A Philosopher's Blog

Fox & Class Warfare

Posted in Business, Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 20, 2011
Warren Buffett speaking to a group of students...

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Warren Buffett’s article created quite a frenzy with the fine folks at Fox. They were, of course, already rather riled up by Obama and the idea that a member of the billionaire class (which seems especially beloved to them) would dare suggest that the rich contribute slightly more of their income.

Oddly enough, Buffett was accused of being a socialist. This term seems to function for certain conservatives as the term “racist” functions for certain liberals. That is, it is thrown around without a proper understanding of what the term actually means. Socialism, in the classic sense, is government control of the means of production. Advocating that the very rich pay marginally more in taxes is no more socialism than being critical of Obama’s health care plan is racism. Now, if Buffett advocated handing over the entire economic system to the state, then he would be a socialist. Likewise, if someone rages against Obama’s health care plan because Obama is black, then that person would be a racist. While terms have some flexibility, if they are bend beyond their limits then they become meaningless noise.

The usual talking point of class warfare was also used. This is, obviously enough, hyperbole. Advocating that billionaires pay a bit more in taxes so as to bring them more in line with the rates most people pay is hardly an act of warfare. While people do throw around the term “war” (as in “war on X”) with little restraint, “warfare” indicates something beyond a mere suggestion of a minor tax change. Warfare is a much more extreme sort of thing. If Buffett had advocated taking a great deal or even everything from the rich or putting them up against the wall, then that would be class warfare. Crying “class warfare” over such minor things robs the phrase of its significance. After all, if a minor tax change is warfare, how will we describe a situation in which the lower classes rise up to overthrow the rich? This sort of abuse of language does cross the political boundaries. As noted above, some folks on the left apply the term “racism” to things that are not, in fact, racism.  If people use their big guns to shoot at mosquitoes, they will be out of ammunition when the lion shows up.

Buffett was also apparently accused of demonizing the rich. Buffett clearly did no such thing.  In fact, he is rather positive about his fellows:

I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.

That hardly seems like demonizing. Interestingly enough, the fine folks at Fox have demonized teachers, the poor, welfare recipients and others. Of course, demonizing is not just a tool of the right. Folks on the left also like to slap the horns on their opponents. However, this sort of demonizing is unfair and can lead to especially nasty versions of the straw man fallacy. Lest I be accused of demonizing the folks at Fox, simply watch them in action and compare what, for example, was said about the less well off to reality.

Speaking about the less well off, the fine folks at Fox seem very concerned that the bottom 50% of Americans don’t pay enough taxes. These are the folks whose collective wealth adds up to 2.5% of our national wealth. In an interesting coincidence, if the state took half of their stuff, this would be about the same as what the wealthy would pay if their taxes were restored to the Clinton era levels. Squeezing the poor, as Fox seemed to suggest, hardly seems like it would be an effective (or just) approach. However, protecting the privileged classes while squeezing the poor has a long tradition behind it. Of course, this sort of unbalanced economy leads towards real class warfare-something we could avoid by ensuring that the class disparities do not become unbearable.

I will no doubt be accused of being a socialist for wanting to prevent America from falling victim to country destroying class disparities. However, I am not advocating that the state take over the economy. Rather, I am advocating that the burden of maintaining the country be shared more fairly and that America should not follow in the steps of the states that collapsed due to unbearable economic injustice. In a nice bit of irony, the sort of approach that seems to be advocated by Fox seems calculated to create actual class warfare.

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14 Responses

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  1. T. J. Babson said, on August 20, 2011 at 7:27 am

    Economics 101:

    • FRE said, on August 20, 2011 at 6:36 pm

      We’ve not talking about SOAKING the rich. We’re just saying that it would be reasonable to tax them at the same rate as average people, or at a somewhat higher rate.

      • T. J. Babson said, on August 20, 2011 at 7:21 pm

        FRE, you can tax the rich all you want and it barely makes a dent in the problem as shown below with real numbers from the IRS.

        Since taxing the rich doesn’t address the big debt and deficit problems, why are the Democrats pushing this issue right now instead of focusing on a solution that might actually solve the problem?

        Mr. Buffett specifically called to raise tax rates on Americans making more than $1 million and proposed an additional increase on taxpayers whose income exceeds $10 million. Suppose Mr. Buffett got his wish and loopholes and deductions were eliminated, making it possible to tax the “super-rich” (those earning $1M – $10M per year) at an effective rate of 50%. The following table shows the effect that such a historic hike on effective rates would have on the deficit and debt:

        In addition, Mr. Buffett wanted those making more than $10 million per year to pay even more. The table below exhibits the effect of imposing a 100% effective rate on these individuals:

        So taking half of the yearly income from every person making between one and ten million dollars would only decrease the nation’s debt by 1%. Even taking every last penny from every individual making more than $10 million per year would only reduce the nation’s deficit by 12 percent and the debt by 2 percent. There’s simply not enough wealth in the community of the rich to erase this country’s problems by waving some magic tax wand.

        Finally, to put everything in perspective, think about what would need to be done to erase the federal deficit this year: After everyone making more than $200,000/year has paid taxes, the IRS would need to take every single penny of disposable income they have left. Such an act would raise approximately $1.53 trillion. It may be economically ruinous, but at least this proposal would actually solve the problem.


  2. T. J. Babson said, on August 20, 2011 at 7:35 am

    And while we are at it:

  3. T. J. Babson said, on August 20, 2011 at 9:09 am

    And one more for good measure:

  4. FRE said, on August 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    There is nothing new about misusing words; the term “socialism” is not the only word that is misused.

    The work “blackmail” is similarly misused. Blackmail is a kind of extortion based on a threat to reveal damaging information. However, because of its strong negative connotations, the term “blackmail” is often used by politicians to mean any kind of threat or pressure even if it is not really blackmail.

    Using words for their emotional impact rather than for their correct meaning obviously distorts the thinking of some people.

    • Magus said, on August 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      “Warren Buffett’s article created quite a frenzy with the fine folks at Fox.”:

      Yes, and with Moonbat bloggers, too. You’ve already written two articles about it.

    • magus71 said, on August 21, 2011 at 7:46 am

      Like Bush and Fascism.

  5. Magus said, on August 20, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    Thinking about why some people get paid so much. The problem of course is assessing the value of anything. Different things have different values to different people.

    Marx tried to assess value through the labor theory of value. But this doesn’t cover a lot of things. For instance, a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card may go for $10,000 but it took the same amount of labor to produce that card as any other that year that goes for $5.00.

    Value is in the eye of the beholder. Even in philosophy, it’s tough to make value judgments (even though I do it all the time by looking at outcomes), but taken too far this becomes relativism. This is why a free market is the best market. Only individuals can know what’s valuable to them. Governments are to big, too far away and to coldly unattached to do this well.

    Essentially, getting rich may include gaming the system, but I don’t have a problem with that, because you getting rich doesn’t mean I’m getting poor. As long as everyone has the same opportunity to game the system, I don’t care. Getting rich has never been my goal, though I wish I’d made more money over the last 20 years. But mostly because I want my family to be comfortable; me I’m good in a van down by the river.

  6. Anonymous said, on August 21, 2011 at 11:59 am


    When you refer to “the fine folks at Fox”, you should be specific as to which person on Fox actually made certain assertions. Despite your beliefs, there are plenty of people on Fox News that have some significant intellectual weight. They may be conservative, but people like Ralph Peters, Mark Steyn, George Will and Charles Krauthammer bring a lot to the table in the brain department. And they all work for Fox. There are quite a few others.


    • Michael LaBossiere said, on August 23, 2011 at 5:14 pm

      A fair point and one that should apply across the board, be one talking about Fox, liberals, gays, Democrats, or anyone else.

  7. James Claims said, on August 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    A fine article you have here. It reminds me of the comparative analysis that Jon Stewart did, where he compared the attitude toward the bottom 50% and the top 2% at fox as well as the relative wealth. I especially like that you did not demonize the rich as some sort of ivory tower illuminati group that they are sometimes portrayed as. There are good and bad folks all around, there are those that abuse welfare programs and those that abuse their power derived from wealth. And there is little in the notion of capitalism that means that we cannot differentially tax different groups. That is derived from a very strong interpretation of egalitarianism, and it is the job of economists to determine whether that is pragmatically the correct way to go in terms of numbers relating to providing proper social nets and maximizing the economic freedom of individuals to spend as they desire.

  8. T. J. Babson said, on August 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    This is quite good.

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