Remember when Republicans still cared about climate change? Four years ago, GOP presidential candidate John McCain was proudly proclaiming that he'd cosponsored a bill to cap carbon emissions. But at this month's Republican debate in California, every presidential wannabe except Jon Huntsman denied that man-made climate change was a problem. And in another depressing sign of how far global warming has fallen off the political radar, hardly anyone on either side of the Solyndra tempest has argued that betting on the company was important for non-economic reasons. What happened here? In short, the climate change deniers won. Here's a handy chart of how they pulled it off.
On Saturday, the Obama administration unveiled the "Buffett Rule," a proposed tax on millionaires and billionaires named after celebrity investor Warren Buffett, who has long argued that the federal government should demand more of the wealthy. The millionaires tax is certain to become a major point of contention in the 2012 presidential campaign, and Republicans have wasted no time in heaping it with calumnies. Here are the six most popular conservative arguments against a progressive tax code, and why they're wrong:
It's class warfare!
Yeah right. Three decades of laissez-faire economic polices have allowed the rich to double their share of the national income while paying tax rates a fifth lower than before. The result, notes Kevin Drum, was "wage stagnation for everyone else, a massive financial collapse that ravaged the middle class, an enormous deficits that they'll be asked to pay off eventually." If the millionaires tax is the only blowback, the wealthy should count their blessings.
It's a tax on small business
"Don't forget that most small businesses file taxes as individuals," House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said on Fox News Sunday. "So when you are raising top tax rates, you are raising taxes on these job creators." Except when you aren't. ThinkProgress's Pat Garofalo points out that fewer than 2 percent of the nation's small businesses fall into either of the top two tax brackets. Plus, many of the small business filers in the upper brackets are merely investors who have nothing to do with running the business. And if small businesses don't want to pay taxes as individuals, they can file as corporations.
It reduces incentives to work and invest
Experience shows otherwise. As Nancy Folbre points out over at Economix, "average annual rates of growth in gross domestic product in the high tax era between 1950 and 1980 exceeded those of the last 30 years. Increases in the top tax rate under President Bill Clinton were followed by robust economic expansion."
The rich will leave the country
Good riddance, writes Don Peck in a recent Atlantic essay on how to save the middle class: "America remains a magnet for talent, for reasons that go beyond the tax code; and by international standards, none of the tax changes recommended here would create an excessive tax burden on high earners. If a few financiers choose to decamp for some small island-state in search of the smallest possible tax bill, we should wish them good luck."
During his decade in office, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has named Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck as "honorary Texans." He may be the first Lone Star State governor to use the award to such brazen political ends, but he's sure not the first to use it to get attention. Here's the lowdown on 10 of the most interesting honorees.
Governor: Alan Shivers (D)
Honorary Texan: General George MacArthur (1951) Lowdown: The three-star general received the honor in Austin while on a tour to promote a stronger military stance against Korea. His son was named "Honorary Junior Texas Ranger." The general later led a parade in Houston attended by 500,000 people and visited Galveston, where he was to receive a Cadillac.
Governor: John Connally (D) Honorary Texans: 100th and 442nd US Army Regiments (1962) Lowdown: Composed of Japanese-American soldiers enlisted from WW II internment camps, these regiments suffered the highest casualty rates of any Army formations. Particularly severe were the 800 deaths sustained in rescuing the "Lost Battalion"—221 Texans trapped in eastern France.
Governor: Preston Smith (D) Honorary Texan: Shirley MacLaine (1972) Lowdown: Upon receiving her award, the actress-activist said, "Next time I'm in Texas, I hope I'm awarded this by Cissy Farenthold." Farenthold was the congresswoman who'd lost the Democratic nomination to Smith that spring.
Governor: Dolph Briscoe (D) Honorary Texan: Christi Worthington (circa 1976): Lowdown: Worthington's father, a Texan jeweler who'd relocated to Iowa, wrote his mother and asked her to send a bag of dirt so that his baby would be born on Texas soil. He then successfully petitioned the governor to make his daughter an honorary Texan.
Governor: Bill Clements (R) Honorary Texan: Deng Xioping (1979) Lowdown: A decade before the Chinese leader stood behind the massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, he was made an honorary Texan, given a cowboy hat, and treated to a rodeo and barbecue. Looking back on the affair, the Houston Chronicle wrote, "Herein lies a lesson for all Americans concerning the diplomatic conventions of civility and hospitality, and the harsh realities of totalitarian dictatorships."
Governor: Ann Richards (D) Honorary Texan: Bob Hope (1992) Lowdown: Richards handed the actor his certificate of Texan citizenship and said, "This entitles you to come to the mansion and see me anytime you want, honey."
Governor: George W. Bush (R) Honorary Texan: William Hague (1999) Lowdown: "I might be persuaded to wear the boots, but I'm certainly not going to wear the hat," the leader of Great Britain's Conservative Party said upon receiving the honor. Honorary Texan:Bob Dylan (1999) Lowdown: In 2009, after mentioning his Texas citizenship in an interview with the UK's Sunday Times, Dylan had this to say about Bush's legacy: "As far as blaming everything on the last president, think of it this way: the same folks who had held him in such high regard came to despise him. Isn't it funny that they're the very same people who once loved him? People are fickle. Their loyalty can turn at the drop of a hat."
Governor: Rick Perry Honorary Texan: Russell Crowe (2001) Lowdown: The Gladiator star received the award from Perry shortly before his band played Perry's daughter's 15th birthday party. Honorary Texan: Glenn Beck (2010) Lowdown: When Perry presented the award to the Fox News host at a "Taking Back America" rally at the Oil Palace in Tyler, Beck says he asked the governor, "Is there ever going to be a time when I'm going to need to use this as a passport?"
Forget cowboy hats, wide vistas, or the mileage on the typical F-350 ranch truck. The biggest thing in Texas is the state's outsized sense of identity. Ever since the Battle of the Alamo immortalized Davy Crockett, the Lone Star State and its residents have loomed larger than life in popular mythology. Texas has its own rugged archetype in Hollywood, its own ethnic cuisines, and its own "national" beer and magazine. No state is better known as a cultural standout.
In Austin, where state identity is the manna of politics, governors have long upheld the tradition of naming worthy outsiders "honorary Texans"—a title that Crockett, a Tennessee native who died fighting for Texas, would have deserved. Foreign dignitaries, actors, and musicians have been the most popular picks, though some governors have gotten more creative. (Check out the stories behind 10 of the more unconventional picks.) Ann Richards named a breast cancer victim and a women's basketball star. George W. Bush named a Catholic nun and an insurance lobbyist. And Rick Perry named Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Sarah Palin.
On the blog of the respected Chronicle of Higher Education, Richard Vedder, a researcher at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, recently made a strikingly counterintuitive argument against expanding access to college. Using a regression analysis of 2000 census data, he found that states with higher college graduation rates had worse income inequality. He also found that the opposite was true of those states in the 1970s, when the nation's college graduation rate was much lower on average but wages were more equal.
What's going on here? "I suspect the law of diminishing returns is at work," Vedder writes. "When college attendance/graduation is relatively rare, expanding it does bring in a number of able students who graduate and become productive members of the labor force." But when the number of graduates outstrips the number of available high-paying jobs, "the incremental graduates do not fare as well economically."
Vedder is no doubt onto something here. His findings illustrate why we can't save the American middle class by investing in education alone; we'll also have to figure out how to revive unions, fix tax and trade policy, and make the kinds of investments in technology and infrastructure that put Americans back to work.
That said, Vedder's findings are no cause to give up on publicly funded higher education. The five states with the highest college graduation rates all rank above average for median income. So college graduates aren't doing worse than non-graduates per se. In economically stratified (and highly educated) places like New York, Connecticut, and Silicon Valley, income inequality is to a large degree a gap between the affluent and the spectacularly affluent.
More important, Vedder fails to account for how inequality is widening between colleges themselves. Between 1999 and 2009, private research universities increased their per-student spending by about $7,500, to almost $36,000. Meanwhile, spending on the average public community college student stayed nearly flat, at slightly more than $10,000 per student. It should come as no surprise then that graduates of prestige schools continue to outpace other collegians.
As a conservative, Vedder wants to see schools tighten their academic standards and teach people the kinds of skills that they need to get jobs. Those are fine ideas. But we also need to stop eviscerating the budgets of public universities and colleges even as they expand enrollment. You don't have to be a Harvard grad to understand that you get what you pay for.