Basketball and Taxes

by Burt on March 19, 2015

This time of year, Americans are thinking primarily about two things: basketball and taxes. As the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament gets underway, millions of fans are filling out their brackets. The winner of each game is easy to determine. Whoever has the most points wins the game.

Taxes are a bit more complicated, because of the thousands of tax regulations put in place by both state and federal governments, and because of all the misinformation on tax policy. Here are three myths about taxes:

1.  We need the income tax to pay all the costs of running our federal government.  No, the current income tax is a huge premium we pay for the services and the meddling we receive from our government.  Only for the last 100 years have we had the 16th amendment, which permits an income tax.  Before that we supported our government through taxes on imports, taxes on whiskey and tobacco, and on the sale of federal land. That was it.  Even with that limited tax base, our leaders usually spent money wisely, and we had budget surpluses most years before 1913.  We actually cut our Civil War debt in half.  We learned this lesson:  When our politicians had little money to spend, they rarely went over budget.

2.  We need a large income tax to give more needed social services to the American people.  No, the greater the flow of cash into the government, the greater the waste and the worse the social services.  In the 1800s, people in need got help from churches and local charities. People helped people directly; almost no one depended on federal bureaucrats and welfare checks.  In the late 1800s, various entrepreneurs and community leaders began the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, humane societies, and orphanages across the country. In 1885, President Grover Cleveland vetoed a bill to give seeds to drought-stricken farmers in Texas because he wanted people, not government, to help bail out those in need.  Charities throughout the U.S. rushed to help their fellow Americans; more money was sent to the needy farmers than was provided in the bill Cleveland had vetoed.

3.  The rich ought to pay proportionately much more income tax than everyone else.  Wrong again.  The rich already pay much more than everyone else–and taxing them even more only causes them to hide their wealth, or take it elsewhere.  The 14th amendment promises equal protection of the laws to all citizens, and if we discriminate against the rich, the door is open to pass laws discriminating against blacks, women, and old people.  When President Franklin Roosevelt began taxing the rich at rates of 80, 90, and 94%, he discovered that their wealth vanished from sight.  When that happened, he could have let the rich keep more of what they earned.  But he chose to keep taxes high on the rich, and instead he hiked taxes on the middle class and poor to make up for the revenue lost because rich people were now sheltering their income through various tax dodges.  Should we be following FDR’s example today?

With all of the government red tape and waste in using tax money, it’s easy to see why Americans probably prefer to think about basketball these days. At least everyone knows the real score.

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Equality of Opportunity Is the Framework

by Burt on February 26, 2015

The subject of “equality” is the source of much political debate these days. Ever since the founding era, free-market thinkers have argued for equality of opportunity in the economic order. Equality, in other words, is a framework, not a result. In modern terms the goal is a level playing field. Government should be a referee that enforces property rights, laws, and contracts equally for all individuals.

What the free-market view means in policy terms is no (or few) tariffs for business, no subsidies for farmers, and no racism written into law. Also, successful businessmen will not be subject to special taxes or the seizure of property.

In America this view of equality is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights”) and the Constitution (“imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States” and “equal protection of the laws”).

Much of America’s first century as a nation was devoted to ending slavery, extending voting rights, and securing property and inheritance rights for women–fulfilling the Founders’ goal of equal opportunity for all citizens.

Progressives and modern critics of equality of opportunity have launched two significant criticisms against the Founders’ view. First, that equality of opportunity is impossible to achieve. Second, to the extent that equality of opportunity has been tried, it has resulted in a gigantic inequality of outcomes. Equality of outcome, in the Progressive view, is desirable and can only be achieved by massive government intervention.

To some extent, of course, the Progressives have a valid point–equality of opportunity is, at an individual level (as opposed to an institutional level) hard to achieve. We are all born with different family advantages (or disadvantages), with different abilities, and in different neighborhoods with varying levels of opportunity. As socialist playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “Give your son a fountain pen and a ream of paper and tell him that he now has an equal opportunity with me of writing plays and see what he says to you.”

What the Progressives miss is that their cure is worse than the illness. When government, for example, tries to correct imbalances in family, ability, and neighborhood, government intervention produces other inequalities that maybe worse than the original ones.

Thomas Sowell writes, “Attempts to equalize economic results lead to greater — and more dangerous–inequality in political power.” Or, as Milton Friedman concluded, “A society that puts equality–in the sense of equality of outcome–ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom. The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.”

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Disturbing Parallels: Banzai and Allah Akbar

by Anita on February 19, 2015

Posted by Anita Folsom

Here are the headlines:

“Civilians Massacred!”

“Contest to Kill 100 Civilians with a Sword!”

“Hospital Bombed!”

Do these lines describe the Middle East today?  No, they describe atrocities in China 75 years ago.  The Japanese had invaded China in 1937, and until the end of World War II in 1945, the Japanese Army cut a path of murder, rape, and destruction across the conquered territory.  In Nanking in January, 1938, historians estimate that at least 40,000 Chinese civilians were killed.

Each conquest of new territory in China meant that the Japanese military believed it could do anything, even though its victories came against disorganized Chinese fighters with antiquated weapons and few leaders.  The myth of Japan’s power and strength against the world continued to grow, at least in the minds of the Japanese themselves.  They knew that the U.S. had only a token military presence in the Pacific. Japanese leaders believed that Americans were a decadent, soft people.

Japan’s early successes also emboldened the military faction controlling the country at home.  The Japanese media praised its soldiers in China and blamed all problems on the evil Chinese or the diabolical westerners from Europe and America who were trying to encircle Japan and humiliate it.  Such articles further inflamed the Japanese citizenry, who believed that their armies were invincible.

What was the reaction of the rest of the world?  For several years, mostly verbal protests, international meetings to proclaim that the Japanese were murderous outlaws, embargoes, and discussions about what action could be taken. The U.S. military was weak, poorly armed, and small in numbers, because President Franklin Roosevelt had skimped on military spending in order to fund social welfare programs that bought him millions of votes.  The United States wasn’t strong enough to do much.  (See FDR Goes to War, chapter 4.)

Then in December, 1941, the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and also the Philippine Islands, Singapore, Guam, and the Dutch East Indies.  As the Japanese Army advanced, its soldiers treated captured prisoners from Great Britain, Australia, and the United States little better than the Chinese.  Cries of “Banzai” from the Japanese regiments often filled the air as they celebrated their victories.

Today, each of us is all too familiar with the headlines of Isis’ atrocities.  Isis also fights disorganized, poorly trained groups for the most part, although the Kurds of northern Iraq have shown the ability to defend themselves when attacked.  Isis brutalizes anyone in its path, screaming “Allah Akbar!” as its war cry.

If we look at the lessons of history, both the Japanese in the 1930s and Isis today are international bullies, without law and without a conscience.  Force is the only way  to deal with such outlaws.  But again, our current U. S. president has undermined respect for the American military.  His “apology tours” and foreign diplomacy have made our enemies think that Americans are decadent weaklings.

Fighting the outlaws of Isis or any other international organization is a serious matter.  No one wants to see more American casualties overseas.  But the history of the Japanese in China shows that, if unchallenged, such murderers only keep going.  Isis must be defeated, and we must use such defeats to show the weakness of Isis’ leaders and ideology.

Why hasn’t the United States provided arms for the Kurds to use to defend themselves?  Where is the international coalition to fight Isis?  America needs strong leadership to overcome this murderous plague.  Otherwise, Isis will continue to recruit, to attack, and to murder the innocents.





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Is the U.S. an Unjust Nation?

by Burt on December 18, 2014

Yes, but only if we are judged by a divine standard. Indeed, by that standard we have many imperfections. One of our nation’s sins, for example, is that at different points in our history we have almost fully denied natural rights to several different groups: Blacks, Indians, Japanese during World War II, and even rich people (who were socked with a 90+ percent income tax for over twenty years). One sad lesson we have learned is that if you have a system that can deny natural rights to one group, then no other group is really safe from the political power of its government.

If we compare the U.S. to other nations, however, then we are probably the most just and most compassionate country ever to exist in the history of mankind. Our legal system, though it has had some failings, strives to protect all people and judge cases on the basis of merit. Early in our history, the U.S. became a haven and melting pot for Jews and other groups fleeing European wars, racism, and famine.

In the 1900s, we twice saved the world from itself. U.S. food and aid stopped famine and disease that struck millions of Europeans after World War I and World War II. In the case of WWI, after we had fed war-torn Europe, we literally doubled our own national debt in order to forgive the nations of Europe the debts they owed us. After WWII, we spent billions of dollars to revive industries in Japan and Germany, the countries that had started the war and had killed hundreds of thousands of our soldiers. Where else in the history of war have we ever seen the victors reaching out the hand of friendship by pumping cash into the defeated nations?

Maybe, in fact, the U.S. is too generous. President Obama is now trying to renew economic ties with Cuba. All is to be forgiven. We cut ties with Cuba more than fifty years ago because Fidel Castro seized all U.S. property in Cuba and refused to pay Americans any of the almost $2,000,000,000 that he owed them. (In today’s dollars, that amount would be more than $10 billion.) Will any of that money and property be restored to the rightful American owners? If not, what lesson does that send to other Latin American nations, which also hold massive amounts of American money and American-owned property?

If we study the Bible, the U.S. does not measure up to God’s best standard. But if we study history, the U.S. does very well, and we can see why so many millions of immigrants have come here, and are still trying to get here. Those who criticize America as unjust are rarely willing to judge themselves by the same high standard they judge the U.S.

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Let’s Not Relive The Day After Pearl Harbor

by Anita on December 8, 2014

Posted by Anita Folsom

In recent years, we have discussed the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese:  December 7, 1941.  This event led to the entry of the United States into World War II.  On that day at Pearl Harbor, 2,403 Americans died, the U.S. Pacific fleet was severely damaged, and 188 aircraft were destroyed on the ground.

This year, let’s discuss the day after Pearl Harbor, 1941.  What was happening in the world on December 8, 1941?

American military commanders were trying to understand the extent of the disaster and to make necessary plans to protect the United States from invasion.  As reports came in that the Japanese were also attacking the Philippines, Guam, and Singapore, fears of attacks on the West Coast were widespread.

What could the United States do to mount a counteroffensive?  Did we have the weapons for an immediate counterattack?   The answer:  the United States couldn’t do much of anything for quite some time.  President Franklin Roosevelt had spent years pouring money into government “make-work” projects so that he could buy the votes of the public and stay in office.  He had slashed the funding for the military even more than his predecessor, President Herbert Hoover.  The U.S. Army was still training with Springfield rifles produced before World War I.  The Army Air Corps was flying slow, outmoded aircraft.  The U.S. Navy needed ships, tens of thousands of recruits to man the ships, and more experienced officers.  The U.S. didn’t even have enough planes to patrol the East Coast and hunt for German submarines lurking offshore.

In Washington, D.C., the sorry state of the military was obvious for the world to see on December 8th.  “During the 1930s, the lax atmosphere in the neglected military meant that few men wore their uniforms to work [in Washington], preferring civilian jackets and trousers.  On the day following Pearl Harbor, military officers in the nation’s capital were ordered to report in full uniform.  Journalist David Brinkley described the results as ‘a rummage sale called to war.’ Some officers were in uniform purchased years before, and two sizes too small.  Still others didn’t have the insignia for their current rank or job description. Military headgear of all types and descriptions, some dating back to World War I, appeared in Washington.” (FDR Goes to War, p, 122-23.)

More serious shortages meant disaster for our fighting men overseas on Guam and the Philippine Islands.  The soldiers there discovered that four out of five hand grenades were defective.  One platoon fired seventeen mortar shells only to find that thirteen were duds. American soldiers and Marines throughout the Pacific were soon taken captive by the Japanese.

The day after Pearl Harbor is not the type of day that we should ever experience again.  Yet today we have another president who has once again spent billions on “make work” government projects and slashed support and funding for the American military.  Our veterans haven’t received proper care in VA hospitals.  Those soldiers, Marines, and airmen on active duty often don’t have the most advanced weaponry because our government hasn’t funded research or replaced worn out  and outmoded weapons.

If we want to avoid reliving the day after Pearl Harbor, we should change the course of priorities in the U.S. government.  Military spending must become more robust and respect for the importance of a strong defense must grow.  Let’s avoid the mistakes of Franklin Roosevelt by cutting spending on ineffective social programs and instead fund a stronger U.S. military.


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Thanksgiving Peace In the Midst of Turmoil

by Burt November 25, 2014

“A historic power grab!” “A naked political move to win over Hispanics!” “Unprecedented seizure of power!” These are some of the alarmist cries that have filled the air waves after President Obama signed his executive order to legalize millions of illegal aliens. Pat Buchanan, an expert on presidential politics, called Obama’s power play the “beginning […]

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Whose Executive Order will be Worse—President Obama’s or President Roosevelt’s?

by Burt November 18, 2014

The big political talk of the last two weeks has been President Obama’s threatened executive order to grant amnesty to perhaps 4-5 million illegal aliens. The Republicans oppose this move, and cite their landslide election victories earlier this month as evidence that Americans want Congress to make laws according to the Constitution, not the president […]

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Midterm Election 2014: Have We Seen This Before?

by Burt November 6, 2014

The answer may be 1938. Seventy-six years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt, in the sixth year of his presidency, received a shellacking: 81 House seats and 8 Senate seats flipped to the Republicans. FDR’s drubbing resembles that received on Tuesday by President Obama, also in his sixth year. First, economic stagnation plagued the country during FDR’s […]

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The First Amendment

by Anita October 29, 2014

Posted by Anita Folsom​​ Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…. Thus says the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.   But Mayor Annise Parker of Houston disagrees. Earlier this month, Mayor Parker subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors to “investigate” what […]

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Who Was the Last President to Have a Great Second Term?

by Burt October 21, 2014

Calvin Coolidge (1925-1929). Since Coolidge only served part of a first term (after Harding died), his case is unusual. But Coolidge finished his second term with the lowest misery index (unemployment plus inflation) of any president in the last one hundred years. He lowered tax rates, cut federal spending, and had budget surpluses every year […]

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