Monday, February 22, 2010

"I'm Tired of Hearing It"

Sometimes, I hear things said on TV I’m almost certain are not true. And I’m tired of hearing them.

Sometimes, I’m almost certain the thing that’s being said on TV is not true, because it fails the “That doesn’t sound right to me” test. And sometimes, I’m almost certain it’s not true because of something I vaguely remember that says to me, “If that thing I vaguely remember is true, this isn’t.”

I admit neither of these criteria meet the scientific standard for validity, but since I’m am just trying to figure things out, and have no stake in the outcome one way or the other, I have a comfortable faith in my observations. I mean, they’re my observations, and I’m a pretty good guy. How bad can they be?

To narrow things down, I will restrict today’s gripes concerning things I’ve heard on TV I’m almost certain are not true to two examples in the area of income taxes. No, I am not a secret accountant. I am merely applying my logical and relatively unbiased mind to the things I’m being told. If that’s not enough for you, come back when I’m talking about television, where my expertise is more firmly established. Although even there, I’ve been told I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this said on TV, but it bugs me every time. A guy comes on, and either to make the point that current tax rates are comparatively low, or to make the point “They’ve done it before, they can do it again”, says,

“You know, back in the Eisenhower Administration, the highest tax bracket was ninety percent.”

If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it twenty-seven times. My response to this pronouncement, which I make directly to my television, is

“Nobody ever paid that.”

I mean, can you imagine? Rich people paying ninety percent of their money in taxes? They’d have blown up Washington first.

Here’s how they got around it. During the Eisenhower Administration, there were loopholes galore in the tax code that allowed people in the “ninety percent” tax bracket to pay considerably less than that, and, in some cases, nothing at all. Nobody paid ninety percent.


I’m almost certain of it.

Find someone who lived during the Eisenhower Administration. Hurry, because they’re old. Ask them if they remember anyone paying ninety percent in taxes back then. I’m sure, if they can remember and can talk, they’ll say no. Or give you one of those “Get outta here!” gestures. Which means the same thing.

Nobody paid ninety percent.

And yet, this statement continues to be made – which literally is true, it just doesn’t mean anything. And, at least in my TV watching experience, nobody ever calls them on it.

Okay, that one was, “That doesn’t sound right me.” This next one I know from personal experience. So I have stronger evidence that it’s true.

A guy comes on TV. He’d really like income taxes to be lowered (or disappear completely). He’s absolutely against taxes being raised. Especially on people in the highest tax bracket. His reason?

“If you raise taxes on the wealthiest of our citizens, those great entrepreneurs, who start businesses, and innovate, and create jobs, and produce goods the world wants to buy thus boosting our economy, those entrepreneurs will be dis-incentivized from doing those things, and they’ll all go sailing.”

My response, based on personal experience?

They won’t.

I know a number of really wealthy people, and I know that if you raised their taxes, those people would continue doing what they’re doing, with not a single thought about sailing or any other rich guy retirement pastime.


Because they’re crazy about what they do.

They love it. They’re totally addicted. And not to the money.

They’re addicted to the game.

You can see it in the way they throw themselves into their work. You can see it in how hard they find it to go home. You can see in the way they almost salivate when they talk about what they do. And they don’t when they talk about anything else, including how much money they have.

Rich people almost never talk about how much money they have. And it’s not because they’re modest or they don’t want to make you feel bad. It’s because, though money is important, it’s nowhere close to what it’s all about. Money, as former pitching star Orel Hersheiser is reputed to have said, is simply “our way of keeping score.”

The score, of course, matters. But it’s a by-product. What these folks really love – and can’t do without – is the action.

Put them in prison and they’ll play for matchsticks. Take away their matchsticks – why would you give prisoners matchsticks in the first place? – and they’ll play for fingernail clippings. Hair follicles. The "special dessert." The rewards are secondary. Primarily, it’s the playing itself.

And how the playing makes you feel.

They’d do it for nothing. Fortunately, they don’t have to.

That’s why I know if you raised the tax rates, as has been suggested, from thirty-six percent to forty-one percent, no entrepreneur worth his salt would close up and go fishin’. They’d grumble about it, then they’d play for less.

It wouldn’t stop their competitive juices from flowing. It wouldn’t deaden their enthusiasm. It wouldn’t keep them from going, “I’m in.”

No one on TV says that. They just say “dis-incentive.”

It’s wrong.

And I’m tired of hearing it.


A. Buck Short Form 1040A said...

Hair follicles? Now hold on. I think you've gone way too far.But
did we ever tell you how sexy you look when you’re angry?

Other than that, you are correct, a very insightful treatment of the issues I haven't seen before. Now if you can just send me somebody I can use these arguments against - my social circle’s kind of inbred. Oh wait, I know a guy….

Having at least some internal logic to them, the widely held examples you argue against don’t quite fall into the relatively newly defined category of ho-meme: an especially boorish and simplistic, yet persistent likely erroneous meme. As I’ve just said, it doesn’t quite fit – but without saying that, I would not have had the opportunity to introduce the word ho-meme -- and we’d all, of course, be the worse for it.

Under the model set by Amazon of “If you liked this -- then you’ll like….” I assume you are not the last person in American unacquainted with some version of the widely distributed Teabagger Socialist-Free Purity Pledge, which applies a similar logic to other widely-held beliefs. I’d therefore like to direct your attention to a short entertaining piece suggesting an alternate method of dealing with such, that might be seen as the debater’s equivalent of strip poker .

A. Buck Short said...

Sent you to the same site twice, did I? Well, if there’s a God in heaven,
here’s the debater’s equivalent to strip poker.

Fred said...

I think three out of four "Beatles" left England and became U.S. citizens because of taxes. Didn't Bjorn Borg do it too? They didn't stop what they did. They just moved away from the higher taxes. While this works against your point (obliquely), the plain fact of the matter is that most of those top 10% income people are not able to suddenly become citizens of the Cayman Islands. I know one of them. What he can do is donate a great deal of money to the party of his choice. And he does.

Jo said...

I'd think that the reason that the man on the TV says that the high earners will be dis-incentivized is that he is worried that as a relatively high earner himself (I am presuming that he is an economist or accountant that has been wheeled out rather than an ordinary Joe from the street...), he'll be one of the ones paying the higher rates of tax!

I'd like to think that the highest earners all paid the higher rates of tax, and helped take the burden off of the poor, but there is that little cynical voice inside me that talks about tax loopholes, Swiss bank accounts and writing things off as business expenses that help bring their personal tax rate down to something approaching 0%...

Mick Jagger said...

No, none of the Beatles became US citizens, although John Lennon was living in New York at the time of his assassination at least partially because of taxes. Paul, of course, married Linda, an American, and they owned property in Tucson. George and Ringo also were wealthy enough to domicile themselves wherever their tax advisors found most advantageous. But they were all loyal subjects of the Queen and would no more have changed their citizenship than Elvis would have renounced his.

Earl, you are correct that nobody paid the ninety percent tax rates that existed under Eisenhower. But taxes have always been a shell game in this country since the Whisky Rebellion. And I do enjoy pointing out to right-wingers that JFK cut those taxes of Ike‘s as soon as he got into office. It kind of turns their paradigm of tax-and-spend Democrats on it’s head.

Oh, and I was happy to see another of your commentators link to Daily Kos. Now that’s a blog.