Tax the middle class!

A couple of good pieces on raising middle class taxes from a couple of mostly-conservative writers.  First, Josh Barro:

A blanket ban on tax increases for families with incomes of less than $250,000 also makes Democrats’ larger policy goals impossible. Whatever tax increase the president gets on the wealthy as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations isn’t going to be enough to finance the entitlement state in the long term — in a few years, we’re going to need another fiscal adjustment that includes another tax increase. If “protecting the middle class” entails never raising broad-based taxes on them, then Democrats won’t be able to afford to preserve Medicare, Medicaid,Social Security and Obamacare in anything similar to their current form.

Yep.  Many liberal bloggers have suggested that it has been a large mistake on Obama’s part to keep on insisting that those making less than $250,000/year never see their taxes go up.  Some how the country got by with higher middle-class rates during the 1990’s.  And, as Barro suggests, if Democrats really want to finance the amount of government that they seem to, you can’t do this all on the backs of rich people (definitely a point Yglesias makes repeatedly).

Meanwhile, Ross Douthat writes about the importance of raising the marginal rates for Democrats:

Obviously the President doesn’t want a double-dip recession. But when it comes to his second-term legacy, I’m not sure anyone in the White House is privileging the possibly-illusory hope of a major immigration reform compromise and the almost-certainly-illusory dream of a major cap-and-trade bill over what they’re trying to win on taxes in the here and now. And if so, they shouldn’t be! The reality is that it has proven very, very difficult over the last twenty-odd years for the Democrats to find the votes, the willpower or the political cover to raise taxes. Yet for the edifice of the liberal welfare state to endure in anything like its current form — the president’s health care law very much included — taxes need to rise, and rise, and then probably rise some more. “We’re not collecting the revenue we need to support the spending we want,” the left-leaning economist Jared Bernstein says in today’s Times story on taxation trends, and that has to be liberals’s rallying cry for the foreseeable future, or else the government they want cannot be sustained.

In this context, the White House’s quest to extract as much tax revenue as possible from the current negotiations looks less like an impediment to the rest of the president’s second term ambitions, and more like the sine qua nonof his agenda as a whole — because without more tax revenue nothing else about the Obama program makes much sense.

Yep, yep, yep.  Long-term, we’d be better off if all the Bush tax cuts expired.  It’s just a very bad idea for them all to expire immediately and in our current economic situation.  As Ezra has pointed out, there’s no reason we couldn’t gradually phase back in Clinton era rates except for the fact that there’s basically no political will whatsoever for this, regardless of how sensible it may be.  I think one of Obama’s larger strategic mistakes has been completely ceding ground to the Republicans on the idea that 98% of Americans should never have to pay more in taxes.  Historically speaking, I think this earns Bill Clinton extra kudos for raising the rates in 1993.

And, of course, one could argue that we shouldn’t be raising rates and just have a much smaller government.  The very clear truth is, though, when you get down to the specifics of what to spend on and what to cut, it is eminently clear that the vast majority of the American public has no interesting in meaningfully shrinking government.

Photo of the day

Very, very cool feature that looks at the impact of mountaintop removal coal mining over time.  This is the Hobet mine in West Virginia.  First photo is from 1984 and the second is from this year.  Follow the link to see the whole year-by-year sequence.  Pretty amazing (in a depressing way):

1984

Mountaintop Mining, West Virginia

2012

Mountaintop Mining, West Virginia

And, actually they’ve got a whole bunch of similar series there to play around with (including the shrinking Amazon).  Definitely worth checking out.

Life (or lack thereof) in the cornfield.

Wildlife in a modern cornfield.  If you’ve read any of Michael Pollan, you know all about the corn monoculture that dominates so much of American agriculture.  One effect of high technology agriculture is very little life going on other than the corn plants.  Very cool NPR story about a photographer who captures all the wildlife in a cube over 24 hours.  Here’s an illustration of all the wildlife in one square foot of a corn field over 24 hours:

Organisms found in and Iowa cornfield: an ant, one mushroom, a cobweb spider, a half eaten crane fly,  a red mite  and some grasshoppers.

Wow– that’s barren.  And for comparison, I’m not going to give you the rainforest illustration, but a public park in South Africa:

These 113 creatures observed, and then photographed, include over 100 species of plants and animals that use one cubic foot of this highly diverse shrub land over the course of a normal day in Mountain Fynbos, Table Mountain, South Africa.

Curious to know more, follow the link.

Facebook may be stressing you out

Fascinating piece in the Atlantic on how managing your facebook life may be stressing you out.  Short version: In the course of our daily lives we present slightly different sides of ourselves to the different people we are around– we’re one way with a spouse, another with a boss, another with a parent, another with a co-worker, another with an old friend, etc.   Yet, on facebook, if you don’t carefully manage your postings (which you really should to avoid getting stressed out), you are presenting a single image of yourself that goes to your spouse, mom, boss, co-workers, etc.  Here’s Megan Garber:

 The stress comes from a kind of preemptive, pervasive sense of propriety. Unsurprisingly, per the study’s survey of more than 300 Facebook users, “adding employers or parents resulted in the greatest increase in anxiety.”

Yep. And that’s largely because, as Facebook approaches ubiquity, it’s changing in its scope and its permissions. “Facebook used to be like a great party for all your friends where you can dance, drink and flirt,” said Ben Marder, an early career fellow at Edinburgh and the author of the report. “But now with your Mum, Dad and boss there the party becomes an anxious event full of potential social landmines.”

The stress comes, Marder theorizes, from the kind of personal versioning that is so common in analog life — the fact that you (probably) behave slightly differently when you’re with your mom than you do when you’re with your boss, or with your boyfriend, or with your dentist. And it comes, even more specifically, from the social nuance of that versioning behavior colliding with the blunt social platform that is The Facebook. Behaviors like swearing and drinking and smoking, the study suggests, are behaviors that you (might) do with friends — but not (probably) with your boss. And, more subtly, language that you might use with your friends — in-jokes, slang, references toBreaking Bad — probably won’t track when you’re in a different social context. The awareness of that discrepancy — Facebook’s tendency to disseminate even highly targeted social interactions — leads to stress…

Which is another way of saying that Facebook is George Costanza’s worst nightmare: It enforces, second by second, the collision of worlds. The Edinburgh study found that only one third of Facebook users took advantage of its listing privacy setting, which can be used to control the information seen by different types of friends. It also found that, on average, people are Facebook friends with seven different social circles.

Oh, how I love that Garber includes this absolutely classic Constanza riff.  Obviously, I had to include it here:

And, I love this related clip, too:

Anyway, it doesn’t stress me out at all because A) obviously I’m not a very private person.  There’s very little I feel I need to hide from anybody I know.  B) That said, life is smoother if certain important people in my life are not faced with my political postings (which are actually quite rare for me– get most of the politics out here) so I use FB settings accordingly.  It’s not really that hard.

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