Comrade Buchanan

Pat Buchanan has an article in TakiMag today entitled Comrade Barack. Mr. Buchanan opines:

If Barack Obama is not a socialist, he does the best imitation of one I’ve ever seen.
Under his tax plan, the top 5 percent of wage-earners have their income tax rates raised from 35 percent to 40 percent, while the bottom 40 percent of all wage-earners, who pay no income tax, are sent federal checks.
If this is not the socialist redistribution of wealth, what is it?

This is certainly a fair question. There can be no doubt that taking money from some and giving it to others constitutes redistribution of incomes, which many consider to be the essence of socialism. One problem, however, is that the program already exists. It is called the “Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC),” or “Negative Income Tax.” And if it is socialist, it has a rather strange pedigree. It was proposed by Milton Friedman, supported by President Nixon, signed into law by President Ford, and vastly expanded by President Reagan. This is certainly the oddest collection of socialists I have even encountered.

Comrade Pat has been a life-long Republican partisan and a former speech-writer for Ronald Reagan, whom, I suppose, we will now have to refer to as Comrade Ron. But the obvious question is why did Comrade Pat all of a sudden discover the latent socialism in the Democratic candidate, while missing it, for so many years, in his Republican heroes? Okay. Maybe that's not even an interesting question; maybe it is self-evident that a partisan would apply different standards to members of his own party. Nevertheless, Comrade Pat is an intelligent man, and there is a question that an intelligent man, as opposed to a mere partisan, ought to have asked. And the question is this: “Why, in this day of pervasive income taxes, do 40% of all wage-earners earn so little that not only do they pay no tax, but need a supplement from the government?” The answer is a bit more interesting than mere charges of socialism.

The first answer is that they do pay taxes, and at a high rate. They pay the payroll taxes, which amount to more than 15% of their income. Indeed, without the EITC, these workers would pay a larger proportionate share of their income in taxes than does Warren Buffet, as Mr. Buffet himself acknowledges. In truth, we have two systems of income tax, one for the rich and one for everybody else. The rich, whose incomes often derive mainly from capital gains, are taxed at a preferential rates. Long-term capital gains are taxed at 15%, or less than payroll taxes that the poorest workers pay. McCain thinks that even this is too much of a burden for the rich, and wants to cut the rate in half. Of course, both McCain and Buchanan are victims of a flawed economic theory which believes that only capital creates wealth, while labor is, at best, a mere nuisance that should be gotten rid of whenever possible by outsourcing. I won't here go into the flaws in this theory; those who want to examine it more critically can buy my book, The Vocation of Business: Social Justice in the Marketplace. Here we can merely note that if one adds up the costs of tax preferences, the advantage goes to the rich, not the poor.

But there is another reason for the negative income tax, a reason that impressed the Nobel economist and the Republican presidents alike: It helps to stave off economic collapse. The hard, economic truth is that when incomes accumulate at the top to an unreasonable degree, there is a failure of demand. A CEO may make 500 times what the line worker makes, but he cannot eat 500 times the amount of food, wear 500 times the shirts, shoes, and socks, live in a home 500 times larger, etc. This means that purchasing power is lost to the economy, and must be restored. Nor can the rich man find profitable investments for his excess wealth, since the mere excess itself causes the market to be restricted. Instead, he ends up “investing” it in speculative instruments like CDS's, which add nothing to the productive capacity of the economy. They are mere bets, where one man's winnings are measured precisely by another man's losses.

Now, I don't think Reagan was a socialist; we don't have to call him Comrade Ronnie. And one can make a judgment about whether he really cared one way or another about the poor. But he certainly did care about keeping the economy together through the next election. And if that involved running up huge deficits, or transferring a bit of wealth to the poor, then so be it. As Belloc pointed out, capitalism will always result in collectivism and statism, because it has no other way of stabilizing itself.

In truth, the federal budget is mainly about transferring wealth. However, it is largely a transfer of wealth from the bottom and the middle to the top. Farm subsidies penalize the city at the expense of the country, the military budget is less about defense and more about enriching people like Cheney, the road subsidies give an advantage to suburban homeowners over city dwellers, etc. So if in all of these upward redistributions of income, we find a small space for movements in the opposite direction, than people like Comrade Pat should not be scandalized.

Or at least, that's what Reagan thought.


Richard Aleman Friday, October 31, 2008 at 9:47:00 PM CDT  

Pat always seems to get so many things right, and yet so many things wrong. There are times I want to shake his hand, while other times he makes me feel like having a drink.

When McCain jumped at the opportunity to accuse Obama of supporting "redistribution of wealth" I laughed, because politicians like McCain have no problem redistributing the wealth in the opposite direction.

John Médaille Friday, October 31, 2008 at 11:40:00 PM CDT  

Pat always appears as a Jekyll and Hyde. He can be quite reasonable, even insightful. But then he gets on his partisan gorilla suit to be a talking head for the networks, and there is no reasoning with him. His voice goes up 1 octave and 10 decibels, and he waves his hands about. I suppose it is part of the TV persona he sells to the cable crowd. A good business, I suppose, if both he and the audience are willing to turn their brains off.

dad49hobbits Saturday, November 1, 2008 at 6:06:00 PM CDT  


I immensely enjoy your articles, comments, and explanations and I have learned a lot from you. I would like to respond to this theme with people not thinking or turning off their brains. It seems to lack charity. I grew up in this country and the idea that Capitalism and Socialism are the only options is deeply ingrained in peoples mind. As I heard on the series "GKC, The Apostle of Common Sense" Dale is discussing Distributism and he says, or GKC says “we put Capitalism in our right hand and socialism in our left, leaving us with no hands” Dale has a way of presenting Distributism as an option that needs to be justly considered. That is how I became attracted to it. GKC has a generous way of dealing with those of differing opinion. I have read some discussions, such as after the article in the Inside Catholic. I found a lack of respect in some of that discussion also, not necessarily from you. I think it is easy to forget how foreign this way of thinking can be. If I had not been exposed to GKC it would have been easy to right Distributism off as just another name for Socialism and apposed to Capitalism and Freedom and never look at it again.
I consider myself a “Joe the Plumber” kind of guy, except I am a carpenter. I have had very little College, and have to work a lot, I run my own business. I read when I can and try to better myself. I consider myself the common man. The common man is under attack, he feels it from the Liberal media, the Left, and the educated elites who treat him, well less than common, more like garbage. The common man tends to be Conservative and Republican because he believes Republicans will allow him freedom and treat him with respect, and he hopes his business will be able to prosper and become big, so he is willing to put up with big businesses. I never realized how in bed with each other “Hudge and Gudge” were, and how they are working together to take away freedom. The common man really is conservative in that he “conserves traditions” GKC.
In your article “The Rino Party” you wrote “When Colin Powell endorsed Barrack Obama, Rush Limbaugh had a convenient explanation, shouted into the microphone: “It was all about race.” Of course, the whole point of a program like Rush's is to provide his listeners with sound bites so that they won't have to think; thinking is hard and it is simply more efficient to farm the task out to people like Limbaugh.” I found this claim to be ironic because it was obvious from your article that you had not listened to the program because you took a sound bite and wrote an article about it which paralleled Limbaugh in many ways. The list of “Rinos” was the same and you basically came to the same conclusion about rebirth of the party. Limbaugh basically ended his show by saying that now that the Rinos have been shown as who they are, and we need to rebuild the party and keep that kind out. They are the same type who despises the common man like myself.
I suppose I should be writing some of this under your entry on the “The Rino Party” but this comment on turning off brains has brought these thoughts back and well here I am. When Limbaugh came along I was in my teens, being home schooled as a result of my parents extensive involvement in the local public school where the more they were involved the less they liked and the more un-welcome they and as a result we kids were. Along came this voice, who, unlike the evening news, the newspaper, those who claimed to be educated, especially and Democrats, did not put us down. He upheld a majority of our beliefs and did it entertainingly. I believe my story is similar in many respects to a great many people. This is how talk radio began its rise. Now we have a plethora of radio shows, Fox News, and others. These media voices gets many to think, and begin to do research for themselves. Now there are some on both sides who blindly follow the narrative given them and see no reason to look beyond.
I write all this to remind us that we must respect each other and where we are in our Journeys. I have seen so much lack of respect in this election, not from the candidates, but here in my own town. People tear down each other’s sign, repeatedly. Freedom of Speech means allowing other’s to speak and respectfully enticing them to learn more.

julian,  Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 7:11:00 AM CST  


very well put!

John Médaille Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 3:16:00 PM CST  

dad49hobbits, I did not write about Limbaugh's program at all, but only about one line, the line Limbaugh himself wanted shouted on the airwaves. Hence, questions about this line are legitimate. My question is, "How does Limbaugh know this?" Powell gave 7 minutes of explanation for his decision. I think it best that we try to take people at their word, and not try to assign motives in absence of evidence. If the "evidence" is merely that both men are partially black, what does that say about Limbaugh's support of McCain? Would he not be insulted to have it reduced to race when he spends 4 hours/day giving us other reasons?

As the the relationship between Limbaugh and conservatism, I will not deal with that just now. However, I will say that Fox and Limbaugh do speak for a group that justly feels itself isolated by the mainstream media. However, my question is whether they are merely the obverse of the mainstream, its mirror image. Two half-truths do not add up to a whole truth, they add up to complete confusion. And in the case of Fox, it is really cynical; they defend "family values" on their political networks and tear them down on their entertainment networks.

dad49hobbits Sunday, November 2, 2008 at 5:53:00 PM CST  

I would like to start out by saying I may not have clearly stated my points, I tend to run on and on.

What I had hoped to point out was this: We are all on our journey….learning to think more and to consider new ideas. I hope I have progressed beyond blindly believing everything Rush says and walking a party line. I used to consider myself a conservative Republic, now on surveys I call myself a Chestertonian-Distributist. I now listen to talk radio and say to the radio things like “clearly a statement of a Capitalist….and why does he not read more Chesterton? and why does he not realize where his line of thinking leads to? …or just look how it has played out in real life” I find myself thinking that it will be so hard to convince some people because Libs and Cons have taken part of many good ideas. This polarization caused immediate rejection without consideration because of the label attached to them. 3 years ago I would not have read any more on this subject, because I felt my brain was on, while watching Fox. I agree that it is crazy about Fox News and Fox TV, I was immediately suspicious when Fox News came on TV.(a good capitalist selling a product to demand :) Clearly the confusion may be the point and with the education offered in this country it is not surprising to see. This election is more like American Idol than an honest conversation about real issues.( but with less public participation)
I am asking for patience with us, the less informed. I really believe in this movement and I see how great it could be and how much it could benefit the world, many who are not living fulfilled lives because of Materialism. I would like to hope those on the journey to understanding Distributism would not be turned off because of being told their thinking is being farmed out and their brains are off, they need to drawn into this movement. When I was young reading about the founding of this country I wished I lived back then, fighting for the principles of freedom: life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Clearly capitalism has betrayed this and now we are offering the real solution.
As for Rush, it is 3hrs, and all of talk radio has been clearly disappointed with McCain, and the Republicans, but we are stuck hoping for less abortions, and a less liberal supreme court. We, the listeners of talk radio, feel abandoned in the political realm and are longing for a third party with real values and hopefully a lot of Distributism. I feel this is a crucial moment for the movement, just like in the Eastern Block countries, before the Great Depression, that I read about in the Chesterton Review a while ago. I have high hopes and dreams we can make a real difference in the culture and save souls along the way.

dad49hobbits Tuesday, November 4, 2008 at 12:23:00 AM CST  


In answer to you question:
My question is, "How does Limbaugh know this?"

I am going to copy to transcript of his program and let him answer your question.
"So I get up on Sunday morning and got coffee sitting there, fire up the computer, start doing a little show prep, get a head start. Minding my own business, I'm not harming anybody. They don't even know I'm in the hotel. I'm registered under a fake name. So I fire up the Drudge page, and I see Colin Powell has endorsed the Most Merciful Barack Obama. And then I see some of the things that Powell said. He said it wasn't about race, and he said he would have difficulty with any more Republican Supreme Court appointments. So I'm making notes of this and out of the blue comes an e-mail from Jonathan Martin at The Politico. "Hey, Rush, you got anything to say about this?" I wrote him and said, "Jonathan, look, I'm here in Green Bay with the Colts and the Packers, I don't have a lot of time." I just fired off a couple little thoughts, couple little paragraphs.

I said, "Secretary Powell says this endorsement's not about race. Okay, fine. What I'm doing now Jonathan is researching Powell's past endorsements to see if I can find all the inexperienced, very liberal white candidates that he has endorsed. I'll let you know what I come up with." Then the next paragraph I sent to Jonathan Martin of the Politico said, "As for Powell's statement of concern that he would have difficulty with two more Republican Supreme Court nominees, I was unaware that he had dislike for John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia. I guess he also regrets Ronald Reagan making him a four-star general. I guess he also regrets George Bush making him secretary of state. I guess he also regrets George H. W. Bush naming him chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I guess he's also upset that a Republican appointed his son to head the FCC. Yeah, let's hear it for transformational figures," because Powell had said Obama's a transformational figure, and yet Colin Powell is who he is and is a household name because of Republicans. "

John, I am not trying to be provative, but Limbaugh's reasons make sense to me. I have read some of what you have written on other bloggs, went to your website, I have a lot of respect for you. You have taught me a lot and I look forward to your comments, because they make sense. As a product of being educated in this country, where so little is required of students, compared to 50 years ago, I don't understand completely why some arguements are logical and some are not, so if I am missing something that would make his arguments un-logical, I would really like to know. The rest of the transcripts are located at


Andrew Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 12:55:00 AM CST  

This seem unfair to Patrick J. Buchanan, or at least a little heavy handed. Why imply he's a hypocrite using the same evidence (eg. EITC) that he uses in his very own essay to call the Republicans hypocritical?

PJB: "Indeed, how do Republicans who call Obama a socialist explain their support for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, welfare and the Earned Income Tax Credit? What are these if not government-mandated transfers of wealth to the middle and working class, and the indigent and working poor?"

I admit I don't know much about what you call PJB's partisanship before, say, 2004. And I also admit that I only read his essays, a few books, and don't watch TV. But based on my reading, I never see anything that says, "Hey, this *contradicts* distrubitism and Belloc and CST."

I do see him argue for tariffs, against free trade agreements and transnational corporations outsourcing jobs. But isn't this the very first or second step in a retreat toward normality and subsidiarity?

Consider: My friend, a father of three, told me today how he was laid off last week and that his job is now being outsourced to the Philippines. He further told me that the Filipino recruiter his company uses told him a while back that they hire teams of 4 Filipinos who make 6 dollars a day to do the some of the same jobs they were paying Americans to do at 10 dollars and hour. By the way, that's 6 dollars a day *total* for *all* four workers.

He also told me how his company, a title company, did research and discovered 38 percent of the sub-prime mortgage loan victims had themselves lost jobs. Even though those jobs were probably substandard to begin with, where did they go?

I'm open to being disabused of whatever bad ideas PJB has taught me, but please give me some real evidence. And if he formerly held errors he has now abandoned, let's forget about them -- aren't most of us prodigal sons to some degree?

John Médaille Friday, November 7, 2008 at 11:42:00 AM CST  

Hobbit's dad, Here is what I think is the way to test these things. If you say, "I support x for reasons a, b, and c" and I respond "No you don't, your reasons are e, f, and g," would you be offended? I think you would, and you would have grounds to be offended. You have reason to believe that you know your own reasons better than I do.

Common conversational courtesy demands that we do our best to take people at their word. Or at least respond to the words they use. Rush does not do this. I find it offensive, and I believe I have grounds for that.

You are absolutely correct about conservatism: it is about conserving things. But about conserving the right things. I know longer recognize much of conservation in the conservatives; they seem to want to conserve all of the wrong things, things that were known in the past as the essence of liberalism.

John Médaille Friday, November 7, 2008 at 11:48:00 AM CST  

Andrew, I don't want to disabuse you of anything from Comrade Buchanan; I think that he is often an intelligent and insightful commentator. I just find his insights often at odds with his partisanship. If you label Obama a socialist for support of the EITC, then you must give the same label to Reagan, Ford, Freidman, etc. That is my point. But Pat doesn't do this.

Further, he is wrong about the EITC: it is not socialism, it is Keynesianism. They are distinct. Socialism is about public ownership of the means of production; Keynesianism leaves ownership intact but rebalances demand through redistribution of incomes. Now, I do not like Keynesianism, but if you have a capitalist economy incapable of balancing demand, then you must have a rebalancing method or the economy collapses. That is what is happening today.

The answer of course is not to redistribute incomes, but to work towards a better distribution of property. But until that day comes, we must hold off the day of complete collapse as best we can.

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