Free Markets, Free People

Nicholas Kristof

Kristof–America needs higher taxes

Needs?  America needs higher taxes?   Really?  According to Nicholas Kristof, that’s exactly right:

President Obama in his speech on Wednesday confronted a topic that is harder to address seriously in public than sex or flatulence: America needs higher taxes.

Maybe I get hung up on the meaning of words to darn much but “needs” isn’t one I’d link with “more taxes”. 

What America needs is a profligate government to cut spending – dramatically.  That’s its primary need right now.

Oh, and check out this bit of lazy and fallacious “correlation is causation” nonsense Kristof runs at those ignorant enough to buy it:

There is no single reason for today’s budget mess, but it’s worth remembering that the last time our budget was in the black was in the Clinton administration. That’s a broad hint that one sensible way to overcome our difficulties would be to revert to tax rates more or less as they were under President Clinton. That single step would solve three-quarters of the deficit for the next five years or so.

The last time our budget was in balance was because a Republican Congress put some budgets together that actually ended up giving us a surplus.  What Clinton did was sign the bill.  Secondly – it wasn’t because he had high tax rates that the surplus happened.  It was because revenue was up from a booming economy.

Kristof goes off into some pretty bizarre thinking out  loud in his piece .  And he tries to address three “fallacies” used in the discussion today, thinking he bolsters his claim that America needs tax increases (he uses the discredited “Medicare is cheaper to administer than private insurance”.  Yeah?  And it also has waste, fraud and abuse in the $60 billion range each year – so how cheap is it really?). 

My favorite:

Low tax rates are essential to create incentives for economic growth: a tax increase would stifle the economy.

It’s true that, in general, higher taxes tend to reduce incentives. But this seems a weak effect, often overwhelmed by other factors.

Were Americans really lazier in the 1950s, when marginal tax rates peaked at more than 90 percent? Are people in high-tax states like Massachusetts more lackadaisical than folks in a state like Florida that has no personal income tax at all?

Tax increases can also send a message of prudence that stimulates economic growth. The Clinton tax increase of 1993 was followed by a golden period of high growth, while the Bush tax cuts were followed by an anemic economy.

Back to correlation is causation.  High taxes = high growth, low taxes = low growth just because the economic cycles happened to coincide with those particular policies?  Of course there are any number of instances when the opposite is true.   Again, the Clinton tax hikes were in the middle of a booming economy, so people succeeded despite the government raising taxes.   We also know that we were spiraling down economically when the Bush tax rates were enacted.  But in neither case did the increase or decrease in taxes have much to do with the overall economy.

As for the “lackadaisical” riff, you’ll have to ask Kristof about that, but here’s a guess – if someone was looking at establishing a business in either MA or FL, given the tax rates, which state do you suppose would find favor (among other considerations) on the pro side of “taxes?”

You have to love the waive off of his initial “it’s true that … higher taxes tend to reduce incentives”.  Well, duh!  And if taxes are too high people do what?  Look elsewhere where the incentives are more positive.  So given that which is “true”, tell me again why America “needs” more taxes?


Kristof reflects the left’s naiveté on democracy in Middle East and Africa

Nicholas Kristof manages to roll up all the naiveté of the left into one article in which he explains why he thinks those who don’t think democracy will be the final outcome of the unrest we’re seeing in North Africa and the Middle East are selling the people there short.  He’s pretty sure all those who’ve said that democracy  most likely won’t be the product have got it wrong.  Because he’s looked into the eyes of those who’ve protested the authoritarian governments there and, well, let him tell you:

I don’t think so. Moreover, this line of thinking seems to me insulting to the unfree world. In Egypt and Bahrain in recent weeks, I’ve been humbled by the lionhearted men and women I’ve seen defying tear gas or bullets for freedom that we take for granted. How can we say that these people are unready for a democracy that they are prepared to die for?

Well, sir, because they haven’t any tradition of democracy nor do they have any democratic institutions ready to ensure the outcome of the turmoil is democracy … that’s how.

There have been thousands … millions even … of “lionhearted men and women” who’ve braved tear gas or bullets in the name of freedom, only to end up suffering under authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.  Take the way back machine to Hungary in 1956 for instance, when a scenario much like this played out there ultimately to be crushed brutally by oppressive communism.

It certainly isn’t for the lack of wanting to see something like democracy flourish in the Middle East and North Africa.  Heck, that would be wonderful.  But it is an appreciation for history and an analysis of that history that ends up pointing out that probability – because of conditions beyond the protesters control – doesn’t bode well for a democratic outcome.

Kristof’s premise is many in the West think Arabs, Chinese, etc. are “unfit for democracy”.   Not at all. In fact, he misses the point completely.

It has nothing to do with the fitness or unfitness of any people.  I’m of the opinion that all people yearn for freedom and, if introduced into a democratic system, would flourish (and millions have, emigrating to free countries).

It isn’t their fitness or unfitness that’s in question, it’s the fitness or unfitness of the culture in the country or region in which they live.  Does it indeed support the principles of freedom and liberty, does it allow equal access for all, does it indeed allow all to participate equally and finally, does it contrive to protect the rights of the individual over the power of the state?

Look at the present regimes in the area and history of the countries in the area and you tell me.  For the most part the cultures in many of them don’t support the principles that underlie a democratic society.  That’s obviously not to say that can’t change, but the question is what is the likelihood, given the specific country’s culture and history, that it will change?

That is where the examination has to take place – not in the hopes and aspirations of a relatively few “lionhearted” people who yearn and fight for such freedom.  Is there a chance?  There’s always a chance.  Is it likely?  Well, history says no.  I’d like as much as anyone to see history proven wrong in the case of all of these countries.  But like Egypt, where the real power behind the throne – the military – is still in charge of the government they’ve essentially run for 50 years, it appears unlikely that the essential pillars of a democratic society will be allowed to be erected and strengthened.  It just goes against human nature and the dominant political culture that still holds power in that country. 

Do I hope democracy is the product of these protests and revolutions.  Yes.  Do I expect it?  No.  And the reasons given are why.  What the US should be preparing for is the probable outcome while working to encourage the hoped for outcome.  Unfortunately, I don’t see it doing either.