America is supposed to be a democracy in which we're all in it together. Part of that ethos, which has been so essential to the country in times of crisis, is a common understanding that we all pay a share of the costs. Taxes are an essential ingredient in the civic glue that binds us together.OK, Charles, I got it. We're all in this together, bound by the happy glue of taxes, but we're in danger if some people feel one way about them and another group feels another way. And the key source of the conflict is not how much we're all paying, why we're forced to pay it, or whether the government has a right to take our money at all, but that payroll taxes and withholding hides from us the true weight of our dutiful burden. Observe:
Our democracy is corrupted when some voters think that they won't have to pay for the benefits their representatives offer them. It is corrupted when some voters see themselves as victims of exploitation by their fellow citizens.
By both standards, American democracy is in trouble. [all emphasis mine]
For once, we face a problem with a solution that costs nothing. Most families who pay little or no personal income taxes are paying Social Security and Medicare taxes. All we need to do is make an accounting change, no longer pretending that payroll taxes are sequestered in trust funds.I have to hand it to him. He's taken up a whole column in a very good newspaper writing urgently about a non-problem, proposing a non-solution. What's he really getting at with all of this? He mentioned "corrosive misapprehensions" and the poor feeling like the rich aren't paying their share while the rich feel like victims... all of these feelings are threatening our democracy!
Fold payroll taxes into the personal tax code, adjusting the rules so that everyone still pays the same total, but the tax bill shows up on the 1040. Doing so will tell everyone the truth: Their payroll taxes are being used to pay whatever bills the federal government brings upon itself, among which are the costs of Social Security and Medicare.
The finishing touch is to make sure that people understand how much they are paying, which is presently obscured by withholding at the workplace. End withholding, and require everybody to do what millions of Americans already do: write checks for estimated taxes four times a year. ...
End the payroll tax, end withholding, and these corrosive misapprehensions go away. We will once again be a democracy in which we're all in it together, we all know that we're all paying a share, and we are all aware how much that share is. [bold added]
While it's clear that his typical view of democracy is bad in itself--he seems to say that anything the government does is OK as long as a majority votes for it, and the only concern is that the voting is "honest" and runs smoothly--and that he pays no heed to individual rights or the fact that our country is a republic, the subtext of his whole piece is more instructive. The key to understanding this is to see that his essential worry is group polarization. I've had occassion to refer to the following quote from Ayn Rand a lot lately. People like Murray and Cass Sunstein keep returning to this idea, raising it as a vague threat to civil society, and holding Ayn Rand's points in mind is essential to being able to detect what they're really trying to do:
An anti-concept is an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding. But in the realm of cognition, nothing is as bad as the approximate . . . .Go back and read Murray's piece with this in mind, and his evasiveness will jump out at you. There is no there there. As I said earlier, it's a non-solution proposed for a non-problem, with some "we're all in this together" collectivism thrown in for good measure.
One of today’s fashionable anti-concepts is “polarization.” Its meaning is not very clear, except that it is something bad—undesirable, socially destructive, evil—something that would split the country into irreconcilable camps and conflicts. It is used mainly in political issues and serves as a kind of “argument from intimidation”: it replaces a discussion of the merits (the truth or falsehood) of a given idea by the menacing accusation that such an idea would “polarize” the country—which is supposed to make one’s opponents retreat, protesting that they didn’t mean it. Mean—what? . . .
It is doubtful—even in the midst of today’s intellectual decadence—that one could get away with declaring explicitly: “Let us abolish all debate on fundamental principles!” (though some men have tried it). If, however, one declares; “Don’t let us polarize,” and suggests a vague image of warring camps ready to fight (with no mention of the fight’s object), one has a chance to silence the mentally weary. The use of “polarization” as a pejorative term means: the suppression of fundamental principles. Such is the pattern of the function of anti-concepts. [Ayn Rand Letter, italics in original]
I wonder, and perhaps commenters could weigh in: What is the point of his piece? Is he trying to distract people from real issues? Is the root of his non-argument "Why can't we all get along?" Or is he really so deluded as to think that he's promoting actual ideas?
Update: Thanks for the link, Billy.