Progressive Good Crime

Coinciding with the Biden Administration’s push for higher taxes on wealthy individuals and a greatly expanded IRS, ProPublica published documents that purport to show private tax information of several high profile billionaires including Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg and others. 

Leaking these documents is, of course, illegal. And just like the Lois Lerner episode, no one will be punished for committing this crime. That’s because in the progressive mind this is Good Crime. Chances are, the perpetrators will never be revealed. 

ProPublica has said that it doesn’t know the source of the documents. Fat chance of that, by the way. If ProPublica doesn’t know its source, there is be no way they could have authenticated the documents or determined their accuracy. But they printed the documents anyway, undoubtedly because it furthers the story—fiction really—that the rich don’t pay their “fair share”. 

Among other stunning revelations, the documents, if accurate, show that (1) wealthy individuals (like everybody else) didn’t pay income taxes when their reportable income was zero; (2) wealthy individuals (like everyone else) didn’t pay capital gains taxes in years when they didn’t realize any capital gains by selling assets, and (3) wealthy individuals used plenty of lawyers and accountants to make sure that they legally minimized their tax bills. Which is to say that the behavior of these individuals was both legal, proper and rational. 

On the other hand, amid all the faux indignation, it should be noted that the documents that were leaked were leaked illegally. In so doing the leakers (1) violated the privacy of those whose documents were leaked and (2) demonstrated for the umpteenth time the gross incompetence of the IRS when it comes to guarding citizen privacy. More likely it is worse; the IRS simply followed the orders of its political masters to weaponize the agency, as in the recent case of Lois Lerner. Which is not to leave out Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. 

As to the substance of the matter: Congress is supposed to determine tax policy. For some reason or other all those lefties wailing about “saving our democracy” don’t seem to think much of our democratic processes.  If they did they wouldn’t be cheering on the clearly illegal leaking of documents designed to gin up outrage against success while running around the legislative process. 

As it turns out, progressives are at least half-right when they assert that the rich do not pay their fair share of the tax burden. The rich pay far too much. It is the middle class that is undertaxed. 

Consider the following statistics, using the latest available data. In 2017 the top 50% of taxpayers paid 97% of all federal income taxes. They bottom 50% paid the remaining 3%. The top 1% paid 38.5% of individual income taxes; the bottom 90% paid only 29.9%. The top 5% paid 59%; the top 10% paid 70%. As these numbers make clear, the tax income burden is shouldered by the wealthy, not by the middle class. These data are available in greater detail here

The middle class, as it turns out, is by far the greater net beneficiary of federal largesse. Lower income Americans on balance receive net cash benefits from the government. That is offset by the junky schools they have to put up with and inadequate police protection in poor neighborhoods. All the cash payments do is create a permanent dependent class. This is the vote buying operation that is the hallmark of progressive politics (tax, spend and vote). It remains firmly in place, and has so since the days when it was instituted by FDR. 

If progressives were truly interested in tax fairness, which they manifestly are not, they would specify ahead of time what tax shares would constitute fairness for the different deciles of the income distribution. But of course they never do that. Moreover, there is a simple way to ensure that everybody pays the same tax rate. The tax code could be amended so that everyone earning $25,000 per year or more would be required to pay 17% of their income in tax. No exemptions, no deductions. Period.

The mere hint of a flat tax where everybody pays the same rate would have progressives screaming bloody murder along with tax lawyers, accountants and lobbyists. I should say other lobbyists. The reason is simple. Progressives are not interested in either tax fairness or tax efficiency. What they are really interested in is command-and-control of the nation’s economy. Progressives want to use the police power of the federal government to commandeer private resources so that they can regulate and transform America into a little socialist utopia. No matter how long they have to goose-step their way toward the goal.  

JFB

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Peak Biden?

When President Biden released his budget proposal this past Friday he listed his priorities in the following statement. (The budget document can be found here.)

Biden’s list of priorities is typical in that it studiously avoids talking about trade-offs. Everything is a priority. Not only that, the priorities are expressed in focus group tested aspirational language meant to please the progressive base while remaining vague enough to avoid measurable results. Biden will for instance, take action, control, provide, tackle, advance, reform and restore. From a policy perspective this is meaningless blather. 

Which begs the question: Why did the Administration decide to release this on the Friday afternoon before Memorial day when it would receive minimal coverage? Larry Kudlow provides a plausible explanation. The accompanying numbers in the tables of the OMB budget release give away the game. 

In its own budget documents the Biden Administration admits (1) that it is planning for an increase of $14.5 trillion in accumulated debt by the year 2031; (2) it assumes that federal government outlays will increase to 24.5% of GDP through 2031 versus a long term average of about 19.3%, and (3) after a Covid re-opening spurt, real GDP growth will range from 1.8% to 2% from 2023 through 2031. 

Let’s think about the implications of all this. The Biden Administration intends to spend gargantuan amounts of money, in the process greatly expand the size and scope of both the federal government and the national debt. For its efforts the Biden Administration projects that it will match the Obama Administration recovery. So how does the Obama record stack up?

1.Measured by real GDP growth, job creation or wage expansion, the Obama record was somewhere between subpar and pretty miserable. 

2. From the expansion that began in June 2009, real GDP grew at only 2.1% per annum, the slowest growth rate during an expansion since 1949. 

3. Net job creation grew by 8.6% during the Obama years.  Total employment grew by more than that, and sometimes substantially more, in 5 of the prior 10 expansions since 1949. 

4. Similarly, inflation-adjusted wages increased by more in 5 of 10 prior recoveries since 1949. More detailed data is available here. 

So here we have a situation in which the Biden Administration intends to upend much of American society by (1) significantly  raising marginal tax rates, (2) substantially re-regulating great swaths of the economy, (3) launching new fronts in the culture wars and (4) using federal power in an attempt to equalize outcomes across groups defined by race and sex rather than by effort and opportunity in complete contravention of the bedrock Constitutional principle of equality before the law. 

And for all this, by its own admission, the Biden Administration expects the results to be mediocre at best. Actually, the Administration’s policy agenda virtually guarantees poor results if the Congress is foolish enough to pass it.  

The likely result of all this is that economic performance will fall short of even the low expectations of the Administration. Add to that a widening gap between promises and results and the stage is set for rising populist discontent, increased racial tensions, decreasing civility and further erosions of individual freedom. 

But think of the bright side. This could be Peak Biden.

JFB

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Magical Thinking

Republicans complain that Democrats are hypocrites. Democrats reply that Republicans are hypocrites. They are, of course, both correct in a generic sense. All politicians routinely say things they know or suspect to be false, especially if they think it affords tactical advantage. In that sense, both parties are drenched in hypocrisy.

When all is said and done, it is reasonably clear that the Republicans don’t believe a word they are saying. So with respect to hypocrisy, they are guilty as charged; egregiously so. On the other hand, the Democrats appear to actually believe their talking points. If so, they are not the hypocrites that Republicans make them out to be. They are simply guilty of magical thinking. Unfortunately, magical thinking can be very expensive.

Consider for instance the Democratic outrage on display over the prospect that the Republican engineered tax cuts of 2017 would add $1.5 trillion to the national debt over 10 years. The proposed budget that the allegedly centrist President Joe Biden just released projects a deficit of $1.8 trillion this year and after that about $1.3 trillion every year for the next decade. This, by the way, from a President who vowed that he would not increase the deficit “by one penny”.  

This amounts to a proposed $15 trillion in deficit spending over the next 10 years. But now we suddenly discover this is not deficit spending at all—it is investment. And all this “investment” will drive publicly held debt from 79% of GDP in (pre-pandemic) 2019 to 110% in 2021 to 117% by 2031. By the end of the decade, debt service will more than double to 11% of GDP and that assumes that interest rates remain fairly stable. 

The Administration projects that revenues will average 19.3% of GDP even though historically revenues have averaged about 17.3% since the 1970s. Spending, which averaged 19.4% in the post-War pre-Covid era is projected to increase and remain just under an astounding 25% of GDP. Which begs the question: How can the Administration claim that it will collect revenues of 19% of GDP and spend 25% of same and not increase deficit spending? 

Even if the Biden Administration believed its own propaganda about tax collections it still wouldn’t bring revenues into line with expenditure—not by a long shot. There still remains a 6 percentage point gap between revenue and expenditure. 

To call this reckless would be an understatement. The Biden Administration is attempting a huge increase in entitlement spending; a large expansion of the regulatory regime, and political subservience of the Fed, both as regulator and as Central Bank, so that the Biden political agenda can be financed and enforced. 

We have seen this movie before and it never ends well. The longer it takes this one to come to an end, the messier it will be. 

JFB

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The Unbearable Incompetence of Mr. Biden

During the presidential campaign of 2020 the argument was being made that candidate Joe Biden was at heart a moderate who would guide the ship of state back to normalcy. Biden, who ran as not-Trump, asserted that all the talk about radicalism and “The Squad”was nonsense. He dismissed the idea that his party had become radicalized and sought to reassure voters that he represented the traditional values of his party. “I am the Democratic Party right now” he intoned in a debate with Donal Trump.

Well, how is that working out?

Let us consider what Biden and the Democratic Party have been up to since his election in November of 2020. 

The Democratic Mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, has announced that she will only grant one-on-one interviews with “black and brown reporters”. In a way this does represent traditional Democratic thinking. Individuals don’t count for very much, only the tribe matters. 

That, and anti-semitism, are very much the drivers of the policy preferences of the Squad and the rest of the increasingly ascendant hard left of the Democratic Party. As Hamas rains rockets down on civilian population centers of Israel, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the Squad are calling on the Biden Administration to halt arms sales to Israel. 

Then we have Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) an acolyte of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has condemned Israel for the “infringement of human civil rights” of Palestinians. For her part, Ilhan Omar said “Israeli air strikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism.” She somehow neglected to mention that if a nominally civilian structure is targeted by Israel, they are given warning to evacuate before the attack is launched. On the other hand, Hamas, an arm of Iran, deliberately targets Israeli civilians. And as for human rights in Palestine, pace Rep. Bowman, compliments of Mahmoud Abbas and his government, there aren’t any. 

For his part, President Biden, only reluctantly defended Israel’s right to defend itself from attack, presumably out of deference to his Party’s left wing, increasingly the only wing the Party has.  And let’s not forget that the aggressor here is Iran acting through its proxy Hamas, with the stated intention of wiping Israel off the map. 

President Biden does have an ally here—the mainstream press, which covers virtually every story through the lens of Trump hatred. It reduces to Biden good, Trump bad. And so every story is either framed in that light or simply ignored in order to keep the Biden ship and its progressive allies afloat. 

Consider the recent NY Times column by David Brooks, the thrust of which is that, since his election, Biden hasn’t changed at all. He has always been a progressive, he is just bolder now because the times demand it. Brooks is correct about the first part; Biden always has been a progressive albeit with his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing. But his policy agenda has  nothing to do with what the times demand; it’s what his party demands. 

In short, the Biden campaign was a scam, another example of bait-and-switch, designed to suck in moderate voters blinded by Trump loathing. 

That’s what explains why Biden and his allies in the press have gone quiet on the border situation in which the number of minors held in detention by the Federal Government is about double what it was at is highest point during the Trump years. The same deplorable conditions in which they were being held still prevail. Not a peep from the usual suspects though. 

The same can be said about why public schools, owned by the Teachers Unions, have remained largely closed to in-person teaching in urban areas, especially in blue states.  It explains why elected Democrats are, at best, quiet about urban rioting and calls to defund the police even as crime rates skyrocket.  

It explains why, through executive order, climate risk is being added to the remit of supposedly independent regulators like the Federal Reserve. It explains why the Administration is pushing for the PRO-Act which seeks to force people to join unions by eliminating right-to-work laws and allowing card check unionization. It explains the constantly shifting mask mandates. 

The same dynamic explains why Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is routinely excoriated in the press for producing results that range between pretty good and exemplary, but Andrew Cuomo of New York is increasingly handled with kid gloves. This despite his catastrophic handling of the Covid pandemic in nursing homes, his deceit in reporting data, his use of state employees to work on his self-congratulatory book, complete with a $5 million advance fee. 

And, oh yes, remember when Mr. Biden referred to Texas Governor Abbot’s Covid policies as representing “Neanderthal thinking” that would lead to a surge of infections. A surge that, as it turns out, never happened. Or the “impending sense of doom” that CDC Director  Rochelle Walensky warned about a mere 45 days ago? 

We are only 4 months into the full 48 months of a Biden Presidency. Mr Biden is already displaying indications that his  presidency will rival that of Jimmy Carter’s for incompetence. Perhaps before the whole sorry spectacle is over the Republicans will abandon the circular firing squad to which they have become so attached. That would allow them to act as the loyal opposition. With the emphasis on loyal. 

JFB

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The Liz Cheney Affair

In 1860, on reading Darwin’s Origin of the Species, it was reported that the wife of the Bishop of Worcester said “Let is hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known”. If, as seems likely, Liz Cheney (WY -R) is summarily tossed out of the Republican Party leadership, the Bishop’s wife would make a fitting replacement. 

After all, Liz Cheney is about to be sacrificed because she is telling the truth about the 2020 election. And a solid majority of House Republicans know it; they just don’t want it to be widely known—even though it already is among the community of the sane. 

The reason why Liz Cheney is a problem for the fanatics in the Republican Party is that she insists on telling the truth, and telling it out loud. Donald J Trump, she says, lost the election of 2020. Well, that should be as controversial as asserting that gravity exists. Cheney also famously voted to impeach Mr. Trump for his use of violence and intimidation when he stoked up a mob on January 6, 2021 to prevent Congress from performing its Constitutional duty to count the votes in the electoral college so that Vice President Pence could declare Joe Biden the winner. 

Of course Liz Cheney was right on both counts. Mr Trump, like all schoolyard bullies, is just a sore loser. And loser is the operative word here. He lost the popular vote by 7 million votes, and he lost the electoral college by getting only 232 votes to Joe Biden’s 306. Not that mere facts matter very much to the luminaries leading the fight to overthrow Cheney. 

The leaders in the fight to overthrow her include such notables as Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL-R) who, among other things, is (allegedly) the subject of a sex trafficking probe by the Department of Justice. Then there is the delusional Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA – R), a QAnon conspiracy theorist who continues to insist that Trump won the 2020 election. 

Here is where we come to a critical difference between House Democrats and House Republicans. House Democrats actually believe the nonsense that they routinely assert, about…roughly everything. Which is not to deny that as Democrats move forward with their legislative agenda they are capable of inflicting massive damage on the body politic, precisely because they believe in what they are doing. Ignorance and enthusiasm always make a bad combination.

The vast majority of Republicans on the other hand do not actually believe the baloney about Trump “really” winning the 2020 election that was stolen from them. They are simply cowards. They are quaking in their boots, fearful of being politically injured by a school yard insult hurled at them by the World’s Biggest Loser.  Their claim to leadership is that they don’t actually believe a word they are saying. 

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Republicans could do simple arithmetic. That time has past. They are apparently clamoring to get on board a train driven by a man who lost what should have been an easily winnable Presidential election. And he did lose—to a 78 year old political hack whose campaign consisted of reading banalities to a teleprompter set up in his basement. 

Meanwhile the Republican Party as a whole ran considerably better than Trump did. They picked up House seats whittling down the Democratic majority to one of the smallest on record. They only lost control of the Senate because The World’s Biggest Loser made sure of it in Georgia by discouraging Republican voters in the suburbs in the January run-off.  The Republicans also picked up the Governor’s office in Montana; and they won new majorities in the New Hampshire Assembly and Senate. Democrats won no new majorities in State legislatures. None. 

Republicans are about to commit political vandalism on a grand scale. Not only are the Republicans on the cusp of voting to institutionalize the big lie; they are doing it to curry favor with a loser. A big loser, who wallows in grievance; a loser who has displayed stunning incompetence; an ignoramus who has demonstrated he is  incapable of comprehending truth, much less telling it. 

It is beyond comprehension why Republicans would expect that they will earn the confidence of the voting public by signaling support for Trump and Co. It is clear from the election returns of 2020 that the Republican Party didn’t lose; Trump did. He lost by alienating highly educated suburban Republicans.  By supporting the ouster of Liz Cheney for the sin of telling the truth, the Republican Party is turning itself into a smoking ruin led by…losers.  

JFB

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The $6 Trillion Dollar Man

It has always been obvious to the more astute observers of the political scene that Joe Biden is a party man, a partisan hack, and not a very bright one at that. Regrettably, some people actually fell for the line that on the contrary, Mr Biden is a moderate who  would “reach across the aisle” to find “common ground” etc. etc. By now, they should have been disabused of that notion. 

In his first 100 days in office Biden the moderate has proposed $6 trillion in new spending, much of which is for middle class welfare programs. We are for instance, going to have “free” community college, paid leave, new spending on child care and on and on. The list is endless. 

All this is supposedly going to be “paid for” by taxing “the rich”. Except of course that it won’t be. There isn’t enough money in the world to pay for Mr. Biden’s fantasies. Regardless, the idea of taxing the rich to pay for a whole new menu of middle class freebies simply completes the progressive journey from feigning self-sufficiency to promoting welfare dependency. That has been the agenda all along. After all, it has such an impressive track record, as in Venezuela. 

Among the more fascinating proposals Mr Biden is flogging are the ones for education and police reform. They are the purview of state and local governments. Both the management of police and public education in America’s cities have been fiefdoms of the Democratic Party for at least 50 years. The management of these institutions has been a gargantuan failure, particularly for minorities. Mr. Biden proposes to give us more of the same. 

In the meantime Mr Biden’s cheerleaders in the press are ecstatic about his poll numbers. The latest has his support around 52%. As the Washington Post helpfully points out, 52% is a majority. What the Post didn’t mention was that, with the exception of Donald Trump, Biden’s poll numbers at this point in his presidency are lowest of any president’s since 1945. 

JFB

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Incompetence v. Catastrophe

The Biden Administration is not (yet) a calamity, but it seems determined to get there. After all, the Administration appears to be taking a whole host of progressive policy proposals seriously, a prospect that ought to dampen the spirits of anybody who resides on this side of sanity. Fortunately there are some reasonable Democratic Senators—a dwindling group to be sure—who are uneasy with the current state of affairs, and who are consequently unlikely to support the more extreme structural proposals. 

It is doubtful for instance, that the Senate will succeed in either packing the Supreme Court or eliminating the legislative filibuster over the next two years. But all bets are off for after the 2022 off-year elections. If the historical pattern is upset and the Democrats retain the House and grab a few more Senate seats, the stage will be set for transitioning from mere incompetence to real catastrophe.  

I can hear the chorus wailing now…”But Donald Trump…”. Please let us get this straight once and for all. The fact that Donald Trump was and remains an ignoramus from the Archie Bunker school of applied politics is utterly irrelevant. The “what about Trump” argument is nothing more than a vacuous school yard taunt in the time-honored tradition of “so’s your grandmother”. It has nothing intelligent to say about the merits of the Biden policy agenda. 

So, about that agenda. Progressives seem to be pushing on an open door. The policies that the supposedly moderate Mr. Biden campaigned on have been tossed out the window. Instead he has embraced an agenda that actively subverts the Constitutional order and guts the rule of law in favor of bureaucratic central planning. All this under the guise of “saving democracy” and promoting “equity”. 

It has apparently not occurred to Mr. Biden that the point of the Constitution is to preserve liberty by dividing power. It was never designed to promote equal outcomes, which is what “equity” is code for. In fact, outcome guarantees are antithetical to liberty and an affront to the idea of equality before the law. Perhaps Mr.Biden missed that lecture during the time he was suspended from law school for plagiarism, a habit he seems to have retained from his school days.

Back to the progressive agenda. Needless to say the marketing campaign for it is, as usual, replete with dishonesty, combined with unyielding ignorance. Which may explain why CNN, The NY Times and The Washington Post are so enthusiastic about it.

For instance, consider the recently introduced Democratic bill to expand the Supreme Court to 13 members. In supporting the bill, Rep Mondaire Jones (D-NY) argued that “Court expansion is something that is deeply rooted in the American tradition”. Really? Congress last passed an act to amend the Justice system by increasing the number of Supreme Court justices to 9 back in 1869. That was 152 years ago. The size of the Supreme Court has remained at 9 justices ever since. 

As a follow up, President Biden has appointed a commission to consider changing the structure of the Court, including its expansion.  Speaker Pelosi has said that she supports Biden’s commission, but that the Democratic bill to pack the Court won’t get a vote on the House floor. That would be the same Speaker Pelosi who claimed that impeaching Trump (the 1st time) would require an overwhelming bipartisan consensus. We know how that worked out. 

All this is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate the Court into ruling the way progressives wish them to. This is the same crowd that spent the last 4 years accusing the Trump administration (often correctly) of violating democratic norms and politicizing federal agencies. And now they have launched a full fledged attack on the third branch of government; the branch that is supposed to be non political. The branch that is supposed to protect individual rights against mob rule. 

And speaking of mob rule, Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) was in Brooklyn Center Minnesota where, referring to the trial of Derek Chauvin who is on trial for murdering George Floyd, she had this to say when asked what protesters should do moving forward:

“We’ve got to stay on the street and we’ve got to get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”

We can be thankful in a way. Progressives have revealed what they are really all about, and always have been—the iron fist in the velvet glove—operating under the guise of democratic majoritarianism. Individual rights do not matter; they are subsumed by an ever changing collection of “group rights” AKA demands of Democratic constituencies.

What remains to be seen is whether there are enough Democratic Senators and Congressman willing to put an end to the madness. Perhaps there are, but we are getting very close to the edge. If not, the Biden administration is very likely to melt down like Icarus did as he approached the sun. Then we will be faced with a real calamity instead of a potential one. 

JFB

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The Deplatforming Problem

Deplatforming has become one of the weapons of choice for the command-and-control crowd that will fight to the death for your right to agree with them. Their ability to successfully deploy this strategy depends, among other things, on their ability to intimidate. Which in turn depends on the centralization of power in the hands of a small group of ideologically aligned players who, not coincidentally, are powerful players in Washington, DC.

One possible solution to this problem–and it is a problem–is to decentralize the structure of the internet. This would give consumers control over their own data and identities, and drastically reduce if not eliminate, the monopoly power Big Tech has over the dissemination of information.

Some very forward looking innovators are working to do just that at this very moment. The video below from the libertarian Reason Magazine presents a discussion of some of the issues involved.

JFB

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