Tuesday, February 04, 2003

"A Republican and a Democrat Meet a Homeless Person"

Andrew Tobias is taking apart, piece by piece, that stupid story about "The 10 Men and the $100 Dinner" on his website (see here and here). But I got by email a different little Internet myth, the one about "A Republican and a Democrat Meet a Homeless Person." It goes like this:

A Republican and a Democrat were walking down the street when they came to a homeless person. The Republican gave the homeless person his business card and told him to come to his business for a job. He then took twenty dollars out of his pocket and gave it to the homeless person. The Democrat was very impressed, and when they came to another homeless person, he decided to help. He walked over to the homeless person and gave him directions to the welfare office. He then reached into the Republican's pocket and got out twenty dollars. He kept fifteen for administrative fees and gave the homeless person five. Now you understand the difference between Republicans and Democrats.

But that's not the real story. Here's how it really goes.

A Republican and a Democrat were walking down the street when they came to a homeless person. The Republican gave the homeless person $20. The Democrat, who wasn't nearly as well-off as the Republican, gave the homeless person $10, the address of the local job center, and recognizing that the reason why the homeless person probably didn't have a job in the first place was because of substance-abuse problems, turned to the Republican and said, "We need to increase funding for treatment, so people like this homeless person have a way to pull themselves up out of the gutter."

The Republican was impressed with the Democrat's compassion, but told the Democrat that he had it all wrong. "What we really need to do," said the Republican, "is cut taxes paid by the wealthy and the rich. After all, they're the ones with the time and money to spread these stupid tales about 'The 10 Men and the $100 Dinner' and 'The Republican and Democrat Meet a Homeless Person' that contain such logical fallacies and factual inaccuracies. And we want to give the wealthy those tax cuts instead of funding job training and substance-abuse treatment, or even basic public health needs."

"It doesn't matter," continued the Republican, "that the overall U.S. tax system--when you consider federal, state, and local taxes together--is essentially flat right now." (Being an Internet-savvy Republican, he even thoughtfully provided the link to the New York Times article with the chart to prove his point.) "It's our plan to reduce the share of progressive taxes paid by those at the top end, even if that means making people like this homeless person wait longer for help--if they ever can get help."

The Republican paused. "But that's not the whole story," the Republican said. "We're cutting those progressive taxes, while at the same time increasing regressive taxes, particularly state and local taxes consumption taxes and the federal payroll tax. So even if you gave the homeless person $20, more of that money would go to taxes imposed on food or clothing purchases. Meanwhile, my thousands of dollars of dividend income will become completely tax-free. Not a bad strategy for helping the rich get further ahead on the backs of working families, much less raising taxes--sales taxes--paid even by the homeless?"

The Democrat appreciated the Republican's honesty about motives and tactics. But the Democrat still had one question. "I just wonder why you gave the homeless person $20 if that's how you really feel," the Democrat said. The Republican answered, "First of all, I make far more than twice as much as you do, so it's very easy for me to give $20 to one homeless person--far easier than it was for you to give $10, and as I itemize my income taxes and you just take the standard deduction, I'll find a way to deduct this contribution and save nearly 40% of it on my taxes."

The Republican continued, "Second, it's a fabulous economic deal for me. I give one measly $20 contribution and can wave it around like a bloody shirt to prove my individual compassion. It's well worth $20 for me to use one small incident of personal compassion to help justify thousands of dollars of tax breaks for me. And you'd be amazed at the people who don't understand how taxes work and the nonsense they'll swallow. I'll be chuckling in astonishment all the way to the bank"

And now you understand the real difference between Republicans and Democrats.

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