Taxing People With No Money

Update:  Over the weekend, without comment, the Obama team pulled down the language below and put up new, vaguer language without the "required."  Discussion and a screen shot of the original is here.

How do you tax people with who have no money?  Why, you take their labor by force.  It worked when we dragged Africans over here against their will in the 19th century, and it can work today.  From the Obama transition site:

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation's challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

So what was that about no tax increase for people making under $250,000?  Because my guess is that most high school and college kids made close to zero, but here is Obama seeking to expropriate 50-100 hours of their labor.  Sure looks like a tax to me.  By law, high school kids, by DOL rules, can work up to 1200 hours per year.  For kid that works every hour she can, this is about a 4% tax.  Kids that work less pay a higher effective tax rate, up to infinite for kids not working at all  (hey, this tax is even regressive).  Also, richer kids trying to get into top colleges will be the least affected, as they are already volunteering at a level close to this, so most of the burden of this tax will fall on the poor.

I remember when I was slammed by Obama supporters during the election when I said that his call for "universal" community service meant that he was going to mandate it.  Carefully avoiding being clearer about what he meant before the election, Obama sure has not wasted any time making sure everyone understands he is talking about government coercion here, not volunteerism.

PS- I thought this site was fake, because it was amazing to me to see Obama's intentions stated so baldly after he so strenuously avoided clarifying his position during the election.  But the Huffpo and other sites link to this site as if it is real, so I will treat it as such.

PPS - Here is Obama's pledge on taxes from the same site:

Middle class families will see their taxes cut "“ and no family making less than $250,000 will see their taxes increase. The typical middle class family will receive well over $1,000 in tax relief under the Obama plan, and will pay tax rates that are 20% lower than they faced under President Reagan. According to the Tax Policy Center, the Obama plan provides three times as much tax relief for middle class families as the McCain plan.

OK, we are not going to take more money, we are just going to take your labor directly.

Update: Radley Balko adds the chilling speech implications of such a program:

So who gets to decide what constitutes "community service"?  Who gets to decide which causes and organizations will be credit-worthy, and which ones won't?

Something tells me that you'd be more likely to get one of Obama's vouchers by going door to door for one of ACORN's living wage campaigns than, say, volunteering for a libertarian nonprofit organization that advocates against things like government-mandated community service.

Obama supporters will say, no problem, we trust Obama.  Hmm.  The folks who wrote our Constitution designed our government assuming all politicians would be knaves.  Writing laws that depend on the good intentions, fairness, correct incentives, and intellectual capacity of the government folks who run it are doomed to failure.  Would Democrats have been happy to have GWB deciding what community service their kids were forced to endure?  I doubt it.  Well, we don't live in an autarky, and sooner or later GWB's party will be back and making exactly those decisions under such a program.

  • Franco

    Warren, your insight on this borders on brilliance.

  • Jim COllins

    I am already looking forward to the 2010 elections. If they try to run 1/10th of this crap through there is going to be alot of new faces in Congress and the Senate.

  • ArtD0dger

    Interesting way to view it. However, my impression is that the Obamans are far less interested in conscripting the masses for the actual value of their labor than for the supposed salutary effect on the conscripts themselves. The left is forever trying to mold the character of its subjects -- the "New Soviet man" and all that.

  • Captain Obviousness

    This is one of his crazy ideas that I actually hope he tries to put in place. IMO this is clearly unconstitutional under the 13th amendment:

    "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

    Just because Obama says you are volunteering doesn't mean it's voluntary. What if you refuse to serve? Is there some kind of punishment? If he tries to pull much stuff like this the dems will lose a majority in 2010.

  • Bobby L

    Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution-

    Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    Section 2. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    That's all I have to say about that.

  • Captain Obviousness

    LOL - I tried to follow the link to Obama's service web site and got the following error:

    No suitable nodes are available to serve your request.

    Obama needs to force some teenagers to serve as suitable nodes.

  • GU

    "It worked when we dragged Africans over here against their will in the 19th century..."

    The international slave trade was ended in 1808 in the U.S. (see U.S. Constitution Art. I, sec. 9). Almost all of the slaves that were brought to what is now the U.S. were brought in the late-17th & 18th centuries. I'm not saying that slavery wasn't a big deal, I'm just pointing out a factual inaccuracy (or possibly a typo for all I know).

    Otherwise, right on with the analysis in this post.

  • http://sailorette.blogspot.com Foxfier

    GU-
    Our Host is technically correct-- 1808 IS the 19th century-- but good point.

    I worked it out as an excuse to link to this post-- this comes out to nearly $500 worth of work from the high school kids, and nearly a thousand a year for the college kids. (since Obama is pledged to raise minimum wage to $9.50)

  • Andrew

    Maybe it's just me - but this kind of "youth" program scares me - they are going to have to get "training" on what kind of stuff they do . . . strikes me as a bit hitler youth, don't ya think? This is Bill Ayers dream - mold those kids. . . .shit.

    I think I'm going down the same lines as JimCollins. . .

  • J Howe

    Here's what I expect to happen. The Federal government will create some requirements that educational institutions will have to comply with if they want to receive funds. Some of the requirements will be that all students must have x amount of community service to graduate. Schools that want government funding will have no choice but to comply. Since these will be 'educational' requirements, the argument will be made that the community service requirement is no different than requiring math or science to graduate.

    I wonder what color shirts the Obama Youth Corps will be?

  • http://elambend.com ElamBend

    So what happens when you say no?

    My in-laws, who immigrated from the Soviet Union will be apoplectic over this.

  • http://www.mzkitchen.com NN

    Remember Obama's 95%-tax-cut-wealth redistribution plan? The one that people called disguised welfare? The next day Obama, for the first time, said there would be a "work requirement." How much you want to bet that his new Brown Shirts and Hitler Youth will fill that bill?

  • http://www.mzkitchen.com NN

    Remember Obama's 95%-tax-cut-wealth redistribution plan? The one that people called disguised welfare? The next day Obama, for the first time, said there would be a "work requirement." How much you want to bet that his new Brown Shirts and Hitler Youth will fill that bill?

  • GreggB

    Some schools in VT(don't know if it is all) already have a mandatory-volunteer time for high school kids to graduate. Of course VT is practically a failed socialist state full of poverty and expensive COL.

  • Methinks

    "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

    Let me help you with this (as a Soviet Emigre I have a little experience with how government can work around pesky constitutions). In an effort to encourage "morality" and patriotism the schools may encourage - from a very early age - friends to monitor each other's commitment to patriotism, good citizenship and morality by reporting to the authorities your counter patriotic activities. Kids will be taught that telling teachers is the highest form of morality, citizenship and patriotism and the kids will get a tangible reward for tattling. Your friends may report you for any number of misdemeanors and, as punishment, you will be conscripted to work out your community service as your punishment for your misdemeanor. Don't think that'll happen here (as I often hear from Americans)? Why not? In the U.K. They have already implemented a program where children are required to spy on their parents and report any non-green activity to the teachers in their school. It's just the first step.

    Elambend,

    Your in-laws will undoubtedly become apoplectic. Ask them about "sybbotniki". This is Hitler Youth and the Young Pioneers all over again. "Ideologically clean" children grow up to be ideologically clean adults, comrades.

    The very fact that there is no widespread outrage over this proposal of SLAVERY (ironically, from a black guy) - this first step toward state control of the entire population - tells me it most certainly can happen here.

  • Methinks

    Some schools in VT(don't know if it is all) already have a mandatory-volunteer time for high school kids to graduate.

    In North Carolina too. That wasn't the case when I went to school in NC - back when the world still remembered that slavery was bad.

  • the other coyote

    How, exactly, is this plan going to work. Where does my middle-school daughter have to go to perform her community service? How is she going to get there (hubby and I both work; she rides the bus to grandma's after school)? Who is going to supervise her? How is she going to get home from this mission? I'm not sending my kid off to a crappy neighborhood to get mugged, or trust some government bureaucrat to make sure a serial killer doesn't kidnap her or some hormonal boy doesn't drag her into a closet.

  • Rick C

    It's a .gov. Unless there's some impressive fraud going on, assume it's real. You can't just get a .gov at GoDaddy...

  • Thog

    My highschool (private) mandated "voluntary" community service as part of our graduation requirements. They did this in my senior year. I did it, the kids I taught math to were great and needed my help and I helped them.

    I never volunteered my time to any cause again. I know I am wrong and pigheaded. I give money to charity now (yes I know that synonymous with time) but being forced to work for free killed any enjoyment for me. Every minute I was there I was thinking about how wrong it was, the whole idea of mandatory volunteering was/is repulsive to me.

    I don't believe I am alone in thinking that things people enjoy and do by their own volition are likely to be done again...but when you make a person do something the whole dynamic changes and even if they would otherwise enjoy the task they might not want to ever do it again.

    This is just wrong

  • Tim Fowler

    I'm no fan of Obama, but I can't see where he says he will make the service mandatory. "Will call on" doesn't equal "will force" or "will mandate that".

  • Miklos Hollender

    Reading through the appropriate Reddit threads, the general mood is that the real point is that people will change because of this, will become more caring, helpful, public spirited etc. So basically what you have here is the old Progressive assumption: changing the rules of the game will change people themselves. It's at least 150 years old and I'm still waiting for any sound psychological justification for that, but could not find any. So I'm assuming that all they'll get is jobs done really poorly, because of the lack of incentives to do it right.

  • Methinks

    I'm no fan of Obama, but I can't see where he says he will make the service mandatory.

    From the web site:

    "Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year."

    Interestingly, it occurs to me that he could suggest it as an elective for credit toward graduation. Then, it wouldn't be slavery. However, like a good little fascist, he chooses to enslave. Irony. There's irony in an American black man re-introducing slavery. No?

    Sorry. I know I've posted multiple times on this thread already but this is making me insane.

  • Tim Fowler

    Ooops, don't know how I missed it.

    "Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year."

    As Emily Litella would say, Never mind...

  • Ten

    Somewhere in the turgid, dim crevices of the two tiny masses that purport to be Reid's and Pelosi's brains, a thought about their worst nightmares is forming itself...

    Glorious Leader is appointing cronies and fools already, delivering gaffes that Biden could be proud of. Deer in the headlights on day two of delicious president-electness. When Obama goes down to ignominious defeat by whatever means he's clearly bound to in the public eye, it'll be the sheer hubris what does it.

    The man is a child, "and you can bet he's going to be tested". But the country needs this hard lesson and it's about to get it.

  • David Ellis

    That page was just updated. I was reading it and refreshed it about 5 minutes ago, only to see the language change. Now it reads "Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free."

    Either that "policy" was posted in error, posted without knowing for sure what the policy was, or someone took it down because they feared backlash.

  • lizwinz

    Does anybody actually read the link?

    This blog states "by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year"

    you conveniently replace "setting a goal" with "require"

    The actual Obama site states "Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free."

    Also it starts out by saying "When you choose to serve..."

    There's actual things to disagree with Obama about if you wish...why mislead and discredit yourself?

    --Liz

  • NC Reader

    I left this comment on "Overlawyered" but thought I'd leave it here too.

    Interesting -- the first time I clicked the link I got a page saying was is quoted here -- service is required. However when I went to that page from the change.gov homepage I got this page that says "..... Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free."

    Now when I click the link I get the "new" page yet when I find the cached page on Google it has the original "required" wording.

    Looks like they caught their "mistake". Now will the real plan please step forward -- goal or required. (Although the way government sets goals, they often wind up looking like requirements so maybe the two aren't all that different.)

    Ugh! I see card check made the economy page too. He may be the president elect but I don't have to like his plans!

  • http://kim.scarborough.chicago.il.us/ Kim Scarborough

    Here's a screenshot of the old version: http://img206.imageshack.us/my.php?image=picture1it1.png

  • Thog

    ".....receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free."

    1 Can the government Credit be used at a religious college?
    2 Is a college that accepts the "credit" considered to be receiving federal money?
    3 does the child have to have paid $4000 in taxes to get the full credit?
    4 What is a refundable tax credit?

  • stradageezer

    Kim,
    If I understand previous conversations revolving around refundable tax credits, the term means that the amount is owed to you in the form of a bottom line credit to you up to and including the point where you could receive a check for $4000 plus any other refundable tax credits.

    Again, my tax law understanding is based solely on people who know this stuff better than me. If I understand their characterization, it is possible that my total tax liability is $1.00, and that I can rack up $5.00 in refundable tax credits. In that case I would receive a check for $4.00 to spend as I see fit.

    Sorry for the long runon sentence.

  • ArtD0dger

    Wow, fascinating breaking-news comment thread.

    Liz, you might have wanted to read a little more of it before accusing others of being misleading and discrediting themselves. But then, I suppose you might be required to perform triage quickly...

  • Mesa Econoguy

    The fact that only 52% of the population voted for Obamamamama during arguably the worst economic downturn in a long goddamn time, easily the worst economic conditions in 30 years, and the worst stock market since 1937, says that the Democrat political/economic offering is so fucking horrendous/offensive/clueless that only slightly more than half (53%) of the (ignorant) voting population went for them:

    65,098,323 Obama
    57,155,296 McCain

    http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/scores.html#1932

    1932
    Franklin D. Roosevelt Democratic 472
    Herbert Hoover Republican 59
    Norman Thomas Socialist 0

    2008
    Barack Obama Democratic (socialist) 364
    John McCain Republican (socialist) 162

    So buck up, kids. Watch the circus.

  • http://24ahead.com/blog/archives/008322.html The details

    Oddly enough, the following comment was deleted at Overlawyered, so here it is, with the hope that this site won't delete it.

    The language quoted above contradicts something on another page at change.gov as well as his previous materials. Details at my name's link. And, BHO's new Chief of Staff supported mandatory service in a 2006 book.

  • http://lonebeacon.blogspot.com Kevin

    A NORMAL tax credit can be used to offset one's tax liability, period. It can bring down your tax liability to zero, and that is it. A REFUNDABLE tax credit, on the other hand, means you receive back the ENTIRE credit whether or not you even had a tax liability in the first place. In this case, someone who owes no taxes, and who paid no taxes during the year, would nevertheless file a return and receive a fat $4000 check from the Treasury Department. That is a refundable tax credit. It is best thought of, seems to me, as a form of welfare that simply uses the IRS system as the distribution channel; and, certainly, it is government spending as opposed to not-taxing.

  • http://www.us-edrugstore.com drogen

    There's irony in an American black man re-introducing slavery. No?

  • morganovich

    liz-

    it was not warren who changed the text but obama. i read the site last night and it was precisely as quoted.

    I will be interested to see if he plans to extend the reach of this plan to educational institutions encouraging them (through tax treatment and funding) to place the requirements in place in lieu of the government.

    I also note that a plan that had no cost associated with it may have just become quite expensive. there are 16 million college students in the US. 16 million = $64 billion
    what % will take him up on it, I have not the slightest idea, but we can also look at this plan another way:

    $4000 for 100 hours of work = $40/hour. that’s a pretty high pay rate for a 19 year old, and I’m sure many will game the system resulting in a higher actual hourly wage this is obviously about more than just getting service work done. if that was the goal, just pay $20/hour. load of people would sign up. (though perhaps that sort of WPA system is in the cards as well?)

    I wonder if he will consider extending requirements or inducements such as these to other groups such as welfare recipients. now THAT seems to me a good idea. it provides a useful service, keeps people busy and engaged, and discourages milking the system. welfare and unemployment assistance are not rights, but rather services. attaching requirements to receiving seems a good idea (assuming you accept they are a good idea to begin with). anyone have a good argument against requiring say 10 hours a week of community service of those of working age receiving government unemployment benefits?

  • http://tcktek.blogspot.com xpatUSA

    "Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year."

    Have I read it wrongly? Why are most previous posts only talking about kids in school or college, when it says "citizens of all ages"?

    I took it to mean that even I, at the ripe old age of 68, would have to visit a nearby school/college and clean floors or teach physics depending on my quals!

    T.C.

  • http://sailorette.blogspot.com Foxfier

    TC-
    We're focusing on the ones that are expressly *required* to do things.

  • Methinks

    anyone have a good argument against requiring say 10 hours a week of community service of those of working age receiving government unemployment benefits?

    It diverts time and energy from actual productive activity - studying, learning useful skills and finding gainful employment. It also makes people accustomed to the belief that it is the job of government to "create jobs". Unfortunately for us, government ditch digging programs don't create wealth and paying these people will require taxing productive members of society, reducing their incentives to be productive and decreasing taxable revenue necessary to pay people on government work programs. See where I'm going with this? Heck, we could cut unemployment to zero if government just employs these people to water the lawn and then we will be in a situation like the soviet union where people pretend to work and the government pretends to pay them

    .receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.

    Uh..no. It's not free. They obviously will have to hand out ACORN fliers and submit to Obamabrainwashing to earn the credit. What is clear is that the value of what they receive and the value of the service they perform are at odds and the wealth taxed away from productive taxpayers to fund this idiocy will be used inefficiently. A more efficient use of those kids' time would be to go find a job and not only be remunerated for their efforts but also learn the meaning of responsibility and accountability to an employer, who is in turn, accountable to its customers. The student will earn money while learning to please his fellow man. Who is ACORN accountable to? Whom does it have to please? What will the kid learn beyond dogma and propaganda? This is a funny twist. Obama wants to pay the college kids for their work but he's totally against kids working their way through college (as I did - and I lived to tell about it. Oh my).

  • Scrapiron

    Actually Hussein proposed to give each college student $4,000 for 100 hours of forced labor. At $40 per hour they would earn more than the employee's at whatever enterprize they would be forced to work. Someone had a brain fart when they came up with the program. It has now been changed by the Hussein brown shirts to a 'volunteer' program.
    Someone told me that all democrats hold their farts in until the pressure builds up and travels up the spine to the brain. That's how they get all of their sh***y ideas.

  • Lioren

    1. please get with the program: it is not 'Brown Shirts'. Use "Earth Shirts" instead.
    2. To avoid Godwin's 'law' use "ObamaYouth". However, most likely the Obamayouth nym will be a 'gaia' phrase like "One Earth Youth" or "GreenTeam". Nice and neutral, and no alarm bells.
    3. 'Heil Obama' is too euro/german/icki. "Obama Save Us" or "Praise Obama" will be more acceptable, please adjust your rhetoric. (Although, "Obama! We serve!!" has a nice jackbooty feel to it)

    Really people, if ya wanna survive the next decade, ya better use Orthodox terminology regarding yer new civil religion.
    end sarc

  • Dixon Cox

    It appears as though the link in the "PPS" about the pledge on taxes has been removed, perhaps to be replaced by something a bit more palatable for the taxpayers. Thankfully, Google and WebCite have saved the contents forever. It's archived at http://www.webcitation.org/5cEKJg9Ee

  • curtis

    I am not sure why you are blasting the "productivity" of Europe. After all, most Western European countries produce far more per worker per hour than their American counterparts. Look at Norway, France, Denmark and Germany for examples. You simply imply that Europe is less productive, when this is obviously not the case. Europeans in general work far fewer hours, so total output is lower; but if we look deeper at a more meaningful productivity, Europe is doing quite well. Why this unfair European bashing all the time on this blog? I am an American running a small business in Europe (relocated here ten years ago, living with my norwegian wife) and find much of your Euro-bashing to be ill-informed. If you ever want to talk about how business is truly run in Europe (I am familiar with the Scandanavian countries, France and Switzerland), productivity of workers, fair minimum wage or other relevant topics, just get in touch with me: curtis_rojak(at)yahoo.com. The debate could be interesting and informative for both of us.