November 23, 2017

You Deserve a Tax Break and Your Boss Does Too

taxbreak_mini 3Republicans during the Reagan and Bush administrations had a pretty straightforward fiscal policy: increase federal spending dramatically and cut marginal income tax rates modestly, predicting the resulting economic growth would eventually balance the budget. Both administrations increased spending roughly 80-100 percent, depending upon where you draw the start and end lines, given the government’s fiscal year running October 1 – September 30. Predictably, federal debt exploded during both administrations.

This time around, some things are the same, but some are different. The predictable (and predicted) growth of entitlements and the quasi-religious belief military spending must always increase (the military must be “rebuilt!”) has produced what should be a frightening result: federal debt doubled during a Democratic administration under which federal spending increased a mere 28-33 percent, again depending on where you draw the lines.

It’s All Class Warfare

So, the usual Republican modus operandi is not going to fly this time around. Not only have Republicans run on making government smaller, before again blowing up spending once they got in power, but they’ve railed for eight years against Obama’s debt legacy.

They can’t just ignore deficits as they have in the past and expect to win again in future elections, so they’re left with only one choice: “reform” the tax code so it collects the same or more revenue and sell it as a tax cut.

That’s not to say it’s going to work. Federal tax revenue will likely decrease overall under their plan, despite their efforts to raise taxes on some people while cutting them for others. But Republicans can ignore reality as well as Democrats when they need to. If you doubt that, ask any ten Republicans at random if the government got bigger or smaller while Reagan was president.

Republicans are also virtually identical to Democrats in their Marxist view of society.For Republicans, just like Democrats and communists, it is made up of different “classes” of people, competing with each other in a zero-sum game for pieces of a static, finite “pie.” This is explicit in their rhetoric about “tax cuts for the middle class” or the sublimely obtuse “working class” (doesn’t anyone generating an income, large or small, work?)

While it’s true the idea of classes in society predates Marx, it is his vision which dominates the tax code, most strikingly in its assumption there is some fundamental difference between employees of going concerns and owners.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Why Are We Thanking the Troops for Disastrous Wars Like Iraq?

Veterans-Day-2016Another Veteran’s Day has come and gone, with the usual high fives all around for anyone who has ever donned a U.S. military uniform. The holiday falling on a Friday this year meant the pro-military sentiments generally lasted throughout the weekend at sporting events and other public gatherings. As always, the ubiquitous mantra from every corner of the republic was, “Thank the troops.”

Sooner or later, somebody has to ask: For what?

The general answer is for the great sacrifices the troops have made to defend freedom. But when was the last time any American’s freedom was in jeopardy from an external threat? Would any American be less free if the U.S. did not invade Afghanistan or Iraq? Vietnam? Deep down, everyone knows Americans aren’t freer because of these wars. So, why do we keep talking like they are?

Let’s take the two wars virtually everyone, across the political spectrum, agree were mistakes: Iraq and Vietnam. It turns out there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and no “domino effect” after Vietnam, even though the mission there was unsuccessful. The communists did take over the country, but Asia and eventually the rest of the world did not fall to communism afterwards. On the contrary, once we stopped fighting them, the Vietnamese had the good sense to abandon communism relatively quickly after we left. Today, they are a major trading partner.

So, neither of these wars benefited the people who paid for them. In fact, American taxpayers and just about everyone else on the planet would have been far better off if neither had been fought at all.

To preempt hysteria in the comments section, no, the men and women in uniform don’t decide which wars they fight and where they are deployed. Fine. But just because the soldiers shouldn’t be blamed for the war, it doesn’t necessarily follow they should be thanked for it, either. If you’re talking to a friend at a cocktail party and a drunken guest bumps him, causing him to spill his drink on your suit, you may not blame your friend for ruining your suit. But would you thank him for it?

Read the rest at HuffPost…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Response to Elie Mystal’s ‘Libertarian Hero Meets The Justice Of The Streets (Err.. Suburbs)’

Rand_Paul,_official_portrait,_112th_Congress_alternateI read Elie Mystal’s article on Rand Paul’s assault, which suggests such violent encounters are the inevitable result of libertarianism in practice. He makes two errors. First, he contends Rand Paul ignores the rules of his HOA based on his libertarian philosophy. Second, he contends basing a legal framework on the libertarian non-aggression principle (NAP) is unworkable.

Regarding the first error, libertarianism is based on the sanctity of voluntary contracts. An HOA is a perfect example of what libertarians would replace zoning regulations with – an enforceable contract voluntarily entered into by every individual, instead of a set of rules imposed on the whole by a supposed majority. Mystal conflates voluntary contracts with regulations near the end of his piece, writing, “Rand Paul’s broken ribs are a goddamn case study in why we need regulations.” This begs the question, “Why do we need regulations, rather than just enforcement of the HOA?”

Neither Mystal nor I know the terms of Rand Paul’s HOA contract, but if they prohibit either pumpkin patches or compost heaps, then Rand Paul appears to be in violation of that contract. Libertarians would side with the HOA, not Rand Paul. However, the HOA contract also provides penalties for violation of the terms, which I’m fairly certain don’t include bum-rushing him and breaking his ribs.

This all assumes there is any truth to reports Senator Paul used his property in ways his neighbors found offensive, whether compliant with the letter of his HOA agreement or not. Several of his neighbors have come forward since Mystal’s piece was written to refute those reports.

Even in the absence of a written agreement, libertarians recognize longstanding local conditions as binding on new property owners. Thus, I cannot come into a quiet community and build an airport on my land, subjecting my neighbors to the noise and other inconveniences of having an airport border their land. By the same token, I cannot buy the land next to an existing airport and then demand the airport stop making noise or doing the other things an airport must do to conduct its business. This principle extends to all sorts of questions, including air pollution, zoning, etc. Murray Rothbard wrote about this concept many times. Here is an example.

Second, Mystal’s article includes this passage:

“You can do what you want and I can do what I want and, so long as we’re not hurting anybody, the government can do nothing.” It’s… cute, as theories of social interactions go. It’s not a workable basis for law and governance.”

I would refer the writer to this passage from Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural address:

“With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens — a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities. [emphasis added]

In fact, Jefferson reiterated the NAP as the basis for law and governance many times over the course of his life. Examples include this, this and this.

Rather than a “cute theory of social interaction,” the NAP was the guiding principle of American liberty for well over a century, until Woodrow Wilson specifically called it out as no longer adequate for what he considered too complex a society for the NAP to govern. Libertarians disagree with Wilson. Mystal may not. But it would be a much more valuable discussion if libertarianism would at least be represented correctly when criticized, rather than presented in the cartoonish fashion our sound bite media so often resorts to.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

An Extended Tax Reform Debate Will Subject Us to the Usual Absurdities

liarJohn McCain’s confirmation he’d vote against the House tax reform bill as currently proposed means Republicans won’t be able to lower taxes – for some people – nearly as quickly as most of them want to. In all, three Republican senators have indicated their unwillingness to vote for the plan, meaning Republicans would need Democratic votes to get it through.

As Democratic support is unlikely, the American public will have to endure several weeks or months of grandstanding, proposed amendments, and further neutering of any real benefit to taxpayers. The worst thing about these rituals is they are always largely a debate over absurdities. Here are just a few of the perennial favorites.

Over Ten Years

Both sides of any tax and spending debate use the “over ten years” canard. Those politicians claiming their plan will “balance the budget” claim their bill will do so in ten years, always after increasing spending this year. Those opposing the same plan will pick out spending lines they don’t like, whether increases, decreases, or new spending, and use the ten-year canard to make the impact seem bigger than it is.

For example, if Republicans proposed cutting $100 billion from domestic spending (a mere 2.5% of the overall federal budget), Democrats would wail Republicans were depriving the public of $1 trillion of desperately needed services. Republicans would claim they were saving taxpayers $1 trillion. Neither side would acknowledge the $1 trillion is a rather small percentage of the ten-year federal budget.

In reality, Congress has no power to pass any bill that can’t be changed in as little as two years. Spending bills are debated every year. So, anything politicians say and the media parrot regarding a spending bill’s effects over the next ten years is largely hot air. All that really matters is what their proposals will do next year. And that news is virtually never good.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Newsweek: Trump’s Tax Reform is Aimed at Punishing Democratic Voters

dmoe votersOn October 19, Republicans passed the first $4 trillion federal budget in U.S. history, a version of which narrowly passed the House on Thursday.

At $4.1 trillion, the budget represents an approximately 5 percent increase in spending over the last fiscal year of the Obama administration and sets the stage for President Trump to do what every GOP president has done since WWII: increase spending far more than did his Democratic predecessor.

Simple arithmetic will tell you that if spending increases, either taxes or deficits must increase, too. But although the GOP has been happy to let deficits explode in the past, they will have a harder time defending them this time around after their eight-year assault on Obama’s deficits, which increased debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion.

Therefore, Republicans are going to have to raise taxes to avoid bigger deficits.

They have set out to do exactly that to their political opponents while cutting taxes for their supporters.

All of this makes their current narrative about eliminating the state and local deduction from federal tax liability especially unseemly.

They claim the deductions force low tax states to subsidize high tax states like California, but that’s not true. California and New York pay more in federal taxes than they reap in federal benefits.

That isn’t to defend the egregious taxation in states like New York. But as Republicans love to remind us, the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans pay most of the income taxes and most of those people live in blue states Republicans are targeting for effective tax hikes.

Read the rest in Newsweek…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Big-Spending Republicans Seek Tax Hikes on Blue States

taxincreasesignTen days ago, Republicans passed the first $4 trillion federal budget in U.S. history, a version of which narrowly passed the House on Thursday. At $4.1 trillion, the budget represents an approximately 5% increase in spending over the last fiscal year of the Obama administration and sets the stage for President Trump to do what every GOP president has done since WWII: increase spending far more than did his Democratic predecessor.

A History of Spending Increases

Simple arithmetic will tell you that if spending increases, either taxes or deficits must increase, too. But although the GOP has been happy to let deficits explode in the past, they will have a harder time defending them this time around after their eight-year assault on Obama’s deficits, which increased debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion.

Therefore, Republicans are going to have to raise taxes to avoid bigger deficits. They have set out to do exactly that to their political opponents while cutting taxes for their supporters. All of this makes their current narrative about eliminating the state and local deduction from federal tax liability especially unseemly. They claim the deductions force low tax states to subsidize high tax states like California, but that’s not true. California and New York pay more in federal taxes than they reap in federal benefits.

That isn’t to defend the egregious taxation in states like New York. But as Republicans love to remind us, the wealthiest 20% of Americans pay most of the income taxes and most of those people live in blue states Republicans are targeting for effective tax hikes. To raise spending by $200 billion and then claim the moral high ground based on fake news is exasperating even by Washington’s standards.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

The Brilliance of the Original Frankenstein Films

bride-of-frankenstein-729-91Ever since I was a kid in the pre-internet, pre-cable 1970s, I’ve loved the classic horror films of the 1930s and 40s. Black and white alone seemed to lend a mysterious, nightmare quality missing from later technicolor slash-ups flowing with redder-than-life blood. But it was more than just black and white. The old classics were works of art, often weaving literary themes and social commentary into stories borrowed from the great masters.

James Whale’s Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein are perfect examples and my personal all-time favorites. They really should be viewed back to back, as one continuous film, even though that was not Whale’s original intention. He was reluctant to make a sequel to his 1931 original, and Boris Karloff didn’t like the idea of having the monster talk (although it did in the Mary Shelley novel). Thank goodness neither got his wish.

Frankenstein

If you’ve never seen these films, you’re in for a different kind of treat. I don’t know that they were ever really scary for me, even when I was very young, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Every scene in the first film is a classic, from the opening in the graveyard to Colin Clive’s famous, “It’s Alive!” scene to the memorable climax in the windmill, where the camera alternates between Frankenstein’s and his creature’s faces as they stare at each other through a turbine.

You needn’t have a film degree to appreciate Whale’s cinematic mastery. After viewing any of his films, watch it again with the sound turned all the way down. Even his 1936 musical Show Boat still works as a silent. This guy was good.

But there is more than cinematic mastery at work. Whale’s two-film masterpiece has the kind of depth usually found only in great works of literature. On the surface, it is a morality play about Man not infringing on God’s prerogatives through scientific discovery. Indeed, that is how the Mary Shelley character in Bride describes the first film’s story. The theme is solidified during the iconic “It’s Alive!” scene when Colin Clive as Frankenstein, in hysterical joy over the success of his experiment, exclaims, “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Newsweek: As Congress and Trump Grind to a Halt, the Government Rumbles On

gettyimages-642093036 Newsweek

Donald Trump in the East Room at the White House on February 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.MARIO TAMA/GETTY

President Trump spent the weekend embroiled in yet another Twitter skirmish, this time with retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker. Trump may even have suffered a rare defeat on his own turf, based on Corker’s hilarious rejoinder about someone missing their daycare shift at the White House. If Trump has a soul, even he laughed at that one.

But many blame this kind of drama as a major contributing reason to Trump “not getting anything done” so far during the first year of his presidency. Even those on the blood-in-their-eyes, Trump-hating left make this criticism. One would think they’d be glad he’s not getting anything done, but apparently, a government not doing anything is even worse for them than one doing things they don’t like.

If only “not getting anything done” were true. The Pentagon goes on waging war, uninterrupted by elections, supposed gridlock, or even “government shutdowns.” War has become the normal state, with “an act of Congress” required to stop it, rather than start it.

Domestically, all of Washington’s unconstitutional regulatory agencies have hummed along without pause. The FDA is still driving up prescription drug prices by keeping thousands of generics off the market. The TSA is still violating the 4th Amendment millions of times per day while virtually never discovering dangerous items brought on board, even during their own tests. And the Social Security Administration goes on cutting checks as if it didn’t have tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities.

Read the rest at Newsweek…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Move Over Obama, Trump Has a Pen, a Phone… and a Tweet

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (standing, L-R), Vice President Mike Pence and Staff Secretary Rob Porter welcomes reporters into the Oval Office for him to sign his first executive orders at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

President Trump spent the weekend embroiled in yet another Twitter skirmish, this time with retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker. Trump may even have suffered a rare defeat on his own turf, based on Corker’s hilarious rejoinder about someone missing their daycare shift at the White House. If Trump has a soul, even he laughed at that one.

But many blame this kind of drama as a major contributing reason to Trump “not getting anything done” so far during the first year of his presidency. Even those on the blood-in-their-eyes, Trump-hating left make this criticism. One would think they’d be glad he’s not getting anything done, but apparently, a government not doing anything is even worse for them than one doing things they don’t like.

If only “not getting anything done” were true. The Pentagon goes on waging war, uninterrupted by elections, supposed gridlock, or even “government shutdowns.” War has become the normal state, with “an act of Congress” required to stop it, rather than start it.

Domestically, all of Washington’s unconstitutional regulatory agencies have hummed along without pause. The FDA is still driving up prescription drug prices by keeping thousands of generics off the market. The TSA is still violating the 4th Amendment millions of times per day while virtually never discovering dangerous items brought on board, even during their own tests. And the Social Security Administration goes on cutting checks as if it didn’t have tens of trillions in unfunded liabilities.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Spanish PM Pulls a Lincoln on Catalan Secession

rajoyIn the wake of Catalonia’s referendum on independence, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy continued to argue, as he had in the weeks leading up to the vote, that any attempt by Catalans to become an independent state violates “the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.”

Americans watching with interest could hardly have missed the similarity to U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, in which he declared, “It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination.”

The difference is Lincoln was doing just what he said he was doing, “asserting.” His novel theory had no basis in the words of the U.S. Constitution itself and contradicted both the Declaration of Independence and the ratification statements made by three states, including Virginia, who all reserved the right to secede from the union as a condition of ratification.

The Catalonia Conundrum

Prime Minister Rajoy’s statement, on the other hand, was not based in theory. He was quoting directly Article 2 of the Spanish Constitution, which contains the provision Lincoln had to invent. But Rajoy wasn’t quoting the whole Article, which reads,

The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish nation, the common and indivisible country of all Spaniards; it recognises and guarantees the right to autonomy of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed, and the solidarity amongst them all.

Jumbled together in that one paragraph are the same conflicting pressures which exploded into civil war in 19th century America and continue to smolder under the surface today. On one hand is the recognition that diverse cultures within the union have a natural right to govern themselves as they see fit, without having their political decisions overridden by politicians in a distant capitol who don’t share their values, have no local stake in the community and, in Catalonia’s case, don’t even speak the same language.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…