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No, Jonathan Chait, I Never Hinted That Having a Swiss Bank Account Amounts to 'heroic rebellion'

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Swiss heroism

Jonathan Chait has a long piece in New York magazine about liberalism in Hollywood. In it, he quotes me on a very tangential side-issue, yet still manages to misrepresent my stated views seriously enough to point out. The relevant section:

This year, some of Obama's movie-star luster has worn off, yet the cultural landscape is the same, essentially congenial place. Here is one small but newly relevant example. The website tvtropes.org collects the basic rules of various pop-culture genres—for instance, a character in a horror film who announces that he will "be right back" is about to suffer a grisly fate. One entry notes that "merely possessing a Swiss bank account is proof positive that a person is up to no good" and that "in more recent stories, an account in an offshore tax haven, such as the Cayman Islands, may be substituted."

In many quarters of the right, though, secretive finances and tax-dodging represent heroic rebellion against tyrannical government. (Reason editor Matt Welch recently defended Swiss bank accounts as a sanctuary for "panicked retirees trying to cope with new tax rules imposed capriciously by a revenue-hungry Congress and president in 2010.") The automatic imputation of sinister motives to secretive tax avoidance by wealthy businesspeople is exactly the sort of thing the Screen Guide for Americans warned against. Now, of course, the Republican Party has nominated a presidential candidate possessing both a Swiss bank account and money in a Cayman Islands tax haven, and television and film have so deeply ingrained the popular distrust of these things that Democrats need only chant the phrases in order to make him bleed.

Jonathan Chait

Chait's parenthetical links me to the notion that "secretive finances and tax-dodging represent heroic rebellion against tyrannical government," which is a sentiment utterly absent from the piece of mine he quotes from. That column was about how anti-"Swiss bank account" populism is hurting Americans (and others) right now, particularly those who live and work abroad. I italicize because Chait's usage of the word "sanctuary" before the quote attributed to me makes it seem like I was talking about Grandma and Grandpa squirrelling their money abroad to avoid domestic tax rules. In context, my quote was instead about expatriate Americans who happened to be retired and are totally panicking right now because of the new U.S. tax laws aimed at foreign financial institutions. The longer quote:

Do you know who else once had a Swiss bank account? I mean, besides Hitler? Various U.S. military veterans, dual-national citizens who haven't lived or worked in America for decades, and panicked retirees who are trying to cope with new tax rules imposed capriciously by a revenue-hungry Congress and president in 2010. Thousands of such Americans are getting bounced out of their existing Swiss accounts and denied new ones, even if they live and work in Geneva for one of the city's many international non-governmental organizations.

You can read dozens of their testimonies in this April 2012 letter [PDF] to the Internal Revenue Service from American Citizens Abroad, including this story from an American retiree who has lived in Geneva (where he worked at the U.S. secretariat for the United Nations' International Labor Office) for all but four years since 1973[.]

Note: There is effectively no more "secretive finances and tax-dodging" associated with what few American-held Swiss bank accounts are left (including mine!), so I'm really not sure what that purported "heroic rebellion" is supposed to even refer to.

Chait has made a habit out of misrepresenting my and Reason's views. It's kind of odd.   

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  1. You know a writer is being dishonest or obtuse when they start a paragraph with something like “In many quarters of the right…” and then give an anecdote about Reason magazine.

    Of course, you know a writer is being dishonest or obtuse when their name is Jonathan Chait.

    1. “in many quarters” is the Obamaian style of argument. How often has begun something with “some say…” when, in fact, no one is actually saying anything of the kind. It’s not hard to knock down arguments that no one is making.

      1. It’s “there are those who say…” dude. Geez.

      2. The passive voice is also the nation’s #1 finger-pointer.

  2. It’s New York magazine.

  3. I hope no one was expecting honesty in assessment or attack by Jonathan Chait, as a reading of his works should quickly disabuse anyone of that notion.

  4. Chait has repeatedly demonstrated that he doesn’t want to be taken seriously, and yet people still pretend that he’s a serious person. How strange.

    1. You call it unseriousness. In many quarters of the left, though, refusing to acknowledge reality is an act of heroic rebellion.

  5. It’s interesting how people like Chait seem to assume the law is Holy Writ, handed down from a mountain top, instead of being written in the offices of Congressional staffers by lobbyists.

    1. Progs only support “the rule of law” when it comes to policies they like, and/or someone from Team Blue is running the executive branch.

      Look no further than their boot-licking towards the TSA post-2008 for evidence of this.

      1. Progs only support “the rule of law” when it comes to policies they like

        Except for executive waivers to Obamacare.

        1. [Obama is] the law!

  6. The website tvtropes.org collects the basic rules of various pop-culture genres?for instance, a character in a horror film who announces that he will “be right back” is about to suffer a grisly fate.

    Maybe there should be a website that collects the basic rules of various journalistic tropes–for instance, a journalist writing for a liberal paper who announces that he is about to quote a libertarian will almost invariably: 1) misidentify the libertarian as part of the “right” and 2) misconstrue whatever the libertarian wrote so as to conform to whatever straw man the liberals are beating up on at the moment.

    1. 2) misconstrue whatever the libertarian wrote so as to conform to whatever straw man the liberals are beating up on at the moment.

      I guess you’re lucky he wasn’t writing about the militia movement this week, Matt.

      1. Matt likes the Tea Baggers – Matt is Racist!

        1. So and So libertarian supports Second Amendment rights as a rational expression of freedom, which is the same philosophy as the Sikh temple shooter! Why in 2010, So and So wrote…

          Apparently, it doesn’t matter what people actually write, not so long as Chait wants to make a point about something.

          It’s funny, but I remember a few years ago, when some liberals were talking about a liberal/libertarian alliance.

          I’m still open to endorsing their positions on certain issues, but it would be a whole lot easier for libertarians to support liberals on the Drug War, for instance, if their cheerleaders in the media would stop demonizing us every chance they get.

          1. it would be a whole lot easier for libertarians to support liberals on the Drug War if liberals actually opposed the Drug War

            1. Some of them are against the Drug War.

              The NAACP opposes the Drug War, and I think of them as liberal.

              1. I bet their endorsement record says otherwise.

              2. Yeah, I think Scruffy would be more accurate in saying “if liberals actually voted for politicans who opposed the Drug War,” but his sentiment stands.

                1. I’d love to think that liberals were a monolithic block that agrees on everything–all of it unholy.

                  Actually, one of the few things they all seem to agree on is that the White House needs to be kept out of the hands of the Republicans.

                  There are plenty of liberals who agree with us on certain issues. The Drug War is an obvious one.

                  For anybody who thinks it’s so controversial to suggest that there might be liberals somewhere out there who agree with us on the Drug War, you might want to dial back on whatever hyper-partisan stuff you’ve been reading because it’s clouding your judgement.

                  P.S. I don’t want anybody to blow a gasket, but if we looked hard enough, we might be able to find liberals out there who oppose unnecessary wars, policy brutality, giving taxpayer money to Wall Street, and oppose a handful of other things libertarians generally agree with them on.

                  And none of that should be controversial to anybody.

                  1. And? Jeez, of course we have areas of agreement. Look hard enough, you can find areas of agreement with Hitler and Pol Pot. Like Adolf, I love German Shepherds. But some of his other views, policies, and personal habits might be, er, less convivial. Still…!

                  2. For anybody who thinks it’s so controversial to suggest that there might be liberals somewhere out there who agree with us on the Drug War, you might want to dial back on whatever hyper-partisan stuff you’ve been reading because it’s clouding your judgement.

                    Find a liberal who opposes the Drug War. Then ask him/her who he’s voting for. I’m guessing Obama is going to poll fairly highly. Nothing hyper-partisan about it. If I’m wrong, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

                  3. “For anybody who thinks it’s so controversial to suggest that there might be liberals somewhere out there who agree with us on the Drug War,…”

                    What’s controversial is how big of an influence they have on the left. For liberals who oppose certain aspects of the Drug War, what is the principle they oppose it on? Generally, they oppose government intrusions only if it effects them personally. Liberals think people are perfectable, if they believe restricting people’s choices is in the collective interest they will seek the restrictions.

          2. Incidentally, in addition to the links Matt included about showing that Chait, apparently, treats Reason like a well of straw men that never runs dry, Gillespie posted something similar back in February, in which Chait seems to explain why he does it.

            Gillespie quotes Chait:

            “People often ask, “Why is Jonathan Chait so mean?” It is a fair question, one that…merits a suitably thoughtful reply….

            [T]his is why I am forced to be so mean. There are just a lot of people out there exerting significant influence over the political debate who are totally unqualified. The dilemma is especially acute in the political economic field, where wealthy right-wingers have pumped so much money to subsidize the field of pro-rich people polemics that the demand for competent defenders of letting rich people keep as much of their money as possible vastly outstrips the supply. Hence the intellectual marketplace for arguments that we should tax rich people less is glutted with hackery….

            But that’s why there’s a value in signaling that some arguments aren’t merely expressing a difference in values or interpretation, but are made by an unqualified hack peddling demonstrable nonsense. Being so mean is a labor of love, I confess, but also one with a purpose.”

            https://reason.com/blog/2012/02/10/title-tk

            1. So, Chait, who, as far as I can tell, has no special expertise regarding economic policy, has taken it upon himself to deliver us all from the Kochtopus. Because if it weren’t for the Koch brothers, I guess he thinks I’d be perfectly happy with Barack Obama squandering my future paychecks on bailing out Wall Street, the UAW, and the Stimulus!

              So, anyway, that’s apparently why Chait has Reason.com bookmarked. You’re part of the Kochtopus, Matt, and everything you write must be devalued–and whether he misrepresents what you actually wrote is apparently beside the point.

              Chait thinks he’s a white knight and you’re a dragon. He’s delusional.

    2. “misidentify the libertarian as part of the “right”

      In a simple “left-right” axisLibertarianism is on the right, at least in an American political context. In most inportant aspects, libertarianism is on the far right. It certainly is not on the left, and the placing it in the center is absurd.

  7. The guy is an idiot, of course. But the only people making an issue out of this kind of thing are the people who think it’s the government’s money to begin with.

  8. In many quarters of the right, though, secretive finances and tax-dodging represent heroic rebellion against tyrannical government.

    I tend to think of this merely as rational behavior.

    1. Interesting that he believes that a person’s finances should not be “secretive”.

      Tell us, Jonathon, what are your assets? Liabilities? Income? Expenses?

      You don’t want your finances to be “secretive”, do you?

      1. I’ll come forth with my personal finances.

        Twenty dollars worth of quarters in a sock.
        A box of rocks hidden in the basement.
        And a Swiss bank account filled with hot chocolate.

    2. I was about to say, even if Welch didn’t write that, it doesn’t make it any less appropriate as a principle.

    3. Agreed. I found myself shrugging at Chait’s out-of-context construction and thinking, “So?”

  9. You’re such a flaccid libertarian Matt. Squirreling money away to avoid paying taxes does make one a hero of the rebellion. For the love of property Matt – Grow a pair!

    1. Yeah. I like the “Fuck off, Slavers” aspect of off-shore accounts.

    2. It is not so much heroism as it is non stupidity. You would have to be a fool to leave your accumulations of wealth to the tender mercies of people who make a career out of financial regulation driven by an animus built on despising your very existence, and they most certainly do.

  10. Is it my imagination or are his eyes too close together?

    1. Check for my explanation of this in a post about 11am on the dot … he’s an alien.

  11. I still can’t get my head around how liberals think that Romney reporting a Swiss account on his TAX RETURN is dodging taxes.

    If you are reporting foreign bank accounts to the IRS, you are doing it wrong.

    1. Because to them, tax avoidance = tax evasion. But only if you’re a wealthy non-progressive.

      1. Declaring my mortgage interest is tax avoidance. Am I a moustache-twirling, cape-donning villain now?

        1. That depends on whether or not you are willing to declare your vote and campaign contribution for Obama.

    2. liberal philosophy is built on the premise of all money belongs to the govt. Romney putting money into a Swiss acct means the govt is being robbed of its ability to do good things for us all.

  12. No, Jonathan Chait, I Never Hinted That Having a Swiss Bank Account Amounts to ‘heroic rebellion’

    …but they are!

  13. “Chait has made a habit out of misrepresenting my and Reason’s views. It’s kind of odd.”

    It’s not that odd. Chait’s often funny, but he’s not very smart or thorough, so he often gets stuff wrong. He’s like that Marvel Comics superhero who could copy half the power of each of several other heros. In Chait’s case, he got about 25% of Dave Barry’s humor, coupled with about 10% of Michael Kinsley’s insight, and made it into a career.

  14. Because no American has ever say, donated a book to charity instead of selling it because the write-off is worth more than the cash.

    No American ever has re-written their taxes three times to try to maximize their refund.

    Tax avoidance is patriotic.

  15. Tax “avoidance”, that is, taking advantage of every legal deduction, credit, etc., is merely complying with the social engineering that Our Masters indulge in through the tax code.

    How is that not “patriotic”, Jonathon? Are you saying we should defy the schemes of Our Masters?

    1. it becomes clearer when you consider who Chait’s intended audience is – fellow travelers who indulge themselves in creating reasons why their political opponents are not just wrong on the issues, but also evil.

      Few things are more obnoxious than people wealthy enough to be as liberal as they want. Effete, letftist snobs who spout things like “I would be happy to pay more in taxes” then quickly call Morty at the accounting shop to find a way of avoiding doing exactly that.

    2. It’s patriotic to present an easy target for the IRS.

  16. Oh Lord, Jonathan Chait’s gotten out again. Can’t someone call his social worker?

  17. Chait has made a habit out of misrepresenting my and Reason’s views. It’s kind of odd.

    You don’t have to be so polite, Matt. “Jonathan Chait is a sociopathic, lying piece of shit” sends the exact same message in much more succint manner.

    1. But, you see, he is a sociopathic liar who channels his lies to the service of Good, advancing the political interest of the Democratic party. Much like Dexter who channels his murderous impulses to stop the killers of innocent victims, Chait uses his compulsive lying to stop the GOP from preying on women, minorities and the poor.

      Chait is really Dexter if you think about it.

  18. Here’s a question for Mister Chait:

    “Do you avail yourself of the option on your income tax form to provide your basic financial info and let the IRS calculate your tax obligation? If not, why not?”

  19. “Chait” could be a new term, like “santorum”.

    Now, to figure out how.

    1. “This whole situation really chaps my Chait.”

      1. It should probably be a verb.

        Chait: v. To misrepresent facts and sources while making an argument.

        “Dave got busted for chaiting on his term paper”.

  20. Perhaps this is off-topic a mite, but Chait looks like an alien, doesn’t he? And he really is a sissy little beeyotch, too. I’d like to reshape his alien countenance into something at least vaguely human, using digital countenance-reshaping technology (fingers, hands, you know) — but he would still have that little reptilian brain behind it. I think I will leave him be, since he looks about as pug-ugly as he thinks. Oops. Let’s put a [sic] after “thinks” …

  21. I think we should start referring to “progressives” as “right-wingers.”
    I mean, why not? It’s, like, apparently the worst insult they can think of, and hey, it makes as much sense as calling libertarians “right-wingers,” probably more so.

    Fucking right-wingers like right-wing writer Jonathan Chait and his right-wing buddies are what’s wrong with this country.

    Yeah.

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