Why Doesn’t Warren Buffet Pay Extra Taxes?

Monday, May 16, AD 2011

This WSJ editorial caught my eye, because it makes a seemingly valid point about wealthy people who call for higher taxes on the rich.

I wish I had a dollar for every time a wealthy liberal has declared he thinks he should pay more taxes. That list includes Warren Buffett, George Soros, Bill Gates Sr., Mark Zuckerberg and even Barack Obama, who now says that not only should rich people like him pay more taxes, they want to pay more. “I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me,” he said of his tax-hike plan. “They want to give back to the country that’s done so much for them.”

So why don’t they? There is a special fund at the Treasury Department for taxpayers who want to make “gift contributions to reduce debt held by the public.” But very few do. Last year that fund and others like it raised a grand total of $300 million. That’s a decimal place on Mr. Zuckerberg’s net worth and pays for less than two hours worth of federal borrowing.

I understand the basic satisfaction of saying, “Look, mister, if you really want to pay more taxes, no one is stopping you,” but I don’t think that it’s actually a very good argument. The reason why people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet advocate for higher taxes but don’t voluntarily pay higher taxes than the law requires is pretty obvious:

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21 Responses to Why Doesn’t Warren Buffet Pay Extra Taxes?

  • As Walter Williams and others have noted, higher tax rates on the rich, even rates of 100%, will not eliminate annual budget deficits and do nothing to address the cumulative national debt. Reduced spending is the only feasible mechanism for addressing the national debt.

  • Total commie lib Dem idiot BS………….

    Is this the type of educational thought comming from Catholic schools?

    No wonder the brain washed Catholics tend to vote Democrat.

  • Miller,

    Agreed. Federal spending is currently above the norm in relation to GDP (a little of this is due to GDP shrinkage during the recession, but not all of it) and the US has no history of collecting vastly higher percentages of GDP in tax revenues, so spending has to go down. (Some European countries succeed in getting much more of the GDP in taxes, but they do this by taxing the heck out of the middle class as well as the rich, and we in the US middle class won’t put up with that.)

    My point here is pretty modest: That it’s not really shocking that Warren Buffet doesn’t voluntarily pay higher taxes even though he advocates that everyone have to pay higher taxes, so long as one makes the reasonable and obvious assumption that he’s basically a self interested party who doesn’t want to reduce his standing in society. Or in short, he’s selfish.

    The mistake that liberals make is in thinking that there’s anything selfless about Buffet’s high tax advocacy.

  • “Buffet is clearly willing to give money away, but when he makes a direct donation to a non-profit he has a pretty good say in how that money will be used. If he simply writes a check to the Feds, he has very little.”
    So Warren Buffet wants to direct his charitable gifts to organizations that will use the money as he wants it to be used but feels others should be taxed so that their monies will be used as the government decides and dictates.
    The Obama administration is considering reducing or eliminating deductions for charitable donations which will make his ‘what is good for me but not for thee’ reasoning obsolete.
    As a taxpayer and one who contributes to many charitable organization, both religious and secular, I want to control how my contributions are spent,just as mr. Buffett and not how and to whom the government supports which support or fund practice which I oppose on moral, ethical or religious grounds.

  • “They are, clearly, willing to pay more (thus the advocacy) but only if they can do so in a way which doesn’t reduce their standing versus other rich people (and the rest of the country).”

    Actually, they want to reduce their standing compared to the less wealthy but not compared to the equally wealthy. They’re worried about income inequality. Or so I’ve been told.

    I hate it when Warren Buffet says he’s taxed at a lower rate than his secretary. Bershire pays taxes on his income but not on his secretary’s.

  • Consider this instead of a gift contribution: a bonfire. Burn a million, cold hard cash.
    What gives a product, any product, value: supply. Reduce supply, value goes up. Burn up a million, take a million out of circulation, and its worth goes up.

  • RR,

    Actually, they want to reduce their standing compared to the less wealthy but not compared to the equally wealthy.

    I guess sort of yes, sort of no. There are a couple million people in the top income bracket, and Buffet sits at the very top of that stack. If he gave more in taxes voluntarily, he’d effectively cede that place a bit, and since he doesn’t do that one assumes that he wants all of those couple million people (who virtually all make much less than he does) to take the same relative hit in high taxes that he does. But it’s true that compared to the other 98% of us, he’d be less unequal than before.

    I hate it when Warren Buffet says he’s taxed at a lower rate than his secretary. Bershire pays taxes on his income but not on his secretary’s.

    Yeah, no kidding. I’m but a lowly amateur econ wonk, but it’s downright disgraceful for someone of his stature to be going around acting as if he didn’t know that capital gains rates are lower than income rates on the theory that corporate profits are already taxed. You’d think someone like Buffet would be in a good position to advocate abolishing the corporate tax and setting capital gains to the same rate as income taxes, but no…

  • Buffet and Gates of course merely gain cheap good publicity by these statements. They have set up their vast fortunes skillfully enough, using the most able attorneys and accountants that money can buy, that any tax increase on them would be de minimis. As partisan Democrats, Buffet and Gates can make these type of statements all the time realizing that the taxes would hit people other than themselves. If they were doing this out of simple patriotism I think they would write out huge voluntary checks to the Treasury, but the last thing they want is for the US government to get more of their money, as opposed to more of the money of other people.

  • I think the point here: Buffett and Gates are talking about the government taking more of other people’s money.

    Up in the Bronx, they would say, “Talk is cheap.”

  • FWIW, I find it very hard to imagine that Buffet imagines a tax increase on the rich could be crafted that truly only taxed “other people” and not him. So I suspect he would expect to pay more taxes in the scenario he’s advocating. He’s just unwilling to do it unless everyone else in his class takes the same hit.

  • “FWIW, I find it very hard to imagine that Buffet imagines a tax increase on the rich could be crafted that truly only taxed “other people” and not him.”

    I do not. The tax code is one of the more byzantine productions in the perverted annals of the ingenuity of the tax man, and an individual with Buffett’s vast holdings can find plenty of legal ways to reduce his income to avoid paying taxes. His estate planning certainly indicates that he does not intend for the Feds to get much from his estate in regard to estate tax even though he is supposedly a big fan of the estate tax. When it comes to his theoretical love of taxes, Buffett is a fraud.

  • so spending has to go down.

    I think expenditures on the military & foreign relations, the federal police and courts and regulatory inspectorate, unemployment compensation, and benefits to the elderly currently exceed 15% of domestic product. If we are optimistic, the ratio of federal debt held by the public to domestic product will reach a plateau at about 0.9, meaning we are looking at service charges in the range of 4-5% of domestic product when interest rates return to historically normal levels (provided we retain our AAA credit rating). Military expenditure &c. has external drivers, fewer police means more disorder, unemployment compensation has external drivers, and reduction in benefits to the elderly is properly undertaken on a slow cohort-by-cohort basis. If you welsh on servicing the federal debt, country go blooey.

    So, you have miscellanous federal services (currently about 1.5% of domestic product) and grants to state and local government (currently about 4% of domestic product if you factor out the portion of nursing home charges ultimately satisfied by federal expenditure) to play around with freely. Have a nice day.

  • Art,

    Unless I’m much mistaken, however, federal spending is only a couple percent of GDP above it’s norm, while taxes are running a percent or two below their norm. There’s not a need for some massive change here. Cutting federal spending by around 2% of GDP in the long term (if it’s actually done) would pretty much re-stabilize the budget, although it wouldn’t pay down the debt with any great speed.

    The issue is, of course, that as you point out it’s not like there’s huge amounts of spending that can be cut without anyone noticing, and far too many voters currently support not cutting any real spending, while also not increasing taxes. (Whether they also support the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny remains unclear.)

  • Most voters really are not opposed to tax increases as long as they are increases on someone else, especially the “rich” which is what we now call high income earners — “high” being more than what they expect to earn anytime soon.

    Buffett could easily pay more taxes if he just paid himself a market salary which would be taxed at ordinary rates.

  • Since there is no law that allows the feds to collect an income tax and all ‘tax payers’ are engaging in ‘voluntary compliance’ under threat of property confiscation and imprisonment your argument holds no water. Buffet is free to ‘volunteer’ more to the Treasury if he likes. He won’t. Buffet and other uber-wealthy libtards like him are totally aware that the federal government operates by debt alone. It is debt acquired through the usurious alchemy of the Federal Reserve scheme that funds government. Our taxes merely service the debt and are also used as wealth transfers to other nations, often our enemies.

    The income tax scheme is designed to ensure that other ‘wealthy’ Americans can never acquire enough wealth to rival the uber-wealthy like Gates and Buffet. The income tax scheme is nothing more than social engineering and granting of monopoly privileges to the uber-wealthy, who tend to be America-hating progressives and Marxists. Like all Communists, they expect to live in ultra-luxury and command all the political and economic power while the rest of us proles live in controlled squalor. Of course, they don’t want us revolting, so we need to be medicated and entertained, so we will be happy with our servitude. Notice also that both Gates and Buffet and the rest of their ilk are always in favor of tax-subsidized ‘charitable’ giving to ‘population control’ tax-free NGOs and foundations. The whole thing is sick and frankly a discussion about why or why not they will volunteer more in taxes or not is a distraction from the fact that the actions of these men and men like them are sheer evil.

  • Whoa. I didn’t realize the shark looked so small as you sail by up here…

  • I’ll get your shark!

  • Now the shark, Gates and Buffett are playing Monopoly! (Or is that Class Struggle? I can’t quite make out the game board.) 🙂

  • I believe it is the tax code edition of Twister.

  • I prefer to play Marxopoly. It is a neat little game. I am the banker, no one else can be the banker. I print as much money as I want and I let some of the other players have some, of course, they owe me. I sit back and let them buy property, collect rent, etc. They have to make interest payments to me on the money I loaned them. I am always wealthier than all of them combined and every so often I will bankrupt one of them and take their property by crashing the market, of course I only take the choicest properties and I bail out some of the others so that they are even more indebted to me.

    They think they are engaged in a free market game and I just sit back and control everything through debt. if any of them catch on, I have the others wage war on the recalcitrant. Of course, they have to borrow more from me to wage the war and I make sure it lasts for a long time by funding both sides.

    We should play sometime. I always get to be the shark. 😉

  • I like the American Knight’s Marxopoly. I wonder if the lay staff at the USCCB (the ones with Obama stickers on their cars in the USCCB parking lot in Washington, DC) and the liberal Catholics who vote Democrat (do they ever in their partisanship vote for anything else?) realize that that’s the game they are playing. Probably not. Sheep can sometimes be so blind.

Tax and Spend Impasse

Tuesday, March 8, AD 2011

Reading a rather cursory opinion piece this morning (calling for federal spending to be decreased) it occurred to me that there’s an interesting symmetry to what the more aggressive advocates of tax increases and spending cuts suggest:

The most passionate tax increase advocates frame their calls for tax increases in terms of some prior level of taxation: “We should roll back all the Bush tax cuts and return to the tax rates people payed under Clinton. We all remember the ’90’s; the world didn’t end when the top marginal tax rate was 39.6%” or “By golly, we should go back to the tax tables that were in force under that ‘socialist’ Eisenhower. 91% top marginal rate. That’ll teach those corporate fat cats to vote themselves bonuses.”

Similarly, when passionate spending cutters explain their plans, they tend to phrase it in terms of rolling back to a previous level of spending: “These ‘draconian’ cuts in fact only represent a return to 2006 spending levels. Did we starve in the streets then? Did the world end?”

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7 Responses to Tax and Spend Impasse

  • The dilemma (or one of them) is that any plan to phase in spendings cuts or tax increases to lessen the shock is dependent upon our elected representatives actually abiding by the phase-in. Possible. But likely? Not when Democrats in the Senate are unable to find more than $10bn to cut in discretionary spending.

  • That’s the thing about government spending: every dollar goes into someone’s paycheck. (Some go into overseas paychecks, and that should stop, but that’s a tiny percentage of the whole and cutting it to zero wouldn’t change the problem.) Even the “waste and corruption” that they’re always promising to cut — every dollar of that goes to pay someone to be wasteful or corrupt. So every spending cut means someone somewhere takes home less money.

    But the debt-fueled money tree is running out, so now the battle will be over who takes home less. Government workers have made it clear that they don’t intend to share in the pain; and they write the rules, so it seems like a stacked deck. But they’re still outnumbered (barely) and the client class that they’ve teamed up with in the past may not sit quietly while its own benefits are cut to fund lavish pensions for others.

    It’s going to have to come from somewhere.

  • “Not when Democrats in the Senate are unable to find more than $10bn to cut in discretionary spending.”

    How can you say that. That is 0.28% of the 2011 budget. What are we going to do with only 99.72% of the budget? Imagine if I had to cut my personal spending that much.

  • Phillip,

    Every. Dollar. Is. Essential.

    Don’t you get it?


  • Hah, another conservative seeking to starve the poor, make homeless the widow, oppress the workers, etc. etc. etc. 🙂

  • That’s the thing about government spending: every dollar goes into someone’s paycheck.

    I suppose this is true in a certain sense, in that wherever money goes it arguably eventually ends up in someone’s paycheck, but it’s certainly not directly so.

    So, for instance, if the Feds did not subsidize sugar prices, it’s not necessarily the case that sugar farmers would end up out of work, they might simply raise prices, which would cascade through the economy, raise a lot of prices, result in some consumption re-adjustments, create a larger market for corn syrup, and mostly be absorbed without anyone in particular losing their jobs. More to the point, if jobs did get lost over it, it might be next to impossible to figure out who and how the chain of events had caused it.

    I don’t have the numbers handy, but to my understanding most federal money does not go directly to any particular federal worker’s salary.

  • It really doesn’t matter whether it’s direct or not. If the sugar farmer raises his prices because his subsidy got cut, that just means the dollar comes out of his customers’ pockets instead of his own. The point is, if the government stops spending on something, that’s money someone no longer gets. If it buys fewer fighter jets, that means fewer people get paid to build them. If it stops funding midnight basketball courts, someone no longer gets paid to build them.

    I also said “someone’s paycheck,” not “a federal worker’s paycheck.” The “client class” which will soon be in a conflict with the government worker class includes those sugar farmers, as well as SSI recipients, people who build munitions, etc. Whether they get a check directly from the US Treasury or not, they’re dependent to some extent on continued government spending, and they’ll vote (and perhaps assemble into angry mobs) accordingly.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’d cut federal spending to the bone, and in the long term we’d be better off. But it’s going to hurt in the short term, because we’ve become so dependent on it.

If I Weren’t Catholic, I Would…

Friday, February 11, AD 2011

As a Catholic, one is sometimes accused of being so mindlessly doctrinaire that one “accepts anything the pope says without thinking”. However, at other times, one is faced with the opposite challenge: Does your Catholic faith cause you to take any political or moral positions that you wouldn’t take anyway?

Typically, both of these objections are leveled by people who don’t like one’s political or moral stances, but while in the one case it stems from a belief that one would obvious agree with the speaker if only one’s head wasn’t befuddled by religious notions, the other seems to stem from the idea that if only one really took one’s faith seriously, one would agree with the speaker on the point at issue. (Or perhaps alternately, merely a skepticism as to whether anyone actually modifies his life at all due to religious beliefs.)

I think this is a pretty valid question, but if one attempts to think about it seriously, it is a very difficult question to answer, since it leaves one to try to puzzle out how much of one’s beliefs and character are the result of one’s faith, versus how much one picks one’s faith based on beliefs or tendencies one already has.

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28 Responses to If I Weren’t Catholic, I Would…

  • I think my views on domestic and economic matters would be largely unchanged. In regard to foreign policy, I would support a foreign policy largely based on Machiavelli’s The Prince, with a smattering of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West.

  • Why would you be less likely to empathize with the poor and oppressed? Secularists are all for helping the poor and oppressed, though they are less likely to actually get their hands dirty. They tend to be less violent. They’re driven by a desire to reduce human suffering.

    Having spent some time away from the Church, I can say that I was more consequentialist in the expected ways except a few. I was an absolutist when it came to opposition to capital punishment. Oddly, faith made me less opposed to the practice.

  • Why would you be less likely to empathize with the poor and oppressed? Secularists are all for helping the poor and oppressed, though they are less likely to actually get their hands dirty. They tend to be less violent. They’re driven by a desire to reduce human suffering.

    Many of the friends I had as a kid are now “spiritual but not religious” kind of secular, and they do indeed tend to take a very bleeding heart view of social justice issues.

    So that would certainly be one way of looking at things. But my overall personality has always tended towards the judgmental and pragmatic, so in attempting to think how I might look at things without a belief in God I figured I might sound more like some of the agnostic/atheist libertarian types I’ve run into who look at things more along the lines of: Well, that’s one less undesirable element of society.

    Now I guess I could say that if I weren’t Catholic I’d still have an instinctual idea derived from natural law that one should treat all people as having inherent dignity — but that’s still assuming that Catholicism is true, but that I didn’t believe in it.

  • I think an important element in answering this question for anyone is to consider that, if they weren’t Catholic, they would be something else and that something is not some imagined neutrality. (Darwin hinted at this without saying so explicitly.) At various times I have thought that, if I weren’t Catholic, I would be an atheist (in high school), a Buddhist (in undergrad), or, most recently, a Mennonite (as a grad student in theology). But even those things that appeal to me in other world views tend to do so because of my Catholicity. It is a difficult hypothetical.

    In any case, I know that in my concrete personal situation I would never have even heard that artificial contraception was morally problematic were I not Catholic. I suspect that, were I a non-Catholic, it would sound vaguely like the JW prohibition on blood transfusions. Only if I came face-to-face with serious consequences of using AC would I question such a widespread societal norm.

    And if I had no concerns about the separation of sex from procreation, I would have no problem at all with homosexual acts as such.

    I suspect I would also be slightly less pacifist and slightly less opposed to the death penalty were I not a Catholic, but that, of course, would depend widely on what I was instead. Were I a Mennonite, I would be more pacifist and more opposed to the death penalty.

    I’m the sort of person who would find a cause somewhere though. I would want a systematic worldview and the sense that following through on it passionately would make the world a better place. In other words, I’d be pretty dangerous were I anything but a Catholic. 😉

  • I’m where Mac is, except in foreign policy I’d support the Roman and English model: conquer the world and send all its wealth back home.

    I still could not vote demokrat cxandidates. They create poverty.

  • If I weren’t a Catholic, I would have committed suicide a long time ago. There’s no way I would have made it through my most serious bout of depression without the knowledge that suicide is a mortal sin. Even as a Catholic, at one point I found myself reading moral theology to see if there were exceptions to the prohibition.

  • A Catholic can consider any point of view. The idea that one follows the Pope blindly while seemingly not considering other options is quite silly. Of course many of us do consider other points of view, find either fault or merit in them but at the end of the day, for me at least, no other worldview is as consistent and unemotional and correct as the Catholic one. The non-Catholic argument presupposes an incorrect Catholic view or perhaps a Catholic rejecting his Catholic view for an inferior view, perhaps to spite himself.

  • “You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I was *not* Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being.”

    –Evelyn Waugh.

  • Like Darwin, I’m a cradle Catholic so it’s tough to determine. I’d likely be a bit more libertarian economically if I were not Catholic, and most likely would not oppose the death penalty.

  • Dale,

    That’s always been a favorite quote of mine — though I didn’t successfully work it in here.


    Stay Catholic, then! (All joking aside, just sent a quick prayer your way. Hang in there.)

  • DC – It’s ok; I know the rules, and everyone’s got their crosses. It’s just that when I tried to reason through the topic of this article, I realized that for me, any question about where I’d be today as a non-Catholic is moot.

    It is interesting that most of us have said that we’d have less respect for life, in one way or another.

  • I would have married that really hot nurse I knew when I was overseas in the Navy. Only problem with her, from a Catholic standpoint, was that she was in favor of contraception and did not really want kids. And was a functional atheist.

    I suspect we would have been divorced by now.

  • Personally, i have a very hard time imagining what I would be like if I were not catholic. It’s like trying to imagine myself as male-I really wouldn’t be me anymore if I wasn’t catholic!
    I suspect that if I had to choose another faith I would likely have become an evangelical Protestant. I’d still be pro life but not have any problem with birth control, divorce, or the death penalty. I might be more of a doctrinaire conservative if that were the case.

  • If I weren’t Catholic, I would probably be some sort of pagan, and my politics would probably more closely resemble Aristotle’s.

    I would still oppose homosexuality and so-called “gay marriage” because I believe it is anti-social and destructive, but I would “look the other way” and perhaps even facilitate its discrete practice among those who felt they had to satisfy that urge.

    I’d probably be ok with the use of artificial contraception among married couples only, like today’s Protestants. I would still combine that with economic incentives to bear children, because Western birth rates are in the toilet. And I would still totally oppose the distribution of condoms to teenagers.

    I’d be more inclined to support violent revenge in many cases.

    And I certainly wouldn’t have an absolute prohibition on lying (I’d disagree with Aristotle on that one).

    But then, I don’t really want to speculate too much on how dark my personal life would become, and what I would be willing to justify or indulge in, if I didn’t believe in God.

  • The only thing that would stop me from doing “anything” was the possibility of being apprehended. If I had no family, that would be a weaker disincentive.

    From and old cowboy (C&W) song, the most important things in life (updated).

    Older whiskey;
    Younger women;
    Faster cars;
    More money.

    Eat when yer hungry.
    Drink when yer dry.
    If the sky don’t fall in,
    Ye’ll live ’til ye die.

    Cum a Tai Yai Yippee Yippee Yay Yippee Yay

    Too many take seriously too many worldly “things.”

  • Born Catholic but having since strayed, I see no reason to return to the Church, especially in light of the lurid scandals that have plagued. As a betting man who has gambled and usually lost, I still might take Pascal up on his wager. After all, sooner or later, I might win. When God gave out faith as a gift, I somehow got passed up.

    Good thread, though. As usual TAC is provocative.

  • When I read the title of this post “If I Weren’t Catholic, I Would…”, in my mind I immediately completed the sentence “… become one as soon as possible.” I’m Catholic for the same reason I believe everything else I believe in my life: my faith and my reason inform me that it’s true with metaphysical certainty. Imagining the Catholic faith not to be true is like imagining that two plus two does not equal four or the sky is not blue; it makes no sense whatsoever. I’ve read all sorts of apologetic material from all sorts of viewpoints, Catholic, non-Catholic Christian, non-Christian, agnostic and atheist, and the only viewpoint that coheres philosophically is Catholicism. I was providentially born a cradle Catholic, but if I hadn’t been, I surely would have converted, led by the same reasoning that led me to all that I believe. To imagine myself as anything but Catholic, I should have to imagine myself as not being me.

  • “especially in light of the lurid scandals that have plagued.”

    Yeah Joe, that Judas scandal was earth shaking! 🙂

    Which reminds me of a story. A Jewish merchant and a Catholic merchant were friends in a medieval Italian city. The Jewish merchant becomes interested in Catholicism, but hesitates about converting. His friend encourages him, but then is alarmed when the Jewish merchant decides to go to Rome to investigate Catholicism at its heart. The Catholic merchant is alarmed because he is aware of the corruption rampant in the Church there. The Jew comes back in two weeks and anounces that he is now a baptized Catholic. His friend sputters, “But all the corruption in Rome…”. The new Catholic holds up his hand. “That is what convinced me! If I ran my business the way the Church is run, I’d be bankrupt or in jail in a week! Yet the Church has endured for centuries! It must be of God!”

  • Joe,

    Before worrying about what it means to “return to the Church”, focus on what it means to hold the Catholic faith. Truth does not depend upon the morality of the hierarchy or the bureaucracy. Many of us “traditionalists” will readily concede that there is corruption and immorality rampant in the Church, at the parish and diocesan level and even higher up than that. But this does not shake our faith in the least. The Church is a 2000 year old divinely established institution that has seen her share of crises and scandals and survived them all. And even if this is the scandal to end all scandals, it only means that the day is near when Christ will return, the consummation of the world.

  • As my old friend Thomas Hardy once said, “There is a condition worse than blindness, and that is, seeing something that isn’t there.

  • Joe: By their fruits, ye shall known them.

  • An odd thing for Hardy to say Joe considering his interest in spiritism.

    A good article on Hardy and his faith haunted life:


  • Don, thanks for the interesting link. Hardy is one of my favorite Victorian authors, along with George Eliot (another apostate). Hardy wrote: “Pessimism … is, in brief, playing the sure game … It is the only view of life in which you can never be disappointed.” I Hard-ily agree.

  • I prefer Thomas Babington Macaulay myself, not so much for his history as his essays, which are some of the best writing I have ever read. Anti-Catholic as he was, I have always liked this tribute he wrote to the Church:

    “There is not and there never was on this earth a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphi-theatre. The proudest Royal houses are but of yesterday when compared to the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. The line we trace back in an unbroken series from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eigth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the Republic of Venice was modern compared with the Papacy; and the Republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated her for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendancy extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri, and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished in Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broke arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Paul`s.”

    As for pessimism, I rather like this view of a late Victorian I bet you are familiar with:

    “The gallows in my garden, people say,

    Is new and neat and adequately tall;
    I tie the noose on in a knowing way

    As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
    But just as all the neighbours–on the wall–
    Are drawing a long breath to shout “Hurray!”

    The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
    I think I will not hang myself to-day.
    To-morrow is the time I get my pay–

    My uncle’s sword is hanging in the hall–
    I see a little cloud all pink and grey–

    Perhaps the rector’s mother will not call– I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
    That mushrooms could be cooked another way–

    I never read the works of Juvenal–
    I think I will not hang myself to-day.
    The world will have another washing-day;

    The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
    And H.G. Wells has found that children play,

    And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
    Rationalists are growing rational–
    And through thick woods one finds a stream astray

    So secret that the very sky seems small–
    I think I will not hang myself to-day.

    Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
    The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;

    Even to-day your royal head may fall,
    I think I will not hang myself to-day.”

  • Don, skimming that assessment of Hardy; first impressions are that it is misleading and skewed in its analysis. I just finished The Woodlanders. Townsend quotes Grace Melbury, the main female character as saying she felt “bitter with all that had befallen her—with the cruelties that had attacked her—with life—with Heaven.” Yes, a bitter moment. But he omits the constant prayer visits by her and Marty South, who loved Giles more than anyone, and Marty’s solitary visit at the end which bespeaks of spiritual faith.

    The Mayor of Casterbridge is one of the greatest novels ever written. More later.

  • If I weren’t a Catholic I would convert to Catholicism…I suppose I could try to separate out what parts of me are particularly Catholic and which parts I might still have if Catholicism were absent but, my goodness, I am 10 times the person I was before I became a “re-vert” to actually living the faith after a long time of slackness. I’m still 1,000 times less the Christian I could be (naturally), but I can’t even stand the thought of myself when I wasn’t going to Mass every week, wasn’t saying daily prayers, wasn’t even trying to follow my Lord.

  • Little about being “a” Catholic ever sunk in, growing up, and I dropped out not long after Confirmation because of a plague of suicidal tendencies that afflicted me daily for about 25 years. I think I recall trying to live a moral Christian-ish life on my own strength? Something like that. Never hurt anybody else, etc. Not help them much, either. I remember vaguely thinking abortion was the woman’s choice, the pre-born didn’t count as individuals, but politically at least I never voted on that satanic joke of a platform. It didn’t mean enough to make a dent in an otherwise rock-ribbed conservative view. I suspect topics like gay marriage and birth control would fall under that I-just-don’t-give-a-damn heading, if I was still wandering in the desert.
    If you’ve never strayed, it’s pretty hard to picture, and if you have strayed and returned, it’s pretty hard to remember. Post-re-verting, all I can say is that I’m recognizable on the outside, but the interior life is completely different. Seriously, 100% different. As others have said, to imagine not being Catholic is to imagine not being YOU.

  • More seriously, if I weren’t Catholic I almost certainly would not have five children.

    Politically, I would lean much more to the right on economic matters, have no problem at all with waterboarding or other forms of torture, would be mildly restrictionist on abortion, and would probably favor widespread contraception programs pushed by the government. Overall, politics would serve as a religion substitute, with all that entails.

Rewinding Taxes to the Good Old Days

Friday, January 28, AD 2011

For decades, progressives tended to accuse conservatives of wanting to bring back the ’50s, but in recent years the shoe is on the other foot, with some prominent progressives saying they yearn for the good old days when unions were strong, manufacturing was the core of the economy, and the top marginal tax rate was over 90%. I wanted to see what the real tax situation was for people in a number of different income situations, so I decided to pull the historical tax tables and do the math.

Luckily, the Tax Foundation publishes the income tax tables for every year from 2010 back to 1913. I decided to compare 2010 and 1955. Here are the 2010 tax tables:

I then got the 1955 tax tables and adjusted the income brackets to 2010 dollars using this inflation calculator. (For those interested, the inflation factor from 1955 to 2010 is 713%) The result is as follows:

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19 Responses to Rewinding Taxes to the Good Old Days

  • So our tax burdens are all lower today, but the federal government is spending more in constant dollars (presumably).

    No big surprise, but it is a reaffirmation of why we’re running huge deficits.

  • To an extent, yes. But it’s also a factor that the population is much larger than it was in 1955 and real incomes have also grown quite a bit.

  • In 2010, standard deduction for married filing jointly was $7,300. In 1955, adjusted for inflation, it was $9,764.

    So the poor paid less in 1955. The middle class paid a little more. The rich paid much more. Overall, it was more progressive back then.

    There are huge fluctuations depending on the year. In 1942, when the insanely high 50’s era brackets were introduced, the deduction was $16,053, adjusted for inflation. In 1981, the last year of >50% tax brackets, the deduction was $4,798. So everyone was paying more taxes during the Carter years. Interestingly, I see the Kennedy tax cuts went almost entirely to the wealthy.

  • RR,

    I think you’re confusing the standard deduction with a tax credit.

    If you take $9,764 off 40k, that gets you $30,236 in adjusted gross income, which with the 20% tax bracket (on income up to 32,544) in 1955 makes for $6,047 in tax.

    If you take $7,300 off 40k, that gets you $32,700. You hit the bottom two tax brackets and pay a total of $4,067 in 2010 taxes.

    So it looks like even assuming the standard deduction you’d pay a lot less in 2010. And that’s ignoring the per child income tax credit, if you have kids, which can be a huge deal at that level. The last year when I made 40k we had two kids, and once we did deductions and tax credits I had a net tax liability of negative four hundred dollars — as in, they paid me rather than me paying them.

    That’s way more progressive than anything in 1955. (In part because the country was a lot poorer then than now, making 40k in 2010 inflation adjusted income was much more middle class then than it is now.)

  • Wow, now I try it, it looks like even with the $16,053 standard deduction of 1942, you still would have paid $4789 in 2010 dollar taxes on an income of $40k in 2010 dollars — versus the $4067 you would pay with the $7300 standard deduction in 2010. It must just be really hard to have enough of a deduction to make up for that 20% bottom tax bracket versus the 10% and 15% brackets for 2010.

  • Oops. I forgot to apply the deduction to 2010. Still, it might affect your multiples enough to make taxes today no more progressive than it was in 1955.

  • Now, I only applied the deduction on the 40k, I didn’t try it on the others.

  • It really is surprising how big a deduction you need to make up for lower brackets. I graphed a 33% flat tax and found that for it to look more or less like our current system, we’d need a $30K deduction for single filers! And yet, I’d prefer that. Or an ever higher flat tax and deduction so that only half the country even files.

  • Okay, I graphed all the incomes I’d tried, and you always pay less in 2010, but the difference in progressiveness mostly goes away with a blip in the low 100k range:

    At 40k you pay 1.5x more in 1955
    At 80k you pay 1.4x more
    At 120k you pay 1.26x more
    At 1.2M you pay 1.9x more

    I want to say the flat tax proposals I’ve seen have had 30k+ standard deductions — though I think there’s also an extent to which people would be willing to pay a bit more if the tax code were just simpler.

    Frankly, if my taxes were something I could fill out simply on one sheet of paper, I’d happily pay a bit more than I do now. As it stands, I always spend a whole weekend with TurboTax and still worry that I got something wrong and the IRS will come after me. (After moving to a state and city with income tax, I may break down and hire a tax guy this year. Sucks.)

  • I always do my own taxes, as with two businesses they tend to get fairly convuluted, and I think I understand the Code as well as most accountants, although my math skills are appalling. (I have my wife, who has excellent math skills, check everything.)

    I am not a big fan of flat tax proposals. I have never seen any proposed that I think would keep the virtue of simplicity for more than a few years, before the tinkering of politicians would destroy that key feature. I certainly am also not a fan of the current system either. The problem though is not really the tax code, but the fact that we simply have far more government than most people are willing to pay for, and too many politicians eager to spend money in order to ensure their re-elections.

  • I am curious – do the differences between the 1955 and 2010 tables also reflect other payroll deductions, such as FICA (SS and Medicare – 7.6% of paycheck up to $108,000, if my research is correct)?

    “So while the rich pay less in taxes in 2010 than in 1950, the middle and working classes pay much less as well. And overall, we have a significantly more progressive tax code now than we did then.”

    It seems to me that one would have to take into account sales tax and spending habits as well in order to make a true comparison of this (in addition to FICA deductions, etc.). Indiana, for instance, levied its first state sales tax of 2% in 1963.

  • Any idea how much they paid into Social Security back then? I don’t pay that much in actual income tax today, but being self-employed, SS really hammers me. And you can’t deduct any of it away with charitable giving or anything like that; the only way to pay less is to make less.

  • Ah, that’s a really good point about social security. (And Medicare, which didn’t even exist in 1955.)

    According to this table, it looks like the difference is pretty big.

    In 1955 the rate for employees was a total of 2% (just SS, there was no Medicare) while in 2010 the total rate is 7.65%

    It’s far worse for the self employed. In 1955 they paid only 3% total, now they pay 15.3%.

    Since the entitlement taxes are not progressive at all, that pretty much evens up the field on tax progressiveness between 1955 and 2010.

  • And the non-self-employed still pay that 15.3%. Half of it doesn’t show up on their pay stub, but their employer has to pay it, so it comes out of their productivity one way or another.

    That does far more than even up the progressiveness. On 40K, assuming the standard deductions you mentioned earlier, I get:

    1955: 40K – $9,764 = $30,236 * .03 = $90.71
    2010: 40K – $7,300 = $32,700 * .153 = $5003.00

    So you might be paying half as much income tax now, but 50 times more FICA. And that money is for the programs that even the Tea Partiers don’t want to cut.

  • You slipped a digit there, the 1955 social security taxes would have been $907.10, not $90.71, but the point is dead on. (Actually, it would be a little more than that, because in 1955 the self employed effectively got a discount, for those who were employed it was 2% from the employee and 2% from the employer, so 1208.)

    Also, that underlines how the supposed era of fiscal responsibility in fact (though arguably unknowingly) was no such thing. The social security tax rates have gone up so much because the structure of social security was based on bad demographics, and so those of us paying 15.3% now are effectively subsidizing the low tax rates which people working in the 50s and 60s paid.

  • There’s more to the story than that. In 1955 they didn’t have the Earned income tax credit. This is particularly helpful for lower income families and making the current tax brackets more progressive than they appear compared to 1955. Also, a big part of Reagan’s tax package was to close many tax loopholes that were widely used by and only beneficial to those with very high incomes. Despite how many leftists like to characterize it, the rich didn’t receive as huge of tax decrease as the tables would indicate. It was just a more straightforward approach and shift in emphasis regarding where taxes were paid – relaxing capital gains to encourage investment, was the largest relief the rich saw. However, many middle class folk benefit from that as well.

  • There is no question that the able producers and earners (those who can invest and work and do) are paying much higher taxes now than in the 1950s. The ‘poor’ and by that I mean the able unproductive (those who can work and choose not to) are paying far, far less or are actually net receivers of wealth transfers thanks to LBJ’s New Deal on steroids from the 60s.

    We can discuss rates of taxation, deductions, capital gains, etc.; however, the fact is that we have to count FICA (payroll taxes) as ordinary income taxes. FICA is not a separate account funded like a pension, FICA taxes are general revenue – there are no segregated funds. FICA is just a ploy to collect more in taxes while allowing people to think they are being taxed less. This also increases the entitlement mentality to the middle-class. By making people think their money is being held to be paid out as an annuity, people who otherwise disdain ‘welfare’ begin to defend it. This was also foisted on senior citizens (who have more time to be politically active) in the 60s with Medicare. It was intended by Roosevelt that people feel that they are ‘owed’ their OASDI benefits in order to keep the program alive forever (at least politically speaking, it was economically dead from the get go) and to make it untenable for politicians to repeal it – the so-called ‘political suicide’ of unprincipled politicos.

    When you factor ordinary income, FICA and capital gains (taxes that affect many more in the middle class today than in the 50s) we are paying more in taxes now and for far less of anything except more government, more that is not enumerated in the Constitution.

    The biggest tax of all though is unseen. The devaluation of the dollar by the political spending addicts and their drug dealer the Fed has cost ALL, but the small clique of connected bankers and corporatists, more than any other tax.

    The real question is how much of the taxes from all sources, and there are many more today, now go to service the usurious debt than in the 1950s. Taxes are supposed to fund the general purpose of government for the common good within the Constitutional constraints. This is not why we pay taxes now. We are all debt-slaves and more so now than in the 1950s. People are always regarding themselves as ‘taxpayers’ or exclaiming their loyalty to the country by stating that “I pay my taxes so I am entitled to such and such” – this is a slave mentality. Americans prior to 1913 would NEVER have referred to themselves as such, in fact, they would have likely killed the tax-farmer than call themselves a taxpayer. We have been conditioned to think our taxes pay for ‘necessary’ services, yet so-called services are funded by debt and we are servicing the debt. We may as well live in Goshen.

    I know this seems dramatic, and the reality is this is not as bad as I am presenting it, yet – but, we are on a path that will make all of us wage-slaves to cover taxes that only serve to service debt. Since wages represent time working, we become slaves rendering our tribute to Caesar by servicing ‘our’ debt. If we are rendering all of labors to Caesar, what do we render to God?

    The primary culprit here is that despite the fact that the 50s were not the Utopia ‘conservatives’ paint it to be, as a people, we Americans, were far more moral then than we are now and that is why we are slaves. It is as St. Augustine told us centuries ago, as many vices as a man has, he has masters.

    We can say as many government handouts, subsidies, programs, tax-incentives, etc – basically debt for perceived benefits as we have, we have a master and that master is our Federal (feudal) overlord and his banker (the Fed).

  • Your analysis is interesting, but why do you stop at a mere 1.2 million? All the action in the last half century has been in the stratospheric range. Today’s hedge fund managers would have paid much much more under the 1950’s system. Here’s a little food for thought, courtesy of a commenter at the NYT:

    “In 1968, the largest American corporation was General Motors. The CEO of GM made 66 times more than the average GM worker. He paid a top marginal federal income tax rate of 70%. By 2005, the largest American corporation was Wal-Mart. The CEO of Wal-Mart made 900 times more than the average Wal-Mart worker. He paid a top marginal federal income tax rate of 35% (and probably really only paid about 15% if he was paid mostly in “dividends”)

    I would like to see a more thorough analysis than what you have presented here.

  • Doug,

    The 1.2M figure was semi-arbitrary, but also because the standard tax rates are on salary-type income. As you point out, executives and hedge fund managers and such often make much of their income in some other form than salary income.

    For instance a CEO may be given a stock grant or set of stock options worth $40M, but not be able to sell those shares (or exercise that option) for a certain amount of time. The taxes on those kind of earnings work differently, so it was simpler to not deal with them.

    Similarly, hedge fund managers get much of their money via getting a share of the profits of their fund, which is taxed as capital gains rather than salary.

    But my question here is in whether a regular guy actually paid less in taxes back in the “golden age” of the 1950s, not how much CEOs pay. After all, it’s not really any skin off my nose if some other guy I never meet makes more than me.

The Left and the Political Blood Libel

Monday, January 10, AD 2011

As indicated by the video above, many people on the Left have been relentless, since news broke of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims, on trying to blame conservatives somehow for the actions of one crazed lunatic.  There is no evidence that the gunman was motivated by anything other than the severe mental illness that he seems to be afflicted with.  However, those on the Left seeking to demonize those they politically oppose will not let a little thing like the truth stand in their way.  Glenn Reynolds, the Instapundit, takes a look at all this today in a column in the Wall Street Journal:

Shortly after November’s electoral defeat for the Democrats, pollster Mark Penn appeared on Chris Matthews’s TV show and remarked that what President Obama needed to reconnect with the American people was another Oklahoma City bombing. To judge from the reaction to Saturday’s tragic shootings in Arizona, many on the left (and in the press) agree, and for a while hoped that Jared Lee Loughner’s killing spree might fill the bill.

With only the barest outline of events available, pundits and reporters seemed to agree that the massacre had to be the fault of the tea party movement in general, and of Sarah Palin in particular. Why? Because they had created, in New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s words, a “climate of hate.”

The critics were a bit short on particulars as to what that meant. Mrs. Palin has used some martial metaphors—”lock and load”—and talked about “targeting” opponents. But as media writer Howard Kurtz noted in The Daily Beast, such metaphors are common in politics. Palin critic Markos Moulitsas, on his Daily Kos blog, had even included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s district on a list of congressional districts “bullseyed” for primary challenges. When Democrats use language like this—or even harsher language like Mr. Obama’s famous remark, in Philadelphia during the 2008 campaign, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun”—it’s just evidence of high spirits, apparently. But if Republicans do it, it somehow creates a climate of hate.

There’s a climate of hate out there, all right, but it doesn’t derive from the innocuous use of political clichés. And former Gov. Palin and the tea party movement are more the targets than the source.

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19 Responses to The Left and the Political Blood Libel

  • Two absolutely horrible conclusions that could be drawn from this tragedy would be (1) colorful speech is bad and (2) personal eccentricity bad.

    ISTM it would be detrimental for political life if bold, resolute, metaphoric, even hyperbolic speech is deemed unacceptable. There would be no more room for a Daniel Webster in public life, only for bland Hallmark greeting card sentiments of the Obama variety. Lawyers and sociologists would be the only acceptable candidates for office; soldiers and poets would be shut out. The country would suffer immeasurably.

    Even worse would be if the Jared Loughner Rule were widely adopted in higher education, to whit: anybody who makes classmates feel “uncomfortable” must be expelled. “St. Jerome, dear, your outbursts make your classmates uncomfortable, we’ll have to suspend you until you learn to express yourself more temperately.” ” Johnny Milton, the other students say your hateful rhetoric intimidates them. You are simply not college material.”

    Two terrible ideas. But don’t be surprised if they both catch on big with the “I’m OK, You’re OK” crowd.

  • The ruling elites lost the debate.

    Their dreamworld is falling apart.

    So, they grasp at the AZ massacre as “salvation”, and expound vicious lies in disingenuous attempts to reverse tea party/GOP gains.

    People (outside bankrupt/failed states like CA, MI, NY, et al) are rejecting the job killing agenda, e.g., ObamaCare, higher taxes, cap and tax, 300,000 additional rules and regulations, etc.

    The left’s answer (THANK YOU deranged pot-head with no connection to Sarah Palin, the GOP or the DREADED tea party), “You are murderers. STFU, pay higher taxes, and allow us to tell you how to live your lives.”

  • This accuse the right-wing of being behind violent acts like this one is old hat for the left. When JFK was shot, the blame was immediately fixed on a climate of hate created by the right. No matter if Oswald was a leftist who spent time in Russia and was involved in the Fair Play For Cuba group. It was the Right’s fault. No matter if nearly most of the polictical violence in this country was usually committed by leftist groups, it was the right’s fault, they created this climate of hate.

  • An example of the left pushing for revolution:


    Sounds a bit like Morning’s Minion.

  • Some more political hate from the left:


  • For many years, the evil right wing has created the climate of violence and hatred . . .

    that likely caused the World Trade Center tragedies of 1993 and 2001, Fort Hood lead poisonings, USS Coles catastrophe, Lockerbie crash landing, . . .

    it probably is the reason they hate us: evil, little Eichmanns . . .

  • Of course, professional obfuscator and Catholic Democratic apologist Morning’s Minion is attempting to abuse the memory of Robert Kennedy by linking his murder to this event.

    Unfortunately, reality is not a friend of this leftist revisionism. First, Kennedy’s assassin was angry at Kennedy’s pro-Israel stands. This position is usually associated with the left and not the right.

    This link of Kennedy’s killer and the left is further backed up by leftist terrorist and friend of Obama, Bill Ayers, who in part dedicated a book to Sirhan. Ayers’ rationale? Sirhan was a political prisoner.

    Robert Kennedy’s son was so incensed by this that he opposed Ayers receiving emeritus status from the U of Illinois.


    The sordid history of the left in relation to Kennedy’s murder cannot be airbrushed out like Stalin era photos. Sadly, MM thinks we can be duped by his own effort at revisionism and hate at the expense of a truly Catholic politician.

  • First off, I agree with Donald’s point that it is despicable and shameless for the left to be attempting to use this repulsive act of violence for political gain by pinning it on their opponents. (They may well also be doing serious violence to the truth, as it is my no means clear the killer is a right-ist of any sort.)

    That said, I’d advise folks in the comment box to also keep it cool in regards to blanket attacks on the left as the source of violence and wickedness in American politics. One can’t exactly accuse them of shamelessness in making use of this killing for political gain while at the same time trying to use the killing to score political points against them.

  • Darwin,

    Score political points?

    At this point we are fighting for our political lives against a relentless lie and slander machine.

    We are fast reaching a point at which we will have no choice but to pick a side and stick with it. When the truth no longer matters, war is immanent. Lies used in this way, Big Lie campaigns formed on a moments notice, are weapons of war. It’s psychological warfare right now.

    I think certain elements want a civil war or at least martial law in this country, I think they view the Tea Party as the last obstacle to the “better world” they want to build, and want a pretext to destroy it.

  • Well, I agree that it seems like even some pretty normally-sane leftists want to go out and get them some conservative scalps at the moment, but I think they’ll calm.

    I don’t think we’re any more in danger of civil war or martial law than we were after the OKC bombing, which was similarly mis-used.

    If I’m wrong… Well, I’ll come join you at the barricades and you can laugh at me then. 🙂

  • I think certain elements want a civil war or at least martial law in this country, I think they views the Tea Party as the last obstacle to the “better world” they want to build, and want a pretext to destroy it.

    I think ‘certain elements’ would be Ted Rall.

    Much of the political opposition has a proprietary sense about institutions: the legislatures are theirs, the newsrooms are theirs, the schools are theirs, the professional associations are theirs – by right. Possession by anyone else, even a beachhead in some circumstances, is illegitimate and a sort of fraud, larceny, or criminal trespass. They also define out of the circle of reasoned discourse what the opposition has to say. However, their self-image requires certain sorts of rubrics. It’s not going to be martial law. It will be court proceedings and such, as is going on in Canada, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

  • “If I’m wrong… Well, I’ll come join you at the barricades and you can laugh at me then.”

    I’ll laugh at you now and keep quiet then. 😉

  • What a display of politicization we have seen since Saturday. Krugman especially turns the stomach. More than a few leftists, well before it was clear what the murderer was all about, were ready to pounce on their political enemies. Completely disguisting. And through the charge that “conservative hatred” ect. is in some measure responsible, is itself spreading hatred – actually doing to conservatives what it falsely accuses conservatives of doing to leftists! Unbelievable.

  • Maybe we won’t get martial law, but we may get the death of the 1st amendment, which could lead to it anyway. Already Democratic congressmen are calling for restrictions on political speech. Soon I fear it will be a crime to criticize the government in virtually any way, and that those who do will be forced into corrupt psychiatric wards as they were in the Soviet Union.

  • “And through the charge that “conservative hatred” ect. is in some measure responsible, is itself spreading hatred – actually doing to conservatives what it falsely accuses conservatives of doing to leftists! Unbelievable.”

    Projection I believe is the technical term for it. The modern day Left in this country has grown increasingly intolerant of those who oppose it: think Campus speech codes, bubble zones around abortion clinics, conservative speakers at college campuses being shouted down, etc. Any pretext will do for many on the Left if they can use it as an excuse to attempt to silence their crititics. Liberal is the shorthand description for Leftists in this country. Actually one would have to look hard for a more illiberal bunch on the American mainstream political scene.

  • Rather than a wholesale increase in the House to possible unmanageable size would be to split it in to two chambers.

    One to deal with passing amending and repealing laws, and another to deal with the budget, both of the size of the current House. It would increase the representation with out making unmanageable chambers. These two functions require different sorts of legislative expertise. The boundary’s between the functions are well defines. Individual congressman would be able to better perform their duties since they had less scope while overall increasing Congress’s effectiveness. The states would not have to align the districts of the two house the same which could provide a means to see that different interests are accounted for without excessive gerrymandering of either house.

  • Apparently, the Arizona shooter also dabbled in the occult and in a New Age technique known as lucid dreaming:


    So does this mean New Age thinking, occultism, or Satanism, was really to blame?

    Well, it goes without saying that Satan was to blame in the same sense that the evil one is to blame for ANY act of violence. Perhaps more so in that the perpetrator in this instance seems to have deliberately invoked some kind of supernatural help from the wrong side of the tracks. (Although it seems awfully strange to me that someone who apparently denied the existence of God would believe in Satan or other evil spirits, but then, we are not dealing with a rational mind here.)

    That said, while I have no use for New Age or occultism to say the least, and firmly believe those things are NEVER to be messed with, I also believe that to blame New Age spirituality as a whole for this crime might be just as rash as to attempt to fix blame on any particular political movement.

  • Isn’t “if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun” a line from the famous “Chicago Way” scene in “The Untouchables”? Which makes its use by Obama during the 2008 campaign all the more curious, since at that time, he was bending over backwards to distance himself from Chicago politics.

    Also, Hank, I like your comment and think that’s a good idea, but it belongs on a different thread….

  • Below is a link to that immortal scene Elaine. Later in the film the Sean Connery character, as he is chasing an Italian gangster, who had a knife, out of his apartment with a shotgun says, “Just like a Wop! Binging a knife to a gun fight!” Unfortunately this is said just before he is riddled with tommy gun fire from Frank Nitti, the Italian gangster having succeeded in luring him into an ambush.

Divided Thoughts over the Tax Deal

Friday, December 17, AD 2010

I find myself with oddly divided feelings about this whole tax deal making its way through congress. On the one hand, while extending the tax cuts which we’re already experiencing seems prudent, especially in a recession, piling additional tax cuts on top of those (especially the across the board 2% reduction in social security withholding) seems seriously unwise when our deficit is already the size that it is.

On the other hand, I could certainly use the extra $150+ per month in take-home income. As I look at moving bills and such, I keep thinking, “Well, if this passes my paychecks will go up soon.”

We routinely scorn politicians for being easily bought, but I’m feeling rather hungry for my pot of lentils myself about now.

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9 Responses to Divided Thoughts over the Tax Deal

  • The reduction of the SS tax is insane and incredibly irresponsible. SS is in trouble as it is due to demographic and economic changes coupled with politicians doing things with it they shouldn’t. If the objective is to reduce taxes by two percent it should be done with income tax. If anything I’d like to see the the cap on SS tax removed in order to increase the sustainability of the system. I’d also like to see some creative ways of easing the SS burden like those Bush advocated. I’m not sure his suggestions were quite right, but I’d like to see something done in that regard.

  • There really is no actual difference in the nature of income taxes and payroll (FICA) taxes. FICA taxes are NOT segregated in order to provide Social(ist) Security benefits so they are really just general taxes given the impression of being retirement savings managed by the general government. Does anyone with any intelligence think that the feds have behaved as proper stewards of the American people’s retirement accounts? If an insurance company were to run its general account in this manner it would have gone bankrupt a long time ago and its principals and directors would be in prison.

    Any tax cut is a good thing because people get to keep the fruits of their own labor; however, basic accounting dictates that if revenue’s go down, expenses must be reduced by an equal or greater amount. You should never spend more than you bring in. The problem with debts, deficits and unfunded liabilities (promises impossible to keep) is the spending. Only God’s grace stopped another 1.2 trillion from being tacked onto to the already impossible debt, which has been created by the power-hungry politicians and the easy money of the bankers. Of course, we the people with our unending appetite for free stuff have to accept the blame as well. We get the leadership we deserve.

    The mere fact that government thinks that our wealth belongs to them and they allow us to keep almost half of it and consider it a ‘cost’ is ridiculous. Government is supposed to serve at the pleasure of the people, within proper moral constraints, not the other way around.

    Isn’t it odd that God only asks us to return 10% to Him and the government demands more than half? Something is terribly wrong here. We are being treated as slaves and now we are given the impression that master has given us a gift of one third of our payroll tax. Whose buying this?

    It is time for government to be reduced to pre-WWI levels and for us to tighten our belts, write off the fabricated debt owed to the Fed and make good on the actual loans (bonds) we have sold to legitimate investors. Unleash the power of innovation by becoming a business-friendly country and stop the corporate welfare.

    The solutions are pretty simple, the price to pay is high, but we have to pay for that which we have already collected if we are ever going to get out of this mess. Otherwise we will collapse and very, very soon.

    This so-called tax deal is bad. Tax rates should be set by Congress and made permanent until changed by a future Congress within the confines of the Constitution, which should be amended to limit how much Congress can spend as a function of how much real wealth we produce.

    This ‘deal’ is designed to put the responsibility on Republicans and following a short spring-time, the economy is going to crash and crash hard (your equity mutual fund 401(k) will lose half its value in 2011). Then Obama can say, see we tried the failed ideas of the Republicans, they forced me to compromise in order to extend unemployment benefits and we are now worse off. it is time to reject free-markets and opt for a command-economy, we have no choice. Socialism works if you have the right people running it, we’ve just never had the right people before and we are the people that we’ve been waiting for.

    Bye-bye Republic, welcome to the New World Order, one world, one government with no Western Superpower and that pesky remnant of Christendom. Now where is that Pope who is a thorn in our sides?

    Dramatic! Yes, sadly, that is were we are, but it is not too late to fix it, but time is short.

    BTW – with inflation (devaluation of the money unit) running higher than 20%, the ‘savings’ in the payroll tax and ‘extension of tax-cuts’ is illusory. We will all be less wealthy in 2011, in real terms.

  • A 4 point reduction (2 employer, 2 employee) is larger than an equal income tax reduction because there are NO deductions against FICA and there are deductions against income tax.

    This does not hurt the OASDI Ponzi scheme, it was broke as soon as it began. Let the people have their money now before it becomes worthless.

  • I agree with AK: it is simply criminal and outrageous that the government considers tax cuts as an “expense”, and wags the finger at those who want lower taxes as if they’re adding a burden to the budget. That is sociopathic madness.

  • I have a more favorable view of the payroll tax cut. Given that unemployment is hovering around 10%, anything you can do to decrease labor costs is worth it. I would have preferred a reduction in employer-side payroll taxes to the employee-side reduction contained in the bill, but even that is likely to have a positive effect.

  • I wouldn’t classify this tax deal as “bad” but less than ideal. Been thinking – Can idealism get in the way of compromise and politicians doing what is good for the American people? Or can politicians strive for their ideals while compromising at the same time, without compromising their principles? Maybe, the GOP should have waited until the beginning of the new year to undertake the issue of taxes with the new congress? I believe that if the GOP had waited they would have been in a much better position to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and that they could have stopped the increase in the estate tax, which was increased from 0 to 35% because of this tax deal. That in itself is mindboggling to me how anyone could think that it was okay to tax a person’s property twice. PLus, this is another case of penalizing and discouraging wealth.

  • Obama promised to give us 5 days to look over any bill before he signed it. Another broken promise from the Prevaricator-in-Chief.

Big Government and Small Society

Wednesday, November 17, AD 2010

The Democratic Party suffered a historic drubbing a couple weeks ago. However, one of the things with which several left leaning commentators publically consoled themselves was that demographics are in their favor. The parts of the electorate which tend to vote for Democrats are growing, while those who tends to vote for Republicans are shrinking. Progressives like to focus on the examples of this they feel proud of: the non-white percentage of the US population is growing, and non-whites tend to vote Democratic. Young people also lean more heavily progressive on a variety of issues than previous generations did at the same age.

From a progressive point of view this sounds pretty good: progressivism will succeed in the end because it is supported by young and diverse people, while conservatism will die out because it is supported by old white people — and no one like them anyway, did they?

I’d like to propose an alternate reading of the data:

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4 Responses to Big Government and Small Society

  • Excellent post, Darwin. Hopefully it won’t deter from what you really want to talk about, but I have one question about the demographic trends. While some of these trends favor Democrats, on the other hand the big growth areas in our country are in states favorable to Republicans: Texas, Utah, Florida, etc. So what I wonder is: will the influx of these Democratic constituencies in these states make them more Democratic-leaning, or will the cultural milieu of these environments change these young voters and cause them to be more sympathetic to conservatism?

  • “… will the influx of these Democratic constituencies in these states make them more Democratic-leaning, or will the cultural milieu of these environments change these young voters and cause them to be more sympathetic to conservatism?”

    Paul, my guess is both, but more of the former, resulting in those states shifting to a more purple hue. Examples: Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia.

  • “Do people come to support an all-consuming relationship between individual and state because other social institutions have already broken down for them, for some unrelated reason, and they have nowhere else to turn for support, or is it the growth of a state which leads to the breakdown of other social relationships”

    Well, here are my thoughts on that issue:


  • Thanks for sharing your analysis here, DC, and it seems to be logical and solidly in line with the empirical evidence (sorry, that’s the philosophy courses I’m currently enrolled in talking through my fingers!)

    As a college instructor for the past 9 years (in three different and diverse states: VA, HI, and TX), my hypothesis is that young adults of college age (even, perhaps especially, those not enrolled in tertiary education) are generally tuned out to politics. They seem to be more susceptible to cynical news sources like Stewart, Colbert and Conan, all of whom skew very “progressive”, and they also lack the life experiences to see through a lot of the idealistic manipulation behind slogans like “hope” and “change”, so they are more likely to pull that lever in the voting booth for candidates who seem “edgy” or “cool”, whilst these young adults have little or no real understanding of any of the issues. Indeed it’s highly likely that they’ve had any meaningful exposure to many conservative ideas proudly and cogently explained.

    All of this adds up to what we saw in 2008–millions of young adults who really don’t “get” politics pulling a lever once for “hope” and “change” rhetoric. Now the ones who are paying any attention at all to the results of their vote in 2008 can see how little good it’s produced, and they are completely dissuaded from voting in the mid-terms, and perhaps even in the 2012 presidential elections. If I were in a cynical mood, I would say that this is ultimately a net positive for political conservatives. However, from a Catholic anthropological angle, I think it’s incumbent upon us as Catholic Christians to educate the youth better in the moral principles upon which the Church grounds its moral teachings. If young people can be taught to understand these principles and apply them as voters, I think there is great potential for a conservative cultural and political renaissance in the US.

Narrative Failure

Wednesday, November 3, AD 2010

There’s nothing more annoying that excessive crowing over an election, but I can’t help taking just a moment to observe that there’s something which doesn’t quite fit about the idea that the GOP (and in a number of cases, the Tea Party wing of the GOP) did so well yesterday because the electorate was outraged that Obama and congress didn’t tack harder left in the last two years. Yes, it’s true that it was moderate Democrats, in many cases, who lost, but that’s mainly because those moderate Democrats were elected in 2010 in districts which were to the right of them, districts which had previously been held by the GOP. But the fact that Pelosi was reelected while Driehaus lost doesn’t mean that the electorate as a whole wants people on the hard left — it’s because Pelosi’s district is in San Francisco while Driehaus’s was in Cincinnati.

What both rightists and leftists should keep in mind after elections like this one and 2008 as well is that elections in the US are decided by a swing bloc which might charitably be described as pragmatic/a-political (or uncharitably as generally ignorant of political ideology and policy.)

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10 Responses to Narrative Failure

  • I just hope that the GOP keeps its promises and actually offers solutions… I had enough of faux-conservative policies in ’04-’08.

    Having said that, I wonder how happy the electorate would be with a Congress that would actually take deficits seriously…

  • You know, my comment above reads like a liberal bitter about last night’s losses! Sorry ’bout that. 🙂

  • Hi there,

    The reason Oh-Bummer was elected was because of the failure of the Republicans, previously. To the extent that “conservatives” tend to be Republicans, people think Republicans are conservative but the Republican party failed to follow conservative principles and that’s why they lost and Oh-Bummer won.

    Take something like smaller government. Bush greatly expanded government but instead of asking taxpayers to foot the bill, they instead masked the costs of war by borrowing the money. There will be the devil to pay over that; you can be sure. Other conservative principles, similarly. They ignored them and lost the support of their largest faction.

    In addition, they put up some very hard-to-stomach candidates. McCain is insipid, timid, and behaves like a Democrat. Palin was completely a wild card. No one knew what she would turn out to be and she scares the heck out of some people because she seems to be poorly educated and not very careful either.

    If the Republicans do a better job in two years of putting up a candidate we can have faith in and also if they stick to conservative principles in the mean time, they will take the White House back. If not, we’ll punish them again.

    -Paw, Doomer in Chief

  • It was not narrative failure. It was racism and calvinistic, dualistic PURE evil; er stupidty; er treason; er insanity; er . . .

    We will do better next time.


    “I had enough of faux-conservative policies in ’04-’08.”

    I think that would be from 2004 (or 1994) to 2006. The (D) (is for despicables), veritable conservatives, have been in firm control of the congress since January 2007, and the regime spent $3,000,000,000,000.00 more than tax receipts in the most recent two years.

    Did voting out faux-conservatives reduce the deficit or advance true conservativism? I think not.

    If the new crowd does same same as the old crowd, we will vote them out in 2012.

    The part of the electorate that believes it is the government’s duty to provide for them may have reason to be unhappy. The people that pay to provide for the people . . . , not so anguished.

    I love you, Man. You were being sarcastic, right?

  • LWPH will no longer be house leader; a small but important victory.

  • CA Dems elected a dead person.

  • Let’s spread the rumor that Olympia Snowe is going to switch to the GOP.

    The loss of House leadership isn’t a small thing. It’s huge. The Senate can’t do anything on its own but appoint judges. In fact, the Senate can’t do much of anything else without 60 votes. They couldn’t pass cap-and-trade or even the health care bill, really, when they had 59. In the low 50’s, nothing will get through without big negotiation.

  • The idea that electoral losses are caused by being too moderate/centrist are common both on the left and the right. If you think about it, the view is kinda crazy, but it’s more pleasing that the realization that most of the country doesn’t share one’s own politics.

  • Yeah, on the right it’s: Bush forgot fiscal restraint, so he lost the country (ignoring Iraq, Katrina, and the economy)

    On the left it’s: We needed a bigger stimulus; if we had only spent $2 trillion then unemployment would have gone down and the country would have approved.

  • Don’t forget the public option. There was great yearning for that among the populace.

The Super Secret, Mystical Recession Cure

Tuesday, November 2, AD 2010

For some reason, I found myself reading through Paul Krugman’s recent NY Times material. Perhaps it was a desire for a little mental vaunting, what with the direction the elections seem to be taking, and if so I should have come away quite satisfied as Mr. Krugman is in full Chicken Little mode. A GOP takeover of congress will be a disaster, and we should all be very afraid. Stupid people are allowing their emotions to run away with them and will destroy the world economy through getting all moralistic about debt. And of course, the reason why the entire world doesn’t see things Krugman’s way is because macroeconomics is too hard for them to understand.

Well, I’m certainly prepared to admit that Krugman’s expertise in macroeconomics is greater than my own — and I’ll even stretch and say that my understanding probably goes farther than that of the average bear.

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15 Responses to The Super Secret, Mystical Recession Cure

  • Here is what is so very difficult for this idiot (moi) to understand: why a man with a PhD that knows there is to know about economics is not a multi-billionaire?

    Posted at Instapundit: “They’ve spent the past 18 months calling you names and questioning your sanity and patriotism. But today you get to vote, and that’s all that matters.”

  • I don’t think a formerly unemployed person who gets a new government job is going to sit on his money because of some mystical economic anxiety that wouldn’t exist if it were a private sector job. A well-designed stimulus works in theory and in reality.

    After two years the program is a success, and so the wind turbine program ends. Now what happens to those workers and the capital investments in those factories? How easily are they turned to other work, and how long are they unemployed in the interim? Do we simply end up with another economic slowdown as a result of massive unemployment in the windfarm industry?

    Same could be said of the public works projects of the Great Depression. If it’s successful, the economy would pick up and there would be more demand for unsubsidized jobs.

    The way I see it, the problem with stimulus is almost entirely about your second point. The government is unlikely to create many jobs that don’t replace private sector jobs. What percentage of the unemployed can weatherize homes and make wind turbines?

    Ideally, we would’ve had a high skill jobs program in place so the unemployed can tutor kids or patrol streets. But there’s no chance of that happening now.

  • I didn’t read your article, DC, because then I’d have to read excerpts of Krugman, and that’s not going to happen. But I hope your article was good anyway.

  • I certainly don’t think that a formerly unemployed person who gets a government job won’t spend more money than they did while unemployed — but in order for the theory to work they need to not only spend more than while unemployed, but that spending needs to make the private sectore become so encouraged that they decide good times are here again, ramp up capacity, hire a bunch of people, etc. That seems pretty hard to do.

    To be honest, I would think that in our modern economy the best approach (though it doesn’t have the virtue of allowing congress to spend like a drunken sailor on all their favorite programs) would be to stick with a stimulus which consists of payroll tax relief for businesses and extended (and perhaps more generous) unemployment benefits for those actually out of work. There are those who argue that even this slows the reallocation of resources, but I’d think it’s an acceptable risk because of the human benefits.

  • Extended more generous unemployment benefits = Government jobs without the benefits of work

  • I thought you made some really good points. Particularly, that the spending needs to be focused much different in this economy than in the 1930s and that people are scared to spend b/c they’re worried about the bill they’re going to be hit with in the future. I know I am expecting taxes to be have to be raised sometime soon, so I’d be preparing if I have any money to save.

  • Paul Krugman is, to put it as nicely as possible, an idiot. Keynesian economics is a failure.

    The private sector employs the most people. The private sector is the engine of creation and ideas. Government is not. Stimulation of the private sector through lower personal income tax rates, lower corporate income tax rates, and lower taxes on investment and capital gains is what successfully stimulates an economy into recovery and increased employment. The subsequent economic growth results in increased tax revenues.

    Krugman is far too stupid to understand this. So are the Democrats and far too many Republicans.

  • Keynes was particularly annoyed that in a depression people tend to save and not spend. Guess why?

    Mr. Krugman is a product of the academy; his ideas are academic.

    Try Belloc’s ECONOMICS FOR HELEN, as a simple but accurate explanation of the public economy. As J.K. Galbraith noted, economics is not that difficult to understand – unless you burden it with unnecessary and superficial mathematics.

  • Associating current Keynesian economics with JM Keynes does the man a disservice. He was a pragmatic man who espoused government spending when it could have helped. I doubt that he would have endorsed the the policies of his noisier followers.

  • “Extended more generous unemployment benefits = Government jobs without the benefits of work”

    The difference is that unemployment pays people less than they would make working to look for a job — a government job turns someone from a job seeker into a job holder. Thus, leaving someone looking for work doesn’t involve a top down decision on specialization, it leaves emergent order to work out what sort of jobs people should train for and take.

  • RR is kidding, right?

    About the “Extended more generous unemployment benefits = Government jobs without the benefits of work?”

    That’s a joke, right?

  • Oh, sorry, he said, “…without the BENEFITS of work.”

    Perhaps it’s because it’s 1 AM, but something made me think he was saying something like, “…without the DRAWBACKS of work.”

    Never mind.

    (Of course, it isn’t just “without the benefits of work”; it’s “with the additional drawbacks of a marginal increase in the incentive for joblessness.”)

  • Te Deum laudamas . . .

  • What was Reagan’s definition of an economist? Someone who tells you why something that works in practice won’t work in theory?

  • I don’t think it’s economics as a whole that’s the problem — Krugman just happens to be one of those people who, in regard to politics, believes that if you fail at something it’s because you didn’t do more of what he wanted.

Are Public Employees Overpaid?

Saturday, October 9, AD 2010

If you believe what you read on blogs or hear from certain politicians and pundits, a new kind of haves-vs.-have-nots class war is brewing across the land. Not between the rich and the poor, but between private and public sector workers, as related here.

Scandalous stories of public officials enjoying lavish or disproportionate pay and benefits at taxpayer expense, such as in Bell, Calif., and elsewhere , frequently make headlines and prompt calls for reductions in such compensation.

As with many other economic and taxation issues, the answer to the question posed in the title of this post usually depends on which side of the political spectrum you are on. Conservatives tend to answer “yes,” while liberals tend to answer “no” .

But which side is correct?

Before I delve into that question, I will first make some disclosures.  I am a full-time employee of the state of Illinois, making $35,000 per year. I do not belong to a union, and due to the nature of my job and agency, probably never will. I have only received one raise the entire time I have been so employed (nearly 4 years) due to a promotion to a slightly higher job level. I do not expect to receive any raises for the foreseeable future; in fact a pay cut is a distinct possibility. Prior to that I worked 20 years in private sector employment in the newspaper field. In some instances the pay and benefits were comparable to, and even better than, my current job. In other instances they were not as good.

Now to the question: are public employees overpaid? That depends on who you ask and how one defines “overpaid”. The average pay of state and federal employees in general is higher than that of private sector workers in general. When broken down by education, profession, etc. the picture is not as cut and dried. For lower-skilled jobs requiring only a high school or vocational education — e.g. custodians, receptionists, guards — the public sector pays better, whereas for professional jobs requiring a college degree or higher (attorneys, doctors, CPAs, etc.), the private sector pays more — often a lot more. These articles from Kiplinger and from Governing.com explain the differences in greater detail.

Two of the biggest reasons for these disparities are that 1) public employment tends to have a greater percentage of jobs requiring a college education or beyond and 2) public sector jobs are more likely to be unionized.

Public employee unions are a favorite bete noire of fiscal conservative politicians and candidates at the moment, and much of the public seems to agree with them. The fact that public employees continue in many (though not all) states and localities to enjoy benefits most private employees no longer have, such as regular salary increases, defined benefit pension plans, and caps on health insurance premiums and co-pays, arouses resentment among ordinary citizens who are forced to pay for such benefits via taxation.

Although many officeholders and candidates talk a good game when it comes to reining in public employee benefits, in practice the most frequent targets of budget cutting measures such as layoffs, furlough days and pay cuts, are lower or mid-level non-union employees. They often end up being punished for the sins (real or perceived) of their higher placed or unionized colleagues, simply because they are the easiest targets — not protected by either union contracts or political/personal connections.

The biggest problems on a state and local level are pension deficits — the growing gaps between the amount of money in public pension funds and the amount of benefits those funds are expected to pay in the future. According to this report by the Pew Center on the States, pension shortfalls are fiscal time bombs that threaten to devour entire state and city budgets if nothing is done to defuse them before it is too late.

How did the situation get that bad? In most cases it was due to a variety of factors — yes, generous union contracts played a part, but so did repeated failure on the part of lawmakers to invest properly in public pension funds, demographic changes (aging of the Baby Boomers, people living longer), and investments tanking due to the recession. No one factor can be singled out, and the entire blame for the pension crisis cannot be laid at the feet of one person or group of people. But regardless of who is or was to blame, the problem has to be dealt with, not swept under the rug.

Private sector employees are quick to point out that while they have to support public employee benefits with their taxes, public employees are not forced to do the same for private employees — they can choose whether or not to do business with a private company.

I agree, and this is in my opinion an argument that should be taken most seriously. For that reason, public employees are by necessity accountable to the public and will always be subject to various restrictions and considerations that do not apply to private employees (e.g., their salaries being public information).  This is not “unfair” or unequal, but simply part of the deal one signs up for when working for a government body.

Another claim often made by private employees is that government workers, by virtue of the pay, job security and benefits they enjoy, are artificially insulated from the realities their privately employed neighbors face — the constant threat of being fired or laid off, lack of retirement security, worry about medical bills, etc.

That might, perhaps, be true of top officials/administrators with strong political connections who make six-figure salaries, whose spouses have equally high-paying positions, and whose children or other family members are completely healthy. Otherwise, I am not so sure.

Many public employees, particularly non-union ones, are regularly threatened with layoffs or missed paychecks (most often at the end of a fiscal year). Given the poor financial standing of many public employee pension funds, combined with the fact that some public employees don’t get Social Security, I’d say many of them (including myself) who are 10 years or more away from retirement are just as worried about their retirement as you are.

Also, most public employees do not live in a bubble or a vacuum. Most used to work in the private sector at some time in their lives, and many are married to spouses who work in the “real world” or are currently unemployed or disabled. Their grown children, their parents, their siblings, and their friends and neighbors  include private employees or unemployed persons looking for work. The only exceptions I can think of might be political “dynasty” families like the Kennedys or Daleys. Plus, public employees pay all the same taxes everyone else does — federal, state, sales, property, the whole works. If taxes go up, it cuts into their budgets too.

Just because someone has a government job doesn’t mean they have, or should have, no interest in whether private business succeeds. If factories close and move overseas, if private companies go bankrupt and abolish or raid pension funds, if high taxes drive up the cost of living, if college education becomes unaffordable without taking on ruinous levels of debt — it affects them and their families too. It is in everyone’s interest, no matter what kind of job they have, to have a fiscally sound and honest government, competent public employees, and a sustainable tax structure.

Also, do not forget that for every instance in which a public official received undeserved pay, pensions or perks at taxpayer expense one could probably cite an equally egregious case of a private business executive enjoying lavish pay and benefits at the expense of fired workers, closed factories/offices, or raided pension funds. Greed is greed no matter where it occurs, and no sector of the economy is exempt from the effects of original sin.

Finally, since this is a Catholic blog, we should approach this issue from a religious perspective as well. Christ Himself chose a public employee, Matthew the tax collector, to be one of His Apostles. He also told His followers to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” So, apparently, He did not believe that working for the government was inherently evil, unproductive or exploitive.

Some more pointed advice was given by Christ’s precursor, John the Baptist, to the public servants of his day who came to see him (Luke 3:12-14):

“Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

John was referring to practices for which the public employees of the day were notorious — tax collectors often overcharged citizens and pocketed the “profit” they made, while Roman soldiers were known for shaking down citizens of the provinces they occupied for money, food, or other goods. Here John is telling them simply to do their duty, not demand any more of the public than the law requires, and be content with what they are paid. If today’s public officials and employees did the same, there would be a lot fewer problems.

As with most problems in a fallen world, there is no perfectly just way to balance the need for a professional, competent government workforce with that of a private sector free of unnecessary taxes and regulation. This does not mean, however, that we should not attempt to find as just a resolution as possible. However this will require people who are not to blame for the situation to help clean it up, and at considerable personal cost.

For public employees, this means more work for less pay, more out of pocket expenses, and for some, no job at all. For the rest of us it could mean higher taxes, reduced services or some combination of the two. All these things will impact thousands, even millions, of good, hardworking people who are simply doing the best they can and had no part in creating the situation. It may not be perfectly fair, but life ain’t fair.

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18 Responses to Are Public Employees Overpaid?

  • Excellent Post, Elaine!!

    But… I would like to raise a couple of points.

    Also, do not forget that for every instance in which a public official received undeserved pay, pensions or perks at taxpayer expense one could probably cite an equally egregious case of a private business executive enjoying lavish pay and benefits at the expense of fired workers, closed factories/offices, or raided pension funds. Greed is greed no matter where it occurs, and no sector of the economy is exempt from the effects of original sin.

    While I do agree that greed is a problem in some cases, I believe that there are instances where people can be too judgemental of a person who is wealthy or “rich” in the private sector who has been successful in life. Some may perceive a particular “rich” person as being greedy but in actuality that person may give to causes and foundations but we just may not know about it. Maybe, they want to donate and not have it spread across the news? Both envy and jealousy are also sins.

    In the private sector businesses usually either make it or they don’t, whereas with the public sector the workers or that particular government program can pretty much count on being bailed out, and if “needed” taxes will be raised or a new tax will be implemented without having the taxpayers consent, in most cases. Plus, the private sector doesn’t usually get bailouts as they did under Bush and Obama. And, that was only a few companies.

    Private sector jobs do not force people to patronage them like the public sector demands taxpayers to pay taxes to be subsidized by the public. Yes, the “little guy” usually draws the short straw and is the one to pay. While I believe that layoffs are a terrible thing, do you honestly think that a successful entrepreneur who started his/her own business, been in business for a number of years,and is being affected by the downturn should be the one to “pay” the consequences of downturn? The business person/owner may not be the employee who is being layed off, and probably doesn’t want to layoff any employees but in actuality he may feel compelled to layoff some employees just to keep his/her business afloat in tough economic times.

    When I lived in MD, the property tax prices were skyrocketing ( one lady’s taxes went from $300 to $900 in one year) because of how much the teachers and government bureaucrats in the Dept. of Education were being overpaid so the taxpayers voted on a ballot initiative to limit their increases to 2% per year. I believe there needs to be a cap on the amount of pay increase that ALL public sector employees may receive each year- maybe at 2%?

  • I’m not saying that ALL private sector layoffs are evil or motivated by greed, but mainly thinking of those really infamous cases like Enron or cases that involved actual fraud or embezzlement.

    Mainly I’m just saying that I’d prefer not to see the same kind of class warfare rhetoric that conservatives find so offensive when applied to the private sector rich in general, being applied to public sector workers in general — i.e. demonizing them as all lazy, unproductive, corrupt, etc, the way liberals do to the “rich.”

  • While this post displays a sense of justice toward individuals whether they be employed by the public or private sectors it also seems to operate on the premise that their is some level of equivalency between the two.

    From an economic and social justice perspective the goal ought to be minimizing the number of government employees and maximizing the number of private sector employees. How we get there can be debated but this needs to be the fundamental premise.

  • The use of “their” should be “there” in the above post.

  • I’ve been in the civil service for 16 years. During most of that time, study after study showed us to be greatly underpaid for our work. During the Clinton Administration – a period of unparalleled economic prosperity – the Administration repeatedly sought to limit pay and benefits increases because the government sought to pay down debt. Until quite recently, getting candidates for other than starting-level jobs has been quite difficult.

    I’m not complaining. I believe that I am paid fairly for my work. However, the present complaints about civil service pay are really quite silly. Most of our jobs were scarce sought after during better economic periods. It is only during economic downturns that people are anxious for public sector employment.

    Really, this has nothing to do with pay… It has EVERYTHING to do with uncertainty. The complaint is spurred by the uncertainty of the private sector. Job uncertainty is terrifying and unpleasant and many feel that it is just not fair that the public sector has job security. I’d wager that lower wages would not make those complaining feel any better. They feel like we need to be punished. We need to suffer job uncertainty. We need to fear the loss of our station in life if “fairness” shall reign. In other words, everyone should suffer together.

    It is hardly a Christian sentiment but is surely is a human one.

  • “At a time when workers’ pay and benefits have stagnated, federal employees’ average compensation has grown to more than double what private sector workers earn, a USA TODAY analysis finds.
    Federal workers have been awarded bigger average pay and benefit increases than private employees for nine years in a row. The compensation gap between federal and private workers has doubled in the past decade.

    Federal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The data are the latest available.

    The federal compensation advantage has grown from $30,415 in 2000 to $61,998 last year.

    Public employee unions say the compensation gap reflects the increasingly high level of skill and education required for most federal jobs and the government contracting out lower-paid jobs to the private sector in recent years.

    “The data are not useful for a direct public-private pay comparison,” says Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union.

    Chris Edwards, a budget analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, thinks otherwise. “Can’t we now all agree that federal workers are overpaid and do something about it?” he asks.”


  • In my above post “patronage” is supposed to be “patronize”.


    You make an excellent point! Why is there so much disparity of pay between private sector and public sector jobs? And, these days much of what the government does is filled with wasteful projects, and the money could be allocated in a much better fashion.


    While some government employees are not corrupt and unproductive others are indeed corrupt and unproductive ( I am in no way saying you are corrupt or unproductive). There isn’t really class warfare being engaged by those criticizing the employees pay in the public sector but rather taxpayers are wanting our monies to be allocated properly, and not wastefully used on excesses, as is happening in our government Today. When the taxpayers are responsible for subsidizing those who work in the public sector and not those employees in the private sector than it isn’t a double standard to criticize one group and not the other. There are different circumstances and relationships involved between the taxpayers and these two groups of employees.

  • I’m a private sector employee in a sea of public sector employees. On the one hand, it isn’t exactly fair to compare government workers to private employees when they are, on average, more highly educated. Something like 80 percent of the population in the DC metro area have some form of graduate degree, and obviously many of these work for in the public sector. Based on education and experience, I would say the public sector compensation is largely fair.

    That said, there is a comfort level that public sector employees enjoy that those in the private sector do not. While strictly speaking it’s not impossible to be fired, it is a bit more difficult to get the axe if you work for the government at any level. Are many public sector jobs superfluous? Yeah, and I say that as someone who had such a job back when I still lived and worked for the city of New York. We had pretty much an entire agency where five people could have done the job of the 30 or 40 of us that were there.

    I think the question isn’t whether public sector employees are overpaid (they’re not), but rather whether or not there are simply too many of them (there probably are).

  • A good analysis of the comparison of public and private compensation:


    I think differing education levels between public and private employees are somewhat misleading. I have a secretary who has been with me for 25 years. She is a high school graduate. She is also bright, hard working, a superb organizer and an excellent learner. She manages my office and assists me with the litigation portion of my practice. During the past 25 years she has attained a good practical grasp of legal procedures. I have no doubt that if the roles she fills were staffed according to federal job procedures, I would have at least two employees, one with an Associates Degree and the other with a BA. In the private sector my secretary has the skills and the jobs but not the educational credentials.

  • I think the question isn’t whether public sector employees are overpaid (they’re not), but rather whether or not there are simply too many of them (there probably are).

    Paul’s conclusion is correct. I recently began working for the federal government, and the problem isn’t so much that federal workers are overpaid and lazy, but that there are way too many statutory requirements driving their workload.

    Let me give you an example:

    A story hits the newspapers; the Dept. of Defense paid $700 for a screwdriver. Never mind the fact that this is probably mostly a fluke of cost averaging in some account ledger; Joe Q. Taxpayer is outraged! Our Congresscritters listen; they pass a law called the Defense Acquisition Workers Improvement Act (DAWIA – Google it, if you’ve never heard of this lovely). Henceforth, all federal civilian workers in the defense contracting field must take five bazillion hours of training in How Not To Pay $700 For A Screwdriver. Congratulations, America – you’re now paying $100,000 to save $695 on a screwdriver.

  • I think NRO recently looked at this. As noted public employees tend to be better educated. Part of this is certain govt. programs that reimburse for classes thus encouraging better education. Controlling for better education (as well as a number of other factors noted) public employess still make about 12% more than private sector employees.

  • “Henceforth, all federal civilian workers in the defense contracting field must take five bazillion hours of training in How Not To Pay $700 For A Screwdriver.”

    The running joke of the last few years among State of Illinois employees is the so-called “ethics test,” an online training tool in Q & A format which all workers have to complete once a year. When you complete it, that fact is registered electronically and you also have to print out a certificate to sign and present to your supervisor.

    Many of the right answers are or should be obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense and honesty, and it could easily be completed in about 10 minutes by experienced State employees who are familiar with the subject matter, questions and answers. However, there have been cases of employees “flunking” the test — not being registered as having completed it — because they completed it that quickly. In order to avoid this, many workers resort to dilatory tactics such as taking coffee or bathroom breaks in the middle of the “test” so they don’t finish it too fast.

    Of course, the biggest irony surrounding the ethics test is that it was instituted by Governor Hairdo as a way of demonstrating his commitment to reform in state government.

  • This is a very good article and discussion.

    With regard to education, we have a big problem in this country revolving around discrimination law. An employer doesn’t look for the best person for the job; he looks for the person he can document is the most qualified person for the job. The bigger the organization, the greater the priority on quantifiable credentials. The open secret is that degrees don’t make you a better worker. But HR isn’t looking for better workers.

  • Oops. Let me finish that thought. I’d like to see less consideration of a person’s academics in determining his wages. Under our current thinking, it’s reasonable to have the best-educated workforce the government can get, and it’s reasonable that they should be paid more on the basis of their education. But that way of thinking is wrong. Ultimately, it’s unjust.

  • Elaine,

    The economic consequence of this kind of legislation (whether it’s your ethics example or my DAWIA example) is that it takes time away from doing actual work. Unless there’s a corresponding return on that training investment (which I strongly doubt), it’s spending more dollars than dollars saved. Marginal cost exceeds marginal benefit. And it requires that the government hire more FTEs for the same amount of work.

    Why not do a better job of screening new hires in the first place? In my experience, that’s what the private sector does better. They don’t require their employees to take hundreds of hours of training because they’re confident that they’re getting people with the right experience or, at the very least, are smart enough to figure out their new jobs. My #1 complaint (so far) working for the government is, they don’t treat their people like adults. Sometimes that attitude is deserved, but for most of us, it’s insulting and wastes our time. I have graduate degrees and 12+ years of professional work experience; do I *really* need to take that course in report writing???

  • I’d like to see less consideration of a person’s academics in determining his wages.

    Ideally, public sector wages would have some relationship to value marginal product of labor. But how do you measure government “output?” If the federal agency that employs me were eliminated tomorrow, the Earth would go on turning just fine. However, it’s also likely that we’d see fraud, waste, and all sorts of bad outcomes creep up over time if went to a completely self-policing regime. So our “product” is probably worth something more than $0 and less than the hundreds of millions of dollars budgeted for it.

  • Most of us know public sector and private sector employees who are overpaid and others who are underpaid. It is people who may or may not be overpaid.

    Recalling E.F. Schumacher somewhere in Small Is Beautiful, only something like 4% of modern society actually produces something tangible of real worth. The remaining 96% of us sell it, warehouse it, advertise it, account for it, legislate about it, sue about it, transport it, broadcast about it, blog about it, keep tabs on it, deal with warranty claims about it, stock and shelve it, scan it, accept payment for it, put it on layaway, display it, and on and on. Most of us work in a world of electronic digits. Actually productive citizens are few and far between, says Schumacher. I think he’s dead right.

  • Update: New Washington Post poll shows majority of Americans believe federal employees to be overpaid and less hard working than private sector workers:


Ideology and Economic Knowledge

Friday, June 11, AD 2010

Prof Daniel Klein of had a brief piece in the WSJ this week talking about how people’s economic knowledge or ignorance breaks down by ideological lines.

Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents’ (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.

Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.

Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: “Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.” People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.

Therefore, we counted as incorrect responses of “somewhat disagree” and “strongly disagree.” This treatment gives leeway for those who think the question is ambiguous or half right and half wrong. They would likely answer “not sure,” which we do not count as incorrect.

In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.

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26 Responses to Ideology and Economic Knowledge

  • The best data on question #7 says the unenlightened answer is the correct answer. Our best data on #6 suggests that free trade between a highly developed country and less developed country leads to labor transfer from the former to the latter. #1 has all sorts of assumptions. Generally licensing is non-determinative, like the cost of postage in deciding to open a law office. Certainly scenarios can be envisioned where both are determinative, but in practice, it isn’t the case. #2 is dependent upon your measurements and largely amount to saying that having a color television means you have a better lifestyle. I think #5 is purely ideological.

  • Yes, well, obviously “best data” is a term which can be used to mean “data that I like”. Looking at what actual economists have to say on the topic, I’d say the only one of these where Klein is perhaps reaching a bit in regards to consensus is on the minimum wage, where opinion is split fairly evenly among economists as to whether it increases unemployment. From the papers I’ve seen on the topic, the breakdown on that is basically that if you raise the minimum wage a small amount, you don’t measurably increase unemployment of adults looking for work — though marginal workers such as teenagers often end up working less, though they don’t report as “unemployed”. Clearly, if a massive minimum wage increase was put through, it would result in measurable unemployment increases, but people are generally smart enough not to do that.

    The general trend here is pretty accurate:

    Progressives : Economic Consensus :: Conservatives : Climate Science Consensus

  • Personally I prefer to evaluate intelligence on people understanding the parts that are under debate. Needless to say, that question is hard to poll. To pick another topic, I’m not convinced that people that accept evolution have a better understanding of it than those those that reject it, although it is fashionable to portray the latter as ignorant rubes. A lot of these things just accept conditioned response.

    I could just mean “best data” in the sense of our best research.

  • Well, 5 and 6 (at least) are blatantly ideological, offhand.

    “Free Trade” does lead to unemployment for some people, and new jobs for others; where “some” is most often natives of wealthy countries at the low end of the income scale and “others” are usually natives of poorer countries. There are whole categories of native citizens for whom free trade has been and is a personal disaster, and economic libertarians do themselves no favors with their ridiculous “see no evil” pretense otherwise.

    Work conditions at third-world manufacturing facilities are much worse than in domestic facilities, and those poor conditions are part of what makes the third world ones cheaper to operate. It isn’t unreasonable to conclude that third-worlders are being exploited in order to avoid paying the higher cost of native labor. Someone might disagree that that is “exploitation”, but now we enter into semantics, and someone who thinks it is “exploitation” could quite legitimately give the supposed “unenlightened” answer.

    This might be an interesting survey if it in fact was not a piece of ideological propaganda. I fully expect that as a very gross generalization more conservative people as a group tend to do a better job accepting the world as it is, and more liberal people as a group tend to live in utopian fantasy worlds.

    This particular survey though appears, right on its face, to reside in an economic-libertarian fantasy world.

  • I know why liberals are not greatly function in economics and math.

    Economics and math are based on realisms, i.e., there are right and wrong answers. Economics less so than math because there are tens of millions of players, actions, decisions, etc. constantly evolving and interacting (and many ‘mistakes’ are made in decisions – all players are not economically rational, e.g., idiot politicians – I repeat myself – who hold sway over expanding regulatory matters). That is why central planning/collectivism was a disaster everywhere it was tried. The sad peoples of Venezuela and Zimbabwe are learning that the hard way at this moment.

    Liberals aren’t good at math or economic because math/economics are not susceptible to mythical worldviews or weeping and gnashing of teeth.

  • I’d say the only one of these where Klein is perhaps reaching a bit in regards to consensus is on the minimum wage, where opinion is split fairly evenly among economists as to whether it increases unemployment.

    Economists are about evenly split on the question of whether there should be a minimum wage. On the question of whether it increases unemployment it’s about three to one in the affirmative.

    For the “best data” I would suggest Neumark and Wascher’s recent survey.

  • Probably the greatest problem in economics is its inability to understand dominating phenomenon. The minimum wage is a prime example. Economics 101 goes to marginal utility and claims that rising minimum wage equals fewer jobs. This neglects that the people who earn minimum wage aren’t the dynamic components of companies. A companies decision on placement will be more greatly dictated by the availability of professionals at the top end rather than the demands of lower end workers. This is pretty true about a lot of things. NYC will have greater housing demand than Pigeon Creek, Montana, even though NYC has a greater regulatory burden than Pigeon Creek. The Econ 101 student will argue that NYC could have more if they repealed its regulations and Pigeon Creek would have less demand if it increased its regulations, which is all well and fine and could possibly even be stipulated, but they aren’t the driving factor for housing demand.

  • That doesn’t change the fact that, all other things held constant, rent control will decrease housing availability, or raising the minimum wage will increase unemployment.

    Nor do I think you’d find many economists were unclear on the fact that rent control is not the only difference in regards to housing demand and availability in NY vs. Montana.

  • Economists are about evenly split on the question of whether there should be a minimum wage. On the question of whether it increases unemployment it’s about three to one in the affirmative.

    Thanks for the correction, BA. I’d been going off a the Whamples’ survey link, but that only said that 37% think the minimum wage should be increased while 48% think it should be elminated. Looks like you’ve got more comprehensive info there.

  • All things are never held constant.

    If the minimum wage is not the driving factor in employment, the raising of it will not increase unemployment. High tech firms move into expensive cities where they have to pay clerical and janitorial help much higher than the minimum wage. In many, if not most circumstances, the effect on employment by raising the minimum wage will be trivial.

  • I personally would like the minimum wage to be $50,000/year with benefits.

  • Whether things are held constant depends on your frame of reference and what question you’re are trying to answer. The question of whether California having a higher minimum wage than Wisconsin will result in California having higher unemployment is not a question which can be answered by a “all other things being held constant” kind of question. However, if Wisconsin was attempting to decide whether to increase their minimum wage to $15/hr next year, you may be assured that things would be constant enough for an effect to be felt.

    However, I will certainly grant you that if the minimum wage is increased by amounts which do little more than equal local price trends (which is what is generally done) there will be trivial effects. (And trivial benefits.)

  • The answers to statements 5-7 are wrong if the questions are taken literally. Are not some foreign workers not paid just wages? The Autoworkers Union doesn’t oppose free trade for no reason. And a $1 min wage would have absolutely no effect on unemployment.

    If I were conducting the poll, I’d ask a few more questions.
    1. An income tax cut would increase tax revenue (unenlightened answer: agree).
    2. The federal budget can be balanced without raising taxes or cutting defense spending (unenlightened answer: agree).
    3. Fortune 500 executives pay a higher effective tax rate than their secretaries (unenlightened answer: agree).
    4. Over 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid (unenlightened answer: agree).
    5. Income inequality has been increasing over the past 30 years (unenlightened answer: disagree).
    6. Americans have more economic mobility than those in most other developed countries (unenlightened answer: agree).

  • And a $1 min wage would have absolutely no effect on unemployment.

    Can the same be said for a $30 min wage? I think that goes to Darwin’s observation regarding trivial effects from trivial amounts.

    Are not some foreign workers not paid just wages?

    No doubt. Same with many Americans. However, I wouldn’t base any assessment on that regarding the UAW’s support or lack thereof. Frankly, the UAW is really only concerned about their own being. They would just as much object to a manufacturer moving an operation to a foreign country regardless of how well paid the new employees are. Nor would I consider a lesser wage in a foreign country to be unjust. It must be measured by the effects and what it does for a person. If it raises someone out of poverty, provides a better standard of living, and perhaps better health and education for themselves and their offspring, I’d say it was a good thing for the worker and certainly not exploitation. I’m not saying there aren’t true sweatshops and exploitation, I just think that the calculus of paying less wages to someone else” = exploitation is incorrect. I think that is why some people see that question as an ideological one rather than an attempt for an objective (even if qualified) answer.

  • RL, my previous post was unclear. I didn’t mean to suggest that the UAW opposes free trade because of unjust wages. It was meant as a separate point to statement #6 which says that free trade doesn’t cause unemployment. The UAW opposes free trade because it would cause unemployment within its ranks.

  • Though at the same time, I would take it that #6 was talking about unemployment aggregate in the economy as a whole — not that some particular group of jobs might disappear and be replaced by others.

    For instance, tragic economic upheavals have put wheel wrights and buggy builders out of business almost entirely — and yet it’s unclear that we are suffering unemployment as a result at this point.

    Those people really did lose their jobs, and it might have helped them short term if they had managed to get alternate methods of transportation banned, but the changes there did not in fact result in long term unemployment.

  • Gotcha RR, sorry for the misunderstanding.

  • For instance, tragic economic upheavals have put wheel wrights and buggy builders out of business almost entirely — and yet it’s unclear that we are suffering unemployment as a result at this point.

    That strikes me as something of misdirection, since what is usually at issue as far as globalization and “free trade” is concerned is not new products displacing old products, but making the same products for less cost, and therefore higher profits, by exploiting cheaper (for a whole variety of reasons) third world labor.

  • Klein is, of course, stacking the deck. Some of his answers are vague. In 4, it may or may not be a monopoly. In 5, they may or be not be exploited. In 6, free trade most certainly leads to unemployment in certain sectors.

    I have the greatest problem with 2. Are living standards higher than 30 years ago? Well if you look at GDP capita, most certainly, and I assume that this is what Klein has in mind. But this definition really ignores the stark rise in inequality. What happened over the past 30 years (except for a small interlude in the 1990s) was that the gains from growth went to the rich. Median real wages have been pretty stagnant since the early 1970s (for men, they did not rise at all, and for prime-age men, they actually fell).

    Overall, Mankiw’s list is more honest, and more reflect of reality.

    I could have some fun and design some of my own questions!

    (1) Cutting income taxes raises revenue (unenlightened answer: agree).

    (2) There is no need for regulation as market discipline works fine (unenlightened answer: agree).

    (3) Fiscal stimulus made the recession worse (unenlightened answer: agree).

    (4) Collective wage bargaining is harmful for unemployment (unenlightened answer: agree).

    (5) Government intervention in the healthcare market through the combination of community rating and an individual mandate makes healh care more expensive (unenlightened answer: agree).

  • MM, I took “standard of living” to mean “standard of living,” not GDP per capita. People, even the poor, are materially better off today than they were 30 years ago. I agree with the rest of your post, though #2 and #4 are true in many cases and #5 is true for many people.

  • If the minimum wage is not the driving factor in employment, the raising of it will not increase unemployment.

    Doesn’t follow.

  • If the minimum wage is not the driving factor in employment, the raising of it will not increase unemployment.

    Doesn’t follow.

  • “free trade” is concerned [not with] new products displacing old products, but making the same products for less cost, and therefore higher profits

    Doesn’t follow.

  • MM’s 1-3 I think are legit, though I prefer my wording of 1) since there are some situations in which cutting taxes would increase revenues, while others when it would decrease them. (Right now, my bet would be that cutting taxes would not increase revenues.)

    4) I’d agree so long as you’re not automatically assuming closed shop.

    5) strikes me as rather dubious right now — though it’s certainly true that the pair of community rating and individual mandate makes health care less expensive than either one of those without the other. If the claim that it is less expensive than any other common arrangement, that strikes me as something we’re in no position to defend right now.

  • On Klein’s original #2 — I really don’t see how one can credibly disagree, unless one is speaking from a particular position of privilege which has since been overturned.

  • My experience in grad school was that the most vocally leftist students were the most ill-informed about economics. It was sometimes painful (and occasionally humorous) to watch their mental contortions as their orthodoxies were shattered. Of course, this is not to dismiss all leftist arguments: it’s just that those students could no longer base their arguments on their flawed version of armchair economics.

    If by “economics” we mean merely the academic discipline alone, it’s hard to argue against Klein. However, if we mean the larger, normative application of economics as part political economy, part moral philosophy, part public policy and sociology, then there is room to disagree with his findings.

    To make a bold generalization:
    No economics education = progressive
    Some economics education (undergrad econ 101) = libertarian
    Way too much economics education (and you know who you are, myself included) = politically all over the map; can argue yourself into almost any position

Is Arguing About Politics a Waste of Time?

Friday, April 30, AD 2010

This study suggests an interesting reason why that may be the case:

The investigators used functional neuroimaging (fMRI) to study a sample of committed Democrats and Republicans during the three months prior to the U.S. Presidential election of 2004. The Democrats and Republicans were given a reasoning task in which they had to evaluate threatening information about their own candidate. During the task, the subjects underwent fMRI to see what parts of their brain were active. What the researchers found was striking.

“We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning,” says Drew Westen, director of clinical psychology at Emory who led the study. “What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts.” Westen and his colleagues will present their findings at the Annual Conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Jan. 28.

Once partisans had come to completely biased conclusions — essentially finding ways to ignore information that could not be rationally discounted — not only did circuits that mediate negative emotions like sadness and disgust turn off, but subjects got a blast of activation in circuits involved in reward — similar to what addicts receive when they get their fix, Westen explains.

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16 Responses to Is Arguing About Politics a Waste of Time?

  • Thanks for sharing this. The findings of this study seems to correspond very well with reality.

  • Studies such as this are indeed interesting.

    I caution against an extreme over-reliance on cold calculation and equally extreme disavowals of the validity and legitimacy of human emotions.

    We have emotions and instincts for a reason – survival. They alert us to threats and dangers and they provide incentives to avoid bad situations.

    Of course reason is a higher function, one unique to man, and so we should always strive for rational analysis. What I see so often, though, are claims that these two ways of analyzing and experiencing things are mutually exclusive. They are not.

    In the modern world I believe the tension between the two stems from what I would call an information overload. In past societies, and this is just a hypothesis, people had limited and often highly trusted sources of information – the church, their local leaders, etc.

    Now there is a deluge of data, and even people with above average intelligence and education can’t be sure who to trust, especially in politics, especially in the social sciences. How can we know that the methodologies used are sound? That their creators aren’t ideologically biased? Climategate shows we cannot be sure, that the science is not settled, and that the person who claims to bring you “the facts” could be bringing you falsehoods.

    What positions we take in politics, I believe, comes down to a few things – and one of them is who we put our trust in for an accurate picture of reality.

    We also have a legitimate desire to pick a side and stick with it. Once we do that, we just want to go about our business, we want our side to prevail.

    I’ve changed teams more than once in my life and it gets old. Not only that, but when you do it, people question your stability and resolve. Consistency is so highly valued among people of all educational and intelligence levels that people will forgo changing their opinion in the face of clear evidence so that they don’t appear to have been wrong. There is massive pressure to be consistent, and less pressure to simply be right.

    Of course, oftentimes, people aren’t mentally agile enough to understand that things they believe are contradictions are only really antagonisms. So they will embrace contradiction instead of exploring the possibility that the two premises are both true.

  • “At the same time, it is somewhat troubling that people are (paradoxically) the least rational about the subjects in which they are the most emotionally invested.”

    I don’t see the paradox. I expect this all the time, especially in myself.

    Aren’t dispassion and “apatheia” normally considered virtues that correct emotionalism?

    How many partisans are actually familiar with the basic rules of logic and non-contradiction? Their basic failure is they forget that only God is above criticism.

  • One must be careful with such studies. First, no one really knows how the brain works. We have a good sense of what parts of the brain do, but some areas of the brain such as the frontal lobes are still unclear. Also how neural networks interact to aid thought is quite another thing.

    Then there are concerns about fMRI actually proving what it sets out to do. Many questions here especially about other stimuli during the test interfering etc. Also questions about statistical methods. See here:


    Bottom line. In 100 years this study might be in the medical library next to phrenology.

  • “and politically neutral male control figures such as actor Tom Hanks”

    An odd choice considering that Hanks is a left wing activist and appeared in the Dan Brown Catholic bashing Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

    Color me unimpressed by the study. We are in our infancy in understanding the human brain and I think we will never truly comprehend the human mind. Political beliefs can change swiftly depending upon the circumstances: Reagan Democrats, Obama Republicans, etc, and I believe most people are always susceptible to a convincing argument. It may not convince them today, but it may give food for thought that will cause a modification in belief down the road combined with other factors.

    “In 100 years this study might be in the medical library next to phrenology.”

    Words to live by Phillip in regard to much of cutting edge science.

  • I take your point that our understanding of brain functioning is incomplete. At the same time, even if the observations about the specific areas of the brain incorrect, the study still provides strong evidence about the behavior of partisans. We may be wrong about the mechanism, but not the behavior. The specific criticisms you raise relate to behavior.

    An odd choice considering that Hanks is a left wing activist and appeared in the Dan Brown Catholic bashing Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons.

    The study was conducted in 2004. The Da Vinci Code came out in 2006; Hanks has never been a particularly controversial figure. Additionally, the study found that people were able to identify hypocritical statements when made by Mr. Hanks and the opposing candidate; just not when made by their preferred candidate. This suggests Mr. Hanks was not closely identified by the respondents with either party.

    Political beliefs can change swiftly depending upon the circumstances: Reagan Democrats, Obama Republicans, etc, and I believe most people are always susceptible to a convincing argument.

    Of course, people can change their minds. What this study highlights is that committed partisans – not the sort of people who change their minds every election – appear to be unable to process new information effectively. Again, this is true whether you accept the posited physical mechanisms or not; confirmation bias is a widely recognized and studied phenomenon.

  • Actually John Henry, I think committed partisans are often able to process new information quite effectively in support of their position. Rather like scientists who get a grant to run an experiment and, mirabile dictu, the data from the experiment supports the thesis they had before the experiment was run.

    There are many more things in Heaven and in Earth when it comes to human reasoning than are dreamt of by Westen and his brain scanners.

    Oh, and Mr. Westen is a partisan Democrat and a pretty silly one to boot. He believes that Democrats lose elections because they make rational arguments while Republicans rely upon emotional arguments:

    “In the last forty-five years, the American people have elected only three Democratic residents of the United States. Democrats—from the grassroots on up to the party leadership—are befuddled, confused, and angry. What led me to write this book was exactly what leads people to do everything they do, including vote: strong emotions. And that’s the central message of the book. Everything we know about mind, brain, and politics tells us that there are three things that determine how people vote, in this order: their feelings toward the parties, their feelings toward the candidates, and, if they haven’t decided by then, their feelings toward the candidates’ policy positions. Democrats have insisted on starting at the bottom of this hierarchy, practicing “trickle up” politics—the theory that voting decisions trickle up from voters’ rational assessments of candidates’ policy positions. Trickle up politics turns out to be as valid as trickle down economics. The proof is in the White House, the Congress, and the federal judiciary. The antidote lies not in familiar prescriptions of moving to the center or the left but simply in moving the electorate. The way to win elections, particularly against a party that understands how to move people, is to understand the political brain—how it evolved, how it works, and how central emotion is to it.”


    Democrats don’t lose elections in the view of Mr. Westen because their policies stink. They lose elections because they are too rational! This is the junkiest of junk science.

  • Drew Westen is a regular columnist at the Huffington Post and here is a link to a column where he tells Democrats how to sell the pro-abort message:


    “Obama wasn’t going to win over the majority of Warren’s parishioners, but he could have spoken to them in their own language while winning the hearts and minds of the majority who were listening on television. He might have begun by acknowledging the obvious, that he knew he wasn’t going to convince most of Pastor Rick’s flock, but that he was nonetheless one of them, with a comment like, “Well, I knew at some point I was going to be in there with the lions. I know many of you won’t agree with me, but I hope my answer at least leaves you with as much respect for me and my beliefs as I have for you and yours.” He could then have continued, once again drawing them in while addressing concerns about him that had been raised in recent weeks, “The Bible says that pride is a sin, and I’d be showing more pride than even John McCain thinks I have, with those celebrity and Moses ads, if I told you that I know with certainty when life begins. I wish I did, because then this would be an easy question. But here’s where I stand”:

    No one truly knows what’s in the mind of God, and I just don’t like the idea of government telling a woman or couple when they should or shouldn’t start their family based on somebody else’s interpretation of Scripture. We need to find the common ground on abortion, reflecting our shared moral beliefs, not the beliefs that divide us. We are all united in the belief that we should do everything we can to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies, and abortions, starting with instilling in our children both the values and the knowledge to make good choices. And we all agree that abortion shouldn’t be used as a form of birth control and shouldn’t be an option late in pregnancy except when the mother’s life or health is in danger. I could go on and talk about how misguided I think our currently policies are that deny access to birth control to women and teenagers in our inner cities, which does nothing but perpetuate the cycle of poverty, stop young people from getting an education and fulfilling their God-given potential, and make it more likely that they’ll have children before they’re ready to be good parents. But the main point I want to make is that in this country, we don’t force one person to live by another person’s faith. This should be a personal and moral issue, not a political one.

    This is a variation of one of the messages we tested, although it is considerably longer than those messages, which we kept to about 45 seconds. I revised it here to fit both the audience and the central narrative of Obama’s campaign (the theme of focusing on what unites and not what divides us).

    I’m not claiming that this is the best or only narrative Obama could have offered on abortion. Central to Obama’s appeal is his genuineness, and the only messages he should offer voters are those that fit his values and style. But this way of talking about abortion has several features that render it a strong, principled message. It isn’t hard to come away with the central theme, because it’s offered in both the opening sentence and at the end: That as long as we do not all share the same religious beliefs, the government has no business forcing one person to live by another person’s faith. It speaks to religious freedom and government intrusion, two themes usually associated with narratives on the right but that should be central to a progressive narrative on abortion. It recognizes, as Obama did in his actual answer, that this is a moral issue, and it builds on common ground, emphasizing themes like reducing teen pregnancies and instilling values that are shared by both the left and right and hence are likely to be compelling to people in the center. And it re-enfranchises males by reminding men that they have a stake in this, too: that although ultimately the decision to abort or not to abort resides with the mother, women usually make these decisions together with their husbands or boyfriends, and that a woman or couple, not the government, should make these kinds of intensely personal decisions.”

    Gee, I wonder if Westen is one of those partisans who are unable to process new information effectively?

  • Don,

    I’d think his basic assessment about the way people vote, generally speaking, is quite true. The argument about Democrats offering “rational” policies and Republicans offering “emotionally-based” appeals is false. I think it goes both ways and on different issues.

    But his general assessment that how the electorate feels at the moment usually does decide elections.

  • In any election Eric you are going to have hard core partisans who will not be moved from their position, and to this extent the analysis is correct, although we needed no “scientific” explanation for that. That bit of wisdom is, I suspect, about as old as elections. What is also as old as elections is that hard core partisans are usually not sufficient, certainly beyond the Congressional district level, to win a majority and that political parties have to hone their messages to attract a majority. How that is done, and how it shifts from election cycle to election cycle, has always been one of the more interesting aspects of politics for me.

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  • In any election Eric you are going to have hard core partisans who will not be moved from their position, and to this extent the analysis is correct, although we needed no “scientific” explanation for that. That bit of wisdom is, I suspect, about as old as elections. What is also as old as elections is that hard core partisans are usually not sufficient, certainly beyond the Congressional district level, to win a majority and that political parties have to hone their messages to attract a majority. How that is done, and how it shifts from election cycle to election cycle, has always been one of the more interesting aspects of politics for me.

    I get the sense that you are hostile to the study, but I’m not clear on why. Mr. Westen can make inaccurate and superficial political diagnoses; that does not mean he is inaccurately reporting the results of a study that describes partisans of both parties as bad at processing information running contrary to their ideologies. He is hardly the first person to notice this, and, as you’ve acknowledged, there are plenty of voters who will never be persuaded from one election to the next (probably most of the people in the study meet that description).

    I agree that studying the Independents who move back and forth and determine most elections is interesting; but that does not mean the study doesn’t tell us something useful about the rest of the population or about how people with deeply held commitments process new information. That, to me, is one of the most valid complaints about the MSM: when over 90% of the reporters are Democrats, there are bound to be striking differences in how information is processed and reported by these individuals, regardless of their intentions. The old joke about a Republican president seen walking across the Potomac River remains as true as ever: The Wall Street Journal headline will read: “Republican President Walks on Water”; The New York Times headline will read “Republican President Can’t Even Swim”. These types of studies highlight how flawed some of our thought processes can be; that’s a valuable thing to keep in mind for the sake of intellectual honesty.

  • I think my point was that this work may actually not actually show what it purports to show. The psychology may be what you point out. But the biology, at least as argued in the study, may be completely false. Again, fMRI data may one day be shown to be even more subject to flaws, including observer bias, that global warming data. 🙂

  • Again, fMRI data may one day be shown to be even more subject to flaws, including observer bias,

    Oh, right. As I said above, I concede that we may be wrong about the physical process in the brain (the mechanism); but I think the study is useful in describing behavior even if we’re wrong about that part. As it is, I still find the guesses about what’s happening in the brain interesting, even if incomplete at this point.

  • If one takes it as an argument from psychology and not neuroscience okay. But I have serious doubts about such studies ever being able to prove a link between our thoughts and neurobiological processes.

All Morality is Personal

Monday, April 5, AD 2010

One hears, at times, frustration expressed that too many Catholics think only in terms of “personal morality” or “personal piety” and that insufficient attention is paid to social or political sin. Certainly, the results of an average Catholic’s examination of conscience might seem paltry on the stage of political activism. How can people worry about paltry wrongs such as, “I lied,” “I took the Lord’s name in vain,” or “I indulged in lustful thoughts,” when there are third world workers being cheated out of their just wages, the environment being destroyed, racism being perpetuated, nuclear weapons being built and imperialist wars being fought? Isn’t it time that we stopped obsessing over these small issues of lying and swearing and sex in order to concentrate on the massive, societal evils that afflict our country and our planet?

This line of thinking strikes me as, in the end, an approach no less dangerous than that of the Pharisee who was so notoriously contrasted with the publican. Why? Because while there are unquestionably social evils that afflict us at a wider level (though there is certainly room for debate as to the precise nature and cause of social evils, I don’t think there’s any question that such things do exist) morality must, in the end, be examined at the level of individual actions. And for us, that means our actions. Societies do not perform sins, people do. While it may make sense to talk about some pervasive evil such as racism as being a “social sin”, racism does not in fact consists of “society” being racist but rather of a number of individual people within a society behaving in a racist fashion. If workers are being treated badly or paid unjust wages, it is not because society does this, but because a certain number of individual people choose to commit those acts.

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48 Responses to All Morality is Personal

  • All sin is personal in the end analysis- even social sin is just a heap of personal sins compounded into a massive pile of unjust conditions. I see the way clear by treating sin with the old Catholic both/and approach. I keep assessing my personal life habits through examination of conscience and having ongoing deep conversations with my wife where we kind of offer each other a little check up- on matters where we might be singling or collectively falling short of the Christ mark. It could be in the way we vent or “joke” about people we have some issue(s) with, or in the way we respond to a movie showing vigilante justice, especially when child killers/rapists are brutally dealt with- we try not to feed our own violent tendencies on such things.

    As far as the Big Issue stuff- first we consider our own incompleteness and sinfulness the first Big Issue- and then we know that we have to be praying and if possible providing some kind of material support to the various Just Causes out in the world. I don’t think that as a Catholic layperson we can choose one path or the other in dealing with personal sins and sins in the political realm- I see both as being on the same Way of Christ. Christ cares if my thoughts stray into lust or violent anger, and He cares about unborn children being aborted, or innocent humans being killed in avoidable conflicts, and on and on and on. We have to keep trying on the Mind of Christ and use the Church as our guide in our personal piety and by way of the Church’s social doctrine.

  • Great reflection. You’re right to point out that all sin is personal. There’s no such thing as social sin.

    I would only add that there are evil social structures that immerse men and women in an environment that is an ongoing occasion of sin: our culture leads us to lie, swear, and fornicate. This is the culture of death – the culture that seduces men and women into lying, swearing, fornicating, and aborting.

    While it is easy to fall into self-righteousness, it is also easy to fall prey to the culture. I would go further – the culture of death enslaves us as part of sin’s enslavement of the heart.

  • Societies do not perform sins, people do. While it may make sense to talk about some pervasive evil such as racism as being a “social sin”, racism does not in fact consists of “society” being racist but rather of a number of individual people within a society behaving in a racist fashion.

    What makes social sin different from personal sin is that adverse impact occurs with our knowledge and ultimately our consent. Certainly remote cooperation with can be justified. One has to clothe their family. That someone in a far flung place has been mistreated in producing that good does remove the immediacy issue. I certainly understand (and ultimately agree with you) that we shouldn’t go to the extreme of caring more about remote evils than our more immediate sins. However, I would be cautious of treating culture and society as an imposition against us, rather than a thing of which we are a part. Certainly these things can be difficult to change, but they do change. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the way our society looks at race, gender roles, homosexuality, religious belief, and marriage have changed significantly over the past 100, 250, and 500 years.

  • Darwin,

    Are you trying to stir the pot ? 🙂

    Back when we had a discussion on Liberation Theology, I wrote the following:

    “One does not need to re-write Catholic teachings and tradition to fight for justice. That is the false assumption. It is just as false as whatever previous notions reigned about the apoliticism of Christianity. It is not possible to “render” the Gospels “as innocuous as a lap dog”, nor is it an appropriate response to sex them up with revolutionary rhetoric, with the notion that “the system must be smashed.”

    It is hearts that must be converted, and wills brought into alignment with God’s. The plain and absolute truth is that every soul won for Christ, truly won, truly comprehending of its moral obligations, is of far greater value to any eventual social transformation than any of the theorizing we engage in on this forum or anywhere else.

    A soul humble and contrite before God – that is all we need. Everything else will follow from that, everything. And without it, nothing is possible. Absolutely nothing.”

    I see no distinction whatsoever between “personal” and “social” morality.

    In my reading of history, throughout most of it, up until technologically advanced times, morality was a public matter not because people enjoyed oppressing one another, but because personal behavior affected society in an immediate and direct way.

    “Personal” immorality leads directly to public harms. Multiplied many times over, they begin to have a multi-generational effect. Then the very foundations of society are threatened. In my recent post, which I hope you will read:


    I talk about the social effects of abortion (which could be modified and extended to all forms of sexual deviancy) on marriage, family, and community – and indeed, all of civilization. In addition to the example of the Soviet Union – in which an atheist doctrine was the state religion and abortion on demand was subsidized by the state, resulting in a demographic crisis from which Russia and Eastern Europe have not recovered – I could have also used the example of China, which due to sex-selective abortion will face a gender imbalance with all sorts of harmful repercussions; and this problem affects many other countries as well.

    What happens with “justice advocates” today is that they are often – not always! – but often influenced by Marxism. They may not have ever studied Marxism or know a thing about it, but the Marxist mentality pervades among political activists, especially on college campuses.

    They might reject 99% of Marxist thought but if they retain the 1% that distorts the social nature of man into man as an almost entirely exclusive product of social conditions (and genetics, but it amounts to the same thing), then they are still within its orbit, for it is foundational.

    The Christian conception of social sin, as I find it in the Bible, in Church tradition, is that individual sins lead to social sins – and that social sins in turn further exacerbate individual sin. Throughout Scripture God condemns entire societies. Through the prophets he denounces the collective social sins of the Israelites. The Book of Wisdom speaks of unclean, sinful generations. Christ himself speaks of generational sin. And the early Christians lived in tightly-knit communities in order to live holy lives. Individual struggles against sin are incredibly difficult – which is precisely why sin is so widespread and positively embraced today.

    Though everyone cautions against reading modern ideas into ancient literature, and for good reason, in some cases we can, with care, try to understand what the ancients meant by referring to timeless aspects of humanity. When they speak of “generations”, and of generational sin, I believe they are also speaking of social sins.

    And it was these sins that Christ came to address. Matthew 25 makes this clear. Matt. 25, in turn, was prefigured in God’s message to Israel through the Prophets. Social sin does exist, collective sin, generational sin – call it what you will – and it is our obligation to address it. But it can only be addressed by those who are living, acting, working, and worshiping in a certain way – and not by any random group of college activists or bloggers.

    Sorry to ramble. But when I ramble like this it means you’ve raised an issue I’ve been thinking about, and ought to write more about in the future 🙂 So thanks!

  • Joe,

    I definitely read your post — though I haven’t had the chance to comment on it yet, in part because it set off a similarly long and rambling reaction in my mind since it was very much along a line of thinking that I’ve been on lately. 🙂 Also, see below…

    Some clarifications (to all):

    – I think I should be clear, in using the term “personal morality” I do not at all want to associate my thinking here with the “it’s just my morality” kind of approach which is found in things like “personally opposed” reasoning. I meant it simply in the sense of morality applied to a single person and relating to the actions (sinful or virtuous) of that person. So when I say there is no social sin, but only personal sin, I mean that any sin is the result of the moral action of a person, however influenced or surrounded he may be by other sinners acting similarly. There is no instance in which society as a group or abstract force sins — no where the individual person committing an act is not sinning, yet at the same time what he is doing is (when done by thousands or millions of people in a society) somehow a component part of a social sin.

    – Something I’d meant to work in but somehow never got around do is that I think one of the reasons we, in our modern, democratic society, are particularly prone to seeing advocacy as a primary moral action is that we’ve become uncomfortable with the idea that the majority of us are in fact relatively powerless in society. The idea that you and I actually have practically no say on third world pay or whether the CIA tortures people makes us feel powerless, and so we assign excessive moral importance to advocacy or “raising awareness”. (This isn’t to say people shouldn’t speak out on those issues, but rather that we should not consider our advocacy efforts to trump the moral actions that we ourselves control.) While I don’t think we should lapse into total subservience, I do think there’s a sense in which we morally bite off more than we can chew when we try to make ourselves responsible for everything that happens in our country or in the world economy. There’s a history in Christianity of talking about how much more is expected of those with great power and/or wealth (camel, needle, etc.), and I don’t think we necessarily do ourselves a service when we try to make ourselves morally responsible for a lot of things we don’t actually have much of any control over. Why voluntarily put a needle’s eye between us and God if you’re not actually one of the rich and powerful?

  • Well written sir. I hope all Catholics can agree with what you write here because it is orthodox.

    I agree with Nate and I think to speak of “social sin” is to make a mistake.

    My rather simple understanding of Christian social morality is this: There are bad societies, good societies, and societies somewhere in between those two extremes. Bad societies make it easy for people to commit sins, and good societies make it easy for people to do good.

  • The most effective thing Satan ever did was to convince Christians that “there is no such thing as social sin.”

  • For the love of God, original sin is social sin.

  • Tim Shipe is on the right track with his both/and (i.e. CATHOLIC) approach to sin. Social sin and personal sin are not opposed. They are two dimensions of the same reality.

  • Finally – The obscuring of the reality of social sin — though it predates the rise of liberalism — serves the liberal individualist viewpoints of many of this blog’s contributors quite well.

  • Michael,

    If you want to write a coherent response to anything I wrote here, please do feel free. All of the other comments have been interesting and helped to shine some more light upon the truth — I’m not sure what your four brief forays are even getting at.

  • Darwin – They are points that are quite simple, actually. Perhaps my claim at 6:57 has you frowning so hard that the simplicity of the previous comments has slipped by you?

  • There are no liberal individualists here.

  • Michael,

    The reason I said your comments were incoherent is that you did not make any arguments, did not actually criticize anything the post said, did not offer any explanation of what (if the post is wrong) you do think is true, etc. You sputtered, rather indignantly, and threw a few key words around without actually saying much of anything.

    Though as I think about it, one of your comments did bring up a very interesting issue, though you failed to actually articulate any argument, in regards to Original Sin.

    You say “original sin is social sin”. Now, in the sense that I was using the terms, it seems pretty clear that this is actually not the case. In the Genesis account, Original Sin is a rupture in the relationship between God and humanity which results from the actions of two specific people: first Eve, then Adam. Each of them sins as a person, each chooses do act contrary to God’s will. There is no “society” which commits original sin, nor am I aware of any sense in which the Church has ever taught that we, humanity, as a society have “committed” original sin. Rather, when we are born into the human race we are born with the stain of Adam and Eve’s sin upon us. (I suppose one could attempt to throw out the entire Genesis account and claim that it’s a metaphor for some sort of “social sin” committed by society as a whole rather than by individual persons, but I’m not at all clear that would be an acceptable interpretation of the scriptures or the doctrine. Even as someone who treads the outer edge of orthodox thinking in keeping an open mind on the issue of polygenism, it seems clear that original sin, whatever it was, was a sin committed by individual human persons which ruptured the relationship between us and God — not some sort of amorphous group sin.)

    Which is the interesting point: While every sin clearly is the action of a person (thus my title claim, “All Morality is Personal”), it can be the case that many people share the guilt for a sin or sins.

    All of us, as humans, share the guilt of the sin of our first parents. And yet the sin itself was clearly committed by them, not us. This is because sin destroys relationships. The relationship between us and God, and the relationships between us and other persons. And because we human beings are social creatures, the destruction of relationship by one person can have effects on other people, even ones who did not share in committing the original wrong or wrongs. At a personal level, we see this in familial quarrels — children share in the estrangements between branches of a family caused by their parents and if they want to bridge those estrangements they need to actively work to heal them. We can also see situations in which an entire group is stained with the guilt of a set of sins, even though some of them are not guilty of any of the sinful acts. Two somewhat cliched but highly illustrative examples would be the guilt that the US as a whole assumed in its acceptance of slavery — a guilt shared even by non-slaveholders and abolitionists, which took (and in some ways still takes) active work to expiate/heal — and the guilt which continental Europe and Germany in particular assumed through the holocaust — one which similarly required and requires active work to heal even on the part of those who did not commit any actual sins of commission or omission in support of it. Joe also points out some good examples of societal guilt in the Old Testament and in Christ’s words.

    The relationship between the sins the persons commit and the wider guilt which those in some way connected to them sometimes share in is certainly an interesting question — but I’m not sure that it impinges directly on what I was attempting to address here, which is the sense in which a focus on condemning sins of others under the title of “social sin” can be dangerous when it allows us to ignore the “small” sins which we ourselves are the perpetrators of.

  • There are no liberal individualists here.

    That’s funny. Read this post again.

    Perhaps, Darwin, the problem has more to do with your misunderstanding of what some theologians mean when they use the term social sin. You, and other bloggers here, seem to get a lot of posts ranting about theological concepts that you don’t seem to know much about. Liberation theologians, for example, are never talking about “amorphous group sin.” They are talking about very concrete sins with both personal and social dimensions. (It is in fact so-called “traditionalist” [shorthand: pre-VII] Catholicism that speaks of sin amorphously despite the fact that it focuses exclusively on “personal” sin.) Nor are they “condemning sins of others under the title of ‘social sin.'” They condemn social sins in which we all participate and for which we are all in one way or another responsible.

    Also, the fact that I made some assertions — as opposed to arguments — in my previous comments does not make those comments “incoherent.” You seemed to have understood those comments just fine. I’ll simply assume this was a poor choice of words on your part and leave it at that. No apology necessary.

  • “You, and other bloggers here, seem to get a lot of posts ranting about theological concepts that you don’t seem to know much about.”

    Yes, of course, how could it be forgotten – anyone who hasn’t attended the Michael Iafrate school of theology must not know what they are talking about, including the current and previous Pope.

    Just be sure to tell us when and where the conclave to elect you Pope Gustavo I is taking place so we know where not to be.

  • Michael,

    While it’s fun to simply say, “Read XYZ again,” it can sometimes help to actually express what it is that you expect someone to get out of that, and why. So if you’re going to tell Joe to re-read my post in order to get liberal individualism out of it which neither he nor I see, perhaps you might actually explain in what sense you find specific arguments or assertions the post makes to be liberal and individualist.

    It’s true that your comments had a certain coherence as assertions — however I labeled them as incoherent in the context (my dear boy, you must learn to read in context) of the conversation ongoing.

    For instance, you said, For the love of God, original sin is social sin. As a sentence, this has a degree of coherence, but given the sense in which I used the term “social sin” in the post, it makes no context in response to the post. At best, it’s a non sequitor. Or alternatively you say: The most effective thing Satan ever did was to convince Christians that “there is no such thing as social sin.” This may or may not be true, but since you make no effort to explain why it is true or what you mean by “social sin” in this case, it doesn’t mean anything in context.

    Now, it’s entirely possible that I’m using the term “social sin” in some sense other than a technical theological sense of which I’m unaware. This post was written entirely in response to popular writing that I’ve read dealing with “social sins” such as environmental destruction, unjust wages, etc. and the tendency (which I have observed in some people) to devote their entire moral energies to denouncing these “social sins” by which they seem really to mean “sins which everyone else is committing but which I am so virtuous as to denounce loudly” while at the same time belittling as “pietism” the traditional Catholic approach of actually, well, you know: focusing on avoiding the sins which one commits oneself.

    If I’m doing massive violence to a precise and well understood body of theological terminology in this post, I would certainly invite you to explain to me a better way to express what I’m describing. Some good ways to do this might begin, “When people in my particular brand of theology talk about ‘social sin’, what we actually mean is…” or “I think that what you are describing as ‘social sin’ is actually what we theologians would denounce as…”

  • Darwin – How are environmental destruction and unjust wages “amorphous”?

    Joe – As usual, your approach is ridicule rather than anything substantive.

  • Michael,

    Actually, my point in the post was specifically that such sins are not amorphous “group sins” but rather personal. They are sins committed by specific persons who choose to do something which is wrong.

    In the post I said:

    I think the instinct to think of the large scale problems as social rather than personal moral problems is that in many cases the social problems that people find themselves most concerned about involve actions that they are fairly remote from. Say, for instance, one reads about a clothing plant in China in which managers routinely lock workers in for 16-20 hour shifts, forcing them to work overtime in order to meet production quotas without their consent and without paying them for the additional hours worked. I don’t think it would be controversial to say that those factory owners and shift supervisors are acting wrongly — they they are far away from us and our ability to change their behavior is minimal.

    My argument was instead with people assigning excess weight to their advocacy or “solidarity” actions which are in fact remote to the real sin — especially when they allow themselves to excuse their own real actions because their advocacy efforts are “more important:

    And yet, people are often uncomfortable with admitting that there is little they can do about some evil that is being committed. And so, moral weight is assigned to another set of activities which surround the issue. Do you advocate against low wages and seek to raise awareness? Are you in solidarity with the oppressed? Do you buy local, or buy fair trade, or live sustainably? Do you denounce “the system”? Do you vote for change?

    I do not want to argue that people should not engage in advocacy on issues they believe to be important. Helping other people to understand what is right is a moral action, and as citizens in a polity we also have a civic responsibility to persuade our fellow citizens to support policies which will be to the common good of us all. So I would certainly encourage people to engage in political advocacy on those issues they believe to be most pressing (whether that issue is abortion, unjust wages, immigration, human trafficking, etc.) But at the same time it seems to me important for us to remember that our most basic moral responsibility is for our own personal actions, not for advocacy we engage in or groups we join.

    Thus the concern about focusing on the sins of others rather than one’s own:

    Given that most of us do not have it within our personal power to mistreat third world workers, declare war, torture terror suspects or destroy wetlands, a heavy focus on issues such as these necessarily means focusing on the sins committed by others rather than the sins we ourselves commit. However un-exciting admissions such as “I gossiped about the guy in the next cube behind his back” or “I lied” or “I was short tempered with my kids” might be, if those are the sins we actually have the chance to do something about it is important that they be our primary focus in our moral life. When we focus on sins which are more distant to us to the exclusion of our own, we risk turning morality into an enemies list — a danger which is the same whether that list is populated with “torture advocates”, “economic imperialists” or “baby killers”. If he can convince us to focus, in this way, on the sins of others while allowing our own to fester (after all, they are so insignificant compared to the great injustices in the world!) the great tempter scores a victory, not a defeat.

    [emphasis mysteriously added by WordPress formatting]

  • Darwin – certainly the Church has spoken of ‘social sin’, in exactly the sense that Michael has used. Using your definition of ‘social sin’, however, I’d rightly say there’s no such thing.

    As Pope Benedict wrote in Spe Salvi – no one sins alone, and no one is saved alone. I think an argument about definitions of ‘social sin’ are beside the point.

  • A good example of social sin might be Obamacare. A system put in place by a multitude of personal lies, distortions and betrayals that furthers abortion.

  • Nate,

    I think you’re right that this is a terminology issue. Another title I’d considered was “Advocacy Does Not Trump Morality”. I don’t know if this would have prevented the misunderstanding or not.

    My point here is not to assault a theological concept of “social sin” — about which I am certainly not an expert — but rather to talk about the temptation I think we all face (whether advocating against abortion or against torture or against unjust wages) to see our area of advocacy of being more important than “personal sin” or “piety” because it’s dealing with “bigger issues”. It seems to me that this is a temptation which advocates often face — not because advocacy is a bad thing in and of itself, but because the tempter can use even virtue as a foothold for temptation if that virtue becomes entangled with pride. And advocacy always involves a flirtation with pride since it is only a step away from, “Good people like me advocate against the evil committed by bad people like them.”

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  • “Social sin does not exist… unless you mean abortion or Obamacare.”

  • Phillip,

    No, I don’t think Obamacare would be an example of “social sin” — though it is poorly crafted legislation which will, among other things, be used to help support abortion.

  • Yes, it is a terminology issue. You don’t understand how the term is used by the church and in academic theology. You refer to “popular writing” for examples but do not cite anything specific.

    You point may not have been to dwell on the question of what “social sin” is, but in making your argument you said some silly things about the idea of social sin.

  • Michael,

    If you have an interest in the truth of the matter, I would assume that you can successfully overlook the term used and address the issue. There’s been enough verbiage spilled at this point I think its eminently clear what I’m saying, and (while you’re certainly welcome to explain to me what term I should be using instead of “social sin” here, and I would be happy to adopt a more correct term) I don’t think it ought to be a stretch for you to address the topic itself and help clear up any “silly ideas” which have been floated rather than continually harping on the terminology used.

  • Michael are all your machinations here to simply note that all sin has a social dimension, i.e. has social consequences? If so, why wouldn’t you just say that? No one here would dispute that all sin has a social dimension. “No man is an island”

  • Michael,

    As usual, you resort to academic snobbery. Anyone who isn’t acquainted with your academic circles obviously can’t know what they are talking about.

    I wonder how many graduate seminars the apostles had to attend before Jesus thought they were worth his time? Oh wait…

    If you want to introduce academic terms into the debate, fine. Explain what you mean, and don’t insult people’s intelligence.

    If you’re here to talk down to people, don’t be surprised if ridicule is all you ever get from me. People who act ridiculous are by definition worthy of ridicule.

    The way you act here, I wouldn’t be surprised if some conservative was paying you to write and act the way you do.

  • Nate,

    While I respect your opinion, I think it would best to withhold from informing us about what the Church says about social sin until you have a serious look at what it says about free will and moral responsibility.

    At NO point does the Church argue, or accept, the idea that sin does not have a personal dimension; a sin is “social” to the extent that it affects others. There can be no sin without choice. So the Church speaks of the social effects of sin, but NEVER reduces the cause of sin to social structures.

  • Joe, you’re making some big assumptions about what I have and haven’t looked at. 🙂

  • Joe, I don’t know if you’ll get a chance to read this – this post is somewhat buried. I hope you do!

    I have never claimed that sin does not have a personal dimension. I have never claimed that people do not makes personal choices to sin. I have claimed, however, that original sin enslaves people to sin. My controversial position, I think, is in identifying original sin as social rather than personal.

    I’m not saying people are not personally responsible for their sins. I’m only saying that their sins are caused by the systemic reality of original sin.

    In short, if we want to blame someone for something, we should blame them less for their most obvious sins and more for their less obvious sin – that of rejecting the grace of Christ which would have brought them into a new life of supernatural virtue.

  • Nate,

    First you said,

    “evil social structures force men and women to sin”

    This means that they have no choice – that there is no personal dimension.

    Then you said,

    “I think original sin makes it impossible to obey the natural law without the grace of (I want to say Christ, but I mean Christ as we receive him on earth – his Body, the Church).”

    But this too is false. What of the pre-Christian patriarchs and prophets? What of Noah, who God spared from the flood, or Abraham, who he made a covenant with? You might make the argument, I suppose, that God bestowed grace upon them; in my reading of the text, however, God chooses these men because of their righteousness. What is the source of their righteousness? We are never really told. They simply listened when God spoke, they remained faithful to God and obeyed him when others did not.

    Are we to believe that, first, God gave them grace while not giving it to others in an arbitrary fashion, and then singled them out for behavior that they really had almost no role in? No. They made a personal choice to hear and obey God, who then bestowed his blessings and protection upon them.

    So it is not “impossible” to obey the natural law or even divine commands without Christ. Additionally, the Church would not have the doctrine it does about salvation outside of the Church. If it is possible to be saved outside of the Church, then that possibility has to rest upon some other criteria, which is obedience to natural law, or the Noahide laws.

    You say now:

    “I’m not saying people are not personally responsible for their sins.”

    But when you use words such as “force”, “cause”, “impossible” – you remove the personal dimension. I do understand, however, that you are trying to work things out, that you aren’t set in stone. That’s why I tell you to go back and look. It is why I quoted both the Bible and the Catechism for you over at Vox Nova.

    “I’m only saying that their sins are caused by the systemic reality of original sin.”

    Not directly. The origin of sin is the individual human will, the heart, as Christ tells the apostles. Original sin removes many of the gifts God originally bestowed upon man, and adds additional burdens – but it does not remove our free will.

    It is not a mechanistic force that “causes” anything, but rather a condition, a tendency towards sin.

    “In short, if we want to blame someone for something, we should blame them less for their most obvious sins and more for their less obvious sin – that of rejecting the grace of Christ which would have brought them into a new life of supernatural virtue.”

    I think you make a mistake in reducing this to a problem of “blame.” We have a Christian mandate to evangelize and to admonish sin. Now, I’ll grant that if we are talking about non-believers, then only focusing on the “obvious sins” would be like treating the symptom instead of the disease.

    Among fellow Christians, we tend to take their acceptance of Christ as a given – as well we ought, in most cases – and so there is nothing left but the “obvious sin” to admonish. The early Christians were not shy about this; they reprimanded, corrected, scolded, and shunned.

    But this is not about “blame.” If you feel as if you are being “blamed” when someone points out an error, or if you feel as if your are “blaming” when you do so for others, then that is a separate problem. It is an incorrect view of what Christians are called to do.

  • As usual, you resort to academic snobbery. Anyone who isn’t acquainted with your academic circles obviously can’t know what they are talking about.

    I wonder how many graduate seminars the apostles had to attend before Jesus thought they were worth his time? Oh wait…

    The proof is in what you and Darwin say, not in whatever degrees you have. You seem to feel perpetually threatened by the work that I do and you lash out at that fact at every opportunity.

    If you’re here to talk down to people, don’t be surprised if ridicule is all you ever get from me. People who act ridiculous are by definition worthy of ridicule.

    Perhaps you should reflect, then, on your personal, individual, and private tendency to sin when you ridicule others, for whatever reason.

    The way you act here, I wouldn’t be surprised if some conservative was paying you to write and act the way you do.

    Not a bad idea.

    While I respect your opinion, I think it would best to withhold from informing us about what the Church says about social sin until you have a serious look at what it says about free will and moral responsibility.

    What was that you were saying about snobbery and talking down to people?

    “evil social structures force men and women to sin”

    This means that they have no choice – that there is no personal dimension.

    You seem to have a Pelagian view that we can avoid sin by our own “choice.” And there is too a personal dimension in what Nate is saying.

    Nate is not saying we don’t have free will. As I read him, he is simply pointing to the fact that personal sin is rooted in systemic realities, or what I’d call social sin. This is more in keeping with scripture, the church fathers, and with the teaching of the church. As opposed to your liberal priority-of-the-individual approach.

  • I’m happy that you replied, Joe, and grateful. Yet I find it difficult to engage with you. I feel that you aren’t trying to understand me, and that you’re quick to judge the meaning of my words. Basically, I think we’d get further if you asked more questions. A lot of what I write can be ambiguous and abstract, so I can see why this is difficult.

    I want to write more, but I have to run and clock out. Peace, and blessings!

  • As usual, you resort to academic snobbery. Anyone who isn’t acquainted with your academic circles obviously can’t know what they are talking about.

    It isn’t “academic snobbery” to point to the problems in Darwin’s assertions about what “peace and justice” Catholics mean when they refer to “social sin.”

    You are merely using the anti-intellectual biases of your audience to gain you points and to put down others (who didn’t even invoke academia in the first place) while at the same time invoking your own masters work in political science when you feel like it.

  • Nate,

    I can only understand you through the words you use.

    What I don’t understand is how you can simultaneously say that I am not “trying” to understand you, while admitting that you can see why it would be “difficult” to understand you. Perhaps I have been trying, only to be met with the difficulties of which you speak.

    How many other people take the time to copy and paste your exact words and reply to them directly? I’m one of the few people I know who does take the time, because I do want to understand.

    My problem is with your language. “Cause”, “force”, “impossible” – this is the lexicon of determinism, the denial of the will. My only question is, if this is not what you mean, then why use these words?

    This is my argument, as clearly as I know how to make it:

    1. Either we have free will or we don’t (these are mutual exclusives).

    2. If we do, then the use of these words to describe human behavior is false.

    3. If we don’t, then they are correct.

    4. The position of the Catholic Church, to which I always assume we are both attempting to remain faithful to, is that human beings are created by God with free will. (CCC 1704, 1711, 1731)It is a property of our soul, of our spiritual essence – it is what it means to be made “in the image of God.”

    Through original sin, we lose many of the original graces God grants us, but we do not lose our freedom. (CCC 405-408)

    5. Ergo, to describe or explain human behavior with deterministic language is false. It is also false to speak of human freedom as if it were entirely arbitrary and unlimited. It would be better to use the language of freedom within objective parameters – to speak of probabilities, influences, and tendencies.

    I understand that part of the problem is that we now have a discussion that is spread out over four posts, three here, and one at Vox Nova. So it is possible for me to miss certain things you say, and vice-versa.

  • Well explained Joe.


    If you have problems with Joe understanding your words which you say are abstract, then explain yourself better.

  • If conservatives are sometimes guilty of assuming that social ills can be solved if only individuals would “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” then it is also true that progressives are sometimes guilty of assuming that social ills can be solved completely through systemic or institutional change. (Joe is correct that language such as “forced” and “impossible” imply this bias.) The former viewpoint denies our reality as social beings, and the latter viewpoint denies our free will. Fortunately, the Church in her wisdom appreciates both perspectives (see Chris Burgwald’s post).

  • If conservatives are sometimes guilty of assuming that social ills can be solved if only individuals would “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” then it is also true that progressives are sometimes guilty of assuming that social ills can be solved completely through systemic or institutional change.

    Except, we have a clear example of the former — in this very post and in Joe’s view. Which “progressives” are guilty of the thing you criticize them for? Name some “progressives” who think institutional change is the answer and that it takes priority over personal conversion. No, not everyone is guilty of the dualisms that you impose on them.

  • I guess Michael that if one says that personal sin is the result of social structures that are distinct from Original Sin, we will disagree. I suspect that the Church does not hold with your teaching and is more in line with Joe.

  • Michael (and Joe),

    I don’t want to have to start deleting comments on the thread, so please do not allow argument to move into a sand-kicking match.

    It isn’t “academic snobbery” to point to the problems in Darwin’s assertions about what “peace and justice” Catholics mean when they refer to “social sin.”

    I’m not clear that I made any assertions about what “peace and justice” Catholics mean when they refer to “social sin”. Rather, I wrote about how it’s problematic when anyone allows himself to consider his advocacy in regards to social sin to be so important as to effectively absolve him from responsibility for “little stuff” like the sins he personally commits.

    I used the term “social sin” to talk about large problems within society such as unjust wages, abortion or racism — and in this regard it seems I was incorrectly using the term “social sin” in that by this it seems that theologians mean what economists would call “perverse incentives” rather than some kind of group sin. That said, I don’t think that my mis-use of terminology in any way detracts from what I was actually talking about, which was that in advocacy there is always a temptation to consider one’s advocacy against the sins of others (and the structures of sin they create) is so important that one doesn’t need to worry about “little” things such as one’s own personal actions.

    You seem to have a Pelagian view that we can avoid sin by our own “choice.” And there is too a personal dimension in what Nate is saying.

    Nate is not saying we don’t have free will. As I read him, he is simply pointing to the fact that personal sin is rooted in systemic realities, or what I’d call social sin. This is more in keeping with scripture, the church fathers, and with the teaching of the church. As opposed to your liberal priority-of-the-individual approach.

    I think you’re right that Nate doesn’t think that we don’t have free will, but some of his ways of phrasing his point make it sound somewhat as if he is saying that. I don’t think anyone is trying to indulge in a heresy hunt. Nate is actually a very pleasant and honest person to discuss things with. (ahem…) But I don’t see that it’s a problem for Joe to work on the terminology question. Nor does what Joe says seem any more Pelagian than the quote from John Paul II which was posted and discussed yesterday.

    Not everyone you don’t like is being a liberal individualist all the time.

  • Michael I,

    You said to Darwin,

    “You don’t understand how the term is used by the church and in academic theology.”

    You then tried to deny it by saying,

    “to put down others (who didn’t even invoke academia in the first place)”

    You did it, “in the first place.”

    I mention my own degrees when it is relevant. But that isn’t the issue – I NEVER make claims that a person is improperly using a term from an academic standpoint without explaining WHAT THAT TERM MEANS.

    Without that explanation, your invocation of academia is nothing but an act of snobbery. No one is impressed. Now run along.

  • By the way, for everyone else – Nate and all – I am going to make some of these thoughts into another blog post, because this discussion is too good to be lost in a com-box debate.

  • Joe, my feelings about your not engaging me were incorrect, and I see now that you’ve spent a good deal of time trying to understand what I’m saying. I really appreciate your efforts, and as Phillip says, I will try very hard to be more lucid! Let the discussion continue! 🙂

  • Michael,

    Except, we have a clear example of the former — in this very post and in Joe’s view.

    I’m not clear where in the post or in Joe’s comments on it you’re seeing conservatives assuming that social ills can be solved if only individuals would “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” . Could you provide a quote?

  • Okay, guys. At the risk of spoiling a perfectly good flamewar, I’m going to leave any comments which are about Michael (including the four by Michael about Michael) in moderation. (Much as I enjoyed the part about my well known reputation for bullying around the Catholic blogsphere…)

    I’d be happy to provide venue for discussion of the topic introduced by the post, but given that we have one digression about Michael and a second one about what I apparently said about “peace and justice Catholics” (a phrase that doesn’t appear in the post) and things seem to be getting rather acrimonious, I think it’s time to put the lid down.


  • You are a bully Darwin. I’ve witnessed you challenge people’s assertions many times. If someone asserts something it is necessarily true, and your challenging it serves no purpose but to make the person feel they have to justify themselves and this makes them feel uncomfortable. Bully!

The Lure of Authoritarianism

Wednesday, March 31, AD 2010

61 Responses to The Lure of Authoritarianism

  • That’s a very poor measure. China is starting from a lower base. Even if it does everything right, the U.S. will have a higher standard of living for a while.

  • “There seems an odd attraction towards Chinese-style authoritarianism among certain more technocratic/elitist segments of the left-leaning political elite.”

    An excellent post as usual Darwin but I disagree that it is odd. Most Leftists since the time of the Russian Revolution have had an attraction towards totalitarian regimes of the Left. Orwell was very much the exception to this rule. China, although it has strayed in many ways from the days of Mao and his little red book which thrilled so many contemporary Leftists in the days of their youth in the Sixties, still is officially a Communist regime and antagonistic usually to the policies of the US, and thus something to be mentioned in praiseworthy terms by the herd of independent minds on the Left, another typical example being linked below.


  • (it is, after all, rather easy to dislike the US for a number of reasons — we are, as the saying goes, over-paid, over-sexed, and over here)

    The phrase was supposedly common in Britain during the Second World War. The trouble with this thesis is that the overwhelming majority of American soldiers and sailors billeted overseas are in one of seven countries where reside about 5% of the world’s population (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Korea, Japan, Germany, and Britain). I do not think social contact with the American military explains much of the generic hostility to the United States you find abroad.

    Orwell was very much the exception to this rule.

    Prof. Paul Hollander has said this was true among the subset of chatterati who went on guided tours of communist countries (“for every Andre Gide there were ten G.B. Shaw’s”). In fairness to our leftoid intelligentsia, there has always been a vigorous and at times modal strain which had no time for this sort of thing (Reinhold Neibuhr, Irving Howe, Michael Walzer, and Robert Leiken being examples).

  • “In fairness to our leftoid intelligentsia, there has always been a vigorous and at times modal strain which had no time for this sort of thing (Reinhold Neibuhr, Irving Howe, Michael Walzer, and Robert Leiken being examples).”

    Quite right, although they usually were regarded as heretics by a fair amount of the Left.

  • Art Deco,

    I was perhaps being too clever by half in using the “overpaid, oversexed, and over here” phase, but to clarify: My intent was not at all to convey it was contact with members of the US military which turned people off the US, but rather that:

    1) We are the richest country in the world (and thus its easy for people to claim we’re spoiled, out of touch, greedy, etc. (thus overpaid)

    2) Our popular culture (which is widely exported) is fairly degraded from the point of view of many traditional cultures. (thus oversexed)

    3) Our cultural, financial and political influence per pervasive throughout the world. (thus over here)

    Restrained Radical,

    It seems to me that people general emigrate to a country based on the degree of opportunity they believe they’ll experience there. It would seem pretty clear then, that people see more opportunity in the US than in China. I suppose one could claim that the rapidity of change in China suggests that at some point in the future there will be more opportunity for people there than in the US — but I don’t think you’d actually find many people who believe that.

  • Discussions of net immigration are of passing interest. What is most unsettling in all of this is the admiration of authoritarianism. Although the American Left has always flirted with authoritarianism, and I have no objective historical measure of it, my personal sense is that there’s a growing impatience with democratic processes, a growing desire to use executive and judicial powers to force unpopular or controversial policies, and a growing feeling that we can no longer abide politics as usual.

    I’m not sure why I have this personal opinion, except for perhaps the kinds of stories linked to by Darwin. Even a casual reading of news headlines today gives one the impression that there’s a sense of urgency to the progressive agenda like never before. The previous president was such a bogeyman in the Left’s imagination, they believed that the only way to counter his “disastrous” administration was to have a strong executive of their own. And whatever faults Bush had — one might argue he was at the vanguard of the “strong executive” model — there’s no comparison to the breakneck speed with which the Left wants to take that ball and run with it.

  • Friedman’s Lincoln Steffens-ish cheerleading for China is well past embarrassing.

    Otherwise bright people have the strangest blind spots.

  • Our current cultural elites go on pilgrimages to Cuba and Venezuela. It’s the same thing.

  • Its perhaps human to believe that what you know is perfectly right and it must be implemented. This seems to be more a problem of the left than of the right though both are possessed of it. of course one can say that it is in the nature of the left to want to change society into their “progressive” vision (of course not realizing their progress may be over the edge of a cliff) as opposed to the right which seeks to be skeptical of change.

    It doesn’t help that this country handed those on the left the means to enact a radical agenda (the most liberal president in history, a fillibuster proof Senate and a solid House majority with an ultra-liberal Speaker.) It doesn’t help that most Americans were not informed enough to vote against this.

    One can then understand the impatience of the left when members of Congress didn’t toe the line and enact all of the ultra liberal agenda. The answer then begins to reject the democratic process.

  • Of course all of this in the context of some who believe the “right” to pump breast milk in a special room is a right to life issue.

  • Phillip:


    While I find the overall illogic of the argument risible (a few sops in a bill that vastly expands abortion funding and access does not make it palatable), I think a good case can be made that provisions which make pregnancy and motherhood more reconcilable with work are in and of themselves pro-life.

  • Though it is quuuuuuuuiiiiiiiiitttttteeeeeeee a stretch to say that mandating a separate, private room for pumping breast milk vs. using a the current, private bathroom for pumping breast milk is a major pro-life move and a major advance for pregnancy and motherhood. Sorry, it really isn’t.

  • And thus the silliness of much current thought on social justice.

  • Maybe some will consider this to label me some sort of knuckle dragger, but I’m not clear how cementing the normality of women going back to full time, in-office work while their children are still nursing age if necessarily a pro-life victory.

    Which is not to say that no women should be working outside the home shortly after giving birth, but it would seem that from a point of view of upholding the natural family, situations that involve putting a child under 12 months in daycare are less than ideal. Not everyone can pull off being a single income family, and perhaps some don’t want to, but I don’t see that pumping breast milk in one’s cube or in the bathroom or in some other private place is a major anti-life problem. And I do see the increasing societal pressure that all mothers should work full time, and do so outside the home starting at most 2-3 months after birth, as being a serious negative from a pro-family point of view.

  • I’m sympathetic to the argument that another mandate from our increasingly intrusive current government is onerous.

    But forcing the mother into the crapper presents its own problems. As my wife (who used a breast pump in the toilet back when she was in the wage-earning workforce) pointed out: “Who else has to prepare their meals in the bathroom?”

  • Even beyond that, there is the silliness of saying that it is a “pro-life” issue. This while the real probability that abortions will be paid for and probably increased as a result is ignored. But heck, we get special breast pump rooms in the workplace.

  • Sure, Darwin, it’s a problem. Ideally, Mom would be able to stay home. That’s what *we’ve* been able to do, all thanks to God.

    But that doesn’t work for everyone, and there are good (as well as not good) reasons for the mom to work. Starting with an absent dad, and going from there.

    I’m not saying it’s ideal, nor should I be construed as regarding it as a pro-life victory for the ages. But we have to meet people where they are, and any reasonable incentive supporting, or removal of stigma from, motherhood in the workplace should be welcome and seen as pro-life.

  • Actually it really isn’t much of a pro-life victory. Not at all. Such thinking belongs in the crapper.

  • Phillip, I said that at the outset. I said it’s an abortion funder. It’s not to be celebrated. In fact, from the perspective of the blog poster in question, it’s as ludicrous as a pro-Iraq War blogger calling the War pro-life because of the reconstruction funds given to Iraqs.

    Bracketing all of that, as I expressly did from the outset, I think those provisions which support pregnancy and motherhood are helpful from a pro-life perspective. Not that any can counterbalance the great evils stemming therefrom, but helpful.

  • Again, pointing out that I do not believe it is a pro-life issue. It is really morally neutral. Some may be in favor. Less bacteria in a separate room (perhaps if it is kept very clean. Though of course there are about as many bacteria in a nursery room as a bathroom and women pump there.) But some may see it as not much of an issue at all from a pro-life perspective. That it really isn’t pro-lefe. And it really isn’t.

  • May you and yours have a blessed Triduum, Phillip.

  • And to yours also as we disagree on this small, prudential point.

  • I guess it’s something that goes both ways. Within the modern context, it is a slight concession towards parenthood, and in that context thus good. On the other hand, it strikes me as upholding a modern, individualized lifestyle over a traditional one, and in that sense strikes me as a negative.

    One thing that sometimes strikes me when progressive pro-lifers list these kind of things as pro-life victories is that things like subsidized child care, extra working-mom mandatory concessions, etc. end up increasing the marginal cost of being a more traditional family. Essentially, I as a single income end up making less (both because of taxes and because my company devotes more money to offering benefits I have no use for rather than to wages) in order to subsidize people who due to their two-income households make twice what I do in order to support fewer kids. (These same people, around the office, often express wonder as to how one could possibly afford to have four kids rather than their own one or two — despite the fact their household incomes are twice mine.)

    So there’s a sense in which pushing these benefits too hard (as, for example, with the amount of subsidized childcare, leave, etc. in Western Europe) makes it even harder to break with the system and have a more traditional family structure instead.

    On the other hand, moves which reduce the “my world will end if I carry this pregnancy to term” factor are clearly a good thing from the pro-life point of view.

  • Phillip:

    Agreed. And I wanted to remind myself that I was speaking with a Catholic brother in Christ. It wasn’t one of those passive-aggressive “I’ll pray for you” digs-drenched-in-piety.

  • Darwin:

    Good points, all. Recognition of “unintended consequences” doesn’t pop up often enough in evaluating these sorts of things.

  • Thanks Dale. I have been brusque and apologize if offense was taken. I will say that I tire of those (not saying you) that will take minor provisions (that often in fact are prudential judgments) and ignore massive support for intrinsic evils. Part of the problem I think with the USCCB Faithful Citizenship document. Seen some use that document to say that so and so is pro-abortion, but is in favor of increased food stamp funding and gun control so he is pro-life on two out of three issues – vote for him.

  • Well, Darwin, there is a considerable degree of antagonism to the United States in Western Europe, which approaches or exceeds us in its level of affluence and in the prevalence of bastardy, among other metrics of cultural degradation. One might also note that the bulge bracket banks in Britain and Spain are actually larger and more inclined toward international business than their American counterparts.

    Maybe the characters at Vox Nova

  • Well, nowhere did I say the breast pump law was a “major pro-life victory.” But it is certainly a pro-life victory. How strange that some ostensibly “pro-life” Catholics can’t see that. Perhaps they are out-of-touch with actual parenthood? Good to see that not everyone in this thread is so dismissive of a pretty significant and praiseworthy bit of progress.

  • DarwinCatholic, there’s greater economic opportunity in the US because of the higher standard of living. Compare the earnings of a restaurant employee in China to one in the US and you’ll see why they come here. There are large immigrant populations in Singapore and Dubai, very authoritarian countries with very high standards of living. Authoritarianism is usually opposed to economic development but there are plenty of exceptions (China today, Pinochet’s Chile, Chiang Kai-shek’s Taiwan, pre-1990’s South Korea).

    There’s also the lure of excellent higher education. An internationally respected university takes many decades, perhaps centuries, to build so the US is safe in that department for a while.

    Ethnic diversity also helps. Pretty much any citizen of the world can move to the US and find an ethnic enclave to live in, making the move much easier.

  • Good to see you here Michael. Actually as Darwin points out and as Dale agrees, there may be unintended consequences to this “pro-life” measure that wind up being anti-life. That as opposed to the actual,intrinsically anti-life reality of the health care bill.

  • Perhaps they are out-of-touch with actual parenthood?

    Hmmm. That’s an interesting theory, Michael. Maybe you could flesh it out a bit. You’ve been a parent for how long, Michael? You have how many children? You have spent how many years, as a parent, working in offices consisting of 50 employees or more and understanding the financial and personal pressures that apply to single and double income families respectively?

    To help ground our discussion, I can provide the following answers to the above questions:

    Eight years. Five. Six years (during my first two years of parenthood I was working for a company with only ~30 employees.)

    Doubltess your longer years being a parent, larger number of children, and more extensive workplace experience as a parent gives you a deeper and broader understanding of all this. Surely you wouldn’t simply be praising this as a “significant and praiseworthy bit of progress” simply because it’s a progressive point-score and you enjoy tweeking the noses of people who actually vote against abortion and support more traditional family structures…

  • Now Darwin, you know our betters know more about parenting and business even though they are not parents and have never been in business. Even as our betters know more about minorities even though they are white Europeans while we are Hispanics.

  • As for authoritarianism being a leftist philosophy, I mentioned above, Pinochet’s Chile, Chiang Kai-shek’s Taiwan, and pre-1990’s South Korea. Add Batista’s Cuba. On civil liberties, Bush was very authoritarian for a US president.

  • RestrainedRadical,

    Agreed that there can be fairly rapid economic growth for a while even under an authoritarian regime, but for Friedman and Meyerson’s concerns to pan it, it seems to me that one would have to argue that the combination of authoritarianism and development seem in such examples is in danger of being a more attractive model to the peoples of the world than the US model. And I’m not seeing why one would think that to be the case.

    Certainly, authoritarian and developing rapidly may be more attractive than authoritarian and povety-stricken (thus making China more attractive than North Korea) but I fail to see the danger that Meyerson in particular is concerned about that developing nations will look at the US and China and conclude, “Wow, we really better have a technocratic dictatorship rather than a democratic republic.”

    That’s the sense in which I think that immigration direction of the US relative to China is indicative. Given the choice, people voting with their feet seem to clearly prefer the US over China.

  • I don’t think anyone was actually dismissive of the provision; in fact, I thought Darwin gave a very balanced view of the matter. (Rarely are matters of public policy win-win situations, anyway. There’s always a cost to every benefit.)

    All of this is beside the point of the article. Even the point about immigration patterns is a side issue. What’s more at issue is our willingness to circumvent the political process and flirt with authoritarianism.

  • This is certainly a wide-ranging thread. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that…)

    I agree, j. christian, that this is a disturbing trend — one more pronounced on the left in that they have many more things that they positively want to do, while conservatives are currently mostly engaged in resisting change. On a number of issues (perhaps most notably environmentalism) there seems to be a waning patience with actually persuading the public to support “the right thing” and an increasing frustration that technocrats cannot simply impose new regulations and structures without consulting the troublesome electorate and their representatives.

  • But it is certainly a pro-life victory. How strange that some ostensibly “pro-life” Catholics can’t see that. Perhaps they are out-of-touch with actual parenthood? Good to see that not everyone in this thread is so dismissive of a pretty significant and praiseworthy bit of progress.

    I don’t really think so, even though I think the existence of a comfortable place for a woman to pump is a good thing – but it’s more of a plain ol’ decency thing. Then again, having six kids, two of whom have special needs, I’m out of touch. Oh, and one of those special needs kids was born with a cleft palate and therefore couldn’t suck. My wife pumped exclusively for over a year – we even had to rent a medical grade pump that was so heavy and awkward that it brought on excessive scrutiny from airline security.

    Yeah, out of touch…

  • Technocrats grow impatient because they “know” what is best for us. They have the knowledge that we don’t have even if they haven’t the experience. Thus someone who is not a parent or business person can know what is good for parents and business. Why someone who is a white European can know what racial programs are good for ethnic minorities even if those minorities disagree.

  • While I see the breast-pumping rooms as something beneficial to working mothers, I still can’t help but see it as an oddity.

  • It seems the briefly aired Firefly series was rather prophetic. The (Sino-American) Alliance exercising galactic totalitarianism in the name of peace, efficiency and happiness. Could it be the Tea Party are the Browncoats?

    The elite financiers and their academic lackeys have always sought to merge the USA with a Communist regime to use capitalism to fund a global totalitarian oligarchy. Used to be think tanks (foundations) were preparing us to merge with the USSR. However, Reagan, Thatcher and Blessed John Paul II put a stop to the attraction for that horror. So now they are working on merging us with China. China is the future model of world government and many people are willing to make a deal with the Devil so they can have the comfort of security (slavery) rather than living in fear of failure (freedom).

    Ai ya women wanle!

  • Darwin, your tactics and “arguments” (bullying) are boring.

  • bullying = pointing out when someone claims authority/experience he lacks

    Well, we aim to please. 😉

  • Darwin, you might be interested in a post I wrote today for Rock and Theology on children. Pay close attention to the seventh paragraph.

  • Let me chime in here as a full-time working mother who pumped milk for over a year for my daughter and plan to do it again for my forthcoming baby (I think MrsDarwin and I are due about a week apart).

    My family is a little unusual because my husband stays home with our children while I work. This decision was not made because of an unexpected unemployment situation but something we deliberately chose. We felt strongly about not sending the children to daycare and having a stranger raise them. One of us was going to stay home and, since the economic potential in my field is much greater than his, we decided it would be my husband. Over time, I think we have made the right decision, but, in these child-bearing years, it can be very hard.

    Now, in a lot of ways, we get the worst of both worlds. We live far out from the city and I have a long commute because we cannot afford to live near the city on one income. Pricing of many things seems dependent on two incomes and the assumption that everyone has a paying job. So I am not in favor of anything that reinforces the “necessity” of a dual income household and that it is proper to outsource the raising of one’s children.

    On the other hand, there is very little corporate support for working mothers beyond pats on the head. I get zero paid maternity leave. All the time I take off of work for childbirth comes from my accumulated sick and vacation time. What that means in reality is that our family just doesn’t go on vacation beyond a handful of days around major holidays to visit nearby family. Taking a week off to go to Florida (or go visit family across the country) is just not feasible. I am relatively healthy and don’t get sick that often, but am fearful of ever getting put on pregnancy bedrest. We can’t afford unpaid leave because I am our only income. And I know that I am lucky in that I actually get sick and vacation time to bank and can actually take time off after childbirth. So it would be nice if working mothers had more concrete support.

    Now the law in my state (Tennessee) already required employers to offer a private, non-bathroom area to pump. So while it is nice thought that federal law now requires everyone to be decent to pumping mothers, I’m not sure it is that great of a pro-life victory. If even pro-business, low tax, redstate Tennessee has this law, it must not be that controversial and could be passed state by state respecting our federal system.

  • bullying = pointing out when someone claims authority/experience he lacks

    This is a great line to remember the next time you pontificate about, say, liberation theology.

  • Or the next time you give an opinion on breast pumping, I suppose. If you want to claim you have more experience at breast pumping than I do, go right ahead.

  • Michael,

    Perhaps you should rely on Jenny’s experience noted above.

  • Michael,

    The reason I called you on your “Perhaps they are out-of-touch with actual parenthood?” line is because you were using it on people some of whom you knew very well to have much more experience being working parents than you do. If I’m out of touch with actual parenthood, then you clearly don’t have standing to even possess an opinion on the matter. Next time I suggest to you in a condescending fashion that you are perhaps out of touch with actual liberation theology, or suggest to a mother that she is out of touch with actual breast pumping, I strongly encourage you to parrot the line back to me. I’ll deserve it.

    As it happens, I read your Rock & Theology post even before you linked to it here (it was a slow day, so I read it when you linked to it at Vox Nova) and I did indeed crack an amused smile at that seventh paragaph, since it seemed like such a classic example of choosing to characterize others rather than understand them. I’ll see about leaving a comment there with more detail, if you’d like.

  • “I did indeed crack an amused smile at that seventh paragraph, since it seemed like such a classic example of choosing to characterize others rather than understand them.”

    ..Sort of like treating people as objects rather than subjects, wouldn’t you agree? That passage was pure argument by assertion. He might’ve just as easily claimed that parents in big families don’t love their children — it would be just as factually correct, and just as devoid of substance.

  • Jenny,

    Fair points. You’ve definitely taken the harder road, and I have a lot of respect for you and your husband on that.

    Certainly, the extra burden to large companies in having a room somewhere which can be used for nursing mothings is not large — I wouldn’t consider it to have nearly the kind of blowback for those of us (like you and me) who are slogging through the single-income lifestyle that mandating company-paid or taxpayer-subsidized childcare would.

    The concern about being forced to subsidize the two-income lifestyle does, I guess, spring to mind for me since the very large company I work for does provide a fair number of benefits clearly designed to help out the two-incomes-two-kids-in-daycare set. And on various teams I’ve been on over the years, it often seems like as someone who doesn’t have to rush out right at 5pm in order to pick the kid up from daycare on “my day to pick the baby up”, I would often get extra tasks dumped on my by my two-income-household co-workers at the end of the day. The combination of working later so they can rush out to daycare on time (and thus getting home later to my own wife and kids), while hearing them talk about how they can’t imagine affording a “large family” like mine, gets to rankle a bit. (Though clearly, excess cynicism isn’t the right response.)

  • (Though clearly, excess cynicism isn’t the right response.)

    Ah, but sometimes it can be a satisfying one. Rather like when I am dealing with a client who is on bankruptcy number three and who is complaining to me about a bank which, for some unfathomable reason, does not wish to extend a loan to him.

  • I also find Jenny’s insight good. She is struggling but still finds that a breast-feeding room is not a “pro-life” issue. Rather, as others have pointed out, it is a decent issue for a mother’s sake where appropriate.

  • Perhaps you should rely on Jenny’s experience noted above.

    My wife’s experience is key for me, as well as women in my family.

    If I’m out of touch with actual parenthood, then you clearly don’t have standing to even possess an opinion on the matter.

    Um, I didn’t say you were out of touch with parenthood.

    He might’ve just as easily claimed that parents in big families don’t love their children — it would be just as factually correct, and just as devoid of substance.

    Why? It’s a completely different, unrelated claim than the claim that I made.

  • So what are your wife’s experiences on breast feeding in the workplace?

  • Phillip,

    I didn’t say the breast pump rooms were *not* pro-life. It is just that they are more in the “children deserve the best nutrition that can be given” vein of pro-life, as opposed to the “it should be illegal for your mother to kill you” vein. But I don’t think it is a grand victory or a significant gain for the pro-life position. If Tennessee has laws protecting public nursing, extended (albeit unpaid) maternity leave, and pumping at work, these issues must not be that great of a battle and could be passed in all the states.


    My company doesn’t really offer benefits that only apply to dual-income households beyond the flex account for daycare, but I view that as more a federal issue than a company one. And amazingly none of my coworkers have kids in day care, so getting work dumped on me is not really a problem.

    What does set my teeth on edge is the federal tax credit for daycare. I find the provision to be anti-family and discriminatory against one income, two parent households. While it is true that the direct cost of our “day care” was zero dollars, the actual cost of this free service was an entire year’s salary.

    If we, as a society, have decided to subsidize the cost of daycare, then every child’s family should have the cost subsidized, not just the families that have decided to outsource the job. The best way to do this is to increase the child tax credit and abolish the day care credit.

  • Agreed on the federal daycare tax credit.

    Actually, it comes into play far less frequently that some of the child care related programs and policies at my company, but the thing which perhaps galls the most is a policy which was adopted after a PR snafu a few years back that in any layoff, if both spouses work for the company they will never lay both off, even if both would otherwise have been targeted, because they don’t want to wipe a family’s entire income.

    Of course, for those of us who already are our family’s only source of income, no such promises…

  • Actually Jenny then we disagree. I think there is an abuse of language to claim that such an issue is pro-life. Sure there is a charity to allow women a private room to breast feed. But is this a fundamental issue of justice? Is justice violated in a basic sense if a woman has to breast pump in a bathroom? Is it really? Not at all. And the trivialization of what is pro-life is part of the problem with such arguments.

  • While a private pumping room may be a charity for the woman, I *do* believe it is an issue of justice for the baby.

    The problem with pumping in the bathroom is not necessarily that it is a bathroom. It is that the bathroom is a public place. Breast pumping requires a loud machine, an electrical outlet, partially disrobing, attaching two largish suction pumps to a private area of the body and relaxing enough to let the milk flow. Next time you are in a public bathroom at work (or wherever), take notice of the electrical outlets. They probably are not in the stalls, so the pumping would have to be out in the open. Imagine standing in this vulnerable position next to that outlet while your boss, your coworkers, and who knows who else comes in and out of that bathroom.

    Most women will not endure that type of humiliation three or four times a day for however long the child needs breastmilk. They will simply choose to formula feed and some children will pay with their lives. The pro-life angle of the policy is that it allows women better opportunities to feed their children the best possible nutrition and may save lives. http://apnews.excite.com/article/20100405/D9EST98G0.html

    Now all that being said, I do agree that the language can be (and often is) co-opted to justify all manner of minor pro-life policies while allowing the one major pro-life issue to go unchecked. Do these minor victories redeem a monstrous bill? No. And I do agree that it is a trivialization to label a bill “pro-life” because it federally mandates private pumping rooms, but allows funding for abortion.

  • I guess we will still disagree. A benefit perhaps. But an issue of fundamental justice no.

What We Know Now

Monday, March 22, AD 2010

As it so happened, I was in Washington DC on that National Mall as congress was voting on the mess which is our “health care reform” bill. I hadn’t been to our capitol city before, and it was a simply beautiful afternoon — one on which it was hard to believe that our elected representatives were bringing us one large step closer to a major budgetary crisis point, and Representative Stupak was busy selling out the principles everyone had imagined to be as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar for a rather paltry executive order which may (or may not) come after the fact. (Call me a cynic, but I could well imagine the EO never coming. Though in a sense, why not issue it: It would have no effect and could be repealed at any time. Still, there would be a great deal of justice and truth in Obama using the old Microsoft line, “Your mistake was in trusting us.”)

Still, though sun, green grass, and stone monuments are fresh in my mind, and the largest looming problems in my mind revolve around children wailing that they need a bathroom right now while traveling on the metro (let’s just say that didn’t end well) I don’t want to seem as if I’m discounting the importance of what we’ve just seen. And there seem to be some fairly clear conclusions we can draw:

1) Stupak had no desire to be to abortion what Joe Lieberman chose to be to foreign policy. Lieberman was hounded out of his party and continues to hold office only because of people who disagree with him on nearly every other issue admired his principled stands on Iraq, Israel, etc. If Stupak had brought down the Health Care Reform bill in defense of the unborn, he would have received similar treatment from his own party to what Lieberman has received, and he clearly didn’t want to be that person. Instead, having talking himself into a corner he really didn’t want to be in, he seized upon a fig leaf when it was offered and did what he’d clearly wanted to do all along:

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21 Responses to What We Know Now

  • Thanks for your thoughts on this Darwin. Though I will say this: I am not so sure Stupak’s principles failed today as much as his intelligence. What was he thinking, putting the status of abortion in the health care program in the hands of Obama?

    He was willing to go to war just to keep the Hyde language in the bill, but now he caves and gives the president what amounts to carte blanche? What idiocy. What foolishness! It’s irrational behavior.

    The rabidly pro-abortion Dems who threatened to block the passage of any bill that denied public coverage of abortion are clearly confident that this EO would have little to no effect. Pro-life Republicans also clarified how EOs really work during the debate running up to the vote.

    I will be writing soon on the prospects of nullification.

  • I mentioned upon the election of Brown that it’s possible that his election would result in a more liberal bill. Without Brown, Stupak would’ve had a much better chance of getting his amendment.

    Anyway, surprising indeed.

  • It is rare for a political party to walk off a political cliff in lockstep, but that is precisely what the vast majority of Democrats did in the House last night. Most of them I assume have no idea of the political whirlwind they sowed last night.

  • Donald,
    I hope you are right, but if ‘pro-life’ Dems have not figured out their party by now is there any chance that they ever will?

    Party affiliation first and foremost!!!

  • What do you guys think of Bill McCollum, et al and their posturing to kill this in the courts? Do you think they have a shot? I mean, large parts of this monstrosity strike me as blatantly unconstitutional, but I’m no lawyer.

  • restrainedradical,

    Given that the text of the Senate bill, with its more liberal abortion language, predates Brown, I’m unclear how it is the result of his election. Are you theorizing that if the Democrats still had a 60 seat majority in the Senate they would have been more willing to accept Stupak’s language even though they’d initially refused.

  • I mentioned upon the election of Brown that it’s possible that his election would result in a more liberal bill. Without Brown, Stupak would’ve had a much better chance of getting his amendment.

    Nice try, rr, but I do not think the psychology commonly attributed to battered wives is salable in this forum, whether the huckster is you or David Frum.

  • Nice try, rr, but I do not think the psychology commonly attributed to battered wives is salable in this forum, whether the huckster is you or David Frum.

    Oh yes, pro-lifers were the victims in all this. Aren’t they always? I can’t say I didn’t warn you, not like you were listening anyway. Pro-lifers got more out of this than they deserved politically. It’s time for the pro-life movement to stand up, and admit they are facing the adult consequences for their adult choices. Of course that would mean actually holding leaders accountable and not continually giving them a pass. For all the complaining about McClarey’s favorite representative, he’s probably the only reason you have the half loaf you have.

  • Victims? Not particularly, that I can see. We lost lost a battle but won some side engagements along the way, and while it could have been a lot better, we certainly did better than if we’d simply sat around on our hands. (BTW what’s with all this 2nd and 3rd person?)

    That said, we did lose, and in directly because of a loss of either wisdom or principle on the part of one of the main players. In that sense, it’s hardly surprised to see him blamed.

    The point about battered wife syndrome is more that it hardly makes sense to argue that we somehow would have got even more concessions if we hadn’t pushed for anything at all. The Democratic Party is overwhelmingly pro-abortion at this point, and they run congress, so clearly, if pro-lifers had not tried very hard to get pro-life restrictions forced into the bill, the folks who think that killing the unborn is a form of health care would have had their way in its entirety. If there’s a lesson in all this, it’s that the “let’s shut up and be good patsies for the Dems because they’re only ones who care about people” crew would never have got any pro-life concessions at all if they’d been left to their own (lack of) way.

  • I mentioned upon the election of Brown that it’s possible that his election would result in a more liberal bill. Without Brown, Stupak would’ve had a much better chance of getting his amendment.

    I’d considered this possibility too, but ultimately I don’t think it works. The language to be included in the Conference bill had already been worked out prior to Brown’s election, and it wasn’t the Stupak language (that’s what the whole Cornhusker Kickback thing was all about). If Brown hadn’t been elected we would have ended up with the same result w/r/t abortion.

  • MZ, rr fancies we are responsible for this mess because we did not play the angles in some complicated way, e.g. being frightfully clever and casting a ballot for Martha Coakley. Now, I am not impressed with such a thesis or the bloke who offers it, but then I am just an ass who doesn’t want to take responsibility for anything.

    not like you were listening anyway.

    You got me there. I do not pay you much mind, for reasons you should be able to discern.

  • DarwinCatholic, I disagree with you assertion that “the Democratic Party is overwhelmingly pro-abortion at this point…”

    I’m a 30-year-old pro-life Catholic and spent the last decade voting Republican solely on the abortion issue. But I’m done with that. The Democrats of 2010 are a far cry from the party that silenced Bob Casey 18 years ago. Case in point: as Stupak took the podium last night he was greeted with loud, sustained applause from his caucus. Imagine that, 250 Dems cheering a pro-lifer as he champions the pro-life provisions of a piece of Democratic legislation.

    Frankly, the fact that you and others on this blog find yourselves in the same camp as Planned Parenthood and NOW, lambasting Obama over abortion, should give you pause.

  • What a ludicrous thing to say Mr. Kelley. The Democrat party is the most pro-abortion that it has ever been. Stupak sold out the pro-life cause for a meaningless Executive Order that is unenforceable. That is why he was getting cheers from the overwhelming pro-abort Democrat caucus. Vote Democrat if you wish, but do not delude yourself that you will be voting pro-life when you do.

  • Frankly, the fact that you and others on this blog find yourselves in the same camp as Planned Parenthood and NOW, lambasting Obama over abortion, should give you pause.

    Put that bong down, and crash.

  • Donald:
    I didn’t say I was vetoing Democrat, just said I’m done with the Republicans.

    Art Deco:

  • oops. “voting”

  • Chuckling at Art Deco.

    If the Dems weren’t overwhelmingly pro-abortion, there wouldn’t have been any provisions in this bill for abortion from the beginning. Only a handful of Democrats in the house held out for an abortion exclusion. “Pro-life” senators were bought off with promises of pork. The leadership maintained that the bill will still allow funding of abortion and consider that a cost saving measure. Even going as far as to call this a “life-affirming” bill.

    We know to some Catholics abortion isn’t a big deal to begin with, and to most of them the end justifies the means. But the Church’s teaching on life, abortion, and justice resonates with and informs some of our consciences.

  • I don’t blame those who voted for Brown. I wouldn’t have voted for Coakley. But I did think the celebration was premature.

  • RR,

    Yes, the celebration was premature.

    Let’s see if the Democrats can control both houses of congress come the November elections.

  • ” as Stupak took the podium last night he was greeted with loud, sustained applause”

    Whereas just days before, he was greeted with vicious hate. For everyone from the liberal bloggers to the House Dems to suddenly love Stupak says one thing, and one thing only to me: that he agreed to a deal that will do absolutely nothing for the pro-life cause, because any bill that would, would have been shot down by the pro-abort Dems.

    The viciousness with which he then attacked pro-life Republicans during the following vote was like a victory dance with salt-coated shoes over open wounds. And all they were trying to do was get HIS language in the bill – his reason for berating them was that he had the utmost confidence in Obama’s EO.

    What a chump. What an irrational, foolish man.

  • We also know that the people begging and praying for the congressional critters to obey God and the Constitution aren’t being heard by most, both those in the Capitol and anyone outside of the four block radius.

    According to the reporting there were a 1000 ‘Tea Partiers’ and hundreds of Catholics for Health Reform making their cases.

    The sad fact is there is no such thing as a Catholic who is in favor of this ‘health care reform’. I know you misguided lefties are going break your keyboards responding, but the fact is you are wrong. You may have won this battle, but you are still wrong. Engage whatever mental gymnastics you want, you can’t contort the Catholic faith into making this OK.

    I spoke to these poor fools when I was on the hill the past two days and nights. At one point there was some confusion over the boundaries of the pro-Constitution group and the anti-life group and I ended up on the anti-life group side. I admit that after the confusion was cleared up I stayed there because I wanted the cameras to know that we are not all nuts, in favor of collectivism and that there is NO SUCH THING AS A PRO-ABORTION Christian. The camera men told me to, ‘get out of my face, I’ll film whatever I want’. I was told by Capitol police not to cause a commotion and I told them that I was just correcting a lie. The cops were very cool, they did there job well with a few minor exceptions who were chastised.

    One poor woman holding one of the professionally fabricated signs that were given to them by Demon Pelosi ‘catholics’ told me that I wasn’t allowed to be there. I responded that Catholics aren’t allowed to be for killing babies. I was met with silence. No matter how much we sin, that conscience is always there, as misguided and disfigured as it is – even Judas could have repented.

    The interesting thing was that after the ‘staged’ pro-abortion promoters were scheduled to leave – the pro-life, pro-Constitutionalists stayed and prayed and chanted and prayed. Sure I found the Our Father a little long, you know with the Novus Ordo doxology tagged on to the end of the Lord’s Prayer, but that was OK. We sang the national anthem and said the pledge of alliegence and emphasized REPUBLIC and UNDER GOD! (tangent: funny how Bible-only Chrhstians pray the Lord’s prayer differently that it says in the Bible). Some of the younger fools came to our rally carrying their professional signs and acted like fools – some of us fell for it and engaged, sadly, I wish I had recalled that Jesus didn’t say one word to Herod – but I caved into temptation and engaged.

    I am not sure that all of the ‘Catholics for Health Reform’ were actually Catholic or just very, very poorly catechized Catholics, but they are certainly wrong and misguided. They behaved like ignorant fools. It is sad that each subsequent generation since the 60s is devolving into barbarism. Having attended Mass in DC, I also noticed that the Washington DC diocese is not nearly as conservative and traditional as the western part of the Arlington diocese just across the river. That may have something to do with it – lefties and unorthodox, even downright heretics are in our Church and to be silent is to allow the Devil to sweep souls away.

    Oh – as for those racial slurs – I saw none of that – it hasn’t been proven and none of the thousands that I met behaved that way. Not to mention I met many black Americans that were with the alleged perpetrators. There were also many agent provocateurs among us to malign patriotic Americans – don’t fall for the lies. As for Barney Frank being called a fag**t, I didn’t see any of that either, despite the fact that he is a proud Sodomite. We did call him a treasonous traitor – another term that is accurate for that man.

    There were thousands standing up for life, for America and for freedom to worship and honor God. If you can’t be there in person you must pray and fast with those on the front line. This isn’t a joke. This is how a society succumbs to Jacobins, Leninists and Brownshirts. It is so sad that so many have been mentally conditioned into believing that it can’t happen here and that it isn’t happening.

    Of course, this bill is not ushering in collectivism tomorrow – we’ve been working on that for 100 years and the Enemy bides his time. The damage from this will be slow enough for most to not notice it and that will fool many into thinking their conscience is OK with it and then one day they’ll look back and wonder when it happened – when did we become Communist slaves? Or, worse, actually be happy about it and embrace it.

    Thanks for coming to DC – perhaps we bumped into each other. 🙂

Poll Shows Americans Would Like to Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

Wednesday, February 10, AD 2010

The Washington Post has a new poll out which will please both political parties, since the American people in the main agree with both of them. A majority of people want Congress to scrap the current Health Care Reform bills, and a majority also think Obama has done a bad job of handling the health care issue. Yet a majority also want Health Care Reform passed this year and blame Republicans for lack of progress.

Solid majorities think that the current HCR bills are too complex and too expensive, but majorities also approve of the main components: require employers to provide insurance, require people without insurance to buy it, subsidize people who can’t afford insurance, and require insurance companies to give everyone insurance regardless of their medical histories or problems. So basically, people would love the bill as is, so long as it didn’t cost anything and wasn’t complex.

And in the results most likely to give legislators pause: People say they’re looking for new candidates of incumbents in the next congressional election by a 56 to 36 majority. 71% of people disapprove of how congress is doing its job. And of the 62% of the population that has private insurance (15% have MediCare, 3% have Medicaid and 17% have no insurance) 74% trust their insurance companies to do a “good” or “great” job of processing their claims fairly.

If people like the idea of health care reform, but don’t want it to cost anything or be complex, while distrusting congress and trusting their insurance companies, it sounds to me like nothing is likely to happen on the health care front this year.

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22 Responses to Poll Shows Americans Would Like to Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

  • Over four decades of brain-washing has caused cognitive dissonance and an inability for critical thinking. Oops, sorry I didn’t regurgitate a talking point. I promise not to think anymore and fall the alleged left-right divide.

    If nothing happens on the health care front this year is that an accident or is that by design? Could it be that despite the political class completely ignoring the Constitution and the general populace completely ignorant of the document it might actually still be working and preventing the trans-national elites from completely destroying this country?

    Me thinks the Founding Fathers might be smarter than our history books tell us.

    Shakespeare posited that first we should kill all the lawyers. I disagree, some of those lawyers are my friends. Perhaps we can just exile all the politicos and their financiers to Gitmo and start over from the Constitution, properly amended.

  • Harvey Mansfield is relevant to some of these points, Darwin:


  • Truly people – regarding human nature, who doesn’t want their cake and eat it too?

    The problem is that our recent presidents and presidential candidates have for many years told the American people that they CAN have their cake and eat it too.

    I can’t remember the last time Mr. Obama has been truthful about the healthcare bill. He ascertains that it won’t cost the American people more but will cover more people and contain no cost control measures that are readily understandable.

    How about pulling a rabbit out of a hat?

    Both common sense and reality dictate that we have not been told the truth. I think that is why there is such a lack of consensus regarding this issue. Who really KNOWS what this bill is truly about? Who wants to both read and study over 2600 pages? Who would trust that.

    You can fool only some of the people some of the time…

    Thank God our founding fathers created a system of power separation, which causes all change to be slow.

  • What Americans (and the rest of Western civilization) will get is:

    No electricity, lighting or heating as our power plants shut down
    No fresh food
    No medicine
    No refridgeration
    No gas for cars, so no car travel
    No nothing.

    50 years of neglect with no investment in cheap clean energy like nuclear – we’re gonna get it right up the whazu! And we deserve it.

  • Given that this polling would seem to suggest the status quo will continue, I would think that Americans will continue to get very much what they’ve got in the past.

  • From a purely materialist perspective America has been getting better and better. We have the fattest most well entertained poor people. The cleanest air and the biggest cars, etc. As for energy and the rest of Paul’s list we will keep getting more of that too. The question is what are we selling to keep material enriching ourselves? Perhaps that price is too big.

    It is just as foolish to think any materialist solution is the answer whether it is altruistic (universal health care) or selfish (monopoly privileges). We are not ordered toward God; however, if I am going to live in an ungodly world for a while I’d rather live in a materially successful country and not an impoverished one.

    Perhaps it is time to give up this idea that government fixes things and makes life better. May be instead of forging new progressive ways of empowering government to do more for or to us. What would happen if we went back to the Ten Commandments, The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, properly amended we may actually be free to reach for higher things.

    God made Creation good and He made us very good. Although sinful, we can participate in his creativity to improve things, as in order them more to Him. Government cannot be creative, it is only coercive.

    Americans are naturally looking for men of virtue to wield the reigns of power and knowing that the most virtuous man is still a sinner we shackle government with the Constitution.

  • Americans are schizophrenic !

  • No I’m not. Me either. 😉

  • Among the more interesting points is that employers should pay for health insurance. Then when the insurance becomes too costly for the employer, he goes under: leaving the former workers without insurance.

    This also affects employment. The attempt to increase the minimum wage law is similar. It makes the hiring of new employees more expensive.

  • I’m sorry the blog post seemed like the old ‘bunny in the hat’ trick, jillions of little baby bunnies just jumping out of that proverbial hat. Which little bunny to attempt to catch first?

    After a year of President Obama’s open discussion with the American people, I’m pretty sure most folks have got to realize a change simply has to happen…
    sky-rocketing costs…spiraling fragmentation of services…increasing levels of disparity among those working or disabled and even those that can afford paying cash (Warren Buffet? Self-pay? Doubt it.)

    In my early professional health care training many years ago, it still seemed debatable whether it was as bad it seemed. Back then, the main focus was ensuring that Social Security funding would last through the time the baby boomers would be eligible. It seems as if we were still quibbling about funding Social Security not that long ago while allowing the snowballing of events that led to the crash, while events were ‘crashing and burning around us’.

    I never in my wildest dreams considered the solution to insufficient funds for retirements would be resolved by perpetuating iniquities in health care; resulting in poor statistics about chronic illness and inadequate prenatal care as evidenced by one of the lower live birth rates due to prematurity compared to other civilized countries.

    The words paint a more vivid picture than simply saying health care reforms has been needed for a long time, and the business stockholders in health care businesses have been the major beneficiaries in the advanced health care available to US taxpayers.

  • Truly people – regarding human nature, who doesn’t want their cake and eat it too?

    The problem is that our recent presidents and presidential candidates have for many years told the American people that they CAN have their cake and eat it too.

    Yes, but the politicians tell us that because that’s what we want. The American people aren’t willing to sacrifice so we elect politicians who tell us that we don’t have to.

    He ascertains that it won’t cost the American people more but will cover more people and contain no cost control measures that are readily understandable.

    I don’t think he’s ever said that it won’t cost more. In fact, he’s been pretty explicit about the fact that he’s going to raise taxes to pay for it.

    The cost control measures aren’t readily understandable because the implications of cost control measures are not easily predictable. That’s why it’s a shotgun approach. Future reform will have to build upon what we learn from these measures.

    Thank God our founding fathers created a system of power separation, which causes all change to be slow.

    We could have a system that requires consensus that isn’t so darn slow. After all, good changes should be made immediately and bad changes never made. The founding fathers had to settle for this highly flawed system because it was too politically difficult to ratify a better one. Would it be so bad if we abolished the Senate and the presidential veto but required a 2/3 majority in the House?

  • “After all, good changes should be made immediately and bad changes never made.”

    Too bad the changes never seem to come with identifying signs on them?

    “Would it be so bad if we abolished the Senate and the presidential veto but required a 2/3 majority in the House?”

    For people who live in less populous states it would be a staggering loss of influence on the Federal government. It would be also another step down the road to treating states as mere provinces rather than co-equal members of the Union.

  • For people who live in less populous states it would be a staggering loss of influence on the Federal government. It would be also another step down the road to treating states as mere provinces rather than co-equal members of the Union.

    So are there any negatives?

  • Only for those who support the framework of our Republic restrainedradical as established by the Founding Fathers.

  • Of course everyone wants to have their cake and eat it too.

    Cut government spending — but only on programs “other people” less worthy than me use (Medicaid, food stamps) and not those I use (student aid/loans)

    Raise taxes if we must — but only on people who make more than I do, or on stuff I never do or never buy (cigarettes, liquor, gambling).

    Get rid of corporate and government waste — as long as it’s not my job that gets cut.

    Stop all pork projects — unless those projects are in my district or my community.

    Soak the rich — but only until I become “rich.”

    Vote all the “bums” out — except for my Congresscritter, legislator, mayor, alderman, etc.

  • What we should do is go back to Senators being representative of the state or commonwealth instead of popular elections. Repeal the 17th.

    The House is supposed to represent the passions of the people and the Senate is supposed to sober those sentiments when made into law. Both are bound by the Constitution.

    When you destroy this, and we have eroded it dramatically in the last 100 years, we are on the road to serfdom. It is called the Tragedy of the Commons. What belongs to all, belongs to none, or sometimes one. As Elaine illustrated, when we vote for largess at the expense of the ‘other guy’ we fall victim to the lie. As Thatcher stated, I am paraphrasing, “the problem with Socialism is eventually you run out of other people’s money.”

    People with an attitude like (notso)restrainedradical will be the ruin of what’s left of the Republic if we allow them to get their way. A Constitutional Republic is a bulwark against tyranny, a Democracy is a sure way toward anarchy followed by absolutism.

    Long live the Republic. In the end the Jedi win and the Empire loses. Darth Obama and his minions will be evicted and sensibility will be restored. Pray, vote, pray!

  • A faulty diagnosis, Darwin.

    A solid minority–and I would include myself in that–aren’t wild about insurance reform as it sits today in Congress because it doesn’t go far enough. The reform–including the president–tacks strongly to the middle, tries to ameliorate insurance companies, who obviously have large profits at risk, and who care little that middle class folks like me rack up four-figure hospital bills for our families as deductibles and premiums rise.

    As for those who favor keeping the status quo, I can’t identify them as pro-market or pro-business. With medical costs going way up, there’s no practical way for comparative shopping and competition. And my employer only offers me one choice of insurer. The GOP has taken “Just Say No” to a new and more ineffective level.

    So all the fears the insurance companies are drumming up: death panels, and the like, are already in place.

    If only we had a third and fourth choice in political parties: more difficult for corporations to spread their money around, more ways to represent the interests of citizens, and a way to ensure that being in last place as a political party was no guarantee of being second. As far as I’m concerned, the Dems are in second-last place in voters’ minds. And if you don’t believe it, consider what the effect of having a ballot line of “none of the above” would do to congressional races this Fall.

  • http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2009/11/30/bisb1130.htm
    Aetna drops 600,000 to boost profit margins–likely those overweight cake eaters….with diabetes.

  • Todd,

    That might explain why people want to throw incumbants out, but it doesn’t show why people are saying they want to vote for Republican congressional candidates at the highest levels since 2002, nor does it explain why people think the current HCR bills are too expensive (more reform would be more expensive, not less) and why they generally rate their insurance companies highly. Clearly, there’s a small core in the progressive camp who think that insurance companies as wicked and out to get people, but overall people who have insurance trust their insurance companies to do a good job much more than they trust congress.

    That may well not be a reasonable attitude for them to have, but it is what the poll shows.

  • I guess we’ll see how it plays out on Election Day instead of in the heads of pundits.

    The last polling I saw had about a 40-40 split between support and oppose, with about 16% thinking insurance reform was too timid. Thirty million-plus adults is hardly a small core.

    I’d have to say I also have confidence in the job my insurance company does: they are efficient; they let me delay payment on many co-pays and on my deductible. They haven’t cut me off yet for being in middle age.

    That’s not to say I don’t think the profit margin for stockholders is too high. I have a basic objection to making profits without working for them.

    I’m no polling expert, but I bet I could come up with some questions that would swing the confidence away from the corporations.

    Nevertheless, I think your title diagnosis is inaccurate. I think Americans want a greater degree of fairness, and frankly, I don’t see any other entity capable of enforcing it other than the federal government. If I thought my city council or state senate or the president of my neighborhood association could stand up to BC/BS, I suppose I’d be for “small guvmint” too.

  • Hmmm. Well, one assumes that the stockholders earned the money which they then invested in stock. For stance, if you have a 401k invested in mutual funds, or participate in a pension, which in turn invests in mutual funds, you may well be a stockholder of one or more insurance company.

    I’m curious: What profit margin do you think that the stockholders are currently getting for major insurance companies? What would be a fair profit margin?

  • DarwinCatholic…like the little bunnies analogy, let’s keep the focus on ensuring a certain level of quality health care is available to everyone (especially the workers in the US economy on Main Street, if they still have their jobs), and not go off on a tangent whether stockholders ‘earned’ their berth in the business? Most, if not all Americans contributing to the tax base have ‘earned’ a certain measure of tangible health benefits, that shouldn’t be doled out dependent on the beneficence of the stockholders of health business companies.

Coakley: Faithful Catholics Shouldn't Work In Emergency Rooms

Friday, January 15, AD 2010

“Ken Pittman: Right, if you are a Catholic, and believe what the Pope teaches that any form of birth control is a sin. ah you don’t want to do that.

Martha Coakley: No we have a separation of church and state Ken, lets be clear.

Ken Pittman: In the emergency room you still have your religious freedom.

Martha Coakley: (…stammering) The law says that people are allowed to have that. You can have religious freedom but you probably shouldn’t work in the emergency room.”

A charming sentiment from Martha Coakley running for the Senate seat in Massachusetts.  For this gem, I award Ms. Coakley the second American Catholic Know-Nothing Award.  If I were living in Massachusetts, I would be out next Tuesday to cast my vote against this bigot.

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7 Responses to Coakley: Faithful Catholics Shouldn't Work In Emergency Rooms

  • If I were living in Massachusetts, I would be out next Tuesday to cast my vote against this bigot.

    I wouldn’t be so sure, Don. Massachusetts is like some inverted parallel universe where right is wrong and wrong is right – stupid is wise and wise is stupid. There’s no other way you can explain the electoral history. Ted Kennedy was a living saint in MA while in the real world he was a scoundrel. And lets not mention the legacy of Barney Frank too!

  • I assume Ms. Coakley was referring to situations in which devout, pro-life Catholics would be working in emergency rooms where they might be called upon to administer emergency contraception to rape victims.

    For her to say who should or should not be permitted to work under those conditions is, of course, the height of arrogance. This combined with her other recent statements and actions also makes me wish I could vote against her on Tuesday. (We Illinois residents, however, will have to settle for voting against Mark Kirk, the pro-abort RINO running for Obama’s old Senate seat, in the Feb. 2 primary… but I digress) I am definitely rooting for her opponent!

    However, allow me to play devil’s advocate here and suggest there MAY be a grain of truth in what Ms. Coakley said — what devout Catholic today would WANT to accept a job where they KNOW they are likely to be asked to do things that are against their conscience?

    If I were interested in pharmacy or medicine I would have to think very, very long and hard about taking a job in a retail pharmacy, an acute care hospital, a student health center on a secular college campus, or any environment where I knew contraceptives or abortafacients would be distributed. That would make about as much sense as, say, a Jew signing up to work in a meat packing plant that processes pork, or a Muslim applying for a job in a restaurant that also requires them to tend bar occasionally or regularly.

    It’s one thing if a pro-life Catholic who went into the pharmacy or medical field years ago and was never confronted with this issue before is suddenly confronted with it and forced to choose between his/her job and his conscience when the employer could easily have found someone else to do the objectionable task. And I presume there are still plenty of other doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc. available in just about any hospital to take over morally objectionable tasks like administering emergency contraception so it’s not as if the entire operation of the hospital, etc. will come to a screeching halt.

    However, it seems to me to be a bit disengenuous to apply for and accept a job and then say “Oh, by the way, I’m not going to perform this part of my job.” If the employer does find a way to excuse you from performing the objectionable part of your job, that’s good and they should be allowed to do so; but ultimately, should they (employers) be FORCED to do so?

    I realize that what I’m suggesting means that pro-life Catholics may find their employment prospects in pharmacy or medical fields pretty limited and perhaps eventually nonexistent, which is regrettable. It would be much better, of course, if medical employers didn’t make these kind of demands, but as long as they do so, maybe faithful Catholics really should think twice about working in emergency rooms.

  • Elaine, I couldn’t disagree more, the First Amendment doesn’t say “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; except for Catholics”.

    I understand what you are saying as a matter of prudence, but exceptions for religious reasons are made every day for a myriad of beliefs (i.e. wearing head scarfs etc). If Catholics capitulate on conscience issues then the secular society will see that as a sign of weakness and run roughshod over them.

    What Catholics DO need however is a truly Catholic Health care system that practices what it preaches – something that has and remains harder and harder to find as Catholic hospitals sell their souls to secular society in mergers & acquisitions. Fortunately God is raising up leaders in this area like:

    The Tepeyac Family Center

    Divine Mercy Pharmacy

    Maybe such efforts like this should be the focus of the USCCB instead of funding groups like ACORN and issuing “Catholic Climate Covenants”

  • JB: The establishment clause has nothing to do with any issue related to abortion, since the evil of abortion falls not under the category of revealed precept but natural law. According even to Catholic teaching, a Catholic wouldn’t have to bring religion into the equation to refuse distributing the morning after pill.

  • Rick,

    I wouldn’t be so sure, Don. Massachusetts is like some inverted parallel universe where right is wrong and wrong is right – stupid is wise and wise is stupid

    Very succinct!

  • Meet the new junior senator from Massachusetts!

  • I don’t know about that one, Zach. Every article and op-ed I’ve read today sounds like “doom-and-gloom” for Coakley, including among the liberal Left. They sound as if their daggers are out for her and that they’ve all but given up on her potential to win–there isn’t a bus big enough for her to be thrown under, from the way they are reading the tea leaves. We can only hope Brown pulls the upset and puts the nail in the coffin of the atrocious HCR bills now being constructed behind closed doors!