Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Many GOPers Does It Take To Recognize a Collective Action Problem?

Warren Buffet recently took to the New York Times to argue that the very rich -- like himself -- were under-taxed. It's not even that bold of an argument -- tax rates for the ultra-wealthy are exceptionally low, and the American government needs revenue. But obviously, for the death-before-taxes wing of the GOP (i.e., all of it), this was heresy.

My former co-blogger Michael Van Der Galien was the first person I saw to snidely comment that Buffet was free to donate as much money as he wanted to charity (or the IRS), of his own volition. I thought about responding to point out that the question of tax rates for the rich is a collective action problem -- Buffet obviously was not declaring that he alone could solve America's budget crisis if only he were allowed -- but I figured it was a one-off, and decided to let it lie.

But alas, as usual, I can't set my expectations low enough. Jon Chait collects the same argument being made by Michele Bachmann and the Wall Street Journal. In addition to making the obvious collective-action point, Chait also notes that -- between the "why don't you just donate" then argument made against folks like Buffet, and the "class warfare" charge made against everyone else -- it turns out that nobody has standing to argue against raising a top marginal rate that currently is 15 points lower than where it was for the majority of the Reagan administration. Neat trick, that.


PG said...

If you start from the premise that taxes are theft -- as economic conservatives/libertarians do -- it all makes a lot more sense: if some rich people think they ought to pay more, they can do so on an individual basis, and anyone who wants to *force* them to do so (whether that anyone is rich or poor) advocates theft.

PG said...

I'm surprised that you hadn't heard this argument before and that you thought it notable that many conservatives are repeating it now. Every single time Buffet has said it's a problem that his effective tax rate is lower than his secretary's, the conservative response has never been "Hmm, maybe we should rethink our treatment of carried-interest, capital gains and dividends... perhaps Reagan's 1986 Tax Reform had the right idea in simply making the top marginal rate for all income, of whatever source, 28% so as to avoid people's structuring businesses in order to have income categorized in the favored forms rather than as regular wages." It has always been to note the Treasury address to which Buffet could send a check if he were so inclined. Why would the response this time be any different?