Fast Food Premium

There’s been a lot of discussion of UBI—Universal Basic Income—over the last few years, especially with the presidential primary run of Andrew Yang.  The concept is seductive in its simplicity:  gut the welfare state and its behemoth apparatus of bureaucratic pencil pushers and middlemen, and just cut every adult citizen a monthly check.

For fiscal conservatives, it’s a particularly toothsome Devil’s Bargain:  streamline an inefficient and wasteful bureaucracy and simply direct deposit a grand every month into Americans’ checking accounts.  Of course, it’s a siren song:  we’d just get the payments and still suffer with an entrenched bureaucracy, claiming $1000 a month isn’t enough to meet the specialized needs of whatever community they pretend to support.

Even if the deal were struck and every redundant welfare program were eliminated, there UBI would still be a bad idea.  Besides the absurdity of merely paying people to exist, it’s inherently inflationary:  if you give everyone $1000 a month, prices are going to go up.  Just as college tuition has soared because universities realized they could jack up the price and federal loans would expand to cover the costs, UBI would cause a similar rise in prices.  Sure, it’d be great at first, but the inflationary effects would kick in quickly.

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TBT: The Human Toll of Globalization

One of the more interesting developments in conservatism since Trump’s rise in 2015-2016 has been a reevaluation of our basic economic policy.  Much of the ideas debated originated, in our modern political era, with Pat Buchanan.  For decades, the assumption among conservatism was that economic efficiency was the highest good, as it lowered costs and eliminated or reduced government overreach.

That was a reasonable set of assumptions when our nation shared a common culture, and when the United States dominated global markets hegemonically.  But the goal of reducing the size of government morphed pathologically into the mad worship of Efficiency above all else.  We sold out social capital—stable families, cohesive communities, robust civil society—for quick cash.

That’s the gist of Z-Man’s post today, “Middle-Man Conservatism.”  Tucker Carlson has similarly touched upon the woeful consequences of worshiping Efficiency-for-its-own-sake.  Sure, Americans possess a pioneering spirit—we’ll move to the oil fields in North Dakota if we have to do so—but we’re still motivated by the same things other humans are:  family, community, belonging.  Gutting our communities to save fifty bucks on a washing machine is a ludicrous trade-off.

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The State of the Right

A major topic of discussion among conservative and/or non-Left thinkers, bloggers, and political theorists is what exactly makes one a “conservative” (or, perhaps more accurately, what combination of values and axiomatic beliefs constitute “conservatism”).  For the philosophically-minded, it’s an intriguing and edifying activity that forces one to examine one’s convictions, and the sources thereof.

I’ve written extensively about the Left and what motivates it.  To summarize broadly:  the modern progressive Left is motivated, at bottom, by a lust for power (the more cynical of Leftists) and a zealous nihilism.  These motivations take on a Puritan cultural totalitarianism that cannot tolerate even the mildest of dissent.  Witness the many examples of how Leftists across time and nations have devoured their own.

That said, I haven’t written too much lately about what it means to be a conservative.  One reason, I’m sure, is that it’s always more difficult to engage in the oft-painful exercise of self-reflection.  Another is that the lines of conservative thought have been shifting dramatically ever since Trump’s ascendancy in 2015-2016, and the cementing of his control over the Republican Party—the ostensible vehicle for conservative ideology—since then.

As such, in the kind of serendipitous moment that is quite common in blogging, today’s post shares two pieces on the lay of the conservative landscape, and the various factions within the broader conservative movement (and, politically, the Republican Party).

One is, by the standards of the Internet, an old essay by Gavin McInnes, “An Idiot’s Guide to the Right.”  Written in 2014, one month before Republicans would win control of the US Senate, McInnes’s breakdown of the Right is still fairly prescient, although it’s always interesting reading discussions of the conservative movement pre-Trump (McInnes, like many conservatives, hoped and believed that Ted Cruz was the last, best hope of the movement; that was certainly my view well into 2016).

The other is a post from Tax Day, “What’s Right,” by an upcoming blogger, my e-friend photog of Orion’s Cold Fire.  He gives a detailed breakdown of the shifting coalition of the Right at present, and his own “red-pilling” is very similar to my own (indeed, photog and I both fall somewhat on the fringes of the “civic nationlist” camp, with toes cautiously dipped into the parts of the “Dissident Right,” a term itself coined by‘s John Derbyshire).

Traditionally (since the end of the Second World War, that is), the old Republican coalition was a three-legged stool, bringing together economic/fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and national security conservatives.  In the wake of the Cold War, the first two legs ceded more ground to the national security conservatives, some whom consisted of the much maligned “neoconservatives,” themselves reformed progressives who had been “mugged by reality.”

The neocons would enjoy their ascendancy during the George W. Bush administration, and they tend to be the major proponents of the dying Never Trump movement.  Their vehement hatred of Trump (see also: Bill Kristol, Senator Mitt Romney, and George Will) has largely discredited them, and they’ve shown that their true loyalty is to frosty globalism, not the United States.  They also pine for a mythical form of “decorum” in politics that never truly existed outside of the immediate postwar decades.

photog characterizes this group as essentially less strident Leftists, a group that “doesn’t shrink or grow.”  They were the “we need decorum” crowd that went big for the Never Trumpers, but who have largely made an unsteady cease-fire with the president—for now.  Bill Kristol and Max Boot, the extreme of this group, have essentially become full-fledged Leftists (making Kristol’s latest project, The Bulwark—to protect “conservatism,” ostensibly—all the more laughable).

These are the people that don’t want to vote for Trump, but might anyway, because he’s “morally reprehensible,” which is just their way of saying they think he’s icky and boorish.  These are the upper-middle class white women of the Republican Party, the ones I constantly implore to get over their neo-Victorian sensibilities and stop destroying the Republic from their fainting couches.

The biggest group, per photog, are the Conservative Civic Nationalists.  These are the people that love God and country, and like Trump because he represents the best hope to defend those very things.  McInnes, less perceptively, just calls this groups “Republicans,” although his “Libertarians” might fall into this group, too.  To quote photog at length:

The next big class of people are the Conservative Civic Nationalists.  This is the bulk of the Non-Left.  These are the normal people who have always believed in God and Country and that America was the land of freedom, opportunity and fairness.  They believed that all Americans were lucky to be living in the greatest country on God’s green earth.  They believed that the rule of law under the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights is what made this the closest thing to heaven on earth and anyone living here should be supremely grateful to the Founding Fathers for inventing it and his own ancestors for coming here.  This is the group that has had the biggest change occur in the last couple of years.  But to define the change let’s break this group into two sub-divisions.  Let’s call them Sleepwalkers and the Red-Pilled.  Back in the early 2000s all the Civic Nationalists (including myself) were Sleepwalkers.

The “Red-Pilled” and “Sleepwalkers” dichotomy is one of the most interesting interpretations I’ve read about the Right lately, and it’s certainly true.  Trump awoke a large group of these Civic Nationalists, people that were disgruntled with the government overreach of the Obama era, but weren’t certain about the way forward.

Like myself, photog is cautiously optimistic that these folks will continue to wake up, bringing along non-political Centrists—the squishy, non-ideological middle—to bolster Trump’s reelection in 2020.  The Left’s relentless push for socialism and transgender bathrooms have done much to red-pill these folks, who find themselves struggling to articulate values that they just implicitly know are good, but which the Left insists on destroying.

There’s still much to be said about the current state of the Right, and I will be delving into it in more depth as the weeks progress.  For now, read these two essays—particularly photog’s—and begin digesting their ideas.  American politics are undergoing a major realignment, and we need people of good faith and values to stand for our nation.  Understanding the state of play is an important part of arming ourselves for the struggle.

End the Income Tax

Today is tax day.  Despite President Trump’s signature tax reform, I ended up owing money to the feds for the first time in my adult life (although I’ll be getting a bit back from the State of South Carolina).

The income tax used to be unconstitutional in our Republic.  Indeed, the primary way that federal government gained revenue was from tariffs on imported goods and excise taxes on certain products, like whiskey.  Alexander Hamilton advocated for high protective tariffs to protect young domestic industries from British manufacturers, who were “dumping” cheap British goods into the infant nation (a practice China has taken up today).  Only during times of war, such as the American Civil War, did Americans have to endure a tax on incomes.

Like most odious, liberty-killing measures, the income tax was a Progressive Era project, ratified in the 16th Amendment (followed shortly thereafter by the 17th Amendment, which made US Senators directed elected, and the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcohol).  Progressive reformers assured Americans that only a very small proportion of Americans would ever pay the income tax, which was graduated from the beginning.

That claim was true… for the first year.  Immediately, Congress began ratcheting up tax rates and requiring more Americans to pay it.  Governments are hard-pressed not to exploit a newfangled method of raising revenue.

The income tax is not all bad:  it’s a more stable source of revenue that tariffs, which depend upon foreign imports.  No imports, no taxation.  Advocates for the graduated income tax, like Tennessee Congressman and future Secretary of State Cordell Hull, argued that, in the event of a major war in Europe (which broke out a year after the 16th Amendment was ratified), international trade would fall, bringing collected duties down with it.  That was a prescient observation, and a strong argument in favor of some kind of domestic tax.

That said, the income tax is incredibly invasive.  Every year, I lament that the federal government has to collect so much information about me:  where I worked during the fiscal year, how I saved my money, etc.

According to Scott Rasmussen, 52% of Americans favor repealing the 16th Amendment.  Count me among them.  The income tax gives the government far too much influence over our lives, and the federal tax code is so byzantine and full of carve-outs and exemptions, it’s become the purview of the well-connected.  It’s become a corporatist monstrosity.

What would replace the income tax?  Given that it’s likely never to be repealed—governments don’t typically diminish their power (or access to other people’s money)—the question is largely academic.  Still, it’s worth considering.

While I think tariffs can serve a useful purpose (see also: bringing China to heel), and that there’s an argument for some mild protectionism, high protective tariffs like Republicans championed after the Civil War would be ruinous to trade.  The deadweight loss (destroyed economic activity) associated with tariffs—especially from the inevitable retaliatory tariffs other nations would pass in response—would do more harm than good, and could result in a Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 situation (i.e., the Great Depression).

The only realistic alternative that I see currently (from my admittedly myopic position) is a national sales tax.  There are some serious drawbacks to this approach, to be sure, but it would be the cleanest, most efficient way to generate revenue.

A national sales tax would encourage saving and work, both of which are currently disincentivized under our current tax regime.  Instead, purchases would be disincentivized, which would hurt sales, but encourage people to hold onto more of their money.  Further, it would not require the government to keep elaborate tabs on every worker; the Internal Revenue Service could be greatly reduced, or even eliminated.

Of course, any tax is a necessary evil, and a national sales tax would make it more difficult for high sales tax States to raise revenue (as it would limit those States’ ability to increase their taxes if necessary).  It would also slow purchasing, and necessarily raise prices (by definition, especially if you’re tacking 15-25% on top of a good).  There’s also the question of whether a sales tax should just apply to consumer goods, or if it should be an uber-expensive value-added tax, with each economic transaction along the chain of production getting taxed.

Those are sticky questions for wonkier types than I to sort out.  But wouldn’t it be nice to build an economy on the production of real value—of stuff—rather than one built on ever-expanding sales, purchasing on credit, and debt financing?

Regardless, the federal income tax is a major imposition, an invasive intruder that enters our lives every April, borrowing from us (without interest!) throughout the year, and intimidating us with the looming threat of disruptive audits.  It seems everyone would be happier—even, in a way, the feds!—if it were eliminated.