Around the Web on 8-28-07

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In the process of straightening out my blogroll last night, I uncovered enough interesting stuff to make a larger roundup than usual, so here goes....

Another Look at the "Fair Tax"

Sunday, I linked to a Wall Street Journal article that savaged the 2008 version of the Flat Tax, the "Fair Tax". Although my fundamental criticism of this tax is sound (i.e., that it is not based on principled opposition to the welfare state and will not result in a substantial shrinking of the welfare state), this article by proponent Neal Boortz indicates that the Journal may have been incorrect in some of its criticisms.

But that doesn't mean that there isn't enough demagoguery to go around:

Bartlett also joins other critics in another blatant falsehood about the FairTax. Here's a sentence from his column: "If a product costs $1 at retail, the FairTax adds 30%, for a total of $1.30. Since the 30-cent tax is 23% of $1.30, FairTax supporters say the rate is 23% rather than 30%." In another paragraph Bartlett also says "Imagine paying 30 percent to the federal government on top of the purchase price of your next house."

Wrong, wrong, wrong. If a product costs $1 at retail .... It costs $1, with the FairTax already included. This is so easy to understand, you almost get the idea that people are intentionally trying to confuse the facts here. That $1 item Bartlett is referring to costs $1 at retail today! But instead of including the FairTax in that price, all of the embedded taxes from every business and individual involved in bringing that item to the marketplace are included. You remove one, you add the other. And that bit about 30 percent to the federal government on top of the purchase price of your new home? Another lie. The embedded taxes are so high on the price of a new home today that when they are removed and the FairTax added, that home could be a percent or two cheaper! Come on, Bruce.
Boortz may or may not be right about his last point, but he is either remarkably obtuse at arithmetic or not being entirely straightforward about the percentage of a product's purchase price that would go to the feds under his proposal: His $1.00 price is for 77 cents' worth of product with a 23 cent tax. In other words, the percentage of taxation for this purchase is 23/77, or just shy of 30 percent.

Come on, Neal.

I have no dog in this fight. Each side is wrong and incompetent or dishonest.

Consumer Protection

Cox and Forkum illustrate the actual benefits of the government presumably being best able to protect consumers by running an entire economy.

Rather than companies scrambling to solve these problems to remain competitive, we have a government making comments hostile to the free flow of information. And corporations are supposed to be evil, eh?

An Inconvenient Theory of Government

It is a long read and it will make you sick to your stomach, but Nicole Gelinas of City Journal wrote a worthwhile article on the exorbitant costs of the "cap-and-trade" schemes that are seeing so much support from conservatives of late.
Keep in mind that half of America's power comes from coal. Coal is dirty, but it has been good for us economically. Building and running an old-fashioned coal-fired electricity plant is more than 35 percent cheaper, per kilowatt of power produced, than building and running a natural-gas-fired plant, which emits far less carbon dioxide, and nearly 20 percent cheaper than a nuclear plant, which emits no carbon dioxide, according to Tufts University economics professor Gilbert Metcalf. Coal also costs less than wind or solar -- by 40 percent and 70 percent, respectively -- even though they're subsidized by tax credits. [Translation: 70 percent is likely an underestimate. --ed] Nor do we need to worry about running out of coal or reeling from an international supply shock. We've got at least several hundred years' worth of the stuff right here in the U.S.
What's even worse than the middle of the article are its beginning and end. At the beginning, you hear a litany of people who should be opposed to environmentalist legislation, but who are folding like cheap lawn chairs.

At the end, you learn why, straight from the mouth of Gelinas herself: Conservatives increasingly do not understand that the purpose of the government is to protect individual rights.
If it's true that a consensus about global warming really exists, not just in press releases and on op-ed pages but in the back rooms of power, too, the politicians and the business leaders wouldn't be afraid to suggest such a tax. They would insist on it.
Really? Why not look to alternatives to taxation, including inaction on the premise that the changes will be slow enough to permit individuals to mitigate the effects for themselves.

The government should act only if individual rights are threatened by the actions of others.

Thomas on "Vanishing England"

This column on England's hastening disappearance is morbidly interesting enough already just for the facts it reports, but I found the following passage most revealing of all:
The problem for Britain and the United States isn't just the change in demographics. It is the reluctance of both countries to inculcate the beliefs, history and, yes, religious ideals, which made our nations so successful that others wanted to come and be a part of them. The difference between many of the current immigrants and those of the past is that the previous ones wanted to become fully American or fully British. The current ones, in too many cases, would destroy what makes our countries unique. And the "leaders" of Britain and America refuse to stop it. [bold added]
This comes after Thomas details how the welfare state has caused the problem: Would some of these immigrants even show up without the promise of the dole and free housing? Were education not run by an entrenched bureaucracy of multiculturalists, would it not be flexible enough to respond to demands for the inculcation of the Enlightenment heritage of Britain? And if the government were primarily concerned with protecting individual rights instead of group "sensitivity", would increasing lawlessness be a problem?

Thomas does not ask these questions, but he does inject a plug for religious instruction. He is blatantly wrong here. If England is doing anything Thomas wants, it is practicing the "virtue" of self-sacrifice to others too consistently to remain alive for long. Given that that is the central ethical tenet of Christianity, one wonders what Thomas is so upset about.

England must renounce self-sacrifice to survive, but it will be unable to do so by becoming religious.

School Prayer Challenged in Texas

I was happy to learn that the Americans United for Separation of Church and State is challenging a Texas school district's inexcusable attempt to smuggle school prayer into its graduation ceremonies under the guise of "democracy".
"Graduation ceremonies should welcome all students, regardless of their beliefs about religion," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Religion is personal, and decisions about it should never be the subject of a 'majority rules' vote."

The school district policy allows a yearly vote by seniors on whether to include prayer in graduation ceremonies. In 2007, three of the district's four high schools decided in favor of prayer. Americans United charges in its lawsuit that school officials organize, oversee and attempt to manipulate the votes on whether to include prayer at the ceremonies.
The difference between a democracy and a republic, for the information of Round Rock ISD, is that in a republic, the rights of the individual are protected from brute majority rule. Perhaps this lawsuit will also serve as a refresher course on American government for them.

The Future of American Literature

Toiler has an interesting post on this subject over at Acid-Free Paper. He comments on a professor's argument to the effect that technical writers represent the future.

And Adrian Hester weighs in as well.

Carol's Place

Joe Kellard writes about an old haunt of his at The American Individualist.
My best memories of the Long Island and city music scenes my friends and I followed back then was those early Zulu Groove shows at our adopted hangout.At each gig, Victor (guitar/keyboards/lead vocals), Rob (bass) and Tim (drums) packed the small venue with admiring and curious bar-goers hungry for good, original music. And between songs, the comedic Victor bantered with the crowd, unleashing his off-beat, sometimes dark humor, providing lots of laughs and great tunes as our posse of guys and gals drank the nights away.
That piece made me wish I had a similar place (an the time to enjoy it) here in Houston.

Individual Rights Do Exist

If you read nothing else from today's roundup, read Andrew Medworth's post on whether human rights actually exist, which he wrote in response to a column that claims that rights do not exist.
There are a number of dreadful philosophic errors at work here. It is impossible to mount a full defence of rights in the space of a blog post, but I shall try to give the essential aspects. The worst of the errors implicit in Bartholomew’s view is an epistemological one: it relates to the question of what it means for a concept or an idea, such as "rights", to "exist". Philosophers call this the "problem of universals", and it is one of the central issues in philosophy. [bold added]
This reminds me of a conversation I had awhile back with a former philosophy major who asserted that men do not have rights. I never learned exactly what he meant by that, but since I am likely to talk about this again with him some time, I will be better prepared to answer him should he be making this type of error.

Medworth's answer is long, but worthwhile.

Not me!

In his final post at The Primacy of Awesome, Mike asks the same question I was wondering the other day when it seemed that all I saw at Randex was one item after another about some connection or other between some video game and Atlas Shrugged.

Gun-Related ... Bullets

I enjoyed many of these sayings about guns that Bo posted over at a geezer's corner, especially the first:
"Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not." -- Thomas Jefferson
One problem with aphorisms is that they lack context (e.g., #2 in the list), and so can be shoehorned into meanings not intended by the originator. But at least with many quotations, the body of thought of the author provides additional context.

With Jefferson, we know that he's talking about self-defense -- or at least those of us with decent educations do. It is sad to think that if we do not take up Jefferson's eternal fight for civilization, the meaning of much of what he said could be lost to the ages even if some of his words survive.

A Goldwater Event

Bill Brown went to one and blogged it.
[Goldwater's] son made an excellent point about the seeming contradiction between his conservatism and his late-in-life support of gays in the military, abortion, and the separation of church and state. He said that his father never changed his views, only the agenda changed. If they had been issues in the sixties, he would have came out just as he did. I desperately wanted to ask his son about Goldwater's statements against the religious right and his views on Ronald Reagan, but I never got the chance.
In some recent civil rights reading, I got the impression that Goldwater was considered somewhat racist. I will have to look into how much of this impression was due simply to his insistence on small government. Opposition to welfare is not the same thing as racism.

Betting on the Chargers

Dan Edge handicaps the upcoming NFL season.

Poll: Who's Your Favorite Columnist at The Onion?

I caught up with my favorite Onion columnists, Jim Anchower and Larry Groznic, a couple of weeks ago and thought it would be funny to conduct the following poll.

Who is your favorite regular columnist for the Onion?
Smoove B
Jackie Harvey
Dept. Head Rawlings
T. Herman Zweibel
Larry Groznic
Jim Anchower
Jean Teasdale
Gorzo the Mighty
H. Ulysses Zweibel
Free polls from
If you need a refresher, go here.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

RE: Another look at the "Fair Tax"

I may be as obtuse as Neil but I didn't think that Neil was speaking to the tax percentages but was instead speaking to Bartlett's implication that an item that retails for $1.00 now will leave your wallet lighter by $1.30 under the Fair Tax. I believe Boortz is clumsily trying to point out that drive out prices should not change under the Fair Tax. Thoughts?

Gus Van Horn said...

That's what I meant when I conceded his point about the cost of a house not necessarily changing.

Boortz is absolutely right there, but his example is plainly not of a 23% tax on the actual price. Those are two separate issues

Anonymous said...

Agreed. Most are accustomed to thinking of a sales tax as a markup and not as a margin. Thus, to make a 'fair' comparison, the Fair Tax rate should be expressed in the same way.

Gus Van Horn said...


Even if we grant that this 30% sales tax can replace the income tax, we should be calling it 30% and not 23% for another reason: It opens up discussion about how much wealth our government is taking.

If it's disingenuous to oppose the "fair tax" on the grounds that it adds too much to a purchaser's cost, so is it to promote it, as Boortz does, as if it's some kind of bargain. "Only" 23%? What kind of friend of small government shies away from talking about the elephant in the room that is extravagant government spending?

Anonymous said...

A good point. But then, if the Fair Tax exposes just how much the government takes, that's certainly a good thing. As it is today, it's a death by a thousand cuts.

Gus Van Horn said...

That would be good, but the way its proponents are selling it, it's like they're hoping to pull a fast one, to trick people into thinking it'll be cheap.

And when they get caught -- which is what Bartlett doubtless saw himself doing -- they'll look bad and, like the Flat Tax, it won't get passed anyway.

On balance, if this passed, it could be a good thing, but it will almost be by accident. And it will have to win electoral support from a public that doesn't grasp how expensive all their "free" goodies are. The only way this stands a prayer is for its proponents to be completely up-front about it. calling it 30% would be a start.

Joseph Kellard said...


Thanks for your mention of my post on Carol's Place.

By the way, I'm starting to blog on a more regular basis, which for me means a couple of days (or more) a week. So please stop by more often. I've stopped subscribing to TIA Daily (which is becoming more and more of a misnomer), so you're blog, the most consistent of the Objectivists sites I check out daily, is my new TIA Daily.

Thanks for the insights.


Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for the high compliment.

I am looking forward to seeing more of your stuff.

Bill Brown said...

Goldwater was far from being a racist. He opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because he considered it a usurpation of states' rights by the federal government. He preferred desegregation to happen locally without government involvement. The documentary indicated that he, as a Phoenix City Council member, tirelessly lobbied local businesses and showed them how segregation was inimical to their interests and freedom.

This review of a Goldwater biography has some choice quotes from Goldwater on the subject.

Gus Van Horn said...

Not surprising, but thank you for the comment and pointing me to the article.