Free Markets, Free People

Misguided populism and selective taxation

“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.” – Thomas Jefferson

David Boaz has written a great post explaining why selective taxation, like we saw yesterday as the House passed a 90% tax on AIG bonuses, is a form of tyranny:

Everybody’s angry. But anger doesn’t make good law. And there are real questions about both the wisdom and the legality of such legislation. Bloggers like Conor Clarke, Megan McArdle, and Eugene Volokh have asked if the bonus tax is legal or constitutional. And thank goodness for bloggers who ask the questions that members of Congress and print journalists seem to ignore!

The bloggers wonder if after-the-fact taxes on specific people violate the constitutional ban on bills of attainder and ex post facto laws. (Ex post facto = after the fact.) Good questions indeed. But they should go further and ask, Are laws like this tyrannical? Ex post facto legislation isn’t just bad because it’s unconstitutional. It’s unconstitutional because it’s bad. (Nate Silver did raise these broader questions, arguing that the bonus tax bill was like the congressional intervention into the Terri Schiavo case: quite possibly legal and constitutional, but “it represented a gross overreach of the chamber’s authority, and ultimately undermined, at least a little bit, the rule of law.”)
The rule of law requires that like people be treated alike and that people know what the law is so that they can plan their lives in accord with the law. In this case, a law is being passed to impose taxes on a particular, politically unpopular group. That is a tyrannical abuse of Congress’s powers. And in addition, it is retroactive legislation, changing the law upon which AIG and its employees had relied. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 62, “It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws . . . undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow.”

Selective taxation is tyranny. Ex post facto legislation violates the spirit of the liberal order, even if a particular piece of legislation can be “structured” to pass constitutional muster.

I saw some of the speeches by members of Congress yesterday. It wasn’t about taxpayer money being involved, because the bonuses make up a fraction of the TARP money, and if it really was about the taxpayers, each of them need only look in the mirror to see the real reason our dollars are being wasted. It was an opportunity to bash business by playing on this misguided populism that has taken hold in our country.

People need to stop and realize that if we allow our government to do this to people receiving these bonuses, what makes us think they won’t do it to us.

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13 Responses to Misguided populism and selective taxation

  • This government is the abusive husband who wonders why “the little woman” doesn’t love him anymore…

  • Actually, I mostly agree here.  This is a misguided attempt to find villains when the problem is systemic.  However,  the systemic problem is real, and it’s not the fault of the government.

    • You usually disagree?

      • He was just blaming the financial meltdown on “executive bonuses,” so I guess it’s fair to conclude he disagrees with himself.

  • Look at the reelection rate for these sc*mbags.

    Someone has learned their lessons quite well………and it isn’t us.

  • Scribes & Pharisees, they think they know it all…

  • Let’s not get too outraged about this tax bill.  There’s a silver lining in every cloud, and let’s focus on the future:

    Many people expect that the GOP will win at least one house in Congress in ’10.  If TAO continues on his present course, I think it’s a shoe-in that we’ll get BOTH houses and with substantial majorities.  When we do, I propose that we tax, retroactive to January 1, 1901and at a rate of 110%, the following people:

    1.  Every person who is a registered democrat (spit)*

    2.  Every member of Congress who voted in favor of the so-called stimulus bill

    3.  Every member of the Obama (mis)administration

    4.  Every person who works or who has ever worked for ACORN, the ACLU, Code Pink, Planned Parenthood, NOW, NARAL, La Raza, and the NAACP

    5.  Every person who is or has ever been a union official or organizer

    6.  Every person who is or has ever been employed by any television network news program, cable news network, or newspaper that existed prior to October 6, 1996

    7.  Every person who has ever publicly testified to a belief in man-made global warming that was not subsequently recanted when he realized that they’d made an ass of himself

    8.  Every person who owns a copy of “Fahrenheit 911”, “Bowling for Columbine”, or “Titanic” (1997)

    Persons unable to pay the tax assessed against them within five (5) minutes of receiving their tax notice shall be subjected to a public flogging in which they shall receive not less than fifty (50) lashes.  Survivors shall be sold into perpetual slavery to anybody stupid enough to buy such worthless people.

    For the purposes of enforcing this legislation, the following articles of the United States Constitution are suspended without the possibility of judicial review:

    1.  Article I, section 6 and 9

    2.  Amendments IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, XIII, and XIV

    I realize that (1) pretty much includes everybody in the other categories except for the Republicans in (2), but I believe in being thorough.

    / sarc (sort of)

    Possibly if the morons who support these ridiculous taxes get the idea that they might someday be themselves a target of similar tyranny, they’ll think twice.

    But who am I trying to fool?  The same impulse that led “good” Germans to persecute Jews is alive and well in America.  Just substitute “AIG executive” for “Juden” and there really isn’t that much difference in attitude.

  • Getting upset over ex post facto and “Hey! It’s against the rules!” got old a long time ago. The government wants its public hanging, and it will will get it. Even granting the legal argument, who’s going to file the lawsuit? These AIG executives were more than happy to use the power of government to prop themselves up, and now, they’re hiding from the angry mob when that government turns on them. They’ve long since  forfeited the right to complain about anything that might happen, and the government is not going to let them forget that.

  • Where are all the lefties who were screaming about “shredding the Constitution” a few short months ago – or was that simply an act designed to stir people up without getting them to think too much?

    Sometimes, simply phrasing the question properly produces its own answer…

  • We’re all Jew’s now and the mob is our Nazi’s.
    Cake anyone?

  • Today AIG executives….tomorrow it will be the kid with the paper route who charges too much for delivery.

  • There is a certain logical symmetry about this. Since we already have a minimum wage, it makes sense to have a maximum wage. Except for hard-working dedicated and self-sacrificing public servants, of course.

  • If the $165 million is retroactive taxation, then surely the $200,0oo million is retroactive subsidy and equally illegitimate.