This post and the subsequent discussion at Reason demonstrate the behavior that I discussed in my Tale of Two Poverties post, i.e., leftists often advance two contradictory models of the same behavior depending on the argument they need to sell at any particular moment.
In this case we see two instances of the behavior in the Obama’s advocacy of increased tobacco taxes, as described in the article, and then in the comments we see reliably leftist commenter “Joe” calling payroll taxes a regressive “tax”.
First, tobacco. Back when they fought for the infamous tobacco settlement and in today’s [sic] “Truth” ads, leftists placed the blame for tobacco use squarely on the backs of tobacco companies. Leftists make two arguments to demonstrate the companies’ culpability. (1) Tobacco is highly physically addictive. Once a person starts they are largely powerless to stop. (2) Marketing by tobacco companies makes smoking look so desirable that it effectively subverts an individual’s ability to choose not to smoke. In this model of smoking, tobacco users are hapless victims of evil companies. This justified forcing the companies to pay billions (to state governments, not smokers) in compensation and forcing them to alter their marketing to keep from brainwashing people.
When it comes to raising taxes to pay for programs that politically benefit leftists, they advance an entirely different model. In this model, smoking is a freely chosen vice. Individuals chose to do something destructive to themselves and others and they can stop anytime they wish. Therefore, taxing them not only helps the smoker by inducing him to quit, it compensates society for the harm that smokers choose to inflict on the community.
If you use the tobacco-settlement model of how people come to smoke in the raising-taxes model, or reverse that and apply the taxes model to the tobacco settlement, each policy becomes unjust. If tobacco companies compel people to acquire an addiction so strong they cannot voluntarily break it, then raising taxes on tobacco cruelly exploits helpless people. It would be akin to unjustly imprisoning people and then charging them for their food. Conversely, if people can choose when to start and stop smoking, then the tobacco companies bear no special responsibility for the consequences of smoking. If you look at both models together, then either the tobacco settlement or tobacco taxes are unjust and exploitive.
Second, Social Security (SS) and payroll “taxes”. When leftists oppose SS privatization they argue that SS represents a solid “investment” for workers. They argue that since the government guarantees future SS payouts, workers will reliably receive a higher rate of return than they can with private plans. They take great pains to drive home the point that a worker will get back every dime he puts into Social Security plus interest. They claim SS is fair because payouts depend on how much a person contributes over his working life. SS, they say, is simply a compulsory government pension system whose benefits rebound to those who contribute. They term the compulsory payments, “contributions”, the same word used to describe private pension payments.
When leftists oppose cuts or advocate increases in non-payroll taxes, they argue that SS is a regressive tax that forces them to carry the burden of supporting the elderly and disabled while getting nothing in return. They argue that the worker’s contributions for SS should be deducted from his share of the overall tax burden because of this burden. They lose the “contributions” talk and instead talk of regressive “taxation”.
If you use the pension model in the regressive-tax argument, or vice versa, you get nonsensical results. SS as a pension plan produces the same result as a compulsory system that forces people to buy government bonds that would not mature until the holder retired. Clearly, a person with a stack of treasury bonds has something that a person who just paid income tax does not. In SS, individuals get an individual return plus some. With other taxes, you get only the same generalized benefit that everyone receives regardless of how much they pay. A billionaire and a poor person both have an equal right to drive down the same roads even though the billionaire pays a great deal for the road’s creation and upkeep and the poor person pays very little.
Leftists will in the course of a single conversation claim that SS is a great benefit to workers and then claim that it represents an unfair burden on workers, merely by swapping models of SS.
The only constant in these dual-model arguments lays in who benefits if the electorate believes each particular model at the time the leftists argue for that model. In both tobacco models, leftists get money to pay for votes for themselves and to increase the public’s dependency on themselves. Ditto for each SS model. They choose which model to advance at any given time depending on how it benefits them and the politicians and political groups they identify with.
8 thoughts on “More Leftist Dual Models”
I think “redound” is the word you intended in this phrase: “whose benefits rebound to those who contribute”.
Feminists have two theories that I designate theory A and theory B. Theory A says that men and women are exactly the same and any differential treatment is an offense against human rights. Theory B says that women are special and good and men are evil brutes, so women must be protected.
Mix and Match. Women are excluded from all male military academies. Trot out theory A and require the Academies to admit women. The physical requirements of the academies are too difficult for women. Trot out theory B, and make the academies have different requirements for men and women.
Wash, rinse, repeat. YMMV
you have missed one important point that makes your argument about taxing smokes vs/akin to SS a false analogy — it is actually to your benefit to encourage me to continue smoking … or, to put it differently, it is the ultimate regressive tax (esp. if/when increased cigarette taxes bankroll SS/Medicare/Medicaid, etc) as a smoker, I will pay more taxes and die sooner (thus, whatever I fund through taxes, especially increased taxes) benefits those healthy, ascetic types and punishes me … I will never enjoy the benefits I am paying for and that you aren’t paying for(a universal, generic, third person “you” … whoever that is)… eventually, you will have an incredibly aged, unproductive, bed ridden “healthy” population wondering where all the sinners are who they could depend upon for extra revenues … we did our part … we died. I actually just killed two birds with one stone … the aforementioned entry qualifies me for a Jonathan Swift “modest proposal” award (in reverse)
otherwise, i really liked your post (and the previous one) … good stuff!!
This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 2/6/2009, at The Unreligious Right
you have missed one important point that makes your argument about taxing smokes vs/akin to SS a false analogy…
Heh, yes, it is true that smokers pay more all around due to their shortened lifespans. However, my main point was not to link SS and smoking but rather just to provide two instances of dual-models.
First, Shannon, you are correct that any tobacco excise tax is regressive in the same way a sales tax on food is regressive. Both rich and poor pay the same dollar amount, but, relative to income, that fixed amount is greater for a poor person.
However, I need to correct some misleading statements in your description of the tobacco tax situation.
1) It’s misleading to say that leftists “fought for” the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), unless, by “leftists” you mean the 46 Attorneys General that negotiated the civil settlement with the tobacco industry. Many of the Attorneys General represented red states. This is not to say that there weren’t liberals out there that wanted the MSA to happen.
2) Now its hard for me to know what the general leftist thinks, but tobacco control advocates do not argue that adults become robots when they see ads and that, “marketing by tobacco companies makes smoking look so desirable that it effectively subverts an individual’s ability to choose not to smoke.” They do argue that marketing is influential and that how an addictive product is marketed should be regulated. An important component of the MSA is the ban on tobacco marketing that targets minors. And most tobacco users began their addiction before the age of 18, so this really was a big deal. I think most conservatives or rightist would be opposed to the marketing of highly addictive substances to minors. After all, most conservatives are in favor of far more restrictive policies such as the federal government totally banning many recreational drugs.
3) No tobacco control advocate backs up their support for tobacco excise taxes by claiming that tobacco is a freely chosen vice. And all tobacco control advocates wrestle with the fact that while tobacco taxes are an effective tobacco control measure, they are regressive and therefore likely have negative unintended consequences. For instance, after a tax hike, a low-income mother may have to buy less food for her family because cigarettes cost more and she has not been successful in quitting. But the other side of this regressive tax issue is that since poorer people feel the tax more and since tobacco demand is somewhat responsive to price, poorer people will benefit more from a tax hike because they might be more motivated to quit by higher cigarette prices. But this benefit certainly does erase the reality that many poor smokers (like many rich smokers) will not be able to quit or cut back due to their dependency level and tax increase will impact them inequitably compared to a richer smoker.
So the reason why I type this is because I read Chicagoboyz in order to try to get a less caricatured view of the right. So, I thought I could provide for you a more nuanced view of the other side.
I have heard all your arguments before but to understand my argument you need to understand that I am not talking about the words that people use to justify their actions but rather the model of causality that a person has to hold to advance a particular idea.
For example: You can only justify using government violent power against person A for the benefit of B if you can justify that A is doing something to B against B’s will. In this case (and many, many others), leftist advance the idea that tobacco advertising constitutes a form of invasion or attack against people which forces them to make choices against their best interest (as leftist define it).
but “influential” can only justify the use of force (actual or threatened) if it subverts the will. If you look at leftist arguments about all forms of corporate advertising such as autos, fast-food or even politics, the repeated refrain is that the advertisement creates the behavior. They argue that if the advertisement did not exist, then the behavior would not exist.
(Which is another duel-model. Leftist have a near religious faith in the power of corporate advertising but mock conservatives over their fears that portrayals of sexual promiscuity or homosexuality will induce or normalize such behaviors in children. Leftist mocked conservatives concerns over Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction but had she smoked a cigarette on stage they would have rioted.>
This was, to put it bluntly, a lie on the part of anti-smoking puritans. In fact, the campaign to ban all cigarette ads began back in the 60’s. They did succeed back then in banning all ads on TV, even late at night, due to the Federal governments power over broadcast. The entire “think of the children” hysteria only began in the early 90’s after they found they couldn’t convince people to censor ads in print media.
Well, again, it nots what they say but rather what model of causation they must have in order to advance their ideas. If smokers are addicts, then increased cost will not induce them to quit. If you can stop engaging in a behavior just because you want to spend money on something else, then its not really addiction in the sense that most people use the word. If you can’t stop the behavior than having other people extract money from you using your compulsion is just cruel.
It’s a blog post. I have to struggle to keep it under a 1,000 words as it is. I don’t have room for a lot of qualifications that don’t contribute substantially to the point I am making.
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