Tax payer receipt

Love this idea.  Americans are so amazingly clueless about where their taxes go.  Via Ezra Klein, Third Way has an idea for a “taxpayer receipt”:


And here’s a bit of the spot-on commentary that goes with it:

For many Americans, the amount they pay in taxes is larger than any purchase they make during the year, but studies show they know almost nothing about where that money goes to.

This contributes to ridiculous beliefs, like the view that 20% of government spending goes to foreign aid, for example. An electorate unschooled in basic budget facts is a major obstacle to controlling the nation’s deficit, not to mention addressing a host of economic and social problems. We suggest that everyone who files a tax return receive a “taxpayer receipt.” This receipt would tell them to the penny what their taxes paid for based on the amount they paid in federal income taxes and FICA.

I’m sure this would not make a huge difference, but anything that would help to combat the phenomenally mis-informed beliefs of Americans– especially where federal dollars go– would have to be a good thing.  I do wonder what inane arguments Republicans would come with to oppose this.

Tax rate illiteracy

Jon Chait points out this recent NYT article that just doesn’t seem to get the concept of marginal tax rates.  Lots of people don’t actually get this– but people writing about financial issues for the NYT most definitely should.  Especially, because I suspect that a fair amount of opposition to tax increases comes from misunderstandings of how marginal rates work.  Chait:

The article delves into the question of just who counts as rich. I think it’s a silly question. Rich is a relative question. It doesn’t mean you can buy everything you want. If you’re in the top 2% of the income distribution, then you are, relative to 98% of the population, rich. You are more able to bear the cost of higher taxes.

But put that aside. The main problem with the article is that it presupposes that individuals making $200,000, or couples earning $250,000, will pay higher taxes. They won’t. The tax hike only applies to income over that threshold. When you go from $250,000 to $250,001, you only pay a higher tax rate on that one extra dollar. Your taxes will go up by a few cents. If you earn $300,000, you will pay a slightly higher tax rate on the last $50,000 of your income — less than a couple thousand dollars.

Even people making half a million dollars a year won’t be “taxed at rates similar to those who make $5 million,” because only half their income will be taxes at the top rate.

It seems like the wntire tax debate has been conducted under a could of basic ignorance about how tax rates work.

Hmmm.  I think a lot of debates in this country are sadly conducted in “basic ignorance.”   Take for example, this Op-Ed in our NCSU campus newspaper which is stunningly ignorant and shamefully poorly written (and yes, by the same person writing a whole column on me, the liberal indoctrinator).  Literally nobody is suggesting that the government tell churches who they can and cannot marry, but that is the basic premise of this column on gay marriage.   And, I’m sure I spent at least several minutes covering these basic facts in the American Government class the writer took.  Ignorance—arghhhh!

The “must read” on the Tea Party

Sometimes Matt Taibbi really overdoes it on things, but this Rolling Stone article on the Tea Party is Taibbi at his bet.  Most (though definitely not all) of his analysis strike me as pretty accurate, but more than anything, this will probably be the most entertaining thing you read on the Tea Party.  Here’s some good stuff:

A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can’t imagine it…

But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I’ve concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They’re full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending — only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry’s medals and Barack Obama’s Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them.

There’s plenty more that good.  Go ahead, click though and read the whole thing.  Seriously.  You’ll be glad you did.

I want a new drug

Actually, I don’t.  I’m pretty fine getting by with just caffeine and the occasional aspirin and ibuprofen.  That said, I really enjoyed this essay on the absurdity that is our present national drug policy.  To wit:

Supporters of the failed war on drugs will no doubt argue this increase means policymakers should spend more taxpayer money next year arresting and incarcerating a greater number of Americans. In other words, their solution to failure is to do more of the same. Fortunately, the “reform nothing” club is getting mighty lonely these days — 76 percent of Americans recognize the drug war has failed; millions are demanding change…

Drug use is so widespread the FBI changed its policy of not hiring people with a history of illegal drug use because the policy disqualified so many people that it could not fill its law enforcement positions.

Here’s the part I find most interesting– the key should be finding ways to minimize the harm from drugs, not just outlaw them.  Americans just love their drugs too much.  In short, let’s be sensible (ahhh, when does that ever get American politicians anywhere):

It is long past time to abandon the silly notion that America can be a drug-free nation. The inconvenient truth in drug policy is that Americans love drugs — alcohol, caffeine, marijuana, cocaine, and prescription drugs for everything from anxiety to fatigue. Although some people develop problems with their drug use, most do not. This holds true for both legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, and illegal drugs like marijuana and cocaine. Decades of evidence shows that the average user of any drug doesn’t get addicted and doesn’t create problems for anyone else. Obviously, some do.

We recognize these facts when it comes to legal drugs. It’s why we don’t arrest the tens of millions of Americans who drink responsibly, but do arrest people who drive while drunk or get belligerent and start fights. Yet we waste tens of billions of dollars every year arresting Americans for marijuana or other drugs, even when they’re not harming anyone. Then we either jam them into overcrowded jails where they take up space that could hold someone who committed a violent offense, or jam them into a treatment program where they take up limited spaces for people who really need help.

What matters most is not how many people use marijuana, alcohol or other drugs, but what’s the best way to reduce the problems associated with substance misuse without creating more harmful social problems.

Reaping what they sow for American business

Really nice column today by Stephen Pearlstein on just what American businesses may be able to expect should the Republicans who they are so strongly supporting in the election manage to win a majority in the House and Senate.  This paragraph rocks:

Here is the hard political reality: You can’t expect to support and finance political candidates who preach that government is menacing and wasteful, that public employees are incompetent and corrupt, that taxes are always too high and destroy jobs, and then turn around and expect that the government will respond to your demands to hold down the cost of health care, or fund basic research, or provide good schools, efficient courts and reliable transportation systems.

Photo of the Day

From today’s N&O story about the “Spending Revolt” bus tour:

Gotta love it– a bunch of old white folks who are undoubtedly a net drain on the government treasury out there rallying to restrain spending.  Here’s the core of your modern Republican party.

Our crazy immigration policy

Ezra Klein had a really nice column on immigration earlier this week.  A couple points really stuck with me– most prominently, we should modify our policies in ways that will be most beneficial to our country.  Well, duh, of course, but right now policy does not really reflect our nations’ best interests.  That was one point where I really agreed with David Frum when he came to speak at NCSU last semester.   The key point on the matter:

Because of a 1965 law, our immigration system is based around family unification. More than 65 percent of visas are for purposes of bringing family members to the United States. Only 15 percent are for economic reasons. As Darrell West of the Brookings Institution writes in his book “Brain Gain,” this means that immigrant families, rather than current policymakers, decide who enters the country.

That’s nuts. Our immigration policy should be primarily oriented around our national goals. And one goal is to have the world’s most innovative and dynamic economy.

What’s incredibly stupid is how we treat highly-skilled, highly educated foreign workers.  We should take all that we can:

But since 2001, we’ve gone from offering 195,000 high-skill visas to about 65,000 today. In fact, we let top students come for college or graduate school – and then we don’t let them stay. “We should staple a green card to PhDs in science and technology,” West says with a sigh. “They’d like to stay here!”

Our good friends of Canada are very likely to be sent back their soon against their will because the company where the guy was working– and sponsoring his work visa– has gone under.  We’re talking about a guy with an amazing skill set– PhD in physiology with top-notch statistical abilities.  There is absolutely no way sending this man and his family back to Canada is good for him or for America.

You should really read the whole column.  It’s short, and how’s this for a great intro:

I have a plan that will raise wages, lower prices, increase the nation’s stock of scientists and engineers, and maybe even create the next Google. Better yet, this plan won’t cost the government a dime. In fact, it’ll save money. A lot of money. But few politicians are going to want to touch it.

Here’s the plan: More immigration. A pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants. And a recognition that immigration policy is economic policy and needs to be thought of as such.

See what I meant about politicians not liking it?

Damn, do I so wish politics in this country was rational.  Sadly, we’re dealing with humans, though.

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