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Taxing People With No Money

Update:  Over the weekend, without comment, the Obama team pulled down the language below and put up new, vaguer language without the "required."  Discussion and a screen shot of the original is here.

How do you tax people with who have no money?  Why, you take their labor by force.  It worked when we dragged Africans over here against their will in the 19th century, and it can work today.  From the Obama transition site:

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

So what was that about no tax increase for people making under $250,000?  Because my guess is that most high school and college kids made close to zero, but here is Obama seeking to expropriate 50-100 hours of their labor.  Sure looks like a tax to me.  By law, high school kids, by DOL rules, can work up to 1200 hours per year.  For kid that works every hour she can, this is about a 4% tax.  Kids that work less pay a higher effective tax rate, up to infinite for kids not working at all  (hey, this tax is even regressive).  Also, richer kids trying to get into top colleges will be the least affected, as they are already volunteering at a level close to this, so most of the burden of this tax will fall on the poor.

I remember when I was slammed by Obama supporters during the election when I said that his call for "universal" community service meant that he was going to mandate it.  Carefully avoiding being clearer about what he meant before the election, Obama sure has not wasted any time making sure everyone understands he is talking about government coercion here, not volunteerism.

PS-  I thought this site was fake, because it was amazing to me to see Obama's intentions stated so baldly after he so strenuously avoided clarifying his position during the election.  But the Huffpo and other sites link to this site as if it is real, so I will treat it as such.

PPS - Here is Obama's pledge on taxes from the same site:

Middle class families will see their taxes cut – and no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase. The typical middle class family will receive well over $1,000 in tax relief under the Obama plan, and will pay tax rates that are 20% lower than they faced under President Reagan. According to the Tax Policy Center, the Obama plan provides three times as much tax relief for middle class families as the McCain plan.

OK, we are not going to take more money, we are just going to take your labor directly.

Update:  Radley Balko adds the chilling speech implications of such a program:

So who gets to decide what constitutes "community service"?  Who gets to decide which causes and organizations will be credit-worthy, and which ones won't?

Something tells me that you'd be more likely to get one of Obama's vouchers by going door to door for one of ACORN's living wage campaigns than, say, volunteering for a libertarian nonprofit organization that advocates against things like government-mandated community service.

Obama supporters will say, no problem, we trust Obama.  Hmm.  The folks who wrote our Constitution designed our government assuming all politicians would be knaves.  Writing laws that depend on the good intentions, fairness, correct incentives, and intellectual capacity of the government folks who run it are doomed to failure.  Would Democrats have been happy to have GWB deciding what community service their kids were forced to endure?  I doubt it.  Well, we don't live in an autarky, and sooner or later GWB's party will be back and making exactly those decisions under such a program.

Posted on November 7, 2008 at 08:22 AM | Permalink

Comments

Warren, your insight on this borders on brilliance.

Posted by: Franco | Nov 7, 2008 9:00:52 AM

I am already looking forward to the 2010 elections. If they try to run 1/10th of this crap through there is going to be alot of new faces in Congress and the Senate.

Posted by: Jim COllins | Nov 7, 2008 10:17:56 AM

Interesting way to view it. However, my impression is that the Obamans are far less interested in conscripting the masses for the actual value of their labor than for the supposed salutary effect on the conscripts themselves. The left is forever trying to mold the character of its subjects -- the "New Soviet man" and all that.

Posted by: ArtD0dger | Nov 7, 2008 10:26:52 AM

This is one of his crazy ideas that I actually hope he tries to put in place. IMO this is clearly unconstitutional under the 13th amendment:

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Just because Obama says you are volunteering doesn't mean it's voluntary. What if you refuse to serve? Is there some kind of punishment? If he tries to pull much stuff like this the dems will lose a majority in 2010.

Posted by: Captain Obviousness | Nov 7, 2008 10:57:21 AM

Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution-

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Section 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

That's all I have to say about that.

Posted by: Bobby L | Nov 7, 2008 10:58:36 AM

"It worked when we dragged Africans over here against their will in the 19th century..."

The international slave trade was ended in 1808 in the U.S. (see U.S. Constitution Art. I, sec. 9). Almost all of the slaves that were brought to what is now the U.S. were brought in the late-17th & 18th centuries. I'm not saying that slavery wasn't a big deal, I'm just pointing out a factual inaccuracy (or possibly a typo for all I know).

Otherwise, right on with the analysis in this post.

Posted by: GU | Nov 7, 2008 10:59:46 AM

LOL - I tried to follow the link to Obama's service web site and got the following error:

No suitable nodes are available to serve your request.

Obama needs to force some teenagers to serve as suitable nodes.

Posted by: Captain Obviousness | Nov 7, 2008 10:59:46 AM

GU-
Our Host is technically correct-- 1808 IS the 19th century-- but good point.

I worked it out as an excuse to link to this post-- this comes out to nearly $500 worth of work from the high school kids, and nearly a thousand a year for the college kids. (since Obama is pledged to raise minimum wage to $9.50)

Posted by: Foxfier | Nov 7, 2008 11:40:37 AM

Maybe it's just me - but this kind of "youth" program scares me - they are going to have to get "training" on what kind of stuff they do . . . strikes me as a bit hitler youth, don't ya think? This is Bill Ayers dream - mold those kids. . . .shit.

I think I'm going down the same lines as JimCollins. . .

Posted by: Andrew | Nov 7, 2008 11:43:03 AM

Here's what I expect to happen. The Federal government will create some requirements that educational institutions will have to comply with if they want to receive funds. Some of the requirements will be that all students must have x amount of community service to graduate. Schools that want government funding will have no choice but to comply. Since these will be 'educational' requirements, the argument will be made that the community service requirement is no different than requiring math or science to graduate.

I wonder what color shirts the Obama Youth Corps will be?

Posted by: J Howe | Nov 7, 2008 11:52:38 AM

So what happens when you say no?

My in-laws, who immigrated from the Soviet Union will be apoplectic over this.

Posted by: ElamBend | Nov 7, 2008 1:14:52 PM

Remember Obama's 95%-tax-cut-wealth redistribution plan? The one that people called disguised welfare? The next day Obama, for the first time, said there would be a "work requirement." How much you want to bet that his new Brown Shirts and Hitler Youth will fill that bill?

Posted by: NN | Nov 7, 2008 1:33:01 PM

Remember Obama's 95%-tax-cut-wealth redistribution plan? The one that people called disguised welfare? The next day Obama, for the first time, said there would be a "work requirement." How much you want to bet that his new Brown Shirts and Hitler Youth will fill that bill?

Posted by: NN | Nov 7, 2008 1:33:44 PM

Some schools in VT(don't know if it is all) already have a mandatory-volunteer time for high school kids to graduate. Of course VT is practically a failed socialist state full of poverty and expensive COL.

Posted by: GreggB | Nov 7, 2008 2:57:27 PM

"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Let me help you with this (as a Soviet Emigre I have a little experience with how government can work around pesky constitutions). In an effort to encourage "morality" and patriotism the schools may encourage - from a very early age - friends to monitor each other's commitment to patriotism, good citizenship and morality by reporting to the authorities your counter patriotic activities. Kids will be taught that telling teachers is the highest form of morality, citizenship and patriotism and the kids will get a tangible reward for tattling. Your friends may report you for any number of misdemeanors and, as punishment, you will be conscripted to work out your community service as your punishment for your misdemeanor. Don't think that'll happen here (as I often hear from Americans)? Why not? In the U.K. They have already implemented a program where children are required to spy on their parents and report any non-green activity to the teachers in their school. It's just the first step.

Elambend,

Your in-laws will undoubtedly become apoplectic. Ask them about "sybbotniki". This is Hitler Youth and the Young Pioneers all over again. "Ideologically clean" children grow up to be ideologically clean adults, comrades.

The very fact that there is no widespread outrage over this proposal of SLAVERY (ironically, from a black guy) - this first step toward state control of the entire population - tells me it most certainly can happen here.

Posted by: Methinks | Nov 7, 2008 3:30:35 PM

Some schools in VT(don't know if it is all) already have a mandatory-volunteer time for high school kids to graduate.

In North Carolina too. That wasn't the case when I went to school in NC - back when the world still remembered that slavery was bad.

Posted by: Methinks | Nov 7, 2008 3:32:12 PM

How, exactly, is this plan going to work. Where does my middle-school daughter have to go to perform her community service? How is she going to get there (hubby and I both work; she rides the bus to grandma's after school)? Who is going to supervise her? How is she going to get home from this mission? I'm not sending my kid off to a crappy neighborhood to get mugged, or trust some government bureaucrat to make sure a serial killer doesn't kidnap her or some hormonal boy doesn't drag her into a closet.

Posted by: the other coyote | Nov 7, 2008 3:54:35 PM

It's a .gov. Unless there's some impressive fraud going on, assume it's real. You can't just get a .gov at GoDaddy...

Posted by: Rick C | Nov 7, 2008 4:12:29 PM

My highschool (private) mandated "voluntary" community service as part of our graduation requirements. They did this in my senior year. I did it, the kids I taught math to were great and needed my help and I helped them.

I never volunteered my time to any cause again. I know I am wrong and pigheaded. I give money to charity now (yes I know that synonymous with time) but being forced to work for free killed any enjoyment for me. Every minute I was there I was thinking about how wrong it was, the whole idea of mandatory volunteering was/is repulsive to me.

I don't believe I am alone in thinking that things people enjoy and do by their own volition are likely to be done again...but when you make a person do something the whole dynamic changes and even if they would otherwise enjoy the task they might not want to ever do it again.

This is just wrong

Posted by: Thog | Nov 7, 2008 4:25:03 PM

I'm no fan of Obama, but I can't see where he says he will make the service mandatory. "Will call on" doesn't equal "will force" or "will mandate that".

Posted by: Tim Fowler | Nov 7, 2008 4:27:23 PM

Reading through the appropriate Reddit threads, the general mood is that the real point is that people will change because of this, will become more caring, helpful, public spirited etc. So basically what you have here is the old Progressive assumption: changing the rules of the game will change people themselves. It's at least 150 years old and I'm still waiting for any sound psychological justification for that, but could not find any. So I'm assuming that all they'll get is jobs done really poorly, because of the lack of incentives to do it right.

Posted by: Miklos Hollender | Nov 7, 2008 4:37:08 PM

I'm no fan of Obama, but I can't see where he says he will make the service mandatory.

From the web site:

"Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year."


Interestingly, it occurs to me that he could suggest it as an elective for credit toward graduation. Then, it wouldn't be slavery. However, like a good little fascist, he chooses to enslave. Irony. There's irony in an American black man re-introducing slavery. No?

Sorry. I know I've posted multiple times on this thread already but this is making me insane.

Posted by: Methinks | Nov 7, 2008 5:39:44 PM

Ooops, don't know how I missed it.

"Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year."

As Emily Litella would say, Never mind...

Posted by: Tim Fowler | Nov 7, 2008 5:41:09 PM

Somewhere in the turgid, dim crevices of the two tiny masses that purport to be Reid's and Pelosi's brains, a thought about their worst nightmares is forming itself...

Glorious Leader is appointing cronies and fools already, delivering gaffes that Biden could be proud of. Deer in the headlights on day two of delicious president-electness. When Obama goes down to ignominious defeat by whatever means he's clearly bound to in the public eye, it'll be the sheer hubris what does it.

The man is a child, "and you can bet he's going to be tested". But the country needs this hard lesson and it's about to get it.

Posted by: Ten | Nov 7, 2008 6:22:27 PM

That page was just updated. I was reading it and refreshed it about 5 minutes ago, only to see the language change. Now it reads "Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free."

Either that "policy" was posted in error, posted without knowing for sure what the policy was, or someone took it down because they feared backlash.

Posted by: David Ellis | Nov 7, 2008 6:44:37 PM

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