Archive for May, 2006

Like Jane Galt and a lot of others on the right side of the political spectrum, I’m not particularly happy with the way the Bush administration and the GOP have been acting of late. So, does that make me liberal? I doubt it, but let’s check.

Atrios, via Kevin Drum, has a list of items that the port side of the blogosphere apparently agrees would be good policy. Let’s see how I stack up.

Undo the bankruptcy bill enacted by this administration

I’m hardly an expert on bankruptcy law, so I don’t have a strong opinion on this one way or the other. I have the impression that the lending industry pushed for the new law pretty hard, but that doesn’t automatically make it rent-seeking. (That’s the way to bet, though.) I’d have to know the details of what the law would be replaced with. This isn’t an issue that would lead me to vote for or against a given candidate, so I guess it’s a wash as far as I’m concerned.

Repeal the estate tax repeal

No. The basic argument in support of taxing people is that it pays for the government services they consume. Once I’m dead, I’m not consuming any more services, so why should I have to pay for them? Moreover, estate taxes make it difficult for families to accumulate wealth over generations, and accumulating wealth is good.

More generally, I’ve noticed that the tax code seems to be structured not to soak the already-rich, but to prevent the upper-middle class from becoming rich. The income tax is easily avoidable by the extremely wealthy; they can invest their assets in ways that produce tax-free revenue streams (e.g. municipal bonds) and live off them. Upper-middle class folks don’t have the assets to do this and sustain their lifestyle. They get socked by the progressive income tax schedule, AMT and the phase-out of deductions. Similarly, the extremely wealthy can do things like set up trusts to reduce the impact of estate taxes, but the estates of the upper-middle aren’t big enough for that to be viable. So they get socked by the estate tax.

People don’t get rich by having their money taxed into the hands of government officials; they get rich by being able to keep the money they earn. This is true both for individuals and families across generations.

Increase the minimum wage and index it to the CPI

No, no, and hell no. Price controls are bad. They’re bad in the market for commodities, they’re bad in the market for real estate, they’yre bad in the market for services, and they’re (surprise) bad in the market for labor. I’m pretty sure Frederic Bastiat nailed this one somtime in the 1850’s; I can’t belive we’re still arguing about it now.

Universal health care (obviously the devil is in the details on this one)

No. There is no such thing as a right to health care. The current health care regimen in the United States is clearly broken, but the way to fix it is with more freedom, not less.

Increase CAFE standards. Some other environment-related regulation

In general, no.

Pro-reproductive rights, getting rid of abstinence-only education, improving education about and access to contraception including the morning after pill, and supporting choice. On the last one there’s probably some disagreement around the edges (parental notification, for example), but otherwise.

This is a mixed-bag. I definitely support first and second trimester abortions, and the morning-after pill. I also think Roe was badly-decided and should be overturned, as long as it’s overturned for the right reasons. Abortion probably should be a constitutionally-protected right, but I’m not convinced that it actually is, and trying to twist the Constitution into saying something it doesn’t opens the door to a whole raft of pernicious shenanigans.

The question of abstinence-only sex education is only an issue because of public schools. Expand vouchers, education choice tax credits, work towards long-term privatization of the schools, and let parents decide how they want their children educated.

Simplify and increase the progressivity of the tax code

Simplify, yes. Increase the progressivity, no.

Kill faith-based funding. Certainly kill federal funding of anything that engages in religious discrimination.

The question here is what constitutes “religious discrimination”. I would agree that a program that specifically excludes secular organizations is a problem and should be halted. But a program that is open to both secular and religious organizations equally, but which the secular choose (for whatever reason) not to take advantage of, is not a problem. So, to take a specific example, a program of school vouchers that was legally restricted to parochial schools would be wrong. But a program of school vouchers that is open to both secular and sectarian schools is fine, even if the vast majority of currently-existing private schools are sectarian. If you want more such funding to flow to secular private schools, go and found some.

Similar logic applies to charity work. I don’t think the government should be funding religious or secular charities, but if it must do so it should do so in an ideologically-neutral manner. Discussions with liberals have lead me to conclude that this is not what they mean when they talk about religious discrimination.

Reduce corporate giveaways

Yes. (Although I can’t help echoing the snarky comment of another responder to this list asking whether universal health care would be considered a corporate giveaway.)

Actually, I’d go farther than ‘reduce’, all the way to ‘eliminate’. I support the full and complete separation of state and economics. While we’re at it, can we stop giving money away to non-corporate entities as well? Defunding the United Nations would be a good move, for example — I don’t see that they’re any more deserving of my tax dollars than Archer Daniels Midland or Northrop-Grumman.

Have Medicare run the Medicare drug plan

No. Kill the Medicare drug plan. For that matter, kill Medicare.

Force companies to stop underfunding their pensions. Change corporate bankruptcy law to put workers and retirees at the head of the line with respect to their pensions.

Let’s talk about forcing companies to fully fund their retirement plan obligations as soon as the federal government is fully funding its retirement plan obligations. End the Social Security Ponzi scheme.

Leave the states alone on issues like medical marijuana. Generally move towards “more decriminalization” of drugs, though the details complicated there too.

Here I can agree fully.

Paper ballots

I’m not wedded to paper ballots as such, but I think recent years have demonstrated an erosion in the quality of our voting system and a corresponding decline in public trust that needs to be corrected. We need a way for voters to verify that their vote was counted and counted correctly. We also need to clean up the voter rolls and keep them clean, and we need to ensure that the people who vote are actually entitled to do so. (I have to show photo ID when I buy beer; why don’t I have to do the same thing when I’m voting? What possible justification is there for treating the foundational process of our democracy more lightly than getting hammered on Saturday night?)

Given their almost hysterical opposition to things like photo ID voting requirements, I don’t think that the sort of comprehensive voting system cleanup I want to see is what liberals want. But I’d be happy to be wrong. Democracy only works when the side that loses is confident that their support was counted accurately and fairly.

Improve access to daycare and other pro-family policies. Obviously details matter.

This is too vague to assess objectively. If it means government-funded childcare, I’m out. Given how screwed up the public schools are, why would I want to let the government near my hypothetical child for several more hours a day?

Raise the cap on wages covered by FICA taxes.

No. Privatize Social Security.

Marriage rights for all, which includes “gay marriage” and quicker transition to citizenship for the foreign spouses of citizens.

I’m torn here, but I think I come down against in the end.

Reviewing the above, out of 16 points I find only one point where I can agree completely (on drug legalization). There are a few other points where I can find partial agreement. Overall I’d say it comes to about 3/16, which would make me just under 19% liberal.

I wonder if there’s a similar set of ‘points of agreement’ on the starboard side?

Zacarias Moussaoui does not get the death penalty. Although I would not have been the least bit disturbed had the jury decided otherwise, in some ways I consider this a better outcome than an execution. Moussaoui is a religious nut pining for martyrdom. Instead of giving him what he wanted, he gets to spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison — hopefully as the close friend of someone named ‘Bubba’.

I just wish we had the stones to update the prison menu so that every night was pork & beans night.