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Suppose you wanted to get rid of economic inequality.

That was our starting point, but you both quickly slipped into reducing economic inequality, which is something else. You didn't really go after this, which is a problem, because I think we do indeed want to reduce it, but not to the extent of actually eliminating all economic inequality. Reducing poverty is reducing inequality.

If the bottom end of the economic curve is poverty, you are talking about somehow closing the gap between the poor and the not-poor. That doesn't mean closing the gap between the rich and the poor, but it does mean making that gap smaller - reducing the inequality.

So it's kind of important what terms you use and how you define them.

I'm also not sure how the idea of redistributing wealth is not part of the process of progressive taxation. It may not be a direct process, but it's still taking money via taxes from the people who have more money and ultimately giving some of that money to the poor. Every liberal I know does indeed support progressive taxation, and not without good reason.

The exalted founders and many of their successors were quite explicit about the need to take money away from the very rich in order to prevent them from becoming an aristocracy. A lot of this involves taking money from people who are already dead, which seems personally reasonable to me, but a lot of anti-estate tax folks seem to feel that the rights of the dead to pass on their income to their children and other beneficiaries of their choice is greater than the right of the poor to be given a chance to (a) live or (b) get out of poverty.

I guess a lot of this depends on whether you regard the leavings of the dead as just extra money that can now be used elsewhere (although that's still redistribution, it's just not redistribution from the rich to the poor; it's redistribution of a dead person's money to the living). The people who oppose taxing dead people's money claim to be defending the rights of the dead, but are really defending the privilege of the survivors to be able to accumulate that money for themselves. So they are really complaining not about an affront to the dead, but about a redistribution of what they regard as their own money.

Now, it is absolutely clear to me that progressive taxation and taxing the estates of the dead provide benefits not just to the society as a whole but to the wealthy themselves - just some of them are too dumb to realize it. One way or the other, they will certainly pay a price for poverty, and progressive programs are actually less expensive and reduce crime and also reduce the likelihood of violent upheaval in the social fabric. Vast inequality of the kind the Robber Barons brought us frequently reaches through the middle-class to the point where there aren't many people between the rich and the poor, to the extent that, with most people either on the edge or falling off of it, revolution seems like a better bet. At the very least, there is increased crime and very expensive security needs.

The libertarian argument against taxation isn't wrong because it uses the terminology you cite, it's wrong because it simply doesn't take into account the cost of running a society in which those of us who have property can enjoy it safely, even if we ignore the costs in human suffering for the poor themselves. Many of them think they understand the meaning of enlightened self-interest, but they are simply short-sighted and they don't understand how money works. Making money circulate throughout the society is necessary for a society to be wealthy and stable. Taxing the rich and getting as much of it to the poor as possible is about making that happen. You can call it whatever you want, but "redistribution of wealth" isn't really a dishonest bit of labelling. It's just that they are pretending that these terms and purposes necessarily denote things like communism, theft, a free lunch for the lazy, etc. In that respect, it's not merely a straw man, it's a lie.

By insisting that they have a right not to pay taxes, it's those with property, which is protected by taxation, who are asking for a free lunch.


You make some very good points Avedon, which can stand without comment. I would like to clear up some common misconceptions.

No one in this country has ever been taxed for being rich. What people get taxed for is getting richer. Bill Gates could decide that from 2006 onward he would never pay any income tax -- if he just stopped having an income. He could contribute all the interest and capital gains that his substantial holdings generate each year to charity and live off his capital. Even spending a million dollars a day he'd still have a fortune when he dies, so why earn more? If he did that he'd never pay another dime in income tax -- only consumption taxes. Conversely, if a person living in poverty sells a screenplay for 100,000 dollars, they will pay income taxes on that just like a rich person. Taxation doesn't care how wealthy you are to begin with, just how much that wealth is increasing.

Likewise no one ever got taxed for dying. The people who get taxed are the ones who get richer because someone else died. The event that's being taxed, and deserves to be taxed, is the transfer of wealth, not the death. You can't get a huge tax free gift from someone while they are alive, so why should you be able to get one untaxed just because they died?

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well said, Jack. I do agree. You need to pay taxes if you want to increase your wealth.

Eric Irvin

I just found this while google'ing "straw-man argument". I have not been a good student of Rhetoric but have found myself becoming one. A co-worker who has had a history of trying to manipulate me in to going with his plans for certain projects accused me of using straw-man tactics. Upon researching that and a few other odd phrases and situations I've found myself in with him, I believe he has been consulting some study of rhetoric in order to influence myself and others of my team.
Now I feel like a young girl the day after prom waiting for the phone to ring. Cheated and manipulated.

Anyways this was a very good post and I really enjoyed it. Keep up the good fight!

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