United States Taxes

Continued from WhatIsPoverty?.

EvanCofsky: Also, the only definition of poverty I found: A person is in poverty when that person's income is lower than the average income of other people in that population.

SethGordon: I've never seen this definition; what I have seen is "lower than one-half of the median income". The US Federal poverty line, if memory serves, is three times a minimal food budget, because at the time the government started gathering those statistics, the average family spent a third of its income on food. However, this detail doesn't change your main point....

EvanCofsky: By this definition, if a population is particularly wealthy, although the people in poverty make less than the average, but more than enough to meet their expenses and even have some discretionary income afterwards, this is still considered a bad thing. Maybe I misunderstand what this means, but it would seem to mean that no matter how prosperous a population is, as long as there are people making less than the average income for that population, there is poverty. So, if everyone makes the average, there is no poverty. I see.

SethGordon: Well, even a welfare mother living far below the poverty line is better off than, say, a 14th-century peasant. However, when people think "am I rich or poor?", they usually compare themselves with how some "reference group" of people seems to be doing. The 14th-century peasants probably compared themselves with one another and didn't feel very poor. People earning $6/hour today are more likely to compare themselves with the people they see on TV and read about in the newspaper, and therefore are likely to feel poor. This is a fact of social psychology. How your political philosophy deals with this fact is up to you.

EvanCofsky: To refute just one argument from your first source cited above, the stock market average, of course, does not increase or decrease faster than the economy as a whole. However, there are always superstars in the collection of stocks readily available to consumers, and they do outperform the economy. In fact, if you have a stock which isn't outperforming the economy, perhaps it's time to take your business elsewhere. The problem with the Social Security system in the United States, for example, is that you are forever bound to the rate of return the US Government is willing to offer, and, amazingly enough, you are required to give a substantial portion of your income over to this fund. Even if you can invest it yourself better elsewhere, you can't. The average return of the market in this case is not relevant, only the fact that the pool is large enough for there to exist a number of out-performers which people may choose, and the fact that this pool does shift, and people investing in an out-performer today may find that this stock becomes an underachiever, and that it's time to invest elsewhere.

SethGordon: You make it sound so easy to find stocks that outperform the economy. So how come there are tens of thousands of professionally managed mutual funds out there, and the Standard & Poor 500 index outperforms 85% of them? (For more details on this, see <http://photo.net/materialism/money.html>.) Also, keep in mind the distinction between an investment strategy that consistently outperforms the general economy, and a strategy that is more volatile than the general economy (meaning that it will rise faster in a bull market, but also fall faster in a bear market).

And of course, if you're concerned about minimizing your risk of old-age poverty, rather than maximizing your expected return on investment, Social Security has one unbeatable advantage over any private-sector investment. If, when you're about to retire, your mutual fund tanks because the managers made a bad call on what to buy, the fund managers have no obligation or incentive to help you out; the occasional investment failure is just part of life in the FreeMarket. However, if the Social Security trust fund is in trouble, then Congress can (up to a certain point) raise taxes to bolster it, and given enough political pressure from current and prospective Social Security recipients, they will. Whether or not you consider this a bug or a feature of the system, of course, depends on your politics.

EvanCofsky: Most professionally-managed mutual funds underperform the S&P 500 because they are designed specifically to make the fund managers wealthy by charging customers for each trade. Each trade also incurs a tax peanalty. These funds trade sometimes several times each day. The S&P 500 tracks the 500 most profitable businesses, which by definition exceed the average performance of the stock market. This only reinforces my point. When people are free to choose their own stocks, they have many options, from a mutual fund which requires little to no effort on their part to get some return, with the knowledge that they also sacrifice all of their control over their wealth, to the stock pickers who know that the S&P is probably a safe bet for starters, and it will almost always exceed the market and the economy, and, when a person is ready to do some real research, this person can find companies which are better than average and whose stock therefore has a good chance of going up, and purchase that stock. Most of the people who would benefit the most from Social Security, namely the extremely poor, have a shorter life expectancy than the minimum age at which they will begin receiving benefits. So, the government takes away their money and will not return it until they are already dead. It seems that these people would have been better off had they not had their money seized.

I'd rather live in a society in which the poor are free to become rich, and allowed to remain poor, than in a society which tries to make everyone meet a certain set of requirements. Who makes $6.00/hr? High school students working fast food. Also, single mothers are single mothers because they know that they can have a respectable income just from government programs. If this weren't the case, there would be fewer of them. It's convenient to find a man, have his children, and if he's a good man he'll stick around, and if not, there's always the government to support me. That to me is sicker than any excessively wealthy individual protecting him/herself.

And by that argument, people should be allowed to sell their organs and the traffic in human organs should be legal because society should not try to enforce any minimal standards about what body parts you get to keep. If you don't agree that humans have the right to food, shelter and clothing, then where do you draw the line precisely? Or do you draw any line?

It may be comforting to have access to capital or skills that are in high demand and thus have one's own human rights guaranteed by these facts, but where do you get off assuming that other people do not have any such rights?

Note that the traffic in human body parts is not, completely, illegal in the UnitedStatesOfAmerica. Blood is a noteworthy example. Poor people are compelled in the UnitedStatesOfAmerica to sell their own blood.

The thing to remember about Libertarians is that their arguments and beliefs are exactly the ones that a psychopath would make and possess. Completely dispassionate, with no concern for human welfare beyond people's pocketbook. This is not an analogy; anyone who behaved like homo economicus while undergoing an evaluation would get swiftly committed by any half-decent psychiatrist. -- rk

More demonization of those holding opposing views. War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom, We Have Always Been At War With EastAsia

The scary thing is that I am not demonizing. Psychopaths make up 10% of the general population (25% of the prison population and 50% of cop-killers). Psychopathy is a dangerous, uncurable, untreatable and largely invisible disorder. Psychopaths are extremely dangerous from their ability to pass themselves off as normal and infiltrate all aspects of society. Psychopathy isn't about being violent or anti-social (and in fact, violent and antisocial people are far less dangerous since they are so easy to detect), it's about having no connection with nor any empathy for other human beings. The ruthless CEO and the white collar criminal are likely to be psychopaths. The kind of person who says "I don't want to pay for any lazy ass motherfucker." (in the inimitable words of one Libertarian I warred with on USENET) sends shivers down my spine. It is my sincerest belief that Libertarians are full or partial, natural or artificially induced, psychopaths.

As for the fact that the ideal Libertarian is a psychopath, that is not demonization but a warning to north americans that it would do well for them to think carefully before they swallow the psychopathic messages they are immersed in through the mass media.

But hell, you don't have to take my word for it; take a course on the subject. -- rk

SethGordon: I don't want to get into a discussion over the general causes of poverty. However, the idea that welfare payments encourage single motherhood is not supported by poverty statistics. According to Cristopher Jencks (http://www.prospect.org/archives/32/32jenkfs.html):

  1. The average state, in 1996, gave $4,668 per year to a single mother with two children. This does not strike me as a powerful incentive, especially since someone who has children and then tries to find a job will have to find day care.

  2. State-to-state comparisons within the US show that differing AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) benefits do not affect how affect women's decisions to have children out of wedlock: cash benefits in Vermont are five times what they are in Mississipi, but Mississippi has more single mothers. (To be fair, the lower cost of living in Mississippi partly makes up for the lower benefits, and the benefit level seems to have a modest effect on couples' decisions to divorce or marry.)

  3. Jencks looked at information from the Luxembourg Income Study, a cross-country comparison of income levels; he compared the "marriage bonus" (ratio of mean household income of married/cohabiting couples to mean household incomes of single-mother-headed households) for 14 countries with the percentage of children living with a single mother in those countries. According to your theory, in countries with a high "marriage bonus" should have a low rate of single motherhood. Actually, the reverse is true.

EvanCofsky: So, even though these people have limited means, and are therefore in poverty, are their individual expenses higher than their individual incomes? In other words, if a person is only making, say $8,000/yr, are they spending more than that? Does it take more than that to survive? I survived on that in college, and I know people who survived on less. Here is another concrete example, which illustrates more than the statistics.
$5.00/hr*30 hrs * 52 weeks=$7,800
$300/mo*12 mos=$3,600.
$200/mo*12 mos=$2,400.
	Automobile Fuel: 
	$70/mo*12 mos=$840.
	[medical emergency $300 > $1500]
	[crime victim $80 > $200]
	[alcohol or drug abuse $700 > $2000]
	[moving or temporary housing $1300 > $3000]
	choose one or more of the bracketed items 
	if you are poor you are more likely to suffer
	from one of the above unplanned expenses

So what? People who aren't poor have these problems, too, and many become poor because of them. So what? Everyone faces the risk of unplanned expenses. Smart people (not educated, not rich, not poor) plan for them as much as possible, and act to prevent them as much as possible. Stupid people (again, not educated, not rich, not poor) don't. Stupid people suffer as a result. If you feel the need to pay for stupidity, go right ahead. Just don't make everyone pay because you feel the need to pay.

Doable. Not comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but doable. So, my mere existence refutes all of your arguments and statistics that it's impossible for someone to survive below the poverty line. It's almost impossible to be at the poverty line. $5.00/hr * 30 hr * 52 weeks. That's not even full time, at a small local business. Did I have discretionary income? I saved and treated myself to a nice dinner or a movie.

Here is the problem with statistics: they mean nothing for concrete cases. There are no statistical cases, except on paper. However, people assume that since statistics are numbers, that they have some sort of meaning, when they don't. They measure trends. They also will tell you how accurate they are with things like Standard Deviation and the like. However, they aren't always the answer, especially for a sample size as large even as a country, state (US) or province (other), and in many cases, a city (Los Angeles, San Diego, New York, London, just to name a few). So my existence refutes your arguments, since I'm here, without help from Uncle Sam, and even paying taxes into the government. Taxes paid:
	STD Deduction:
	$2,750 (What each person may automatically deduct from their income in the US)
	Taxable Income:
	Tax (From 1999 US Tax Table):
This is just Federal, and not State tax.

So, in other words, I was hurt more by the taxes than I was helped. Now, to offset that, I'll say I did go to a public university, and had family to help out with tuition. So if I weren't in school, I wouldn't even have that to show for the taxes I paid, while earning barely enough to survive as is. Now, if I'm a college student with no work experience, how hard would it be for someone with several years of work experience to find work for more than minimum wage? At the time, I was earning $0.50 more than minimum wage. Again, no real work experience, and for a local business. The icing on the cake: I'm not working in the field I was studying in college. In fact, I've had no formal training in my current field whatsoever. I have my current job because I had work experience, and even a failed business or two. I started off making $5.00/hr. So, again I ask you, why do people need the government's help? If I can do it, and I'm not the only poor college student, or poor immigrant who works 12 hours each day (at more than minimum wage, I might add) to save up for his children's future, what makes someone needy? An inability to find the discipline to find work? A lack of innovation? Just plain lazy? I personally don't want to pay for someone else's laziness. Having children which that person can't pay for? Please, convince me that I don't know how to spend my money on myself, and that some government agency which only understands statistics and not real-world situations can better spend it on someone else who will never be productive. Convince me that it's better to take money from working people and give it to indigents who choose to be that way. Explain to me why, even though in the United States, we pay taxes for social programs, the citizens still donate huge amounts of money to charities each year? Could it be that people are giving, and are willing to contribute to the needy whether they already pay for them some other way? Could it be that the government programs are so ineffectual that there still is a large indigent population in this country? Or could it just be that there is a funny artifact in the statistics that people have grabbed onto because it gives them a sense of purpose to try and eliminate the below-average from a sample, even though in most cases, those people are doing fine on their own, even if they aren't living the Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous (an old United States program). If that wasn't enough, I'll be happy to tell you the conditions I was raised under. You want poverty, I'll give you poverty. I'll also show you how to overcome it without the useless government handouts which punish their beneficiaries for increasing their income, and reward them for their continued dependence, all because someone found that not everyone is average, but even the below-average know that if you bring in $8,000, you can only spend $8,000, and if you want more than that, you have to work for it.

So, in other words, I was hurt more by the taxes than I was helped. Did you use public roads for travel? Did you eat food inspected for safety by the government? Did you breathe clean air? Did you rely on government mandated minimum wages? Did you stay in housing which meet building code standards? These things do not come for free. Try visiting a country without them to fully understand what many of us take for granted.

View edit of November 24, 2005 or FindPage with title or text search