Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jill Lepore Taxes Patriotism Fairness Courage

Jill Lepore, is a professor of history at Harvard, but Mad Dog does not hold that against her, considering the edifying article she has written in The New Yorker about our nation's attitudes about taxes. Below is a link to this article, which given Mad Dog's record, affords no better than an even chance of working:

As New Yorker articles are wont to do, this one does go on for some pages (5) and as professors are wont to do, Professor Lepore strays into some pretty distant and currently less than relevant epochs of Amercian history, but what she does manage to do is to place our own confused, frothy and irrational attitudes toward taxes in perspective.

Her main messages, as far as Mad Dog is concerned, can be broken down as such:
1. Those who rail against taxes see only the tax and not the benefit. As Oscar Wilde once observed: The cynic is one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Or, to put it another way, the tax hater is a government services taker who is not willing to become a giver.  The most ardent New Hampshire anti tax man is very willing to accept his Medicare, his Social Security check, his free currency system courtesy of the federal government, the roads he drives on, the bridges he crosses, the internet he uses, the clean air he breathes, the fluoridated water he drinks, the vaccines he receives, the public health he enjoys, the university he went to on a GI bill and the mortgage assistance for his first home, all while complaining bitterly that the income tax is a socialist plot to confiscate his property and to redistribute his wealth.

2. Liberals have failed to vigorously defend taxation, particularly the income tax for not just decades, but for generations.

3.  Conservatives, whose patron saint is Ronald Reagan, howl about the dreaded deficit and national debt, conveniently forgetting that when Mr. Reagan lowered income tax rates for the upper 1%, the national debt rose from $930 billion to$ 2,600 billion. 

Those of you who are particularly masochistic, can browse through past blogs from Mad Dog about people like John Hunter of Greenland, who wrote the Portsmouth Herald complaining that he sees no justice in his having to pay more income tax than his poorer neighbor, who, after all, breathes the same air, uses the same roads and benefits just a much (in his mind, at least)  from the government as he does. 
This is the old argument about the "fairness" of a progressive vs a regressive tax, and Professor Lepore explores this with great clarity.
As Mad Dog has insisted, and still insists, we ought not argue for the virtues of progressive taxation on the basis of "fairness."  Tax discussion bursts into flames when such emotional arguments are allowed. We should only say, it is most practical to place the burden on those who are least injured and who can carry the load most easily. 
Dr. Lepore cites the study of Thomas Hungerford, which showed raising tax rates on the richest top percentages did not inhibit economic growth, but cutting those rates on the rich does correlate with concentrating the wealth in smaller in smaller percentages at the top of the food chain.  This study raised howls of protest from Mitch McConnell and other Republicans in the pocket of the rich Republican masters, understandably.
It is reassuring to see this argument has been with us since the founding of the country. 
It was thus ever so, and will continue to be. 
We just have to be sure we win the argument by facing it head on.
Here In New Hampshire, Jackie Ciley attempted to win the Democratic nomination for governor, and she refused to take "The Pledge" to never sign into law an income tax. Mad Dog, on reflection, thinks she might have been more successful had she been more willing to explore this issue more head on. At virtual every venue she appeared, the first and last questions were about whether or not she was for an income tax. She said she thought the option ought to be there, if only to use a leverage in discussions with the Republicans, but her phrase was "all options should be on the table," which meant to the old codger who seemed to show up at all her appearances, "Then, what you are saying, is you're for an income tax."
Mad Dog would then stand up and shout, "I think we do not pay enough in total taxes in New Hampshire! All we do is pay property tax, which hurts the elderly, who have paid off their homes, and we whine about how we pay too many taxes and too much. Well, if we paid more, maybe we could build more roads, improve our schools and hospitals and emerge from the 19th century in this backward state!"
Mad Dog is the most un-electable citizen in the Granite State.
Mad Dog has often recounted how his own father paid his income tax bill every April 15th, with a smile on his face, saying, "I never dreamed I'd make enough money to get me into the top brackets. I'm a closet patriotic. I served in the Army  during WWII, and I vote every four years, but this is real patriotism. This hurts. Real patriotism always does."


  1. Mad Dog,
    Oh, I don't know there have to be a few folks more unelectable than you..of course suggesting the state is backward and needs to move out of the 19th century may not be the best campaign slogan-you'd have to fine tune your message a bit. I think you should run sometime -it would make for a very entertaining campaign..

  2. Maud,

    Only if you are my campaign manager. A dog needs someone yanking on the leash.
    And nothing in Washington. I'm done with Washington. Nice place, but been there, done that.

    Mad Dog