Stephen King

Under-f@%&ing-taxed author

The debate over taxing the rich has reached new depth in the United States with a true man of letters entering the fray. Depth, that is, as in low point. What the essay by acclaimed and popular novelist Stephen King lacked in profundity it made up for in profanity: Tax me, for f@%&’s sake, was Mr. King’s eloquent plea to the government he so admires.

One of the freedoms that Americans of any income bracket still enjoy is the freedom to give more to the government than the government already takes from them by force. If you think that the government can spend your money better than you can, you are free to write them an extra check each year and hand it over with your tax return. King grudgingly acknowledges that he, like everybody else, has that right but that is not enough for him. He wants to see the state take more from ‘rich’ people, himself included, by force, and thus put it to better uses than the rich people themselves ever could.

The essay is a bizarre document of economic illiteracy, political naivete, plain arrogance and bad language. Of course, Mr. King and his ‘liberal’ Hollywood friends, like Steven Spielberg, know how to put their wealth to good effect. They fund fire departments and run loss-making radio stations. But not all rich people are that enlightened. There are some who also “give their money away”, such as the hated Koch brothers who fund libertarian think tanks (Cato) or fund independent, coeducational schools, such as Deerfield Academy. For these deranged people we thankfully have a government that has the power to tax, take the wealth from these retards and puts it to all the good uses that only government (and the Stephens, King and Spielberg) can really appreciate. But even worse, there are those rich people who do not even “give their money away” but who – can you believe this? – invest  it. They expect to make a return on it. For themselves! Sometimes even by investing abroad. (How unpatriotic!) With proper taxation we could get a better society with fewer and smaller investment portfolios and more government spending. Who can’t see the beauty in that?

But here is a real highlight:

“At a rally in Florida (..), I pointed out that I was paying taxes of roughly 28 percent on my income. My question was, ‘How come I’m not paying 50?’”

To which the proper answer, in Stephen-King-lingo, would be: Why the f@%& just 50%, Stephen? Why not 75%? — Well, come to think of it, why not 80% or 90%?

Let’s look at one of those enlightened places where the rich have for some time been paying – what’s the phrase, again? – their “fair share” of 50 percent or thereabout: France. According to King’s logic this must be a workers’ paradise by now, complete with great state schools, social mobility for children of all backgrounds, all-round social harmony and a balanced budget. Maybe, Mr. King, you should leave Planet Hollywood for a minute, buy yourself a first-class ticket to France and look for yourself.

Meanwhile, the debate in France is all about how to tax the ‘rich’ more. In progressive France, Mr. King’s ideas are way behind the curve. They seem positively, well, reactionary.

“50% taxes for the rich? Stephen, mon ami, what are you? A Republicain?”

Soon-to-be President Francois Hollande suggested that upward of a million euro in income, the tax should be 75%, while his left-wing challenger, Jean-Luc Melenchon suggested that from a certain level the tax should be 100%, meaning that a maximum income is established, upwards of which everything will be taxed away and go to the state.

You see, Stephen, that is the problem with a ‘fair share’. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder.

What Stephen King and his rich ‘liberal’ friends don’t get is this: The government never has enough money. The state cannot handle money, period. It needs more and more. That is the nature of the state, in particular the nature of a modern social-democratic state that depends on the votes of the masses.

Every prosperous and peaceful society depends on social cooperation. Social cooperation has to be voluntary and contractual and therefore has to be based on the institution of private property. Our problem – in the U.S. and in France and elsewhere – is that we have too much government, which, by definition, is the negation of liberty, and which always replaces voluntary and free interaction with forced reallocation of resources and forced redirection of human action. The problem is not that the state has too little funds but that it has too much power.

But I doubt that Mr. King nor any of his friends have any understanding of what makes a prosperous and free society. As an example of the social mobility that was supposedly once possible in America thanks to government, Mr. King cites Barack Obama. I guess that is his idea of what America needs: lawyers, community organizers and politicians. And that is supposed to be the American dream?

Such opinions are indicative of the intellectual decline that drives our social and economic decline: According to our opinion moulders, politicians are better than businessmen, charity is better than business, taxation is better than investing.

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

In the meantime, the debasement of paper money continues.

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28 Responses to Brain Sematary

  1. Alan Wolan says:

    Detlev,

    I find it strange that people care what Hollywood celebrities think about economics, taxation and politics.
    Most actors and fiction writers are in the business of “make believe”, that is, of making up stories for the purpose of entertainment and to give people a temporary escape from boring reality. What qualifies them to discuss more serious topics? Why should I listen to Stephen King and not just, say, to my barber or taxi driver?
    One gets the sense from his article that Mr. King has never read a single economics book, nor does he care to.

    You’re right that Mr. King’s article shows that the national discourse is reaching ever new lows.
    That’s what happens when a country is in economic decline: people fight about who is getting which slice of the shrinking national pie. Instead of having serious discussions about how we can grow the pie, it’s more emotionally satisfying to fight about “your slice is bigger than mine.”
    I’ve noticed from experience that when peoples’ incomes are increasing, they say “look how awesome I am!” When they are decreasing, they ask “who can I blame for this mess?”

    I read Mr. King’s article carefully and it’s all boiling down to one thing: he thinks that everyone, including rich people, should pay their “fair share.” He’s a little fuzzy on what he things a fair share is: in one part of the article he says rich people should pay 50% of their income, in another part he says everyone should pay the same proportion of their income. And since I doubt that he thinks poor people should pay 50% of their income in taxes, it seems he himself is a little confused about what fair share means.

    I must admit that I don’t know what is the right percentage of my income I should pay in taxes. And I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on economics. I do know that the higher the percentage gets, the less desire I have to work, that’s for sure. I would imagine there must be some optimal percentage that collects the maximum revenue without sapping people too much of their desire to be productive. Hopefully, mankind will figure out what that number is one day…

    Until then, we will have to listen to all kinds of opinions from barbers, taxi drivers and celebrities.

    In the meantime, the debasement of our intellectual discourse continues.

    • Nico Metten says:

      “Hopefully, mankind will figure out what that number is one day”

      Hopefully they will not! The peak of the laffer curve is also the peak of exploitation. That means it is the maximisation of slave labour. Any form of taxation or intervention in the economy is preventing wealth creation. That means any form of taxation makes us poorer. Therefore the only acceptable rate of taxation in exactly 0%.

      • Alan, I think Nico is right. There is ultimately no justification for taxation, neither on the grounds of economics nor on ethics. Have a look here:
        http://www.caseyresearch.com/cdd/doug-casey-tax-day
        and here:
        http://www.hanshoppe.com/2011/03/philosophie-magazine-interview-on-taxation/

        • Paul says:

          What not even taxes that serve to uphold the rule of law?
          Isn’t that called a jungle.

          • Yes, Paul, no state and no taxes. I know that this goes against the deeply entrenched prejudices of most people today and it is why most people have an immediate negative response to the concept of anarchy or a private law society. But think about it: Nobody wants to live in a jungle. That is why people co-operate to form institutions and associations, or decide to join such associations, that establish laws and that enforce them, that provide security and protection. (By the way, humans have always done this.) Just as I don’t make my own shoes or bake my own bread, I would not run my own court or arm myself and rely entirely on self-defense. We would use, as in any other walk of life, the advantages of division of labor and co-operation on markets. And in the field of law, as in the field of money, there are of course substantial network effects at work, which means that it is unlikely that we will see a plethora of competing legal systems. However, forming different systems would at least permissible and I think it should be.
            In an entirely free market, there would, of course, be laws, rules, courts, judges, and police and protection services. And we would pay for them. You might say, what’s the difference to what we have now? You end up again with state-like institutions. — Here is the difference: The problem with the state starts when the once-established institutions become territorial monopolies. Under a proper state organization, nobody is allowed to join others in any voluntary association that establishes an alternative legal system. The state qua state says: This is the only legal system that is available in this territory. No alternatives are possible and permissible, and everybody who lives in this territory has to use this system and only this system and will also be made to pay for it. There is no competition or potential competition. There is also no experimentation and no room to establish alternative procedures should sections of the public consider such alternatives desirable. I know you may say that we are now talking about high libertarian theory, and that the immediate implications for politics are miniscule. However, I do think that there are some important implications. As an economist, I know that a monopoly has the tendency to provide inferior service at high prices, and it is not difficult to argue that this is precisely what we are already experiencing today. I think it can also be argued that through most of history – at least European history – states were often fairly weak and also small. If laws and rules became too oppressive in one place, there was always the opportunity to move somewhere else, at least for a highly mobile minority, but this in itself acted already as a constraining factor to legal overkill and oppression, at least to a degree. The big nation state is a fairly recent phenomenon but what is even more worrying today is that we live increasingly in a world of international law and law enforcement, of EU-regulation, of FATCA and other forms of national legislation that the big states superimpose onto the smaller ones. Some people may think the world will be safer if there are no places to hide for terrorists and tax cheats. I think in such a world you should instead be very afraid of those who run this all-powerful legal system!
            If you think about it, isn’t it somewhat strange that because of the dangers that always come with the power of law-making and law-enforcement many people cannot see these duties be entrusted to private and competing institutions but are very happy to have them concentrated in a centralized, monopolistic institution that can use all its monopoly-powers to crush any potential competition?
            And remember this: once you created an institution that has the territorial monopoly of making laws and of adjudicating ANY conflict in its territory, and that can fund itself through taxation, what are your chances of ever limiting this institution in size and power, whether through a constitution or anything else? Such an institution will always have a tendency to grow and become ever more dominant.
            Those who say ‘no taxes’ are not against law and order, and they are not naive in that they think nobody will have to pay for any of these services anymore. But there is an important difference between paying a fee or paying a tax.

          • John Campbell says:

            Paul, what we have now can be a jungle at times. In many cases we are receiving much less than zero value for the taxes paid.

            http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/may/01/man-abandoned-dea-cell-steps-forward/

            A young man almost died in a cell with no water, having been “forgotten” for several days. That is a monstrous perversion of justice by a monopoly entity – the state. The current system does not work – it is as simple as that.

          • Paul says:

            Thanks for the detailed reply Detlev. Your blog is simply the best that I know and I have great respect your views and intellect.However this zero tax idea does seem fanciful to me.
            The idea that private entities can provide security and protection is of course possible. There are all manner of legitimate companies that could provide that service as well as ‘hard men’ that could do it on the cheap and would probably be more effective. In a pure capitalist economy who do you know is running their business ethically? You would of course be against any type of state regulation.
            The state makes all sorts of mistakes in regard to justice and protection of its citizens but at least it has some sort of legal due process. Your idea of having different legal systems would be an advocacy of extreme hardline justice. You ready for that?
            In John’s example of the fellow that was forgotten is abhorrent but I think you would find that in a totally a private system many people would simply ‘disappear’ never to have the legal representation and justice that this man will be rightly afforded.
            Although I am sympathetic with some libertarian views I just can’t see hard-line zero tax ideologies working in the real world. A total free market economy that you suggest would see the rise of an utterly ruthless class that I think is totally beyond the experience and knowledge of many cossetted middle aged, middle class proponents.
            Ask the poor who have to deal with loan sharks and the like what it is like having to deal with the free (black) market economy. Believe me it’s not pretty.

          • Paul says:

            Thanks again Detlev for challenging my thinking. Although I remain, at present unconvinced, I would very much look forward to such a book if you were to write one. However this time round I doubt you would have someone like Steve Baker MP to endorse it!
            I do also heed the warning in your closing paragraph and thank you for making the many people who read your blog aware to what will undoubtedly develop in the not too distant future.

        • Russ says:

          Mr. Schlichter,
          I greatly respect your understanding of economic issues but, as with many libertarian economist, I feel you are viewing things through rose colored glasses. When you recognize that an anarchist society would require an “association” to manage law and order, you fail to carry that thought to the next level, i.e. lawlessness en-mass. For instance, what happens when a neighboring community decides they need more water and your community has it. As long as your law association has bigger guns and more people willing to wield them your OK, but if not, your screwed. Its at this point that your concept breaks down. Ronald Reagan had it right when he said, “maximum liberty consistent with order.” The thing I feel you are failing to acknowledge is that “disorder” can exist on not only a local basis, but in this day and age on an international basis that can also threaten us locally. When we’re talking about ICBM’s and fighter jets, your voluntary contributions to the local Moose Lodge neighborhood watch program is no longer going to cut it.

          • Paul and Russ, I appreciate that the concept of a private-law society and of anarcho-capitalism can appear challenging, and I doubt that we can discuss it exhaustively in the commentary section of this blog. Maybe I should make this the topic of my next book. – However, I don’t think that it is us anarcho-capitalists who are naive or who wear rose-tinted glasses but those who believe that a state will stick with ‘due process’ and thus guarantee the security of person and property. In the 20th century, an estimated 145 million people died at the hands of government, while “only” 8.5 million died of “private” murder. This reminds me of Robert LeFevre’s famous quote: “Government is a disease masquerading as its own cure.” Or his other quote: “If men are good, you don’t need government; if men are evil or ambivalent, you dare not have one.”
            The state is always an institution that claims ultimate power over persons and property. It may be true that at certain times in history people managed to limit this power, whether by monarchical custom or republican constitutions, usually by some form of established tradition. I have doubts whether such limiting strategies can work in the long run. Against the dreadful history of the state, the ones we live under presently may still seem benign but I think that even that is changing in front of our very eyes. Every part of our private lives is increasingly managed, controlled or influenced by the state, which is no longer satisfied – as no state ever has been satisfied – with just protecting private individuals and private property, but which is now telling us how we must label milk bottles, how we educate our children, where we may smoke, what money is and how much of it there is, and where interest rates should be. And I consider it the height of political naivete to believe that democracy will impose limits on government power. The opposite is the case. The democratic state becomes an ever-larger threat to personal liberty and property.
            As to “due process” that is already falling by the wayside – everywhere. To take just one of the most obvious examples, look at the ongoing EMU debt crisis. All agreements that have been part of the original set-up of EMU have now been violated. None of the governments care about this. Expediency rules. Decisions are increasingly made ad hoc and in an arbitrary way. Rules and contracts are made and then broken at will. I find the assumption that these governments can still be relied on to protect our property bizarre. Most people who have any wealth today consider the state the biggest threat to their property, whether via taxation, confiscation, regulation or inflation. I think these fears are justified.
            But even if we get back to the original concept of the minimal state as a territorial monopolist of law-making and security provision, I still struggle to reconcile this construct with any notion of inviolable individual rights in person and property. What is my relationship as an individual to the state? I believe I have full ownership in myself and in all property that I have justly obtained through production or trade. I am obviously willing to pay a fee to the agency that protects me and my property from the aggression of others. Maybe I am the principal in this relationship with the state, and the state is my agent. But that cannot be the case. If the state were my agent I could direct its activity – and be held responsible for it – and, most importantly, I could stop paying the state and unsubscribe to its services. I could secede, either on my own, or – as that is unlikely – as a member of a group that makes its own arrangements. The state is a protection agency that does not allow you to leave its “protection”. Once you are part of it, it forces you to stay in. You may leave its territory, of course (although many states have even made that impossible or very difficult), – and in the process leave many of your possessions behind – but that only underlines the fact that the state considers its territory its own property and not yours. The state also determines how much of your income or property you have to pay in taxes in return for its various services, which, again, you cannot unsubscribe. In fact, if we look at the state in the cold light of day and judge it by its actions rather than the Sunday speeches of its politicians, it seems to me that it is more accurate to view the state as the ultimate owner of all property in its territory, part of which it then lets you use in exchange for ‘appropriate’ taxes and general ‘good behavior’, both defined by the state itself. If you say that we must live under a state as a territorial monopolist of compulsion and coercion because there are no alternatives, you are practically saying that your rights of self-ownership and your property rights are not absolute but contingent on what the state decrees. Ultimate control must rest with the state. I find that very unsatisfactory.
            As to the topic of order, please remember that the social institutions of private property and of voluntary contractual exchange of property are not creations of the state or of law-enforcement but came about spontaneously because people realized the benefits of these social institutions. If somebody had more of what you wanted (e.g. the water in Ross’ example), it made sense to trade with that person rather than to engage in conflict with him. Hobbes’ idea that we would all be constantly at our throats if it weren’t for the state is evidently wrong. Of course, there are always “bad apples” out there, and we need to constrain them by force. But the vast majority of us understand that we all benefit from the institution of private property and of exchange and of the sanctity of contract, and we do not play by the rules only because each of us has a policeman standing next to him, 24 hours a day, to enforce compliance. In this respect, I think Proudhon was right: Liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order.
            We won’t discuss this exhaustively here. Allow me to refer you again to my recent blog on the topic:
            http://papermoneycollapse.com/DSnew/2012/02/what-is-the-correct-size-and-proper-function-of-the-state/

            I appreciate that you rate my monetary economics higher than my political philosophy but let me finish with a warning: I have no doubt that, as the monetary crisis deepens and intensifies, the last vestiges of “due process” will be abandoned and we will soon see levels of interventionism and property-rights violation by democratically elected governments that can positively be called totalitarian.

        • Russ says:

          Mr. Schlichter,
          I to have all the same fears of government as you, and, like you, feel it is all happening right before our very eyes. Yet I cannot escape the fact that any fear I might have of government, I also have of a large protective “agency.” The Mafia comes to mind, “pay up the protection money or you’ll pay the price.”

  2. Damien Phillips says:

    “For these deranged people we thankfully have a government that has the power to tax, take the wealth from these retards and puts it to all the good uses that only government can really appreciate.”

    That gave me the biggest laugh of the week so far. Every time I hear people shouting about how the rich should pay more tax, I just wonder what they think the government is going to spend it on and how they think a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats are going to be better at creating wealth than a free individual.

    Great article Detlev, keep up the good work. Your blog is like a small anchor of sanity to cling to in a world gone stark raving mad.

    P.S. Have you seen the latest attempt at brainwashing by the Obama camp? It’s the most disturbing, Soviet-style piece of statist propaganda I think I’ve seen in the last few days. http://www.barackobama.com/life-of-julia

  3. Mikhail Istomin says:

    We are returning to the situation of the summer of 1917 in Russia. The crisis has not come to the West yet, but it will come, true nobody knows when. The level of life in the West from 1981 was raised artificially by the crediting spree. It must come down to its natural level. I doubt if this would be enough for food stamps etc. You in the West do not have vegetable gardens to produce your own food like the people in this part of the world, just lost this habit. Under the circumstances the rich have a dilemma – to pay 50% taxes or lose everything. In 1917 Russia they preferred to lose everything, in many cases life.

    • Paul says:

      You are right Mikhail soon the tipping point will be reached and our western lifestyles could unravel very quickly. Once mobilised the power of the mob can be a terrifying force. Owing gold does not necessarily insulate oneself from these eventualities.

      • Mikhail Istomin says:

        Well, to protect oneself against the future crisis one must take special measures. This concerns of course relatively wealthy people, not not multimillionaires

        1) not to keep too much cash at the banks – they can be bust at any moment and the funds will not be enough to cover the losses.
        2) have cash at home or in the bank cell
        3) buy reasonable quantity of gold, preferably gold coins of 1/4 or 1/2 of an ounce. Silver is not bad, but it depends on the space available for storage. Present deflationary movements at the markets must not be of concern. Sooner or later Mr. Bernanke will call again his team of helicopter pilots ;)))
        4) Avoid stock and bonds.
        Some other measures also.
        Let us hope that the bottom of the crisis will not be too deep. Here they say it may be as high as 50% of the US GDP. Is it normal that a country produces 22-23% of the world GDP and consumes 36-38%????????

  4. LittleMissMessy says:

    We are slaves. We are not free people. We don’t live in a democracy. The world is topsy-turvy. We are lied to and conned. Depressing isn’t it. Perhaps I should get ‘Nineteen Eight-Four’ off the bookshelf.

  5. Stephen Knave says:

    Boom! Great demolition job

  6. David Goldstone says:

    Amen to that, Detlev.

    Actually I would go further. In my view an individual had a positive moral obligation to minimise his tax liability. Taxes, to use Doug Casey’s memorable phrase, “feed the beast”. To pay any more than the minimum is to voluntarily fund a criminal organisation. It is one thing to pay the Mafia protection money at the point of a gun. It is another thing to give them a tip!

    David

  7. David Goldstone says:

    Amen to that, Detlev.

    Actually I would go further. In my view an individual had a positive moral obligation to minimise his tax liability. Taxes, to use Doug Casey’s memorable phrase, “feed the beast”. To pay any more than the minimum is to voluntarily fund a criminal organisation. It is one thing to pay the Mafia protection money at the point of a gun. It is another thing to give them a tip!

    David

  8. Peter jackson says:

    My thoughts exactly (though I’m happy to help Stephen get rid of his surplus if his problem persists)!

  9. Justin Stares says:

    Come on Detlev! Zero taxation? Your economic arguments on the collapse of paper money are compelling, but you wander on occasion onto highly political ground. Whatever the merits of the economic theory, let’s not forget that we’re dealing with people, not units. However corrupt and useless the political class may be, I’d rather have politicians in charge of the country than economists! Yours, with a smile, Justin

    • John Campbell says:

      Who says that we need any entity or anyone “in charge” of the country. Oh ya – the people in charge. Austrian economists don’t want to run the country.

      A country or state doesn’t need “running”. The self organizing nature of humans would and did work just fine, and much better than what we have now. The transition to that would be complex and take time and planning, but not nearly as much as the current attempt at state control that we have now. Individuals can run their own affairs by entering into voluntary associations and contracts.

    • Michael says:

      “let’s not forget that we’re dealing with people, not units”

      Precisely :), which is why the same morals you approach a relationship with your family, friends, neighbours should apply when you are dealing with society.

      Just as you would not steal from your neighbour and consider yourself a moral person, you cannot rightfully steal from others in society, nor can you call this theft ‘tax’ and delegate the job to a politician.

      Regarding your point about politicians vs economists, as John Campbell explains below people have a beautiful tendency to cooperate & self organise for the good. Friedrich Hayek called this spontaneous order a ‘catallaxy’, Hans Hermann Hoppe calls the result if this natural order the ‘private law society’.

      To read more about voluntary cooperation I recommend the following allegories by Jim Fedako (@ mises.org) which fully capture the beauty of humans cooperation in action:
      http://mises.org/daily/1869
      http://mises.org/daily/5453/Two-Kinds-of-Order

      Best,
      Michael

  10. Les Haworth says:

    What would be the effect if our government abandoned taxation completely and just issued fiat money whenever it paid for anything.
    Yes there would be inflation which would act like a tax on all of us at the same rate of our net worth, but would that tax be less than what we now suffer fron direct and hidden taxation grabs.
    Soo-rry, I guess thatlast scotch went down the wrong way?

  11. ajax says:

    Reminder: the income tax(in the US) is a fairly new phenomenon. It was enacted in 1913. How we survived before then, I don’t know. The Gov’t has no right to know what anybody earns in the private sector.

    1913 was a bad year in America(income tax, federal reserve act, direct election of senators). Repealing 1913 would be a wonderful step in the cause of liberty.

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