Rhetoric Rides Again

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by Thomas Sowell: The
‘Gridlock’ Bogeyman

 

 
 

Let’s face
it, politics is largely the art of deception, and political rhetoric
is largely the art of misstating issues. A classic example is the
current debate over whether to give money to the unemployed by extending
how long unemployment benefits will be provided, or instead to give
“tax cuts to the rich.”

First of
all, nobody’s taxes — whether rich or poor — are going to be cut
in this lame duck session of Congress. The only real issue is whether
our current tax rates will go up in January, whether for everybody
or nobody or somewhere in between.

The most
we can hope for is that tax rates will not go up. So the next time
you hear some politician or media talking head say “tax cuts for
the rich,” that will just tell you whether they are serious about
facts or just addicted to talking points.

Not only
are the so-called “tax cuts” not really tax cuts, most of the people
called “rich” are not really rich. Rich means having a lot of wealth.
But income taxes don’t touch wealth. No wonder some billionaires
are saying it’s OK to raise income taxes. They would still be billionaires
if taxes took 100 percent of their current income.

What those
who are arguing against “tax cuts for the rich” are promoting is
raising the tax rates on families making $250,000 a year and up.
A husband and wife making $125,000 a year each are not rich. If
they have a kid going to one of the many colleges charging $30,000
a year (in after-tax money) for tuition alone, they are not likely
to feel anywhere close to being rich.

Many people
earning an annual income of $125,000 a year do so only after years
of earning a lot less than that before eventually working their
way up to that level. For politicians to step in at that point and
confiscate what they have invested years of working to achieve is
a little much.

It also takes
a lot of brass to talk about taxing “millionaires and billionaires”
when most of the people whose taxes the liberals want to raise are
neither. Why is so much deception necessary, if your case is good?

Those who
own their own small businesses have usually reached their peak earnings
many years after having started their business, and often operating
with very low income, or even operating at a loss, when their businesses
first got started.

Again,
having politicians step in with an extra tax at that point, when
later incomes compensate earlier sacrifices, is sheer brass — especially
when real millionaires and billionaires have their wealth safely
stowed in tax shelters.

Another fashionable
political and media deception is making a parallel between giving
money to the unemployed versus giving money to “the rich.”

When you
refrain from raising someone’s taxes, you are not “giving” them
anything. Even if you were actually cutting their tax rate — which
is out of the question today — you would still not be “giving” them
anything, but only allowing them to keep more of what they have
earned.

Is the
government doing any of us a big favor by not taking even more of
what we have worked for? Is it not an insult to our intelligence
to say that the government is “giving” us something by not taxing
it away?

With unemployment
compensation, however, you are in fact giving someone something.
“Extending unemployment benefits” always sounds good politically
— especially if you do not ask the basic question: “For how long
should they be extended?” A year? Two years? No limit?

Studies
have shown what common sense should have told us without studies:
The longer the unemployment benefits are available, the longer people
stay unemployed.

If I were
fired tomorrow, should I be able to live off the government until
such time as I find another job that is exactly the same, making
the same or higher pay? What if I am offered another job that uses
some of the same skills but doesn’t pay quite as much? Should I
be allowed to keep on living off the government?

With the
government making it more expensive for employers to hire workers,
and at the same time subsidizing unemployed workers longer and longer,
you can have as much unemployment as you are willing to pay for,
for as long as you are willing to pay for it.

December
16, 2010

Thomas
Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford
University. His Web site is www.tsowell.com.
To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other
Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators
Syndicate web page
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