Back When a Socialist Was a Socialist

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Mr. Shaffer is a professor emeritus of history at California State Polytechnic University and a writer for the History News Service.

During the vice-presidential debate of 1988, Republican nominee Dan Quayle attempted to draw a parallel between himself and John F. Kennedy. Quayle's Democratic opponent, Lloyd Bentsen, who had served with Kennedy in the Senate, looked Quayle in the eye and said, evenly, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy!"

When Republicans singled out Barack Obama's income-tax proposal and labeled him a socialist during the recent presidential campaign, one astute commentator saw the fallacy in that charge. Referring to Eugene Debs, a founder of the Socialist Party of America more than a century ago, he said: "I know Gene Debs and Barack Obama. [Obama] is no Gene Debs."

Without the leadership of Debs and, later, Norman Thomas, the socialist movement fell on hard times after World War II. That allowed Republicans to distort the image of socialism in their effort to scare the wits out of the public. Americans have been brainwashed for half a century with the notion that American "socialism" can be equated with the Soviet Union, Stalin, the Cold War, atomic spies, and almost any other evil. In the 2008 presidential contest, the progressive income tax became that evil.

Republicans need to tell us what they mean by this mysterious, fearsome "socialism." It's certainly not the socialism of Debs they have in mind. Furthermore, Obama and his supporters accepted the charge of "socialism" as legitimate, implying that socialism itself is suspect, but it is inaccurate to use that charge against Obama. After all, he's not a socialist but a firm believer in capitalism and the free market.

To substantiate their accusations, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, and other Republicans have picked a legitimate issue which has nothing to do with socialism and pounced on it as evidence of Obama's radicalism. That issue is the progressive income tax.

Whenever McCain or Palin talked about Obama's tax plan, they denounced it as "share the wealth" or "redistributing income." Obama's plan, however, is to impose progressively higher income tax rates on those affluent Americans with substantially greater incomes than the vast majority of taxpayers. This is an idea that for over 100 years has been supported by the brightest minds of Democrats and Republicans.

While Debs and Thomas aggressively supported a progressive income tax, it was not socialists who pushed the tax through. That occurred during a Republican administration, 1909-13, as the Sixteenth Amendment. In a bipartisan effort, both major parties supported levying an income tax. In its initial form, the tax fell solely on those with higher incomes, not on most working Americans. It wasn't until years later that ordinary Americans paid the tax.

Warren Buffett, the nation's most respected capitalist, has on many occasions condemned the current unjust tax law, which favors the wealthy. He has offered a large sum of money to those on the Forbes list of leading executives who can prove that their receptionists pay a lower tax rate than they do. No one has collected. In calling for a just progressive tax, Buffett claims that he pays about 17 percent of his total income, while his secretary pays nearly twice that much. Does protesting this make Buffett a socialist?

The reason for Buffett's advantage is the capital gains tax breaks which have been written into the code since its original enactment. Capital gains taxes are applied only to investment income, not to wages.

These tax breaks are drawn up in a tax code that runs volume after volume. It needs to be that long in order to get all those tax benefits into the law. The tax breaks aren't for ordinary Americans. They are, in fact, a good example in reverse of the "redistribution of wealth" tax system that McCain attempted to pin on Obama during the campaign.

Tax breaks for the wealthy truly do redistribute income. They promote sharing wealth with those who don't need it because they already have so much. And 47 percent of American voters swallowed McCain's claim that even a modest increase in taxes on the wealthy was a radical socialist idea!

Socialists still support the concept of a progressive income tax, but that view is also held by progressive-minded Republicans and Democrats such as Warren Buffett and Barack Obama, who would never associate themselves with socialism.
Most Americans have never heard of Eugene Debs, but they know a hoax when they hear one.

This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.

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Edmond Dantes - 12/11/2008

I stumbled upon this quote while reading Mencken the other day, “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.” I think it applies to Ms. Paul's beliefs rather well.

Thank you for the kind words, R.R. Hamilton.

R.R. Hamilton - 12/7/2008

Jaw-dropping applause. I'm sure you are not and cannot be a professor in an American university -- which I have described as "the gulag archipelago of the mind" -- but in a sane world, you would be.

Ms. Paul, on the other hand, is fit only to be one of those who chant, "The people, united / Can never be defeated!" and "Yes, we can!" :)

Sad to say, however, that we are moving towards a society of the survival of the unfittest.

Edmond Dantes - 12/5/2008

I have read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and I am familiar with (but have not yet read) Daniel Bell’s works. I admire their efforts. Have you ever read anything by Wolfowitz, Friedman, Greenspan, or any of the others you denigrate? I doubt it. You only focus on what fits your narrow worldview. Everything else is flotsam.

So, if you despise capitalism so much, what economic model do you propose we embrace? Socialism? Did socialism improve the lives of the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese, Cubans, Zimbabweans, Somalis, Congolese, Romanians, Bulgarians, Polish, Albanians, Hungarians, Czechoslovakians, Greeks, Yugoslavians, and others? How did government-forced wealth redistribution improve their lives? Many argue that these are not examples of pure socialism - they represent Marxism, Stalinism, Communism, Bolshevism, or Statism – and that’s supposedly why they failed. Economically speaking, socialism is defined as a system of state (or worker) ownership of the means of production and distribution. However you define it, history does not provide any favorable examples of wealth redistribution or collectivization. It seems that those who argue that socialism rather than capitalism is the next step in economic evolution ignore all of history and are eager to repeat it. Authors like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek (more flotsam for your list) provide compelling arguments against socialism.

Look at events today. Why do Haitians risk their lives paddling their overcrowded rafts 500 miles to the United States when the Cuban socialist paradise sits only 50 miles away? Is it greed that compels them to risk it all?

My “skewed statistical scribblings” came from reputable sources based on sound data. Those seem to be foreign concepts to you since you have been unable to provide any yourself. Let me reiterate some of the facts: You believed that the majority of the wealthy (which I would assume includes your dreaded “power-elite”) inherited their riches - data shows that less than 10% of the wealthy earned their wealth through inheritance. You stated that the majority of my taxes go towards the military-industrial complex – data shows the United States spends around 4% of its GDP on defense. I’m curious, along with your petty attacks on my character, is their anything else you “know?”

Lorraine Paul - 12/4/2008

It isn't people such as myself who round up those who disagree with's your mob. You know, the free-booters, oops! sorry, I meant the free-marketeers.

How many economic rationalists does it take to change a lightbulb?

None - they sit in the dark and wait for the invisible hand to do it for them.

That's how rational your brand of reality is. Not to mention the people you would admire and attempt to emulate...Wolfowitz, Friedman, Greenspan - human flotsam all. Good god! Read all about them and the countries they have 'helped' around the world. Start with Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine.

I don't expect this book to educate you because there does not appear to me to be a glimmer of hope that you might turn into a human being who cares about much else other than your own piddling concerns.

As for your own skewed 'statistical' scribblings and mumbo-jumbo about 'coveting' others' possessions; they didn't deserve a serious reply, therefore, I did not bother giving you one!

As for 'tolerance' am I to tolerate the greed and self-interest dribbling off the end of your keyboard?

Another good text that may enlighten you, though again I doubt it, is The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism by a countryman of yours, Daniel Bell.

I've just started to read it this oldie, but a goodie.

Casey Jones - 12/4/2008

"what's the approximate percentage of so-called self-made men among rich and superich in the US as opposed to those of them
who inherited good fortune, being raised in wealth and privilege to begin with"

so if my children are not allowed to keep the fortunes that I EARNED. And hopefully their children can keep the money that I EARNED. If you tax all the money away there is no incentive to try to live a better life and improve the qualility of life for my family.

Thoses of you who do not believe in trikle down economics ask yourself this question have you ever worked for a poor man?

moot=: deprived of practical significance : made abstract or purely academic

mute=unable to speak

Edmond Dantes - 12/4/2008

There was an argument to lose in all of this? This must be a big victory for you. You triumphed without using any statistics, data, facts, or historical precedent. Why cloud such a rational worldview with such things? I guess your emotional rants and personal attacks constitute a winning argument in your circles. Maybe someday you will have the opportunity to round up all those who disagree with you and place them in concentration camps. In the meantime, I will enjoy my freedom and try to debate more rational and tolerant people than yourself.

Lorraine Paul - 12/4/2008

I have found in my longish life that the more a man is losing an argument, the more he shouts and/or resorts to banality.

Obviously you are not the exception who proves the rule.

Edmond Dantes - 12/3/2008

Your life is not my fault. I bought a sheep the other day and named it Lorraine. I don't know who bleats more, you or the sheep.

Lorraine Paul - 12/3/2008

Again you put your own interpretation on my words. I did NOT say I was a sociologist - I said sociology was my major.

Communications was my other major.

History was my elective.

My 'intolerance of other viewpoints' springs from my observations of the tragedies that viewpoints such as your own are imposing on the planet.

I don't wish you well in your endeavours, Mr Dantes, for the simple fact that you have shown that you only have the interests of yourself at heart and couldn't give a toss for the rest of us.

Edmond Dantes - 12/3/2008

Everyone has a different view of a better world, Ms. Paul. Any self-proclaimed omniscient sociologist would understand that. Next time try bringing some historical precedent or facts to your argument, rather than emotional rants about good (you) versus evil (anyone who holds different views). Your insecurities and your intolerance of other viewpoints brings no merit to your arguments. If I were a praying man, I would pray for you. If I were to wish you well, you would take offense. So, goodbye.

Lorraine Paul - 12/3/2008

Dear Mr Dantes, After I had replied to your penultimate missive this morning I decided that I had wasted enough of my valuable time on trying to educate you to a more humane outlook.

You are obviously a man who doesn't have much time for any or anything else but what will benefit yourself and your own selfish interests. This is not the type of person I wish to correspond with. Sadly, I say goodbye. If I come across you in another thread do not expect to engage in any sort of discourse with myself. I discovered many years ago that hitting one's head against a brick wall is a useless activity.

I hope that one day you will be able to rise above self-interest and join the rest of us in trying to bring about a better world.

Edmond Dantes - 12/2/2008

A sociology major? Great diggery doo! My condolences.

Edmond Dantes - 12/2/2008

At least my beliefs come from reading both sides of the argument and forming my own conclusions. When was the last time you tried that, Ms. Paul?

Lorraine Paul - 12/2/2008

As separate from your own self...who only believes what they want to believe!!

Lorraine Paul - 12/2/2008

Oh! you will get an answer, but it won't be the one you want.

Why don't you dig a little further, Mr Dantes, and inform us how much of that 90% is owned by the power elite. The last I heard 'the rest of us' owned only 1% of it.

As for your ingenious idea of dragging our quality of life down to the poorest, why don't you get some commonsense and talk about raising the level of the poor in the world through a more equitable and fairer tax system? Of course this might mean that you have to forego the little comforts in life that you take for granted. However, just grit your teeth and think of the greater good!

That is true progress!

Furthermore, as to all your posturings regarding a flat-rate tax system, that is all they are - mere posturings. A flat-rate tax system is inherently unfair and, possibly, unworkable! But then when has fairness ever been part of your vocabulary?

Why do you feel it necessary to sneer and mock at my belief in social justice? Is it because your own life is so skewed towards Social Darwinism that it offends you that others have ideals which encompass all of humanity and that they hold these dear and will vigorously defend them?

As for historians' definition of a civilised society, in my readings I have not come across this definition, or even one similar. As a sociology major I can't recall it either. However, this doesn't mean that it does not exist. However, I would venture to say that the definition you put forward is a basic one.

As for 'lack of faith in free markets'. I'm still chuckling over that one! Is there anyone, anywhere who still has any?

Edmond Dantes - 12/2/2008

Historians typically define a civilization as containing the following hallmarks, or characteristics: an organized religion, a written language, a bureaucratic government, social and economic stratification, monumental architecture, and more. It may not have enough caring and multiculturalism in it for you, but please note that I did not devise the definition.

I am glad I moved you to flattery. Maybe it will help you shed some of your anger and compel you to present some evidence to support your claims. At least Mr. Shcherban is making an effort.

Ms. Paul stated, “How many of the power-elite, who benefit the most from the inequitable tax system now in place, have earnt their money?” You ask later in the argument, “Do they deserve their wealth and privilege to be un-taxed?”
You think the majority of the wealthy inherited their wealth. The historical facts and data show otherwise. You believe the wealth and privilege of the power-elite go unchallenged and that my proposed flat tax system would leave them un-taxed. Show some data… show anything besides emotional diatribes to back these assertions.

Mr. Scherban believes that my stats on who earned their wealth are worthless, since clearly they all started out at some level of affluence. Is this similar to your assertion that obviously over 80% of the rich attained their status through inheritance alone?

This debate focuses (at times) on the merits of flat versus progressive tax systems. In arguing for stricter progressive reforms, people demonstrate their lack of faith in free markets. They believe government’s primary role is to disperse wealth. Do the wealthy actually horde their riches in giant money bins, where they swim in their liquidity? I hardly think so. They invest, reinvest, purchase, and pay taxes.

One other point: It is easy to propose and support systems that you believe will benefit you. What if the roles were reversed? This reverts back to my earlier hypothetical that Ms. Paul wanted some clarification on. Speaking on a macroeconomics level, we in the industrialized world hold at least 90% of the world’s wealth (that's everyone, not just the power-elite). What if some global redistribution effort became a possibility - some worldwide initiative to level the playing field for all of Earth’s inhabitants? Something that would dramatically lower your economic standing (hence the $60,000 to $1,200 salary reference), quality of life, and purchasing power, but would raise over a billion out of poverty. Would Ms. Paul’s beliefs in social justice compel her to make such a leap or not? Probably not. If she responds in typical fashion, then I’m sure I won’t get an answer anyway.

Edmond Dantes - 12/2/2008

The true mark of an informed person – “…I must admit to not even bothering to read most of the religious drivel put by them both.” We now see that Ms. Paul only reads what conforms to her worldview.

Lorraine Paul - 12/1/2008

As for organised religion being one of the 'hallmarks' of civilisation. I am curious as the what else you would consider a hallmark. It is my understanding that religion has been used down the centuries for many purposes. The least of which one would think, would be its capacity to 'civilise'! However, I bow to your superior knowledge obviously due to your observations regarding the present state of the planet!

A few of the hallmarks I consider for a civilised society, and I'm sure they will send you off into paroxysms of laughter, are abolition the death penalty, caring for the sick and elderly, using diplomany (instead of war) to settle international disputes, making education affordable to all, protecting workers' rights, embracing multi-culturalism, regulating to contain the more rapacious actions of multi-national corporations and encouraging belief in the dignity and worth of its citizens. I could go on, but I think you get the gist of my argument.

Of course much of the above can only be implemented by 'stealing from the successful' in the form of taxation! Which brings us back full-circle.

I stated earlier that there is nothing to amuse me about your good self. Let me modify that statement. You slightly amuse me, but even more so you flatter me when you point out how very, very different my worldview is from your own.

Lorraine Paul - 12/1/2008

I suppose I should be flattered that you have taken the trouble to extrapolate my meagre scratchings into a full-blown bodice-ripper!!! Including quotes (you would know them as'talking marks') incorporating words and phrases which, much as I search, I fail to find in my original arguments. "...brainwashed", "power-brokers", hyperbole of the highest order!

Edmond Dantes - 11/30/2008

My knowledge of world religions comes from studying the human condition from antiquity to present, so don't worry, it did not take long to compile the aforementioned list. Organized religion is considered one of the hallmarks of civilization. I do not find it surprising that you (Ms. Paul) so angrily dismiss religious references. It is probably hard for you to believe in anything larger than yourself.

I am surprised, though, that you have any familiarity with the Count of Monte Cristo. I would think that the intellectual magnitude of a teenage Ms. Paul would find it too low-brow.

You also continue to amuse me with your negative view on everything. You believe that the majority of my taxes feed the "military industrial complex." If my "brainwashed" mind accepted all the "manufactured" data out there, then maybe I would think the same. According to the Bureau of Economics, within the Treasury Department, the United States spent 4% of it's GDP on defense in 2004. I guess the "power brokers" paid off all the federal employees of the Treasury Department, all the Congressional appropriations and oversight committees, and all their constituents to provide us with this "manufactured" data. Also, keep in mind that the 4% (which does equal hundreds of billions in US dollars) paid the bills for the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Department of Energy. That 4% is also a wartime defense expenditure. Whether 4% is too little or too much would be a logical debate. I wonder where the other 96% goes? It couldn't possibly pay for roads, hospitals, schools, or foreign aid. What percentage of Australia's GDP goes towards defense spending?

And the amusement continues... I stated my objections towards progressive tax systems because I believed they treated the successful unfairly. When you and your ilk based your argument on the "fact" that at least 80% of the wealthy achieved their economic status through inheritance, I provided data that proved otherwise. You then repositioned your argument to suggest that we penalize those of wealth in power. So how would this work? Do we establish a committee to determine who deserves their wealth and who does not?

Lorraine Paul - 11/30/2008

I did hurt your feelings! I'm dreadfully ashamed.

Please accept my apologies.

Actually, Australia is an island continent, slightly larger in land mass than the United States.

You may have been thinking of New Zealand, which is comprised of two large islands and one smaller island. It isn't far from Australia.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/30/2008

Mr. Dantes,

The statistical figures you offered as
a proof of just a small minority of the rich acquiring their wealth through inheritance mean nothing.
Don't flip right away over it, I'll explain the meaning this apparently "outrageous" rejection of statistical data.
There is nothing in all the data quoted by you that indicates that all the rest of the rich (98% or 90%) self-made men built the fortunes STARTING with insignificant amount of money. Your data (even provided it's correct) indicates only that the very high percentage of the wealthy reached the level of wealth they stay now at. The resources they started with remain unknown. Say, right now one of those self-made men is worth 200 M. How do we know that he/she did not start with, say, 10 M, or 1 M for that matter (since the overwhelming majority of the US citizens doesn't start their financial career having even 1M in their possession.)
Then, another thing: how do we know that the parents of those wealthy men
were not, if not wealthy, then - so-alled comfortable providing their kids with excellent school and college education at private schools and the Ivy-league colleges?
(Unless you think that the latter circumstances don't matter much, as far as their financial achievements are concerned.)
But even if you manage to successfully handle this part of the issue, there still remains one major obstacle to all advocates of a flat (versus progressive) taxation.
Your (and others' on your side) main argument against a highly progressive income tax system that it "punishes" innovation and entrepreneurship.
I say it doesn't do either.
What it would do if such a system existed in this country is to slash the fortunes of the 1% of US super-rich by say 1/3, i.e. Bill Gates, e.g.
would not be worth $50B, but just $35B, apparently "unaffordable loss" for a poor genuis.
And the guy who's now $100M worth would certainly go to the poor house with just $85M, right?
Brutal and severe "punishment", indeed...
Moreover, how it is "fair' and how does it "drive" the innovation that many of those who made their fortunes through real innovation decades ago and since did not contribute much to the advance of their businesses receive now 10 times larger annual compensation packages that they got when they were doing really innovative
American public wants to know.

Lorraine Paul - 11/30/2008

I have to admit that you are a much more patient (and kinder) person than I, Arnold!

It just never occurred to me to give a polite answer to these two men. Although, I must admit to not even bothering to read most of the religious drivel put by them both. I hope Mr Dantes didn't go to too much trouble in compiling them. Someone probably read them, however.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/29/2008

<1. Using Stalin when discussing Socialism is very deceptive. At no point has communism ever approached the ideals of socialism of voluntary sharing - and ultimately it would be more correct to refer to those in the USSR as despotic, tyrannical, or similar - but to call them socialist is a lie.>
Partially you're right: the socialist system in the USSR was not socialist
from the point of view of its obvious violation of some basic democratic principles, of the rules of law (even its own), some categories of human rights, and therefore, cannot serve as good counter-example... provided the discussion were about those things. However, we discuss taxation here, not human rights and democratic ideals. Plus (or minus), that system has never been communist to begin with!
It is clear that you sir (and I'm sorry calling a spade spade) is completely ignorant about the core theoretical principles of socialism and this ignorance leads to your ridiculous statement on the juxtaposition of allegedly existed communism in the former USSR to "real" socialism.
Socialism it is first and foremost a socio-economic societal system where the means of production are taken away from private hands and given to working people and the state structures (controled by the people's
representatives) which are supposed to act in a whole and exclusive interest of those working people.
All the rest is secondary in the definition or classification of socialist society.
Communism is just the paramount of development of socialism: the society
without state institutions of power and control (and even monetary system), when the society/people
control everything based on their own good will, consensus, and high morality (first, of course, the absolute majority of the people has to reach that high moral ground and consensus.)
The main motto of communism: from everyone by their abilities - to everyone by their needs.
The system currently existing in some European countries whom many Americans (brainwashed by the US elitist propaganda)consider socialist are not socialist just because respective means of production are in private possession in all of those countries (not already mentioning such ones, as the US, UK,
France, and the absolute majority of others.)
Taxation system has little (if anything) to do with the core differences between pure capitalism and pure socialism.

<2. The US Socialist party stopped running candidates because the Democrat party embraced all the tenants of socialism that the original Socialist Party of America embraced.>
This assertion has even less to do with ideological and political reality as the first one. On top of that it is factually wrong: the US Socialist Party has not stopped running its candidates either for Senate or for Congress, which can be easily checked through respective records. Thus, not much comments needed here.

<3. To blindly adhere to decisions, ideas, or considerations of the past long gone, ignoring collosal socio-economic and cultural changes and evolution of ideas is normally qualified as dogmatism and usually (in this country) ascribed to communists, socialists, and in general, to so-called "statists" in sharp contrast to so-called innovators and drivers of human progress - capitalist enterpreneurs.

Taxation is a NATURAL state institution that makes the existence of a state that provides for many necessities of societal life (such as security and kids' education among others), as natural, as the right to support one's family with wages from work. Only insane and anarchist want to eliminate a state per se, now.
If you accept the necessity of a state (large or small), then you, inevitably, accept taxation as a "confiscatory" one, because far from all folks, poor, rich, or in the middle, pay ANY PERCENTAGE
of taxes WILLINGLY, therefore creating the very unfairness the zealots of flat taxation are allegedly so adamant against.
It has to be enforcable on the same reason a fair society has to enforce any law, as long as there are violators of that law out there.
Thus, in reality (in difference with utopian and idealistic views,) taxation has little (if anything) to do with slavery.

I omit your references to one particular individual - W.Buffet - since those are highly subjective (and doubtfully advanced your points to any significant measure.)

<7. Socialism rots the soul of many - it tells people that if they don't want to work hard, they can still live a comfortable life by leeching off others.>

Absolute nonsense! Once more illuminating your complete ignorance of the theory and (this time) practice of socialism.
Therefore, I won't honor it with any elaborate comment.

<8. Socialism was tried in America - and it failed miserably. Plymouth Colony - 1620's.>

That's another example of obsolete historical piece. But I can bet that even this obsolete and largely unapplicable to our times story was distorted to make the resume delivered by you (and some others) anti-collectivist.
Those people starved (if they did) not because they were working together and shared the fruits of their labor between them, but on some other other reasons you and others don't want mass reader to know, in order to justify you cheap shot at
anything that just resembles collectivism. You are not even aware
that the exact same collectivism of working folks is a major resource of modern capitalism in its wild chase after profits.

9. The result of Reagan years was the
recession that followed those years (healthy economy commonly absorbs any craziness for a while and reacts to them only later.)

Noone never showed with any solid arguments and statistical data that taxing 5% of folks much higher than 75% of a populus was bad for the economy... of those 75%.
Democracy, as far as I know, is a power of a majority for the majority.
75% is a great majority to me.
No society can satisfy the needs of its majority while satisfying the wants of its minority. In a really democratic society the small minority (whose needs and almost all the wants) must adjust its wants to accomodate for the needs of the great majority.
Otherwise, it's not a democratic but plutocratic society (the one we currently have in this country.)

Lorraine Paul - 11/29/2008

Narcissist??? Moi??? You may be pleased to know that it is comforting to me that I have not offended you, because here you are again. I would hate to think I had hurt your delicate sensibilities by a few, perhaps, ill-chosen words.

I find nothing amusing about you, Mr Dantes. Even your user name is an affront. In my early teens The Count of Monte Cristo was one of my favourite books. To my young mind Dantes stood not for revenge but justice! I ask you, are you being just when you find it onerous to pay out a fair share of your salary/wage in the form of taxation?

I do understand that in the US the majority of this tax money goes into feeding the military/industrial complex. If this is your reason for not liking to pay taxes then I sympathise with you. I certainly would not like that to be occurring in my country. However, there are schools, hospitals, roads, government pensions for the elderly and disabled, just to mention a few institutions and citizens, who need to be financed.

As one of my lecturers remarked a few years ago, if you are not contributing your share then you are stealing. (Bitter denunciation included.)

I will now return to my mirror, or should that be my pond?

Edmond Dantes - 11/29/2008

How dare I wish everyone well by saying "Happy Thanksgiving" when one of them made an obscure reference to a relative receiving a "hand-up" in Australia. My clairvoyance failed me. Naturally I should have known you were Australian by that reference. Clearly none of us rubes in America could possibly have any friends or relatives overseas. You truly revealed my "complete lack of knowledge of the wider world." Australia is an island country somewhere, right? I forget. Oh, it's the WORLD wide web. Clumsy me.

Edmond Dantes - 11/29/2008

It's amusing to see that you are an equal opportunity narcissist - attacking even those who share your views. It must be comforting to find yourself above reproach, or even criticism, in any situation. Such an attitude must provide you with a fulfilling life. We all await more of your bitter denunciations.

Edmond Dantes - 11/29/2008

How dare I wish everyone well by saying "Happy Thanksgiving" when one of them made an obscure reference to a relative receiving a "hand-up" in Australia. My clairvoyance failed me. Naturally I should have known you were Australian by that reference. Clearly none of us rubes in America could possibly have any friends or relatives overseas. You truly revealed my "complete lack of knowledge of the wider world." Australia is an island country somewhere, right? I forget. Oh, it's the WORLD wide web. Clumsy me.

Lorraine Paul - 11/28/2008

In Australia we prefer to call a spade a spade rather than a one person digging implement!

Lorraine Paul - 11/28/2008

Mr Inamdar. That you should choose to ignore the openly 'manufactured' scholarship, not to mention the smug and patronising tone of both Dantes and Vineyard and concentrate instead on my robust choice of words makes me wonder if you do disagree with these 'gentlemen'.

Re-read the piffle they have written and then ask yourself how much of it deserves to be taken seriously enough that I should bother to give either of them more than a short, sharp rebuke.

As for 'encouraging' civilised discussion, I am all for it myself, but only with civilised and informed people who are prepared to engage rather than indulge themselves with irrelevant point scoring.

Kedar A. Inamdar - 11/28/2008

For shame, Ms. Paul. This debate hardly embodies the level of discourse I expect from HNN readers. Although I disagree with Mr. Dantes and Mr. Vineyard, I don’t believe calling them “naïve,” “pathetic,” “infantile,” and “absurd” does any service to your argument. I encourage my students to engage in civilized discussions, using historical facts and data to back their arguments. You may find these methods more constructive than bullying and name-calling.

Lorraine Paul - 11/27/2008

Again you show your complete lack of knowledge of the wider world. Thanksgiving is a Northern American tradition. We in Australia do not celebrate it.

Edmond Dantes - 11/26/2008

Ms. Paul, no matter what I say, you will still be angry. No matter what you say, I will still by happy. I could share in your anger if only I possessed your vast knowledge of everything. I guess ignorance is bliss.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Dantes out.

Lorraine Paul - 11/26/2008

Expecting the wealthy to pay a fair tax rate on their earnings is hardly 'coveting their possesions'!

As for religion being brought into a discussion on ethics and/or morality, surely you jest!! It has been my experience that organised religion has little to do with either!

You could re-read most of your quotes as merely saying...don't worry about the injustices of this world, "you'll get pie in the sky when you die!"

Lorraine Paul - 11/26/2008

Mr Dantes, You know very well that Arnold and I were not talking about the comfortable and the well-off. We were talking about the ruling elite and those with power to do good or otherwise in the world.

Do you view Halliburton and Blackwater as benign institutions? If these respective glomerates began making smaller profits for their shareholders there would be a 'palace revolution' and the ones leading it would be those shareholders with the most to lose! That is, the ones owning the most shares!

I am averse to calling you naive but from your analyses of both Arnold and my comments you don't leave me much choice. For you to call me 'synical and negative' because I am aware of the forces which govern this world we live in is so absurd a statement as to move you from naive to infantile.

As for your question would I drop a salary, or income, of $60,000pa to help achieve a 'level playing field'? Could you give me more information as to how this would be implemented in the first place? Hypotheticals are all very well, but they must have some relevance to reality!

Edmond Dantes - 11/26/2008

Mr. Shcherban: Why would I propose a flat tax system if I thought we already had one? I’m not denying we impose a progressive system on the people of this country. I’m not denying that it will get more progressive over time. I am just expressing my concerns over the success of progressivism. And of course people like Bill Gates and George Soros didn’t build their fortunes in a vacuum. They had help and those who helped prospered as well, including the government.

You want me to answer Ms. Paul’s question, here it is:
2007 “In one survey, the Chicago-based Spectrem survey found that only 2% to 4% of the fortune of today’s millionaires was inherited. Russ Alan Prince found that only about 10% of today’s rich ($10 million or more) inherited their money. And a recent article in Smart Money quotes the Harrison Group as saying that “70% of the nation’s big family fortunes are less than 13 years old” and “the people who amassed them are, first and foremost, entrepreneurs — risk takers for whom wealth is a byproduct of pursuing their passion.”

2008 “Recently, PNC Wealth Management conducted a survey of people with more than $500,000 free to invest as they like, a fair definition of ‘wealthy,’ and possibly ‘millionaire’ once you begin including home equity and other assets. Only 6% of those surveyed earned their money from inheritance alone.”

Have any of you heard of the death tax? I don’t hear anything about super wealthy Rockefellers, Carnegies, or Melons sauntering about these days. And (Ms. Paul) why all this anger over Paris Hilton? Her parents were kind enough to pass on some of their good fortune to their children. I would do the same and I would lash out at those who would try to take from my children.

Ms. Paul: You said in your earlier comment “Greed is good, misery, stealing, churlishness, selfishness, lies, wars, illegal detentions have all grown out of the US system of 'it's mine'.” I assumed that “manipulation, exploitation, rape, and murder” fit within this framework. I am sorry if you disagree and if I overreached in my assumption.

I agree that your friend most likely made the best of a “hand-up.” I don’t fully understand where you are going with this. Are you saying that Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and George Soros wouldn’t be where they are without certain “hand-ups?” If we all receive “hand-ups,” we can all succeed?

Yes, I do see a lot of anger and jealousy in your comments on the rich. It seems that the only way people succeed to the status of affluent is through inheritance and exploitation. You make it sound (note that I say “sound”) like all the well-off are miserly, ungrateful, and instead of contributing to society, they do nothing but take. That is a very cynical and negative outlook on life in America. So, if you are tired of this so called “its mine” mindset, why don’t you answer my question. If we do indeed hold the top 1% in wealth and use the most resources, then under one hypothetical world government under a progressive tax system, would you be willing to sacrifice an annual salary of $60,000 for $1,200 to level the playing field?

Edmond Dantes - 11/26/2008

Excellent critique, Mr. Vineyard. It appears Ms. Paul is upset with morality and ethics. After reading your 10 very lucid points, she takes offense to the one that is so fundamentally ingrained in nearly every religion and law code. How dare someone bring morality and ethics into a discussion on tax policy. Disregarding Mr. Vineyard’s entire argument because of a Bible reference sounds pretty irrational and pathetic to me.

Torah - Aseret ha-D'varim
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.” Ex. 20:14

Koran - “And do not covet what we bestowed upon any other people. Such are temporary ornaments of this life, whereby we put them to the test. What your Lord provides for you is far better, and everlasting.” [20:131]

Second Precept - I will respect the property of others, I will not steal.
"The second precept deals with taking things that are not given. This is more than just not stealing. It means not coveting things in the material, psychological, or in the spiritual realms. Desire stems from a feeling of incompleteness. This precept teaches us to accept ourselves wholly and to make this total acceptance is to become complete, to attain the Buddha state."
- Zen Master Wu Bong (Jacob Perl), Five Precepts

Books By Rajaji - Kural
“Azhukkaaru is envy, an inability to feel happy at the sight of another's well being. Vehhil, greed, is covetousness, the desire to obtain by illegitimate means what is another's. If a man's mind turns to thoughts of abandoning rectitude and taking by illegitimate means what belongs to others, it will automatically lead him from error to error and bring disgrace on him and his family.”

Guru Nanak - “Do not covet your neighbour's possessions.”

Hsun Tzu - “Man is born with envy and hate. If these tendencies are followed, injury and cruelty will abound, whereas loyalty and good faith will disappear.”

Cosmos & Community; The Ethical Dimension of Daoism – “The seventh precept speaks of ‘supporting the other with joy and delight.’ This Taoist ethic prohibits jealousy and contempt for ‘the other’.

And of course this one – which many on this site will happily apply to the “media brainwashed” capitalists and libertarians:
Bertrand Russell’s Liberal Decalogue - “Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fools' paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.”

Finally, what about the ethic of reciprocity, common to most world cultures – “What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others.” (Epictetus)
Ms. Paul (and Mr. Shcherban in the other discussion) claim most of the wealthy received their riches through inheritance or through various nefarious deeds, always at the plight of the common man (of course). Doesn’t taking from them make you as bad as them? They supposedly took what didn’t belong to them and now you want to take what doesn’t belong to you?

Lorraine Paul - 11/26/2008

Good God! To use The Bible to justify your opposition to an equitable tax system is just about the lowest form of argument I can think of.

What a pathetic little article!

Lorraine Paul - 11/26/2008

Thank you, Arnold. You have gone to the crux of my argument which is what about those with inherited and/or un-earned wealth. Do they deserve their wealth and privilege to be un-taxed?

Lorraine Paul - 11/26/2008

Mr Dante, your analysis of my post made me go back and re-read it as I could not remember making the statements that you have 'credited' me with. I won't bother to reply to all the points raised by you in 'response' to statements I never made...such as,'...America....reached its current status through manipulation, exploitation, rape, and murder." However, I will defend my statement that many of the super-rich live off inherited wealth and the 'nouveau riche' usually got where the did by, to put it politely, sharp practices!

I know little about George Soros and how he made his wealth so allow me to put him aside. Although, I will still stick by my statement regarding a 'hand-up' or 'hand-out'. For example a relative of mine lives a very comfortable life in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia. He started out with nothing...except for a house which was given to him and his family when they were in dire straits. He worked very hard and got on in life. However, I put it to you, would he have been so successful if he had had to find the money to pay a mortgage with hefty interest rates? He had a 'hand-up' and he made the best of it.

Bill Gates was a very poor choice of yours as just about every school age child, at least in Australia, is aware of Microsoft and its 'bundling' practices.

As for Bill Clinton, did he finance his own gubernatorial/presidency campaigns?

Your argument against my post is specious at best, amatuerish at worst.

As for being 'jealous' of the wealthy, it is absurd to use such a mealy-mouthed term to describe the indignation, anger, injustice, (where is my Thesaurus) to describe how I feel about greedy, wealthy people who live off the backs of the disadvantaged throughout the world. Do a google for exploitation of child labour, third world labour, non-union labour and then ask yourself...does any my wealth come from any of this? As for the 1percent wealthy in the world, do another google and find out how much of the world's wealth and resources is used by that 1percent.

You, my dear, are a perfect example of the 'it's mine' mindset!

Arnold Shcherban - 11/25/2008

Plus, Mr. Dantes you yet to answer Lorraine's question, which is basically this: what's the approximate percentage of so-called self-made men among rich and superich in the US as opposed to those of them
who inherited good fortune, being raised in wealth and privilege to begin with?
I bet all your money it is not 80% against 20%. And if I'm right here, you whole point becomes mute.

Arnold Shcherban - 11/25/2008

<Socialism does not make all people rich – it makes all people poor.>
The validity of your statement largely depends on what kind of socialism you have in mind. From the point of average American, who was brainwashed by the US mainstream propaganda within the "US-is-above- all" groove, Sweden, Holland, and
Denmark have "socialist" socio-economic systems, but the average level of living there is higher than in some "happy" and (comparatively) pure capitalist European countries, such, as say, Portugal, Spain, or Italy (and - by many indicators - higher than in the US.)
Not mentioning already the former nations being far from "all poor".

<Go ahead and institute progressive tax systems.>
I guess it would a sensation for Mr. Dantes to hear that in this very country, i.e. the US we already have progressive tax system (with exception
of additional priviliges given by rich and super-rich by the latest administration and previously by Reagan's); although it is still much to be desired to become a real PROGRESSIVE one...
And, at the least, the most of the national leaders of innovation remained in this country, they did not move to Dubai or any other "offshore" country.
This is the old scaring tactics of the
apologets of "fairness" (read: instilling legitimacy into the trickle-down socio-economic system of the present) that never has been confirmed by any socio-economic data.
<So people like Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and George Soros do not deserve their fortunes? They did not earn them? The billions their charitable foundations give around the world should dissolve?>
First: those people built their fortunes not in socio-economic vacuum, exclusively by themselves, but with the help of many other people. Secondly, all three of them managed to amass their fortunes not by avoiding progressive federal and state tax payments(perhaps, they did a little of the latter too, but, I hope, not a lot of it), but, on the contrary in a full compliancy with the existed at the time US progressive (though flawed) tax system. So this argument of yours is obviously self-defeating, which I would not recommend to employ to anyone.
The rest of the questions in the last quoted excerpt have nothing to do with current discussion and prove nothing (in the sense of the point taken by their author) either.

Then, again, the financial wealth is just a small (and not even the most important) part of human existence and history (even religion, which is one of a few fundamental ideologies of hierachical capitalist society, says so.) Unfortunately, money has been made the epicenter of the latter ones by ideological servants of the rich and powerful of this world.

Capitalist world system has already been through huge socio-ecomonic changes that slowly but surely drive it towards, socialist or not, but better and fairer society despite fierce resistance of the ruling socio-economic elite.

That evolution of capitalism has already made the return of pure capitalism, i.e. every man for himself, impossible.
Flat tax is one of the prominent aspects of such a return, and therefore it will never be reconstituted in this country for any prolonged historical period (though can be introduced for 8-12 year time interval by some reactionary Washington administrations, like the latest one.)
A flat tax system is as fair as the US legal system where rich and famous, as it is well proven by factual statistics and well known by general public and experts alike, have an upper hand comparing to common folks.

Mike Vineyard - 11/25/2008

Article has an interesting title, but it deteriorates from there.

Several important points:

1. Using Stalin when discussing Socialism is very deceptive. At no point has communism ever approached the ideals of socialism of voluntary sharing - and ultimately it would be more correct to refer to those in the USSR as despotic, tyrannical, or similar - but to call them socialist is a lie.

2. The US Socialist party stopped running candidates because the Democrat party embraced all the tenants of socialism that the original Socialist Party of America embraced.

3. When the income tax was proposed, it originally had levels of about 2%, paid by only the wealthiest. During the Congressional debates, one legislator proposed that the Constitutional Amendment limit the tax to 10%, but that didn't fly, because the majority of legislators felt that the level would NEVER approach 10%, and if the limit was 10%, then it would quickly escalate to 10%. That type taxation was progressive, but it was not CONFISCATORY!!

4. What is the difference between Confiscatory taxation and Slavery? Answer: very little! Our Constitution was amended to prohibit involuntary servitude, but we have marginal tax rates of 90% (under Eisenhower) or 70% (under LBJ, dropped per JFK proposal) - we have a type of slavery that punished the very people that help create wealth and jobs.

5. Buffett's claims are fairly easy to refute. Much of his INCOME comes from dividends (presently taxed at 15% rate, no Social Security tax), or from various Government/Municipal bonds that are tax exempt. The entire system of taxes was designed to encourage investment - vital to our economy. If we eliminate those low rates on dividends, there will be less capital and less growth, and therefore fewer jobs and benefits for people and the economy. If we tax muni bonds - the costs of bonds go up, and taxpayers will pay more to pay off bonds.

6. On the other hand, Buffett is also opposed to eliminating the Estate Tax. But he is extremely hypocritical - because he won't leave 45% to 55% of HIS wealth to Uncle Sam. He pays lawyers to create special trusts, and he donates his wealth to organizations that will operate per his wishes. If he thinks the Estate Tax is good - why not push for legislation that outlaws estate tax planning for anyone with wealth over $50 million dollars, and 50% of every dollar over that amount goes to the US Treasury, and no exemptions for donations to foundations/charitable organizations, etc. Let's see if Buffett would like that type of estate tax.

7. Socialism rots the soul of many - it tells people that if they don't want to work hard, they can still live a comfortable life by leeching off others. Look at Europe, with low job growth. Read Mark Steyn's "America Alone" to see some of the associated problems with that type culture.

8. Socialism was tried in America - and it failed miserably. Plymouth Colony - 1620's. Governor William Bradford writes in his "On Plymouth Colony" how initially, everyone would work hard and put all food grown into a common storehouse - and they almost starved to death. The following year, everyone was given his own plot of land, and the workers could keep the fruits of their own labors - and they prospered.

9. The results of the Reagan years shows that limited government and low tax rates can result in overall prosperity. But if we adopt the attitude that government can continue to grow, and to support the growth, tax rates can be increased on the "wealthy" will result in stifling investments, innovation and job creation.

10. One of the 10 commandments tells us to not covet our neighbors possessions. Highly progressive tax rates is nothing more than a "mob rule" deciding to "legally steal" from one's neighbors. It is immoral and wrong. Ultimately, it is like killing the goose to get the gold eggs, but it saps creativity and there is a loss to our society for doing it.

Edmond Dantes - 11/25/2008

It sounds like several people on this site envy the successful and want to punish them. Why all the vitriol? All this anger over people possessing more than you cannot be healthy. I am content with working hard and enjoying my middle-class lifestyle. Why do so many Americans want handouts when life is pretty comfortable? Compare your material existence, education, health, life expectancy, and overall quality of life to that of your parents, then your grandparents, and then your great grandparents. Looking beyond all their “stealing, churlishness, selfishness, and lies,” do you see any change over time?

Also, thank you for the history lesson. I keep forgetting that America (and especially the rich in America) reached its current status through manipulation, exploitation, rape, and murder. I guess my professors in undergrad and graduate school didn’t strive hard enough to pound that into my head. Too bad. So people like Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and George Soros do not deserve their fortunes? They did not earn them? The billions their charitable foundations give around the world should dissolve?

Let’s address this from another direction. You mention “greed, misery, stealing,” and so on grew out of the US system of “it’s mine.” Our wealth, as Americans, places us among the top 1% in the world. For the sake of argument let’s say, by some crazy act of Vishnu, the UN took control of the global population and instituted a progressive tax system, would you still actively support it? Even if it dropped your income from $60,000 to $1,200?

Socialism does not make all people rich – it makes all people poor. Ask anyone who has lived under both socialist and capitalist systems. Find me examples of socialism raising the quality of life over those living within market economies. Do people flee America for Cuba, North Korea, or China? On the other side of the coin, why are successful corporations and entrepreneurs taking flight from increasing progressive America and Western Europe to places like Dubai? Go ahead and institute progressive tax systems. It will only send more innovation and capital overseas. Will that provide the “fairness” everyone’s looking for?

Someone recently wrote, “Helping one's fellow man in need, by reaching into one's own pockets, is a laudable and praiseworthy goal. Doing the same through coercion and reaching into another's pockets has no redeeming features and is worthy of condemnation.”

Lorraine Paul - 11/24/2008

I am always amazed at the acquiescence of an average American towards the wealthy! How many of the power-elite, who benefit the most from the inequitable tax system now in place, have earnt their money? How many, like the current president of the US have inherited wealth and infinite 'bail-outs' when they make a mess of it?

Paris Hilton, another example of inherited wealth, is now famous for being famous! She has inherited wealth and further wealth which grew out of the fact that she had a PR firm working for her. What exactly has she has done to 'deserve' this affluence?

For heavens sake people, get a clue!!!

There is nothing in an equitable tax system which 'punishes the successful'. After all the successful quite often got there by being a little bit dishonest, or had a big 'help' from someone or something! Surely they should return this favour by helping others through an equitable tax system?

Many countries throughout the world have progresive tax systems and don't see it as a 'social evil'. Sweden keeps on being successful and its populace keeps on enjoying the fruits of a high taxing system.

Greed is good, misery, stealing, churlishness, selfishness, lies, wars, illegal detentions have all grown out of the US system of 'it's mine', isn't it time those who benefit the most from this system gave a little/lot back?

Edmond Dantes - 11/24/2008

I don't know... it all sounds a little shady to me. It's o.k. to take from the wealthy because they can afford to lose more? It still smacks of punishing the successful for being inventive, ambitious, and/or productive. What if Mr.25x attended college, graduated from medical school, and through hard work and a little innovation developed a new lifesaving device. His brother, Mr.1, lived in his parents’ basement into his 40s while working a part-time cashier job at the local grocery store. Hypothetically, a progressive tax system may make Mr. 25x pay up to 80% of his earnings while Mr. 1 pays 2%. I know one can devise an infinite variety of scenarios, but progressive taxes just don't seem fair to me. I always pictured "fairness" as offering equal opportunity for individuals to succeed, not punishing those who do.

Randll Reese Besch - 11/24/2008

Say the average wage is 1 and the wealthy are 25X that. A flat tax of 1/2 is implemented. The average wage has 1/2 remaining while the rich have 12.5 left over. Is that "fair" to the lower wage earner? No! That is why the progressive in the tax is used. The wealthy can afford to lose more because they earn so much more.

Edmond Dantes - 11/24/2008

I consider a flat tax system much fairer than a progressive track. We are talking about fairness, are we not? Look at the success eastern Europe is experiencing with it - Where's one's incentive to invent, invest, or succeed in progressive tax systems? One can label them "socialist" without reaching too far since progressive taxes seek equality over freedom. Make everyone pay the same percentage and then you foster real incentives. As one commenter to the aforementioned article notes, "All wage earners should have an equal right to their income, regardless of their income size."