Monday, 23 April 2012


No matter how clearly you write anything, there's always someone willing to deliberately fail to understand it.

For those of you unfamiliar with "The Buffet Rule", American billionaire Warren Buffet said a few months ago that he believed the US tax code is unfair and, at a bare minimum, he should be paying a higher tax rate than his secretary.

Obviously, this led to a round of boos from the Right, along with the usual cries of hypocrisy over the idea that a rich guy might care about less rich people [1].  That's so transparently idiotic that it isn't worth spending any real time over.

There are two more arguments that might seem slightly less ridiculous at first glance, however, and given the vast amount of time major conservative pundits put into slapping together such sleight-of-hand bullshit dumps, it's always worth pushing back against them.

Will Wilkinson has done just that with this piece, in which he takes on the witless argument that if Buffet believes his taxes should be higher, he should make voluntary donations to the government.  Even as a general argument, this doesn't pass muster, as Will explains: if worsening one's own financial situation would only be of benefit to others if done en masse, it's perfectly reasonable to argue it should be done without going through it alone.

In Buffet's case, however, it's even more stupid, because Buffet already gives a spectacularly large amount of money to charity.  This is where the other argument comes in.  Buffet is choosing to donate to charity instead of to the federal government.  Therefore, Buffet must think that charities can spend money better than can the Feds.

This would be a poor argument under the best of circumstances.  To make it after having read Wilkinson's column is an act of wilful misunderstanding.  Buffet's behaviour tells us the following about his preferences:
forced payment to Fed > voluntary payment to charity > voluntary payment to Fed.
Firstly, and most importantly, there is no reason in the world to believe Buffet doesn't also believe forced payment to charity > forced payment to Fed, which means the argument is already dead in the water.  Propose increasing the tax rate on billionaires and giving the proceeds entirely to charity, and see what Buffet says, and until you've done that, fuck off.

Secondly, even ignoring that the ordering above is incomplete, let's talk about why, just maybe, someone might think their donations are best going to charity whilst also asking to be forced to give more money to the government.  Imagine you want the government to put in place a national blood donation scheme, with state of the art equipment and facilities, a database allowing immediate flagging of local and national requirements, rapid processing of donated plasma, and a massive advertising campaign.  Suppose you know it would take a thousand people of your level of income to pay for all that.

So, do you pay for 0.1% of the new system, and hope there are 999 like-minded billionaires out there to make this thing a reality?  Or do you suggest the government takes the necessary funding from all 1000 of you, and, whilst you're waiting, buy and distribute as many band-aids as you possibly can?

(More to the point, why aren't these same idiots arguing that no-one should be allowed to argue in favour of bombing Iran unless they're tweeting it from a jetski in the Persian Gulf just before they lob Molotov cocktails into Bushehr?  Why is Charles Krauthammer bitching about the US giving up on manned spaceflight when he hasn't so much as designed thrusters for a home-made rocket?  Actually, come to think of it, if accepting this ridiculous argument would mean sending Krauthammer into space - where, let us not forget, no-one can hear you being a bloodthirsty, warmongering arsehole - then it might just be worth taking the hit.)

There are some things that cannot be sensibly accomplished by individuals.  Those individuals are neither required to attempt it anyway, nor to sit on their hands and do nothing because their ideal scenario isn't yet possible.  Arguing to the contrary is just one more turd in the endless torrent of sewage excreted by certain conservative "thinkers" who not only want you to believe you shouldn't give a damn about those worse off than you, but that those who do don't really mean it anyway.

[1] You know the score: white people are phonies for caring about racism, men who claim to care about the gender pay gap are cynical trouble makers, etc. etc. etc.  See also: John Edwards; disgraceful media treatment of.  I mean, before he turned out to be a cheating douche, obviously.

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