Metal Yarmulke
Thursday, September 18, 2003

I don't know why I bother...but I do.

(Revised a bit for the Web.)

To the Editor of the Boston Globe:

In Ellen Goodman's rather clueless column about the idiotic "latte tax" of Seattle, there is, unsurprisingly, the obligatory reference to "slash[ing] taxes for the rich."

Who are these "rich," whom Globe writers and their fellow ideologues love to hate? The word's use seems intended to conjure up images from the Monopoly gameboard or "The Great Gatsby." But, more and more, Americans who have too much money for Goodman's comfort are entrepreneurs who — in the face of 4-1 odds against, not least because of heavy taxation and a straitjacket of regulations — invest nearly all their time, money, credit, and sweat to succeed. What's more, these horrible "rich" people provide an ever-increasing number of jobs for their fellow citizens.

Remember the Globe story not too long ago about how the Northeast and California are losing population to states in the Sun Belt and the Rocky Mountains? It's in big part because when a state makes it harder for people to succeed in business — not just the ever-vilified Big Business but also, say, a group of four women who buy clothing in wholesale lots and list it piece by piece on eBay — those people leave, taking jobs with them.

As far as the "latte tax" itself goes, there may be plenty of coffee drinkers in Seattle willing to pony up for what they consider a good cause. But the net effect will be to hurt sales at coffee shops (many patrons object more to the principle of the thing than to the dime itself), and that may also affect neighboring businesses. That will translate into a hit to Seattle's tax base, and will probably cost a few "baristas" (English translation: counter clerks) their jobs as well.

Besides, the correlation between income and coffee preference isn't absolute. For example, a recent college graduate making $25,000 a year and whose parents never taught her how to get the most for her money may think nothing of paying $3.50 a day for a cuppa joe. More importantly, though — lament it though our intellectuals will as what they consider just another display of American ignorance and "overconsumption" — people gravitate toward products and brands that they feel fit in with their own personal style. A bohemian type living in a house with seven other people might wish never to be caught dead in a downmarket cafeteria where the only choices are regular or decaf. Meanwhile, a successful building contractor may get his caffeine fix at the local donut shop because it matches his Joe Average persona: no "foo-foo" coffee for him.

Getting back to economics in general, Goodman writes, "The repeal of the estate tax is due to take $162 billion out of public coffers and hand it over to private and rich heirs." Uh, no. That money was never in "public coffers," which in any case is just a euphemism for my money, your money, and everyone else's money. That $162 billion has never left the savings of individual men and women, the majority of whom worked hard all their lives and wanted to leave their children and grandchildren the means for a home or college tuition after their deaths. And it's already been taxed at least once, during its original earning. You don't have to be rich (I'm currently unemployed) to find the estate tax as distasteful as you'd find a corrupt mortician who picks gold dental fillings off the floor of the crematorium and pockets them.

Goodman and others on the left can drone on all they want about "compassion" and "social justice." They can continue to roll their eyes as if on cue at the word "socialism" when economic conservatives warn that redistribution of income never works quite as advertised. And, like the Globe's Robert Kuttner, in his online debate with Johan Norberg of the Cato Institute, they can resort to argument ad hominem when disputed on specific facts. But it would be nice if they were to abandon demagoguery for empirical observation and learn how their ideas actually play out in the real world.


In a postscript specified "not for publication" (not that I'm worried), I suggested that the Globe expand their "Ideas" section (Sunday section encompassing opinion pieces, letters to the editor, and book reviews) beyond liberal ideas, and I provided links to people like Virginia Postrel, Victor Davis Hanson, Charles Johnson, Brink Lindsey, and Cox & Forkum.

But, not kidding myself that they'd even click on the links, let alone read the content and consider it for an opinion piece, I couldn't resist adding, "I highly suggest removing yourselves occasionally from the echo chamber of the Globe, Harvard, and the Democratic Party, and listening to some intelligent opinions that differ from your own. Preferably without hacking them into sound bites that make them look bad." Terrible me. :-P
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