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Thelma and Louise Economics

By: sebastianjer , 11:41 AM GMT on July 18, 2012

Thelma and Louise Economics

By Ross Kaminsky

Patty "Thelma" Murray and Barack "Louise" Obama prepare to drive their country and party over a cliff.

Things didn't end all that well for Thelma and Louise, in the eponymous 1991 Ridley Scott film, as they drove off a cliff in a desperate effort to evade legal and moral responsibility for having transformed themselves from non-descript mediocrities into common criminals. An alarmingly similar political saga, starring Democrats in Washington, D.C., is playing out today -- although, unlike Thelma and Louise's crimes, plundering citizens is, unfortunately, only illegal if you were not elected to do so.

Given President Obama's deep love for Hollywood (or at least the money of its residents), one would think that he would be aware of the impact, if you will pardon the obvious pun, of driving off a cliff.

Yet Barack "Louise" Obama along with Senator Patty "Thelma" Murray (D-WA) seem hell-bent on taking the economic version of that same road trip, as if they've never seen the end of the movie and aren't smart enough to figure it out.

In a speech at the Brookings Institution on Monday, Murray, the second-ranking Democrat on the do-nothing Senate Budget Committee and Chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, put her foot on the accelerator of the Democrats' doomed joy-ride, saying that her intent is to prevent any tax rate policy deal in Congress that does not include raising taxes on the "wealthy." By wealthy, Thelma and Louise mean individuals making over $200,000 per year or families earning over $250,000, a standard that Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and a handful of electorally vulnerable Senate Democrats dislike, but one they will go along with when the time comes to cast a vote.

Raising taxes on the two percent of Americans who already pay about half of all federal income taxes is what strikes Democrats as "balanced": "[I]f we can't get a good deal -- a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share -- then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013, rather than lock in a long-term deal this year that throws middle-class families under the bus," said Thelma.

It takes a particular sort of mind to argue that not raising taxes on Mrs. Smith represents throwing Mr. Jones under the bus. It takes a particular sort of mind to claim that the "wealthy" do not pay their "fair share" when the top one percent of earners pay more in federal income taxes than do the bottom 90 percent. Read that again; it is not a typo.

And it takes a charlatan to imply to voters that this tax hike will have a significant impact on the federal debt and deficit: Even the White House's own notoriously optimistic assumptions anticipate that the additional revenue due to raising the top two marginal income rates will represent less than seven percent of the coming decade's cumulative deficits.

It is unlikely to do even that.

As the Cato Institute's Dan Mitchell puts it, "Behind closed doors, Obama's people must realize that their class-warfare proposal won't generate as much revenue as projected. Surely they are familiar with the evidence from the 1980s, and they must know that upper-income people have considerable control over the timing, level, and composition of their income." Perhaps Dan, despite being as cynical about politicians of both parties as anybody I know, nevertheless gives Democrats too much credit: Part of the left's "fatal conceit" is their deep belief that history is irrelevant against the force of their wills, their wisdom, and their claims of good intentions.

While noting Thelma Murray's weasel words, "long-term," which would give her a face-saving way to jam on the brakes and accept a several-month deal to allow the debate to be had during the next Congress rather than in the lame duck session, it's safe to say Democrats are playing a dangerous game. Are the brakes on the economic automobile, which is speeding toward the fiscal cliff, strong enough to stop it from going over the edge if Democrats keep their foot on the gas until the last possible moment?

When repeating his tax-hiking goal recently, Louise Obama said, "I'm not proposing anything radical here," but then the definition of "radical" probably has a different meaning to a disciple of Jeremiah Wright and Saul Alinsky than it does to most Americans.

Or does it?

Our elected Thelma and Louise, and other Democratic leaders -- a term I use very loosely -- believe that Republicans will feel so much political pressure from being perceived as defending the "rich," will be so bloodied by the slings and arrows of class warfare, that they will cave.

House and Senate Republicans, to their credit, show no sign of weakening. Nevertheless, guided as Democrats are by polls their view is understandable. In what can best be thought of as a damning indictment of Americans' economic literacy, recent surveys by Rasmussen and Pew suggest that a plurality of our countrymen support the soak-the-rich, beggar-thy-neighbor views of Thelma Murray and Louise Obama, believing that raising taxes on the "rich" would benefit both the economy and "tax fairness." Thelma and Louise economics, however, will do to your job (unless you work in foreclosures) what the movie characters did to their car.

Republicans make a sound argument about the economic impact of raising taxes, particularly on job creation. But they haven't made the argument frequently or well enough, nor are they addressing the "fairness" claim, one that fewer Americans would buy into if they had even the most basic understanding of the true structure of our tax code.

Unlike the issue of Obamacare, where opinion among Independent voters is much closer to the views of Republicans than to those of Democrats, on this issue, Independents -- who are, as you are undoubtedly tired of hearing, the key to winning every major election in America -- fall between members of the two major parties in their view of the Democrats' proposed tax hikes. Unfortunately, and, I repeat, representing an utter failure of Republicans, the media, and our educational system, Independents currently think, by more than a 2-to-1 margin, that soaking the "rich" will make the economy better and the tax system fairer.

The goal for Republicans must be to address this group, giving them a few bite-size pieces of fundamental information, with more focus on the economy than on "fairness." After all, worrying about fairness is a luxury reserved for those who have a job, or those limousine liberals who don't need one.

Regarding fairness, Republicans should make the points that the two percent of Americans whose taxes Democrats want to raise already pay the half of federal income taxes and that most Americans aspire to be in that two percent (or higher); it is outside the character of most Americans to be jealous of our neighbors. Furthermore, tax hikes included in Obamacare are already poised to dramatically impact upper-income earners -- as well as anyone with a pension plan or retirement account that is invested in individual stocks or stock mutual funds.

Or, to put it in sound bites: Are you so sure that the American Dream is dead that you're willing to raise tax rates on upper-middle class people, as if those rates will never impact you? And is it fair to raise the rates on those few Americans who already pay most of the taxes while nearly half of the nation pays zero federal income tax yet are still protected by our military and served by the federal government?

But it is regarding the actual economic impact of Democrats' proposed tax hikes where the GOP must correct Independents' ignorance and remind voters that Thelma and Louise is not a romantic story of unappreciated idealism, but rather a tale of recklessness leading to unnecessary death and destruction.

Even Barack Obama recognized -- back in 2009, when he wasn't so desperate to run on anything but his record, because he didn't have one -- that "you don't raise taxes during a recession" and that doing so would "put businesses in a further hole." Does he now believe that the weakest "recovery" in modern American history is so different from a recession, or that we are so safe from the chances of going into another recession, that raising taxes will actually help the economy?

Or, to put it in a sound-bite: Even Barack Obama knows that you don't raise taxes when the economy is bad. Is your job is safe enough to risk Obama's tax hikes?

A new paper by Drs. Robert Carroll and Gerald Prante of Ernst & Young finds that the higher marginal tax rates being proposed by Thelma Murray and Louis Obama combined with the higher taxes included in Obamacare "result in a smaller economy, fewer jobs, less investment, and lower wages."

Highlights of the paper's findings:

"Lower individual tax rates were found to increase the probability of entrepreneurs hiring workers and, for those with employees, the total amount of a firm's wages."
While the CBO expects the massive tax hikes to reduce the deficit (though history shows that marginal income tax hikes never generate the expected revenue), "This fiscal shock is projected to result in 2013 real GDP growth of 0.5%, whereas in the absence of this fiscal shock, real GDP growth is estimated at 4.4%. CBO projects that under current law policies, the economy will contract by 1.3% in the first half of 2013 before growing by 2.3% in the second half of 2013, meeting the standard textbook definition of a recession of two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth."
"In today's economy these changes would translate into a decline in GDP of $200 billion and employment by roughly 710,000 jobs. Investment, the capital stock (net worth) and real after-tax wages would also fall."<

Getting out a strong, effective message that Thelma and Louise economic policy is bad for all Americans is particularly important in the context of Gallup's recent conclusion that "Mitt Romney does not seem to be benefiting from Americans' declining economic confidence." After all, if Mitt Romney cannot sell his economic message, what can he sell -- and what would we want to buy?

Clearly, the Romney team recognizes this, and in a must-watch speech given in Irwin, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, we witnessed a more aggressive, combative Mitt Romney, a Mitt Romney who torpedoed Thelma and Louise economics, a Mitt Romney who caused conservative pundit Michelle Malkin to comment, "I believed in what he was selling: A vision for restoring American greatness and defending success."

Romney told the assembled crowd, regarding Barack Obama's recent words denying that entrepreneurs are responsible for their own accomplishments, that "President Obama attacks success and therefore under President Obama we have less success. And I will change that. I don't think anyone could have said what he said who had ever started a business or been in a business.… This election is to a great degree about the soul of America. Do we believe in an America that is great because of government or do we believe in America that is great because of free people allowed to pursue their dreams and build their futures?" Can I get a "hallelujah!"?

Our very own Thelma and Louise should at long last be worried that there's a new sheriff in town.

When I first saw Thelma and Louise, I was more concerned about the destruction of their car (a 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible) than about what happened to its passengers who had earned and chosen their fate. I feel similarly today, unconcerned (to put it politely) about what happens to the political careers of Barack Obama, Patty Murray, and their friends, but extremely worried about the havoc to be wreaked on our economy while leftist ideologues, desperate to win re-election in the face of years of publicly-recognized fecklessness, step on the gas as we approach the fiscal cliff.

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Interesting Pics 2012

Jer's Photo of the Day

Photos and Photo Art by Sebastianjer

Election 2012

Since April I have been tracking "Likely Voter" polls in the states that could possibly be in play in November. These are not polls of just "registered voters" but only those of "likely Voters" which are generally accepted to be the most accurate. As we get closer to the election most polling outfits will begin to poll only "likely voters" at present only a few do now. I will post the most recent of these LV polls as I find them. A (+) represents Obama is up a (-) represents that Romney is up in that state according to the most recent LV poll.

FL -3/OH +3/ PA +6/ IA +1/ NC -3/ VA +1/ AZ -13/ CO +1/ NV +8/ MO -7/ NH +4/ MI +1/
MN NA/ WI +8/ ME +14/ OR NA/ NJ NA/ NM +11/ GA +12/ SC NA/ IN NA/

BOLD are changes since 6/27 and direction of change for Obama (>)up (<) down since last poll
IA >
NH >
MI >
WI >
GA New
ME New
NM Bew
FL <
CO <
VA <
OH >

States where over 50% of voters would vote for President Obama in the above polling data:

NV 52%
NM 51%
States 45% or below for Obama
FL 45%
IA 45%
NC 44%
AZ 41%
MO 42%
GA 40%
CO 45%

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"Do we believe in an America that is great because of government, or do we believe in an America that is great because of free people allowed to pursue their dreams and build their future?"

Mitt Romney
July 17, 2012

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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7. sebastianjer
11:58 PM GMT on July 18, 2012
Hi all thanks for coming by and the words of encouragement, but it's a labor of love. I truly enjoy doing it.

No Mobal I don't know what the boat is, though I have seen it twice on the river, so it must be owned locally or by another of the one percenters that vist us here regularly :)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
5. billsfaninsofla
10:14 PM GMT on July 18, 2012
Hello Jer and friends.

Ditto what Spathy said Jer. I read and enjoy your blog each and every day.

Thanks for all you do.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
4. latitude25
10:05 PM GMT on July 18, 2012
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

...there he goes again....assuming the government just made all that money out of thin air

...oh wait!.....nevermind
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2. mobal
5:56 PM GMT on July 18, 2012
Hi Jer,
Any idea what make that wooden boat in your pic's of the day Leisure Cruise). Looks awesome.
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1. sebastianjer
12:47 PM GMT on July 18, 2012
Obama believes success is a gift from government

Michael Barone

Perhaps the rain made the teleprompter unreadable. That's one thought I had on pondering Barack Obama's comments to a rain-soaked rally in Roanoke, Va., last Friday.

Perhaps he didn't really mean what he said. Or perhaps -- as is often the case with people when unanchored from a prepared text -- he revealed what he really thinks.

"There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back," he began, defending his policy of higher tax rates on high earners. "They know they didn't -- look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, 'well, it must be because I was just so smart.' There are a lot of smart people out there. 'It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.' Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business -- you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

In other words, Steve Jobs didn't make Apple happen. It was the work of a teacher union member -- er, great teacher -- and the government agencies that paved I-280 and El Camino Real that made Apple happen.

High earners don't deserve the money they make, Obama apparently thinks. It's the gift of government, and they shouldn't begrudge handing more of it back to government.

And that's true, as he told Charlie Gibson of ABC News in 2008, even if those higher tax rates produce less revenue for the government, as has been the case with rate increases on capital gains. The government should take away the money as a matter of "fairness."

The cynical might dismiss Obama's preoccupation with higher tax rates as an instance of a candidate dwelling on one of his few proposals that tests well in the polls. Certainly, he doesn't want to talk much about Obamacare or the stimulus package.

Cynics might note that he spurned supercommittee Republicans' willingness last year to reduce tax deductions so as to actually increase revenue from high earners, without discouraging investment or encouraging tax avoidance as higher tax rates do.

But maybe Obama's Captain-Ahab-like pursuit of higher tax rates just comes from a sense that no one earns success and that there's no connection between effort and reward.

That kind of thinking also helps to explain the approach taken by Sen. Patty Murray in a speech at the Brookings Institution on Monday. She wants a tax rate increase on high earners so badly she said she'd prefer raising everyone's taxes next year to maintaining current rates.

Murray was first elected in 1992 as a state legislator, who had been dismissed by a lobbyist as "just a mom in tennis shoes." But in 20 years she's become an accomplished appropriator and earmarker.

"Do no harm," Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told members of Congress at a hearing yesterday, urging them to avoid the sharp spending cuts and tax rate increases scheduled for year's end.

But Murray is threatening to do exactly that kind of harm. Those prattling about how irresponsible Republicans are might want to ponder her threat.

And to consider that Republicans remember what happened to the last Republican who agreed to such rate increases, George H.W. Bush in 1990. Seeking re-election in 1992, he won only 37 percent of the vote. Republicans won't risk that again.

The Obama Democrats seem to believe there's no downside risk in threatening huge tax increases for everyone and in asserting that if you're successful "someone else made that happen."

But the Wall Street Journal's Colleen McCain Nelson reported yesterday how affluent Denver suburbanites have soured on Obama. Obama tied John McCain 49 to 49 percent among voters with more than $100,000 income in 2008, but in NBC/WSJ polls this year, they've favored Mitt Romney 50 to 44 percent.

Affluent voters trended Democratic over two decades on cultural issues. But economic issues dominate this year, and they may not appreciate Obama's assertion that they don't deserve what they've earned.
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