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National Review: “Soak the Rich!”

[digg-reddit-me]The National Review gives Conrad Black some space to somewhat incoherently go after Barack Obama on economic issues. He writes with the accumulated resentments and reduced expectations of an old man – and one imagines one is meant to receive this incoherence as hard-won wisdom.

Black has formed his opinion of Obama’s health care plan without taking the time to understand it – as his one-sentence description makes clear: “the administration claimed that it would reduce medical costs by taking over the insurance of those already covered.” His simple health care plan simply calls on the Democrats to go after their interest groups – trial lawyers and unions – and ignore the rest of the factors undermining our health care system. A convenient position to take while writing for a right-wing publication.

He dismisses the consensus of economists (“The whole concept of stimulus is bogus”) with a single clause (“as the borrowing of the money consumes at least as much stimulus as it generates.”) He suggests Al Gore is an eco-terrorist and calls the plans to stop exacerbating climate change, “insane.” In short, Conrad Black throws every bit of feces he can – working off of the standard right-wing playbook.

But finally, he has a few interesting things to say – after spending the bulk of his piece proving his right-wing bona fides. He suggests a few taxes to raise – and here is what I find interesting. His first two ideas are standard: a strong gasoline tax and a tax on financial transactions. Both of these are much favored by those who know something about policy, but face serious obstacles in terms of the politics of getting them done. But his last idea is interesting and new (or at least new to me.)

[A] small, self-terminating wealth tax could be imposed on very large fortunes, to provide funds for those taxpayers to engage in legitimate anti-poverty projects they would devise themselves and have certified, like charities. The tax would decline as sensibly defined poverty declined, and would evaporate when poverty did. The greatest commercial minds in the private sector would have a vested interest in eliminating poverty and would produce a variety of imaginative methods of doing so.

I’m not sure how well this idea would work – but it is quite interesting. It seems to be an idea very much based on right wing presumptions but to have a traditionally liberal goal: using government policy to reduce poverty. And Black certainly has a personal history that leads him to understand the very wealthy he is attempting to manipulate with this tax. That said, it addresses itself not to the escalating divide between the rich and poor, but merely to reducing poverty. It presumes the rich are “the greatest commercial minds” when it seems evident to most liberals (including to me) that chance and luck play as great a role in success as mental skill. What is intriguing is that it attempts to marry the self-interest of the rich with the reduction of poverty. Whether this is the best means or not, it is a worthy goal.