Estate taxes and other tax oddities

I actually think the Estate Tax has a beneficial consequence in preventing the establishment of multi-generational economic dynasties. Apart from the potential detrimental effects of such dynasties on society and the economy, they do spiritual damage to those who inherit them: handing someone “success” without any need for effort or sacrifice is almost always a recipe for intellectual, psychological, and moral dissipation.

My objections to the estate tax — and to other tax policies — are based more on basic ideas of economic fairness and on the cultural ideals of “family”.

Continue reading

Breaking News: People want to get things and make other people pay for them!

Suppose you want me to pay for your health care — or for your mortgage, or for your car, or for your iPod, or for anything else you feel you really need but can’t afford — and I don’t want to do so. If you point a gun at me and tell me to give you the money, it would be armed robbery. Everyone knows you don’t take what isn’t yours by force just because you want it. That would be wrong.

So, instead, you convince your Congressman to take the money from me, as a “tax”, and to give it to you. Why does that suddenly make it right?

What if I still don’t want to pay? What if I refuse — what do you think is going to happen? Federal agents will point guns at me and tell me to give them the money. Is taking my money by force suddenly righteous, rather than outrageous, because you outsourced the job? Is that what democracy is supposed to be about — lending moral authority to what would otherwise be morally reprehensible?

Continue reading

Home is where the deed is

It has been said that a man’s home is his castle. That is, in our increasingly interconnected and regulated society, home is still the one refuge from social demands, is still the one place where your own preference truly determines how you live your life.

But, apparently, “home” is no longer home unless you own it yourself. So far, at least, no government has dared to cross that barrier.

Then again, given the trends, it’s probably only a matter of time….

Continue reading

The ethics of “instant” news reporting

Instant reporting serves the business needs of news outlets — it attracts viewers — and the entertainment needs of the general public — it is titillating.

But instant reporting serves no journalistic purpose. And, therefore, journalistic purpose cannot be used as an excuse for getting the news wrong in the interest of getting it quickly.

Continue reading

Reporting on Ambiguity

One of the main problems is that so much of the outcome hinges not on what is explicitly stated in some bloated and arcane piece of legislation but on what the unstated incentives are that get built into it and in how people react to those….

…Unfortunately, such results are based on predictions about human behavior rather than on observable facts and statements written into legislation. Hence, it is very hard to report “objectively” or, perhaps, even “accurately”. People disagree on the likelihood of such results occurring, and often the conception of that likelihood depends as much on what people want to believe as it does on observation and experience.

Here is my question to you: How do we create a process for reporting on these kinds of issues — for informing the public so they can make intelligent decisions — in the face of such ambiguity?

Continue reading

The Limits of Diplomatic Engagement

Aside from its affects on our adversaries, diplomatic engagement creates certain expectations at home: expectations that can be manipulated to gain advantage by politicians during the electoral contest and during legislative debate; and expectations that can be manipulated, also, by our adversaries as they augment the quiet closed-door diplomacy of engagement with public relations efforts aimed directly at the American citizenry.

Continue reading

The Office and the Occupant

The uproar over President Obama making a speech to school kids is ludicrous and, once again, undermines efforts to steer the liberals away from their most harmful and anti-liberty projects by making the conservatives, by association with such paranoia, look like idiots. The response, even to well-reasoned and principled opposition, is now the general-purpose dismissal, “Oh, it’s just those crazies again”; and a Republican party (and any Republican office-holder or aspirant) that wants to reclaim any moral authority and/or intellectual integrity should be up front in telling those people, “Get over yourselves! And stop claiming to speak for me!”

But I have to ask: Wasn’t the root of this paranoia established by the left during the Bush years?

The wingnuts complaining about Obama’s speech are failing to distinguish between the Office of the President and the man who occupies it. They so dislike and distrust the man that they can’t accept any action of the Office, no matter how proper and reasonable.

But wasn’t that precedent set by those leftist nutters who utterly refused to accept George W. Bush’s legitimacy — “He’ll never be my President!” — and who did everything in their power to undermine anything and everything he did just because he did it, even if it undermined the nation in the process? Did they not create the template of contempt for the Office that we are now seeing? Did they not set the pattern of refusal to respect the Office because they did not respect the man? And, if we are honest about it, was that not, in itself, a continuation of the pattern they set during the administrations of Nixon and Reagan (and, to be fair, embraced by the right during the Clinton years)?

Continue reading

Replacing Ted Kennedy

So, the Democrats — both at home and in Washington — want the Massachusetts state legislature to change the law (again) on senatorial succession, allowing the Democratic governor to choose Senator Kennedy’s replacement rather than deferring to the electorate.

Set aside, for a moment, the appearance (and reality) of pettiness and cynicism such a move implies — it was, after all, not that long ago that the governor had that authority, until the Democratic legislature became alarmed that its exercise might fall to a Republican governor. Even if a change now is justified, it will make them look self-serving.

But, beyond that, are we forgetting it was less than a year ago that Rod Blagojevich exposed, in dramatic fashion, the potential for corruption and abuse in such authority? Are we forgetting that, back then, the entire Democratic establishment, all across the country, was lining up in principled opposition to such prerogative? Are we forgetting that they were united in their fervor for democracy, united in their demand that all states adopt elections over appointments as the only ethical way?

Continue reading

Cash for …

My friend and occasional correspondent, Ira Goldman, has a somewhat droll sense of humor. When President Obama and the Democratic congress created the “Cash for Clunkers” program as an “economic stimulus”, Ira sent me a series of e-mails containing a list of other, increasingly ridiculous, suggestions for “Cash for …” programs on which the government might be able to waste money.

Among his nominations was one — Cash for Hookers — that, for some (perverse?) reason sent me spiraling down a thought hole — to land with a thud at the bottom onto the following insight:

    Prostitution may be the perfect metaphor for our current insane political divisions:

      Conservatives are against it because they think sex is a sin

      Liberals are against it because they think commerce is a sin

    It’s the one thing on which everyone can agree!

Continue reading