly progressive system, in fact the most progressive system in the OECD: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/05/americas-taxes-are-the-most-progressive-in-the-world-its-government-is-among-the-least/

>Yet the Tax Policy Center chart of “Share of After-[Fed] Tax Income (Percent)”, which you link to, shows that the upper quintile’s share of total after-[fed] tax income has grown, from 42% to 48%.

pre-tax income matters more here than post. but the fact that the amount of income garnered by the top 20% has risen a little over time does not imply, much less prove, that the rich are not paying “their share.”

>You are including increases in Social Security taxes, which took up the slack from the other tax cuts. And you are not mentioning the increase in the federal budget deficit.

I fail to see why either of these things matters. the shift to SS taxes and away from other taxes might have led to a less progressive federal tax code had nothing else changed, but the rest of the tax code has changed, and more than made up for that shift. and for the deficit, if taxes have stayed the same (a point no one is contesting) and deficits have risen, then the reason is an increase in spending, not changes in taxes.

107

derrida derider 08.21.14 at 1:13 am

Scott is right that riots, etc can effect positive change. Riots energise the base.

Put it like this – I don’t think the next Ferguson council elections will have just an 11 per cent turnout. And I don’t fancy that mayor’s chances of re-election. And in turn I don’t fancy the career prospects of that police chief.

108

mattski 08.21.14 at 1:18 am

So, Brett, you’re not exactly accountable for what you write here, are you? I saw some pointed questions directed to you at, for example, 41, 44, 50. You feel no need to respond?

You feel no shame for writing something as ludicrous as,

Democrats once kept blacks on the plantion with attack dogs and lynchings. Today, you keep them on the plantation with paranoia and apathy.

??

As for this,

We want to be merciful, but we shouldn’t confuse it with basic fairness. It isn’t the poor who are getting ripped off by the tax system, it’s the wealthy, who are forced to pay far more than their share.

You were on much firmer ground when you said it all depends on one’s idea of fairness. Because there isn’t any reason to mindlessly accept market outcomes as “fair.” Or perhaps you believe that a hedge fund manager making 20 million a year is a thousand times as productive, a thousand times as capable, a thousand times as worthy as a gardener or a fast-food worker making 20 thousand?

In my opinion it isn’t a question of “mercy”, it’s a question of decency.

109

Anarcissie 08.21.14 at 1:25 am

Clearly, the rich have more power than the poor, and the social product is divided up according to power. If the rich are taxed more of their income (by the government which they dominate) they can and do simply extract more from those lower on the economic food chain. A discussion of who pays more taxes is, therefore, something of a sham.

110

Collin Street 08.21.14 at 1:27 am

If the rich are taxed more of their income (by the government which they dominate) they can and do simply extract more from those lower on the economic food chain.

No: if we make the not-unreasonable assumption that they’re already extracting as much as they can, increasing taxes… doesn’t give them any more headroom, does it.

111

Bruce Wilder 08.21.14 at 2:15 am

It isn’t just about headroom, it is about economic rents. Taxing rents doesn’t affect marginal costs or prices.

112

Plume 08.21.14 at 2:23 am

As mentioned before, read The Making of Global Capitalism, by Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin. It’s pretty clear that our government has always propped up the rich, pimped for them, pimped for the capitalist system, supported capitalists to the death, bailed them out umpteen hundred times to the tune of trillions, gone to war on their behalf and so on. Without “government interference,” capitalism would have died long ago. And that’s not hyperbole or wishful thinking. It literally could not have survived without more than a century of repeated and massive bailouts, plus decade after decade of offloading business expenses to the masses (externalization).

Also, taxation as a percentage of GDP is not a very good indicator. GDP is not Gross Domestic Income. A more important indicator is the change in the distribution of the tax burden, and the massive inequality gap in America, both pretax and post-tax. Tax rates have plummeted for the rich since 1964, when LBJ cut the top rate from 91% to 70%. It had been at least 91% for three decades prior to that. The corporate rate was also much higher back then, 52%, as was capital gains. Taxes on wealth and the wealthy have plummeted pretty steadily since 1964. And the old deflect and distract nonsense about percentage of GDP doesn’t even hold up. It’s fluctuated pretty dramatically over time. It was less than 15%, for instance, in 2009, and corporations now pay a total in the range of 1.3%, when it used to be double and triple that much.

The go-to guide for historical tables on the budget, debt, percentages, etc.

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BUDGET-2014-TAB/pdf/BUDGET-2014-TAB.pdf

113

bxg 08.21.14 at 2:26 am

Ok, I’ll own up.

“Brett Bellmore” started posting comments here a few week ago, and seemed like a troll. But in this thread, I’m finding it much much harder to ignore him. Elections in off-years _by itself_ subverting democracy ?!?; X % white management where X >>>>> % of black voters, and it’s the system at fault? Because of off-year voting? This seems insane. There has to be more than off-year voting at work (if not, my sympathy weakens) – but what else is the supression? Is there another systematic reason
why turnout is so low? We should try moving voting to Saturday and/or with legally protected time off – evidence suggests this wouldn’t change much but do people really think this would give a representative local government?

And to move to the next topic he brings up, “fair” tax vs an explicitly redistributive tax. I pay > 50% of my income in taxes, and I’d gladly pay more, but don’t tell me this is “fair” in the sense of I get-what-I-pay-for (which would be a joke) but tell me this is going towards people without the huge life breaks I have got. I get the latter, and am glad with it (please tax me and people like me @90%) but the former is just crazy.

114

Anarcissie 08.21.14 at 2:28 am

I was thinking of wealth, rather than money. In the lower realms, wealth is power over goods; in the upper realms, it is or produces power over people. Power over people is largely positional, so what matters is not to have enough for some collection of goods, but to have more than others. If the wealth of the poor is reduced, they may go hungry, but if the wealth of the rich is reduced, they still have the power, as long as everyone else’s wealth is similarly reduced. The money which is supposed to represent wealth is somewhat fictive, especially in the upper realms.

115

Plume 08.21.14 at 2:40 am

bxg,

Actually, none of us pays as much as we receive in goods and services, and it’s not at all close. Generational taxation sees to that. The sharing of public goods and services sees to that. Billionaires get far more than the rest of us, and while they do sometimes pay more in taxes, they still don’t come close to paying enough for what they receive.

Just one mile of roadway costs roughly one million dollars to pave and maintain, depending upon obstacles. Most Americans won’t pay enough in taxes to cover a third to a half of that their entire working lives. And we generally drive at least 10,000 miles a year. Throw in R and D, the Internet, GPS, touch screen tech, computers, satellite tech, 75% of the pharma available, national parks, airports, hospitals, inspections, coast guard, sewer systems, police, fire, EMT, etc. etc. . . . . and it’s not close.

There is a real beauty in pooling resources and sharing the results over time and across space. It guarantees that we, individually, pay less than we get. Much, much less. And we could make the deal even better, of course, if we rid ourselves of empire, constant wars, our panopticon, the drug wars, corporate welfare, wealthcare, endless bailouts of the rich, etc. etc. Every penny should be going toward improving the quality of life for all, and that would mean a shift in trillions. But even as badly managed as things are right now, we still get far more than we give.

116

Meredith 08.21.14 at 3:31 am

Re many of the comments here, not the post, see Ta-Nehisi Coates a few days ago:

“There is a pattern here, but it isn’t the one Eugene Robinson (for whom I have a great respect) thinks. The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people. Don Imus profanely insults a group of black women. But the real problem is gangsta rap. Trayvon Martin is killed. This becomes a conversation about how black men are bad fathers. Jonathan Martin is bullied mercilessly. This proves that black people have an unfortunate sense of irony.

“The politics of respectability are, at their root, the politics of changing the subject—the last resort for those who can not bear the agony of looking their country in the eye. The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts—they evidence them.

“This history presents us with a suite of hard choices. We do not like hard choices. Here’s a better idea: Let’s all get together and talk about how Mike Brown would still be alive if Beyoncé would make more wholesome music, followed by a national forum on how the charge of “acting white” contributes to mass incarceration. We can conclude with a keynote lecture on “Kids Today” and a shrug.”

117

Lee A. Arnold 08.21.14 at 3:31 am

Cassander #106: “…that is still a highly progressive system, in fact the most progressive system in the OECD…”

Again, if by “system” you mean the “whole system”, this is incorrect.

The WashPost article you link to is about international comparison of federal taxes only, not federal + state + local added together. You can see this in the OECD chart in the WaPo article, “Income and taxes for the top 10 percent, around the world (mid-2000’s)”, where it put the US at 33.5%. This is in line with the federal tax figures given in the Tax Policy Center link which you gave above.

Again, only federal taxes are progressive. Putting US federal + state + local together, the tax system isn’t progressive, and the burden appears to be nearly flat.

Taxes are fungible, like other monies, so if one level of government (local, state) spends on a budget item, then another level of government (federal) does not need to. So the appearance can be, from federal tax rates and revenue, that the US is progressive, when it is not.

Cassander: “…pre-tax income matters more here than post.”

The point of the WashPost article is about post-tax income, saying that although US federal taxes are more progressive, after-tax income is LESS progressive than in other OECD countries.

Cassander: “I fail to see why either of these things matters. the shift to SS taxes and away from other taxes might have led to a less progressive federal tax code had nothing else changed, but the rest of the tax code has changed, and more than made up for that shift. and for the deficit, if taxes have stayed the same (a point no one is contesting) and deficits have risen, then the reason is an increase in spending, not changes in taxes.”

No, deficits could rise with spending the same, but a drop in revenue. The point was about taxes as a percentage of GDP. During the extra taxation to book the Social Security “Trust Fund”, that revenue made other tax cuts possible, such as the Bush tax cuts, while reducing taxes as percentage of GDP to the previous, longer-term trend.

But despite the promises of the propaganda, the Bush tax cuts did not increase long-term economic growth any more than might have been expected without the tax cuts (in fact, they further enabled a financial bubble that burst).

Thus less revenue is being generated, resulting in budget deficits that are higher, and projected to be higher in the future, than they might have been. So even making good on the Trust Fund becomes a little more difficult.

“the reason” is NOT “an increase in spending”, when the reason is a reduction in revenue due to a reduction in economic growth by badly-designed tax cuts.

118

Layman 08.21.14 at 3:52 am

cassander @ 92

“taxes were in 2007, under the full bush tax cuts, were 17.9% exactly the historical average. “

This is called ‘cherry-picking’. 2007 was the high point following the GWB tax cuts.

“in 2000, they were 20% of GDP, the highest since World War Two”

More cherry-picking.

” and the bush tax cuts served largely to return to the norm before the bush/clinton tax hikes.”

Taxes were well below what you call the ‘norm’ in every year from 2003 until now except the one year you chose.

“post 2007 taxes plunged because income taxes are strongly pro-cyclical and we had the worst economic downturn in recent decades.”

This is called ‘special pleading’.

“The CBO projects them to be back at or above the historical average by next year.”

Oh, you mean they ARE below the historical average?

http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=205

119

Andrew F. 08.21.14 at 4:09 am

In some contexts, riots and demonstrations may spur beneficial legal and policy reforms.

Is the implication of the post that the demonstrations in Ferguson are justified? Surely the implication is not that the riots are justified.

As to the demonstrators, they’re a mob. They’ve found the officer guilty and want justice done – never mind the facts, and never mind especially that we don’t know all of the important ones yet.

120

Peter T 08.21.14 at 4:22 am

Brett decrying the failure of Ferguson’s black community to vote is the same Brett that defended restrictions on voting that targeted blacks. I see no value in his comments, as there is no honesty behind them.

121

stevenjohnson 08.21.14 at 4:34 am

cassander@71
After Napoleon’s catastrophic defeat in Egypt, I think we should view Napoleon as given power rather than taking it. In some ways Cromwell won his position at Burford, which makes him more like a Dumouriez who managed to mobilize the army against the Paris Commune.

rea@73
Napoleon’s monarchy wasn’t well enough established for him to be succeeded by his son. Louis XVIII couldn’t exercise an absolutist monarchy even though his predecessor Napoleon was not a constitutional monarch. Both Charles X and Louis Philippe were both overthrown. How is this survival of monarchy?

Bruce Wilder @74
The struggles of the masses to turn the supposed revolutionary acts of August 4 from public relations with the fine print taking most of it back in many respects was the revolution which certainly didn’t end in 1789.

Also, the real apparatchiks of the established order were the court and the parlements.
The struggle between those factions doesn’t mean they weren’t both part of the rulers.

Bruce Wilder @82
If restoring monarchy is a reform, then Napoleon’s status as reformer is indeed simple. Since it’s not, there’s nothing simple about it.

One bone of contention with the Church was Church lands and incomes. Resolving that “conflict” was not a reform it was a social revolution, the real deal, and it wasn’t Napoleon who resolved it.

The notion that “the confusion in administration created by the state of law…” was some sort of legal snafu finally resolved by the technocratic genius of Napoleon the Reformer seems to stem from some odd views of society. Law is not the essence of a culture. The laws of the old regime were a mess not because they were irrational but because the balance of powers was exercised in create legal privileges and liberties. That balance of power was changed by the revolution not Napoleon. Any long-lasting regime would have and could have carried out reforms, likely some the same, some better and some worse.

Whether or not you want to quibble on the grammar, your argument depends upon an imaginary history in which it was impossible for any revolutionaries to establish a stable regime…because they are “incompetent.” Sorry but it smells like Burke spitting out invective to me.

122

Brett Bellmore 08.21.14 at 9:48 am

“Brett decrying the failure of Ferguson’s black community to vote is the same Brett that defended restrictions on voting that targeted blacks. I see no value in his comments, as there is no honesty behind them.”

Peter, you simply don’t understand my position, so let me explain it:

I don’t think apathetic people should be voting. If you don’t particularly care about voting, not enough to surmount the sort of trivial obstacles that today get called “vote suppression”, you’re certainly not going to be expending the greater effort necessary to study the candidates and the issues. An ignorant, easily manipulated vote is worse than no vote at all. It is nothing but noise in a system whose purpose, after all, is intelligently choosing representatives and deciding issues. And how can a person who hasn’t bothered to inform himself contribute to that process? They can’t.

And so, I consider relatively trivial obstacles to voting, such as requiring you to register in advance, show up at the right place on the right day, and actually fill out the ballot following the clear instructions, to contribute to the proper functioning of a democracy, by discouraging people from voting who have nothing to contribute but their susceptibility to shallow propaganda.

This does not mean I approve of people being apathetic. Quite the contrary, I think people SHOULD be engaged. But if they’re not, they shouldn’t vote.

Now, I realize this is quite opposite to the viewpoint on the left, which regards voting by the apathetic and ignorant to be a positive good. This is quite understandable for a political movement which relies upon the votes of apathetic and ignorant people. It’s perfectly understandable, under the circumstances, that you’d feel threatened by any requirement to vote at all. You need the votes of people who aren’t interested in voting! Even the most trivial inconvenience will derail them.

But that’s not MY position, and I’m not being dishonest by advancing a viewpoint different from your own.

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J Thomas 08.21.14 at 10:20 am

I don’t think apathetic people should be voting.

I would certainly agree with that if we had direct democracy, where you vote on the issues.

But we have a representative democracy, where you vote for who will represent you. If people feel apathetic because they believe there is no candidate to vote for who will represent them adequately, that’s bad. That’s very bad. Remember “No taxation without representation”? If the system will not represent their interests, why should they support the system? Why shouldn’t they express their disagreement by violence, as the founders of the USA did?

We should make it as easy as we can for people to choose representatives, and also make it easy for them to choose who will represent them. And those representatives might do well to individually have ways for their own constituents to vote on particular issues. That’s better than polls, because if you don’t care enough to vote on a particular issue (or you feel you are uninformed enough that you have no opinion) that’s information that polls tend to underemphasize. If I found that I was representing you in government, I would want to know what you wanted on the issues you cared about, and of course I would be responsible for looking after my constituents’ interests on the issues they don’t know they should care about.

The chinese used to have a system where they got a king and believed that Heaven (or whoever) wanted him to be king. But if too much went wrong — floods, droughts, disastrous foreign wars etc — they took that as a sign that Heaven no longer supported him and they revolted and got a new king. That is always the fallback, even for us. If things go too wrong people will strongly object even if they have been apathetic about voting for whatever reason. I don’t want that, so I want people to have representatives who will care about their votes and who will also try to take care that things don’t get too bad for the community. Because I want the system to work. I don’t like bloody revolutions.

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Brett Bellmore 08.21.14 at 10:39 am

“We should make it as easy as we can for people to choose representatives, and also make it easy for them to choose who will represent them. “

See, there’s the difference. I don’t think it’s a good idea to make choosing a representative easier than figuring out who you ought to choose. It just leads to people choosing representatives at random, or being suckered by shallow propaganda they’d have surmounted if they actually cared enough bother informing themselves.

I understand there’s an alternate view of voting, which regards it as largely symbolic, an act of participation, and views who you vote for as a minor side issue. I don’t hold that view.

I don’t expect Peter to agree with me, but I wanted to make it clear that I’m not being dishonest here. I have a coherent position here, I hold it, and I defend it. It’s just not Peter’s position.

The people of Ferguson ought to be engaged enough to vote. They’re not. They are evidently engaged enough to destroy local property, though. This doesn’t particularly impress me. It’s unclear to me why I’m expected to be favorably impressed by people who can’t be bothered to vote, but who can be bothered to riot and loot.

I have expectations of the police, they often don’t meet them. I also have expectations of the people. They’re as capable of not meeting them as the police.

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mattski 08.21.14 at 10:58 am

I understand there’s an alternate view of voting, which regards it as largely symbolic, an act of participation, and views who you vote for as a minor side issue.

How did you arrive at this “understanding?” Do you have any evidence for it?

Now, I realize this is quite opposite to the viewpoint on the left, which regards voting by the apathetic and ignorant to be a positive good. This is quite understandable for a political movement which relies upon the votes of apathetic and ignorant people.

Do you have any evidence for this “realization?” Looks like projection to me, Brett. Or maybe you believe that Fox News is in the business of informing the public?

126

J Thomas 08.21.14 at 11:16 am

I don’t think it’s a good idea to make choosing a representative easier than figuring out who you ought to choose.

So, how hard is it for you to figure out who you ought to choose? Do you perhaps tend to choose by party? By ideological doctrine? Do you look carefully at the candidates in primaries and then vote for one of those?

How did you personally decide how much effort everybody ought to put into choosing candidates?

There is a method that tends to work somewhat, that’s pretty easy. Bacteria uses this method to decide which direction to swim. Ideally bacteria should swim in the direction where there are better resources. If they eat sugar, they should swim in the direction there is more sugar and not in the direction there is less. But they have no eyes or other distance-senses that can tell them which direction is better, and they are too small to measure concentration gradients.

So what they do, is they use a variety of signals to tell them whether things are getting better for them. They swim some distance while they record how fast things are getting better. And the faster things are getting better, the longer it takes for them to change direction. When they do change direction they apparently choose a random direction, and they watch whether things are getting better or worse, and if things are getting worse they quickly stop and change direction again.

Despite their not knowing anything at all about what’s going on around them, on average they improve their circumstances this way.

Voters do this. When they are satisfied they tend to vote for incumbents. When they are dissatisfied they vote for somebody else. Given tremendous amounts of disinformation which can make even the most careful analysis of candidates worthless, this may be the best you can do.

It just leads to people choosing representatives at random, or being suckered by shallow propaganda they’d have surmounted if they actually cared enough bother informing themselves.

You’d rather trust the deep propaganda?

But there’s another side to it. People have a responsibility to choose their representatives wisely, to the extent that’s possible when almost all the information available is self-serving lies. But representatives also have a responsibility to do the best they can for their voters. Beyond the ethical obligation, the better their voters do the more likely they’ll vote to keep their representatives.

Sometimes, many voters can be fooled by some silly ideology. Like, a libertarian politician can promise he will do nothing but try to stop other politicians’ proposals, because he claims his voters do best with less government. And those voters will ignore his actual votes except perhaps for a few widely-publicised issues that he makes a show of opposing. But those same voters will usually vote him out pretty quick if he doesn’t bring home enough pork to their district.

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Ronan(rf) 08.21.14 at 1:03 pm

In his book reviews Herb Gintis is always banging on that a ‘ghetto culture’ and black elites are primarily to blame for the position of poor inner city african americans (see here)

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1XHG3V79JPV65/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

what do people think of the ‘culture of poverty’ analysis that Gintis makes (look into the comments for elaboration) , which is not necessarily the more deterministic older concept of a culture of poverty, but one more specific and contingent ? (Gintis is obviously no fool so Id assume he has something useful to say, although he does go a bit over the top at times)

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Anarcissie 08.21.14 at 1:57 pm

mattski 08.21.14 at 10:58 am @ 125 –
‘ “I understand there’s an alternate view of voting, which regards it as largely symbolic, an act of participation, and views who you vote for as a minor side issue.”
How did you arrive at this “understanding?” Do you have any evidence for it?’

In ‘The Unpolitical Animal’ Louis Menand, apparently basing his article on scientific evidence, discusses the fact that most people do not seem to vote for policy, reasoned ideology, or the character and record of the representatives they vote for, but for habit, immediate apparent self-interest, image, tribal affiliation, the fortunes of athletic teams, the weather, etc. I have not tried to check the science referred to because the conclusions were in accord with my personal observation. In New York City, for example, the most widely discussed matters in local elections have been the ethnicity, religion, sexual habits, and appearance of the candidates, rather than their likely behavior once in office.

In the case of Ferguson, we observe a much higher participation in national elections, which the voters thereof can have little hope of affecting, with even less hope of affecting policy in any tangible way, than in local elections, which they might affect, and whose outcomes may directly impinge on their lives in such practical areas as the conduct of the local police.

The people of Ferguson may believe, and have reason to believe, that no matter how the elections turn out, nothing much will change, or many of them, including those who are not older and not Whiter, may have approved of the behavior of the police, at least until it resulted in the shooting of an unarmed teenager and subsequent rioting. However, if the apathetic there were compelled to vote, the fact that the electorate was now less old and less White might affect the politicians’ and bureaucrats’ view of the world, since they would be conscious that too great an offense might lead to loss of their jobs. This would include the police.

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Brett Bellmore 08.21.14 at 2:26 pm

“How did you arrive at this “understanding?” Do you have any evidence for it?”

Behind the voting wars, a clash of philosophies

Naturally, my restatement of it is not as approving of the liberal point of view as Hasen’s. Hasen’s description of my side’s views is a bit perjorative, too.

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J Thomas 08.21.14 at 3:01 pm

Brett, it occurs to me that we can do this in a fairer way.

If we want to weed out unmotivated voters, we can for example require each voter who arrives at the polling place walk or run five miles on a running track before he can vote.

Also, in precincts where there are enough voting machines that people don’t have to wait much, we could still require that each voter must wait at least 3 hours before he can vote.

And of course shut down the absentee voting, which after all is where almost all of the voter fraud is.

It isn’t just poor people who lack motivation.

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Layman 08.21.14 at 3:32 pm

I imagine if you held local elections on the same day as state & national elections, made Election Day a paid holiday, required polling stations to stay open long enough to accommodate those who still must work, equipped and staffed them sufficiently to ensure short wait times, and had government-funded transportation to bring people to the polls, you’d see much higher turnout. If you don’t do these things, you’re suppressing turnout among the working poor and/or the unemployed. That could be an accident, but it doubt it.

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Harold 08.21.14 at 3:33 pm

Brett Bellmore’s authority Richard L. Hasen (writing in 2012 in the Sacramento Bee) quotes Jonah Goldberg of National Review, whose opinion is that: “voting should be harder, not easier – for everybody. … If you are having an intelligent conversation with somebody, is it enriched if a mob of uninformed louts, never mind ex-cons and rapists, barges in? People who want to make voting easier are in effect saying that those who previously didn’t care or know enough about the country to vote are exactly the kind of voters this country needs now.”

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Harold 08.21.14 at 3:56 pm

THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE IS THE VOICE OF GOD (Machiavelli, Discourses, I: 58, Constitution.org)
Machiavelli (a sort of proto Calvinist) tells us that both the People and Princes are equally bad (or good) — because of their shared human nature, but:

a People that commands and is well organized will be stable, prudent, grateful, and not otherwise than a Prince, or even better than a Prince, although he be esteemed wise. And on the other hand, a Prince loosened from the control of the laws, will be ungrateful, inconstant, and more imprudent than a People. And that difference arises, not from their different natures, (for it is the same in everyone, and if there is an advantage for good, it is in the People) but from the more or less respect they have for the laws under which one and the other live. …. and as to prudence and stability, I say, that a People is more prudent, more stable, and of better judgment than a Prince. Not without reason is the Voice of the People like the Voice of God, for Universal Opinion is seen to have marvelous effects in its prognostications, so that by some seemingly hidden virtù, it foresees evil or good. As to the judging of things, it is rarely seen that when the People hear two speakers who hold opposite views, if they are of equal virtù, they do not take up the the better opinion, and they are capable of seeing the truth in what they hear. And if (as has been said above) they err in things concerning bravery, or which appear useful, a Prince also errs many times in his own passions, which are much greater than those of the People. It will also be seen that in the election of their magistrates, they make by far a better selection than a Prince, but a people will never be persuaded that it is better to bring to that dignity a man of infamous and corrupt habits: to which a Prince may be persuaded easily and in a thousand ways. It will be seen that when a People begin to hold a thing in horror, they remain in that opinion for many centuries, which is not seen in a Prince. And on both of these two things, the testimony of the Roman People will suffice for me, who, in so many hundreds of years, in so many elections of Consuls and Tribunes, they did not make four elections of which they had to repent. And (as I have said) they held the name of Royalty in so much hatred, that no obligation to any of its Citizens who should seize that title would enable him to escape the merited penalty. In addition to this, it will be seen that the Cities where the people are Princes, make the greatest progress in the shortest time and much greater than those who have always been under a Prince, as Rome did after the driving out of the Kings, and Athens did after they were free of Pisistratus. Which cannot arise except that those governments of the people are better than those of the Princes.

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J Thomas 08.21.14 at 3:56 pm

I imagine if you held local elections on the same day as state & national elections, made Election Day a paid holiday, required polling stations to stay open long enough to accommodate those who still must work, equipped and staffed them sufficiently to ensure short wait times, and had government-funded transportation to bring people to the polls, you’d see much higher turnout.

But Brett might have a point. Maybe the problem isn’t that we’re giving poor people too many obstacles to vote. Maybe the problem is that we’re giving everybody else too few obstacles.

If we required voters to do pushups, a long jog, and a long wait before they could vote, maybe we could get richer voting stations to have a turnout as low as the poor ones. If not, we could increase the obstacles at the stations with high turnout and decrease those at the ones with low turnout until the voting was more-or-less equalized.

Brett thinks the unmotivated shouldn’t vote, but we aren’t doing enough to de-motivate wealthier voters. When it’s too easy for them to vote they are likely to vote even when they aren’t particularly motivated to.

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Brett Bellmore 08.21.14 at 4:07 pm

J, I think you’re not taking this seriously. Granted, physical tests would be an obstacle, and would test the desire to vote, but they’d also test physical fitness. The ideal obstacle would be something directly related to whether you were an informed voter.

Personally, I think they ought to just not let you vote for any candidate you don’t already know the name of, and leave it at that. That would be a decent proxy for whether you were an informed voter.

136

Trader Joe 08.21.14 at 4:08 pm

@131 and others

Its not just the working poor – its workers of all kinds. 7am-7pm is typical voting hours in a lot of jurisdictions. Typical working hours are 8:30 to 5:30 in many businesses, which by the time you factor in commutes leaves <1 hour of voting window on either end of the day – it takes a willingness to plan ahead to get up early or the flexibility to leave work early to hit these hours and that applies well beyond the poor to the middle class, disabled, those reliant on public transport etc.

Even Iraq figured out that voting on the weekends is at least a step in the right direction and its that way in much of the world. It would seem like switching votes to Saturday (since churches are often used as polling places and in use on Sunday) would be a virtually cost free way to improve participation across a pretty wide demographic.

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J Thomas 08.21.14 at 4:21 pm

Granted, physical tests would be an obstacle, and would test the desire to vote, but they’d also test physical fitness. The ideal obstacle would be something directly related to whether you were an informed voter.

Tests for how informed people are would be way too easy to rig, like the old poll tests required of southern blacks. No good.

Who are you to decide what information other voters need to know? A political partisan, that’s who. And it’s as bad to discriminate against poor spellers as against people who are in poor health.

We could still require that people wait at least 3 hours to vote, and increase the waiting time at the voting stations that had the highest turnout last year. That discriminates against people whose time is most valuable to them, but only within a single polling place. If you have a job that requires you to work on election day while all your neighbors are independently wealthy or retired, then you won’t be able to vote while they can. The wait might be 5 hours or 7 hours, enough to get half of them not to bother.

But if you lived in a place where most of the other voters worked too, the wait could be short enough that it only stopped half of them and you could vote if you had the determination.

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mattski 08.21.14 at 4:27 pm

Brett,

Naturally, my restatement of it is not as approving of the liberal point of view as Hasen’s. Hasen’s description of my side’s views is a bit perjorative, too.

Thanks for the response. I read Hasen’s piece and saw no evidence whatever for the claim that, “there’s an alternate view [presumably Democratic or Leftist] of voting, which regards it as largely symbolic, an act of participation, and views who you vote for as a minor side issue.” That’s kind of a curious accusation really. I wonder why you made it.

Neither did you support your “realization” that the Left, “regards voting by the apathetic and ignorant to be a positive good.” I mean, is it controversial to observe that most Fox News viewers lean Republican? Do you think Fox does a better job at educating the public than more mainstream media outlets? Have any evidence to that effect?

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/study-fox-news-viewers-uninformed-immigration
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/fox-news-viewers-misinformed/
http://www.thenation.com/blog/167999/its-official-watching-fox-makes-you-stupider

Now, Brett, there are legitimate objections to democratic aspirations. Aristotle certainly made some good ones. I haven’t seen you make any. It’s true that the Democratic party, at the philosophical level, wants to broaden the political franchise. So, sure, that means inviting everyone to participate regardless of intelligence or education. But how does that necessarily favor the Left when so many conservative voters are so ill-informed, for example, about basic scientific ideas like evolution, etc.

And what does it say about Brett Bellmore’s character that, for example, when Billikin @ 50 offers a simple and resounding rebuttal to a particularly asinine and mean-spirited comment of yours, you choose not to respond?

139

cassander 08.21.14 at 4:38 pm

@layman

>Taxes were well below what you call the ‘norm’ in every year from 2003 until now except the one year you chose.

as were economic conditions. 2007 saw 4.6% unemployment, and taxes at the historical average, and 2006, they were 17.6, only slightly before that average. in 2001, which averaged 4.7% unemployment, taxes were 18.8% of GDP, about one SD above the average. now, perhaps you say that 2001 is not a good comparison because much of it was spent crashing. I agree. if one goes back to 98, when unemployment was 4.5%, taxes were 19.2%, again well above average. tax cuts are not meaningless, but tax collection is driven more by economic performance than the changes in the tax code that have been passed since the end of the Korean war. I did not mean to imply that clinton made massive changes, he did not. but neither did bush or reagan.

@ stevenjohnson

>After Napoleon’s catastrophic defeat in Egypt, I think we should view Napoleon as given power rather than taking it.

I agree that Napoleon was given power, what made him different from his predecessors was that he managed to resist it being given to someone else in turn.

@ lee Arnold

>No, deficits could rise with spending the same, but a drop in revenue.

right, but revenues have not dropped. they are still 18% of GDP.

>The point was about taxes as a percentage of GDP. During the extra taxation to book the Social Security “Trust Fund”, that revenue made other tax cuts possible, such as the Bush tax cuts, while reducing taxes as percentage of GDP to the previous, longer-term trend.

I don’t deny this, but I still don’t see why you think it matters. SS has already begun to be funded in part out of general revenues, while Medicare gets about 40% of its funding from general taxes. the trust fund is an accounting fiction, its existence in no way helps pay for SS or medicare.

>“the reason” is NOT “an increase in spending”, when the reason is a reduction in revenue due to a reduction in economic growth by badly-designed tax cuts.

again, there has been no reduction in revenues due to tax cutting. the net effect of the reagan/bush/clinton/bush/obama changes has been basically zero.

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LFC 08.21.14 at 4:57 pm

@Harold
Machiavelli (a sort of proto Calvinist)

Somewhere there are some historians of political thought who are having a collective seizure right now. Or they would be if they were spending time reading Crooked Timber, which, most likely, they aren’t. M. no doubt didn’t think ‘human nature’ was particularly ‘good’, and that’s prob. where any similarity to Calvin begins and ends. Calvin, iirc, wanted devout leaders to rule; M. thought princes should often feign devoutness (Prince, ch.18). Big, big difference.

141

Plume 08.21.14 at 4:59 pm

Cassander,

Your numbers on GDP percentages are off.

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BUDGET-2014-TAB/pdf/BUDGET-2014-TAB.pdf

Table 1.2 is relevant. Also, you will note the large fluctuation in that percentage. Though we can’t be sure about how well the records were kept at the time, from the table starting with 1930, we didn’t even get to double digits until 1942. From that point to the present, it never fell back again into single digits, but it did move around quite a bit.

It is also worth noting that government receipts included a much higher weighting of corporate taxation in the past. Go to table 2.3 for that breakdown. Beginning in 1942, they don’t fall below 3% until 1971.

The top corporate rate was at 52% through most of our one and only middle class boom (1917-1973). It’s now 35%, and there are far more ways to escape paying taxes today than ever before, which accounts for percentages like 1.0, 1.3 and 1.2 in 2009-2011.

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Lee A. Arnold 08.21.14 at 5:48 pm

Cassander #139: “right, but revenues have not dropped. they are still 18% of GDP… again, there has been no reduction in revenues due to tax cutting.”

This is confusing in three different ways. You can see how and why in a very nice animation, if I say so myself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wd4HDautaUw

1. First, federal revenue dropped from the Clinton years, when revenues were around 20% of GDP (and the economy did quite nicely).

2. Second, revenue as percentage of real GDP is not germane to the problem. Revenue can drop, when GDP drops. Federal revenue has dropped from its normal track, because so did GDP.

What we would need to look at, is something more like “real revenue as percentage of potential (not real) GDP”. Federal spending stayed on this old track.

That is to say, federal spending as a percentage of the potential (not real) GDP (the potential projected from BEFORE the crash, because now, potential GDP has started to bend downward too, due to inadequate stimulus policies) has stayed on the old track (actually, it is a little less).

This is only natural, since a lot of non-market obligations do not change — in fact, some of them become more acute — in a downturn.

But this immediately increases federal government spending as a percentage of real GDP, without increasing the dollar amount of the spending.

That is why there was an immediate jump in deficits in 2009. It was not because spending suddenly increased, although the extra stimulus and bailouts package contributed a little. It was because revenues dropped. You can see the effect here, in the sudden increase in deficits at 2009, in the very first CBO chart. The added stimulus and bailouts were only a small part of this:
http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/45010-Outlook2014_Feb.pdf

3. Third, the Bush tax cuts were certainly a contributing factor to the reduction in revenues, because the long-term potential growth path was not increased (as advertised). This can have future effects, and one of them is that revenues are reduced below what they might have been.

143

cassander 08.21.14 at 6:03 pm

@Plume

each year of the historical tables sees a bit of change in the numbers. Not sure why this is, especially for percentage of GDP. the figures you are citing are last years, I was using the current ones, but the changes are not dramatic. I suspect they are largely rounding errors.

More importantly, I think I said that there has been no real change since the Korean war. There was a lot of change before then, but not much since. I don’t deny that change is possible, it obviously is, just that presidents since Truman haven’t made major changes, for whatever reason. the average since then has been 17.7 with an SD of about 1.

As for the corporate tax, it’s meaningless. corporations are accounting entities, any tax they pay comes at the expense of their customers, shareholders, or owners, not a mystical legal fiction. if you want to tax capital, it is both simpler and fairer to tax the owners of capital than the capital itself, which is vastly more maneuverable. and the glorious period to which you refer had plenty of tax law quirks that I would wager you don’t like. the income tax in particular had a great many more deductions, not fewer. for example, all interest was tax deductible before 86, not merely mortgage interest, a great boon to those with good credit.

144

Plume 08.21.14 at 6:07 pm

Spending under Obama has increased 3.78%. Under Bush, it increased by 88%.

Three Updated Charts

The lack of spending increases under Obama have dramatically hurt the economy.

It’s an amazing stunt of propaganda that conservatives managed to pull off over the course of several recent decades. When they gain the White House, and face a recession, they dramatically increase spending and hiring of public sector workers. They borrow trillions to do this. But when the Dems regain the White House, those same conservatives blast away at the supposedly spendthrift ways of the Democrats who are actually far more “fiscally conservative” than the supposedly conservative Republicans. And it’s not close.

Obama and the Dems were either terribly ignorant of this con, or they actually really are far more fiscally conservative (in practice) than the Republicans. I think it’s the latter.

145

Harold 08.21.14 at 6:09 pm

LFC — you are right, of course. A flight of fancy — though I do think Machiavelli was probably sympathetic to Luther (who believed in total depravity, according to some). The truth is, as far as religious faith, we don’t know what Machiavelli personally believed. We do know, because he said so, that he thought that if a Prince wanted to “mantenere lo stato” (keep his power) he should contrive to make the populace think he was devout because he (Machiavelli) thought religion was politically useful. The populace approved of religion and Machiavelli was a republican who took a dim view of the rule of princes.

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Plume 08.21.14 at 6:21 pm

Cassander @143,

The stats I provided are from 2014. Could you post your source?

As for those high rates during the middle class boom. Sorry, but the rich paid far, far more “effectively” than they do now. They had fewer, not more deductions and loopholes. Their effective rate was in the 55% range, which is much higher even than the current marginal rate. The rich pay well under 20% effectively now, and the super-rich, taking advantage of things like carried interest, pay even less. Romney famously paid less than 14% on tens of millions in income on that one return he showed us. It’s likely that he hid all the rest of his returns because percentages were even lower.

As for the corporate tax. No, it’s not meaningless. And they can’t pass on all of that hit. Consumers will pay only so much for goods and services, and we have minimum wages, albeit much too low. And since corporate profits and executive compensation are at all time highs, there is a great deal of room for them to eat a bit of any increase that comes down the pike.

That said, I would gladly trade taxes on corporations for steep increases on personal income for the rich, while adding several higher brackets with progressively higher rates. A top bracket of 400K is absurd in 2014, when people make billions. It was 200K to 400K for most of the middle class boom. It’s crazy for it to be at that level today.

We should add brackets for 1 mil, 10 mil, 25 mil, 50 mil, 100 mil, 500 mil, and 1 billion. The last bracket should have a marginal rate of 99%. If, as conservatives believe, tax rates really do affect behavior, we should use the tax code to discourage concentrations of wealth and do so aggressively. This also encourages putting money back into production, rather than sitting on it and speculating — the latter fueling bubbles and busts, etc.

147

cassander 08.21.14 at 6:35 pm

@Lee Anorld

1. taxes got to 20% of GDP mostly because the economy was doing nicely. the same laws saw taxes only pulled in 17.5% of GDP in 94 when the economy was doing less well.

2. I have to quibble a bit on spending and deficits. between 2007 and 2008, spending increased from about 2.7 trillion to 2.9 trillion, while revenue stayed flat at 2.5 trillion. from 8-9, spending increased to 3.5 trillion while revenues fell to 2.1. Now, I do agree that GDP breaking from potential GDP exaggerates the line on the chart, but it isn’t fair to say the deficits were caused purely, or even mostly, by declines in revenue, it was about even.

3. I don’t dispute that the Bush Tax cuts have lowered revenues compared to what they might have been, just that A, the effect is relatively small, and B, they served largely to undo the clinton tax hikes and return the US to the normal post-korean war level of taxation. the clinton years were about .5-1% above that average, the bush years just slightly below it.

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cassander 08.21.14 at 6:36 pm

ugh, that first sentence should obviously be “the same laws only pulled in 17.5% of GDP in 94, when the economy was doing less well.”

149

Plume 08.21.14 at 6:43 pm

The CBO told Bush back in 2001 that if he just kept Clinton tax rates, we’d have the debt paid off by 2009. The whole thing. Not just a balanced yearly budget. The entire debt would be gone.

There was talk among economists at the time that it would be bad to get rid of the debt. It was actually a worry among some of them.

Bush cut taxes in 2001 and 2003, revenues fell for his first three years and his last — the worst such performance of any president since Hoover — and the rest is history. Not only was the shot at paying off the debt gone. It doubled under Bush.

The tax cuts caused reductions in revenues for three years in a row, after the large Clinton surpluses. They were completely unnecessary, horribly timed, and obviously meant to pay off donors and give a false sense of economic growth. Throw in two unnecessary wars, and aside from the destruction of life, you also get the lowest net job growth in decades. Bush was an absolute disaster.

150

John Quiggin 08.21.14 at 6:43 pm

Coming in late, and I haven’t read the entire thread, but if I read him correctly, I agree with Bob McManus (not my usual position)

Social-economic structures are incredibly resilient, so that making large and permanent changes is very difficult, whatever means you look at.

That applies to tumult as much as to parliamentary procedure: 1968 is a great example of tumult that achieved little, and presaged some big defeats to come.

151

Jerry Vinokurov 08.21.14 at 6:51 pm

Oh my god, we are seriously responding to “let’s make voting harder” bullshit now? Good effort! Good job!

152

TM 08.21.14 at 6:55 pm

J Thomas 137 wins the voting subthread.

153

Ravi 08.21.14 at 7:03 pm

I understand your distaste for voter apathy, but I think trying to weed it out by penalizing people who (among other things):

- work hourly jobs (especially ones where they have little to no input into their working schedule)
– need to find child care and/or
– don’t have good access to public or private transportation to and from their polling place

is deeply inequitable and fundamentally broken. So let me make the following counterproposal. On any election day:

- Employers are required to approve time off for voting for hourly employees, given reasonable notice (e.g. 1 week).
– Free child care is provided at or near polling places for parents who need to vote when their children aren’t in school, day care or otherwise taken care of.
– Free shuttles are available (via prior arrangement or an election-day request) for voters who don’t own cars (and don’t live or work near their polling place).
– and so on for any other inequitable voting barriers

To combat voter apathy, each of these voter support services is required to provide a receipt or similar documentation. Every voter must present at least one example of voter support documentation to demonstrate that they overcame a significant logistical barrier to voting.

If a voter doesn’t need any of these support services (and using a service when you don’t need it doesn’t count), their alternative is to provide an original, physical certificate from the relevant taxing authority (e.g. IRS for federal elections, state department of revenue for state elections, city treasurer for municipal elections, etc.) that their taxes were filed properly and any required payments are up-to-date. Taxing authorities are required to provide these certificates (valid only for a limited period, say 1 month), but only upon written request.

How does that sound?

154

TM 08.21.14 at 7:11 pm

cassander 106: your source and the source I quoted in 94 clearly contradict each other despite both referring to the same year. I suspect that the OECD figures quoted by Mathews do not take all taxes into account, because doing so would be very difficult. Mathews unfortunately doesn’t clarify this point despite reader comments.

155

cassander 08.21.14 at 7:35 pm

@ plume

>The stats I provided are from 2014. Could you post your source?

sure: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/historicals which are the same as these: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?DocID=200&Topic2id=20&Topic3id=23

This years figures actually seem unusually low. For whatever mysterious reason, it has the 1950-2010 average as 17.3 instead of the 17.7 in your chart. this is actually a pretty big shift, and I can’t explain it.

>As for those high rates during the middle class boom. Sorry, but the rich paid far, far more “effectively” than they do now. They had fewer, not more deductions and loopholes.

this simply isn’t the case. As I said, take 1979, when the marginal rate was 70% with the old code and all the deductions. the richest 20% had 45% of income and paid 55% of taxes. today, the figures are 50% and 69%. in 79, the top 1% had 8.9% of income and paid 14.2% of taxes. today, 14.9 and 24.2%. former is a dramatic increase, the latter almost perfectly flat. if the top 1% are getting rich through the tax code, they are doing so at the expense of the 80-99%, not the average person.

>Their effective rate was in the 55% range, which is much higher even than the current marginal rate.

It really wasn’t. They probably had higher marginal rates on the last dollar, but those super high brackets applied only to a tiny percentage of their income. the 70% rate in 79, for example, applied only on incomes over 215k, in the late 70s! only 5% of people make more than 215k today. According to the IRS to hit that top bracket you’d have to be making the equivalent of more than 700k today, or fewer than 1% of taxpayers. to hit the equivalent of the top bracket in 1960, you’d have to make more than 3 million today.

>The rich pay well under 20% effectively now,

No, they don’t. I’ve showed you the plain numbers, straight from the IRS and CBO. I don’t know what else I can do.

>That said, I would gladly trade taxes on corporations for steep increases on personal income for the rich, while adding several higher brackets with progressively higher rates. A top bracket of 400K is absurd in 2014, when people make billions. It was 200K to 400K for most of the middle class boom. It’s crazy for it to be at that level today.

you can add those brackets, but they won’t raise much money. 400k is already at at the 99th percentile of income. membership in the top 400 is conferred on those making over 77 million. who, exactly, do you think is going to be paying those 100 million plus brackets? and remember, that group has immense turnover, 72% of people who have been in that group in the last two decades have only been in once. only 2% have been in more than half of those years.

>This also encourages putting money back into production, rather than sitting on it and speculating — the latter fueling bubbles and busts, etc.

what on earth do you think investing is if not both putting money into production and speculating? the rich do not keep their money in scrooge mcduck style vaults, they put it in banks who lend it out, or invest directly.

156

Tyrone Slothrop 08.21.14 at 7:36 pm

TM at 152: J Thomas 137 wins the voting subthread.

Agreed. The pushups/jogging angle was particularly inspired.

157

Ogden Wernstrom 08.21.14 at 8:19 pm

cassander 08.20.14 at 9:58 pm:

…that is all federal taxes

Let’s assume that is true. That makes me wonder how some non-income-based taxes are contained in such a report.

I wonder how such a report apportions:
– Federal Excise Taxes (including fuel, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, public utilities and so on)
– Federal Corporate Income Tax (a common method apportions most of this to the top quintile of individuals as tax they have paid)
– Federal Estate and Gift Taxes
– Federal Import Tariffs & Duties
– Whatever else
…since those taxes are collected without a need to gather information about the income quintile of the pauper payor.

Backing up a bit:

the upper 20% of tax payers have about 50% of income.

Again, I have not investigated the methodology. Usually, the incomes used in such studies are Adjusted Gross Income (AGI), after any tax deductions/exclusions/etc. are backed out. Often, tax-advantaged income is not counted as part of AGI in the first place – so it appears that those persons are paying their taxes from a much smaller income than they receive.
– Taxable Estates are not reported as income. If the taxes are counted (above), this skews the info.
– I expect that there are other categories, too.

158

Ogden Wernstrom 08.21.14 at 8:20 pm

William Timberman 08.20.14 at 11:15 pm, lamenting the spin:

Brett Bellmore seems not to be the only professional troll to have pitched his tent on CT’s village green this week.

I rue the day that US Patent 2914884 expired, and the technology could be freely duplicated.

159

Plume 08.21.14 at 8:25 pm

cassander,

Your numbers are off.

The top 20% brings in more than 45% of total income. The top 1% alone brings in roughly 19%, and I’ve seen the estimate as high as 25%.

http://www.kiplinger.com/article/taxes/T054-C000-S001-where-do-you-rank-as-a-taxpayer.html

And, yes, back in the so-called Golden Age, the effective tax rate for the rich was 55%. That’s on their total income.

It’s also nonsense to say that tax increases on the rich won’t bring in much additional tax revenue. The top 1% made roughly 2.5 trillion last year. The vast majority of that was untaxed. I’m looking for more recent charts, but this one from 2011 shows the richest 400 paying an average of just 16.6% in federal taxes.

An excerpt:

If the richest 400 Americans simply paid the same effective rate in 2007 as they did in 1995, the government would have collected over $3 billion in additional revenue. Some millionaires agree that the reduction has been unfair and have formed a group, Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength, to demand higher taxes.

That’s 3 billion more for just a few percentage points higher in taxation — the Clinton rates. Take that back up to the marginal and effective rates in the 1930s, 40s, 50s and early 60s, and you’d more than double that addition. And we’re only talking here about 400 taxpayers. Small increases in their rates could have kept food stamps from being gutted, or tens of thousands of public sector workers on the job.

Investment and speculation. Money making money. M-C-M without the C. That’s a wildly indirect method of investing in production, if it ever gets to that point. Encouraging the rich to put money back into their businesses directly is far more efficient and much quicker, and has the added benefit of reducing ginormous compensation packages for ownership and executives. Notice the one to one correspondence in our history between high taxes and relatively modest compensation for executives, as well as far lower ratios of executive pay to rank and file. With taxes plummeting for the wealthy, executive salaries skyrocketed, as did the ratios of executive pay to rank and file.

160

Plume 08.21.14 at 8:28 pm

Forgot to make clear:

As the Kiplinger link shows, just the top 10% brings in more than 45% of all income. You said the top 20% did this.

They don’t have a listing for the top 20%, choosing instead to jump to the top 25%. That portion brings in 67.8% of all income.

161

William Timberman 08.21.14 at 8:57 pm

Ogden Wernstrom @ 158

It’s not the tent-pitching I mind so much — no need to call in SWAT teams to bash peaceful demonstrators and all that — it’s the noxious clouds of stupid.

And the bullhorns, the damned, indefatigable libertarian bullhorns.

162

Harold 08.21.14 at 9:11 pm

163

cassander 08.21.14 at 9:14 pm

@Ogden

I have repeatedly linked my sources: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?DocID=558&Topic2id=20&Topic3id=22
the figures are straight from the CBO, here: http://cbo.gov/publication/44604

@plume

>The top 20% brings in more than 45% of total income. The top 1% alone brings in roughly 19%, and I’ve seen the estimate as high as 25%.

not according to the CBO and IRS: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?DocID=458&Topic2id=20&Topic3id=22

>And, yes, back in the so-called Golden Age, the effective tax rate for the rich was 55%. That’s on their total income.

effective rates are tricky because the definition of taxable income changes all the time, usually to be made more permissive. that is why I like to look at tax and income shares, which show nothing like the rates you suggest.

>but this one from 2011 shows the richest 400 paying an average of just 16.6% in federal taxes.

again, teh IRS says differently: http://www.irs.gov/uac/SOI-Tax-Stats—Individual-Statistical-Tables-by-Size-of-Adjusted-Gross-Income

chart 3.1 says that those making 1-10 million paid 25%, those over slightly less.

>It’s also nonsense to say that tax increases on the rich won’t bring in much additional tax revenue.

if you don’t believe me, try doing the math yourself. the back of the envelope math I did shows that doubling the effective rate on incomes over a million would raise about 5% of the current taxes or less than 1% of GDP, and that is before considering increased avoidance.

>An excerpt:

this ignores that changes in the definition of taxable income have increased revenues while appearing to lower rates. in actuality, as I have repeatedly explained, real rates have not gone down.

164

LFC 08.21.14 at 9:18 pm

@Harold
thanks

165

Harold 08.21.14 at 9:51 pm

It was actually Machiavelli’s successor Guicciardini who praised Luther.

“The position I have enjoyed with several popes has forced me to love their greatness for my own self-interest. If it weren’t for this consideration, I would have loved Martin Luther as much as I love myself – not to be released from the laws taught by the Christian religion as it is normally interpreted and understood, but to see this band of ruffians reduced within their correct bounds, that is, living without vices or without authority.” –Maxim 28

Paolo Sarpi (historian of the Council of Trent) was also suspected of being a closet Lutheran, as I recall. Of course what they thought of as Lutheran (or Calvanist) in those pre-Cromwellian, pre-Massachusetts Bay Colony days, might not be at all as we retrospectively think of it.

166

Bruce Wilder 08.21.14 at 10:29 pm

Ravi @ 153: How does that sound?

Like pointless do-gooder-ism.

The problem isn’t that voting is hard; the problem is that political participation is hard.

It doesn’t do any good for the lone individual to vote at random. It’s insignificant. Politics is voting together with other people, in response to common views, judgements, information, interests, etc. Representative democracy is just voting at random, unless the representative is held accountable by the voters, and that doesn’t happen unless voters participate in organizations that monitor what the elected Representative does in office, and makes judgments about it, which are then reflected in behavior at the polls.

Where I live in Los Angeles nothing about voting encourages civic participation. (And, yes, state law requires that employers excuse employees for the time necessary to vote.) We do not have adequate media attention to local politics. Electoral districts outside of the smaller cities rarely correspond to any recognizable geographical community. There are only a few districts where multiple candidates can be elected to the same set of offices, and no proportional voting applies even then. Elections for municipal offices are often held on days separate from state-wide or national elections, and my polling place changes frequently. I vote in nearly every election, but I often find myself asked to vote for candidates for office about whom I know nothing and can find out nothing, in elections where the turnout is less than one-fifth of theoretically eligible voters.

Ultimately, though, the problem is that people watch too much television and spend too much time driving around in their cars. They do not have the time, attention or energy for any social affiliations, let alone political engagement. Most people do not know or care to know much about politics, and when they do pay a little bit of attention during Presidential elections they hear a lot of mindless drivel and propaganda, which leaves them more stupid than they would be, if they paid no attention at all. Propaganda works in this environment, and candidates expend significant resources not in bolstering the political organization and knowledge of their constituents, but on mailers and, sometimes, radio, television or internet ads of which the 30-second teevee spot or the “look at my family; I love my dog” mailers are typical. So, the money to buy the propaganda instruments becomes the strategic driver of who gets elected, making the election nothing more than a civic ritual.

Not surprisingly, academic research confirms the obvious: politics is fundamentally unresponsive to popular concerns or interests, but is very responsive to the concerns and interests of donors. Which wouldn’t be so bad in itself, if so many of the donors were not cynical, corrupt, stupid bastards, who want the government to facilitate their predation on the rest of us.

It’s “us against them”, except there is an effective “them”, politically, but only exceptionally an “us”, as was the case in Ferguson, where race provided a marker that gave people a sense of “us” in the tragedy of a young man’s death.

167

Bruce Wilder 08.21.14 at 10:36 pm

Harold @ 164

I’ve read a bit of Luther’s polemical writing, and he would have been right at home as an internet troll — though more scatological in his references than most. Of course, he enjoyed a target-rich environment for his critiques.

168

Harold 08.21.14 at 10:46 pm

I find it hard to warm to Luther or Calvin, esp. since the latter burned Servetus. Unfortunately, Machiavelli, who seems to have admired the crusading spirit, probably would have approved. Tantum malorum…

169

Jenna 08.21.14 at 11:53 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 166
I live just across the Orange Curtain in Fullerton(north of Disneyland) and it is amazing to me how different the systems are between Orange County and Los Angeles County.

170

Happy Jack 08.22.14 at 2:44 am

Social-economic structures are incredibly resilient, so that making large and permanent changes is very difficult, whatever means you look at.

Yep. If the people in Ferguson expect permanent change in the structure by electing councilmen, I’ve got one word for them. Detroit. Or to be more precise, Kevyn Orr.

171

Ogden Wernstrom 08.22.14 at 10:16 pm

cassander 08.21.14 at 9:14 pm:

…the figures are straight from the CBO

…which is required to do as directed by Members of Congress – thus, the CBO has produced reports that were required to use the assumptions provided by whomever orders the report.

Now that I have put some time into the part of the report entitled, “Methodology” (in Appendix A, which is in the Full Document but not on the page to which you linked), I see that the CBO partly-addresses both of my areas of concern, allocating those taxes that are not income-linked and measuring income in the first place.

On taxes, they count only Federal income, payroll and excise taxes. (So it does not include all Federal taxes, but the other categories would be problematic to apportion and account for only about 6 percent of Federal revenues.) I can’t say whether the other categories – mainly tariffs – would be distributed in a manner that skews the figures.

Excise taxes were apportioned based on a BLS survey of households, based upon self-reported info. I suppose that this does not tend to bias the data in any particular direction.

Federal Corporate Income Taxes, however, were 75% attributed to the owners of capital – though corporate income is not added to their incomes.

The 75% apportionment is an improvement over the previous method of crediting the owners of capital with having paid 100% of corporate taxes – but it was accompanied by a new method of estimating the value of health insurance, and that method increased the income estimate for the bottom quintile by 24%. Almost one quarter of their estimated income goes to health insurance. It increased the income estimate of the top quintile by $200/year, or 0.09%. [To get some of the method info, I had to go to yet another document which was footnoted in the Methodology appendix of the Full Document that was linked from the webpage you linked. Whew.]

On income, they use IRS data as one source – but it does not spell out whether any measure other than AGI is used; AGI is likely to underreport income from tax-advantaged sources…which are usually available only to those in the top quintile. Census data is used to capture data that IRS might miss – in particular, transfer payments, most of which are recorded for the lower-income quintiles. That data:

…lacks detailed information on high-income households, it does not report capital gains, it underreports other income from capital, and it lacks information on the deductions and adjustments necessary to compute taxes.

…so this Census-survey data fills in a lot of what the IRS misses for the lower quintile(s), but does not compensate for what the IRS info misses for the upper quintile(s).

To sum up, it’s not the very-worst-case I imagined – but it is pretty close. It underreports monies received by those at the top and overstates taxes paid by individuals at the top.

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jack 08.23.14 at 12:18 am

I believe the majority black population voted in the last municipal election at a 6% participation rate. If they actually voted they could have a black mayor, city council and a totally different police department

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