April 20, 2004

Hardworking Individuals and Married Couples

There has been considerable discomfort on the part of Mark Schmitt and others at the use of Treasury civil servants to produce the highly-political Treasury press release that concludes with:

JS-1247: Today, the Treasury Department produced revenue estimates for the following changes:: Under these proposals, hardworking individuals and married couples could have their taxes raised by the following amounts:

Alternative 1: Under these proposals, assuming permanent extension, hardworking individuals and married couples could have their taxes raised by $476.9 billion.  (1A + 2A + 3A)

Under these proposals, assuming current law, hardworking individuals and married couples could have their taxes raised by $240.5 billion. (1B + 2B + 3B)

Alternative 2: Under these proposals, assuming permanent extension, hardworking individuals and married couples could have their taxes raised by $293.9 billion. (1A + 2C + 3C)

Under these proposals, assuming current law, hardworking individuals and married couples could have their taxes raised by $201.4 billion.  (1B + 2D + 3D)

The tax proposals, of course, are supposed to be Kerry's.

To me, the most interesting thing is the phrase "hardworking individuals and married couples." It is clear from the rest of the document that the draft that emerged from Treasury OTA [Office of Tax Analysis] and was sent to Treasury Public Affairs had a different phrase in those five places: "individuals and married couples with taxable incomes exceeding $200,000." (And note that if your taxable income exceeds $200,000, your AGI [Adjusted Gross Income] is in all likelihood on the order of $250,000 and your FEI [Family Economic Income] somewhere near $280,000.) Treasury Public Affairs took a look at the document and decided that the phrase "individuals and married couples with taxable incomes exceeding $200,000" could not stand--so few journalists covering the Treasury have taxable incomes over $200,000 that the piece would backfire. So they decided to change it to "hardworking individuals and married couples."

Extra Credit Question: Did anyone in Treasury Public Affairs think through the consequences of labeling Americans with taxable incomes less than $200,000 as not "hardworking"? What are the consequences of the Bush Treasury's deciding that you aren't "hardworking" unless your taxable income is greater than $200,000 a year?

Posted by DeLong at April 20, 2004 09:33 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Don'cha know, it's the Republican definition of "middle class". I noticed a while back that the apparent reason why so many Republicans who aren't generally liars (unlike the ones at the top) can say with a straight face that their tax cuts mostly benefit the middle class is that they don't believe you're middle class unless you make over $200,000 a year. (A few years ago, it was $100,000, but it seems clear recently that it's higher.) It's really quite bizarre.

Posted by: Redshift on April 20, 2004 10:50 PM

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It's a Freudian slip, a parapraxis, a Fehlleistung. This is what these guys really think: the rich deserve to be rich and the poor deserve to be poor.

Posted by: James on April 21, 2004 12:01 AM

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A quarter mil. a year, eh?

Fifty weeks of 40 hours each, that's $125/hr.

Just your everyday, hard-hat and lunchpail, working stiffs.

Posted by: andrew on April 21, 2004 01:14 AM

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And this is in line with a theme that I have been sensing for quite some time (although I never saw it expressed explicitly) -- the Western-style (not just US) economies are (to a large extent) about producing (measurable) numbers on paper, financial reports or otherwise, and not about creation of pesky goods and services that nobody knows how to value.

Consistently with that, "time is money" and all, you can only be working hard if you make loads of money. But we always knew that all those losers who toil away day by day for pittances are good for nothing, did we not, because otherwise they would be paid more, right?

In German, certain ideologues have a similar notion -- "Leistungsträger" -- which in a literal sense means "performance carrier", or rather something like "person delivering major/critical work performance", but is used as a euphemism to describe big earners. (Don't bother with translation websites, they don't have this meaning of the word.) And incidentally, "to earn" (money) and "to deserve" are the same word. From a linguistic perspective, it means the latter, but it has somehow morphed to cover the former as well over the centuries, presumably because of some implied notion that you will be paid exactly as much as you "deserve" for your work performance. Amateur psychology on my part, but I suspect not too far off he mark.

Posted by: cm on April 21, 2004 01:42 AM

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"Extra Credit Question: Did anyone in Treasury Public Affairs think through the consequences of labeling Americans with taxable incomes less than $200,000 as not "hardworking"? What are the consequences of the Bush Treasury's deciding that you aren't "hardworking" unless your taxable income is greater than $200,000 a year?"

Methinks this is a "from A implies B follows Not-A implies Not-B" error.

Posted by: ogmb on April 21, 2004 02:14 AM

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"Extra Credit Question: Did anyone in Treasury Public Affairs think through the consequences of labeling Americans with taxable incomes less than $200,000 as not "hardworking"? What are the consequences of the Bush Treasury's deciding that you aren't "hardworking" unless your taxable income is greater than $200,000 a year?"

So far, none. Many, many truly hard-working Americans will support Bush, because he cut their taxes. The increases in state/local taxes aren't his fault, of course (like every other bad thing happening on Bush's watch). The deficits, of course, are due to the War on Terror, and the tax and spend Liberal Democrats in Congress.


Posted by: Barry on April 21, 2004 03:43 AM

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I work hard.

But where would I come with with an extra 200-400 billion dollars per year?

What, are they nuts? Kerry must be crazy if he thinks he can raise my taxes by billions of dollar. I don't even have millions of dollars. He must want us all to be slaves! I better vote for Bush.

Posted by: SamSpade on April 21, 2004 04:23 AM

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The repercussions of characterizing people who bring home less than $200,000 a year as less than hard working are and will be zero.

The press is far too fucking stupid to realize that the release says this. So much easier to simply cut-and-paste the entire thing into your word processor, type in your by-line, and maybe add a line or two about how this fits historically with Democratic tax-and-spend traditions. Done! Now, on to the really, truly important stories of the day. Where's Kobe?

Posted by: Derelict on April 21, 2004 05:43 AM

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FWIW, OTA stands for Office of Tax Analysis (not Assessment). I wonder how many of the economists at OTA meet the administration's definition of "hardworking" (even though I know that many of them work very hard indeed).

Posted by: Dave on April 21, 2004 06:41 AM

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I think the EPA should try employing the same tactics for the debate on mercury emissions:

"Forced pollution controls would cost hardworking polluters an extra..."

Posted by: Brad Reed on April 21, 2004 06:43 AM

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Sadly, I think Derelict is correct. This won't cost Bush a single vote.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on April 21, 2004 09:01 AM

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ogmb: "Methinks this is a "from A implies B follows Not-A implies Not-B" error."

No. It is a euphemism (and a heavily ideologically colored one). Actually it's more a deception, but the line between euphemism and lie is fuzzy.

The correlation between how hard people work and how much (not just earned!) income they get is not particularly strong. It is well understood that there is no implication either way.

Put in the number and the point the article is trying to make goes out the window.

Posted by: cm on April 21, 2004 09:15 AM

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ogmb: "Methinks this is a "from A implies B follows Not-A implies Not-B" error."

For someone who knows logic terminology, I'm surprised you got it so wrong.

The Treasury talks about the effect of tax policy on group A. Group A is defined quantitatively as "Y" ">$200,000 earners". So how is this group described in words as different from other earners ? With the moniker "hardworkers". That's actually an equivocation !

"hardworkers"=">$200,000"

Group A defined by Y.
X=Y.
Group A defined by X.

Thus,
Non-Y=non-X

Posted by: ch2 on April 21, 2004 09:56 AM

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"FWIW, OTA stands for Office of Tax Analysis (not Assessment). I wonder how many of the economists at OTA meet the administration's definition of "hardworking" (even though I know that many of them work very hard indeed)."

Only those in the upper pay grades who also have a spouse earning an equivalent amount of money. As a matter of fact, I think that only individual being paid over 200,000 in salary by the US Govt. is the president.

Posted by: ____league on April 21, 2004 11:29 AM

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We are thinking too hard about this one, in the effort to try to figure out what Bush minions believe or think, in substituting clear for vague language. The simplest explanation is that they want to give somebody the opportunity to make the link between Kerry and these estimates. Just getting it out there is enough. Don't ask who believes what. Most of this stuff becomes a vague notion in some part of the public mind, without any attachment to fact. Just get it out there and let the press, pundits, and normal human thought processes do their stuff. An investigation of this particular incident will have the same impact on electoral outcomes as investigations of fund raising and other electoral irregularities - none that matters.

Posted by: K Harris on April 21, 2004 12:37 PM

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I'd like to see a treasury analysis of the estate tax and all the trouble it causes to the heirs of ultra-hard working deceased individuals.

Posted by: Kuas on April 21, 2004 01:55 PM

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Inasmuch as the Bush people deem any vote for a tax cut that is less than their proposed or imagined tax cuts a vote for a tax increase…

Then it can fairly be said of them if they refer to a tax increase for people making north of 200K/yr an increase on "hardworking" people, they must by definition mean that anyone not making north of 200K/yr is not hardworking.

It's certainly fair to assail them with their own logic.

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