Take That, Strawman!

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 19 2011 3:01 PM

Take That, Strawman!

If you're making an ad hominem argument, you probably don't have much of an argument to start with. Ross Kaminsky proves that here.

Slate 's David Weigel offers his own version of moral equivalence by omission: "Left unsaidhere (by S&P) are the inconsolable issues: Republicans won'tgive on tax increases, and Democrats won't give on entitlements."Weigel thus implies that the Republican and Democrat intransigenceon their particular issues are economically and morally equivalent.This despite it being rather obvious (both from data and fromcommon sense) that no amount of tax increase will prevententitlements from bankrupting the country. And further that taxincreases take the earnings of citizens while refusing to reformentitlements redistributes those earnings to others based on thefundamentally Marxist premise that the others "need" it more.(That's the same premise a mugger might use to redistribute yourincome.)

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This is fatuous. It is theoretically possible to raise taxes enough to prevent the entitlement meltdown. According to the IMF , it would take a 35 percent increase in all taxes and 35 percent cut in all entitlements to balance the budget. But no one in politics is proposing that yet. Republicans begin the spending debate by saying any solution in which wealthier people (or entities) pay more taxes is off the table, and Democrats begin it by saying Social Security and Medicare are off the table.

If anything, I was unfair to Democrats. While Harry Reid says Social Security is off limits, there are absolutely some Democrats who have said they're open, even if they're unhappy about it, to ideas like raising the retirement age. You can't find Republicans in Congress who say they're open to raising taxes right now. Some of them will say there are possible, future, theoretical tax increases they might favor, but far more often you hear 1) plans that would lower rates or 2) assertions that lower rates always increase revenue, which isn't true.

Kaminsky continues with an attack on my character and -- curiously, considering the time he spends on this -- my irrelevance. Fair enough. The rest of his argument is even sillier than the insult. " You know the tide has turned against government's being all thingsto all people," he writes, "when even the French favorspending cuts over tax increases by 80% to 8%, according to arecent poll by the Economist." But taxes are higher in France than they are here. Income taxes are higher. Wealth taxes are higher. The VAT goes as high as 19.6 percent. Taxes account for close to 50 percent of GDP in France, whereas they account for slightly more than 30 percent here .

Again, there's not much of an argument in the original post. But I appreciate what Kaminsky's done here, demonstrating how much sophistry you need to engage in to argue that the "no higher taxes on anyone, ever" position is serious.

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics