Professors of the Times: The New York Times had a good idea for its new weekly section, the Sunday Review. Each week, it invites readers to take part in a dialogue about some particular topic.
It’s a darn good idea—but check out the way it’s being enacted this week!
Today, readers are invited to create a dialogue around a ridiculous, murky epistle from the Club for Growth. The letter concerns a rather mundane proposal for higher tax rates on upper-end earners.
This is the hopelessly murky letter around which we are invited to fashion a dialogue:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (11/30/11): President Obama and several Congressional Democrats have called for higher taxes on “the rich” as a way to help reduce the budget deficit. But we cannot ignore two negative byproducts that such a move would almost certainly entail.This letter is from Andrew Roth, a VP at the Club for Growth. “This is no trivial matter,” Roth says, before pimping several trivial matters.
First is the increased potential for tax avoidance. High-income earners, when faced with a higher tax liability, will go to great lengths to defer income, incorporate their businesses to take advantage of lower corporate tax rates, or simply stop working, among other things.
Second is the macroeconomic impact of higher taxes on the rich. Taking capital away from the very people who are most likely to create jobs will naturally result in fewer jobs.
This is no trivial matter. Even if the economic effect is ambiguous, lawmakers should “first, do no harm” when considering tax changes in a fragile economy.
Instead, the better course of action is comprehensive corporate tax reform. There is strong, bipartisan support inside and outside of Congress to lower corporate tax rates while getting rid of special-interest loopholes.
Such a proposal could be revenue neutral, but its effect on the economy would spur growth because the lower rates would increase production and innovation. And fewer loopholes would reduce the exorbitant compliance costs. Over all, such reform would create jobs, keep the United States competitive in the global economy and help lower the budget deficit.
Might we note one basic point? Higher taxes on upper-end earners have been proposed as a way to produce additional revenue—“as a way to help reduce the budget deficit,” to quote Roth’s very words. In response, Roth advances a proposal which “could be revenue neutral.” Presumably, this means that Roth’s proposal would not produce any new revenue. Gobbledy-gook about growth to the side, this would also seem to mean that Roth’s proposal would not “help reduce the budget deficit.”
In normal lingo, that's what it means when proposals are "revenue neutral."
But so what! Roth proceeds to a contradictory claim, saying that his “revenue neutral” proposal would “help lower the budget deficit.” Does anybody understand how this works?
Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t.
What kind of dialogue are we supposed to conduct around this bafflegab? It’s hard to build a dialogue around such a murky initial offering. Of course, this is precisely the kind of murk which typifies the modern American discourse. The Times could have asked Roth to clarify his presentation.
But then, this is the Times.
We’ll also suggest that you read this op-ed piece, in which the Times enacts a familiar practice. Two professors with a new book are given the chance to present their claims and ideas.
Midway through, the professors ask an obvious but important question about our polarized Congress: “What enabled the uncompromising mind-set to dominate our politics?”
The question is quite important.
The professors try to address this question. We don’t know when we’ve seen a less illuminating answer to such a critical question.
The Times likes to publish the nation’s professors. We're often dismayed when they do.