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A Minor Political Screed 1041

A note from Hemos: The following piece came to me as a personal letter from David Brin. David is a prominent scientist and author of best-selling novels like The Postman, who has shared entertaining and provocative views with us in the past. His letter struck us as so biting and timely that we asked permission to post it before the whole Slashdot community, in order to provoke your rambunctious discussion. David graciously agreed, on condition that you all remember, it was written first of all as a private person sharing his "cranky political opinions" with a few friends. "It goes over the top in a few places," he warned. "First draft expressions of outrage tend to be that way." So as friends, let's not get too vexed with him. Above all David is interesting, as usual....


Hello all. Here's hoping that autumn 2000 finds you well as we continue our transition into a new century.

Has anyone noticed something interesting? The complete lack of any voices proclaiming that December 31, 2000 is the _real turn of the century? Odd huh? I haven't heard a single call to celebrate this formal milestone -- even as a simple excuse to have another party! You'd expect at least for some Society of Nit-Pickers & Pedants to do so..

Anyway, whenever it's time to bid adieu to the Summer Olympics and prepare for Halloween, you can be sure that we in the USA are also approaching another bizarre ritual - our quadrennial presidential elections.

As usual, there is the politics you see on the surface... and what's going on below. Issues that get little play in the press. Issues that are really driving the deep agenda of one party or the other.

I've noticed one of these. And it bothers me enough to provoke spending an evening to pen this letter, offering a comment or two, in case some of you are interested.


Something strange is going on in the States (for those of you who live outside and cannot feel it in the air.) Times are good and that tends to seep some passion out of the political contest. Also, nobody is particularly scared of the choices being offered. Or excited, for that matter.

True, almost everyone agrees that Al Gore has about twice the IQ of George W Bush, more experience and a much better idea what's going on. Some call him "overqualified the same way Spock was, to be captain of the Enterprise, and therefore unromantic, a rather unpalatable choice for those preferring the zing of human fallibility in their leaders.

(See the latest issue of Yahoo Internet Life Magazine for a fascinating interview that seems to support this view.)

But for those who worry about George W's paucity of intellect, do not fret. By nominating Richard Cheney as his running mate, Bush quite properly signalled that he is front man for a brain trust that has considerable experience and knowledge about the workings of policy and government. As they did under Ronald Reagan, these gray eminences will handle most decisions with utter seriousness. They are not scary madmen or boat-rockers.

Government will function either way. To a large degree (at least compared to past empires) it will leave us pretty much alone. Those of us in the middle class, that is.

Then why am I writing now? Clearly I care, and wish to influence your vote, speaking openly, as one citizen to another.


Well, for one thing, I utterly reject the silly platitude going around that says the republican and democratic parties are just the same. What hogwash!

On the left, some males swallow this romantic twaddle and go running off to Ralph Nader, seeing him as a Don Quixote-type, ignoring his programmatic vagueness, his oversimplifying demonization of markets and his many questionable personality traits. Very few women seem to have joined the Nader campaign. Maybe because they are more practical, knowing that the next president will appoint at least three Supreme Court justices. I've seen quite a few buttons saying "It's the Supreme Court, Stupid."

That issue, alone, should eliminate any thought of voting Republican this year.

But there is another, far more important reason. It has to do with a blatant attempt at social engineering that none of us should like or put up with. An effort to fundamentally alter a social contract that has done very well by America and the West for several generations.


Look at the difference between European and American societies. Both have changed considerably since World War II by becoming much less pyramidal and more "diamondlike".

Some of you may have heard me talk about this before. It's an obvious metaphor for our unique culture. Throughout history, almost every civilization had a social structure shaped like a pyramid, with a few at the top lording it over uneducated masses below. And it was in the best interest of those on top to make sure those masses stayed down. Social position was inherited. Above all, information flows were tightly controlled.

In sharp contrast, our contemporary social pattern is diamond-shaped. For the first time, the well off actually outnumber the poor, at least inside our national borders. The educated outnumber the uneducated, and those who see themselves as somewhat empowered make up a majority. For the first time, most people merely envy the rich and do not hate them, because each of us can daydream taking our own turn in the pointy upper half. And if not us, then perhaps our children. It's called "social mobility" and it never happened before - at least not on this scale.

Above all, we feel that society's elites are somewhat accountable - or at least they are limited in the degree that they can use their elevated position to wreak capricious and direct harm on us, unlike the impunity that cloaked aristocracies in pyramidal cultures of the past.

(Harm done to the earth is another matter, we can discuss elsewhere.)

People who rage at "government bureaucrats" seldom stop to think how little those bureaucrats can actually do to harm you, compared to the impulsive power-abuses of aristocrats and oligarchs in nearly every past culture. And not too long ago! Forget Caesar and Louis XIV. Read Dickens, Jane Austin, Faulkner, Steinbeck! Hell, look at Myanmar and China today. It's like peering into a strange and desperately lopsided world -- the world that all our ancestors toiled in, friends. We are the ones living in an anomaly. The social engineering that occurred since WWII -- through marvels like the GI Bill, the explosion of literacy and expanded state universities, etc. -- caused a peaceful revolution in human affairs that was unprecedented across all time. And unlike other revolutions, it happened without much violence or bitterness. This revolution benefited those below without tearing down those above. We ought to appreciate such a marvel; it's incomplete, by a large margin, but it's also quite unprecedented. Our diamond-shaped social structure, with its implication that any of us may succeed next year, promotes a vibrant, can-do spirit that makes vigorous use of tools like mutual criticism and accountability. And note this symptom of health -- America has seen a burgeoning in the number of millionaires, but the vast majority of them made their own fortunes in the marketplace, through competitive delivery of goods and services.

Hey, that's what capitalism is supposed to be for, right? We can (and should) argue all day about how to help the poor. But at least their brightest sons and daughters already have a much better chance than the peasant kids did in the past. Every year, some of the best (or luckiest) make it all the way to the top. And countless sons of the rich find themselves having to earn it all over again.

*=> In Europe, by contrast, a majority of millionaires inherit their riches. Studies show that few of them seek to learn useful occupations or do anything dynamic with their fortunes. They do work hard at politics, striving to keep property and inheritance taxes low, while sticking the poor with high sales taxes. This way, they will be able to pass on their money, titles and life-style as entitlements to their lordly kids without impediment or inconvenience.


Don't get me wrong! I have every intention of getting into the upper brackets myself. I've already made some progress in that direction. And I plan to be sure that my children get some advantages from my success. But that's a far cry from entitling them to billions from goods and services they never did a thing to produce or provide to anyone. My success does not entitle them to a position in life that safeguards them from competition.

I lived in the U.K. when Margaret Thatcher succeeded in ramming through a bill ending all property taxes. The chief beneficiaries were 1,000 landed families who no longer had to worry about actually earning some money to keep their grand estates. The chief effect? An increase in the VAT paid by normal folks... oh, and many castles and manor houses stopped having open house days, since they no longer had to earn tourist dollars to pay the rates! Oh boy, now the art collections could go back to being "for our eyes only!"

Here in the States you see the same movement at work. Lots of "Simple Tax Plans" take advantage of citizens' (justified!) anger at tax code complexity, pandering to that anger by pushing a National Sales Tax, with the chief effect of shifting the burden of taxation from the top of the diamond to the bottom. And the underlying agenda of turning that diamond into a pyramid once again.

(An aside: I am working with a group developing ways to simplify the income tax code using a computer program that will find politically neutral simplifications, taking the whole issue out of politics. It's an exciting project, requiring fascinating algorithms, but more than we can get into here.)

*=> Now comes along George W. Bush with his grand plan to "cut taxes" in a manner that blatantly gives fully half of the benefits to the richest 1%. Delaying the payoff of our grandchildren's public debt for a decade, he'll use most of the budget surplus to achieve such wonders as completely repealing the inheritance tax.


Now there's a funny thing about the inheritance tax - it's effects are vastly greater than they seem at first sight. At the surface, it doesn't look like the government's biggest source of revenue. In fact, its chief effect over the years has been encouraging super-rich folks to create charitable foundations, in order to keep their money away from the IRS!

Get this -- in the USA, charitable giving by the rich is MORE THAN TEN TIMES as high as it is in Europe! Studies credit most of this difference to the inheritance tax, spurring the wealthy to use their money to buy fame and gratitude, rather than let Uncle Sam decide how it will be spent.

Yes it's kind of quirky and ironic. But there's a kind of beauty to it, leaving the super-rich free to choose WHICH charitable use their money will go to. That's a lot of pleasure and power to have while doing a lot of good. And the pleasure goes to the people who got rich by actually providing goods and services, not their spoiled kids. (Andrew Carnegie set aside a nice little fund to ensure his kids' comfort, then dedicated the bulk of his fortune to giving libraries to the poor, all over the world. He said -- "I'd rather leave my son a curse than the almighty dollar.")

Care to guess what'll happen to charitable giving if GWB gets his way?

We are entering a period when some estimate that fifteen trillion dollars will shift hands between generations. For those in the middle class, this may be the only sizable dollop of cash they'll ever see, since most of their current savings are tied up in their homes... and the Inheritance tax won't touch a penny of it. But about a third of that fifteen trillion dollars is set to flow to a few thousand people who never produced a thing to earn it. Fortunately a large portion will also go into charitable foundations, taking on a myriad bold tasks that simply don't appear on the radar screens of either government or corporate planners. Fascinating projects, chosen by real innovators. That is, if things stay the way they are.

THAT is why the effort to revoke the Inheritance Tax is so frantic and urgent right now. It is why the bosses of the GOP have made it their number one priority. A trillion or two, taken away from bold foundations and slipped into the pockets of new lords. What a cool agenda!


Oh, don't talk to me about "family businesses & family farms". That's been debunked, big time. The effect of the inheritance tax on small and mid-sized family business is virtually nil today. Nil. Moreover, Clinton & Gore have shown willingness to push upward the exemption from a million dollars to two million. Hell, make it five! TEN! That's a heap of equity to pass on. The kids should be able to do a lot with it, even if they must reconsolidate a bit

That's still a far cry from letting a small cadre of lazy preppies scoop in billions without paying a penny of it to the nation that protects them, pays for the research, protects them, educates their workers, protects them, keeps the poor from rioting, protects them, maintains labor peace, protects them, enforces contracts, protects them, invests in saving the environment we all share and then protects the rich some more, in ten thousand more ways than they would ever willingly acknowledge.

It's ungrateful, churlish and just plain nuts.

No, I am not preaching class warfare... though that is exactly what you will get eventually, if the pyramid is restored.

A lot of people are upset because the fraction of our economy controlled by the top 5% is rising, higher and more rapidly than at any time in 3 generations. I'm a bit less concerned by that, so long as the diamond remains healthy. So long as most of the millionaires in each generation still have to earn it and their kids still go to college with our kids. In that case they'll keep intermarrying with us, instead of thinking themselves a different species.

...which is exactly how the rich always thought of themselves in other cultures/times/places. As a different species, justifying their status with absurd racial notions or self-serving ideas about divine authority.


(Okay, not all of the rich! Not today.
(It depends on which kind of wealth eggs you on -- RELATIVE wealth or ABSOLUTE wealth.

(Take those who want to be rich in order to have lots of fun and cool stuff. These folks don't compare themselves to those below them. They don't begrudge if others get rich too. In fact, the more the merrier! Let's all get so rich together that everybody vacations on terraformed Mars! Ski Olympus Mons! Ain't it awful how crowded Europa is getting these days?

(Others need to feel rich-er than the masses. It's the "er" suffix in richer that gives their life zest and meaning. The relative comparison to others. They would feel happier being in the top 1% of a poor society - with shabby servants to scream at - than being at the mere 90th percentile in a fabulously wealthy nation of equal citizens.

(I'll bet you know both types, admit it! This personality factor makes a big difference in which political movements each wealthy person donates money to, even if they buy similar cars and belong to the same clubs.)


People, it's time to say no-thanks to those wanting to bring back the old social pyramid. The diamond deserves our loyalty.

But alas, the diamond ain't stable, ladies and gents. The natural human tendency is for those with power to want more power.

I accept the productive value of capitalism, when the market is a vibrant place for fair competition of goods & services. But if accumulations of wealth pass a certain point, capitalism will die and feudalism will replace it, as happened every other time there was a brief renaissance of competitive opportunity in human affairs. Seriously, name a bright era when that did not happen, shutting down opportunities and progress for centuries at a stretch.

Anyone who wants the pyramid back is your political enemy, folks. Not just the enemy of us but an enemy of his own children. Just ask the innocent young baronets who lost their heads during the French Revolution. THEY didn't rape the serfs, but they paid a stiff price for their grandparents' arrogant, insatiable greed. Alas, those yearning for pyramids are too stupid to grasp how wealth is really made, or what happened to the pinnacle classes in every other culture, when the people below got fed up. They are too stupid to realize that the diamond is their own best friend.


Oooh, Brin is really starting to go over the top now!

Oh, all right.

Maybe the social diamond won't fall apart overnight if George W. Bush becomes president. Maybe he'll be balanced by a Democratic Congress. Maybe we'll be fine. There are lots of other factors involved than which figurehead occupies the White House.

Still, his blatant campaign to give a few trillion dollars to those who need it least bothers me deeply. Especially the raging avarice and ingratitude of it. People who have thrived immensely under the protection/support/subsidy of a great nation don't want to help pay to keep that nation prospering and growing, or to help poor kids rise up high enough to compete with them on an even playing field.

They want to be lords. OUR lords. And we shouldn't let them. Merely as rich as Croesus, that's all they should get to be. Getting to be rich as Scrooge McDuck should be enough for anybody.

Oh, pity their poor offspring, who must graduate from Andover or some other prep school knowing that now they have to go to university alongside the bright scions of accountants and teachers and laborers!

Oh no, they may actually feel a need to study something useful in school, in case their measly inheritance ever gets frittered away. Their mere ninety million dollars instead of tens of billions.

Worst of all, they have to suffer and watch as Dad's fortune goes to some prissy goody foundation to cure cancer, or to some university to buy buildings named after him and Mom.

"What an outrage! That money's MINE, you hear? Do you have any idea how little ninety million dollars can buy, these days?"


This is the GOP's absolute top agenda item - they say so themselves - and we should reject it resoundingly. Send the Republicans back to the drawing board.

If Bill Clinton and Al Gore can see the light about welfare reform and budget balancing, then Dick Cheney can bloody well go back to the brain trust and report that the GOP needs some fresh ideas. And, please, some fresh blood while you're at it.

There are fresh ideas out there! * Ideas about how markets can be used to help stimulate and promote sustainable occupancy of the planet without putting all our faith in bureaucrats or the almighty dollar. Ideas about how markets can be made more vibrant than ever, spurring innovation while helping forge a diamond that floats ever higher, carrying everybody on Earth upward with it.

Go away this time, Dick. Give poor George W. a nice cushy job somewhere in the oil biz and bring us someone else in 2004. Somebody with brains... and proposals that make sense.

====================================================== ========================


* For those of you who are libertarians, see the next issue of LIBERTY magazine for an article about ideas like these. Ideas about freedom and "reduced government" that are worth campaigning for and that aren't about helping foster an old-fashioned inherited aristocracy in America. When you think about how many interesting things Cheney & co. could be talking about - like ending the Drug War - you'll wind up holding your nose and voting for Gore.

For those of you on the left who are actually thinking of voting Nader... gadzooks, do you know anything about that person? A gadfly needs personality traits that would be calamitous in a President. Learn more about him, for Gaia's sake. Then think about Global Warming, the Supreme Court and the Internet. You'll hold your nose and vote for Gore.

Me, I ain't holding nothing when I vote for him. He's a geek, but a smart/nice one. We've done worse. Most of the time, in fact. A lot worse.

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A Minor Political Screed

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  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @06:46AM (#695661)
    There's a reason GWB (disclaimer:yes, he's a moron) is proposing a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans - the top 10% is current paying at least 1/3 of all taxes, by even the most conservative estimate. Even left-leaning economists are beginning to concede that the wealthy are being disproporionately and perhaps unfialry taxed.

    The US is prosperous while Europe continues to plod along with a lame-duck currency. This isn't by accident - its a result of policy.

  • One thing I don't understand is why everybody around here seems to be favoring Gore over Bush. True, I would never in a million years vote for someone as mind-bogglingly stupid as Bush, but I would also never vote for Gore - he is extremely in favor of censorship, and his wife Tipper is even worse. True, she won't have any real power if Gore is elected, but she will have way too much pull. She is a very dangerous woman.

    Why is censorship so bad? You tell me. []
  • by zorgon ( 66258 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @06:47AM (#695663) Homepage Journal
    I disagree with Dr. Brin's self-assessment: this is not a rant, it's well thought out and carefully considered. It's the best piece of political commentary I've seen this entire (endless) campaign season. Should be read very carefully by all.
  • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @06:49AM (#695667) Journal

    This whole peice is dedicated to the principal that Government is smarter than people are. "We are from the Government and we are going to help" is one of the most scary thoughts anyone could have.

    Thomas Jefferson said, "People who give up freedom for security will get neither".

    The problem is Government thinks that your money is their money. And since we are the government, your money is my money, and that my friend is called Socialism.

    Our founding fathers knew that the only way to keep America free is to limit the Federal government, something this generation has not learned.

    People who think they are superior to others, aren't.

  • > Has anyone noticed something interesting? The complete lack of any voices proclaiming that December 31, 2000 is the _real turn of the century? Odd huh? I haven't heard a single call to celebrate this formal milestone -- even as a simple excuse to have another party! You'd expect at least for some Society of Nit-Pickers & Pedants to do so..

    Actually, I'm a Life Member of the SNPP. But that's exactly why I don't call for the celebration.

    Sure, I'm all agreed that this New Year's it the millenial anniversary. But anniversary of what? A WAG at the date of a possibly mythological event? We NPPs would rather pick at it than celebrate it.

    Besides, only lamers need holidays as an excuse for a party. If any day is holy, then they all are.
  • One thing, and one thing only makes anybody wealthy: capital. Savings applied to productive uses. Death taxes destroy capital. They force the sons of farmers and businessmen to sell the business in order to pay the taxes on what they have inherited. This destroys capital.

    Inheritance taxes make us all poorer, even if we don't pay them ourselves.
  • Does this mean Slashdot is endorsing Gore, then? Or are they going to run editorials from other pillars of society, to give the other candidate(s) equal time in front of our eyeballs?

    He has some interesting points, though. But, as he dismisses the notion that we have a single-party system, I dismiss the idea that this election is simply about the inheritance tax and Supreme Court justices.

  • For those of you on the left who are actually thinking of voting Nader... gadzooks, do you know anything about that person?

    I know more about Nader than I really know about either of the two republicrats, and that's part of why I've decided to vote for him.

    And it's not about the Supreme Court. It's about scare tactics.

  • by AugstWest ( 79042 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @06:56AM (#695680)
    ...and let them know [] that you think they're impeding any progress in the American ploitical process.

    I sent them this last night:

    I'm just wondering how you people sleep at night knowing that you are hampering any progress that this country has tried to make past the same old crap spewed forth decade after decade by the two parties whom you solely represent.

    The American public, as well as the global community, is appalled at your evil nature for not allowing Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan to speak to the American public.

    People all over the world are mocking Americans for your exclusion. We know that any non-partisan inclusion in your decision making was removed about 8-10 years ago when the formerly conscientious comittee resigned in disgust at your two party insistence, stating that they would not be involved in "hoodwinking the American public."

    I am a patriot, and I love my country, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so due to your heavy-handed control over the political process. How your representatives can stand in front of a live television audience and feel good about themselves while screwing us all is beyond me.

    The political process needs to be fair to all Americans. Your process is so self-interested that it leaves us all wishing that someone within your organization would wake up one morning and say, "My God, how can I continue to belittle the American political process and silence the voices of millions in the elections."

    Hopefully, someday, your consciences will speak up and you will fight to help us regain some voice in our own political process.

  • I see that David says that farmers and businessmen are not affected by the inheritance tax. I'll accept his point regardless of its veracity. My point still holds: the inheritance tax converts capital into consumption. This is a bad thing in the long term.
  • Why do I get the feeling that Gore will also do as his predecesor and lie and tell the people what they want to hear? Gore seems to be a great story teller. Other then the supreme court issue (Look what happened when E. Warren was appointed! SHEESH! Talk about back scratching deals!) Andy Roony could be president because all the real work, ie. Speech writing, negotiations, bill props etc. are done by advisors. However, the one thing that Clinton/Gore have hurt is the USA military. The Voice of America recently put out an editorial about the Cole. The state department who approves such editorials denied its printing because the death of the 17 Navy boys don't out weigh the 100s of palestineins (sp?). Thats the Clinton/Gore state dept. Thats just sad. An editorial cant be printed because it might enrage Palestine and the deaths of their 100 outweigh the deaths of our 17 that serve us and our country. Ugh.
  • by OlympicSponsor ( 236309 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @06:58AM (#695686)
    Get real.

    The biggest issue this year is "Who is government working for?". And until this question is answered, no other issue even makes sense to talk about. You can't decide how (or if) to fix social security or respond to terrorist attacks unless you know who your constituents are and what they believe.

    THAT'S why I'm voting for Nader. Bush and, to a slightly lesser extent, Gore are both working for Big Business. Nader, Browne and Buchanan are all working for The People (or subsets thereof). Buchanan's subset is the religious right and therefore I'm not voting for him. Browne is working for people, but defines businesses as people--which I don't agree with and therefore I'm not voting for him.

    Nader is the only candidate that recognizes that government belongs to people and businesses are NOT people. Therefore he gets my vote. But not because I want him to win. I want to use Nader's candidacy as a medium through which I can send my message: I want goverment to be of, by and for the people.
    An abstained vote is a vote for Bush and Gore.
  • Rather than "over-the-top", I find this to be well-thought and well-argued.

    It's a shame that it'll never become a prime-time topic of conversation...
  • I'm voting for Harry Browne. I'm not holding my nose to vote for Bush OR Gore. Gore frightens me. The things he says in _Earth in the Balance_ are indistinguishable from the Unabomber Manifesto.
  • Contrary to what the uninformed of the world are trying to claim, the inheritance tax *is* a huge factor in small business progression. I myself am one of thousands of people who *would* inherit my father's farm, but it's not gonna happen! I'll have to disolve the farm in order to pay the inhertance tax! No really! I'm not making this up! Imagine that! If Brin had actually used his own grey matter instead of that which was spoon fed to him, he might have noticed that this is a real issue affecting real people!

  • The federal government controls so much of the economy, that I don't see how we can elect someone who isn't an economist.
  • by Daimbert ( 244769 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:01AM (#695700)
    Look, saying that complaints about inheritance taxes destroying family farms and businesses have been thoroughly debunked does not make it so.

    It does not take much of a farm or small business these days to equal 1 million dollars, the new amount at which inheritance tax will kick in. I know that sounds like a lot, but experience with my family's farm showed us that it was not. When you add up land at thousands of dollars/acre, and the value of lots of heavy machinery and buildings, even a modest farm can be raped by these taxes.

    End result? It gets sold to a huge agri-business concern, since the family cannot afford to give away 1/3 of all it owns (and has already paid taxes on) to the government and stay in business. And then people complain about corporations taking over our economy... Sheesh. Get a clue and look at the consequences of the policies advocated by the Democratic Party. Just because what they say sounds warm and fuzzy should we believe it?

  • Long ago, on CompuServe's Consumer Electronics forum, David Brin used to hold forth on the merits and demerits of high-end TV and stereo equipment. I followed his advice in that arena and have made many purchases that have stood the test of time.

    I've read nearly every one of Brin's SF books, enjoying their scientific approach coupled with his humorous cynicism directed at politics.

    But in this screed, I see Brin finally abandoning any hope for political change. This is cynical realism at its hopeless worst.

    Sure, the Supreme Court scam [] is no excuse for voting for Gush, but geekyness is about the worst reason I can think of for voting for Mr. Status Quo Bore.

    As for me, I'll be watching CSPAN on Friday night from 8:00-9:30 EDT to hear the "Rest of the Story."

  • by Zigurd ( 3528 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:02AM (#695704) Homepage
    Even if I agreed about the social contract thing, and there is considerable evidence that the "diamond" is becoming flat, hollow, lethargic, and unsustainable in places where big fat ineffucienct and corrupt bureucracies have grown up, I would not vote for Al Gore.

    It's the perfidy (stupid): Same lies, same sellout to, e.g. Russians selling nuclear stuff to Iran, or Russians pols and mobsters stealing the aid we send them, or sombody selling our nuke secrets to China. This is the biggest reason why, in a time of nearly unparalleled prosperity, the ruling party is losing. Charater does count: "loathing" the military traslates into some pinhead at Voice of America spiking a piece on the Cole bombing because those deaths do "not compare" []to the Palestinian loss of life in the new Intifada.

    Also, this Europhile thing is misplaced. Sure, I like blondes (and I am one), and SAABs, BMWs, and Mercedes are cool cars. IKEA makes cheap furniture that isn't ugly. But what about violent crime in gun-free London going out of control because you can be sure to be able to do a housebreak or a mugging without encountering a gun? What about ramapant mafias and endemic official corruption in southern and eastern Europe? What about the ever efficient and rational Germans going broke becuase their welfare state is unsustainable?

    The real reason we are prosperous is that we have moderate taxes (that could be lower), pretty good rule of law (could be better), sanctity of contract (that is mostly enforceable), and private property (that could be better protected from bureaucrats). If we ever got freedom of choice in puclicly supported education, we would have a new Golden Age.

  • Here's a goof with his little pro-stoner link on his post, talking about Bush being stupid.

    You're calling me stupid for smoking pot? Well, I think you're stupid for making assumptions about people whom you obviously know absolutely nothing about. I think you're stupid for falling for government propaganda about pot when alcohol and caffeine are far more dangerous drugs. Go back to your little world where everything is fine and dandy and stop bothering those of us who care about our freedoms enough to do something about it.
  • I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Dr. Brin earlier this year. A wonderful thing about him is his ability to go off on a discourse such as the one above off the top of head, in real time. In person he has a great enthusiasm and clarity that few people have. Whats more he's right (IMO of course)
  • The wealthy are being disproporionately taxed, but they are also disproporionately benifiting from the society that they are helping to fund with their taxes.

  • When it comes to matters of technology, programming, etc., I trust the /. editors in their decision making, just like I trust my favorite musicians' and actors' creative decisions. But for the love of God, stay out of politics! You clearly have no idea what on earth you're talking about.

    First off, in Bush's tax plan, when you look at the entire thing instead of the tiny little bit Gore harps on in his overbearing debates, the top 1% pay MORE of the tax burden than they do now. MORE. MORE. MORE. Are you listening, or do I have to say it again? Now, they pay 62% of the tax burden, under Bush's plan, 67%. 67 > 62.

    Also, if you're worried about the rich having more money, please read some Adam Smith, people. What do you think they're going to do with it? Keep it locked up in a chest under their bed? No! They spend it! On buying things from the lower 99%, which gives us the money.

    I am begging the /. editors now, before I lose any more faith in them, please stop posting this drivel.

  • Facts are such difficult things for people with your opinion. Best just to ignore them, eh? The first generation earns the money, the second spends it, and the third gives it away. At least that's what's happened historically. Look at any of the wealthy families from a hundred years ago.

    Now, that said, as a practical matter, there are no safe investments. All capital must be managed, or it will slip away. It takes effort and skill to manage capital well. That's work. Sorry if you don't appreciate it as work, but perhaps you haven't tried to do it yourself.
  • by Overt Coward ( 19347 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:06AM (#695715) Homepage
    Anyone who believes that Gore is some sort of brilliant thinker while Bush is an idiot has been spending too much time listening to media spin and not enough actually looking at the candidates and their histories.

    If you go to the academic record, they were both mediocre (at best) undergraduate students, with Bush having a slightly higher GPA while taking a slightly tougher courseload (including "Mr. Environment" Gore's 'D' in basic science). But Bush managed to earn a Havard MBA -- Gore dropped out of Vanderbilt twice in graduate programs, once in divinity (after he failed most of the courses he took in a program he got an early rotation home from Vietnam for) and once for law (I don't know what his grades were there -- he left to run for Congress).

    Ok, so coursework isn't always the best example. But Gore's reputation for brilliance comes more from being very detailed as opposed to having original ideas. And seeing whom each candidate has surrounded himself with as advisors tend to make me think that Bush may really be the smarter one, especially in where it matters for a President. I personally prefer a delegator to a micro-manager. (Also true in business... but I digress...)

    Of course, the real reasons to vote for someone are basic competence (I think either candidate is competent), trustworthyness (Bush beats Gore hands-down here), and issues (all depends on your own philosophy). There may be many reasons to vote for one candidate over the other, but please don't fall for the "Gore is brilliant and Bush is stupid" line as a factor in your decision.


  • Well if we want to base our Callandear on the supposed birth date of Jesus Christ, the end of the Cent happened in 1996. Because the Callandear we currently are using was declared around 300AD by a ruler who guessed the birth of Jesus 4 years off from where historical evidence points it to be.

    And even if 1AD was Jesus's birth, we should be good C programmers and count from 0 anyway.

    And should time really be based on one religion's views? (suppose it's too late to change it now)

    I know this is barely relevant, but I get so annoyed when people who claim the new Cent starts on 2001 think they're so smart.

    I feel better now.
  • I pay almost 50% of all money I get (47%, exactly). I pay more in taxes then most people make in a year..
    It's not fair, true - but someone has to do it I suppose
    In my home town that I grew up at, in one month I pay more in taxes then some of my old friends yearly income. Granted, they were single and living in apartments running $200/month but it still is ridiculous. The cultural divide based on annual income is huge.
    But, I grew up poor and I'm doing really well now so I dont have too much sympathy for people who complain about being poor and never getting a chance to get ahead. I was 12 and 13 working on ranches illegaly to get money for computer parts. I did what I had to do, and it paid off in the end.
    I doubt anything is going to change any of that.. it's just the way people are.
    But I'll keep paying my 47% and deal with it.
  • ...the top 10% is current paying at least 1/3 of all taxes, by even the most conservative estimate. ...the wealthy are being disproporionately and perhaps unfialry taxed

    There are several ways of responding to this without giving the wealthy a tax cut. Perhaps cracking down (via tax law) on companies like Microsoft and Cisco [], the porportion that the wealthy pay would go down. And before anyone decries the horrible taxing regime placed upon the rich today, please consider that several decades ago (60s? 50s? Can some older /. readers indicate when?), there was a fifty percent tax bracket. What frightens me most is how much popular support there is for regressive taxing schemes (like a flat tax).

  • by YuppieScum ( 1096 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:08AM (#695722) Journal will in fact bring about a stronger economy due to the fact that rather than having money tied in up in charitable foundations, it will be in more liquid forms, mainly equity. This is, as any student of economics knows, a good thing!

    The money in charitable foundations is not "tied up" at all, but is used, for example, to pay salaries to researchers, purchase equipment, rent buildings, and so on.

    This is placing real, maximum-liquidity cash money directly into the economy - an even better thing as far as this student is concerned.
  • > However, the one thing that Clinton/Gore have hurt is the USA military.

    GWB tried to make a campaign issue out of that, and failed miserably. Why did he fail? Because reduced military spending was the "peace dividend" that the Republicans touted so much during their attempts to claim credit for 'winning' the Cold War. Now they're whingeing about those very spending cuts.

    Go figure.

    (Frankly, I think "weak military" is just a code phrase for "get US troops out of places like Kosovo, where the natives ain't Christian and they don't even have any goddam oil". But that's strictly suspicion. Perhaps someone who understands the Republican value system better can clarify it.)
  • by nomadic ( 141991 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .dlrowcidamon.> on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:08AM (#695724) Homepage
    Well, for one thing, I utterly reject the silly platitude going around that says the republican and democratic parties are just the same. What hogwash!

    Thank you. Last time I brought this point up on slashdot, I was shot down by people who find it easier to group the parties together than actually follow the issues. And I have to agree about Ralph Nader; I'll probably be voting for him because my state seems a lock for Gore, so he doesn't need my vote, and I'd like the Green party to get matching funds. But I haven't been impressed by Nader as much as I would like to be, and if the race was close where I live I doubt I'd vote for him.

    Me, I ain't holding nothing when I vote for him. He's a geek, but a smart/nice one. We've done worse. Most of the time, in fact. A lot worse.

    It will be really interesting to see how a really intelligent president will handle things. Clinton's brilliant, but not in a geeky, policy-oriented way, and the last few presidents before him have ranged from moderately intelligent to downright dim. The other comment (besides the both parties being the same one) that always annoys me around election time is the charge that the President "shouldn't be too intelligent" because it will somehow limit their leadership ability. That's a particularly ridiculous claim, and one of the last vestiges of a thread of anti-intellectualism that's run through our country for too long. Gore was blasted for "talking down" to us during the debates; if you're going to avoid voting for someone because you don't like him to express his knowledge, then you deserve the President you get. Unfortunately, the rest of us don't, but we still get stuck with them.
  • Two scenarios:

    1. Rich man dies. Passes equity, property to son, who promptly spends the rest of his life partying and frittering away the wealth his father acquired.

    2. Rich man dies. Equity, property is sold to some other rich man. Money obtained is used to set up charitable foundation. Note that the equity, property is not "destroyed" but is in fact in better hands than in scenario 1.

    So in which scenario does society benefit more?
  • by absolut_maniac ( 176412 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:09AM (#695731)
    well, if you only consider the US's bi-party system, then sure democrats and republicans are not the same. however, compare the political structure here and in other countries. let's take France for example. last presidential elections, there were more than a dozen parties running, ranging from comunists, socialists, greens, republicans (doesn't mean the same thing over there and here), all the way to extreme right wing party (the FN, totally racist bastards who should be removed from the face of the earth, but that's not the point). those are just a few of the most important ones. if you were to put the republican and democrat parties on that scale, they would both be very close and somewhere next to France's RPR (sortof republican). so you see, to someone used to seeing a great variety of political parties, the choice between republicans and democrats is really irrelevant, since they will pretty much do the same thing with just a few minor differences. There, i guess that's all i have to say.
  • Hmmmm..... you seem not to understand how the liquidity effect happens.

    consider the money stored in charitable foundations. Typically those are setup as true "foundations" according to the law, and that involves a couple of things:

    The foundation must spend a certain percentage of its assets every year. This usually means funding programs, which employ people, who spend more money, etc. This ends up having the same effect as government spending, which is probably the biggest promotor of growth in an otherwise stagnant economy. If you build a wing on a library, you have to hire people to build it, design it, clean it, buy books, etc.

    The foundation invests the money it hasn't been spending in order to maintain the foundation. While this money isn't then used actively, it has the same money multiplier effect as if I just sat there and invested on ETrade.

    Now consider someone who just sits there on his money. If they're really serious about wealth protection, it's in bond funds, money markets, annuities, etc., which are all probably in some offshore country (switzerland, Luxembourg, the Caymans, etc.). This has some money multiplier effect, but less than spending a large portion of it every year, and is probably less likely to help than maintaining the endowment of a foundation, because it's being held elsewhere in low-yielding investments.

    I'm not arguing for a tax-the-rich policy. I think that it's largely wrong to overly tax inheritance, and the example of France shows that it just transfers money to corporations (look at family wineries in France....there are very few of any size remaining, because the inheritance laws encourage sell-offs to corporations and require splitting the land if you have multiple children). That's not very good either.

    But don't say that having scions just holding all money is a positive economic effect. Your high school economics class may have taught you something, but obviously not THAT much.

  • by isaac ( 2852 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:10AM (#695734)
    ...and so you won't hear me wailing about how unfair it is that they pay 1/3 or even 1/2 of all taxes.

  • Hey, anyone on slashdot have David Brin's email address? He's always been a man I wanted to communicate with. Mostly, I think, to explain my love/hate attitude towards him. I need some closure on this.

    It started in '92 when I met him at a sci-fi con. I'm a physicist who wants to write; he's a writer who learned physics. (Or so he told me then.) I was annoying, I admit, following him for about half an hour asking how one could do both physics and sci-fi at the same time. And he eventually rebuffed me as I deserved. After reading Startide Rising and Sundiver, see, I was just another worshipping fanboy, and although he was polite he did remind me that he was just human and I should get a life.

    Then came what I call the 'political' era of Brin's writing, and I lost some interest in him as an author. Still a good thinker, though. After the IMO failed stories of his last trilogy, I find myself still reading Brin for his political and opinion pieces. I lost taste for his writing, even though he's the man I wanted to emulate...but I'm learning more from him now than before.

    Now I'm a bit older, a bit wiser, I have a life and I've had one story published so far. (I'm planning on more, but I'm in no rush. I too shall one day spawn a trilogy or three. ;) ) And here he's giving me reasons to hold my nose and vote for someone, when I'm so far planning to not even vote because of how depressing the choices are this election.

    It's an interesting cycle I'm in with David Brin. I act childish, and get kicked in the ass. I grow up. I act childish again, and get kicked in the ass again. Pardon me, I think it's time I registered to vote.
  • If indeed they are paying such a large slice of the pie than I say great!

    The top 10% make more money than the bottom 90% combined! Just think, the assets of the US's two richest people match the combined assets of the bottom 25%!!!
  • Well, it seems that Katz bashing and M$ bashing have been pushed aside in favor of something new: Republican bashing!

    In all seriousness, folks, this piece goes pretty far (okay, VERY far) past moderation. Yes, most politicians are not the brightest of folks. Yes, they're mostly not geeks. But they are charismatic, and that's why they make good front men for the ideals behind them.

    Probably the MOST disturbing idea in the above nonsense, for me at least, is the idea that the wealthy owe proportionately MORE to the country, simply because they've done well. If you're a failure, society will pick up the bill for you. If you're doing all right (read: middle class), society wants some back. If you've come up with something truly interesting, and are making big bucks, society will grab everything it can, and try for more. This leads to convoluted tax code, as the wealthy find it FAR cheaper to pay lots of lobbyists than to pay the taxes they might otherwise owe. As to inheritance tax: the constitution forbids double jeopardy: the government isn't allowed two bites out of the apple, in criminal matters. But inheritance tax gives them (at least) two HUGE bites out of the financial apple: this money is taxed when it is earned (income tax), taxed as it grows (capital gains tax), and taxed AGAIN after you die, and want to leave it to your kids (inheritance tax). And we wonder WHY people try to hide money overseas??

    Elloquent, well-structured nonsense remains nonsense.
  • I wonder if they realise exactly how little their "my freedom is important to me" comments seem when they are giving control over their mind to something else. (save the crap about the expanded soul please, it's still morning here)

    Alcohol is legal, is it not? Why should somebody who enjoys using a different mind-altering substance be thrown in jail when you can go down to the bar and get completely cocked? I don't like alcohol - it just doesn't appeal to me. Pot does. Does that mean I'm a menace to society and belong in jail?
  • Aha, but Socalism requires some view of the common good of humanity (or at least your country), which is curiously absent from modern political discussion (unlike it was in our country's early days, up to about 1950.) What a way to live.
  • You have an account, filter out the stories. They told you this was coming.

  •'s got alot in common with smoking tobacco (or inhaling any burned substance really)...and they tell me that isn't so good for your either. Lungs weren't put there to take in crap...they are there for air. Ask any doctor what they are for....seriously!

    I know that - I'm a tobacco smoker as well, and my lungs aren't happy with me. If I could quit, I would. But your liver wasn't designed to handle alcohol, either. And yet drinking is legal. If I want to fuck up my own body, I should have every right to do so. It's my body, not the Government's.
  • Screw lawyers and economists (whoops, sorry hawk), what we need for setting policy are philosophers, who think in terms of right and wrong. That eliminates the need for an economist, since the first thing a philosopher would do would be to make the government stop having so much control over the economy. ;-)

  • First of all, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And I am glad that you realized that what you have is nothing more than just that: an undocumented, un_backed, un-provable opinion. Frankly I think your evening would have been beter spent watching the debate and gathering some facts before spouting off with sci-fi generalities. (Granted it was a letter intended for a few but proclaimed to all.) First some background on your stance for an inheritance tax. FACT!: The current inheritance taxes are destroying the American farmlands! You claim that the American farmer is not affected because of the $1,000,000 base for estate value. Well, use your brain for more than fiction. FACT!: Average price per acre $5,000. That is 200 acres of farmland. A small farm starts around 6,000 acres. These are not the rich, these are everyday people who work more than you ever have writing your fiction. The current administration has destroyed the future US economy. FACT!: The basis for an economy lies in how much value it can produce, NOT how much it can pass around. A first year economy student cann tell you the only industries which CREATE value are farming and mining. Everyone else just passes around the wealth. FACT!: By the agenda of the current White House (of which Gore is a part) the price of American grain has fallen to a PRICE LOWER THAN DURING THE GREAT DEPRESION! These facts alone should sway any informed voters who want the US to have a future rather than the UN to have a future. Besides who wants to support Al Gore who supports CARNIVORE
  • Uhm, I don't think he's arguing that at all. I think what he's stating, and probably rightfully so, is that people are better at choosing charitable organizations than the government.

    The effect of the inheritance tax is to encourage people to keep money out of the hands of government. You'd have to be one of those REALLY inbred Old Money types to not have the knowledge to really keep Uncle Sam from keeping most of your money when you die. The money goes to charitable foundations, which are most certainly NOT part of government.

    So the money stays AWAY from government. That's the point of the screed. Keep government from touching it at all.

  • > it will in fact bring about a stronger economy due to the fact that rather than having money tied in up in charitable foundations, it will be in more liquid forms

    Ah, I see that the "Trickle Down" philosophy is still current among Republicans.

    After all, everyone knows that "5417 runs down hill", so why shouldn't money, too?

    A convenient myth, if you need to justify handouts for the rich.
  • The president need not know anything of ecconomics to run the country when he has capable assistants who can do the job.

    By that logic, the president need not know anything about international relations, the military, the environment, law, or domestic affairs either. I find Bush's insistence that he'll have competent advisors somewhat pathetic. During the debates when asked how he'd handle an economic crisis, he said he'd turn to the commerce secretary. Now the man has an MBA from Harvard, which supposedly gives him an advanced knowledge of economic theory; in theory, he should know more about the economy than just about any President we've ever had. Not sure how much time he spent in class though.
  • by elefantstn ( 195873 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:17AM (#695775)
    1. Rich man dies. Passes equity, property to son, who promptly spends the rest of his life partying and frittering away the wealth his father acquired.

    This money, of course, disappears into the ether, never to seen by society again. What people do not, unfortunately, realize, is that morality has nothing to do with economics. When the son is "frittering away the wealth his father acquired," that is A Good Thing. Who is getting this wealth he "fritters away"? The poorer people he has to pay for products and services. Thus, more people are gainfully employed, rather than recipients of the largesse of a charitable foundation.

    So, in response to your question, society benefits more from the first scenario.

  • by Exanter ( 2171 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:17AM (#695776) Homepage
    Exactly. Actually, from what I've heard, Bush's tax cuts, etc are for giving back/making things more proportional. i.e., if you are of the 10% rich, then you get more back, because you have paid more. Conversely, if you paid little, you get little back. Why in hell people have problems with this I'll never understand. You pay more, you get more back. There is nothing wrong with that whatsoever.

    As for Brin's "rant", it just seems to be more liberalist crap. He's just perpetuating the liberal notion that it's the government's money, not yours, and even if it was yours, the government knows best how to handle it. Never mind that for inheritance taxes, they are taxing income and goods that have already been taxed. Never mind that the government should be in no way whatsoever entitled to get up to 50% of someone's equity and goods and such just because they died and wanted to pass it on to their offspring.

    This makes the flat tax idea seem a great one. Bring on the flat tax, remove the marriage penalty and the inheritance tax (it bothers more than just the rich ya know, though some people wouldn't want you to know that), and dammit, tax EVERYONE equally (that's the way percentages work).

    hey, who knows. Giving the government less of our money to work with might be the single most effective way at reducing government.

  • by Steve B ( 42864 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:18AM (#695777)
    An aside: I am working with a group developing ways to simplify the income tax code using a computer program that will find politically neutral simplifications, taking the whole issue out of politics.

    This is impossible on its face. Every complication was put there to serve some political special interest; removing any of them is inherently a political decision.

    More fundamentally, even the simplest replacement (e.g. zero taxes up to X income, then Y% of everything above that) requires a determination of X and Y based on a political decision between appeal to envy (set Y high to "soak the rich" and set X at upper-middle-class level to avoid hitting the bulk of voters) and appeal to fairness (set X at a lower-middle-class level to spread the load as widely as possible while protecting people who really can't afford to pay, set Y at the minimum necessary level to fund the government).

    The natural human tendency is for those with power to want more power.

    True. Too bad Brin doesn't apply this principle consistently, noting that the power of the people in government office increases with both the total amount of taxes levied and the amount of discretion applied in who shall be made to pay what amount.

  • do yourself a favor: stop tossing around "liberal" like some kind of insult, making yourself sound like a mindless dittohead. your argument is reasonable but you sound like Yet Another Angry White Male with your subject line. it's just become too common a pejorative term among said AWM's without two brain cells to rub together to produce a spark of truly independent thought. i'll avoid using "right wing" for the same reason. deal?
  • by mesocyclone ( 80188 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:18AM (#695780) Homepage Journal
    Much as I love David Brin's novels, I find his political analysis to be shallow.

    He says he is not advocating class warfare, and then does exactly that. He objects that Bush's tax cut gives back a disproportionate amount of money to the top 1%, but seems to ignore the fact that those people are paying an even more disproportionate amount of taxes. Even Bush's tax plans make the tax system *more progressive* (and thus, in my opinion, more unfair to those who strive to achieve and be rewarded for it).

    He decries social engineering, and yet supports a candidate who will use the tax code to do exactly that. Every time the tax code gets more complex ("targetted tax cuts") the government engages in more social engineering, more programming of our choices, and thus reduces our individual freedoms.

    He also doesn't seem to realize that since the end of income averaging, the tax code taxes many more "rich" people who are just happen to get a bunch of their income in one lump sum, and thus hit a very high tax rate. For example, if you trade some of your salary for equity, then when you finally cash in on that equity, you will be "rich" as far as the tax code is concerned, even though you may end up with no more money than someone who took the money as salary and payed less taxes than you did. It has happened to me. And it happens to small business owners all the time.

    He is willing to unfairly tax people twice in order to satsify his dubious social policy goal of preventing idle rich kids (not exactly a significant problem in the US, and not because of the tax code) and to encourage charitable giving. Folks, it ain't charity if government extortion forces you to do it. Furthermore, some of the greatest charitable foundations in the country were set up before we had those taxes! And, if you do the math, you will see that the tax hits hardest at those who are the children of the not-very-rich. If your parents have $100 million, and the tax takes $55 million, you can still be an *evil* idle millionaire if you want. But if they only have a couple of million, the tax makes a difference between a retirement cushion for you and not having one! David, you are a physicist... DO THE MATH (DTFM). Do you really believe that Bill Gates set up his foundation to avoid taxes? Carnegie? Ford? How much more money would go to charitable foundations if the government wasn't taking it from people and then redistributing it according to whatever buys the most votes?

    And then there is the specious attack on W's IQ. OK - W wouldn't be the top guy at a geek convention, but neither would Algore. If you extrapolate their SAT tests to IQ (which, for verbal SATs is a very good extrapolation), there is only a slight difference, and both are almost two standard deviations above average.Furthermore, there is no evidence that high IQ is correlated with presidential success - just look at Nixon and Carter! Also, it is clear that Gore's "high IQ" has not blessed him with any degree of judgement when it comes to science - his environmental conclusions are not based on science or scientific reasoning, but rather radical romanticism. I'd rather take a solid guy who knows how to delegate over a genius who wlil pander, engage in class warfare, exagerrate his own achievements, make most his income from oil and tobacco while pretending to big their biggest enemies, and in general behave like a spoiled, power hungry rich kid.

    And let us not forget who "owns" the democratic party... it is the teachers' unions (who bring us a public school system that consumes more money per pupil than almost any country in the world, and delivers far less educational results than every first world country and most second world countries)... it is the tort lawyers who use the billions of dollars that they got from the tobacco companies to attack the very capitalism that David naively thinks he supports... and who one of these days will get around to going after the software industry (after they destroy the pharmaceutical industry, the auto industry, the chemical industry, the firearms industry, etc)... it is the giant companies that prosper from *more* government regulation... and who use things like extreme environmental regulation to prevent small, less well capitalized companies from entering their field.

    If you believe that the tax system should be used to control individual decisions... that the money really belongs to the government and they are just letting you use it... that the government should discriminate based on skin color or other artificial characteristics... that the problem with our schools is that we don't give them enough money or federal control... that Al Gore is a farmer... that Al Gore invented the internet ... the Al and Tipper were the inspiration for Love Story... that Al Gore discovered the Love Canal problem... that the greatest national security threat is the automobile (form Algore's book)...

    Sure... vote for Al.

    And to those Libertarians out there...

    Do you really want a government that believes IT can make the important decisions for you (taxes, who you can hire, what you can do with your land, etc, etc, etc)?

  • This is one of thos commonly cited ideas, this notion that because the top 10% pays 1/3 of all taxes, that they're disproportionately taxed, and it's true. They should pay more. After all, they also receive more than 1/3 of the income.

    I'm not some money-hating liberal either, I'm a member of the group that I think should pay more taxes.

    "Don't trolls get tired?"
  • by Electric Eye ( 5518 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:19AM (#695784)
    Damn right. If you take into account the dolts who control the major parties, I happily give my vote someone who actually maintains some integrity. Yeah, he may seems nuts sometimes, but the guy has done more for this country than either candidate ever has or will. And the fact that he refuses PAC/soft money, is a plus. It's sickening how every politician in Washington is a whore to special interests. It's time we take back our government. I wholeheartedly support the Green Party in its attempts to establish a credible third party that will, at least, keep the duopoly scared and always on its toes.

    I hope everyone votes for Nader. He's the only sane one running for office today.
  • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:20AM (#695785) Homepage Journal

    There's a reason GWB (disclaimer:yes, he's a moron) is proposing a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans - the top 10% is current paying at least 1/3 of all taxes, by even the most conservative estimate.

    That same top 10% also holds more than 50% of all wealth in this country. By that standard, they should be paying 1/2 rather than 1/3 of all taxes.

    That becomes especially true if taxation only affects (as it should) disposable income. It is quite unfair to tax the portion of income required to meet the minimum of food, clothing, and shelter. In the modern world, add in transportation and utilities since it is nearly impossable to be employed without those. Otherwise, taxes force inverted values in spending that would be seen as inexcusable at a personal level (A person who would buy fine art with the grocery money probably deserves to go hungry).

  • What annoys me is that rightist like to say the "economics" is strongly on their side, as if there was any semblance agreement on these issues in the economic community. No, Trickle-Down, give-it-to-the-rich-so-they-invest-more-of-it is far from the only legitimate economic theory. In fact, Trickle-Down had its chance for 12 years, and where did it take us? The biggest recession since the Great Depression (thank you Regan/Bush). Unfortunately economics (or anything else really) is not as simple and concrete as libertarians would like us to believe. The biggest falacy of this system is that this invested money ever "trickles" out of the closed circle at the top of the ladder. The more left leaning ideas that you need to balance the degree of social programs with the amount of capital the rich retain have been proving themselves rather nicely in Europe and in America for the last 8 years.

    And before you say it, nobody is raised in a bubble, nobody deserves sole credit for their standing (do you think B. Gates is 100,000 smarter and ingenuitive than Alan Cox?:). We are all products of this great society we have built together, it is not us and them.

  • Well put. If things were FAIR, then those people should be paying 90% of the taxes.

    But of course, money = power, so the people with more money have the power to reduce their taxes by "donating" to (ie buying) politicans who, in return for further promises of money, reduce taxes on those people.

    Did you know, that in the last 10 years, the small percentage of people with a lot of money had their average income go up 89%? In comparison, the bottom group had theirs go up 1.3%.
  • So one of the things which is interesting is that the owners of such art have taken to being VERY clever in keeping people from really enjoying it.

    First, you have to actually know what they have enough to uniquely identify it. That may be more difficult than it seems. I can't remember how the registry works, but it isn't that great.

    Next, they can arrange the time within reason. You work during the day? How about going to see something 400 miles away from your home at 8am on a Wednesday? Probably not that convenient for you.

    Finally, you don't have the right to see it in its proper light or anything. So they can (and have) move a painting from the wall, lay it on a corner of the floor of an unlit barn. You might see it a little, but probably not enough to give it its full mastery.

    While I agree with the principle of letting people see the art in exchange for keeping it out of the inheritance taxes, the loopholes have destroyed the spirit of the law there.

  • "When you think about how many interesting things Cheney & co. could be talking about - like ending the Drug War - you'll wind up holding your nose and voting for Gore. "

    Not bloody likely. You'd have to hold a gun to my head to get me to vote for a man who finds lying easier than breathing. Bush may be bad, but Gore is much, much worse. I *do* hope you aren't serious.

    On another note, how did this Nader guy get so much press? He's little more than a publicity-seeker; no clear grasp of economics, no real understanding of the important issues. There IS a real alternative: the Libertarian party. If you don't like Bush (and i'm not especially thrilled by him), vote Harry Browne next month.
  • I think Brin is on the right track, but at the end he clamps down his conclusion to voting for Gore. Pyramids are bad, diamonds are good, Republicans are demons from hell, therefore be VERY SCARED, RUN and HIDE go vote for GORE. I don't buy it. Lesser evilism has resulted in these stupid chips off the old corporate block for candidates.

    As a young woman said after the Madison Square Garden Nader super-rally, in response to the question of why she was voting for Nader:

    "I am making a statement that I will no longer compromise"

    We have been compromising way too long. Now is the time to take a stand and topple this exploitive and corrupt duopoly.

    Don't like Nader? Fine. Vote Libertarian. Vote something other than the status quo, for your own sake. You're screwed either way if you vote for BushGore.

    Personally I agree more with Nader's platform, history and experience, and am voting Green. Stop the mentality of lesser evilism. Grab the reigns of your *own* government.
  • Alot of people don't like drunks OR potheads...quit playing the alcohol card. Alot of people agree that alcohol isn't so great either. If more people had a little more control and didn't need chemical help in general, the whole issue would be gone.

    Alcohol is terrible, and yes, we would be better off without it. Same with most drugs (the exceptions in my mind being pot and hallucinogenics, because they allow you to see the world from a different perspective, and this is a healthy thing to do [just not too often]). But they're here to stay, and people who use drugs and don't bother other people should not be throw in jail.

    Personally the only amount of alcohol I will consume is one that I really don't feel anything from...a glass of wine or a beer...drink for taste...not the feeling.

    Me too.

    Potheads generally aren't like that.

    So? They still don't bother anybody (well, they may annoy some people, but everybody annoys somebody for one reason or another).
  • There's a reason GWB (disclaimer:yes, he's a moron) is proposing a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans - the top 10% is current paying at least 1/3 of all taxes, by even the most conservative estimate. Even left-leaning economists are beginning to concede that the wealthy are being disproporionately and perhaps unfialry taxed.

    The US is prosperous while Europe continues to plod along with a lame-duck currency. This isn't by accident - its a result of policy.

    I don't follow. In your first comment you seem to imply that the wealthy shouldn't be taxed so much. In the second you claim that US policy (presumably tax policy as well) creates prosperity. Which one is it, should the wealthiest be taxed less, or are you saying the system works just fine like this?
  • by woggo ( 11781 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:23AM (#695805) Journal

    Actually, the top 1% of wealthiest Americans provide 37% of the US' income tax revenue.

    This is the most ridiculous thing about Gore's recent "apples-to-rocks" comparisons: he is comparing Bush's 33% tax cut for the wealthiest 1% (i.e. 12% of all revenue) to Bush's education spending (very likely to be less than 12% of all total revenue), instead of comparing Bush's education spending to his own education spending.

    That's a little like me saying "You are clearly more thrifty than I am, because you spend less on Coke in a week than I did on a set of Nordic skis." (Actually, it's closer to "I am deciding to bill for two fewer hours this week, but my cubemate is more responsible because she is buying six cups of coffee every day and working a full week," but I digress...)

    I'm not a fan of either of them, though.

    WRT the death tax: Why not allow greater deductions for charitable contributions now? Instead of assuming that the recently deceased would rather donate money to universities, libraries, etc. than to Uncle Sam, why not let them do it while they're alive for a tax break? Then they can see the results of their philanthropy, which will (I'll assume) motivate further giving. I paid 42% taxes at my last consulting gig (I'm a grad student now, so I'm paying a lot less....). I would have gladly donated that money and more to impoverished schools, soup kitchens [], free clinics or any number of charities instead of sending it to a monolithic federal government.


  • by swinge ( 176850 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:24AM (#695810)
    sorry, you are rebutting an argument that is not being made. The wealthy will still pay a disproportionate amount of tax under Bush's proposals, so that's not the issue. The issue is *how* disproportionately, and what exactly gets taxed. Inheritance tax is a tax on saved income, income that got taxed. So, it's a weird consumption encourager, and "unfair" in the sense that it is double taxation.

    Separately, if the overall level of taxes is generating surpluses, that might be evidence for cutting taxes, and of course cutting them will result in the highest payers getting the biggest cuts, even though they will continue to be the highest payers, absolutely, relatively and proportionately. Supposedly smart Democrats are so dishonest on this point they should be disqualified from taking oaths of office. It's OK to want to soak the rich, but come out and say it.

  • Brin seems to think that no individuals really own anything. The unstated assumption behind his reasoning is that it's the government (Brin would say society, but it amounts to the same thing in a democracy) who REALLY owns everything, and because of it's benevolence it lets individuals call something their own -- for a time.

    Why does Brin find it so unfair that rich kids will, maybe, go to prep schools and will not have to work for a living? Basically, because it's NOT THEIR money. It's the government's (society's) money that their parents were allowed to hold on for a while. But what government giveth, government taketh back, and "allowing to own" is personal and ends at the person's death. I would bet that economics and politics aside, Brin believes that in a really fair and ideal world inheritance taxes would be 100% -- so that everybody starts in the same position: poor. This actually makes some sense in a social Darwinism sort of way, but the resulting world won't be pretty.

    A "social" reason Brin gives for maintaining the inheritance taxes is that it forces massive transfer of wealth to charities. And what's so good about that? Charities, especially large ones, are notoriously inefficient and spend a large percentage of their money on supporting their own bureacracy. I am not arguing that charities are useless, but Brin himself points out that Europeans contribute vastly smaller amounts to charity than Americans, and they seem to do quite all right.

    In the classic balance of power between the group (commune, society, government) and the individual Brin's ideology falls heavily on the group's side. This is evident from his writings and from this comes his opposition to inheritance, which, after all, over time tends to create powerful individuals which the government sometimes has hard time dealing with.

    Am I surprised? No. Do I disagree with Brin? Hell, yes!

  • That same top 10% also holds more than 50% of all wealth in this country. By that standard, they should be paying 1/2 rather than 1/3 of all taxes.

    Why? The top 10% probably consume about 1% of government expenditures for social programs. The consumers of those programs should be supporting them.

  • by kniedzw ( 65484 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:26AM (#695819)

    I find Dr. Brin's arguments to be cogent and well thought-out. In fact, I agree with almost every conclusion he has made here, although I do disagree with some of his logic.

    1. Firstly, Nader isn't an entirely poor choice for some people. Liberals in states which Gore is almost certain to win (such as Massachusetts) might do well to consider him. The Democratic Party has drifted toward the middle of the political road in the past few decades, such that there are few young, vibrant, liberal leaders within the party proper. Voting for Nader such that the Greens get more than 5% of the vote gives them federal funds to get their message out and sends a message to the Democratic leadership that they have been neglecting some of their core constituency. A little revolution has never been a bad thing, and it's produced some of this century's most dynamic leaders....
    2. Nader has been roundly criticized within his own party for not running a campaign which is designed to attract women voters while both Gore and Bush have been actively courting them for the past several months.
    3. With regard to estate tax, I'd just like to mention that it has a viable role in today's world - one which justifies its existance quite admirably, but it might be helpful to understand where it came from. Medeival European feudal lords would grant their vassals land in exchange for services, but it wouldn't by default pass to their heirs. In exchange for a tax (what amounted to a bribe), the ruler would grant that land to the heir for their lifetime with the understanding that the land was actually the lord's. This has translated to our country (via the doctrine of eminant domain), based on the idea that we each need to give back to the nation in exchange for our prosperity. Republicans have labelled it a "Death Tax," whereas our Founding Fathers probably would have thought of it instead as the government's due for giving an individual the security needed to prosper.
    4. Another poster made mention of Dr. Brin's implicit assumption that our government knows better than we do and quoted Jefferson to try to debunk this. Unfortunately, Jefferson didn't live in a nation which was as complex as our own with issues as diverse as the ones our leaders have to deal with. I try to take an informed approach to citizenship, but I don't pretend that I understand everything as well as would be needed to govern myself. More importantly, I don't want to. To do so would take up the majority of my time, both work and free. I vote for politicians who share my general fiscal and social views and have the native intellect to appoint folks who will carry out their policies. That's why Hell will freeze over before I vote for Bush, as he fails both tests.
    5. Lastly, I would like to point out again that Dr. Brin's highlighting of the upcoming Supreme Court nominees will be of critical import to the next several decades of our country's policymaking. A vote for Bush would, unsurprisingly, be a vote for a socially conservative Supreme Court, which is almost certainly what we want to avoid in the near future if we want privacy and free speech to continue on the Internet.

    I'd like to further thank Dr. Brin and Hemos for a provocative and interesting commentary. ...and I'd like to urge all of the disaffected cynics out there to get off your duffs and vote in November. It might not seem like much, but it adds up....

  • The wealthy are being disproporionately taxed, but they are also disproporionately benifiting from the society

    How so? The wealthy use far fewer social services. If you look at the government as an organization that provides essential services to parts of the population, the rich certainly partake in fewer services than other segments.

  • That was not my point. I don't agree those substances should be illeagle.

    Ok, sorry, my mistake.

    I guess I just find it amusing when people insist on the freedom to give their freedom away.

    Doing a drug doesn't give your freedom away - you get intoxicated in one way or another for a short period of time. Some people enjoy that. Why shouldn't they be allowed to?

    It's almost like people thrive off of the situations they create by being self-destructive.

    There are far worse, perfectly legal, self-destructive things you can do to your body than smoking pot. Eating McDonalds every day is one. Driving at 110 mph is another. Pot is not that bad for you. Other drugs are, and I would never touch heroin or cocaine, but I would defend (to the death) people's right to do them.

    On a completely unrelated topic, does anybody know what is up with the Windows 2000 driver for Logitech's wheel mouse? The scrolling is all funky, and it's the same way on all the Win2k machines here in the office.
  • What I don't like about all this pyramid/diamond talk and using as a justification for some particular tax agenda is this: it is all based on the assumption that it's the government's place to redistribute wealth and turn a pyramid into a diamond.

    I just don't accept that. I certainly don't see it in the US Constitution, nor do I really see it even implied in Locke's social contract. It's just some wacky idea that liberals have pulled out of their asses.

    Whether or not inheritence taxes cause rich people to philothropize, whether or not "trick down economics" work -- these things are irrelevant. It's got nothing to do with why we gave government the power to tax.

    Note: I'm not saying I want a pyramid and for a small group to hold all the economic power; I just think that it's immoral for these liberals to pervert the original purpose of government and use its power (ultimately backed by physical force) to try to achieve their (possibly noble) goal. Find some other way to do it.

  • Dumbshit, you do have every right to smoke tobacco. Looks like your brain has more tar in it than your lungs.

    Dear God, shut the fuck up. I know I have every right to smoke tobacco. I'm complaining that I don't have the right to smoke pot, and there's no reason for that.
  • Its pretty simple - America is becoming more and more dependent on the top 10% to cover government expenditures, even though the top 10% consume the fewest government social services.

    Yes, the rich should pay more than the poor, but only to a certain point - the rich should be treated fairly too. This bolshevik crap that the rich should be taxed to death has been the undoing of most European economies.

  • by mosch ( 204 )
    Supreme Court scare tactics? You're right, it is scary, the idea that the balance of the supreme court will be greatly shifted by the next president, especially if an issue that you care about is potentially in danger of being brought to trial.

    "Don't trolls get tired?"
  • I have read that "Earth in the Balance" was found in the Unabomber's cabin.

    So, when are opening arguments scheduled for the Gore v. Kaczynski plagiarism lawsuit?

  • And another liberal myth rears its ugly head! No, being rich doesn't allow you to hire accountants who keep you from getting taxed. The only way you avoid being taxed if you have a lot of income is to do exactly what the government wants with your money. That's what those accountant will tell you. Sure... put it in tax free bonds. But the payout on those bonds is much less as a result... so you are still paying the tax... just indirectly to the bond issuer!

    The only large tax break I am aware of that is silly is real estate depreciation. The TEFRA act of 1986, with its passive loss deduction, removed that loophole from the rich - and coincidentally was the true cause of the S&L collapse.

    It is a myth that the rich avoid paying taxes by using loopholes.
  • Why don't you tell that to the people that got up at 4:30am every day to milk cows on the family farm growing up. Then, when their parents pass, instead of inheriting the farm that they have put so much work into, some government moron decides that they need to tax it into oblivion. Forget that this person has worked his or her ass off their entire life in the hope that they could keep the family farm running after their parents were gone. Nope, that doesn't matter. We don't want them just getting something for nothing (I can't believe anybody believes this applies to farms where you either bust your ass or you lose it anyway).

    Luckily, the one family farm I was involved in had a family that was smart enough to do they inherit by percentage plan where each year they are allowed to pass ownership of a certain percentage of the farm and therefore by-pass the inheritance tax. If they had tried to pass it all in the same year, they would have had to sell the entire farm to pay for the taxes on the inheritance. This just doesn't make sense to me at all. How can it be justified that the taxes for inheriting a farm are far, far more than the amount of money you can earn on it in five or sometimes even in ten years of hard honest work? I just don't understand that thought process.

    Of course, corporate farms don't have to worry about that. A corporation never dies, so they never have to pay inheritance taxes. Maybe every farmer should simply incorporate themselves?
  • ...isn't a vote for Nader.
    Nor is it a vote for Bush.

    It's a vote to get real left wing party established in the US. Nader's platform is far closer to the platform I believe in - but this says more about the Greens than about Nader himself. If I continue to vote Democrat, even as the Democratic leaders do less and less that represents my views, they have no reason to do anything but take my vote for granted. If you never vote for the candidate you want, you will never get that candidate. Period.

    In '92 I grudgingly voted for Clinton, in '94 I voted for Nader, even though it was a write in. This year I'll vote Nader so that the Greens might get the 5% needed for matching funds. In 2004 maybe the Green party will have built enough strength to mount an even better campain. By 2008 maybe I'll finally get to elect the kind of candidate I believe in. (The universe ends in 2012, at least according the to Maya calendar, so don't waste another moment - vote for Nader this year).

    Any second thoughts I've had are gone after the Illinois Democratic Party pulled all its back handed stunts to try to keep Nader off the ballot. I'm so pissed I'm thinking of sticking to 100% 3rd party candidates. If the Democratic party wants to ignore and alienate their core constituency, they're doing a great job.

  • When the son is "frittering away the wealth his father acquired," that is A Good Thing. Who is getting this wealth he "fritters away"?

    Consider this: Rich man passes company to son. Son mismanages company, company loses half its value.

    Also find out what "fritter" means. To "fritter" means that the money is not wisely invested and put to productive use, but merely consumed.

    This money, of course, disappears into the ether, never to seen by society again.

    As other posters have pointed out, the charitable foundation invests the money, presumably wisely, and uses some of the proceeds for worthy causes. The same cannot necessarily be said for an heir of no special merit.
  • After I became a rabid libertarian, I started studying economics so that I could tell whether the libertarians were right.

    I concluded that libertarians have a better grasp of economics than the other parties, but most libertarians still miss important issues.

    Inheritance is a problem. Capitalism works because it tends to concentrate money and power in the hands of those who know what to do with it (make more money and power). There is no good reason to think their children will be any good at managing that money.
  • What's wrong with socialism? You use it as if it has inherent negative connotations, which it does not.

    Please defend this position, because socialism is not antithetical to democracy as you suggest.
  • Which ought to mean that if the top 10% have 90% of the wealth, then they should be paying MORE than 90% of the taxes.

    However, what the rich have over those that don't are numerous tax shelters that they can squirrel away money in and avoid taxes until the so-called death tax.

  • Has anyone noticed something interesting? The complete lack of any voices proclaiming that December 31, 2000 is the _real turn of the century? Odd huh? I haven't heard a single call to celebrate this formal milestone -- even as a simple excuse to have another party!

    Actually, Cuba is officially recognizing this New Year's as the turn of the millenium.

  • The richest 10% don't have to worry about whether they can afford to heat their homes this winter. They don't have to worry about getting their kids a basic college education. They don't have to choose between buying prescription drugs or food.

    Maybe you've never known what it's like to be poor. I've had to sleep in unheated trailer homes; I've faced the choice between Ramen noodles or a doctor's visit. I clawed my way out of those hard times. But a lot of people are in those dire situations, and they need help. To pass them by so that Mr. Goldshorts can afford to buy his daughter another Lear jet strikes me as simply cruel.

    One responsibility of the government is to help its citizens when they require it. And so yes, the richest Americans should pay most of the taxes, and no, they shouldn't get a tax break, because darnit, they don't need the help!
  • Look, I'm no Bush fan, but there are three things I can't help but point out:

    1. Estate tax: the only people who actually pay any estate taxes in this country are the not-quite-so-rich people who can't afford to hire an army of lawyers and accountants to package their millions into the plnetiful loopholes in our ludicrous tax scheme. The really-really-really-rich don't pay a dime as far as I can tell.
    2. Social Security Privitization: this is a great idea, and I encourage anyone who is curious to try and get some facts about it (I don't have a link handy). The Bush plan is hardly that revolutionary, but taking your own retirement money, making it your property and then putting it into the markets is a real win-win, and much stronger than any "lock box" idea.
    3. School Choice: It's really simple. Gore is (and has been for a long time) in the pockets of the teachers' unions. That's not bad in and of itself (we all like teachers, right?) but the problem is that he is forced to be against any kind of meaningful school reform.

    OK, that's my $.02. Neither candidate really matters, but I won't get into my long rant about why Roe v. Wade ought to be overturned, and why you should be in favor of this even if you are pro-choice, but IMHO these candidates are both pretty much the same, with the exception of a few promises. They both are in the pocket of corporate interests. So, if you really care that much, vote third party.

  • Great Brin, another liberal that thinks that forced redistribution of wealth is good. After all, if you managed to get anywhere in life it must have been over the corpses of the poor. Inheritence tax is simply evil. All the hard work of a lifetime forcibly stolen by the government. The really evil part is that even wealthy people aren't liquid (financilly) enough to pay the 50% tax so what happens? Inheritors must sell tangigle assets to pay the tax. Sell family homes, businesses, and land. Still, soud good to you? If so you must also realize that the really wealthy find loopholes (trusts, incorporating) that avoid the tax. The people that really get stung are the upper middle class.

    Want a real-life scenario?

    My parents have both worked roughly 18hrs/day for the last 35 years. No exageration. My childhood was spent living within a small company. He was a Heating/AC Contractor. Later he sold the business and bought a golf course. If I had to value their total net worth I'd have to guess about $1.5-2 mil.

    If my parents were to die in a car wreck tomorrow what would I get? When the IRS asks for its tax money where do I gt it? Maybe 10% of their worth is liquid. If I have to sell either their home or the golf course it would have to be a fire-sale. Golf courses sometimes take years to sell and their home wouldn't come close to covering the tax bill.

    Want another example?

    The last place I worked the guy sharing a cubicle with me had his father die. His father was a farmer/small business owner in Virginia. He lived in an old farmhouse that had been in the family for over 100 years. Looking at the place you never would have guessed that his net worth was well over $1 mil. Based mostly on the value of the farmland.

    In the end my friend had to sell the farm and pay a tax attourny a good chunk of money to keep the inherentence from ruining his own financial health. It made him bitter. Worse, it destroyed a family legacy.

    Brin, on another point, America is completly different from England. As you well know, owning land here is easier than ractically anywhere else in the world. All a person has to do to own land is make the right decisions and be willing to put forth the effort.

    Decisions are really what this is about. Some people learn to make good decisions and take responsibility for their actions. Fundamentally this ifs how people get ahead in this country. (Un)fortunatly we live in a country where a few greedy politicians discovered a sure fire way to buy the vote of those who -for the most part- have made poor decisions. Tell them that it is their God given right to take money from the wage earners and redistribute it to them. Feed their greed. Demotivate them from even trying to earn their own rewards by telling them they can have it for free.

    Responsibility is also what this is about. The Democratic party has an inherent conflict of interrest when it comes to the poor. The poor are their chief source of voters. Every poor person lead down the path to success is one less vote for the democratic party. Just look at the demographics. Sure, not everyone is a poor democrat. By the misplaced idealism of essentially socialist govenrment philosophy has beeen proven a failure time and again. Your hearts are in the right place but your head doesn't understand the problem.

    Wan't another reason to vote Republican (probably not but please read this anyway). Abortion. Dont' delude youself into thinking the sides of this issue are Pro-choice/anti-abortion. Abortion is premeditated murder. A fetus is a living human organism. The will come a day, maybe in our own lifetime, when female fertility will be as easy to turn control as a lightswich. When that day comes these feeble excuses over pro-choice and "a woman's right" will sound as reasonable as a southern farmer explaining why slavery is a good thing or a anti-semite explaining why the Jews should all be killed. Abortion is an absolute horror and future generations will view us, will be unable to comprehend us, for the horrors we allowed.

  • This is the crucial question that Brin ignores in his quest for "social equity." The fact is that the government did a great deal to promote the economic patterns that we see in the US today - a great deal of nothing. One can debate whether promoting social equity through taxation is a legitimate function of an abstract arbitrary government. But one cannot debate whether it is a proper function of the United States federal government because that government has an exact specification. That's right, just like the RFCs. And that exact specification (the Constitution, for the slow) does not give the United States federal government the authority, responsibility, or duty to so much as address social equity. That government is not even permitted to discuss such matters, much less to tailor a tax code toward a particular set of values, whatever they may be.

    While it may be profitable to discuss, for example, what an ideal electronic mail tranfer protocol might be, it would not be acceptable to implement something claiming to be SMTP that in fact is not SMTP but instead some particular person's idea of what SMTP ought to be. We follow the standards, and should chide those who do not. If the standard is in need of improvement, then discussions should be opened on the subject of improving the standard. Disregarding it is not an option. So if you really think that it's in the best interests of the United States that government forcibly redistribute money from those with more to those with less (let's not sugar-coat it - that's what Gore and Brin are advocating - transfer of wealth, earned or not, by force of law), then you should advocate not a vote for a candidate who ignores the standard (hint: both Bush and Gore do so) but instead a new Constitutional Convention.

    But then, I suppose when passions get aroused, the temptation to ignore the standard may become great. Funny how that works. We roast Microsoft for ignoring standards when their passion for money gets involved, but it's somehow considered acceptable or even noble to disregard the Constitution when a noted individual's passion for "social equity" is involved.

    I will avoid advocating any candidate or platform in this post, because I believe it's too important that it stand on its own to give readers the opportunity to disregard it as partisan rhetoric. But I would suggest that the reader reconsider his or her choices with an eye on the Standard in question.

  • by sethg ( 15187 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:51AM (#695908) Homepage
    In a capitalist society, the government's "social services" include protecting private property and enforcing contracts. Therefore, the more property you have, and the more you benefit from pieces of paper (such as stock options) that represent wealth, the more you benefit from the government.
  • by joshsisk ( 161347 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:51AM (#695913)
    Why? The top 10% probably consume about 1% of government expenditures for social programs. The consumers of those programs should be supporting them.

    Why? Those programs are "social insurance". I'm happy to give up part of my earnings if it means that the bottom 10% get their monthly check and health care so they don't turn to a life of crime... Not to mention, I like the idea that, if something catastrophic happens to me (I become a parapalegic, etc.) I will have some sort of aid to fall back on.

    Also, I believe that a larger percentage of taxes goes to non-social programs... Things like defense, the FDA, FCC, law enforcement, prisons, the space program, etc... These are programs we all take advantage of.

    Josh Sisk
  • by Remus Shepherd ( 32833 ) <> on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @07:58AM (#695933) Homepage
    Without factoring in any social obligation, from a purely economical standpoint, you want to maximize the total output of the economy, and strong top-heavy taxation is an impediment to that, especially when it comes to investing.

    Ah, how to refute this? Let me count the ways:

    • One of the functions of government is to factor in social obligations to its people, especially the ones who need the most help.
    • A purely economical standpoint leads to a corporate strategy, not a national one. Or in other words, a fascist state.
    • You do *not* want to maximize the total output of a national economy. That's why the Fed has been trying to slow us down. The best national economy is a stable one, not one racing out of control towards a crash.
    • As Brin explained, top-heavy taxation leads to redistribution of wealth through charitable giving.

    You strike me as someone with a strong grip on corporate marketing strategies. I suggest you avoid trying to translate those strategies to a national economy.
  • by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @08:04AM (#695952)
    Your statement presumes that the overall economic health is the top priority and nullifies any value to equity within the benefits brought about from that economic health. Your approach reminds me of what I would describe as a pre-Millsian "Utilitarian integral". Only absolute integrated happiness over the total population space matters and it is irrelevant how that happiness is distributed. Replace happiness with money and you have your statement. This is fairly easily debunked as being value-laden. You can equally well place some value on equitable distribution. Think of it as an equation:

    E + D = TH
    where E is total integrated economic health/wealth (perhaps corresponding to some combination of GDP with national savings/investment figures), and D is a dollar value we might place on the ideal of a Liberal Democracy of having some equity of wealth distribution and total happiness/Utility is TH. Now you are maximizing a different equation, neh?
  • The point everyone is missing is that when talking about such-and-such a group paying X% of the taxes, is that we're only talking about individual income taxes here. When you factor in the total cost of federal taxes (exise taxes, Social Security/Medicare payroll taxes, higher costs due to pass-through of corporate income tax in costs of goods and services, etc.), you can see that everyone is paying more taxes thatn they might think. The lowest quintile still pays about 5% effective rate, even though that have about a -7% individual income tax rate -- the highest quintile's individual income taxes [after deductions and credits] is 16%, but their effective overall rate is 29%. ( 1999 projected effective rates from the Congression Budget Office [] )

    Everything else is perception only. It's far easier for the government to raise taxes as long as they can convince the majority of the people that "someone else" is paying for it.

    The only way to simplify the tax system and to make it truly fair is to eliminate hidden taxes (e.g., exise taxes and corporate taxes) and double- or triple-taxation (e.g., inheritance taxes), and impose a single rate on everybody with some form of exemption. (The exemption would "untax" the poorest people and basically make the rest of the system progressive.) I personally prefer the mechanism to be a retail sales tax [] with a rebate mechanism.


  • Believe it.

    All Bush can come up with in these unscripted encounters is touchy-feely "I hate washington, but I'm a uniter" vagueries.

    Gore will explain in intricate detail what he plans to do. Specific bills, dollar amounts, motivations. Bush responds by saying, "That's great Mr. Gore, but I can actually do whatever it is I think I want done."

    You're telling me that's trustworthy or competent? How can you trust Bush to do something he never said what he'd do, or how he'd overcome the "rancor and discord" in Washington. He has no standing! He has no actual will! I don't even think he's read his own tax plan. Gore, when discussing his plan, or Bush's for that matter, can tell you how it will apply to you. Bush, when asked last night about his tax plan, said it'd be great and started talking about NATIONAL DEFENSE and MEDICARE (which, by the way, are "big government entitlement programs," liberal stuff).

    Tell me some more about how you trust the man, what exactly you trust him to do, and how he has earned your trust. Bush is the cleanest example of a puppet I have seen in my short life. He even looks like a muppet. He has made no substantive commitments to the populace, just vague suggestions. You'd better believe that he's going to be controlled by his advisors. Voting for Bush is electing the NRA and the Christian Coalition directly into office.

    Gore, conversely, is his own man. He at least knows what he wants to do as president (SPECIFICALY), and how he plans to get it done. And he can tell you about it.

    Me, I'm still voting for Nader. I have no doubts that either one will succumb to PAC money until campaign finance reform is a reality.
  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <{tms} {at} {}> on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @08:53AM (#696082) Homepage
    For those of you on the left who are actually thinking of voting Nader... gadzooks, do you know anything about that person? A gadfly needs personality traits that would be calamitous in a President.
    A vote for Nader is much more a vote for him as gadfly than as President. It's a protest vote against a choice between two rich, born-again Christian, big-corporation-friendly, pro-death penalty, anti-gay-equality, hypocritically pro-war-on-drugs white sons of powerful politicians, a choice that's as appealing as the old childhood conundrum: "Would you rather suck all the snot out of a dog's nose or slide down a sliding board with barbed wire all over it?"

    Since only electoral votes matter, if you live in a state where there's a strong margin between the candidates, a gadly vote can have much more meaning than a vote for Gore or Bush - an extra percent for the Greens (or Libertarians, or Refomers) does much to bring the attention of to major parties to their causes, whereas an extra percent of victory for Gore (a shoo-in in Maryland, unless he's caught sodomizing small dogs in a Satanic ritual by the light of burning Americans flags) won't affect things one bit.

    Good points on the inheritance tax; I'm really disappointed that I haven't heard more discussion like this from Democrats. Maybe if we did hear stuff like this from Gore, more of us would be voting for him instead of the gadfly.

  • by gammoth ( 172021 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @09:16AM (#696114)

    The wealthy have this neat trick of having the public bear costs while privatizing profits. This tradition was manifested in the European colonization of Africa and the sub-continent. For example, the Dutch East India Company used the publicly funded Dutch national army to protect it's "investments" (read economic pillage) in India. However, it kept all profits for itself.

    One might argue the company generated wealth, but all it really did was shift wealth from India to the disproportionate benefit of Dutch elite. (And BTW, India had a thriving economy before the Europeans stepped in.)

    This tradition is carried on today by the transnationals and wealthiest families. The wealthy benefit from our substantial distribution system, our university system, our R and D systems, and our security systems (including police, military, and intelligence). All these things combine to protect their wealth. Yes, we all benefit, but then we all contribute. The letter is suggesting, and rather convincingly IMHO, that those who benefit the most are trying to shirk their responsibility by socializing the costs of maintaining a civil, technological society.

    After all, they've done it in the past.

    Regarding the percentages issue, I'd like to point out that there's more to it than the hard numbers. We all have basic living expenses. Ie, there is a minimum we could possibly spend to keep nourished and sheltered. What's left over is disposable income. Taxes for the less wealthy therefore have more of an impact because they have less disposable income.

    Like all mathematical modelling, percentages don't fully capture reality. 50% of $100 is more significant than 50% of $10000000000000000000. I mean, how many yachts do you really need? Ie, if all I have is $100 to spend, and you take half, getting that half back is significant in terms of my basic material comfort. To a middle-class family, a tax break could mean more sporting and academic activities or even something so basic as healthier food on the table.

    Mathematically unfair? Who cares!

    Now, one may use the 'garden path' argument and attempt to discredit my points by taking the extreme. So, let me take this opportunity to say that I do not support big government or big taxes. Let me also say that I can be in favour of a (truly) free market without being an economic rationalist.

  • by babbage ( 61057 ) <> on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @09:21AM (#696126) Homepage Journal
    Actually, Jefferson didn't say that. Ben Franklin said something similar though: "They that can give up essential liberties to obtain a little temporary safety deserves neither liberty nor safety."

    You also make the mistake of assuming prima facie that Socialism Is Bad, but some of us aren't so brainwashed by William F Buckley that we would actually believe such nonsense. The reality of the matter is that running a modern state is a complex affair, with plenty of room for both public & private control. The Socialist states of the world may be becoming more like us, but we're also becoming more like them, and with good reason -- very simply, both systems have merits, and a blend of the two is a Good Thing.

    Letting the State run everything is, I agree, a Bad Idea. But so is letting corporations run everything. The notion that companies are more efficient or benevolent than public equivalents is hogwash. Shared control is the way, with wise regulation & public representation. Or did you perhaps forget that our founding fathers were concerned with public represenation too? You seem so forgetful...

  • by Sanity ( 1431 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @09:22AM (#696129) Homepage Journal
    As someone who has lived in London for the past year I am afraid I can't allow your piece of NRA propeganda to go unquestioned. If you think that flooding London with weapons is likely to improve the crime situation (which is no more "out of control" than in any other large city) then you are sorely mistaken. Did you know that more police in the US are shot by their own weapon? I resent you justifying your personal need for a lethal penis substitute in terms of it helping the crime situation.


  • by Skald ( 140034 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @09:24AM (#696134)
    Look at the US Constitution... it's always a favorite topic on Slashdot. Look at Article I, Section VIII. The powers of the federal legislature are ennumerated there. Where do they allow for the Digital Millenium Copyright Act? For the Communications Decency Act? For the Clipper Chip Initiative? For a postal monopoly? Hell, for half the problematic federal laws we've got.

    They don't. The Constitution, read as written, would prevent all these things. Problem is, it would prevent Dr. Brin's "social engineering", too. If you believe that the US Federal Government is really responsible for the blossoming of the middle class in the 20th century, maybe it'd be best to take his advice, and hope we can influence the legislature to make amends.

    For my own part, I can neither see that social engineering is compatible with freedom, or responsible for prosperity. And I sure as hell don't trust Congressfolk, Republican, Democrat, or otherwise.

    I don't much trust businessfolk either... at least big businessfolk, like Gates and Ellison. But it seems to me that it's their influence over government that really poses the greatest threat. Again, limit the sorts of laws Congress can make.

    For that matter, I don't really trust the rich. But if Gates and I can both get an X% tax cut, fine by me. Why? Because I don't compare myself to those above me. I don't spend my time worrying about their lordly children, or where they ski, as the author seems to do.

    And please... don't tell me that we're "spending money" on anyone by not taking as much of their money. That's really obvious... I like my propaganda mild, with milk and sugar.

    Geez, I've gone over my two minutes...

  • by DG ( 989 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @09:29AM (#696148) Homepage Journal
    I'm a Canadian, so I don't have a vote in your election. For me, it's a cross between a circus sideshow, and an oncoming oil tanker heading right at my canoe.

    But the strange way your electoral system is set up means that third-party votes are, for all intents and purposes, thrown away. All they do is reduce the size of the population who actually determines who gets to win. And the smaller that portion gets, the more likely the decision is going to be made by power blocs that vote en masse for one of your two parties.

    Depending on the relative size and power of these blocs, you're giving power to some pretty scary people with some pretty scary agendas....

    A protest vote may feel nice (and here, in Canada, it can actually be effective - our version of the Republicans went from running the country to effective non-existance in one election!) but they way your system works, not only does it accomplish nothing, it actively works against you.

    I'd go so far as to say "Any vote for a third-party candidate in a US election is a vote for the guy you don't want"

    I don't disagree with any of your motivations, but were I in your shoes, I'd hold my nose, and vote Gore.

    It's the Supreme Court, Stupid. :)

  • by Danse ( 1026 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @09:49AM (#696187)

    Taxes reduce that. Reduce wealth and you reduce the economy, thus hurting everyone, inluding those on the poorest end.

    Taxes don't just reduce wealth. They also do many useful things, albeit at a somewhat inflated price usually. These things would likely not be done if they were not done by the government. Additionally, if you read what Brin was saying, he pointed out that the wealthy are quite good at dodging taxes (they can afford to hire lots of smart people to figure out the loopholes) and most of the money does not end up going to the government at all, but into charitable institutions that fund research and education and other worthy causes chosen by the donors themselves. This isn't reducing wealth, it's recirculating it. The upper few percent of people in this country already control vastly larger amounts of wealth than the bottom 70% or so. The average CEO in this country makes over 400 times what the average worker makes. Repeal the inheritance tax and that money will continue to pile up in the upper few percent's bank accounts while the rest have to work harder and harder to make a buck. It won't turn out well in the end.

  • by Skip666Kent ( 4128 ) on Wednesday October 18, 2000 @10:52AM (#696284)
    All well and good, but the attitude you describe is fueled by a thing called 'morale'. This is the glue that keeps troops from heading for the hills at the first sign of danger or adversity. Morale is fuled by any one or both of 2 things, Leadership and/or Money. Most soldiers will gladly do with less of the second and more of the first. For the past 8 years, they haven't had either.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas