Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Fragments and Links 5

From time to time I post brief thoughts on a range of topics that do not warrant their own post. This is one of those times.

I was listening to an MP3 by NT Wright on the historicity of the gospels the other day. During the Q&A someone in the audience questioned the historicity of the ‘I am’ statements in John. Wright’s response:

“I feel about the Gospel of John the same way I feel about my wife. I love her very much, but I don’t understand her.”

Can someone please explain to me why I am watching ‘Mad Men?’ I have heard it called, important, ground breaking, brilliant and the best show on television. I gave up on it after the first three episodes. But after more adulation and awards I tried the next three. I still don’t get it. I don’t care a bit about any of the characters and simply cannot vest in a self loathing, philandering lead with a devoted, if heavily sedated, wife.

The other day an engineer asked me where I went to under grad. I told him I went to a small SUNY school[1]. “Really,” they responded “You studied Islam?” Never connected SUNY and Sunni.

From The Economist[2] “Mr. Bush’s tax cuts raised the proportion of American families that pay no federal income tax (or are net recipients of tax credits) from 33% to 38%; Mr Obama will raise it to 44%...It certainly makes sense to keep poor people off the income-tax rolls, but removing a sizable chunk of the middle class weakens the political bond between the tax payers and government, and will lead to pressure for more spending.”

Now, to be fair, I am a fiscal moderate leaning liberal. I back a wide range of taxes. I fully support Obama’s restoration of the top marginal tax bracket (which we fall in) to its reasonable pre-Bush numbers. The death tax would be my favorite tax[3] if it wasn’t for the gasoline tax (which I also think should be twice what it is). And I think that it is unconciable that the primary income stream of the country’s very rich (capital gains) is only taxed at 10%. But I had no idea that such a high percentage of Americans paid no taxes. I agree that it creates a dangerous disjunction between populism and spending.

Speaking of economic politics: If you tell me your policy is a panacea for all ills and applicable regardless of situation, I will not believe you. This happens on both sides of the aisle. In a recession conservatives want to restart the economy by ‘giving people more of their own money’ while liberals want to restart the economy by large packages of government spending. In good times (budget surpluses) conservatives want to ‘give people their money back’ while liberals want to assure that everyone enjoys the prosperity by applying the surplus to large packages of government spending. Really? Seriously? They say that when you only have a hammer a screw looks like a nail. And it seems each party has a single tool[4]. Surely there is a sound economic theory that finds the appropriate application of tax cuts and government spending. Let me know if you find it in Washington.

Still reading Augustine’s City of God. I’m 390 pages (or about 1/3rd into it). I’ll write a post on it if it ever ends up deserving one.[5] Until then, here is another quote. This one isn’t actually by Augustine at all but a citation of one of the neo-Platonists he is arguing against. But I am not sure I have ever read a better description of the human condition:

“And so we come to men, rejoicing in reason, endowed with great power of speech; with immortal souls, but with physical frames destined for death; with minds unstable and unquiet, and bodies clumsy and vulnerable; diverse in character, but alike in error, persistent in daring, pertinacious in hope, ineffectual in their striving, dogged by ill-luck[6]; individually mortal, yet perpetual as a whole species, one generation taking the place of another in continual exchange; their life a fleeting span, their wisdom slow in coming, but their death swift; their life full of complaining. Such are the inhabitants of earth.” COG IX:9

So my life is officially full. Therefore, in order to fit a 1100 page book of questionable utility and a extremely fun, over beers, discussion group in despite work, school, ministry and a new baby…I made a trade. I have traded Augustine for Jon Stewart. I used to watch the Daily Show twice a week on my lunch breaks…now I read Augustine. But in his absence, I think I finally figured out why I like Stewart so much despite his bitterness, caricatures and sarcasm.

Stewart is the quintessential example of the 1st amendment self correcting. His absolute best pieces are not his mockeries of politicians or community leaders…it is his deconstruction of his fellow pundits. Until recently, ‘news’ personalities had virtual immunity. They could say whatever they wanted, the more outlandish and bombastic the better, with relative impunity. But now they run the risk of showing up in a TDS ‘not only are the media outlets stupid but they are uniformly so’ montage or, worse yet, receive their own dedicated segment. The public interest fa├žade of most ‘news’ entertainment companies cannot abide the dry, withering, sardonic gaze of Stewart’s deconstruction. And so there is at least one person with a voice who is holding them to a standard of fact and manipulation.

Speaking of ‘news’ entertainment, I think it is pretty cool that bands as different as Pennywise and The Decembrists have great lines about the horrific cult of personality that has facilitated a culture of Voyeurism:

And the anchorperson on TV goes...
La de da de da de-dadedade-da
La de da de da de-dadedade-da

-The Decemberists - 16 Military Wives

We are the dregs of the western world
The steroid boys and video girls
We are the viral internet stars
And the anchor man can't stop lying

-Pennywise – The Western World

I think 30 Rock is a pretty watchable show. Not one of my favorites but not bad. But they won my award[7] for most memorable line of dialogue in 2008 in the final weeks of the year. Alex Baldwin’s Character was describing his feud with the postal service over their decision to print a Jerry Garcia stamp and finishes his tirade with this gem:

“If I wanted to lick a hippy I’d return Joan Baez's phone calls.”

Our friends the Gierhearts are expecting their second baby and are going through the unenviable process of selecting a name. They told us about a tool that will give you the top 5 sibling names if you type in the name of your first born. For fun, they typed in Charis, and Aletheia popped up as one of the popular sibling names.

I was hanging out with a group of college students the other day and related this story. They were as surprised as I was until I told them that it was probably other nerd parents like me. Without missing a beat, Rachel, the only girl in the conversation, said something like, ‘I think it’s nice that they are reproducing.’

Non Dairy Creamer is totally a gimmicky song. It will have a short life cycle. But the first time I heard it I laughed out loud for, like, 30 seconds at the final refrain:

And two gay guys got married
And brought the family to its knees
How did they blow us to smithereens
Just a couple of queens
How did they do it
I'll tell you now
They brought marriage to an end
And I've found myself some culprits
Its two young gay…REPUBLICANS

But here’s the thing, I don’t really think it is a song about gay marriage. It is a song about things that aren’t really things (‘They call it KFC, cause it’s not really chicken’ ‘you can buy yourself some implants but you can’t buy a soul that never launched,’ ‘The guy in the pulpit is a bigot and a lie’). They ask in the refrain:

What's it gonna be?
Are you real to me?
Or are you non dairy... creamer?

It is as if they are asking the church (among others), ‘Do you really want to be a thing that is not really the thing? ‘

I have been following Joss’ new show Dollhouse on Hulu. Joss has earned my patience after Buffy and Firefly. From a purely mechanical point of view the show has a couple of interesting aspects. First of all, it runs 50 minutes instead of the normal 42. As part of the negotiations Joss nearly halved commercial time (which, I can only expect, makes the remaining spots premium). Second, he cast Fred (Amy Acker from the later seasons of Angel). Of all the characters Joss has allowed us to love and then summarily killed, I forgive him[8] for all but Fred. Third, they skipped the pilot and put the money into elaborate sets. This demonstrates a network commitment to the show and is a bit surprising after Firefly’s completely undeserved failure. But I think the reason the network got behind the show is that it has much more of a network TV feel. I’m not sure if that means Joss is maturing or if the failure of Firefly changed him. So far, apart from a couple recent cringe worthy back stories, Dollhouse is, at the least, good network fare. But I am concerned that the story arc has a limited horizon.

So I traded Dollhouse for Heroes. It took me a long time to admit it, but Heroes is dead. Too many of the characters have become morally ambiguous. This is a common plot device to generate more episodes (J.J. Abrams does it all the time with limited success) but it undermines what I enjoyed about the first season of Heroes…the Heroes. The series’ death rattle was the moment in episode 13 of season 3 when Peter Patreli gets in Mohinder’s cab and they reprise the scene from the pilot where Peter asks Mohinder ‘do you ever feel like you are meant for something extraordinary’ deep in the throes of irony. Mohnder says ‘I used to.’ Yeah, back when the show didn’t suck. It was the innocent passion for heroism of those two characters (and Hiro, of course) that made the show endearing and worth watching. But now Mohinder is dark, Peter is bitter and Hiro is powerless. Oh, and (SPOILER ALERT) the Veronica Mars character is dead (just like her far superior series).

I have been working my way through the lectures from MIT’s intro psychology (brain science) class.[9] I’ve learned some pretty interesting stuff…like Guy Pierce’s character from Memento is based on a real person, someone Professor Wolfe called “the most famous psychological subject of all time.” But recently the class has covered love and sexuality in the context of economic theory and it has been riveting. Here is the description from my favorite study that empirically validates some of the implicit assumptions that I made in a recent post where I strayed into the topic of the sexual revolution being an unequal gender benefit. A researcher described as ‘an attractive member of the opposite sex’ approached random individuals, expressed that he/she found the random individual attractive and asked one of the following three questions:

Would you like to go out on a date?
Would you come back to my apartment?
Would you like to have sex with me?[10]

Women answered the questions this way:

1. Date: Yes 50%
2. Apartment: Yes 7%
3. Sex: Yes 0%

Men, however:

1. Date: Yes 50%
2. Apartment: Yes 65%
3. Sex: Yes 75%

David Swanson, and acquaintance who would best be described as a friend of a friend, recently gave this blog its first shout out from his very good blog Signs of Life. I’ve been following his blog for a while and seem to comment on it with surprising frequency. But one exchange has really stuck out in my mind. David and his wife are about to adopt their first child and he simply asked for tips on keeping up with a passion for reading.

There is an annoying phenomena where people who have undergone a given life transition (marriage, getting a job, loss, and, especially, a first child, subsequent children, teenage children) condescendingly speak to those who are about to undergo it as if they have no idea what is coming. It is a social power play and I hate it.[11] I have enjoyed marriage and parenthood so much more than I expected to because people who wanted to justify their sad lives by blaming their bitterness and lack of motivation on their circumstances , warned us that we could not possibly understand (or survive with our basic commitments of life) the impending hardship. What I love about the comments on David’s blog is that they largely lacked this quality. There was very little ‘forget about reading, you are going to be a parent’ from people who have given up on reading and blamed their children. There was a lot of creative problem solving by those who celebrated BOTH David’s decision to become a parent and his love for the reflective life. THIS is how we should welcome new parents.

OK, I’ll say it…I love Hayley Williams voice. Some of Paramore’s themes can tend to be high schoolish (they are like 12…or maybe I’m older than I think) but Riot has demonstrated that they can write some of the catchiest songs in the pumo[12] pop genre. On straight aesthetic evaluation, ‘Crushcrushcrush,’ ‘Fences’ 'Misery Business’ and ‘Decode’ can hold their own with any lineup released last year.

So, a couple weeks after I wrote the above paragraph…I found out that Hayley and the guys are Christians. There seems to be a serious wave of bands that are skipping the ‘cross-over’ thing including Flyleaf, Breaking Benjamin, Page France (though none are even close to the notoriety of Paramore). They were never ‘Christian bands’ but they have always been and remain bands composed in part-or in whole – of Christians. It is an encouraging model. There does seem to be an inverse relationship between the quality of Paramore's themes and the quality of their music. Their aesthetically stand out songs (listed above) have pretty middling pop themes[13] but their more weighty lyrics (‘We Are Broken’ and ‘Miracle’) tend to be forgettable musically. But that is a minor critique. On the whole Paramore’s emergence is a really encouraging development. To hear a band on QWOD,[14] love them, and THEN find out they are Christians…that is the way I want it to work.

Paramore and Linkin Park are a little more popish than I usually listen to…but I have decided to borrow my guiding principals for music consumption from my friend Tyler the winemaker.[15] Tyler has two Masters Degrees: one in botany (Colorado State) and one in Viticulture (from UC Davis – the top wine school in the country). He had worked and studied wine in Germany and New Zealand and is currently a big shot head winemaker in Sonoma. So, when we first became friends and had them over for dinner, I would always make him bring the wine. I was terrified that my middling taste would be found wanting. But one day he said ‘no.’ He told me that he was a wine nerd, but not a wine snob, and that he drank as much two-buck-chuck as any one else. So that has become my guiding principal for musical consumption and discovery. I want to be a music nerd but not a music snob. I refuse to accept that just because music is popular it can not be good.[16]

Finally, here are some things I am working on or thinking about for future posts:
-Why Christian Music Sucks: And Why it Doesn’t Have To
-8ish Thoughts on 1 Clement (the earliest extra-biblical Christian writing)
-Implications of Theories of Early Warfare on Christian Anthropology
-The Spiritual Arc of Modest Mouse
-Excerpts and Commentary from Perelandra
-A Few Thoughts on Co-Parenting

This post was prepared while listening to Riot by Paramore
[1] In NY telling someone you went to SUNY Geneseo gets raised eyebrows of ‘impressedness,’ out hear they think you went to a ju-co. On the west coast, the only value my undergrad has is the education, because the degree is almost meaningless.
[2] I started getting the economist as the result of my frustration with the discourse in the last election. I simply need to be more educated to vote. I chose the Economist because they are European conservatives (so they are moderates by American perspectives), tend to take the level of discourse to a level seldom seen in stateside outlets and they reflect on the global implications of our policies. Oh, and for the basic subscription price you can download the whole magizine as a podcast read in intellgent sounding British voices.
[3] I have never understood why conservatives are opposed to the death tax. If the heart of conservative values is self reliance, personal innovation and individual responsibility, then why wouldn’t they support a generational reset…requiring each generation to forge its own way.
[4] If by ‘tool’ I mean ‘hammer, wrench, etc…’ not if you use the dictionary’s fourth definition : ‘a person who is controlled by others and is used to perform unpleasant or dishonest tasks for someone else.’
[5] I have heard a rumor that most of its value is in the second half so I still have hope that it is not a 1100 page waste of time…but I get to discuss it each week at a pub with 4 really smart, cool guys so 1100 pages turns out to be a small price to pay.
[6] I have never met anyone who thinks that, on the whole, they have above average luck
[7] I don’t really give an award like this…but wouldn’t stuff like this make the Emmeys and Oscars far more watchable?
[8] This is one of the things that makes the Jossverse more compelling than other SciFi constructs. In Buffy, Angel and Firefly, people you cared about actually died…and stayed dead. Anyone could die at any time (apart from the main character – though there were serious thoughts about ending Buffy after season 5 which would have ended the series with a panning shot of her tomb stone) which amped up the dramatic stakes. Joss purchased our dramatic tension at the price of some of our favorite characters, and that is why some of us are fans…but Fred? Really? That was too far.
[9] A couple years ago MIT pledged to put all of their course materials online. Most of these are just class notes, but a few actually have audio or visual content.
[10] Professor Wolfe expressions curious confusion about a couple aspects of this study including 1) how did it get past the ethical review board and 2) what happens after the documented exchange?
[11] I wrote a whole essay (which is far to bitter for this blog, as you might pick up from the tone of the fragment) about people who told me ‘your life is going to change’ when Amanda was pregnant. The gist is, "Really, wow, becuase I am such an unreflective, unobservant, dullard that it would never occur to me that becoming responsible for another person 24 hours a day would have the slightest impact on my daily routine.”
[12] I think I just made that genre up. I am referring to slightly off mainstream pop music with discernable punk and emo (pu(nk)(e)mo – get it, like screamo – I am very clever) influences, but cannot, in good conscience, be called either.
[13] To the point where one wonders if a ghost writer/slick producer got involved at some point.
[14] Sacramento’s alternative rock station, and pretty much the only radio I listen to any more.
[15] If you don’t think that Don Miller wishes he had a friend called Tyler the winemaker you simply have not read Blue Like Jazz.
[16] Populism can surpise you. If I decided that music can not be both popular and good, I’d miss out on one of the great works of my generation…’Nevermind,’ which got plenty of pop radio play in the mid 90’s.


Matthew Pearson said...

For a cup of coffee, I'll explain to you why Mad Men is good. It's funny, because the rest of your post is a good example of why I think it's worth appreciating, but I'll leave you in suspense.

We could also talk about sound economic theory that finds the appropriate application of tax cuts and government spending, but if I told you what it was, would you believe it? If not, it may take more than a coffee to persuade an alumnus of the Harvard on the Hill.

Dave Everson said...

Stan, your footnotes are generally my favorite parts of your posts.

First, when I read that you had a friend called Tyler the winemaker, I thought, "did Don Miller move in next door to the Gibsons (or, more in line with his approach to community, move in with them)? I love that you made the same connection.

Second, I think I would say I have about average luck--in that I am a naturally pessimistic person who strives to be optimistic.

stanford said...

Hey guys, thanks for commenting. It is an honor that each of you read this thing.

Matt, sold. I'd be up for a cup of coffee on any topic, but Mad Men and tax cut vs spending sounds fantastic. I am out of town next week, but maybe the week after?

Dave, I like to think that the footnotes are written by a different part of my brain...the playful, slightly inapropriate, mildly off topic part. They are fun to write, but I worry they are cumbersome. I am glad someone is enjoying them. And I also work really hard to be a realistic optimist. On a post related note, the opening song of Paramore's last album (Riot) is titled 'For a Pessimist, I'm Pretty Optimisitc.' The title is better than the song, but it is a pretty great title.

Joel said...

I never would have connected SUNY and Sunni, either. Down here I always have to follow it with, "It's part of the state system in New York" to offset the blank stares.

nic gibson said...

I like these kinds of posts. They always make me laugh the most.

Alexi and I have both been underwhelmed by The Economist. We switched from The Week because it was too wide and not deep and very predictable. Plus her parents read it. With the Economist, I have a fundamental reading temper tantrum when articles are not signed. I'm always wondering "Who the heck wrote this?"

They're definitely smart but not really that incisive, and very self-assured it seems. I love their issue on how to just go ahead and end the drug wars. Very humble.

Oh and if you didn't know that over 35% of people were off the tax roles, FYI, that's a dead giveaway that you have no moderately conservative political inputs in your life. They've been all over this for a couple years. So if you're attempting at all to project 'moderate', try harder :).

nic gibson said...

You said about the death tax:

I have never understood why conservatives are opposed to the death tax. If the heart of conservative values is self reliance, personal innovation and individual responsibility, then why wouldn’t they support a generational reset…requiring each generation to forge its own way.

My answer:
Republicans believe in incentive to responsible spending and familial responsibility. And for many conservatives, it is also a question of liberty. The death tax contradicts these values. Passing on inheritance to your posterity is part of the enjoyment of your earned goods.
In colonial times part of the objection to taxation was the arbitrary intrusion of the Government to tax anything they liked for any reasons they deemed appropriate. I think this is one of the failures of our Constitution- it's lack of regulation on the Government's power to tax, and I think it has something to do with the failure of the Articles of Confederation to tax appropriately to prevent the starvation and desertion at Valley Forge.

The Death tax, like the stamp act is an infuriating tax to many Conservatives because of it's presumption to just tax anything however one wants and the exacerbation of tax inequalities in ever increasing areas of finance.

For the record, I'm against more taxation on the rich, and I'm the opposite of Stan- I'm in one of the lowest brackets. I think I should pay more tax, and my rich friends should pay slightly more income tax, but few if any other taxes.

Stan's question can also be asked: How does morality and fairness fit into the tax code?

In the OT of the Bible, many passages protect the poor, but several protect the rich. As Christians we have to think through the passages that forbid favoritism to the poor also.

stanford said...


I’m honestly honored that you find these posts amusing, and I think you articulate the Economist’s weaknesses perfectly. But as you said, I need more conservative voices in my life. When I was a conservative, I listened to a lot of NPR to get push back on my world view. Now that I am not, I simply cannot listen to FOX News or talk radio (they strike me as the conservative corollary to Michal Moore, not NPR). So, for me, the economist is a corrective step to find some articulate world view push back. And honestly, the podcasts and international coverage are worth the money. I have actually been able to participate in conversations about South American politics since I have been in Guyana, simply from reading a few months of the Economist.

And I remember having this death tax debate with you for like 2 days in Rome. It looks like our positions are unmoved. I think the corporate value that government can generate through taxing and spending (on parks, schools, art, public safety and welfare, biodiversity, science, scholarships, necessary medical care, libraries, public space, defense, resource management et al) simply has greater potential to augment our humanness more than private consumerism (I am open to the argument that it can and simply doesn’t…but I think it has a better shot). I am ok with not being in line with the founding fathers on that one (and I understand I am not) precisely because it is not in the constitution, and thus I am not bound by my constructionist hermeneutic.

And I think that what we tax is fundamentally arbitrary. There is no inherently appropriate thing to tax. Why income? So we should tax the things that do us harm. I could listen to an articulate argument (which I am sure you could muster) about not raising the marginal tax rates because it disproportionally penalizes the rich (and encourage lower overall productivity). But the capital gains tax is indefensible and the death tax just really appeals to my most conservative impulses…to incentivize individual achievement. I understand that it grates the republican value of individual freedom, but that is why the whole thing strikes me as an ideology (see paragraph above about nails, screws and tools) because it seems like the personal responsibility implications of the death tax, should, at least, give an honest conservative pause.

nic gibson said...

Is it ok if I respond?

1. I'm amused by these posts with the positive connotation not the negative one.

2. You're right about a conservative voice, but NPR isn't that middle of the road, it's just edited 'smartly'. But their editorial decisions have always been extraordinarily Liberal, and their personal openly are. Charlie Rose is pretty great though- even though he's PBS. But I agree Hanity, Rush, and Beck are circuses with facts interspersed that constantly raise the ire of anyone interested in fairness. Definitely. But the Economist might not be that voice. I'm not recommending less, just more.

3. When you make conservative arguments you make them in fundamentally Liberal ways. A Liberal assumption is that if a good needs to be done the Government should do it because they are the only ones who can, will, and are qualified. This is actually true about very few things. One of the first premises of, for example, Regan conservatism is citizens do things better than government and localities do things better than the Federal Government. This is why Madison said the abilities of the federal government are few and enumerated and that of the states were many and diverse. Had he extended his logic for this discussion he would have said the state's rights were few in relation to the City and family.

A number of the things you said were reasons for increased taxation and spending, conservatives would argue should be privately funded initiatives by entrepreneurial people seeking goods they care about with the money they earned. What many liberal folks don't like about this is precisely who gets the credit and power and the directions is takes things. Think for a moment on how this would effect art funding.

Conservatives see the federal government as the least accountable level of government, and you can imagine how wealthier conservatives feel about their money being takes to be used against their ideas on what makes for a felicitous society. Keeping that money in private hands for private initiatives gives people the bought influence proportional to what they deserve. Conservatives consider this not only more productive, but more morally fair. If the nation actually feels strongly about something is it more authentic to personally donate money and time or to force collective interest against he will of the rest of the people.

4. On taxing gas, I think it's a poor idea at high rates. Taxing for real road improvements is ok with me. But I think penalization is ultimately paternalism. And I think this more when there is not a consumable alternative. Tax people for eating bananas when there are plantains and oranges I understand. But tax bread when it is the only thing in the store, and I'm a bit more concerned.

5. on taxes we agree that the what is arbitrary. But it doesn't have to be. And if there is no disciplining principle in taxation besides a preference for the poor and against the rich, then I think we're in trouble and taxing unjustly. Most arguments that the rich should have a much higher tax burden (39% higher remember for what will be 44% of Americans) are based on the presumption that the rich owe the poor because they became rich in implicitly unjust ways. It is not that we can say how, we just know that 'no one is worth 5 million' and so their earnings must be unjust. But that is the logic of Communism, and we're not all Communists and Communism is not logically obligatory. So even this principle of taxation is tenuous, even if a crowd pleaser- especially crowds made up of tax freeloaders (like myself).

I think taxation needs principles, otherwise the Government acts like a monarchy in that it assumes to 'own all that belongs to it's subjects'- he opposite of 'liberty'. And it will also always flounder towards tyrannical collectivism that is always a cultural disaster as well as a moral and economic one. Stealing from the 'rich' is only noble when they are guilty as the sheriff of Nottingham. Robin Hood would not have been so just had he stolen from King Richard.

I think such principled taxation would look a lot different than the pragmatic mess we've got.

6. your argument on the death tax and personal responsibility really is a misapplication of the responsibility principle in conservatism. Taking from one score and adding it to another is not a legitimate way to make a winning team play harder. If you came out of halftime to see your 5-2 soccer lead changed to 3-3, you wouldn't say, "Oh good. Now we'll play harder." Good players have been trained to think the game is always 0-0. It's not the purview of the Refs, it's the responsibility of the players and the coaches- or in this case families and individuals. I'm just submitting that this is only a good specific argument if you already think in broadly liberal categories.

Teresa said...

I have to add to the general love of your footnotes by adding (I am in a math kind of mood today): I love your footnotes. (I am also in a recursive mood today.)

Matthew Pearson said...

You're on. I leave on the 20th, so before that would be good, but if not, the week of the 27th should be fine too. Email me at mpearson76 (gmail).

Ian said...

Jumping into the tax stuff a little late here - you don't need to think that the rich owe the poor to think that they ought to have a much higher tax rate. Suppose we agree that the amount of taxes each person has to pay should be of equal value. That doesn't yet tell us whether that value should be monetary or something more akin to the value it has for the person's lived experience. If we go with the former, and, say tax everyone 10% then the person making 20000 a year will be forced to pay 2000 - a chunk of their income they would be much better off holding onto. For them, missing that money is going to make a noticeable difference in their life. But suppose then we have someone making 100 million - 10 million is just a drop in the bucket and won't affect the quality of their lives in any noticeable way. Money has a diminishing marginal value as income goes up - 10% for a rich person, say, is an entirely different beast from 10% for a poor person. Suppose we actually scaled taxes according to the actual value money has for the individuals concerned (our tax brackets go some way towards this), then the rich person would be paying a much higher percentage of their income then the poor person and the two would be equally affected (or not affected) by the tax. Which is fairer? The second option sounds better to me - so I think the rich really should pay a lot more taxes than the poor, simply as a matter of fairness and being treated equally.