Of course I'm liberal, I believe in liberty.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Inheritance Tax and Aristocracy

From the comments:
Mark writes, "When this cycle goes unchecked one ends up with a group of people born into fabulously rich families. One word often used to describe such families is "aristocracy". Intellectually, I don't see how you can argue that this won't be a long term effect of eliminating inheritance tax. Feel free to try."

You must have a different definition of aristocracy. Here's the correct one. You'll see that eliminating the inheritance tax doesn't equal aristocracy. (Unless you think that the government only loans people money, and that they deserve it back when you die; which by your support of the inheritance tax would suggest that you believe that.)

Yep, an aristocracy is a hereditary ruling class, just like the dictionary says. You certainly can argue that class of people who are allowed to control great, unearned wealth for generation after generation might not qualify as a ruling class, but I believe that is a natural consequence. Historically, it was the king who owned the land and the land owner who became the noble.

The argument about loans could apply to just about any tax. I don't believe the government loans people their money but simply believe government is how we humans organize ourselves and in a democracy how the we people collectively determine what sort of world we want to live in.

I don't want to live in a world where the wealth is distributed like a pointy-top triangle where only a few control the most. I want to live in a world where the wealth is distributed more like a diamond, with most of the wealth held by a very large middle class. I know many on the right will call this socialism or worse, but I don't believe in socialism and that isn't where I'm coming from.

You see, I agree with the libertarians that one of the great goals is to maximize freedom and liberty for all. However, libertarians seem to believe anarchy is somehow a natural state and it is only (or at least, mostly) government that takes away our liberties; this is where I part company. I don't believe anarchy is a natural state. I believe that power begets power leading the rich to get richer. I think history supports me on this. And power corrupts. Eventually such wealth and power, left unchecked, becomes an aristocracy. (And eventually revolution.)

The same phenomena happens in the business world. One of the great ironies is a purely free market will not remain free on it's own, there will be winners and losers and the winners will gain power. Corporations grow, merge and form monopolies. Monopolies tend to be anti-capitalistic and, left unchecked, use their power to smash any competition.

The bottom line is I distrust concentrated power in any form, uncheck and unbalanced government, great personal wealth, mega-corporations, media, all of it. But I also believe in capitalism, the spirit of entrepreneurial-ship and that creativity and hard work should be rewarded. At times it feels these believes are in conflict, but really they are not; at least they don't need to be. Perhaps the fairest and most powerful tool we have to impede the concentration of wealth and power is the inheritance tax. I have no problem will the Bill Gates of the world; he earned that money. It is Gates' great-grand children that concerns me.

I Wish I Wrote This

I've never visited Pandagon before, but I will many times in the future. I just read a couple of great postings over there but Ezra Klein's entry "Hard America vs. Soft America" really hit me as just right. I wish I wrote this -- it even has the word 'versus' in the title, just like half of my entries! Here's the key graph:
It boils down to a disgust with the Bush Administration's reliance on hard power and their inability to see the potential of soft power. In some ways, that is the great liberal/conservative divide (though a vast oversimplification). Conservatives believe in America the fighter, America the country with the largest military and the most advanced bombing technology. Liberals believe in America the idea, the America of the Marshall Plan and the Declaration of Independence. And so far as I can tell, the last 30 years have shown that hard America's utility is limited, and often far overstated. So while our strategy of big and ever-sharper sticks has its merits, isn't it about time we gave a carrot-based foreign policy a shot? And didn't this earthquake offer an excellent opportunity to try?
My only quibble is the implication that hard and soft power are somehow mutually exclusive; personally I believe in both. But I agree whole-heartedly Bush and the neo-cons have far over used and abused American hard power while greatly underutilizing the soft and America is weaker as a result.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

A Quick Response to Paul

In the comments section, Paul, whom I believe to be the guest blogger at Wizbang! who wrote the piece about the partisan blog response to the tsunamis, wrote a response to my response to his response (got it?). Perhaps I'll post a more complete post on the genuinely interesting question of where liberals "live and die by the appeal of emotion" later, but I'll make a few quick responses right now.

hmmm let's see...

Is anti-academia the same as anti-intellectual? Sure sounds like it to me.

Not only wrong but duh! an emotional appeal. No facts to back it up.. Just "Republicans hate academics" so much for an intellectual debate.
I must say, Paul, you really confuse me. It appears you want to champion the intellectual integrity of the right (which in and of itself I don't really question), but then you write the above. Which was the intellectual part of your analysis, the "duh!" or the part you put in quotes that I never said?

I assume we can all agree that Republicans often complain about the "liberal elite", so no evidence needed so far. I then claim that the term includes academia; I'll admit that could have used some evidence, but it seemed pretty obvious to me. However, a quick google search on "liberal elite" academia comes back with over 1,000 hits; quickly reading several links to both conservative and liberal sources verifies I'm not the only one who believes academia largely falls in the "liberal elite" category. Do intellectuals fall into the "liberal elite"? That's less clear, though that search did bring back over 8,000 hit; as I said, it sounds like it to me.

I live on the planet where Republicans are trying to create a new aristocracy

And to think I said you made emotional appeals... Silly me, where would I get such an idea?
Of course I never claimed I didn't make emotional appeals. If fact, I think liberals need to re-learn how to make emotional appeals. My rant was largely based on how Bush just dominated Kerry on emotional appeal in the last election.

But sure, if you insist: by eliminating inheritance tax the children of the wealthy will be virtually guaranteed great wealth themselves which can then be passed along to the next generation and so on. When this cycle goes unchecked one ends up with a group of people born into fabulously rich families. One word often used to describe such families is "aristocracy". Intellectually, I don't see how you can argue that this won't be a long term effect of eliminating inheritance tax. Feel free to try.

Ok, back to the emotional, purely value based judgment: I believe this would be a bad thing. Do you disagree?

I live on the planet where Bush tries really, really hard to appear much more stupid than he really is

Your intellectual skills continue to amaze me here. I mean, calling someone stupid... Why would I accuse you of making emotion based arguments?
I didn't call Bush stupid; if fact I linked to an article stating Bush probably has a higher IQ than Kerry and specifically stated "he had me fooled once upon a time, but no more." Does Bush try to appear less intelligent than he really is? I think so. I've read some detailed arguments claiming this, if I find them I'll update this post with links.

Thank you for making my point better than I ever could. You guys can't make an intellectual argument to save you lives. All you do is bash one group of people to appeal to another.

That is all you did for the whole post.

Which group was it I bashed to appeal to another, exactly? All I can think of is I bashed conservatives to appeal to liberals, which I actually tried not to do but am willing to concede I may have failed. Are you claiming this is unique to liberal, that conservative would never stoop to liberal bashing to appeal to other conservative?

To back up a bit, I may very well be wrong that conservative bloggers are more conformable looking emotional and that liberal bloggers go more out of their way to appear intellectual. But obviously I push a button of Paul's who I guess believes that conservatives own the intellectual side of the debate and liberals are nothing but a bunch of over-emotional bleeding hearts.

As a side note, I see Paul has a post on the lefty response to his original post "A Partisan Tsunami?". I wasn't on the list, I feel so deprived. Perhaps it's because I actually made an attempt, however imperfect, to actually answer his allegations. Then again, I've only been around for a bit longer than a week, what can I expect.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Tsunami Home Videos

PunditGuy links to a list of home videos of the the tsunami:


From a Norwegian website - this is the most terrifying video of the Tsunami I've seen yet.

             11.7 MB video in Windows Media Format                
             (Right click on link and "save as" to your hard drive)

MORE:   Video from Sri Lanka (8 MB Windows Media Format)
             Video from Patong Beach (6.2 MB Windows Media Format)
             Video news wrap up from the BBC (9.8 MB MPEG Video)
             Video from Malaysia (782 KB Windows Media Format)
             Video from Thailand (1.7 MB Windows Media Format)
             Video from Reuters (Streaming Video)

You can donate to tsunami relief at Amazon

Update: Dan Drezner lists the following sites where you can donate:

For those who would like to help those affected by the earthquake and tidal waves, the Associated Press has a list of aid agencies that are directing funds towards that end. Here are the aid agencies listed in that report who have already posted about their activities on their web sites:

American Red Cross (International Response Fund)

Direct Relief International

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres

Mercy Corps

Operation USA

Save the Children (Asia Earthquake/Tidal Wave Relief Fund)

Thought Vs Feeling; Intellectual Vs Emotional

It seems I touched a nerve when I said "Liberals tend to go the intellectual1 route while conservatives tend toward the emotional." I'm a little surprised this pushed any buttons since my footnote said "in this case I mean 'intellectual' in the worst sense of the word, as well as the best" and I went on to state "confusing intellectualism for intelligence is one of my pet peeves, a crime my side of the debate often makes." In other words, I wasn't saying liberals were more intelligent than conservatives, only that liberals perceive themselves that way and sometimes go to great lengths to project that image. I claimed this was a bad thing.

Paul in the comments section wrote:
On what planet?

Liberals live and die by the appeals to emotion....

"We have to raise taxes... it's for the children"


Liberal: "We have to tax the rich and make sure they pay their "fair share."

Conservative: "If you tax the rich disproportionately, you take capital away from the people who are the employers of the world and therefor they can hire less people.

Reducing tax RATES allows more people to find work, meaning an increase in overall tax REVENUE and a corresponding decrease in social spending requirements."


emotional v intellectual???? I could get a 2000 word post from this topic.

Not trying to be a jerk but that was just a profoundly bizarre thing to say.
Let's see, I live on the planet where Republicans, despite having the rich as their base, constantly whine about the "liberal elite" which is two groups, "Hollywood" and academia. Is anti-academia the same as anti-intellectual? Sure sounds like it to me.

I live on the planet where Republicans are trying to create a new aristocracy by eliminating the "death tax". "It's for the family farms."

I live on the planet where the Republicans seem to own the American Flag, "freedom", patriotism and "the power of pride" and then go on to cheer for war as if it was some sort of football game.

I live on the planet where Bush goes to great lengths to appear like some average Joe, just a guy on the ranch clearing the brush. I live on the planet where Bush tries really, really hard to appear much more stupid than he really is. (He had me fooled once upon a time, but no more.)

At a minimum I think we should all agree that Republicans have taken anti-intellectualism as a campaign strategy, even if conservatives themselves don't really think that way. Certainly the libertarian wing of the Republican party tends toward the intellectual and it is the libertarians that dominate the blogosphere.

I think part of the problem is both sides need to appeal to the masses and those appeals often need to be passionate and emotional. I guess it shouldn't surprise me that both side's tend to hear their own well thought-out intellectual arguments while hearing the opposing side's emotional appeal. We then hold up their emotional appeal as a straw man only to smack it down in a blaze of brilliant rhetoric and logic.

Left, Right and Natural Disasters

Paul at Wizbang notices a partisan response to the tsunami tragedy, with bloggers on the right posting far more than bloggers on the left.
The Lefty Blogs
Crooked Timber has exactly one post of just 4 lines on the Tsunami itself and a follow-up post about red cross donations.

Over at Washington Monthly there was one post from a guest poster. Kevin Drum was apparently too busy to mention 60,000 or so people dead but he did find time to call George Bush a criminal and post about the fact that the label in his new shirt doesn't itch him. Nothing like priorities in life.

The Righty Blogs
LGF has 5 posts that I saw and I might have missed some.

Michele at A Small Victory, is all over it, dozens of posts if you count CP, many for charitable donations.

Outsidethebeltway has 3 posts on the topic.

Glenn Reynolds has 10 posts (that I saw) up with multiple updates/links.

We are continually told how much more liberals care about their fellow man than conservatives, yet 60,000 people are presumed dead and many of the liberals hardly mention it...

The numbers don't seem to tell the same story.
Why the difference? I guess it is possible that our friends on the right care more for their fellow man than our friends on the left, but that doesn't seem the most likely conclusion. I have a few theories, none of which seem completely convincing but still plausible:
  • Thought vs Feeling: Liberals tend to go the intellectual1 route while conservatives tend toward the emotional. For example, notice how liberals tend to praise or criticize one's intelligence while conservatives tend to praise or criticize one's character. Thus, liberals "don't have much to add" while conservatives are all over this tragedy. If this is the reason I'll have to score one for the conservatives. Confusing intellectualism for intelligence is one of my pet peeves, a crime my side of the debate often makes.

  • General vs Niche: Do liberal blogs tend to specialize more than conservative blogs? It seems that way to me, but I really haven't looked into it much. Certainly, very few blogs go for that anti-tsunami niche.

  • Government vs Charity: This is, perhaps, the best explanation. Leftists2 have a fundamentally different view of government, taxes and, when you get right down to it, the nature of human organization than rightists. Those on the right view government as an "other", an often necessary but mostly undesired outside entity that takes their money and spends it as it sees fit. Those on the left view government as the way we humans organize ourselves, the way we collect our resources and solve our common problems. To the left, "us" includes the government, but not so much for the right. When a disaster like the Sumatra quake hits the left expects "us" to help through government while the right expects "us" to help by donating to charity.

1In this case I mean "intellectual" in the worst sense of the word, as well as the best.
2I use "leftist" instead of "liberal" on purpose. Libertarians are liberal, even though they won't admit it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Earthquake, Tsunami and the Politics of Good Will

Here I was, about to link to Atrio's devastating observation that the $15 million Bush pledged pledged for earthquake and tsunami is less than half what Bush will spend on his own inauguration, when I notice the relief pledge has already doubled to $35 million with Colin Powell claiming assistance will eventually exceed $1 billion. It looks like Atrios spoke too soon. Good. Let's hope the out-going Powell can be trusted on this matter.

We are a rich nation, we have the ability and the resources to help. When you can do good, you should. I strongly believe we should help out in situations like this simply because we can and it is the right thing to do. The United States can be both a good nation and a great nation; both Democrats and Republicans should agree on this point.

Good Will is also good politics. I suspect the twenty-first century will be dominated by the four great powers of the U.S.A, the E.U., China and India with the remaining countries mostly aligning with one of the great powers. Of these, it is imperial, non-democratic China I fear. Steve Clemens has the following observation:
Politically speaking, my gut tells me that China is going to further advance its interests in the region by pouring aid and support into all of those communities that have been hit. Francis Fukuyama skeptically outlined China's thus far successful charm offensive in Asia, and I think he gets it mostly right.
World opinion of the United States isn't exactly at an all time high; we could use some good press overseas. More importantly, there are many overseas that seriously need the help right now.

Update: Well, that will teach me to give the Bushies any credit, apparently that extra $20 million is only a "line of credit". Remind me again: how is it we lost an election to people this immoral and stupid? Man, I hate these guys.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Election In Three Nutshells

It is very hard to understand why Bush won this past election. Ideologically I can see people voting for Bush over Kerry, even though I don't agree, but given Bush's track record of pure incompetence how did he get 51%? Here are three anecdotal 'nutshells' that seem to sum up where those additional votes.

The first is from The Left Coaster:
"Oh yes, we'll be voting," the wife said, "for President Bush."

"Bush?" I was stunned. "Why?"

"Because, you know, we are Christians."

Still reeling from her first unexpected answer, all I could think to reply was, "John Kerry's a lifelong Catholic. So, he's a Christian too, right?"

The wife -- this mild mannered, shy, quiet woman -- snorted. Even over the telephone, there was an unmistakably ugly, even vicious quality to the sound.

"He's not as Christian as we are."
The second is from Daily Kos
This week she moves into low income subsidized housing. Her newest crisis is she has found out when the college is closed for the Christmas holiday (one month) she has no employment. She is hoping to find temporary employment as a seasonal retail worker if the Christmas sales are brisk to tide her over. She doesn't know what she will do when the baby is born, hopes she can work up till the last week (she is on her feet all day with this job). She will be eligible for subsidized daycare.

She voted for Bush because of his "family values."
The third nutshell isn't a posting but a video based on the theme song to the movie Team America! Bush characterizes America in manly, macho terms and appeals to those who think of themselves as, well, manly and macho. This video us pure NC-17 so please don't play it at work or around children, but I think it sums up the macho vote quite well. The flash video is here. Ah, the power of sarcasm....

Partisanship: Blogs Vs. Mainstream Editorials

Kevin Drum reads Radley Balko's comment that normally independent blogs "fell into line in order to get their man elected" this election season and responds:
That doesn't seem very remarkable to me. In fact, I would have found it remarkable if it hadn't happened.

There's a point to be made here about the "independent" blogosphere, too. Namely that it's anything but. In fact, the political blogosphere is far more partisan than any organ of the mainstream media, more partisan than most op-ed pages, and most of the time more partisan than even the overtly political magazines. The blogosphere is about the most partisan and least independent voice this side of talk radio.
Is the blogoshere1 more partisan than the op-ed pages and political magazines? Perhaps, but I doubt seriously web log authors are any more partisan than the authors of more mainstream political discourse. However, the external pressures are different for these authors.

The readership of the op-ed page is completely different than the readership of a blog. We have thousands upon thousands of blogs to choose from, so most naturally migrate towards those blogs that agree with their own point of view. Many go to blogs (and talk radio) not to learn a new idea, but to gather ammunition to support their side and/or just make themselves feel better. However, the local op-ed page is theoretically read by everyone of every political persuation. An op-ed writer wants to persuade this wide audience so maintains an air of independence and non-partisanship.

Political magazines typically come from a third angle, they want to push the nation in some direction or towards a specific agenda. It is the agenda that is important, not the party. So while liberal magazines tend to support Democrats what they really want to do is push the Democrats towards their own agenda. This is easier if you only have one foot in the party and the other on the doorstep ready to leave whenever things don't go your way.

Lastly, this election just seemed too important to attempt any semblance of independence. I didn't read blogs back in 2000, but I doubt seriously they were nearly as partisan as this past year when the stakes felt much higher. Although I've almost always voted for Democrats in the past I never really felt particularly partisan until the past few years. I fact, in my ideal world I'd be a liberal Republican in the mold of Lincoln or Teddy Roosevelt; alas, that beast no longer exists.

1Why blogosphere? Shouldn't it just be blogsphere? Though I must say it is more fun to say "blogoshere". Blogosphere, from Whamo!