11 March 2009

Quote for the day

"I have nothing against rich people. If you’re a successful person who has contributed something to society, then more power to you. But please. Do not ask me to feel sorry for you. You’re rich. Again, I repeat: you’re rich. And because you’re rich in the United States, you have to pay less taxes than rich people in every other industrialized country in the entire world. You also have an entire political party (the Republicans) and a large swathe of another political party (the Democrats) who are lining up to kiss your ass on a regular basis. Rich people in this country have it better than rich people in every other country in the world. You’d think they’d be a little more grateful for this fact instead of being perpetually resentful whiners."

Brad at Sadly No


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I feel the same way actually.

13 March, 2009 15:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I'll make a liberal out of you yet.....:-)

13 March, 2009 16:02  
Blogger Michael said...

Well...I mean, that's broadly right. But it's better to be rich, tax-wise, in Hong Kong than in the USA. Singapore probably, too. Panama also, I think? And I think there are other exceptions.

28 March, 2009 18:03  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Taxes aren't the only measure of quality of life. Hong Kong and Singapore live under fascist regimes, and a rich person in Panama is surrounded by a sea of poverty. If I were rich I'd still rather live in the US than in any of those places, even if my taxes were higher.

28 March, 2009 18:41  
Blogger Michael said...

I agree that Hong Kong and Singapore might have lower quality of life than America according to some metrics. The word fascist seems a bit strong, though it's true that they aren't democracies. Don't you think we ought to keep the word 'fascist' for extreme cases? It would be good to be able to draw a distinction between the legitimacy and morality of the governments of Singapore and Syria.

I was responding specifically to this: "because you’re rich in the United States, you have to pay less taxes than rich people in every other industrialized country in the entire world". I think that's inaccurate because the rich pay less taxes in Hong Kong, which is industrialized. But it is a nit-pick. There are some strong reasons a rich person might choose America over Hong Kong.

28 March, 2009 20:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I'd say that the gap in legitimacy and character between the Beijing or Singaporean regimes and the Syrian regime is a lot smaller than between either of them and a democratic system like ours. They're unelected, unaccountable, and use brutal methods to keep people in line. The fact that they allow freedom in one area -- economic freedom -- isn't very significant next to that.

There are some strong reasons a rich person might choose America over Hong Kong.

I think the important point is that rich people actually do choose America over Hong Kong. How many Americans (rich or otherwise) have actually emigrated to Hong Kong or Singapore, or will do so now that we evil socialist Democrats are in power? My guess is that the number is as negligible as the number of liberals who actually emigrated to Canada during the Bush administration, despite all the idiotic threats to do so if Bush was elected.

29 March, 2009 01:33  
Blogger Michael said...

As I see it, the mechanism by which democratic countries make sure they have decent protection of human rights, rule of law, etc. is through elections. That's one way to do it, and works reasonably well, but there are bad side effects, like that atheists are politically marginalized, and that parties are dependent on, and then beholden to, large donors to fund their campaigns.

Singapore and Hong Kong have a different mechanism; they want to attract skilled immigrants. Skilled immigrants - who can and do choose the country they want to live in - will flee if the government is arbitrarily cruel or tyrannical or just incompetent. In this respect the governments are accountable to skilled immigrants. Despite their questionable governments, the results seem approximately comparable, to the point that - from what I've seen - many people do choose Hong Kong over democratic countries. My friend Barrett, for example, moved from Canada to Hong Kong last November to start a business. I've visited him a couple of times (I'm a New Zealander currently living in Taiwan) and it seems a pretty cool place (with an immigration system much less scary than America's!).

Some people call this distinction between voting and emigrating as a means to improve one's political situation "voice" and "exit".

I understand that Singapore will cane you for chewing gum. That's fucked up. (Though it's similarly inane that Singapore and America ban marijuana; the familiarity of gum makes the gum ban seem sillier.) On the plus side, their crime rate is really low, so the chance of having your human rights arbitrarily violated, whether by the government or by a criminal, seems to me to be not significantly different between Singapore and America. And in Singapore, if I understand this correctly, the government has to convict you of a crime before they torture you.

So when I consider the difference between Syria and Singapore, and from Singapore to America, I think "how much would I pay to move from Syria to Singapore?", and it's a lot. And I'm not sure I'd pay anything to move from Singapore to America. My uncle worked in Singapore for a few years as a schoolteacher and he said he liked the place. I visited in 2005 and had a good time.

One reason you might not see as many rich Americans in Hong Kong as, say, Canadians, is that America taxes citizens living overseas, and will take a portion of an American's assets if he changes citizenship. As far as I know, America's the only country that does that. Human rights-wise, that seems like kind of a dick thing to do. In this way, America's rich are a bit trapped in America (though I imagine that the very rich find a way around it).

I hope it doesn't seem like I turned up on your blog today to berate America; that isn't my intention at all. I think America's a pretty good place to live and to visit, and it has achieved and will achieve some amazing things - technological, economic, and moral things. I was really only drawn to correct the thing about America having the lowest tax rates in the industrialized world.

29 March, 2009 02:45  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Skilled immigrants - who can and do choose the country they want to live in - will flee if the government is arbitrarily cruel or tyrannical

But the governments of China and Singapore are arbitrarily cruel and tyrannical. What few rights people there do have are handed down from on high, not secured by a Constitutional system to which the regimes can be held accountable, as here. Those places probably attract immigrants who don't care how arbitraily brutal the rulers are, so long as their purely economic freedom is unrestricted. I suppose this is beneficial, in the sense that we thus have slightly fewer such people left here in the Western world.

Do you really think the only reason Bill Gates and Larry Ellison don't leave the United States is that they're "trapped" by tax policy? Good grief.

As for claiming that democracy is just "one way to do it", again, good grief. I want my government to be accountable to me and the other 300 million people who live here, not to rootless captains of industry. Bush might have been better at keeping the malefactors of great wealth who have sodomized our economy from emigrating, but I'm damn glad we were nevertheless able to vote him out.

29 March, 2009 03:33  
Blogger Michael said...

Hey, this will be my last post since the tone of the conversation seems to have turned adversarial. I'm seeking truth, not status. I am easily frightened away :)

Admittedly, I'm not an expert on the injustices suffered by the populations of Singapore and Hong Kong. Due to my internet reading habits, I'm much more familiar with the capricious cruelty of the American government. And I miswrote when I said that skilled immigrants would flee from arbitrarily cruel or tyrannical governments. I meant to say that they would tend to move from more arbitrarily cruel governments to less arbitrarily cruel governments. There isn't yet a government that isn't cruel.

(For full context, by the way, I am one of these skilled immigrants. Taiwan is my country of choice, for the moment.)

I'm not as confident in the protective power of America's constitution as you. My understanding is that constitutional problems merely slow things down a bit. America no longer has habeas corpus, right? Or maybe Obama restored it, but I doubt anyone counts on it any more. I still don't understand how alcohol prohibition required an amendment while marijuana prohibition doesn't. They say it's regulated under the interstate commerce clause, right? Which is ridiculous. FDR's policies were slowed for a while by the Supreme Court, but the fifth judge buckled, apparently under threat to reorganize the court, and let him have his way.

It seems to me that, as a measure against tyranny, the American Constitution is "nice to have" but it doesn't solve problems by itself. And so I look at all the things you can do to ensure a decent country - exit, voice, a Constitution, etc. America has voice/voting, and a Constitution, and it - unusually in the world - restricts exit.

You mentioned that the government is accountable to you, and to the rest of the voters. As I see it, this works better in theory than in practice. How effective is voting? As an individual, it doesn't seem to be effective at all, since no single vote has ever swung an American election. This would be a reason to favor the option of emigrating.

So really it seems that the government is accountable not so much to you - your vote never mattered - but rather to the voting population of America. These are the same people who would never vote in an atheist politician, right? There are worse groups to rule you, but they're not immune to the temptations of arbitrary cruelty. This accountability doesn't seem, to me, to be working as well as I'd like.

You questioned the compassion of those who might move from America to Singapore, suggesting that they don't care how brutal the rulers are. It seems a serious allegation to me. What brutality are you referring to, exactly, which is so much worse than America? Is the caning of those convicted of crimes? It doesn't compare to America's torture of those convicted of no crime. Is it the death penalty? America does that too. If you want to see a cruel, broken justice system, go look at America's, where one in nine black men aged 20-34 are in jail, and where 10% of prisoners are raped.

Maybe these immigrants are unhappy paying for America's wars, torture and broken justice system. It seems plausible to me that tax dollars paid to Singapore's government might do less harm.

Like I said, I don't know that much about Singapore though, so maybe you know something I don't.

>Do you really think the only reason Bill Gates and Larry Ellison don't leave the United States is that they're "trapped" by tax policy?
That seems a rather...creative interpretation of what I wrote.

29 March, 2009 04:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

How effective is voting?

Voting enabled our people to get the Republicans out of power in 2006 and 2008. People in Hong Kong and Singapore have no way to get rid of their current rulers. That's my point.

I notice you live in Taiwan, which does have a democratic political system and thus the kind of accountability I'm talking about -- not in Hong Kong or Singapore, which don't.

These are the same people who would never vote in an atheist politician, right?

There's at least one open atheist in Congress. Yes, bigotry certainly exists and has teeth on that score, but we have the ability to work to change that. Under the current systems in China and Singapore, no avowed opponent of the dominant ideologies could hope to win office.

That seems a rather...creative interpretation of what I wrote.

I pointed out that, for all the complaining and all the moronic "going Galt" talk, almost nobody actually emigrates from the United States, even the rich. Your response was to claim that the rich are "trapped" because even overseas they still have to pay American taxes. My comment addresses that fairly directly.

29 March, 2009 04:55  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Oh, and if I couldn't live in the US, I could at least imagine living in some other democracy where I'd have the same freedom to do things like criticize the local government on this blog. There's no amount of money anyone could offer that would induce me to move to Singapore.

29 March, 2009 05:05  

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