Why Tax the Super Rich?

Cato Institute fellow Jeffery Miron crafted an intellectually focused response  to Warren Buffet's recent call to tax the rich, particularly on capital income. The moral and cultural arguments for raising taxes on the super rich are compelling, but the left has conjured up less intellectual rigor to support the moral outrage in response to arguments like Miron's.

Miron and other serious fiscal/social Libertarians produce a compelling narrative, supported with ample supporting evidence, in which Government regulatory policies - and Federal tax codes in particular - are almost solely to blame for our economic woes.

In another narrative, one put forth by a few mainstream liberal pundits like Paul Krugman, there is evidence to support that raising taxes - even just back to decades-old levels - puts a halt to uncontrolled spending and can encourage growth, fiscal discipline, and greater prosperity for more Americans, regardless of tax bracket.

If you're wondering if there is ample evidence to support this claim as well, the answer is yes.

So who's right?

Both sides are right. That's the most frustrating - and accurate - response I can give you, because when it comes to evidentiary technique, it's not about whether you have evidence to support your economic claims, but instead about how you pick and shape your evidence to come to a compelling narrative.

Think tank fellows like Miron, newspaper columnists, campaign advisors, and other political firebrands rely on evidence to make their case. This evidence consists of historical data (old polling figures, trending cycles, social and cultural conditions specific to their era), Wall Street data (corporate performance, shareholder confidence in response to specific historical events and legislation, other relevant business numbers and cycles), and a bevy of other facts, figures and statistics that can overwhelm a reader, or a politician looking to take a stand on a specific issue. Imagine what it must be like to be a candidate, unsure about an issue, being barraged by information tailored to make a specific case. We citizens are in the same boat, only we don't have to take a political stand. We can choose not to care, or to swallow the simplest argument, or to take a moral stance and be done with it. That's our right as citizens, and plenty do it.

You see, t's really not about the information you deem 'correct' or 'accurate' that matters. This is not an anti-intellectual argument. Imagine a block of information made of clay. It's updated constantly and consists of relevant, provable data pertaining to the way our tax code works and the effect it has on wealth, income inequality, jobs, poverty, you name it. Now take that block and choose strips of data that follow a narrative, and find other strips, or chunks information that follow that stream of thought and relate consistently. After a while you find yourself picking data that's technically true, but you're not choosing everything. It would be too confusing to lay the whole brick down on someone. Ultimately, you end up with a sculpture that provides the most compelling narrative and makes the most sense politically. The sculpture consists of factual, provable data, but it's not the whole story. It must leave things out. Give a Libertarian, a traditional Republican and a Liberal the same block of data, and you are going to get three very different sculptures.  At this point, what's left but to simply choose the sculpture that pleases you personally, morally, aesthetically?

I know it's a simplistic analogy, and I wouldn't encourage you to ignore facts and figures. It's just important for you to know that facts and figures can be arranged to tell any story, regardless of how preposterous it might sound.

If you're intellectually curious, do your research, and encounter the person who insists that because they have the fact, they're right and you're wrong, try and remember something. You can respond.

"You're right, you do have 'the facts.' I don't dispute that. I have 'the facts' too. They're different from yours, but they're still right, only they paint a different picture. Let's talk ethics morality and really get somewhere." It's the only way to escape the cycle.


Popular Posts