Wednesday, 2 July 2008


I leave you this fine evening with a New York Times story about George Washington.


Only the hapless New York Yankees, who are struggling to stay out of the cellar, could outscore an opponent, 21-12, and lose two of the three games. What do you Yankee fans think of my adopted Texas Rangers? Three Rangers—Josh Hamilton, Milton Bradley, and Ian Kinsler—deserve to start in the All-Star game. If the season ended today, they would be one-two-three for the Most Valuable Player Award.

Addendum: Tampa Bay’s magic number to eliminate New York is 71.

A Year Ago


Ronald Dworkin on Taxation

The political battle over taxes is not primarily a matter of economic forecasts, however. Many conservatives want taxes to be lower because they wish to reduce or eliminate the welfare programs that taxes make possible. Over the last seven decades or so—since the Roosevelt presidency brought what we call the New Deal—people in the successful democracies have largely come to accept that it is part of government’s role to provide a fairer distribution of their nation’s wealth than a free market economy achieves unaided. Taxes are the principal mechanism through which government plays this redistributive role. It collects money in taxes at progressive rates so that the rich pay a higher percentage of their income or wealth than the poor, and it uses the money it collects to finance a variety of programs that provide unemployment and retirement benefits, health care, aid to children in poverty, food supplements, subsidized housing, and other benefits.

Conservatives believe that this role of government should be reduced and that tax reductions are an appropriate means to that goal because, they think, taxation at even its present level is unfair to those who work hard for their income and who make possible a vibrant economy that benefits everyone. They believe that successful entrepreneurs have contributed most of all through their skill and investment courage and should not be penalized with high taxes for their success. They do not think it unfair that the rich have received the lion’s share of Bush’s tax cuts; they think these cuts only begin to repair the past unfairness of progressive tax rates. Liberals believe, on the contrary, that welfare provision for the poor is already much too meager in this country, and that reducing the taxes paid by the rich, which makes that provision even more meager, is deeply unfair. So the main arguments on both sides are arguments of fairness. In this chapter I hope both to deepen and to shape the disagreement by proposing a connection between tax levels and not just the fairness but the legitimacy of our government. At some point, I shall argue, government’s failure to redistribute the wealth that a lightly regulated free market produces weakens government’s claim to the respect and allegiance of all its citizens.

Conservatives are apparently winning the tax battle, in the United States at least. The only American presidential candidate who campaigned promising across-the-board tax raises in recent decades—Walter Mondale in 1984—lost in a landslide. George H. W. Bush asked people to watch his lips as he mouthed “No new taxes” when he won the presidency in 1988, and his subsequent defeat by Bill Clinton in 1992 is thought to be due, at least in part, to his loss of conservative support when he did, after all, raise taxes. No major-party politician proposes general tax increases now. In his 2004 campaign, John Kerry promised to raise taxes on people with incomes of $200,000 or more; Bush replied that this proposal showed that Kerry was just another “tax and spend liberal.” We do not know how much that charge affected people’s votes, but it is remarkable—and a contradiction of conventional political wisdom—how many people voted against what they should have seen to be in their own economic interest. Only very few people make more than $200,000 or suppose that they will. That might mean only that economic issues were swamped by either security or religious issues. But it does suggest that a great many people reject the Democrats’ claim that Bush’s tax policy is plainly unfair.

The argument about taxes has been characteristically shrill because, as in the case of the issues we considered in the last two chapters, it has no structure. We trade slogans. Liberals say that conservatives want to soak the poor, and conservatives say that liberals want to spend other people’s money. Neither side seems able to define the level of tax it believes would be fair. So liberals complain that taxes are too low, and conservatives that they are too high, without either side being able to offer any account of how high or how low they should be and why.

(Ronald Dworkin, Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate [Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006], 92-4)

Twenty Years Ago

7-2-88 The men’s semifinal tennis match between Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl was called yesterday because of rain and darkness. It was resumed this morning before the scheduled women’s final. Lendl, the number-one seed in the tournament, lost to Becker, who is trying to win his third Wimbledon title in four years. I enjoyed it, perhaps because the styles of the players differ so much. Becker is a power player. He’s big, strong, and quick. He has a ferocious serve. Lendl is more low-key. He rarely shows emotion, but he’s steadier and usually comes out on top. But not today. Becker won, and now must play Sweden’s Stefan Edberg for the title on Sunday morning. In the women’s final, Steffi Graf unseated Martina Navratilova as the women’s champion. Navratilova, as I said the other day, was trying for her seventh consecutive Wimbledon women’s title. She didn’t get it. The upstart West German, Graf, continued her awesome play. I got the sense that there was a changing of the guard in women’s tennis today. Graf is young (nineteen), strong, and fast. Navratilova is in the twilight of her magnificent tennis career. Graf is now three-quarters of the way to a tennis Grand Slam. All she needs is the United States Open in September. [Graf not only won the U.S. Open, and hence the Grand Slam; she won the gold medal in the 1988 Olympic Games. This is called a “Golden Slam.”]

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Top Engineers Shun Military; Concern Grows” (front page, June 25):

As a recent graduate with a mechanical engineering degree, I had various employment options. Throughout my education, I considered working in public service, particularly in defense, because I thought I might make a big difference and save lives.

But in my senior year, I let my friends and family know that I am gay. The idea of working for any organization that willfully discriminates against openly gay men and women soon became unbearable, and I cut defense work out of my search altogether.

I now work for a high-tech company, managing projects and processes.

The military’s inability to attract top engineering talent goes beyond salary. The Defense Department needs to change its image. I don’t think Google would be where it is with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Andrew Beattie
New York, June 25, 2008

Note from KBJ: The key word is “openly.” This man wants to shove his sexuality in everyone’s face.


If this isn’t the best album ever made, then baseball isn’t the sport of the gods.

Addendum: Here is “Wait,” which reappeared on To Live and Die in L.A.

Hall of Fame?

Jamie Moyer. (For an explanation of this feature, see here.)


It’s amazing how dependent we are on gasoline. A year or so ago, Ozarka—which delivers my bottled water—began imposing an “oil surcharge” of two dollars per delivery (which for me is once a month). It’s passing the increased cost of gasoline to its customers. The foods and other products we buy in the grocery store have to get there, and that means higher shelf prices. The president of my university sent out an e-mail the other day encouraging departments to go to four 10-hour workdays instead of five eight-hour workdays (while still requiring that offices be open five days a week). Airplanes are raising fares. You can be sure that the price of postage stamps will increase again soon, given how much gasoline the carriers use. I’m curious: What are you doing, if anything, to reduce the amount of gasoline you use? Perhaps some of the tips will be of use to other readers.