Flat-Tax Flap

Flat-Tax Flap

Flat-Tax Flap

Recent posts from our readers forum.
Jan. 20 2000 3:30 AM

Flat-Tax Flap

Subject: Pampering the wealthy? No, Fairness

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From: Andrew Sullivan

Date: Fri Jan 14

It's a fair cop: I think all taxpayers should pay the same rate of tax. I also think that equal treatment by government is a useful idea in the resuscitation of liberalism. Go figure. But I'm not a wealthy-pamperer. Because today's punitive tax system means you pay disproportionately more the richer you are, simply moving to an equal system inevitably gives a break to the rich. I didn't hide this in the New York Times Magazine piece. I said so explicitly. But that doesn't mean I give the rich special favors. I give them the same favors as everyone else; and by combining a flat tax with tax reform, take away large numbers of their goodies for good measure.

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Surowiecki is right in saying that technology makes complicated things simpler to enforce; but it's also true that in our very complicated world, the simple-is-beautiful mantra has increasing cultural appeal. My point is not that the 40,000-page tax code isn't easier to enforce with technology. It is. My point is that the increasing cultural attractiveness of one-click purchasing increases the cultural attractiveness of one-rate taxation. A subjective impression, but a valid one, I think. If Surowiecki clambered out of his paleo-liberal, redistributist mindset, he might get it.

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[Andrew Sullivan is a senior editor at the New Republic and contributing editor to the New York Times Magazine.]

Subject: Re: Pampering the Wealthy? No, Fairness

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Date: Mon Jan 17

Sullivan invokes the mantra of "equal treatment" as if it's an argument-ender. But treating people unequally when they're not equal is, you might say, what social justice is all about. Old people get Social Security and Medicare. Poor people get Medicaid. Young people get Head Start and free public school and free school lunches and, later, interest-free college loans. Workers at the bottom of the pay ladder are guaranteed a minimum wage. Wage-earners are paid overtime, while salaried workers are not. Unemployed people get unemployment insurance.

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Perhaps Sullivan thinks all these, too, are examples of paleo-liberalism. I'd say they're examples of liberal ideas that enjoy the support of the vast majority of Americans, as does the progressive tax. Most Americans believe that once you make a certain amount of money, each additional dollar matters less, and therefore society has a larger claim on it. Most Americans think there's a difference between making $50K a year and making $2 million a year, and that the state does well to recognize that difference. Sullivan doesn't think this, which is fine. He just shouldn't pretend that the flat tax has anything to do with liberalism.

(To reply, click here.)

[James Surowiecki writes "Moneybox."]

(To read an unedited version of the entire exchange, click  here and scroll to the bottom of the page.)

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Subject: Culturebox Protects Us From Ourselves

From: Dan Simon

Date: Thu Jan 13

Culturebox seems to have missed the glaring inconsistency of her own position. Claiming that "we are products not just of evolution, but also of what we imagine ourselves to be," Culturebox decries the classroom teaching of the evolutionary roots of rape (even as a prelude to explaining the hows and whys of resisting those roots) on the grounds that "[t]he first message to be drilled into boys' heads [would be]: We believe you're genetically programmed to rape." The inevitable consequence: "criminal lawyers composing their genetic-determinist defenses ... : Why, even the state said he couldn't help himself!" Apparently, in Culturebox's eyes, if "we imagine ourselves to be" rational, sensible creatures capable of distinguishing between biological drives and moral imperatives, it won't help us one bit--we'll still be compelled by our natures to view objective descriptions of those drives as moral justifications for giving in to them.

Now, Culturebox may well be correct that hungry young males (or hungry old defense attorneys, or jurors of all ages and appetites) are incapable of resisting the temptation of "tout comprendre, tout pardonner." But if so, then it is hardly a triumph for her preferred "willed culture" over the animal model; rather, it is a subtler, richer application of the evolutionary psychologists' fundamentally wise observation: that social institutions fail unless they treat humans as the instinct-driven creatures they are, and avoid pretending that they are the self-defining logical and aesthetic intellects that Culturebox would like them to be. After all, if we could truly will our culture to meet our ideals, then we could tell our citizens the Darwinian truth and the moral Truth without fearing that human nature will inevitably confuse the two.

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Subject: Re: Culturebox Protects Us From Ourselves

From: Judith Shulevitz

Date: Fri Jan 14

Dan Simon misses my point. I'm arguing that by teaching boys about the so-called evolutionary roots of rape we are not teaching them the truth. We're teaching them a deliberately diminished view of human nature that has been useful in helping scientists establish long-overdue connections between human and animal psychology--but that is not the end-all and be-all of who we are, what we do, and why we do it.

In other words, evolutionary psychology is a reductivist fiction, good at helping scientists point out a few interesting and as yet not-well-understood analogies between animal and human behavior. Teaching a bunch of unsophisticated boys that this helpful little fiction is the gospel truth, that "men are driven to rape because their genes tell them to," as if we really knew why some men rape and others don't, as if we were in possession of the complete truth about human motivation, as if we had the information to say authoritatively, X occurs because of Y, is at best naive, at worst arrogant and irresponsible.

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[Judith Shulevitz is Slate's New York editor and writes "Culturebox."]

 

Subject: The Sopranos Are Jerseyites Before Mobsters

From: Gerarld Marzorati

Date: Tue Jan 18

I was a little disappointed you two didn't get beyond the mob and move on to North Jersey, which I think is close to the heart of what makes The Sopranos interesting. There is something about the place that makes it special, and not only because I grew up there. It could be its long multi-ethnic history--it was polyglot even in colonial times. It could be its strange and thick class co-mingling, wherein somebody in "waste management" gets to live in a town with country-club types. Where, come summer, everybody heads to the shore. (And can we get the Sopranos to the shore for an episode or two please?) But whatever the explanation, North Jersey is a place where people wear their ethnic identity (but lightly), and where the working class has created such a strong pop culture of its own--the football Giants, the all-night diners, Springsteen, the boardwalk at the shore--that even those with money continue to cling to it, rather than embrace elite culture. (They don't go to Martha's Vineyard; they just get a bigger house at the shore.) So what I'm saying is that The Sopranos is as much about Jersey as it is about the mob, and if you don't like it--hey, who fuckin' asked you anyway?

(To reply, click here.)

[Gerald Marzorati is the editorial director of the New York Times Magazine.]