Saturday, October 3, 2009

Club Wagner: A Club for Power Freaks

I have just become aware of a club formed by the NYT columnist David Leonhardt:
With this post, we announce the formation of Club Wagner. It’s a (fictional) organization of people willing to acknowledge a basic economic reality: Taxes in the United States must rise.

At their current levels, taxes are too low to cover the kind of government that Americans have made clear they want — a government that includes Medicare, Social Security, a strong military and numerous other programs.

Our club is named after Adolf Wagner, a 19th-century German economist who predicted that taxes would rise as societies became wealthier. “As people grew more affluent,” as the writer Matt Miller has explained Wagner’s Law, “they’d want more of what only government could provide — a strong military, public order, good schools and assorted welfare benefits, services that private citizens would have trouble arranging for on their own.”

Will spending also need to be cut? Yes, especially health care spending. But spending cuts won’t be enough. Taxes will also need to account for a larger part of tomorrow’s gross domestic product — just as they account for a much larger share of G.D.P. now than they did a century ago. Done right, tax increases do not have to stifle economic growth.

Schools, healthcare, charity that need to be handled by government as a nation gets wealthier because "they'd want more of what only government could provide" and part of the something the government will provide is a reduction in these services, i.e. spending cuts, is only something power freaks could actually believe. Since

A. None of these services are services that can not be provided by the free market in voluntary transactions.

B. The notion of these power freaks that there is some kind of fixed pie of spending that must be cut up, divided, and some services cut back on, is simply not true. Spending over time can go up and down over time in any sector depending on circumstances. The idea of a fixed pie is the only way these power freaks can justify there exercising power of "cutbacks" and that's why they always create this strawman.

C. Further, it is just simply bizarre to argue that because a country is getting wealthier, that power freaks must decide on cutbacks, while at the same time calling for an increase in taxes to pay for this cutback in services!

This is a very scary club, and, unfortunately, the headquarters for this power freak club appears to now be the White House.


  1. Robert - I agree with your responses in A. and B. but "bizarre" means: Odd, extravagant, eccentric in style or mode.

    Club Wagner is unfortunately quite normal for human beings. Everyone wants to live big on minimal effort and sadly this minimal effort includes stealing and killing if they can get away with it. Politics and political clubs like "Club Wagner" have proven to be the best way to get away with it. That is to get away with what usually is considered anti-social behavior (stealing and killing) by disguising it as "in the public interest" thru political activity. So what you're confronting here is human nature and human nature will not be changed thru education. The only success anyone has achieved against this was by establishing numerous power centers of near equal strength. We need a true competitor to government.

  2. David Leonhardt is a perfect example of what conservatism has become... a token caricature of itself.

    Not surprising that it is so, of course, as conservative ideology lacked a set of consistent principles to anchor itself to from the get-go. It's only natural that these ideological ships now find themselves bounced around upon the waves of the philosophic sea and its prevailing currents.

  3. "...taxes would rise as societies became wealthier."
    If this philosophy is based on American society 'becoming wealthier', this is totally irrelevant to our country today. Unemployment is approx 20%, foreclosures are epidemic, inflation skyrocketing, etc etc.
    Only the top 1% has "become wealthier."

  4. Great call! Turns out, guiding spirit Adolf Wagner is the ultimate "Power Freak." As Vassar professor Evalyn A. Clark pointed out in 1940:

    "Wagner’s Law declared that state control would continue to increase, because this is a natural and necessary corollary of increasing national might, a sign of the growth of the Kulturstaat–just as the growing role of the army was. He envisages calmly (and prophetically!) as a final result of this tendency increased expenditures and taxation for a greater army, navy, diplomatic wars, permanent war staffs, munitions, factories, till finally the state becomes a state of functionaries and the military organ exercises a dominant control over national economy and finances."

    From Evalyn A. Clark, “Adolf Wagner: From National Economist to National Socialist,” Political Science Quarterly 55.3 (September 1940): 378-411.

    In 1935, Clark reports, Wagner was honored “on the centennial anniversary of his birth, as one of the fathers of Nazism.” Clark also describes Adolf Wagner as

    "a radical state socialist who attempted to make over Marxian socialism into a “German socialism.” The result was a national socialism characterized by an intolerant nationalism, anti-Semitism, militarism, organicism, and romantic cult of the soil, strikingly similar to present-day [1940] doctrines in Germany."

    At first I thought Leonhardt might want to close his club or re-name it. But then I realized, Wagner the proto-Nazi is actually the ideal leader for Leonhardt's gang of corporatist Power Freaks.