Friday, October 02, 2009

Mrs. S writes 

She describes the local TEA party in St. Cloud.
During the past 20 years it has seemed harder to get bipartisan agreements. When you lose an election, you feel like you lost everything. There may be something dangerous in that.

There is concern that voters are becoming more polarized � coastal elites versus heartland conservatives (TEA Parties) � and there is more homogeneity in both parties. Both parties are losing their �INOs� (Republicans/Democrat in name only) yet, as Gross observed, �common sense isn�t a partisan issue.�
The piece features my fellow St. Cloud bloggers Gary Gross and Leo Pusateri, without whose work the local gathering would not have been possible.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

In lieu of gratitude 

I would have left this opinion alone except for two things. One of them will be in the next post. (UPDATE: Sorry, forgot the link.)

This woman attends both the town hall by Rep. Bachmann and the T.E.A. party on Lake George across the street as someone opposed to both. (I wonder if she was the one who I watched boo repeatedly from the bleachers at the town hall. I wanted to take a video of her and give it to her children to see; I wondered how she would explain her booing not only of the Representative but also the questioners who were opposed to H.R. 3200. But I have no idea if this is that woman or not, and booing is part of your First Amendment rights.) She gets into discussions with people at both with whom she disagrees, and gets it all in print. Bully for her.

What caught my eye was this passage:
Bachmann�s assumption that the poor should be happy in their hearts to rely on religious charity is simply laughable.

It ignores the fact that, to many people, charity is ingratiating � and it is always undependable and inconsistent.

Is it really such a beautiful thing that a family trying to treat a member�s terminal illness is ingratiated to begging money off �the generous public� at car washes and charity suppers?
Now a woman who's studied "feminist rhetoric", whatever that is, didn't use the same word "ingratiate" twice without a reason. What would be her reason? The word "ingratiate" simply means to bring someone into the good graces of another, most often yourself. Its etymology contains the Latin word "gratia" for "favor, grace." So shall I understand that this woman believes you should be able to get something from another without exchanging anything in return? What does she want in lieu of gratitude?

There are two ways to do that. You can be moocher, someone who begs money from someone else by being mostly annoying; we give the bum money not out of generosity but to make them go away. It would be great if every time I had a poor person approach me I felt Christian love and charity towards them. I don't; I consider that part of the human condition of being always in sin. I had someone approach me as I went into the Ace Bar on the east side last week and ask specifically for $1.50. I tried to see if I had that exact amount. I had $1.35 and gave it to her. and she seemed disappointed. No thank you was forthcoming. As I turned another man, who had seen me fish for change in my pocket, presented himself looking for some money too. I shrugged and said I had no more. This wasn't true, but all I had was $20 bills in my pocket, and I didn't feel THAT generous particularly when he just asked for "change".

It would be nice to say I felt I had done some good deed, but that wasn't really what I felt as I walked away. We all want, as Adam Smith said, to be seen by others as being good. When I give money and am somehow seen as still coming up short, my desire to do more is diminished.

The other way to get something without exchanging anything in return is to use government to take from someone else and give it to you. The writer identifies herself as "a pro-public-option taxpayer" -- does this mean she would like to use force as a substitute for gratitude? What is the moral argument for that? Dennis Prager explores this:
On what moral grounds can the state force a citizen essentially at gunpoint to give away his legally and morally earned money? Why isn't taxation a form of legalized stealing? The obvious answer is that common sense dictates that citizens have the moral right, even the moral obligation, to vote to give money to, at the very least, enable a government to fund a police force, sustain a national defense, and help those incapable of helping themselves or of being helped by others.

But at some point beyond that, taxation becomes nothing more than legalized stealing. Obviously, people will differ over where exactly that point is, but no rational person disputes that such a point exists. No one could argue that a 100 percent tax -- even if it paid for every need every member of the society had -- was moral and not simply a form of theft.

So moral problem No.1 with taxation is the morality of forcing other people -- under threat of violence -- to give their money away.
But this student of "feminist rhetoric" would rather argue for something potentially immoral than be bothered with offering the simple value of gratitude.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Heavy burden 

The Tax Foundation is releasing a new study that uses economic research to argue that if you raise taxes only on high-income individuals, you will induce an almost equal amount of lost output. We currently have between 11.4% and 15% of individual income reduced by the shifting of resources towards non-taxable activity (which means, no income.) If you let the Bush tax cuts expire, for every dollar taken in by the government another dollar of GDP disappears. That seems high, but it takes advantage of the notion that high-income individuals can shift earnings from high-tax to low-tax years more easily than low-income earners.

It's sensible, though higher than I thought. Using Ironman's tool, it appears that if you think the deadweight cost is 100%, you can even use the Obama Administration's assumption of a multiplier and still show that stimulus doesn't stimulate.

Meanwhile, another tax the Administration is thinking about, cap and trade, turns out to be really bad for poor people. Corbett Grainger and Charles Kolstad in a new paper from the National Bureau for Economic Research (abstract here for free; this appears to be an ungated version):
For a tax of $15 per ton CO2, an average household in the lowest income quintile would pay around $325 per year, while an average household in the wealthiest quintile would pay $1,140 annually. Although wealthier households would pay more in absolute terms, as a percentage of annual income, lower income groups bear a disproportionate share of the burden. The poorest quintile�s burden (as a share of annual income) is 3.2 times that of the wealthiest quintile�s. The burden as a share of annual income for the lowest income group ($7,500-9,999) is almost four times higher than the burden-to-income ratio for the highest income group in the data ($200,000-250,000).
You can use a tax instead of cap-and-trade specifically in the analysis, as the effect should be identical in either case. You could compensate lower income families for cap-and-trade with, say, a reduction in payroll taxes (which as just as regressive), but when you decide to give away most of the permits, you don't have any money to transfer.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Congress' idea of stimulus 

Gulfstream is getting a real dose of stimulus, courtesy of Nancy Pelosi.
At the end of July, the House approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and Members of Congress.

The Air Force had asked for one Gulfstream 550 jet (price tag: about $65 million) as part of an ongoing upgrade of its passenger air service.

But the House Appropriations Committee, at its own initiative, added to the 2010 Defense appropriations bill another $132 million for two more airplanes and specified that they be assigned to the D.C.-area units that carry Members of Congress, military brass and top government officials.

Because the Appropriations Committee viewed the additional aircraft as an expansion of an existing Defense Department program, it did not treat the money for two more planes as an earmark, and the legislation does not disclose which Member had requested the additional money.

An Appropriations Committee staffer said the military was already planning to replace its passenger fleet, and the committee �looked at the request and decided they should speed up the replacement.�

The Gulfstream G550 is a luxury business jet, which the company advertises as featuring long-range flight capacity that �easily links Washington, D.C., with Dubai, London with Singapore and Tokyo with Paris.� The company�s promotional materials say, �The cabin aboard the G550 combines productivity with exceptional comfort. It features up to four distinct living areas, three temperature zones, a choice of 12 floor plan configurations with seating for up to 18 passengers.�

h/t: Ed, who calls it a hidden earmark. Now if you think this is wasteful, you would be right if you don't believe government spending is stimulus. But if the reason for government spending is to improve the macroeconomy, then how do you protest spending money on Gulfstream, which produces planes in several places around the US, Mexico and London, in a depressed manufacturing sector. Hey! If you use the calculations this government uses, you've created 1.57*$195 million = $306.15 million in GDP and 2076 jobs! (Y'know, I could really do that Council of Economic Advisers job. I got math!)

And goodness knows, there's been a recent increase in demand for Gulfstream travel in Congress, so why not expand supply? The Speaker is just giving the people the business doing the people's business.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Just a little bit 

I'm about to give you all of my money
And all I'm asking in return, honey

"But cumulatively, they make an extraordinary difference because they start setting a tone ... $100 million there, $100 million here � pretty soon, even here in Washington, it adds up to real money."

Except, you know, really it doesn�t. Let�s say the administration finds $100 million in efficiencies every working day for the rest of the Obama administration�s first term. That�s still around $80 billion, or around 2% of one year�s federal spending.
Is to give me my profits
When you get home (just a, just a, just a, just a)
Yeah baby (just a, just a, just a, just a)
When you get home (just a little bit)
Yeah (just a little bit)
--The �Stimulus� bill created $787 billion in new debt

--Assume an interest rate of 5 percent

--5 percent of $787 billion = $39.5 billion

--$39.5 billion divided by 365 days = $108.2 million per day in interest generated from the debt issued to finance the stimulus package
All that money is not free
Your kids' wealth belongs to me.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My cat and other people's money 

If this letter doesn't get Learned Foot back to his post at KAR, nothing will.
Last week I spent hundreds of dollars at the vet on routine medical care for my aging cat.
Well yeah, if you've decided to make a pet a member of your family, you probably don't cut back Fluffy's medical care first. You do cut back on the teeth cleanings, and in a pinch you might decide to sacrifice the furniture rather than getting Missy de-clawed, but the rabies shot is probably a necessity rather than a luxury good. 40% of us would rather have our dog on a desert island than our spouse; 10% more would go for the cat.
My cat gets better health care than some people. This is an outrage.
Your threshold for outrage, madam, is different than mine. My daughter gets a ride to school in the morning in a better car than some of her classmates. Is this an outrage? I got the king-size fry at Burger King at lunch yesterday, while the kid next to me could only afford a medium. Is this an outrage? And what would you have me do about it?
If I can afford to pay these kinds of vet bills, I can afford to pay higher taxes to prevent thousands of my fellow Minnesotans from losing their health care in the current legislative effort to balance the state budget.
Well then, dear lady, be my guest! According to American for Tax Reform's Center for Fiscal Accountability, you can send a check payable to "State of Minnesota" and mail it to

Minnesota Department of Finance
400 Centennial Office Building
658 Cedar Street
St. Paul, MN 55155

Here's the statute that permits them to accept your cash. You can also put them in your will, or have your dividends from your patrician stock holdings dedicated to deficit reduction. Just give Finance a call, and they'll make it happen for you.

You're welcome. I'm glad to help you send that money along and allow you to feel better about taking care of that cat.

But wait, there's more:
Those of us who can afford higher taxes and believe in humane public policy should let our legislators know we support raising revenue as well as cutting costs and improving efficiency to balance the budget.
At last we find out the logic. Because I own a cat (voluntarily) and get him or her health care (voluntarily, without calls for providing public health insurance to millions of Fluffies and Fidos by resort to a cap-and-trade program), I am entitled to write a letter that would support "raising revenue". When the letterwriter chooses to take her cat to the vet, it's done instead of something else. She cuts back on spending elsewhere. But because she makes that choice, she has the right to demand that government confiscate your money to buy something for someone else's benefit.

Because only you have to balance a budget without resorting to force. Governments don't have to do that.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Editorial of the day 

If these sessions were really seeking to find grass-roots budget solutions or even common ground between differing proposals, wouldn�t there be more than just one proposal on the table?

But there�s not. The major focus of these meetings is to examine Gov. Tim Pawlenty�s proposal.

So how are Minnesotans supposed to judge his idea with nothing for comparison? Especially no plan from DFL leaders? Or is the idea to hold another statewide �town meeting� tour once that plan comes out?

We sure hope not.

As we have repeatedly noted the past several months, Minnesota legislators are facing a serious fiscal challenge � one that is their duty to overcome. Doing so will require creative thinking, common sense and the courage to cast votes that won�t always be popular.

Holding statewide �listening sessions� isn�t really a factor in any part of that equation.
Congratulations to the St. Cloud Times editorial board for seeing through this sham.

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Slightly better than burying dollar bills in bottles 

The stimulus bill will not result in much spending here in the St. Cloud area, at least not in transportation. Larry Schumacher reports:
A Waite Park road extension on the city�s southwest side is the only St. Cloud-area transportation project to receive funding thus far from a federal stimulus bill signed into law Tuesday.

Waite Park will receive $2.7 million from the stimulus bill to advance construction on a 28th Avenue extension between Minnesota Highway 23 and Stearns County Road 137, City Engineer Terry Wotzka said.

The project met the stimulus bill�s criteria of being �shovel-ready� and a job creator that would not have otherwise happened this year, Wotzka said.

...[APO Transportation Planner Kirby Becker] said the other two requests didn�t make the cut: $4 million to advance the West Metro Corridor realignment of Stearns County Road 134 and widening of Stearns County Road 4, and $3.5 million to extend the Beaver Islands Trail along the Mississippi River from St. Cloud�s Civic Center to Hester Park.

Duluth will receive $6.6 million for projects in the stimulus bill and Rochester will receive $8.5 million, he said.
Hard to believe we couldn't get the money for a bike trail in Oberstar's America. But I would have thought, given the Obama Administration's commitment to transparency, that we would understand why a road that goes to a park is chosen above a road widening that helps traffic flow between St. Cloud and growing Sartell.

The project begins in June, maybe.
Highlights of the project will include a four-lane, undivided roadway extension with a trail alongside and a new trail on County Road 137 near Quarry Park, plus a signal change at Highway 23 and the realignment of part of County Road 137 near the new intersection, he said.

Though the road project is 100 percent federally funded, Waite Park officials must still come up with up to $3.5 million in local funding to pay for a new sewer and water line installation, Wotzka said.

�This is a future growth corridor for the city,� he said. �The new sewer and water lines will facilitate that.�

City officials are still negotiating some right-of-way land acquisition that could delay the project, he said.
That's the last sentence of the story, and it says that maybe this project isn't shovel-ready. And it's a road to no businesses, only a residential area and a county park that could be "a future growth corridor." If it wasn't going to be otherwise funded, does anyone ask why? Could it be, perhaps, that it wasn't worth the money?

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The DFL's Whine and Cheddar Tour 

Because they're going to whine, and they want your cheddar. (Look, I know Minnesota Magical Misery Tour is out there, but why drag the Beatles into this?)

A copy of a letter from Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona) to a selected group of constituents has been running around the GOP caucus. One of his paragraphs:

The purpose of this hearing is to get testimony from affected programs in every level of government, education, health care or service impacted by the cuts suggested by the Governor's state budget. ...

We would ask you to focus your comments on the impact of the Governor's budget including what is the harm to your area of government or program. Please be as precise as possible using facts such as number of lay offs, increases in property taxes, cuts in services, increases in tuition, elimination of programs.

As I've mentioned before, faculty here are being recruited by the local union to argue not only to spare MnSCU -- certainly understandable -- but today they include arguments to raise taxes instead to solve the budget wars.

On February 19th and 20th (this Thursday and Friday) legislators will be holding town hall meetings in state university communities to gather citizen input on how to solve the states massive budget shortfall.

.... The competition is fierce as K-12 education, health and human services, local governments and state agencies struggle to retain their slice of a shrinking state budget. In addition, business and taxpayer groups are pushing hard for Governor Pawlenty�s proposed tax cuts for corporations, which would further exacerbate the budget shortfall and cause deeper cuts. It is absolutely essential that we have a large turnout of higher education constituencies to support funding for higher education.

...Messages we want conveyed to legislators:

  • ...The Governor�s proposed cuts, if implemented, will almost certainly cause massive layoffs of faculty, which in turn will cause large scale cancellation of course sections, which in turn will make it difficult for students to complete in four years. This will cause students more money and delay their entry into the workforce.
  • The IFO supports increasing taxes on high income earners to help solve the budget shortfall. A Department of Revenue study showed that Minnesotans that earn over $105,000 per year pay a smaller percentage of their income in state and local taxes than Minnesotans earning less than $105,000. Tax rates on higher income Minnesotans are significantly less than what they were a decade ago.
  • The pain of the current economic crisis should be shared by all Minnesotans, not just students (through higher tuition) and public employees (through pay freezes and layoffs). IFO feels it is better to raise taxes on high income earners than raise tuition on students.

See this on the claim that state taxes on the rich are smaller. If they wanted to make the rich pay more, they might look at my corporate income tax post from yesterday.

But that's not what they're interested in. They just want more OPM.

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