When they enter voting booths tomorrow, some Atlanta-area residents will see this question on their ballots:
This is why you study for tests. Good lucky, everybody.
The disconnect between the principles and practices of the new wave of ostensibly fiscally conservative politicians may not be a unique feature of those serving on the federal level. As I previously noted, U.S. House Republicans, behind the fiscal leadership of Rep. Paul Ryan, may be a bit mixed up when it comes to the privatization of healthcare benefits. The situation at the state level, where Michigan legislators, with the strong support of Governor Rick Snyder, have eliminated state income tax credits for charitable donations, is a bit more conceptually nuanced.
Earlier this month, the Flint Journal reported on the policy change:
As part of a massive tax reform bill signed into law last month, all state income tax credits for charitable donations were eliminated to help close Michigan’s $1.5 billion budget deficit.
The tax measure is expected to save the state $35 million or more a year. . . .
In 2009, the $35 million the state gave back for tax credits leveraged nearly $100 million in charitable giving to nonprofits.
Kristin Longley, “Michigan income tax credits for donating to charities end next year,” Flint Journal (June 13, 2011). In eliminating the tax credit, Snyder “relied on research that showed charitable giving doesn’t necessarily hinge on a tax credit, but rather a personal cause or inclination toward generosity.” Id.
As best I can tell, economists of all stripes probably would agree that, as a general policy matter, eliminating tax credits is good because a broader tax base taxed at a lower rate is preferable and less distorionary, and because “tax credits,” more properly termed “tax expenditures,” are a less transparent form of government spending. (For more on these ideas, see my earlier comment here.)
By eliminating tax credits, Snyder is trimming government spending, an unobjectionable outcome for fiscal conservatives. Charitable donations may present a special case, however, for the fiscally conservative view that government should tax less so that it spends less in order to stay out of the way of the private sector, which, the view holds, can provide services more effectively and efficiently. A perhaps less frequently enunciated, but necessary tenet of this view is that citizens freeing themselves from the burden of compulsory wealth redistribution (i.e., taxes to fund social services) must personally shoulder the burden of private charity. To do otherwise (just as to privatize services even where privatization will lead to less effective and more inefficient provision of those services) is simple greed, and greed is not the basis of fiscal conservatism or any other viable political theory.
Does elimination of the charitable donation tax credit do more to benefit the provision of private charity by allowing taxpayers to hold more money for that purpose, rather than filter it through the governing apparatus, or does maintaining the credit do more to benefit the provision of private charity by (imperfectly) removing money from the public taxing-and-spending cycle funds that no longer need to be used for publicly provided services? (At the very least, there is an empirical tax question here that is beyond my grasp: does the state net more money by eliminating the tax credit that it can turn around and spend on public services, do taxpayers end up with more in their pockets for private charity under the broad-base/low-rate tax structure, or is the best result an appropriately valued tax credit combined with a decrease in public spending on services?)
In debating the elimination of the credit, the two sides seem to be talking slightly past each other. The Governor’s view, in part, is that elimination of the credit is acceptable because the credit “doesn’t necessarily” provide a real incentive for giving– people decide to give based on other reasons. Proponents of the credit, though speaking with multiple voices, seem to see the credit as part incentive (to do good), part reward (for having done good), and part compromise (by freeing more assets for private use without evaporating resources for public services). In other words, the credit is more than an incentive, and saying that it may not function as one is not a complete justification for its elimination.
State-level politicians may simply be choosing among competing fiscally conservative values in this case, rather than being (apparently) ignorant of them, as in the federal-level situation I previously described. I do find merit in the broad push to eliminate tax expenditures, but I think it is worth asking whether charity presents a special case worthy of exceptional treatment.
Phish – “Backwards Down the Number Line,” Joy (2009)
Not to be confused with the movie of the same title, Life is the 2010 autobiography of guitarist and Rolling Stones co-founder Keith Richards. Finally catching up my reviews to some reasonable proximity to the subject book’s publication date, cf. here and here, I started reading Life about five weeks ago as an enjoyable distraction from the legal matters that had been commanding my time. How surprised was I, then, to read the opening lines of Richards’ book: “Chapter One/ In which I am pulled over by police officers in Arkansas during our 1975 US tour and a standoff ensues.” Keith Richards, Life 3 (Little, Brown and Company 2010). Rock star hijinks and clashes with authority I expected; starting off with a primer on Fourth Amendment search and seizure law I did not. The beneficiary of some small-town politics, Richards escaped that particular encounter with the authorities and returned his readers to tales of his early days in England. A friend (and real writer) reviewed Life for JH Weekly. Just as Richards, in the book, often had his friends interject where they might happen to recall an event with more clarity than he or their voice otherwise would be a welcome contribution, I here will defer to a professional and offer my own reaction afterwards.
After a nuclear holocaust, nothing will be left alive except cockroaches and Keith Richards. In his wildly popular autobiography, Richards seems moved to demonstrate his own amazement at the length of his mortal sojourn, and he offers testimony in defense (the man’s spent much time in litigation) of his remarkable resilience. There’s a romance in his recounting of “fate-cheating close shaves” and the years when “we were just trying to stay alive and stay one step ahead of the law.”
Life confirms, amends and elaborates upon nearly 50 years of Keef mythology with stories of being manhandled by maniacal fans; of the ending of an era at Altamont; of bedding Brian Jones’s lady (and Mick’s lady); of the familial rivalry between he and Mick and of his repeated cold-turkeys and returns to smack. (He does admit to being an addict.) The narrative proves entertaining and, at turns, gut-wrenching and heart-breaking, comical and juvenile, sagacious and glad. Pleasantly biased, Richards’s voice resonates on the page, both engaging and disarming his reader with his tremendous self-awareness, his active relationship with his public image and his own intense sense of confidence. He’s honest, but there’s a pathos involved in the telling: “I was never really interested very much in my look, so to speak, although I might be a liar here.”
The book is enriched by Richards’s inclusion of excerpts of his journal from the early days of the Rolling Stones, as well as interviews of friends, collaborators and family, sharpening the points and defining the lines of the narrative. There’s a tragic beauty and Dickensian quality to his son Marlon’s recollections of time spent in Long Island. Saxophonist Bobby Keys adds delicious flavor. And I took great pleasure in Richards’s recounting the days of his boyhood in Dartford in the 40s: remembering his parents riding their tandem bicycle, taking walks with his grandfather Gus and playing his first guitar.
Amidst the book’s picaresque tone, plunderers will find it’s true bounty: Richards’s relationship with music and music-makers. There’s an education to be had as he guides readers through his musical development. He displays his ardor for Chicago Blues, Tin Pan Alley, Howlin’ Wolf and so many others (including Jackson Browne). He chronicles his technique development and his collaborations, remarking that “nothing came from itself” and in the biz “mostly there are no secrets.” Richards recounts the birth of albums and songs, from inspiration and writing, to tinkering and rehearsing, to recording and producing, to touring and performing. Rolling Stones fans will surely celebrate this intimate look at songs that have already won their hearts. – Julia Hysell
“Book Reviews,” JH Weekly (Jan. 5, 2011).
The whole entourage had exploded in terms of numbers, of roadies and technicians, and of hangers-on and groupies. For the first time, we traveled in our own hired plane, with the lapping tongue painted on. We had become a pirate nation, moving on a huge scale under our own flag, with lawyers, clowns, attendants.
Richards, supra, at 326 (discussing the beginning of the 1972 tour). Upon starting Life, I expected I would be impatient to get into “the action,” but I found myself enjoying Richards’ thorough recollections of his childhood in 1940s England and his caring telling of his family history. Perhaps unsurprising to those familiar with his later lifestyle, these early days comprise some of Richards’ most vivid stories here.
One of the main things I was looking for was Richards’ memories of Gram Parsons, the influential American musician known as “the father of country rock.” Although Parsons died just before his twenty-seventh birthday (when Richards was only twenty-nine), the two became close friends while Parsons was alive. Outside of Bobby Keys and the mothers of Richards’ children, Anita Pallenberg and Patti Hansen, Parsons may be the most mentioned non-Stone in Richards’ tale. The two met in the summer of 1968, and four years later, Parsons’ country rock influence would surface in the Stones’ greatest work, Exile on Main St. Of their first meeting, Richards writes:
When I fell in with Gram Parsons in the summer of 1968, I struck a seam of music that I’m still developing, which widened the range of everything I was playing and writing. It also began an instant friendship that already seemed ancient the first time we sat down and talked. It was like a reunion with a long-lost brother for me, I suppose, never having had one. Gram was very, very special and I still miss him.
Id. at 247. The two shared a passion for music and, unfortunately for Parsons, a deep appreciation of heroin. It was Keys who told Richards of Parsons’ sudden and untimely death.
Much of Life is spent relating stories about Richards and his friends, like Keys, Parsons, and myriad others. The book is not heavy on music per se, although there is a detailed guitar lecture about one-third of the way in, and the reader won’t depart without knowing Richards’ musical influences and idols, mostly black American blues musicians he mentions often. Graciously, Richards relates details of actual, identified album recording sessions (unlike Bob Dylan’s foggy Chronicles, Volume I) and even opens windows into the writing of various songs. He appropriately spends much time on the recording of Exile on Main St., while the Stones were tax exiles in France, and the reader can compare the dynamics of the Jagger/Richards songwriting duo starting from their first tune, written while the band’s first manager had locked them in a kitchen.
For a life spent getting by with his friends– and now related in such a fashion– the reader learns little about the other band members. Richards’ fellow Stones are surprisingly one-dimensional and scarce throughout the book. Brian Jones gets the most attention in the early going, and the reader learns about Ian Stewart’s pivotal early role (Richards credits the slightly older piano player with founding the band) and ongoing participation with the group, but the elusive Charlie Watts is, save for a couple brief episodes, disappointingly elusive in these pages, and Mick Taylor (Jones’ replacement) and Bill Wyman barely cast pale shadows on the scene.
Even Mick Jagger receives bare lip service; while peppering conservative praise through his periodic references to Jagger, Richards otherwise consistently presents his “soul brother” / “Glimmer Twin” in a negative light, and one suspects wounds remain too fresh today for him to write openly even about their younger days together. (Interestingly, it was another man named Bill Wyman who would attempt to lend flesh to the bare bones provided Jagger’s presence Richards’ Life with a fictional imagination of Jagger’s private reaction to the book.)
Overcoming the legalistic hurdle on page one, I enjoyed Life and found it a fun look into an often-imagined world. While I would have liked more on the early days of Keith and Mick, the persona of Charlie Watts, and the emergent collaborations portrayed in 1968’s The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (featuring Taj Mahal, The Who, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithful, and The Dirty Mac), I learned more about Ian Stewart, Brian Jones, the X-Pensive Winos (the guitarist’s well-stocked solo band), and Richards’ time in Jamaica. For me, it was the right book at the right time; it was well-paced and made me want to listen to music.
The Flying Burrito Brothers – “Wild Horses,” Burrito Deluxe (1970)[audio http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1778958/22%20Wild%20Horses.mp3]
Keith Richards – “Connection,” Live at the Hollywood Palladium (1988)
The Rolling Stones – “Happy,” Exile on Main St. (1972)
Toots & the Maytals (feat. Keith Richards) – “Careless Ethiopians,” True Love (2004)
The Rolling Stones – “Salt of the Earth,” The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968)
We aren’t anywhere near that cruel date in that cruel month, April 15, but taxes, like death, always are on my mind. In jest, I sometimes tell friends, excited upon receipt of their tax refund, that the money was theirs all along and they shouldn’t be so worked up about this supposedly bonus money. But is all that money the government extracts from us in the form of taxes really ours? At least one person vastly more informed on the topic than I am says it isn’t. To paraphrase,
…The above numbers were chosen to illustrate a point about a human’s “responsibility” for his ultimate earnings. Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize winning economist, estimated that at least ninety percent of a typical individual’s earnings in a wealthy country like the United States is solely attributable to the accident of being born in the wealthy country. In other words, less than ten percent of a typical individual’s earnings is attributable to all other causes combined, including his innate abilities, his education, his social network, the advantages he receives from being a member of a loving household, or luck.
The foregoing observations make a lie of the view that taxation essentially is legalized theft because what you earn is really in the first instance your money. It is not. Over ninety percent of it would never come into existence in the first place but for the fact that you live in a country shaped and protected by the federal government. This is the most basic justification for taxation. The taxes you pay, whether you like to pay them or not, do in fact buy you something immensely valuable: they buy your way out of the alternative, which at the far extreme is the state of nature. So long as you get more in value than what you pay– and you do– you really have no grounds for complaint….
I have a lot more work to do in this area before I can offer informed thoughts of my own. Until then, my favorite quotation on the subject will remain the 1913 statement of Senator Elihu Root during discussion about the Sixteenth Amendment:
I guess you will have to go to jail. If that is the result of not understanding the Income Tax Law I shall meet you there. We shall have a merry, merry time, for all of our friends will be there. It will be an intellectual center, for no one understands the Income Tax Law except persons who have not sufficient intelligence to understand the questions that arise under it.
Harold Dubroff, The United States Tax Court: An Historical Analysis 12 (Commerce Clearing House, 1979).
Yes (ABWH) – “Birthright,” An Evening of Yes Music Plus (1993)