Wednesday, October 15, 2008

“Make it Rain”

I don’t know about most Obama supporters, but I’m still worried that McCain/Palin will win. But – I’m not as worried as I was a month ago. During the first debate, I sat and watched on pins and needles, as if my hoping would stop a election-ending gaffe.

Even during the second, while I was more relaxed, I still found points to criticize for Barack because I thought they created openings for McCain. Luckily, McaCin was busy wandering around the stage and preparing his next serious of “My friends” or “I know how to do that” responses. (seriously, at times he reminded me of William’s son – ask him to do something and you get “I know how to fix social security,” Or “I know how to win this war.”)

But during this third debate I watched with a glass of wine. WINE! The ultimate sign of relaxation as opposed to stress. What created this shift in concern? Well, it wasn’t sudden comfort with Obama’s debating style – that still scares me to death. Instead my comfort came from John Stewart.

On Tuesday night’s “Daily Show” John Stewart gave a quip to describe why the public at large distrusts trickle down economics. I’m paraphrasing here – but the basic explanation is that people who had spent years hearing that if we provide tax cuts and incentives to the wealthy the benefits will trickle down to them, these people were realizing that they are still bone dry. So is it any wonder that they find it appealing that someone has come in and said “make it rain, bee-yitch” (that part was a quote),

While funny, this comment is of-course completely racial. Most democratic candidates who favor progressive taxes support policies similar to Barack’s. However, I can’t see Stewart making this comment about John Kerry on his wind-surfer. But that’s beside the point.

The fact is I’m willing to excuse the racial implications, in part because he delivered the line so well, but mostly because this is the best articulation of the comparison between the two extremes of tax policy that I have heard in a very long time. Sure, I think most people could agree that the optimal solution may be somewhere in the middle. But until we understand the boundaries on our choices, and the trade-offs, I’m not sure people can really understand what’s at stake.

My take is that the basic theory of trickle-down is that it assumes a best-case scenariou where we as a society can all benefit, but to accomplish this there needs to be the specific sequencing of the benefit. Basically, let the rich folks bake a bigger pie, take their pieces first and what’s left gets passed down.

On the other hand, progressive tax policies assumes a worst-case/zero-sum situation, and thus if there are only so many benefits to go around, recommends some forcing mechanism to allocate the benefits with some concept of underlying fairness. Here the pie is baked, cut and passed out by a third party. There’s a hope that the new pie is bigger than the old one – but even if it’s not, we’re cool with that too.

Now I realize that’s a gross simplification, but that’s the way I see it. Both of these theories have both costs and benefits. And both are completely theoretical. The pie that America is baking right now is not growing. That’s issue number 1. Let’s figure out the best way to bake a bigger pie.

As a life-long democrat, one who can still hear my father deride Reagan in my head, I have basic distrust that trickle-down can ever work. Right now I’m a beneficiary of the Bush tax cuts. While I’m not being taxed, I’m also not creating any jobs to help others. And more importantly, I’m not alone in that.

But more than my distrust of the alternative, I actually have an appreciation of the immediacy of the progressive choice. I believe that how we treat the least of us is a reflection of our moral compass. I have travelled more in the last three years than the previous 34 combined, During these travels I’ve been struck by the fact that I without my US-centric, liberal-arts education, I’d never list the US as the wealthiest, most advanced country. Only the oil countries that I visited had more visible divides between haves and have-nots – and that includes India.

Now before I start being called unpatriotic, I have to say, I had no desire to move to any of the places I visited (which may change with a bad result on Nov 4th). I am proud of my country. But that pride has as much to do with the potential of the country as the reality of it. We could be incredible. We could once again have the moral high-ground. We could have the best education system in the world. We just don’t, at least not yet.

So my question to the electorate would be – is Joe Biden really out of line in suggesting that people of means paying more taxes could be seen as an act of patriotism? To use McCain’s example from the last debate, what could Joe the Plumber do to help our country? His argument is that if we repeal the Bush tax cut Joe would not be able to hire an extra employee. If that’s true, if the higher taxes legitimately cause him to not hire one extra employee (an argument I doubt), wouldn’t the tax receipts from him and others like him allow us to invest in creating that job and many more in the public sector? And if that’s true, isn’t this argument not a theoretical one about economic theory, but instead one about whether we trust government to create that job or not?

But if that’s the case, how does one campaign on the slogan “government’s not to be trusted, so put me in office.” I think this election is one for the record books in terms of blatant hypocrisy, but that would really take the cake.

1 comment:

Will Hill said...

The unfortunate part of the election process is that for so many, if one candidate will increase MY taxes then heck I'm voting for the other guy, regardless of who's actually the better candidate, the most trustworthy, the one who really can deliver as promised, or whose policies are more realistic or reasonable for society as a whole and not just ME. Does it come down to this for so many voters? "Read my lips, no new taxes" seemed to have worked before, so I guess this is the reality.

If Joe the Plumber is voting based purely on his tax bill, then this popularity contest of an election loses credibility. Only when this was high school the winning candidate just had to promise shortened school days and they were a shoo-in, and later nobody really cared if they couldn't actually deliver on the promise.

I hope Joe and the rest of the Plumbers realize there's so much more at stake in an election than simply one's personal tax bill.