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Letters to the Editor
Responses to Aricles in the Election Issue
November 2004

RE: JUSTICE AT THE BOTTOM LINE

Tuesday, 9 November

Dear Editor:
     Sadly, Mr. Berry has chosen to overlook some glaring problems with the so-called FairTax. Firstly, he uses some wildly optimistic numbers. The Brookings Institute estimated in 1998 that a national sales tax would actually have to be 68 percent to cover all current government expenditures, while the conservative National Review put the percentage at 57.
     Also, consider some pragmatics. In a theoretical free market, reducing corporate taxes should result in lower prices, but in our corporate-crony-run market, reducing corporate taxes will result in bigger pay packages for the top executives. Finally, it is wildly unfair to the middle class. Mr. Berry admits that the tax is regressive. Small rebate checks (estimated at $5000 a year) do nothing to combat the regressive nature on a grand scale, which means that the rich will pay for a substantially smaller portion of the tax burden than they do now. Since the poor get a full rebate, this means that the full weight of the tax code will be set squarely on the shoulders of the middle class.

Robert Millie

The author, a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College, is Treasurer of the Yale Political Union.

Jonathan Berry responds:

Wednesday, 10 November

          The Cato Institute estimated in 1997 that a 17.6 percent tax rate would in fact cover all expenditures, while Americans for Fair Taxation claim that 30 percent would do the trick. Regardless of this factual dispute, the rate does not matter—the revenueneutral FairTax collects the same amount as the income tax, just levied differently. As it is, the middle class already shoulders the income tax burden. The poor do not pay taxes, and the rich can afford to cut corners with high-powered tax lawyers and accountants. The inimitable Teresa Heinz Kerry, for example, paid a tax rate of 12.4 percent on her $5 million income last year, while the top 50 percent of taxpayers, whose contributions comprise 96.1 percent of tax revenue, paid 15.9 percent of their incomes.
          By leveling the playing field for all citizens, the national sales tax would shut down even the best tax shelters money can buy.

Robert Millie:

Thursday, 11 November

          Government expenses and the national debt have risen more than a little since 1997. To compensate for these increases, the national sales tax would have to be higher than Mr. Berry’s sources predict. Moreover, a high sales tax threatens to disrupt the economy completely. A dramatic change in the cost of goods, whether sudden or phased in gradually, would be disastrous.
          The middle class does pay a lot in taxes, but they would pay even more under the FairTax system—the poor would continue not to pay and the rich would get off easier. By saving money and investing it, the rich can leave large sums of money untaxed. Even if some of the income from these investments is later taxed when it is spent, theoretically, millions or even billions of dollars can go untaxed. Thus, the very rich would achieve an actual rate of taxation much below the sales tax rate. That leaves us with an increase in the only place left to increase taxes – the middle class.

RE:SEEING THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

Thursday, 11 November

Dear Editor:
          I was somewhat heartened to read Mr. Tung’s article about the United States’ comparative success in curbing environmental pollution. Unfortunately, accusing the environmental lobby of hypocrisy and pointing a finger at China will not solve the very real environmental problems we still face.
          If China has problems now, just wait until the average Chinese man or woman starts consuming as much as the average American. If car ownership per person there paralleled that in the U.S., there would be more drivers in China than there are in the world today.
          Worldwide, the United States ranks second (behind an unpredictable Canada) in energy use per capita. The U.S. is also the single largest emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. As if that is not enough, the new “it” car is the Humvee, whose EPA-exempt fuel economy stats compare favorably with only the Abrams M-1 Tank.
          As any new homeowner can attest, property rights come part in parcel with property responsibilities. People do not own just cars and houses; they also own the emissions and garbage produced by these possessions. We are a nation of extraordinary wealth, and with rights of ownership come obligations.
          Until we succeed in meeting those obligations as effectively as we have protected our property rights, we should keep those fingers pointed squarely at ourselves.

Cerin Lindgrensavage

The author, a junior in Calhoun College, is Ambassador Plenipoteniary of the Progressive Party.

Eric Tung responds:

Friday, 12 November

          I agree that we have obligations to care for our environment. I just think the best way is through a strengthened system of property rights, which China lacks, and not through governmental regulation or concessions to highly politicized environmental groups. I support encouraging responsibility, but government regulations often have unintended consequences. In the summer of 1995, utility companies in Chicago were forced to raise prices because of federal caps on emissions. As a result, 700 apartment residents died from dehydration or heat strokes because they could not afford to turn on their air conditioners. This is one of many examples of political miscalculation.
          As many studies have shown, the United States’ status as the most environmentally aware nation in the world is a direct function of our wealth. Companies can invest in waste-recycling technology, and demand for clean land and air grows as citizens have more time and money to worry about these things. Whereas China ranks close to bottom in the Environmental Sustainability Index, a measure of overall progress towards sustainability, the U.S. is one of the leading countries. This is a result of greater wealth and less government intervention.

Cerin Lindgrensavage:

Sunday, 14 November

Suggesting that government intervention is unnecessary to protect the environment is akin to suggesting that companies would correctly report earnings and deliver taxes without SEC and IRS enforcement; it would be nice if it could happen, but we are not living in Candyland. “The most environmentally aware nation in the world” is also fifth in waste generation per capita, fifth in CO2 emissions per capita, and a low fortysecond in carbon efficiency. If corporations and individuals were so good at regulating themselves and acting to conserve a vital public good—the environment—the choices of manufacturers and consumers would reflect this. They do not. Car buyers certainly are not among the environmentally aware elite. The average fuel economy for cars arriving in junkyards through the 1990s was more environmentally friendly than was that of the average car purchase. Environmental awareness involves more than a Greenpeace membership and a “Save the Whales” bumper sticker. As consumers, we must make conscious and informed choices when we buy. Without government regulation, those choices, along with our environmental resources, can and will be taken from us.

RE: WHERE HAVE ALL THE STATESMEN GONE?

Thursday, 11 November

Dear Editor:
          I have some bones that require picking with Mr. Olson’s article. First, I disagree with his assertion that differences between Bush and Kerry were negligible. I recall a Ralph Nader flier from 2000 depicting Democans and Republicrats and asking, “Do Gush and Bore make you want to Ralph?” During that campaign, one could argue that the differences between candidates were hard to distinguish, but Bush had not yet had the opportunity to demonstrate how radically right-wing, hawkish, and ultimately selfish his domestic and foreign policies would be. In 2004, the Democrats and Republicans have shown real differences; this is why liberals were far less willing to entertain the candidacy of Nader in this election.
          Mr. Olson argues that Kerry, like most contemporary politicians, is not compelling, distinctive, or otherwise destined for Classic status because he is a career politician. Yet the only reason our Framers did not envision career politicians was that they had no idea this democracy mumbo-jumbo would fly. Who could have predicted that the U.S. government would even qualify as a hobby, let alone a career? If our ancestors knew how big of a deal it would become, they certainly would have recommended that the people running it devote more of their lives to leadership than to, say, whaling.
          Besides the lovable James K. Polk (Napoleon of the Stump and possessor of a superfluous initial), how many politicians can we admire for their well-roundedness? Did George W. Bush’s slew of failed business ventures help prepare him for failure in Iraq? Did Ronald Reagan’s acting career make him better at hiding his dementia and convincing himself that the missile defense shield existed? Did Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stint as a body builder do anything but make him slightly more reminiscent of challah?
          The decision to enter politics should be planned and purposeful, not an accident or an afterthought.

Shari Wiseman

The author, a junior in Calhoun College, is Chairman of the Progressive Party.

Andrew Olson responds:

Friday, 12 November

          On issues that the exit polls showed most important in this election, Bush and Kerry’s positions seem strikingly similar. Both vowed to fight for American interests anywhere in the world. Kerry’s stated “plan” for Iraq consisted primarily of training Iraqi forces to take care of themselves, and brilliant as this may sound, Bush began doing this months ago. On moral issues, both candidates support civil unions for same-sex couples, and Kerry worked hard to show himself to be as religious as the president.
          In writing the Constitution, the Framers sought an appropriate mechanism by which to implement democracy, because experience had proved the decentralized government of the Articles of Confederation ineffective. They never questioned whether this “democracy mumbo-jumbo” would work—they knew it would. Well-versed in history, the Framers knew the success of Greek democracy. They also did not expect people to enter politics lightly, but hoped that proven leaders in other fields would rise to the challenge of governance.
          Finally, that the vast majority of our politicians fail to qualify as good statesmen does not indicate a poor definition of statesmanship, but rather poor politicians.

Shari Wiseman:

Saturday, 13 November

          I am still not convinced that experience in politics makes one less prepared to govern effectively than does experience in some other field. As for Bush and Kerry, I agree that on paper their similarities may have been just as striking as their differences, and that, frankly, Kerry was not the inspiring figure that the Democrats needed to win.
          That said, their campaigns made very different appeals: Bush to fear and steadfastness, Kerry to—if not exactly optimism—a desire for reform, at the least. Votes must have perceived these messages as distinct, since Bush was, regrettably, reelected by a palpable margin.


 
 

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