Saturday, September 24, 2011

Who's Payin' Taxes Up There?

I have been seeing the figure 100,000 for the number of millionaires who don't pay any federal taxes. This sounded incredible to me, so I followed the link which led...nowhere.

The proof was supposed to be at The Center for American Progress, but the best that I could find there was the figure 1,470 in 2009.

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic gives a figure of 7,000 for 2011. But he explains that there are good reasons (and some bad ones-- tax tricks, he calls them) why this can be so. Taxable income, even a million dollars of it, can be reduced to zero because of write-offs from a terrible tragedy, for example a home or business is wiped out by a natural disaster, or someone in the family comes down with a hugely expensive form of cancer. People can put lots of money into tax deferred investments. There's nothing wrong with that. Oh, and then there are those tax deductible charitable donations that liberals seem to hate. If you give most of your money to the Salvation Army or to Feed the Children, do you become an enemy of the people?

Megan McArdle, also writing for The Atlantic, gives much more detail on the complexity of the millionaire tax situation. But consider this:

You cannot build a tax code on the principle that no millionaire, ever, should ever have an effective tax rate lower than their secretary.  The tax code covers 300 million people.  Rules written to cover that many people, in a complex economy where there are lots of different ways to make money, and some uncertainty as to what constitutes income, will not produce the same result that we would get if the economy were the size of a kindergarten class, and we had an omnipotent teacher charged with making the income distribution perfectly fair. ...

The only way to actually ensure that no millionaire, anywhere, pays less than 20% on their annual income would be to essentially suspend the rule of law for wealthy people, and give the IRS power to seize income from rich people at will within some very broad guideline about fair shares.  This strikes me (she said, with dramatic understatement) as a very bad idea.

But when it's so easy to demagogue the question into a larger ideological victory, what do individuals and the particulars of justice matter?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Show Biz Economics Debate

Here is a debate over basic rax and economic policy between Bill OReilly, Jon Stewart, Richie Cunningham, and Bill Clinton.

Quite a roundtable (with O'Reilly moderating, of course).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How Far Left is Evangelical Left?

Last week I wrote from a politically conservative Christian point of view on the missing Evangelical concern for a common biblical concern: oppression and the oppressed.

Well, lo and behold, the next day Jim Wallis writes on the same subject but from his politically leftist Christian point of view. ("What is 'biblical politics'?" is on his God's Politics blog, Sept. 15, 2011.) I call his position "leftist" rather than "liberal" because it seems to go well beyond anything that a liberal Democrat in Congress would say, Christian or otherwise. Notice also that he calls it "biblical politics" in general. To Wallis, that's all that politics is about. Or so it seems.

If Wallis is left of the left-wing Democrats, where is he? As a starting point, compare these two statements.


I was talking the other day to a Christian leader who has given his life to working with the poor. His approach is very grassroots — he lives in a poor, virtually all-minority community and provides basic services for low-income people. He said, “If you work with and for the poor, you inevitably run into injustice.” In other words, poverty isn’t caused by accident. There are unjust systems and structures that create and perpetuate poverty and human suffering. And service alone is never enough; working to change both the attitudes and institutional arrangements that cause poverty is required.

Here is Marxist liberation theologian, Gutavo Gutierrez:

Charity is today a ‘political charity’ . . . it means the transformation of a society structured to benefit a few who appropriate to themselves the value of the work of others. This transformation ought to be directed toward a radical change in the foundation of society, that is, the private ownership of the means of production. (A Theology of Liberation [Orbis, 1973]; p.202)

Granted, Wallis also says some biblical things, but mixes them with the same radicalism:

This is what the Bible teaches us. The scriptures reveal a God of justice, not merely a God of charity. Words such as oppression and justice fill the Bible. The most common objects of the prophets’ judgments are kings, rulers, judges, employers — the rich and the powerful in charge of the world’s governments, courts, economies, systems, and structures. When those who are in charge mistreat the poor and vulnerable, say the scriptures, it is not just unkind but also wrong and unjust, and it makes God angry. The subjects of the scriptures’ concern are always the widow and the orphan, the poor and oppressed, the victims of courts or unscrupulous employers, debtors whose debts need to be forgiven, strangers in the land who need to be welcomed. And the topics of the prophets’ messages to the powerful are things like land, labor, capital, judicial decisions, employer practices, rulers’ dictates, and the decisions of the powerful — all the stuff of politics.

But then later he comes back to the radicalism:

But biblical politics is never just about the candidates either, and some have made that mistake in recent elections. Putting one’s hopes in political candidates and parties has only led to disappointment, frustration, and dangerous cynicism. There are systems and structures that undergird and shape the limits of the political agenda, and challenging those limits to get to root causes and real solutions is always the prophetic task.
He also pours scorn on private charity. It leaves the powerful accountable. It's hopelessly inadequate to the task and it does not address the root of the problem: structures and systems, and nasty capitalist swine.

So is Jim Wallis a Marxist? A secret Marxist? That may be going to far. But what I can tell from these passages, there is more Karl Marx mixed in with his view of politics than he is willing to admit. The same thing happens on the political right, of course. Many Christian conservatives espouse elements of Enlightenment liberalism that I think are incompatible with a Christian view of the world. From what he says about me in the foreword to my book, Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (a foreword for which I am grateful), Jim Wallis sees me as part of that philosophically compromised group. "At times in this book, Innes sounds much more like Ayn Rand, the Russian atheist and apostle of the virtue of selfishness, than he does Jesus Christ" (p.11). You can read the book and decide for yourself.

To read up on Wallis's history with Marxism, read Ronald Nash, Why the Left is Not Right (Zondervan, 1996). To read Wallis's account of politics and of his turn to what he claims is a third way that is neither left nor right, read The Soul of Politics (Mariner Press, 1995).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Conservatives Against Oppression

"Oppression." It's a Marxist word and a left-wing myth, right? But if I spoke instead about "abuse of power" by government, or "intimidation" by union thugs, or "enslavement" of young runaways by urban pimps, I would have your attention. But it's the same thing.

The Bible condemns "oppression" and calls on governments and everyone to come to the defense of the oppressed. The Lord “gives justice to the oppressed” (Job 36:6 NKJV). He is a “refuge” for them (Psalm 9:9). Shouldn’t godly government have the same concern? To all His people in their various spheres of life He says, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6)?

This is the subject of my column this week, "Conservatives for the Oppressed." I give a definition of oppression and indicate some of the variety of ways people can be oppressed.

Oppression is the inhuman use or cruel treatment of the weak and helpless by the stronger and more secure. It’s the little guy getting mugged in some way by the powerful and well-connected. The left associates oppression with capitalism and with corporations in particular. Evangelicals have become active in fighting the oppression that comes from drug traffickers and sex traffickers. Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission has mobilized a generation of young evangelicals against the beastly evil of human trafficking. But cruelty and injustice may also come from a local employer, a labor union, or a government agency.

Charles Colson has done good work in coming alongside the downcast and downtrodden through many of the works that Prison Fellowship has undertaken. Mind you, not everyone who is suffering and in need of Christian love is oppressed. Marvin Olasky has also done, encouraged, and highlighted Christian work on behalf of oppressed people here and around the world.

One Facebook friend found that this column brought to mind this speech from David Cameron rebuking the Labour Party for smugly thinking that only they, certainly not the Tories, could care for the poor, even though the poor were much worse as a result of Labour's stewardship of many years.

For a strikingly leftist view of oppression, see this post from Jim Wallis that he issued the very next day (no relation, I'm sure) at Sojourners, What is Biblical Politics?".

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Three 9/11s

My Chilean-American friend, Bracey Fuenzalida, has posted this illuminating personal and historical reflection on the relevance of previous 9/11s to the 9/11 we remembered on Sunday.

Muslims have a long historical memory. Democratic people tend to live with a very short historical memory extending back one generation, or two at the most. (How much thought do you give to your great-grandparents?)

With his permission, I am re-posting it here from his Facebook page.

Reflections on three 9/11's
by Bracey Fuenzalida -- Saturday, September 10, 2011

Having worked on the 72nd floor of the north tower from March of 1999 up until the first week of August in 2001 I speak with a sense of thanks for having experienced God’s mercy for sparing my life. It was also at the top of World Trade Center 2 that I proposed to my wife some 16 years ago. The place had immense significance for us and it was one that I frequented a lot. So much so that there were times after work where I would go up to the observation deck to sit, stare and simply meditate. It was one of my favorite places to just be still and I will never forget the World Trade Center.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was sound asleep sitting on an express bus that had come in from Brooklyn. It was around 8:50 in the morning when I was rudely awoken to a woman who yelled with a loud scream, taking the Lord’s name in vain. As I awoke and gathered myself I immediately looked up and just like everyone else I could not believe the orange streak blazing across the entire upper part of the building. No one in the bus knew that a plane had crashed into the north tower. As soon as I looked up I thought, what happened? Did a server blow up?

I immediately called my brother who was home, and told him to turn on the television and watch the news. He did and we both watched the events live, he through the television screen and me with my own two eyes. We watched in utter shock and amazement. Within minutes, as I was gazing intently into the air, a large black dot appeared from the left corner of my eye and then a massive explosion. My brother and I were in shock! At first I yelled out; ‘what just happened?’ My brother yelled that another plane had just hit the tower. We had fears after the first plane had hit the towers that we were under a terrorist attack but after the 2nd plane struck the south tower our concerns were confirmed, foul play was at hand. Thus, we like everyone else, knew instantly that we were under a terrorist attack.

Needless to say, for the first time in my life I saw collective fear in the eyes of New Yorkers. I had never seen that before. Generally New Yorkers have an edge, a disposition, an attitude about them. But on that day, with panic in the eyes of everyone, people were all over the place in downtown NYC, some were even running and walking on the FDR heading toward the Brooklyn Bridge, many were on the streets, it was utter chaos. I remember a few days later, once people began returning to work there was a sense of loss, as if something had been stripped from every single person. But typical of most New Yorkers, everyone quickly gathered their confidence and inspired by the words of the president, ‘soon the whole world would hear from us,’ they went on about their business. Needless to say, the city would never be the same again.

September 11, 1973 for my family and I has special significance and that for historical reasons. You see, the mere mention of September 11 for Chileans evokes strong feelings, good and bad. You may remember that it was on September 11, 1973 that General Augusto Pinochet liberated Chile from the evil grip of Marxist president Salvador Allende. Chile had run into severe problems under the Allende regime because he wanted to convert a freedom loving, free market nation in a communist Marxist paradise. Believing that ‘a scientific Marxist’ revolution had to take place in order to advance Chile into communism, Allende’s reforms of nationalizing industry and property resulted in 600% inflation, food shortages, confiscation of private property and widespread societal chaos.

As my father and mother always remind me, had it not been for Pinochet private property would be no more and I would have been a communist living for the purposes of state. Given that my parents were resistant to the takeover they were marked for death by the MIR revolutionary thugs who were going around Chile intimidating Chileans who did not support Allende’s communism. You may also recall that Allende was the best of friends with Fidel Castro and with the leaders of the Soviet Union. Allende kept company with all the waste and trash that this world had to offer. Had the Chilean military not intervened to halt a totalitarian communist takeover and preserve the quickly fading liberty of the nation as was prescribed and protected by the constitution, Chile today would be singing a soviet type national anthem and perhaps, like the former Iron Curtain itself, attempt to further the cause of Marxism throughout the South American continent.

The dissemination of Marxism notwithstanding, news outlets like CNN and MSNBC have painted Pinochet as a tyrant and wicked dictator. But there is a true history out there that is accurately written which depicts the events as they happened. For Americans the Wall Street journalist James Whelan should come to mind. His work, Allende, the Death of a Marxist Dream, and Out of the Ashes are excellent. William Jasper has also written honestly on Pinochet. Thus, the memory of September 11 for Chileans brings back to life a whole range of thoughts and emotions. For me and my entire family September 11, 1973 meant that we escaped the clutches of death. Needless to say, after September 11, 1973 Chile would never be the same again.

September 11, 1683 also has special significance because of its historical connection with Sept 11, 2001. This is because it was on September 11, 1683 that the Islamic advance into Europe was halted at the battle in Vienna. You may recall that the Ottoman Empire had been expanding into Europe ever since Constantinople fell to the Turks, and even before that. Wherever the Muslim armies went, they plundered cities, took slaves, turned churches into mosques, and converted many tens of thousands of Christian captives to Islam at the point of a sword. The Sultan’s armies overran Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Serbia. They turned Protestant Hungary into a compliant vassal and made war repeatedly on Austria and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The Ottomans had designs on Vienna, since the fall of the city would open the way into the heart of Austria and the rich principalities of southern Germany. Thankfully on a bright September morning in 1683 the tide of the second wave of the 'Great Islamic Jihad' turned and began to ebb. The Christians withstood the attacks and the Sultan's armies were rebuffed and the Islamic advance was halted and saw it go into retreat for 300+ years.

The historical connection between the three dates is undeniable, particularly 9/11/1683 and 9/11/2001. Europe has forgotten about both 9/11's and as such it will pay a heavy price, perhaps with their very life. If birthrates don’t improve soon they will have to kiss the old continent goodbye.

Needless to say, My parents and I will never forget September 11,1973. Muslims have never forgotten September 11, 1683 and Americans must never forget September 11, 2001.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Left Right & Christ Video

Here is the promotional video for Left, Right, and Christ, the book I wrote with Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, and that comes out October 6. Lisa looks at politics from the Evangelical left, and I give my account of it from a conservative point of view.

It's kind of like a cross between The Brady Bunch and the Odd Couple, no?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Donkey Whisperer for Congress

This ad is brilliant. This insertion of poetry into politics is welcome.

Roger Williams is a Republican running to fill Texas’ newly created 33rd Congressional Seat.

This comes via forwarded and forwarded email from The Blaze.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Who Will Defend Family in 2012?

The Republicans bill themselves as the party of the family. They defend family values, or at least they oppose certain anti-family policies such as abortion and same-sex marriage. The reason for this concern is that the family is the bedrock of society. The family is the little society in which human beings receive their moral formation, fitting them for the larger society. As goes the family, so goes law and order and prosperity and decent service in the check out line.

The other reason for this concern--the negative one--is that the family has come under devastating assault over the last two or three generations. In some communities, it doesn't even exist. Those communities are the poorest, most crime ridden, most blighted in every way.

In my Worldmag column this week, "The Semi-conservative Republican Party," I take the GOP to task for not going beyond the defense of individual liberty (political and economic) to the rigorous and systematic defense of the family, the social unit on which the enjoyment of that liberty depends fundamentally.

I write: "Ronald Reagan appointed a Special Working Group on the Family to examine all policies for their impact on the family. That was good as far as it went, but the work needs to be less reactive. A thoughtfully crafted, fully coordinated family policy should recognize the requirements for and impediments to healthy family life, and inform the president of whatever measures are necessary and constitutional to strengthen it. State governors and local governments should do the same.

"Conservatives these days are hawkish over how a given tax or regulation will affect small business and job creation, and that’s good. But the family deserves the same protective scrutiny."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Not Michele Bachmann...Not Now

The most recent Rasmussen poll has Rick Perry far ahead of the perennial campaigner, Mitt Romney, and Michele Bachmann.

Here is my quick take on the relatives strengths and weaknesses of the three candidates: "A Tonic for Campaign Fever." If you are a political type like me, you are looking for someone to believe in. But there's lots to keep me sober in this field. Besides, when Mitch Daniels declined to run, I swore myself to political chastity. I shall never love again...or at least not until 2016 or '20, depending on how things turn out.

I was easy on Michele Bachmann in the column. But here I can speak more fully. [Update: Sept.7 - Bachmann's campaign manager, Ed Rollins, has left the cause, conceding that it is a Perry-Romney race at this point. This seems to seal Bachmann's place as a footnote to the 2012 campaign.]


It is interesting that in these times of high unemployment the Republican Party is having a hard time finding applicants for the President’s job. Consider Michele Bachmann, Congresswoman from Minnesota. She’s a fiscal and moral conservative. These are policy positions that are promising for anyone seeking the Republican nomination. She has cared for 23 foster children, something speaks highly of her personal character. But here is why she will not and should not get the Republican nomination.

First, she is only a Congresswoman. The only person ever to have gone straight from the House of Representatives to the White House was James Garfield in 1881. There is a reason the path to the presidency is either through a Governor's mansion or a Senate seat.

Unlike the office of Congressman, Senator is a statewide office. For this reason, Senators are more inclined to consider the broader interest of a wider constituency. By constitutional design, however, Senators take a broader view of public affairs because of their involvement in presidential decision-making. They confirm the President’s cabinet appointments. This draws them into considering what is required of people in those posts and weighing the wisdom of the President’s judgments.

The Senate also ratifies treaties, a responsibility that requires a detailed knowledge of matters like arms control and trade agreements. Thus, in 2008, Sen. John McCain who had been deeply involved in foreign policy oversight was fully prepared to assume the mantle of Commander-in-Chief.

One of a Senator’s most consequential decisions is whether to confirm a nominee to the Supreme Court. This calls a Senator to scrutinize a broad range of issues that fall within a President’s sphere of action. Thus, in this role, Senators must think of how they would behave in a Constitutional manner as President.

Because of their heightened responsibilities, Senators tend to be more judicious in their judgments and careful in their speech. Congressmen, by contrast, are more blustery, less researched, partly in their attempts to distinguish themselves from the pack (there are 435 seats in the House, but only 100 Senators), and partly to satisfy their narrow constituencies in their districts. Think Joe Wilson from South Carolina’s Second District shouting “You lie!” during President Obama’s health care speech to Congress in 2009.

Governors, for their part, have valuable executive experience. They have to balance a budget, as Indiana’s Mitch Daniels did and as John Kasich is struggling to do in Ohio. They have to negotiate with a possibly hostile legislature as Gov. Ronald Reagan did in California and Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. They may have to face a disaster as Haley Barbour did after Hurricane Katrina and as Bobby Jindal did during the BP oil spill. And rhetorically, they have honed the skill of addressing not a narrow, Gerrymandered Congressional district but a broad populace of diverse passions and interests.

But Michele Bachmann sits in the House of Representatives. She was first elected to a House seat in 2006, and before that she was a Minnesota State Senator. Attempting this sort of premature leap—from the lower house to the White House—bespeaks an impatience that does not serve the country well in the highest office. But our current President’s success encourages unseasonable ambition.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Do the Rich and Poor a Favor. Back Off

Last week, when a rumor leaked out that the Fed is plotting new measures to stimulate the economy, perhaps a QE3, gold prices spiked. QE refers to quantitative easing, the purchase of American government bonds by our own Federal Reserve Bank, effectively injecting money into the economy, or what we call "printing money."

The Street reported,

Gold prices popped Tuesday after Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans said further measures to stimulate the economy could be necessary. The rally continued in after-hours trading after the Fed's latest minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting in August showed a growing number of presidents calling for more stimulus.

Every time the Fed plays this card, the economy actually slows. Alan Reynolds gave us a detailed account of this in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, "The Fed vs. the Recovery." He concludes, "In the end, quantitative easing turned out to be an anti-stimulus which stimulated nothing but the cost of living and the cost of production. Good riddance."

Whenever President Obama dives into the economy to make things right, rather than stimulating, he depresses the economy. Instead of inspiring hope and confidence, he creates uncertainly and stagnation.

In light of the aggressively interventionist liberal government that we have suffer in these three years of the Obama presidency, Gary Becker compares market imperfections with the government imperfects that go with government attempts to perfect the market ("The Great Recession and Government Failure"). He finds that "market failure" is like nothing compared to the more predictable "government failure." He writes, "This recession might well have been a deep one even with good government policies, but "government failure" added greatly to its length and severity, including its continuation to the present."

The Journal's editorial today ("In Government We Mistrust"), reflect on this same problem of liberal, "progressive," government intervention and the predictable damage it does. They cites a Gallup poll that has tracked public confidence in government since the Eisenhower presidency. "Every time Democrats attempt to govern the country from the ideological left, they damage government's reputation and status." It's a demonstrable historical pattern. They supply the charts.

For another look at the unflattering comparison between Obama and the Gipper (he has invited it), read Stephen Moore's "Obamanomics vs. Reaganomics," also in the WSJ.

But it is not just the economic well-being of the population as whole that liberals damage. They hurt the people whom they say they are most concerned to help: the poor. I write about this in my Worldmag column from a month ago, "Save the Poor from their 'Friends'."

The poor in America (whoever exactly that is) have many friends in Washington D.C. But that is part of their problem. When your friends are powerful and aggressively well-intentioned but unwise, you don’t need enemies.

They tried to help unwed mothers. They gave them AFDC, and swelled their ranks, and made the condition permanent. The Evangelical left is passionately wed to this tradition of "help." I describe Jim Wallis's opposition to welfare reform in 1996 and now his "Circle of Protection" for the poor against any rollback of the welfare state.

It brings to mind Ronald Reagan’s quip, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Loathed By the Right People

The King's College, the wonderful academic institution where it is my unmixed pleasure to teach, has made it to #2 on a left wing loath-list.

ThinkProgress has alerted the world to the five most scandalously conservative schools in the country. The King's College is #2 on the list.

I see that my work is paying off.