A Day of reckoning for the IRS?

I first posted on this over five years ago, and I’ve still never come across a better tax system than the one Stockwell Day introduced during his tenure as treasurer of Alberta.

Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day is proposing to de-link Alberta’s provincial tax system from its federal counterpart. Instead of Albertans paying provincial tax on a percentage of their federal tax payable, a tax on a tax, they will instead pay a single rate of 11% on their taxable income, a tax on income.

This move to flatter taxation is to be applauded and Mr. Day has ensured that the move is beneficial to all income groups. [Part and parcel] with the planned move to the single rate tax is a substantive increase in the provincial basic personal exemption and spousal exemption to $11,620 up from $7,131 and $6,055 respectively. And Mr. Day has pledged to index the exemption to inflation to ensure that the hidden tax increase known as “bracket creep” is vanquished from the Alberta landscape. . . .

Alberta has now ensured that those with incomes under 11,620 pay a rate of 0% and everyone else pays 11% on their income above the basic personal exemption. So the effective provincial rate on someone earning $30,000 is 6.7% and the effective rate on someone at $100,000 is 9.7%.

Tweak the numbers to fit the current American situation, but the basic idea is good and simple: put all income into one bowl, exempt the first $X per person, and tax all the rest at the same rate. Cut the tax form down to a page, make the tax code transparent, drastically reduce the IRS payroll (and trim a lot of corporate bureaucracies as well) . . . what’s not to like?

Oh, yeah, and boost the economy, too.

 

Photo © 2006 Thorfinn Stainforth. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Conservatives are calling Trump a fascist . . . and they aren’t going far enough

It’s a mark of the way that the term “fascist” has been abused as a contentless perjorative that Walter Hudson felt compelled to title his essay on PJ Media “No, Seriously, Trump Is a Fascist”:

Right now, we have an actual fascist running for president of the United States, and he seems poised to secure the Republican nomination.  Donald Trump is a fascist, not in a vague rhetorical sense, but according to the father of fascism’s own definition.  Benito Mussolini coined the term and defined it as complete subjugation of the individual to the state. He wrote:

The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim.  Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State . . .

The Fascist State organizes the nation, but leaves a sufficient margin of liberty to the individual; the latter is deprived of all useless and possibly harmful freedom, but retains what is essential; the deciding power in this question cannot be the individual, but the State alone. . . .

Conservative author Matt Walsh, known for his provocative commentary in defense of principle, notes that Trump is perhaps the first serious contender for president of the United States who campaigns openly as a tyrant. Other presidents may have exhibited tyranny to one degree or another, but none have been as unbridled as Trump promises to be. . . .

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hilter, but both are fascists.  Each believes that the individual should be subordinated entirely to the state under the whim of an unbridled leader.  That’s the relevant comparison, and one which should inform a voter’s decision.

He’s right, but there’s actually more to be said.  To understand this, we need to recognize that fascism and Nazism are different beasts.  They are obviously compatible rather than contradictory, but they are fundamentally different concepts.  Fascism is a totalitarian political/economic philosophy which is a product of the modern age.  Thomas Sowell’s succinct summary of the differing economic approaches of socialism and fascism (which I’ve noted before) is useful here:

Socialists believe in government ownership of the means of production.  Fascists believed in government control of privately owned businesses.

Sowell goes on to point out that economically, the Obama Administration has clearly operated in a fascist key–but fascism does not automatically mean Nazism, and Obama is not a Nazi in any respect.  In fact, he’s the exact opposite.

This is because Nazism isn’t a political philosophy, it’s a pagan atavism.  It’s a rebirth of the ancient worship of deities like Ba’al, Ishtar, and Molech, which was made possible by modern totalitarianism. Read more

This land is whose land? A further reflection on Nikabrik’s candidate

I think Stephan Pastis, in this strip from this past Valentine’s Day, has gotten a lead on what this election is really about.  Bill Curry made a similar point in Salon (with less clarity in far more words, as my father-in-law pointed out) with an article titled “‘It’s the corruption, stupid’:  Hillary’s too compromised to see what Donald Trump understands.”  Curry’s subhead argues, “The key 2016 issue is outrage over a rigged system by special interests.”  I think the article is weakened by his predetermined partisan animosity to the Citizens United decision, which causes him to misread it in some important ways, but his essential point (and Pastis’) is correct as far as it goes.  As he says,

Voters [in 2008] knew the problem wasn’t “partisan gridlock” but a hammerlock of special interests. . . .

Clinton bristles at any implication she’d ever stoop to a policy quid pro quo.  I don’t think she would.  But that’s not how soft corruption works.  Politicians spend more time talking to their donors than to their children.  As in all intimate relations, each learns to see the world through the other’s eyes.  It affects everyone:  pollsters, policy advisers, reporters, pundits.

The limitation in Curry’s analysis is that he sees this almost entirely in economic terms, through the materialistic and technocratic lens held in common by classical Marxism and contemporary capitalism.  What he’s unable (or unwilling) to see is that the developing crisis—which was described much more insightfully in Salon a few months ago in an interview with the Rev. Dr. Chris Hedges, as I noted at the time—is far broader and deeper than mere concern for material well-being.  Read more

In praise of humility [REPOST]

NOTE:  I ran across this post from November 2009 while I was looking for something else, and was struck by it, so I decided to repost it.

 

There’s a fascinating piece up on Time‘s front page entitled, “The Case for Modesty, in an Age of Arrogance,” by one Nancy Gibbs. Gibbs begins,

Virtues, like viruses, have their seasons of contagion. When catastrophe strikes, generosity spikes like a fever. Courage spreads in the face of tyranny. But some virtues go dormant for generations, as we’ve seen with thrift, making its comeback after 40 years in cold storage. I’m hoping for a sudden outbreak of modesty, a virtue whose time has surely come.

In truth, what she really wants to talk about is not modesty but humility (which, as she notes, can be practiced in many ways: “Try taking up golf. Or making your own bagels. Or raising a teenager”); but I don’t have a problem with that, especially as she has good things to say about humility and its importance.

Modesty in private life is attractive, but in public life it is essential, especially now, when those who immodestly claimed to Know It All have Wiped Us Out. The problems we face are too fierce to accommodate arrogance. Humility leaves room for complexity, honors honest dissent, welcomes the outlandish idea that sweeps past ideology and feeds invention. We want to reimagine the health-care system, confront climate change, save our kids from a financial avalanche? The odds are much better if we come to the table assuming we don’t already have all the answers. . . .

Humility and modesty need not be weakness or servility; they can be marks of strength, the courage to confront a challenge knowing that the outcome is in doubt. Ronald Reagan, for all his cold-warrior confidence, projected a personal modesty that served his political agenda well. I still don’t know what President Obama’s core principles are, but the fact that he even pays lip service to humility as one of them could give him the upper hand in the war for the souls of independents—a group that’s larger now than at any time in the past 70 years. . . .

But I heed Jane Austen’s warning that “nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.” If Obama appears proud of how humble and open-minded he is, if he demonizes opponents instead of debating them, if his actual choices are quietly ideological while his rhetoric flamboyantly inclusive, he will be missing a great opportunity—and have much to be modest about.

Interesting closing comment, that.

 

Looking back from the last year of Barack Obama’s second term, Austen’s warning was aptly noted.  The President missed a great opportunity.  Here’s hoping somebody learns a lesson from his example; another term or two of that sort of attitude—from either party—could be disastrous.  The alarm Gibbs was sounding was urgent six years ago; it’s only the more so now.

 

Image:  Black hole Cygnus X-1.  Image credit:  NASA/CXC/M.Weiss.  Public domain.

Nikabrik’s populism: A further thought on the appeal of Donald Trump

In her brilliant short essay “Nikabrik’s Candidate,” to which I linked last week, Gina Dalfonzo identifies the core of Nikabrik’s evil as a corrupted virtue.

There is absolutely no room in Nikabrik’s mind for the idea that a Telmarine could be good.  And at first we can sympathize; his people have suffered greatly under the Telmarines, and he is fiercely loyal to his people—a good quality.  But as Lewis frequently warned us, good qualities can be twisted and used for evil purposes. . . .

When his friend Trufflehunter reminds him that the Witch “was a worse enemy than Miraz and all his race,” Nikabrik’s retort is telling:  “Not to Dwarfs, she wasn’t.”  His own people and their safety are all that matter to him now.  Instead of being an important priority, this has become his only priority—and any attempt to remind him that other considerations exist brings only his contempt and anger.

This is how good people with strong, ingrained values—people who have invested time and money in the sanctity of life, religious liberty, and similarly noble causes—can come to support a man who changes his convictions more often than his shirts.  This is how people concerned about the dignity of the office of President end up flocking to a reality-show star who spends his days on Twitter calling people “dumb” and “loser.”  This is how some who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are lured by a man who openly puts all his faith in power and money, the very things Christ warned us against prizing too highly.  As one wag on Twitter pointed out, “If elected, Donald Trump will be the first US president to own a strip club,” and yet he has the support of Christians who fervently believe that this country needs to clean up its morals.

It’s important to understand this.  Nikabrik is full of hate, but it’s not because he’s “a hater.”  He’s unalterably and bitterly prejudiced against Telmarines, but it’s not because he’s “a bigot.”  Those are shallow characterizations for what are usually shallow attitudes, even if strongly held.  Nikabrik’s moral ill is far more perilous because far deeper, and rooted in legitimate emotional/spiritual needs.  Read more

Voting with a compass

I think Joe Carter is a little off to call this a single issue—it’s bigger than that—but aside from that caveat, he nails it:

The single issue that determines my vote—and I believe should determine how all Christians vote—is justice.

As Hunter Baker has explained, justice results from enforcing a moral order, which protects the freedom of human beings from malignant interference. A key component of this moral order is the recognition of human dignity as the foundational principle of freedom and human flourishing. Although the terms are not interchangeable, I believe the term “sanctity of life,” as defined by David Gushee, could serve as the standard definition for human dignity:

The concept of the sanctity of life is the belief that all human beings, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., of any and every particular quality of relationship to the viewing subject, are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status.

Yes.

 

Photo © 2012 by Wikimedia user Shyamal.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

Presidential candidate Saruman J. Trump?

From Narnia to Middle Earth with Donald Trump, courtesy of The Federalist:

I’m the best at talking to Sauron, I really am.  Tough guy, tough negotiator but you really just have to have a man-to-man.  Not like the people running Gondor, they’re stupid.  I mean, how stupid are they?  Now, my tower – and let me tell you, it’s the biggest, classiest tower, great views of the whole ring of stone and the forest and the river – I can get him on the line.  Doesn’t answer anybody else, but when I want him, here’s there.  I’ll be so good at dealing with him, it’ll make your head spin.

Read the whole thing—it’s priceless.

 

Orthanc, tower of Isengard.  Public domain.

“White Witch / Fenris Ulf 2016: Vote for a Proven Winner”

If you ever doubt that C. S. Lewis was gifted with a prophetic voice, you need look no further for correction than Prince Caspian.

So writes Gina Dalfonzo on the First Things website, discussing the Black Dwarf Nikabrik.  Nikabrik was one of the allies Prince Caspian found after his escape from his uncle, the usurper King Miraz, but as an ally, he was highly problematic.

We first meet him inside the home of Trufflehunter, wanting to kill Caspian the Tenth against the wishes of the badger and Trumpkin. Nikabrik is angry at all Telmarines, bitterly remembering the injustices suffered by the old Narnians in their hands. In his defense, Nikabrik was born in hiding, grew in hiding and lived in hiding throughout his life, which must have been very difficult for any independent, freedom-loving dwarf.

When Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy (the heroes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, for those who might not be familiar with the series) reach Caspian, Nikabrik is speaking; they stop outside the door to listen.

“Either Aslan is dead, or he is not on our side. Or else something stronger than himself keeps him back. And if he did come—how do we know he’d be our friend? He was not always a good friend to Dwarfs by all that’s told. Not even to all beasts. Ask the Wolves. And anyway, he was in Narnia only once that I ever heard of, and he didn’t stay long. You may drop Aslan out of the reckoning. I was thinking of someone else.”

There was no answer, and for a few minutes it was so still that Edmund could hear the wheezy and snuffling breath of the Badger.

“Who do you mean?” said Caspian at last.

“I mean a power so much greater than Aslan’s that it held Narnia spellbound for years and years, if the stories are true.”

“The White Witch!” cried three voices all at once, and from the noise Peter guessed that three people had leaped to their feet.

“Yes,” said Nikabrik very slowly and distinctly, “I mean the Witch. Sit down again. Don’t all take fright at a name as if you were children. We want power: and we want a power that will be on our side. . . .

“They say she ruled for a hundred years: a hundred years of winter. There’s power, if you like. There’s something practical.”

“But, heaven and earth!” said the King, “haven’t we always been told that she was the worst enemy of all? Wasn’t she a tyrant ten times worse than Miraz?”

“Perhaps,” said Nikabrik in a cold voice. “Perhaps she was for you humans, if there were any of you in those days. Perhaps she was for some of the beasts. She stamped out the Beavers, I dare say; at least there are none of them in Narnia now. But she got on all right with us Dwarfs. I’m a Dwarf and I stand by my own people. We’re not afraid of the Witch.”

Nikabrik is so consumed by fear and hatred and the need to defeat the enemies of his people that he can see nothing else.  The White Witch was a cruel overlord who humiliated and crushed anyone who dared oppose her—but all Nikabrik can see is that she wasn’t too bad to the Dwarfs.  Dalfonzo observes,

His own people and their safety are all that matter to him now. Instead of being an important priority, this has become his only priority—and any attempt to remind him that other considerations exist brings only his contempt and anger.

This is how good people with strong, ingrained values—people who have invested time and money in the sanctity of life, religious liberty, and similarly noble causes—can come to support a man who changes his convictions more often than his shirts. This is how people concerned about the dignity of the office of President end up flocking to a reality-show star who spends his days on Twitter calling people “dumb” and “loser.” This is how some who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are lured by a man who openly puts all his faith in power and money, the very things Christ warned us against prizing too highly. As one wag on Twitter pointed out, “If elected, Donald Trump will be the first US president to own a strip club,” and yet he has the support of Christians who fervently believe that this country needs to clean up its morals.

As Joseph Loconte has observed, the Narnia stories offer us “a view of the world that is both tragic and hopeful. The tragedy lies in the corruption caused by the desire for power, often disguised by appeals to religion and morals.” How dangerously easy it is for the desire for power to take on that disguise—and how easily we Christians fall for it.

Tired of waiting for Aslan—who may be nearer than we think—we turn elsewhere. It doesn’t matter if our candidate hates, bullies, and exploits other people, the reasoning goes, just as long as he’s good to us and gives us what we want. Hatred is a perfectly acceptable weapon, as long as it’s “on our side.”

Read the whole thing.  Please.  And remember what happened to Nikabrik.

Photo © 2013 Gage Skidmore.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

A little practical skepticism would be useful

Just a quick thought:  it seems to me that our nation(s) would be in much better shape if we all accepted that no matter what we do, even our best solutions will always work imperfectly and will always have downsides.  We would do well to be skeptical of the promises of politics—not just politicians, but politics.  We would do better to be skeptical of plans and programs and ideas for improvement—even our own.  No matter what we do, this world will still be broken.  Some people will be poor, and some will be exploited, and some will be abused; some will be exploiters, and some will be abusers, and some will be just flat evil.  We need to set aside our technocratic assumption that these are problems to be fixed and realize that they are people to be faced.  We need to give up the naïve idea that these “problems” can be fixed, which is really just avoidance:  we don’t want to face these people.  We don’t want to meet them honestly in their mess, we want the promise of a quick, clean, antiseptic solution that will make the mess go away where it won’t bother us.  We ought to be deeply skeptical of such promises, and even more skeptical of the desire of our hearts to believe such promises.

We won’t solve the problem of human evil by passing laws.  We won’t stop gun violence by passing laws against guns—or laws in favor of guns, for that matter.  When someone is determined to break the law, what’s one more?  That’s the easy way out, the cheap way out, the coward’s way out.  We will only make a dent in the evil of this world the hard way:  one life at a time, by knowing our neighbors and loving them as ourselves.

 

William Holgarth, The Polling, 1755.

Thought experiment: on homosexuality and “discrimination”

The big argument against the traditional definition of marriage these days is that it discriminates against those who want to marry someone of their own gender. Those of heterosexual preference can marry anyone they want, runs this line, while those of homosexual preference can’t; this, it is asserted, is discriminatory.

Leave aside that this isn’t necessarily so as a matter of fact (prohibitions on bigamy/polygamy, marriage of siblings, etc.), and let’s consider it as a matter of logic. Discrimination in law is generally understood to refer to situations in which the law is actually different for different groups. Pale-skinned people are allowed to vote, but people whose skin is dark, or who are known to be related to anybody whose skin is dark, are not allowed to vote. Male adults are allowed to vote, but female adults are not. People who have never been convicted of a felony are allowed to vote, while those who have a felony conviction are not. The law defines groups of people and explicitly extends rights/privileges to one which it denies to the other.

On this standard, is the traditional definition of marriage discriminatory? No. It does not define groups of people, nor is it applied unequally; it is one common standard which applies to everyone. The law does not say, for instance, that “straight people” can marry people of their own gender, but “gay people” can’t; that would be, inarguably, discrimination, because the marriage law would be different for different legally-defined groups. It simply says: this is marriage; within this definition, do what you will.

Why then the accusation of discrimination? Because the traditional legal definition of marriage forbids everyone to do what only some people want to do—thus the restriction is felt as a meaningful limitation by some people but not others. “You can do what you want to do, but I can’t, and that’s not fair.”

That may sound reasonable, but consider: that’s true of every law; by this standard, every law is discriminatory. Laws against drug use discriminate against addicts—I can put whatever substance I want into my body, since I have no desire to take anything illegal, but addicts can’t. Laws against polygamy discriminate against those who want to enter into multiple marriage—they don’t restrict me in any meaningful way, since I have no desire for more than one wife (I agree with Rich Mullins on that one), but those folks clearly aren’t free to marry whomever they want. Indeed, even laws against discrimination are discriminatory; I’m free to hire whomever I want, and I’d be free to rent to whomever I wanted if I had anyplace to rent out, but racists aren’t. It is the nature of laws to discriminate against those who want to break them.

Now, if that’s a form of discrimination, you need to realize that it’s a form which is not only defensible, but necessary—logically, intrinsically necessary, if there is to be any such thing as law at all. Laws draw lines, it’s just what they do. If you want to argue that a given line shouldn’t be where it is, by all means go ahead; but don’t argue that the mere existence of the line is unfair. When once you start doing that, you’ve started cutting a great road through the law just for the sake of getting your own way; and as Robert Bolt memorably had Sir Thomas More argue, that’s a really bad idea.