July 28, 2002
Gresham's Law of Policy Debate

From Brendan Nyhan's Spinsanity: Heritage's Daniel Mitchell shows that he can go very low indeed. My question: does everyone else at Heritage realize that Mitchell is burning their analytical credibility?


Spinsanity - Countering rhetoric with reason

Mitchell's metaphor (Brendan Nyhan): In May, I criticized Daniel Mitchell of the Heritage Foundation for comparing the plight of US corporations, who under pending legislation would be prevented from rechartering in other countries for tax purposes, to slaves who escaped to free states but were still considered the property of their previous owners under the Supreme Court's infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision. Well, he's at it again. In an op-ed in the Washington Times Friday, he writes that the "anti-inversion" legislation is "popularly know [sic] as the 'Dred Scott Tax Bill' since it assumes corporations belong to the IRS and are not allowed to escape bad tax law." Of course, a search of the Nexis news database reveals that Mitchell is actually the only person to use this offensive and bombastic formulation in print. Let's hope he'll stop soon...

Posted by DeLong at July 28, 2002 06:31 PM | Trackback

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The debate on this has been highly politicized and is full of such stupidities on both sides.

For good analysis of corporate inversions that goes way beyond what anyone can get in an op-ed column or by googling, visit www.tax.org and click on the banner on the subject at the top.

This is the one really nonpartisan site for tax analysis on the web. Unfortunately it's produced for professionals and most of it comes with a four-digit subscription price. But some of the free stuff is really good.

Check out the Tax History Project to see your favorite president's tax returns among other things. And there's accessible, good analysis on a whole lot of subjects in the Tax Policy Readings.

I received no payment for this endorsement.

Posted by: Jim Glass on July 28, 2002 11:10 PM

"My question: does everyone else at Heritage realize that Mitchell is burning their analytical credibility? " - Brad

My question is why would they even care? As long as the politicians, journalists and campaign managers have good soundbites, Heritage is doing what it was created for.

Analyticaly crediblity would just get in their way.

Posted by: Barry on July 29, 2002 05:10 AM

When I hear a speaker on PBS or NPR News announced as Heritage, I simply tune to another program for the while. Same for American Enterprise, Hoover, Cato....

Posted by: Anne on July 29, 2002 08:27 AM

Uh, when one lists all the organizations whose info is automatically dismissed out of hand, one says more about one's own analytical depth than one likely wishes.


Interestingly, for all their venom, the folks at the uber-right wing discussion site freerepublic.com spend a lot of time deconstructing material from their adversaries.

Posted by: George Zachar on July 29, 2002 10:01 AM

It's not a matter of dismissing dissenting opinions out of hand: It's dismissing conclusion-based (as opposed to process-based) research out of hand.

Whenever Cato does a study, they're going to recommend lower taxes and less regulation. Everyone knows that going into the study, so when Cato recommends that at the end, it doesn't give us any new information. It may be interesting to examine their study to see how they cooked the stats and analysis to make their conclusion seem sensible (or to find out that they hit on a stopped-clock moment), but it's certainly not a necessary step to take before dismissing the opinion.

Posted by: Mike Kozlowski on July 29, 2002 10:06 AM

Days are too rich to more than nod at typical right wing drivel. Anne is so right. Taste matters.

Posted by: on July 29, 2002 10:16 AM

Without doubt, folks on the "right" side of our political spectrum similarly "diss" Brookings, etc., also under the assumption that their material is reverse engineered, *starting* with the conclusion.

None of this enhances anyone's ability to engage in fun blog-discourse, or provides an opportunity for learning.

I usually find most people who disagree with me are simply ill-informed, not evil. :)

Posted by: George Zachar on July 29, 2002 10:42 AM

Not evil, the right does have a mean streak, but is mostly boringly prejudiced. Poor dears.

Posted by: on July 29, 2002 11:07 AM

'Without doubt, folks on the "right" side of our political spectrum similarly "diss" Brookings, etc., also under the assumption that their material is reverse engineered, *starting* with the conclusion.'

Brookings occasionally surprises me with their opinions. The usual suspects on the right never do; therefore, I think they're based on policy advocacy, not inquiry, and should be ignored.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on July 29, 2002 11:14 AM

Since when did Heritage have analytical credibility to burn?

Posted by: RuthAlice Anderson on July 29, 2002 11:31 AM

Let's hope he keeps it up. Burn, baby, burn!

Hey, where's Al Sharrpton!? Does he tune out Heritage as well?

Posted by: The Barbarian on July 29, 2002 11:47 AM

"analytical credibility" ... hee, hee, hee ... that's a good one!

Posted by: RonK, Seattle on July 29, 2002 07:57 PM

Brookings is CENTRIST, not liberal. I blogged an entry on this issue: http://www.hauserreport.com/oldfights/2002_07_07_oldfights.html

The highlight: "Well, as of 1998, FAIR had debunked this ludicrous claim quite nicely http://www.fair.org/extra/9811/brookings.html; before quoting their piece, however, please note that some things have changed subsequently (e.g., the new Brookings Prez is Clinton hand Strobe Talbott) -- "In fact, much of Brookings' top brass has come from Republican administrations. Its current president, Michael Armacost, was an undersecretary of state for the Reagan administration and ambassador to Japan under Bush. Brookings' president from 1977 to 1995, Bruce MacLaury, spent most of his career in the Federal Reserve, with a stint in the Nixon Treasury Department."

Being run by Republicans for more than 20 of the past 25 years is EXTREMELY inconsistent with Brookings being left of center.

Not everything about the world is symmetrical.

Posted by: Jeff Hauser on July 29, 2002 09:03 PM

Is Brookings centrist, left-of-center, or center-left? Guess it depends on the meaning of "center". :)

Here's a question I do not know the answer to, but whose answer may clarify this narrow issue:

Has Brookings ever advocated a contraction of the federal government's domestic reach or revenues?

Posted by: George Zachar on July 30, 2002 09:11 AM

Well, there's this:

Congress should consider amending the act to reduce the amount of regulation immediately and to phase out regulation entirely within five years. Decades of experience in trucking, railroads, airlines, and energy industries has demonstrated that even imperfect unregulated competition is better than regulated competition. It is not too early to reconsider the entire regulatory approach of the 1996 act.

This:

A better alternative would be to set up a system of national permits and emissions fees. Each country would be allowed to distribute tradable emissions permits equal to its 1990 emissions.

And this:

Market-based approaches, consensus-building, non-point-source regulations, and performance-based measures are all promising strategies for the second generation of environmental policy, but none by itself is a panacea.

I can't find anything where they come out in favor of tax cuts, but that's pretty ambiguous in terms of "expanding the scope of government." The reach of the government is determined by its spending levels, not how it funds that spending.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on July 30, 2002 05:38 PM

Wow. I head over to Cato (ok, they're not Heritage, but blah blah blah) for a comparision, and the first thing I find is this:

How Taxpayers Subsidize Anti–Tax Cut Advocacy

A closer look at the Fair Taxes for All
Coalition revealed that dozens of those groups
receive federal taxpayer support. We begin by
establishing why government support for
political advocacy distorts the American polit-ical
process and compels political speech. We
then specifically examine the extent of the
subsidies for the Fair Taxes for All Coalition—
both who got the money and which parts of
the government contributed it. Finally, we
suggest what needs to be done in response to
the abuses documented herein.


First, federal subsidies for political advocacy dis-tort
the democratic process. American democracy
should be constitutional, responsive, and
neutral. Taken together, those three criteria
of democracy reveal why public subsidies are
a bad idea.

The irony is going to make my head explode. Cato is probably #1 on the list of tax-exempt groups for political advocacy.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on July 30, 2002 05:44 PM

imperfect unregulated competition is better than regulated competition

That certainly qualifies as an unambiguous rationale for rolling back federal power.

Point conceded.

Posted by: George Zachar on July 30, 2002 06:48 PM

...but regarding CATO, you fail to note the critical difference between receiving funding free of tax, and receiving funds that were raised via taxes. Does CATO receive govt funds?

Posted by: George Zachar on July 30, 2002 06:51 PM

In the article, the "government subsidies" they talk about are almost entirely "lost revenue due to tax-deductable donations."

They sure try to make it look like the government is hosing down liberals with a cash cannon, though. The examples they do have of the government actually giving money through grants to liberal groups are telling:

Not surprisingly, the Department of
Labor is responsible for the majority of federal
awards to unions. The department awarded
$8.6 million to the aforementioned
unions, mostly under the auspices of two
agencies: the Employment and Training
Administration ($6.8 million) and the
Occupational Safety and Health Administra-tion’s
Susan Harwood Training Program
($1.3 million).

So, the govnerment is subsidizing political speech through labor-related grants to labor unions, even though the money granted for programs is spent on labor-related programs; that is, unless they have evidence of funds being diverted, which they certainly don't present. Call your senator!

Giving money to organizations that also have political opinions = big no no, apparently. "Other major contributors to the anti–tax cut coalition include Head Start, Department of Housing and Urban Development Mortgage Insurance, and AmeriCorps."

My favorite, of course, is the part where he goes after Head Start with this throwaway line: "Whatever its merits, it has definitely been successful in giving money to advocates of big government." Yes, of course.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on July 30, 2002 08:47 PM

Well, CATO is archly and unabashedly small-L libertarian, so they oppose such funding on ideological grounds. Of course, money is fungible, would be the practical component of their argument.

Again, thanks for that Brookings find. I learned something.

Posted by: George Zachar on July 31, 2002 05:46 AM

Cato spends an awful lot of time demanding that the State power of the USA be used outside its borders to be considered all that small-l libertarian any more.

Posted by: Daniel Davies on July 31, 2002 07:13 AM

Flame wars rivaling the epic windows vs. mac sagas have been fought between various factions of "libertarians" as to the proper role of govt in foreign affairs.

Some laissez-faire-ers go for an isolationist "fortress America", while others extend the classic mantra of govt as foe of "force and fraud" to include moving against foes while they're still outside our borders.

Since we are more likely to be governed by space aliens than "L"ibertarians, I don't pay much mind to their internal debates. :)

Posted by: George Zachar on July 31, 2002 07:42 AM
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