"Rigor" Above Fundamentals?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wrting at Slate, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer sanctioniously intones that, "Analysis should trump ideology," regarding a proposed increase in government theft from "the rich". In support of his contention, he quotes the following from a "fascinating report just issued by the Congressional Research Service":

The reduction in top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.
Spitzer is happy to note that, "The CRS is a nonpartisan entity that produces academic-quality research to answer tough policy questions." I am sure that the CRS put lots of work into its report, but I find Spitzer's own lack of intellectual rigor appalling. My initial reaction to all this was something like, "Well, hell! Why stop at just under two fifths? Why not take it all, and have the government dole out an allowance for everyone to live on?" After all, as Spitzer says, "job creation is issue No. 1" -- so why let some greedy fatcat worry about whether some new job might actually be productive -- I mean add to his excessive wealth?

I haven't looked at this report and have no intention of doing so. Maybe it carefully notes some percentage range of looting-by-taxation that will permit some modicum of prosperity acceptable to government bureaucrats and their ilk. Bleed the Golden Goose, but don't kill it, you know. We all do, because analysis uninformed by ideological nattering such as, "What is the proper purpose of government?" should trump mere ideology. After all ideology isn't objective -- or at least Spitzer's isn't, by his own implicit admission.

Sadly, for all of Spitzer's lip-service to tackling policy questions with an "objective, scientific approach", all the bean-counting and hair-splitting in the world amount to nothing (or worse) when such fundamental questions as I raised in the last paragraph are left unexamined. Could Spitzer demonstrate the same objectivity he praises the CRS for in demonstrating that a proper function of the government is "job creation"? Or that income inequality is, as he seems to assume, somehow intrinsically bad? Could he perhaps inform us in objective terms what gives the government the right to forcibly take money from people who have committed no crime -- that is, to steal?

Having said that, I liked the question Spitzer -- or his editors -- raised in the title, "Why the GOP Quashed a Superb Report on Income Tax Rates for the Rich". Let's run with this one: Why did they? What would they have to fear from some report that compared two different rates of theft and found a higher one to be, by the lights of a bunch of bureaucrats, less dangerous? (Dangerous to whom? And which group of citizens would be dismissed next?) Nothing, if the GOP would start making a principled stand for proper, individual rights-protecting government.

So yes, let Spitzer bellow (what he imagines to be) the good news from the mountaintop. But let's rationally and objectively question the blatant assumptions he makes as he does so.

-- CAV

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