A Philosopher's Blog

Incentives, Taxes, & Inequality

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael LaBossiere on January 15, 2016

One stock argument against increasing taxes on the rich in order to address income inequality is a disincentive argument. The gist of the argument is that if taxes are raised on the rich, then they will lose the incentive to invest, innovate, create jobs and so on.  Most importantly, in regards to addressing the income inequality problem, the consequences of this disincentive will have the greatest impact on those who are not rich. For example, it has been claimed that the job creators will create less jobs and pay lower wages if they are taxed more to address income inequality. As such, the tax increase will be both harmful and self-defeating: the less rich will be no better off than they were before (and perhaps even worse off). As such, there would seem to be good utilitarian moral grounds for not increasing taxes on the rich.

Naturally, there is the question of whether or not this disincentive effect would be warranted or not. If the rich simply retaliated from spite, then the moral argument would fall apart—while there would be negative consequences for such a tax increase, these consequences would be harms intentionally inflicted. As such, not increasing taxes because of fear of retaliation would be morally equivalent to paying protection money so that criminals elect to not break things in one’s business or home.

If, however, the rich act because the tax increase is not fair, then the ethics of the situation would be different. To use an obvious analogy, if wealthy customers at a restaurant were forced to pay some of the bills for the less wealthy customers by the management, it would be hard to fault them for leaving smaller tips on the table. While the matter of what counts as a fair tax is rather controversial, it is certainly easy enough to accept an unfair increase would be unfair by definition. One approach would be to define unfairness in terms of the taxes cutting too much into what the person is entitled to in dint of her efforts, ability and productivity relative to what she owes to the country. This seems reasonable in that it provides considerable room for argumentation and does not beg and obvious questions (after all, the amount one owes one’s country could be as low as nothing).

Interestingly, the fairness argument would also apply to workers in regards to their salary. When a worker produces value, the employer pays the worker some of that value and keeps some of it. What the employer keeps can be seen as analogous to the tax imposed by the state on the rich person. As with the taxes on the rich person, there is the general question of what is fair to take from workers. Bringing in the disincentive argument, if it works to justify imposing only a fair tax on the rich, it should also do the same for the less rich. That is, those who argue against raising taxes on the rich to address income inequality by using the disincentive argument should also accept that the less rich should be paid in accord with the same principles used to judge how much income should be taken from the rich.

The obvious counter to this approach is to endeavor to break the analogy between the two situations: this would involve showing that the rich differ from the less rich in relevant ways or that taking income by taxes is relevantly different from taking money from employees. The challenge is, of course, to show that the differences really are relevant.

 

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Taxing the 1% IV: Incentives

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 25, 2015

As noted in previous essays on this topic, the highest income folks in the United States now pay about 1/3 of their income in taxes.  The left has proposed increasing the tax rate to 40% or even 45% while the right has countered with proposals to either not raise taxes or cut them even more. This, the final essay in this series, considers the stock argument that a tax increase will be a destroyer of incentives.

The gist of the argument is that if the taxes for the top income brackets is increased to 40% or higher, the rich will become demotivated and this will have negative consequences. Since these negative consequences should be avoided, the conclusion is that taxes should not be increased—thus keeping the incentives in place.

In terms of assessing this argument, there are two major points of concern. One is whether or not a tax increase would destroy the incentives of the top economic class. The other deals with the negative consequences, their nature, their likelihood of occurring and the extent and scope of the harm. I will begin with the alleged consequences.

The alleged consequences are many and varied. One is based on the claim that the top economic class contains the innovators and if they are demotivated, then there will be less innovation. This could range from there being no new social media platforms to there being no new pharmaceuticals. While this is a point of concern, this assumes that innovation arrives primarily out of the top economic class—a matter that can tested empirically. While some top earners are innovators, much of the innovation seems to come from those in the lower economic classes—such as the folks in the labs doing the actual research and engineering. The idea that the rich are the innovators certainly matches the fiction of Ayn Rand, but seems to miss the way research and development actually occurs.

Another is based on the claim that the top class serve as the investors that provide the capital that enables the economy to function. Since the top class controls the capital, this is quite a reasonable concern. If Americans with the largest shares of the money decided to reduce or stop investing, then the economy would need to rely on foreign capital or what could be provided by the lower classes. Since the lower classes have far less money (by definition), they would not be able to provide the needed financial support. There are, of course, foreign investors who would happily take the place of the wealthy Americans, so the economy would probably still roll along. Especially since American investors might find the idea of losing out to foreign investors sufficient motivation to overcome the demotivation of a tax increase.

There is also the claim that the top income class contains the people who do the important things, like brain surgery and creating the new financial instruments that will take down the world economy next time around. While this does have some appeal, it seems that much of the important stuff is done by people who are not in the top classes. Again, the idea that the economic elite are doing the important stuff while the rest of the people are not (or are takers rather than makers) is yet another part of the fictional universe of Ayn Rand.

Fairness does, however, require that these matters be properly investigated. If it can be shown that the top class is as critical as its defenders claim, then my assertions can be refuted. Of course, it is well worth considering that much of the alleged importance of the top class arises from the fact that it has a disproportionate share of the wealth and that it would be far less important if the distribution were not so grotesquely imbalanced. As such, a tax increase might have the impact of decreasing the alleged importance of the top economic class. I will now turn to the matter of whether or not a tax increase would demotivate the top economic class.

One easy and obvious response to the claim that a relatively small tax increase would demotivate the top economic class is that the vast majority of the rest of us work jobs, innovate, invest and do important things for vastly less than those at the top. Even if the rich paid slightly more taxes, their incomes would still vastly exceed the rest of us. And if we can find the motivation to keep going despite the relative pittances we are paid, then the rich can also do so. When I worked a minimum wage job, I was motivated to go to work. When I was an adjunct making $16,000 a year, I was still motivated to go to work.

It could be replied that the lower classes are motivated because they need the income to survive. We need to work to buy food, medicine, shelter and so on. Those who are so well off that they do not need to work to survive, it could be claimed, also have the luxury of being demotivated by a slight decline in their income. Whereas someone who must earn her daily bread at a crushing minimum wage (or less) job has to get up and go to work, the top economic folks can allow themselves to be broken by the slight tax increase and decide to stop investing, stop innovating, and stop doing important stuff.

One reply is that it seems unlikely that the top folks are so weak as to be broken by a slight tax increase. Naturally, a crushing increase would be a different story—but there are no serious proposals to inflict crushing tax burdens on the rich. After all, crushing burdens are for the poor. Another reply is that if the current rich become demotivated, there are plenty of people who will be happy to take their place—even if it means paying slightly higher taxes on a vastly increased income. So, we would just get some new rich folks to replace the demotivated slackers—capitalism at its finest.

 

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Taxing the 1% II: Coercion

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 11, 2015

As noted in my previous essay on this topic, those with the highest income in the United States currently pay about 1/3 of their income in taxes. There have been serious proposals on the left to increase this rate to 40% or even as high as 45%. Most conservatives are opposed to any increase to the taxes of the wealthy while many on the left favor such increases. As in the previous essay on this subject, I will focus on arguments against increasing the tax rate.

One way to argue against increasing taxes (or having any taxes at all) is to contend that to increase the taxes of the wealthy against their wishes would be an act of coercion. There are more hyperbolic ways to make this sort of argument, such as asserting that taxes are theft and robbery by the state. However, I will use the somewhat more neutral term of “coercion.” While “coercion” certainly has a negative connotation, the connotations of “theft” and “robbery” are rather more negative.

If coercion is morally wrong, then coercing the wealthy into paying more taxes would be wrong. As such, a key issue here is whether coercion is wrong or not. On the face of it, the morality of an act of coercion would seem to depend on a variety of factors, such as the goal of the coercion, the nature of the coercive act and the parties involved. A rather important factor is whether the coerced consented to the system of coercion. For example, it can be argued that criminals consented to the use of coercive force against them by being citizens of the state—they (in general) cannot claim they are being wronged when they are arrested and punished.

It could be claimed that by remaining citizens of the United States and participating in a democratic political system, the richest do give their consent to the decisions made by the legitimate authorities of the state. So, if Congress creates laws that change the tax rates, then the rich are obligated to go along. They might not like the specific decision that was made, but that is how a democratic system works. The state is to use its coercive power to ensure that the laws are followed—be they laws against murder, laws against infringing the patents of pharmaceutical companies or laws increasing the tax rate.

A reasonable response to this is that although the citizens of the state have agreed to be subject to the coercive power of the state, there are still moral limits on the power. Returning to the example of the police, there are moral limits on what sort of coercion they should use—even when the law and common practice might allow them to use such methods. Returning to the matter of laws, there are clearly unjust laws. As such, agreeing to be part of a coercive system does not entail that all the coercive actions of that system or its laws are morally acceptable. Given this, it could be claimed that the state coercing the rich into paying more taxes might be wrong.

It could be countered that if the taxes on the rich are increased, this would be after the state and the rich have engaged in negotiations regarding the taxes. The rich often have organizations, such as corporations, that enable them to present a unified front to the state. One might even say that these are unions of the wealthy. The rich also have lobbyists that can directly negotiate with the people in the government and, of course, the rich have the usual ability of any citizen to negotiate with the government.

If the rich fare poorly in their negotiations, perhaps because those making the decisions do not place enough value on what the rich have to offer in the negotiations, then the rich must accept this result. After all, that is how the free market of democratic politics works. To restrict the freedom of the state in its negotiations with rules and regulations regarding how much it can tax the rich would be an assault on freedom and a clear violation of the rights of the state. If the rich do not like the results, they should have brought more to the table or been better at negotiating. They can also find another country—and some do just that. Or create or take over their own state.

It could be objected that the negotiations between the state and the rich is unfair. While the rich can have considerable power, the state has far greater power. After all, the United States has trillions of dollars, police, and the military. This imbalance of power makes it impossible for the rich to fairly negotiate with the state—unless there are rules and regulations governing how the rich can be treated by the greater power of the state. There could be, for example, rules about how much the state should be able to tax the rich and these rules should be based on a rational analysis of the facts. This would allow a fair maximum tax to be set that would allow the rich to be treated justly.

The relation between a state intent on maximizing tax income and the rich can be seen as analogous to the relation between employees and businesses intent on maximizing profits. If it is acceptable for the wealthy to organize corporations to negotiate with the more powerful state, then it would also be acceptable for employees to organize unions to negotiate with the more powerful corporations. While the merits of individual corporations and unions can be debated endlessly, the basic principle of organizing to negotiate with others is essentially the same for both and if one is acceptable, so is the other.

Continuing the analogy, if it is accepted that the state’s freedom to impose taxes should be regulated, limited and restricted by law, then it would seem that imposing limits, regulations and restrictions on the economic freedom of employers in regards to how they treat employees. After all, employees are almost always in the weaker position and thus usually negotiate at a marked disadvantage. While workers, like the rich, could try to find another job, create their own business or go to another land, the options of most workers are rather limited.

To use a specific example, if it is morally right to set a rational limit to the maximum tax for the rich, it is also morally right to set a rational limit on the minimum wage that an employee can be paid. Naturally, there can be a wide range of complexities in regards to both the taxes and the wages, but the basic principle is the same in both cases: the more powerful should be limited in their economic impositions on the less powerful. There is also the shared principle of how much a person has a right to, be it the money she keeps or the money she is paid for her work.

Like any argument by analogy, the argument I have made can be challenged by showing the relevant similarities between the analogues are outweighed by the relevant dissimilarities. There are various ways this could be done.

One obvious difference is that when the state imposes taxes on the rich, the state is using political coercion. In the case of the employer imposing on the employee, the coercion is economic (although some employers do have the ability to get the state to use its coercive powers in their favor). It could be argued that this difference is strong enough to break the analogy and show that although the state should be limited in its imposition on the rich, employers should have considerable freedom to employ their economic coercion against employees. The challenge is showing how political coercion is morally different from economic coercion in a way that breaks the analogy.

Another obvious difference is that the state is imposing taxes on the rich while the employer is not taxing her employees. She is merely setting their wages, benefits, vacation time, work conditions and so on.  So, while the state can reduce the money of the rich by taxing them, it could be argued that this is relevantly different from an employer reducing the money of employees by paying low wages. As such, it could be argued that this difference is sufficient to break the analogy.

As a final point, it could be argued that the rich differ from employees in ways that break the analogy. For example, it could be argued that since the rich are of a better economic class than employees, they are entitled to better treatment, even if they happen to be unable to negotiate for that better treatment. The challenge is, of course, to show that the rich being rich entitles them to a better class of treatment.

 

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Corporate Inversion

Posted in Business, Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on August 13, 2014
Taxes

Taxes (Photo credit: Tax Credits)

Corporate inversion is a strategy in which a corporation (usually one located in the United States) merges with a foreign corporation and then shifts its income from its original country.  The usual purpose of this strategy is to reduce taxes and this is done by shifting the income from the higher-tax country to the lower tax country. While this strategy has been used for quite some time, it started attracting media attention in the summer of 2014.

Those who defend tax inversion point to the obvious fact that it is currently legal. As such, the strategy is exempt from legal criticism as long as it is legal. Of course, the fact that something is legal does not entail that it is morally right or even that it is pragmatically prudent. A quick glance at history will show an abundance of practices that were legal (such as slavery) yet morally repugnant. A similar look back will also reveal laws that turned out to be bad ideas on pragmatic grounds. Thus, the actual dispute about corporate inversion is not a matter of whether it is legal or not. Rather, the substantial dispute is whether it should remain legal or not. Interestingly, opposition to corporate inversion is not limited to the left and avowed capitalists have been critical of the practice (usually as part of a general criticism of the tax laws of the United States). There is also the fact that the practice is legal because the corporate lobbyists ensure that is legal. To use an analogy, it would be like a person claiming it is not cheating that they are winning because she is following the rules when she is the one who writes the rules.

One obvious moral concern regarding the practice is that the corporations that invert are able to reduce their tax burden (which tends to already be quite low in practice, despite the relatively high tax rate that exists in theory) while still enjoying the support of the United States. These corporations still utilize the physical infrastructure of the United States, they still benefit from the legal system (which often serves their interests quite well), they still benefit from United States foreign policy and military operations, and they still enjoy the usual corporate welfare, and so on. In short, they contribute less while still receiving the same. If one believes that people should not be takers and should contribute fairly in return for what is received, this tactic would seem wrong. To use an analogy, it would be somewhat like eating a meal at one table and then relocating oneself to another table with a smaller bill so as to avoid paying what one actually owes. While some might see that as brilliant, it does seem rather morally dubious to use such a shift to avoid responsibility. Then again, it could be argued that this is brilliant and there is nothing wrong with eating one meal while paying for a cheaper one. There is, however, the fact that the rest of the folks at the original table will be stuck with the bill—but perhaps they deserve it for being too stupid (or moral) to ditch the table for a cheaper bill. Some might wonder what would happen if everyone jumped tables—but obviously enough not everyone will or can, so there will always presumably be fewer people stuck with more of the bill.

A second stock defense of corporate inversion is that corporations are obligated to make a profit for their shareholders. On the face of it, this inversion would do just that. After all, if the corporation is taxed less, that entails more profits and thus larger payouts to the shareholders. Interestingly, though, the Wall Street Journal notes that this corporate inversion strategy could result in the shareholders paying more taxes—thus perhaps resulting in a somewhat ironic shift of the tax burden. This dispute is a factual matter rather than a matter of value: if the justification of corporate inversion is the benefits to the shareholders, then it certainly matters whether the shareholders benefit from this or are harmed by it. There is also the matter of value. Justify inversion on the grounds of increasing profits is to hold that what matters in terms of what should be done is profits, rather that other factors such as fairness, morality and so on.

While thinkers like Thomas Hobbes would agree that “profit is the measure of right” in the state of nature, there is a reasonable moral concern that gain is not the standard of right. If profit trumped everything, then corporations should engage in such practices as slavery, organ harvesting, prostitution, drug dealing and so on—provided that such endeavors were profitable. This principle would allow a drug cartel to justify its practices—as long as it kept its books in the black (though the streets might be red). It might be countered that these practices are illegal (in some places)—but changing that is just a matter of lobbying or relocation. After all, if a company can relocate to avoid a tax burden so as to maximize profit on the grounds that profit is what matters, it could make the same appeal to relocating so it could deal in slaves or cocaine.

The obvious counter is to say that corporate inversion is not really comparable to engaging in slavery or organ harvesting. The easy reply is that this is true.  But if the principle is that profits are the measure of what one should do, then it follows that as long as the wicked is profitable, one should do it.

Another approach to the matter of warranting actions in terms of profit is to consider the matter from another angle. To be specific, consider the ethics in regards to an individual taking the same view. For the sake of the example, imagine a fellow (a California surfer, perhaps) who follows the principle of profit. That is, he aims to get as much as he can for as little cost to himself. Imagine that he finds that there is a perfectly legal system that will provide him with goods and services at no cost to himself. Given that his goal is profit maximization, this would be a good system for him—he profits at no apparent cost to himself. This scenario seems to nicely work in the two stock justifications for corporate inversion, namely that it is legal and it is profitable. So, if it is acceptable for a corporation to invert because it is legal and because doing so is profitable, then it is acceptable for the California surfer to do the same thing on an individual level. However, if the surfer is in the wrong because he is a taker (that is, he is getting without contributing his fair share), then it would seem that the corporation is also in the wrong.

It could be countered that the corporation is at least employing some people and making profits for the shareholders, etc. However, the surfer can counter that he is making profits for himself and also contributing to employment. After all, someone has to make and sell the sushi he eats, so he is also a job creator.

 

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You Can’t Tax Me, I’m the Rangelman!

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 20, 2009
{{w|Charles B. Rangel}}, member of the United ...
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One interesting story that you will most likely not hear is the tale of Charlie Rangel. While his actions are clearly worthy of the attention of the news media, such attention seems to be sorely lacking.

Charles Rangel is a major player in the House. While he was first elected in 1971, he only recently
became the  chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.  Interestingly, he certainly seems to have a way with money and a means to avoid paying taxes on it.

It has been claimed that his 2007 financial disclosure report failed to report significant assets. These include a credit union account alleged to be worth between $250,000 and $500,000, an investment account, and three properties in New Jersey. To top that off, it is also claimed that he has not disclosed over $1 million in assets, even though he is required to do so.

One story that did make the news (albeit briefly) was that Rangel failed to report and pay taxes on a Caribbean villa. The IRS did take him to task and he was forced to pay the back taxes (about $10,000), but he was not subject to any other penalty.

While the House Ethics Committee has investigated his activities, nothing has been done and the Democrats seem disinclined to take any action. The Republicans have tried to take action against him, but they lack the votes to do anything.

Those with good memories will recall that Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska was convicted of lying on his disclosure forms. While his conviction was (conveniently enough) thrown out, his actions effectively ended his career.

From a moral standpoint, what happened to Ted Stevens should also happen to Rangel (assuming that the allegations are true, of course). After all, the same rules must (on the pain of legal and moral inconsistency) apply to all. To let Rangel get away with the same deeds that Stevens was called to task for is grossly unjust. Also, consider what would happen to a normal citizen who engaged in comparable behavior. They would face serious consequences if they did what Rangel was alleged to have done.

If Rangel is guilty of what he is accused of doing and the Democrats do nothing, then they make it clear that they are not concerned about ethics or professionalism. While we have (sadly enough) come to expect little from our elected “leaders”, it is far past the time when we should hold them to the standards that they should meet. The matter of Rangel must be investigated and, if he is guilty, he must be brought to justice. Anything less is an insult to the rule of law and professional ethics.

We were promised that it would not be politics as usual. Yet, as always, it is.  So, I have little faith that justice will be served.

It is also interesting to note that Rangel has received little news coverage. While there have been some major stories to take up the news time, I did noticed that CNN did a lengthy segment on 9/18/2009 about the dad who caught the foul ball and gave it to his daughter (who then threw it). This was a internet hit, true, but I think that if CNN can spare time for this, then they can report in more detail on what sort of misdeeds might be going on in regards to Rangel and others.

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Rambling on Taxes & Savings

Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on August 3, 2009

There is, as there almost always is, considerable talk about taxes and plans to save money. I’ll offer a few rambling thoughts that wandered into my mind about these matters.

When it comes to taxes, most folks would rather not pay them. Most folks are, however, rather happy about what taxes provide to us. One interesting thing about taxes is that if some people to get more out of tax funded things than they put in, it follows that other folks must pay in more than they get. Of course, everyone can get out more than they put in, provided that the state is going into deficit spending (which we have, massively). In some ways the tax system can be a looked at a bit like how Marx looked at the notion of profit. To grossly oversimplify the Marxist analysis of profit, someone has to be underpaid in order for there to be a profit. For example, to make a profit on a $2 widget, that means that the widget must cost less than $2 to make, ship and sell. This entails that someone is either being paid less than what they contribute is worth (such as the laborer) or the customer is paying more than the widget is “really” worth.

So, if the government is providing goods and services to people beyond what they paid in, other people have to be paying more than they are getting from the state. Thus, some taxpayers, it would seem, are being exploited by the state.

Naturally, it might be claimed that the folks who are being exploited by the state are the folks who are often exploiting others to make profits. However, this would not seem to make the situation fair-it would be merely creating yet another case of exploitation.

Being a bit facetious, you might say that people can be divided into left and right by who they favor exploiting. If you think the rich should exploit the non-rich, welcome to the right. If you think the non-rich should exploit the rich, welcome to the left. If you like both ideas, welcome to congress.

Now, to ramble a bit on savings. Obama has been saying that we will be able to save money in health care and such by being more efficient and doing various other vague things that sound good. We have also been told that he will be creating more jobs.

The thing about saving money is that saving money is not like preventing a leak in your water pipes to save on your water usage. After all, the leaking water is wasted by leaking into the ground. But, it is not that the money is leaking away to be destroyed. Rather, it is going to pay people. Now, some of this money might not be warranted (that is, people might be getting money that they should not), but presumably some of it pays salaries and so on. So, when we talk about money being lost, we need to be a bit more careful about what we mean.

To use another example, consider when people talk about money lost after a disaster. True, money is lost due to businesses not being able to operate, but the money that must be spent rebuilding is not really lost. Rather, it goes into paychecks and material sales (plus plenty of corruption and waste). As Halliburton folks will attest, disasters can be a great economic boon and not as loss of money at all.

This is not to say that we should not be concerned about money being lost or wasted. But, we should consider what sort of savings are really possible and what the price of such savings would be.

Soak the Rich for Health Care?

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 20, 2009

Jack Cafferty asked a rather loaded question in his latest Cafferty File: “Is it fair to soak the rich to pay for health care reform?”

On the face of it, the answer to this loaded question is easy. Since “soak” implies an unfair treatment, then it would not be fair to soak the rich for health reform or for anything. This is a bit like asking whether it is fair to cheat at a game.

A more balanced question would be whether it would be fair or not for the rich to pay a larger percentage of their income to help pay for health care reform.

Since the current income tax system is progressive, having the rich pay a greater percent for health reform would be simply applying the same sort of approach that is already taken. Of course, not everyone regards a progressive income tax as fair.

This, of course, leads to the difficult question of what counts as fair. One way to look at it is that health care insurance is a purchased good  and it would be fair to charge people based on what they receive. If the rich receive the same benefit as the poor, then they should pay the same. After all, if a rich person was charged more for a Big Mac or a gallon of gas just because she is rich, that would be unfair.

Of course, health care is not being seen as a purchased good but is being cast by the Democrats as a social service that is owed to people. This would put health care in the same basket as other social services like education, roads, and such. In these cases, the rich do pay more for what they receive. For example, if a kid from a rich family and a kid from a poor family go to the same public high school, the rich family is paying more for the same service because they pay more taxes. This is seen by some as fair, based on the principle that those who have more should contribute more to the general good. Others, of course, see it is unfair based on the principle that the same things should cost the same price.

Since the health care plan is not in a finished form, any discussion about it is speculation. However, I am against the proposals that do call for putting what seems to be an undue burden on the rich. While I do agree that those who have more should contribute more (that is something I practice in my own life), I am against the “soak the rich” mentality. At most, I would agree to the same sort of progressive scale that is used in the current tax system (although I think that system needs considerable reform as well). The reason is that soaking the rich is no more just than exploiting the worker. True, the rich would still be very well off even after the proposed “soaking”, but to justify the soaking that way is a bit like saying that slicing a chunk of a big person is not as bad as slicing a chunk of a small person because the big person still has more flesh left.

I’ll close with a question: what would be fair for people to pay into such a system, rich, poor or in between?

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Robbing the People and Giving to the Rich

Posted in Business, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 25, 2008

In general, the main function of rulers and leaders has been to siphon of the work and wealth of the many to themselves and their associates. This applies to both business and politics.

The latest bailout plan is more of the same. The top financial people want to escape the burning wrecks of their once great companies on their golden parachutes (or row boats, to continue the ship metaphor). Naturally, they want to hit the ground with millions of untouched assets.

While the executives drift away, the taxpayers are supposed to bear the burden of repairing the wrecks and getting the economic fleet back afloat. To the Bush administration, this seems to be the right thing to do. Naturally, the top executives think this is just great-they stay rich and everyone else gets to clean up the wreckage they left behind in their climb towards all that wealth.

While supporting such parasites is business as usual, there is always the risk that the parasites will take too much and do too much damage. This can cause the host body to weaken badly or even die. While this has not been the sole factor in the fall of nations and empires, this sort of behavior has been a major contributing factor. It is tolerated and even encouraged because the top parasites are either in charge or are in cahoots with those who are supposed to be keeping an eye on them. While this happens in all administrations, the Bush administration has been breaking new ground (or perhaps just returning to old grounds).

Ideally, the people behind the damage would pay for what they have done. After all, they have done massive damage to the economy and hence to millions of people. The Presidential candidates are talking about this, but I suspect that little will change-politics is, after all, about siphoning off wealth and power from the many to the few. The names and faces change, but the game remains the same.

Last Name

Posted in Business by Michael LaBossiere on May 5, 2008

I’ve long had trouble with collection agencies and state agencies looking for money. Yet, I always pay all my bills-not only on time, but early. I am almost a Platonic form of fiscal responsibility.

Despite that, my phone rings a few times each month with vaguely menacing calls from collection agencies, state tax agencies and other people looking for money owed. Here is how it often plays out:

Caller: “Hello, this is Jean from XYZ Collection/State Tax/Whatever Agency. Can I speak to (some first name other than “Mike”) La…LaBroo..LaBoo…”

Me: “LaBossiere?”

Caller: “Yes.”

Me: “No. I’m the only LaBossiere here and my first name is ‘Mike.'”

Caller: “Well, do you know where I can reach Shaquita/Elaine/Rosco/Fidel/Whatever?”

Me: “Sorry, no. We just have the same last name. But, I’m curious-why call me?”

Caller: “Thank you for your time.”

What I suspect is that the collection/tax/whatever agencies just use the internet and other sources to find the same last name and a phone number. Then they presumably just call all the numbers they find. I’ve gotten calls from state tax agencies from other states (Florida has no state tax), and collection agencies from around the country, all looking for someone who happens to have my last name.

I can understand their desire to get their money from these folks, but I would prefer it if they would do their research a bit better. It is rather annoying to have to talk to the collection folk. I also worry a bit that someday I’ll see a tow truck hauling away my pickup, all because “Shaquita”, “Rosco” or “Bill” didn’t make their car  payments and happened to have the same last name as me.

My last name is fairly uncommon, so perhaps this sort of thing doesn’t happen to most people. For example, I suspect that the collection folks don’t call every Smith in the country. Then again, maybe they do.

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