Kids Today Don't Know How Good They Have It

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove reminds us that it has been 15 years since Americans experienced a tax hike:

In 2008, voters were less worried about taxes than they had been in previous elections. Why? Because the 15 years between President Bill Clinton’s 1993 tax hike and Barack Obama’s increase in cigarette taxes in February was the longest stretch in U.S. history without a federal income tax increase.

Just to put the dates in perspective, those 15 years span essentially the entirety of my life as a politically aware person (I was born in 1980). Those 15 years also roughly coincided with much ballyhooed, now defunct “end of history”—the period where many people believed that the great ideological questions were settled. Capitalism had triumphed over communism and socialism, liberalism over totalitarianism, and every one was settling in happily to lives where much of the public discourse centered around blow jobs. This year’s college freshmen were born in 1990. The Berlin Wall was already down when they were born, the great battles of the 21st century over. And, as Rove reminds us, they’ve never been even vaguely aware of a federal tax increase.

That might go part of the way toward explaining a recent Rasmussen poll—much bandied about during yesterday’s Tea Parties—found only 53 percent of Americans preferred capitalism to socialism, with an additional 27 percent unsure which is better. Americans under 30, my cohort, tilted even further away from capitalism, with only 37 percent preferring capitalism and 30 percent undecided.

(Of course during that same period, the residents of many states have seen massive increases in their state and local tax burdens. Read all about it in Reason’s May cover story here.)

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  • ||

    Because the 15 years between President Bill Clinton's 1993 tax hike and Barack Obama's increase in cigarette taxes in February was the longest stretch in U.S. history without a federal income tax increase.

    Mr. Rove seems to have jammed an unnecessary (and incorrect) "income" into the end of his sentence.

  • ||

    found only 53 percent of Americans preferred capitalism to socialism, with an additional 27 percent unsure which is better. Americans under 30, my cohort, tilted even further away from capitalism, with only 37 percent preferring capitalism and 30 percent undecided

    The problem that capitalism faces is that it is being given bad PR by crony capitalism. It also doesn't help that many "capitalists" are really rent seekers looking to push through legislation to protect themselves from competition.

    Capitalism is great...it's just that some "capitalists" give it a bad name.

  • Cool Cal||

    Even the dirty sloppy slutty version of capitalism we have today in America has done far more for the good of man than any version of socialism. Even soft socialism, like the kinds practiced in the much vaunted Scandinavian enclaves are dismal economic experiments, if not humanitarian disasters.

    That statistic, of which I was unaware, was alarming, depressing, and just plain fucked up. Half of me is in disbelief that such a large amount of people cannot see that their prosperity or even relative global prosperity is thanks to economic liberalism. The other half is not surprised at all - indeed, the inclination to view any system that harnesses greed as evil taps into the id, a sort of Campbellian narrative, is appealing to the collective subconscious.

    The refusal to acknowledge the benefits of capitalism is a purely emotional response. Perfect for politics.

  • Cool Cal||

    Another thought ... this latest generation has been reared by teachers and professors with subtly if not avowedly Marxist leanings. When many higher education humanities departments excerpt Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky as a secondary source for basic history, it doesn't take long to crack that cookie.

  • Richard||

    Jay Nordlinger over at National Review, looking on the bright side of life:

    A poll the other week found that 53 percent of Americans judge capitalism superior to socialism. My reaction: That high a percentage? I'm surprised it isn't lower, for this reason: When do Americans ever hear a good word about capitalism? Do they hear it in school, pre-K through Ph.D.? Do they hear it in our movies, or television programs, or popular music? When are the principles and values of an open economy explained and hailed? And when are the perils of collectivism stressed?
    I never heard a single good word about capitalism until I discovered National Review and The American Spectator and some other samizdat. Fifty-three percent? At least we're still hovering above half . . .

    For a people that has flourished in large part because of capitalism, Americans have a shaky grasp on economics, and the sources of their prosperity. A partial exception to this: immigrants.

  • ||

    Because the 15 years between President Bill Clinton's 1993 tax hike and Barack Obama's increase in cigarette taxes in February was the longest stretch in U.S. history without a federal income tax increase.

    Uh, yeah, except for that 130 or so years when the rate was zero.

  • ||

    Ouch, Chuck. That's gonna leave a mark.

  • JP||

    Americans have a shaky grasp on economics

    Just as Andrew Fastow had a "shaky grasp" on business ethics.

  • mark||

    Am I the only one who loses a little bit more respect for the Journal every time they run a Karl Rove piece? The guy should be in a federal prison, for the love of god.

  • ||

    You're just a middle class, socialist brat
    From a suburban family and you never really had to work
    And you tell me that we've got to get back
    To the struggling masses-(whoever they are!)

  • The Chad||

    Cool Cal: Zinn was a PRIMARY source my junior year. That book met it's fate with an M80 that summer.
    Being part of the generation we are currently discussing, it is absolutely the case that we were brought up spoon fed equality, affirmative action, fair trade, noble unions, robber barons, etc etc etc. Now that we're mostly all sheep, most kids I knew were forming a line to blow obama, and now readily form a line to bend over backwards for him.
    Most of America deserves what's coming.

  • JP||

    This year's college freshmen were born in 1990. The Berlin Wall was already down when they were born, the great battles of the 21st century over. And, as Rove reminds us, they've never been even vaguely aware of a federal tax increase.

    Kids never care about taxes. They don't pay any.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Cool Cal

    I find it odd that you can say, "this latest generation has been reared by teachers and professors with subtly if not avowedly Marxist leanings."

    I would venture to say that in the 1960s when I was in college there were more leftists in academia.

    Most of the profs were WWII vets who had gotten a full GI bill ride (much more generous than vets get today) with vivid memories of the New Deal and FDR saving America. It took the 70s meltdown and stagflation to bring respectability to much of the free market viewpoint.

    Reminder, LBJ beat Barry Goldwater in a landslide. Something like 63 to 37 percent of the popular vote (the electoral college was even wider) not one of these 50-50 contests we get now.

    Academia was a reflection of those voters who wanted nothing short of cradle to grave welfare.

    How things change.

  • ||

    Interesting that decades of indoctrination in public schools haven't completely stamped out support for freedom.

    -jcr

  • ||

    I've heard that some of these teachers have rejected Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior!

  • Brandon||

    Am I the only one who loses a little bit more respect for the Journal every time they run a Karl Rove piece? The guy should be in a federal prison, for the love of god.

    What are you talking about? Rove is the political genius who way back in 2000 created the permanent Republican majority. You know, the one that enjoys the support of most Hispanics, soundly defeated the terrorists that were building WMD's in Iraq, and co-opted the left's base by putting forth the more compassionate conservatism that we enjoy today. That's why he's a regular commentator on Fox News and is a God among men to conservatives everywhere.

  • Mad Max||

    This kind of puts some perspective on the meme, expressed in places like this Jonathan Rauch article, about how younger voters are more accepting of gay marriage and of gay rights in general.

    I wonder what a Venn diagram of young socialists and young gay-liberation supporters would look like?

  • ||

    Even the dirty sloppy slutty version of capitalism we have today in America has done far more for the good of man than any version of socialism.

    But we have lots of elements of what you call socialism and haven't had pure capitalism, even a sloppy version, for a long time, if ever. So the difference between the grand productive capitalism of America and the useless socialism of Sweden is... what? A matter of degree of socialism?

  • JP||

    I wonder what a Venn diagram of young socialists and young gay-liberation supporters would look like?

    There would be almost complete overlap, except for a thin crescent where the gay-lib set consists of libertarians instead of collectivists.

  • Creech||

    Maybe libertarians can wake up the campus crowd by continually thanking them for accepting the draft to be the fiscal slaves of the baby boomers?

  • Paul||

    my life as a politically aware person (I was born in 1980).

    Jesus H Christ.

  • Paul||

    It also doesn't help that many "capitalists" are really rent seekers looking to push through legislation to protect themselves from competition.

    Capitalism is great...it's just that some "capitalists" give it a bad name.


    True enough. One can call oneself whatever one wants.

  • Reasonoid||

    "I wonder what a Venn diagram of young socialists and young gay-liberation supporters would look like?"

    So why do you hate the gays?

  • Jordan||

    That might go part of the way toward explaining a recent Rasmussen poll-much bandied about during yesterday's Tea Parties-found only 53 percent of Americans preferred capitalism to socialism, with an additional 27 percent unsure which is better.



    I'll bet fewer than 10% of these idiots could even define capitalism and socialism.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Wasn't there a counterpoll where 70%+ said they supported "free markets"?

    You can either assume that the average poll answerer is aware enough to parse the difference between what is typically called American capitalism and free marketism, or you can assume they heard the word "free" and thought "this must be a good thing".

    Needless to say, I'm inclined towards the latter. Hence why I don't put any stock in polls.

  • JP||

    I'll bet fewer than 10% of these idiots could even define capitalism and socialism.

    Socialism is, you know, Obama. And capitalism is, you know, like Bush and shit.

  • AA||

    Last night, I asked my 22-year-old daughter how she thought Obama was doing, as, after all, she voted for him. She confessed that she didn't really know because she hadn't been paying attention.

    Then she said something remarkable: She said that had heard some guy named Ron Paul speak, and that he really made a lot of sense!

    I was happy.

  • ||

    I'll bet fewer than 10% of these idiots could even define capitalism and socialism.

    Exactly. That's what's so brilliant about this poll. All most people know about socialism is that a lot of people think it's bad. Most people advocating for public welfare programs and such don't use the word because of its negative connotation. "Capitalism" has a comparably positive connotation.

    Yet despite this, these are the numbers. Scary isn't it?

  • The Angry Optimist ||

    And Tony proves JP's point. And Tony, if you think that capitalism has a positive connotation, I can only assume that the sky on your world is yellow or orange or something, because you're not residing on this planet.

  • NLE||

    There were many problems with your comments, but this one just cracked me up.

    Another thought ... this latest generation has been reared by teachers and professors with subtly if not avowedly Marxist leanings.

    Wasn't this the case for the last generation, and maybe the one before that. Still we were rhetorically able to accept Capitalism was the victor, and superior system compared to crony socialism, authoritarian socialism, and euro socialism.

    The problem is that what the average person consider freemarket capitalism was in fact crony capitalism, and frankly in IMHO, i'll shove it right up there with crony and authoritarian socialism. You're still forcing someone else to pay/sacrifice for another person's benefit.

    The sad thing is that some knew and understood the distinction, but didn't give a shit who suffered in between. Now that the economic shit has hit the farm, no one is interested in going back and willing to understand that it was the free market, but crony corporate capitalism.

  • ||

    Most of America deserves what's coming.

    Too bad the rest of us get bent over, too.

  • Jordan||

    "Capitalism" has a comparably positive connotation.



    Wow. President Bush, Bernie Madoff, and AIG, the faces of capitalism according to our news media, are all so well-loved. Good lord.

  • ||

    if you think that capitalism has a positive connotation, I can only assume that the sky on your world is yellow or orange or something, because you're not residing on this planet.

    Capitalism definitely has a more positive connotation than socialism in the USA. The poll cited even kind of shows that since a majority prefer capitalism to socialism.

    People in general don't like the socialism label, but if you start asking them about socialistic programs, they are all for them. It's the label they don't like.

    In essence, capitalism as a label is something most people don't consider an insult...but being labeled a socialist does tend to put people on the defensive.

    Even in the political class you see it. The GOP loves to attack Dems as "socialists" but I don't see the Dems attacking the GOP as "capitalists". If capitalism were truly considered an insult, wouldn't pols be hurling it at their opponents?

  • ||

    Wow. President Bush, Bernie Madoff, and AIG, the faces of capitalism according to our news media, are all so well-loved. Good lord.

    Those are the faces of crony capitalism, and using the public coffers to benefit politically connected actors. The people you are referring to were in fact corrupt. A Ponzi scheme (Madoff and to a certain extend AIG) is not what most people would consider "capitalism" -- neither is giving your Vice President's former company no-bid contracts to "repair" a country you just blew up. Those are the faces of corruption, not capitalism.

    See also: Goldman Sachs, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernake etc.

  • Jordan||

    Those are the faces of corruption, not capitalism.



    I'm not disputing that. I'm saying they've become firmly entrenched as the faces of capitalism by our news media and political class. George W. Bush will forever be the free-market cowboy in our national consciousness.

  • Cool Cal||

    Kreel,

    I was moreso referring to the ways in which educational content has changed. Even a student at Yale can graduate having never been exposed to what Bloom called the Western Cannon. In a way you are right, but I would venture that the changes the academic establishment sought to make have only come to total fruition recently in our oh so modern curriculum.

    I'm not saying that I begrudge a prodigious catalog of electives, but for Christ's sake, "Gay Studies" a major does not make.

  • ||

    What nonsense! Who on earth has ever experienced capitalism?! We've never tried it! This country, for the entirety of the modern era, has been a capitalist/socialist mix. It's the mix that we argue over, n'est-ce pas?

    That socialism vs. capitalism survey is a major crock based on general impressions of abstractions with no real world equivalents.

  • mark||

    Or the Western Canon even...

  • Brandon||

    This poll suggests young Americans are increasingly numb to the fortnightly shock of seeing X% of their income vanish into thin air. Must be the prevalence of direct deposit and plastic. I propose the IRS should demand that taxes be paid in the form of iPods, North Face jackets and alcohol.

  • IceTrey||

    So according to Rasmussen 80% of the people aren't FOR socialism. Sounds pretty good to me.

  • ||

    Also, kids today should stay off my lawn.

  • ||

    "found only 53 percent of Americans preferred capitalism to socialism, with an additional 27 percent unsure which is better. Americans under 30, my cohort, tilted even further away from capitalism, with only 37 percent preferring capitalism and 30 percent undecided."

    ...And 20% of voters could actually define either term, and half of that correctly.

    Better get used to it, absent major structural changes they're going to be seeing it the rest of their lives. Enjoy being the government's bitches.

  • perilisk||

    "I'll bet fewer than 10% of these idiots could even define capitalism and socialism."

    Who can? Capitalism and socialism may have had a simple one-line definition at some point, but at this point so many other concepts have gotten stuck on to each and made canonical that they're whole religions unto themselves, complete with saints, devils, apocryphal texts, schisms, deranged snake-handling fundamentalists and barely theistic mainstream branches.

  • hmm||

    Capitalism > *

    It's the time frame and focus that can make it a pain in the ass. The shift to near term incomes and not prolonged steady growth is the death knell in capitalism. This isn't to say capitalism is dying, the shift just creates a lot of problems. Problems that get exacerbated by excesses in any form. (leverage)

    If the cultural shifted away from the income statement and back towards the balance sheet we would be a lot better off.

  • fortyouncer||

    "every one was settling in happily to lives where much of the public discourse centered around blow jobs."

    As for me, I was trying to avoid getting arrested and put in jail forever for being a recreational drug user.

  • TallDave||

    Young people today also grow up with a media/education/entertainment message that is often explicitly anti-capitalist.

    In the newspapers, you read about evil corporations and evil rich people, complete with demands the government ride to the rescue. On TV and in movies, the bad guy is usually an evil rich CEO or an evil company doing something that makes little sense to someone operating inside a regulatory system. And if that isn't enough, most of your teachers are happy to remind you that the evil corporations are destroying the Earth.

  • Bipedal Polster||

    Hello, young lady, off to class I see. Do you have a minute to answer some questions?

    Sure!

    Which system do you feel is better for society as a whole, Capitalism or Socialism?

    Socialism!

    Do you feel Socialism is also more beneficial to you than Capitalism?

    Sure!

    Do you believe you should be allowed to make your own career and employment choices?

    Of course!

    Does your person, body, mind, blood, hair, and organs belong to you or to the state?

    To me, of course!

    Do your personal effects belong to you or to the state>

    They are mine!

    I'm going to put you down as 'Capitalist' for your first answer, okay?

    Okay!

  • defin||

    Socialism---> government ownership pf the means of production


    Capitalism---> Private ownership of the means of production

    Mixed economy--> all the shit in between, from Social-democracy to fascism.

    (now we have to define ownership/property)

  • ||

    Capitalism had triumphed over communism and socialism

    I think it would be more accurate to say that the west hadn't completed its slide into socialism by the time the older socialist regimes collapsed of their own weight.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Kids these days... [head shake]

    I don't think enough people are playing The Communism Game. When I heard anyone in college extolling the virtues of communism/socialism, I'd steal their backpack and start walking off with it. Never had even one who was all for the abolition of private property when it came to their property.

    Yes. I'm an asshole. But I contend the ones who want to really steal stuff from other people, as opposed to pretending to steal stuff, are bigger assholes.

  • ||

    I propose the IRS should demand that taxes be paid in the form of iPods, North Face jackets and alcohol.

    Win.

  • T||

    I propose the IRS should demand that taxes be paid in the form of iPods, North Face jackets and alcohol.

    Only if I can get my refund the same way. I'll take a new iPod and the balance in booze.

    Of course, with my luck, that means a truckload of Zima and Old Crow.

  • ||

    Very few adults in the U.S. today have any experience with very high tax rate environment. Someone who was in the highest tax bracket in the 1970's during the Carter years may have been in their forties or fifties and today would be in their seventies or eighties. As for those who experienced the really high rates for the top brackets back in the forties and fifties (90%), well they're all dead. Many of today's young urban high wage earning and highly educated (Obama Voters) have enjoyed the comparatively low rates of the recent past. I suspect that once confiscatory tax rates are in place a great many of them are going to experience a conservative catharsis.

  • ||

    On TV and in movies, the bad guy is usually an evil rich CEO or an evil company doing something that makes little sense to someone operating inside a regulatory system.

    Yes, because having a villain that's a poor, powerless person is compelling. Also, in about half the movies, the government is the bad guy as well. Or a secret society of hackers. Bad guys are generally, wealthy, powerful, shadowy individuals or groups and this has been the case for centuries.

    It's hard to write a compelling story with a bunch of poor, powerless people as the bad guys.

  • ||

    When we talk about taxes going up we mean a high percentage of our income. Our taxes in total dollar terms go up every time we have an increase in income. At what percentage point can we sustain?

  • ||

    College kids are still dependent on the state and/or their parents. They have their hands out. Handouts have worked well for them, so they think it's a good idea.

    However, you see how much you bargain away to keep the handouts coming. There is no true freedom in that.

    Post college, getting a job and paying your own bills, no more kowtowing and bowing and scraping to the government and/or parents for survival and $20 to go out on. Freedom.

    Pay lots of taxes out of those earnings...less enthusiasm for handing it over to the lazy parasites. The realization that yes there is a difference between you and that easy girl in high school who was so popular and now she's got four kids and she's on welfare and "makes" more than you do each month in TANF and Section 8 and EBT cards and LIHEAP and subsidized phone service and cheese.

  • ||

    15% of ALL income below this limit goes to the government. This sliding limit has hit my ass pretty hard. When these fuckers double taxes and act like they are doing me a favor they make me rather mad. When Reason passes out this propaganda uncritically it makes me sick.

    Year FICA Limit
    1996 $62,700
    1997 $65,400
    1998 $68,400
    1999 $72,600
    2000 $76,200
    2001 $80,400
    2002 $84,900
    2003 $87,000
    2004 $87,900
    2005 $90,000
    2006 $94,200
    2007 $97,500
    2008 $102,000
    2009 $106,800

  • ||

    I wander if Katherine has read Voltaire's Candide

    and became a convert to the philosophy of the great genius Pangloss.

  • ||

    The big questions will never be settled because every generation must relearn the lessons of the last generation. We are not born with knowledge, but must accumulate it. At least in part through trial and error.

    As for the results of the Socialism/Capitalism questionnaire, they need to go back and check how many of the respondents know what the words mean.

  • TallDave||

    Yes, because having a villain that's a poor, powerless person is compelling.

    Who said they have to be poor or powerless? Why not an evil UN official? You know, like the ones in charge of the guys raping civilians ion Africa, or getting billions in kickbacks from Oil-For-Food.

    Also, in about half the movies, the government is the bad guy as well.

    Sometimes. But rarely is a "bad guy" politician a pro-welfare, pro-gun-control type.

  • ||

    "Who said they have to be poor or powerless? Why not an evil UN official? You know, like the ones in charge of the guys raping civilians ion Africa, or getting billions in kickbacks from Oil-For-Food."

    Talldave, enough with the conspiracy theories. Things are better now than they have ever been before. You are just spoiled because taxes haven't gone up in 15 years.

  • mark||

    How about that movie hero Laine Hanson in The Contender?

    "I stand for seeing every gun taken out of every home -- period."

    It's hard to suspend disbelief with lines like that.

  • ||

    "But rarely is a "bad guy" politician a pro-welfare, pro-gun-control type."

    not true, I have seen lots of movies where Hitler was the bad guy.

  • economist||

    "Capitalism is great...it's just that some 'capitalists' give it a bad name."

    So if capitalism were defined to mean what most libertarians (like myself) would consider a purer definition, do you think more people would be in favor? Or against?

  • economist||

    Gabe,
    Dammit, Gabe, you Godwinned the thread. Now I'll have to drink again!

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