Am I on the Right or Left?

This is not something I spend much time worrying about, but it seems to matter to Arnold Kling, who criticizes Ezra Klein for locating me on the right side of the political spectrum in a recent post about the Laffer Curve. Kling approvingly cites someone named Tino Sanandaji as his authority. This is a little odd since I know Arnold fairly well and not only have never met this Tino person, but never heard of him before today. Based on what evidence, I don’t know, Tino seems to think that I am best categorized as a European-style Social Democrat. I believe he means this as an insult.

Apparently, Tino is upset because supposedly I said that the top marginal income tax rate could go as high as 83 percent before a Laffer Curve effect kicked in and revenues would fall if the rate went higher. This is what I am quoted as saying by Dylan Matthews, who actually wrote the Laffer Curve post:

“I would hate to venture a specific number…. I would, however, say that I think the top rate could be quite a bit higher than it is without significantly impairing incentives or leading to excessive amounts of tax avoidance. I think 50 percent is an important threshold and I would be very reluctant to go higher even if it raised net revenue…. Anthony Atkinson, probably the leading public finance economist in England, estimates (PDF) that the top rate could go as high as 63% to 83% before it became counterproductive in terms of revenue…The European Central Bank…finds that only two European countries are on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve. All other countries could raise substantial additional revenue by raising tax rates.”

“Since our rates are much lower than those it Europe, it suggests that we have a very long way to go before the top rate became counterproductive.”

As one can clearly see, the 83 percent figure is not mine, but that of economist Anthony Atkinson. I did not endorse it; I merely cited it because his and the ECB estimate were the two most recent ones I had seen. I passed them along to Dylan merely for informational purposes. Moreover, the 83 percent figure was not a point estimate, but the upper level of a range estimate.

Finally, I made it quite clear that I would not favor raising the top rate to the revenue-maximizing rate; I stated that the top rate should not go above 50 percent under any circumstances. So, basically, this fellow Tino got just about everything wrong. Why Kling cites him as a reputable source on anything is a mystery to me.

On the question of where I place myself on the political spectrum, I will have more to say as time goes on. In my own mind, I have the same political philosophy I’ve always had–basically libertarian but tempered by Burkean small-C conservatism. But I am no longer a member of the Republican Party and no longer consider myself part of the “conservative movement.” That’s not because I changed, but because I believe that they have. The Republican Party of today is not the party of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan that I was once a member of; it stands for nothing except the pursuit of power as an end in itself, with no concern whatsoever for what is right for the country. In a recent interview with The Economist magazine, I characterized the Republicans as the greedy, sociopathic party. I stand by that.

As far as the conservative movement is concerned, I think Russell Kirk and Bill Buckley would be absolutely aghast at the things it stands for today and the people that are acclaimed as its leaders. When clowns like Glenn Beck are its leaders and right-wing bigots pander to ignorant yahoos about a planned mosque in lower Manhattan, I want to be as far away from any such movement as I possibly can. And readers of this blog know what I think of the know-nothing tea party movement, which conservatives have latched onto en masse.

Anyway, I am happy to classify myself, politically, as an independent these days; nothing more, nothing less.

About Bruce Bartlett 76 Articles

Affiliation: Forbes

Bruce Bartlett is a columnist for, the online side of Forbes, the nation’s premier financial magazine.

He served for many years in prominent governmental positions including executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Deputy Assistant Secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush Administration, and as a senior policy analyst in the White House for Ronald Reagan.

Bruce is the author of seven books, including the New York Times best-selling Impostor: How George W. Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, and thousands of articles in national publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, Fortune and many others. He appears frequently on CNN, CNBC, C-SPAN and Fox News, and has been a guest on both the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report.

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