Civil Discussion: Fiscal Cliff Diving and the Loss of 50 Precious Dollars a Month

“Your loss of $7 beers might prevent a senior citizen’s benefits from being cut. Kinda calls into question the morality of being against ALL tax raises, doesn’t it?”

Every Friday in Civil Discussion, Ben Bartlett (Christ and Pop Culture writer who majored in Political Theory) and Richard Clark (Christ and Pop Culture editor-in-chief, and a political spectator who is friends with a guy who majored in Political Theory) discuss political events as they happen over email, hashing out the meaning and manipulations behind them. Also just being bros. 

Richard: Hey Ben, I hope you had a good New Year’s Eve!Speaking of great New Year’s Eve, let’s talk about the whole fiscal cliff thing: what on earth just happened?

Ben: Well, it’s safe to say that Republicans blinked. The President wanted to make tax breaks for the middle class permanent, and wanted to raise taxes for the upper 2%, and he got it. Meanwhile, the Republicans looked petulant and childish for whining about increased taxes for rich people.

That said, there are still a couple major challenges here. First, there are still major tax reforms and spending cuts that need to be made to address the deficit. This did nothing to help that situation. Second, Obama is going to have a tough time with PR because despite the fact that he technically saved lots of tax money for the middle class, in fact our paychecks are still going to be lower; say, about 50 bucks each paycheck for someone like me. He’ll have to own that, because the Republicans have made clear that they are against all tax raises.

Case in point: When I came to work this morning, several people (admittedly they are Republicans) were already complaining about how the President is giving federal workers a pay raise and is increasing their taxes by 1000 bucks per year. They essentially viewed their current tax situation as a given entitlement, rather than the temporary thing it was supposed to be.

Also, how crazy is it that again the President and the Speaker couldn’t get anything done, and again they were bailed out by Biden and McConnell? Biden is no Machiavellian like Cheney was, but he has certainly emerged as the key deal-maker in an administration that is woefully short on them.

Richard: Yeah, it was definitely an interesting turn of events.

So I am going to take a wild guess here and say that we are not in the clear now? Like, we’re basically still screwed, right? Should we have gone ahead and jumped off the cliff instead of pass a crappy bill?

Also – our taxes are going up now! $50 a month out of my paycheck is a lot! Ben, Obama stole a videogame a month from me. Or was it a Republican? Either way, DISASTER!

Ben: Your reaction speaks volumes about American politics. Considered correctly, for two years you were given an extra 50 bucks per month, so you could buy important games like Rat on a Skateboard and Lollipop Chainsaw. That period has simply come to an end.

But, like so many Americans (and children under the age of 6), you feel entitled and ungrateful. No wonder politicians make short-term promises and change their minds with the wind!

I don’t think we’re screwed. It just means there’s more changes still to come, because the national debt is still a problem that needs to be addressed and our economy is still moving slowly.

On the other hand, the stock market did go up yesterday. And that pretty much justifies anything, right?


But yeah I had forgotten that my Rat on a Skateboard money was a temporary tax break measure. But you’re telling me that those kinds of tax hikes (or tax normalizations, I dunno whatever) aren’t bad for the economy? Because I am already telling myself I’ve got to spend less, which is kind of a bummer for those places where I am usually like HEY OKAY I’LL TAKE A $7 BEER.

Ben: “Good for the economy” is a more fluid concept than you might imagine. For example, it sounds “bad” for the economy that people have slightly less money to spend. But that money is being given to Social Security. If Social Security’s costs go over the amount of Social Security taxes produced by the American workforce, the government will have to borrow to pay those costs. And what does borrowing mean? An increase in the national debt (the alternative is cutting benefits, which could also have a detrimental effect on the economy in a variety of ways).

The economy has so many moving parts that things which seem bad in one spot might be good in another spot, so determining the “best” spot for taxes and programs and the like is actually quite difficult. Your loss of $7 beers might prevent a senior citizen’s benefits from being cut. Kinda calls into question the morality of being against ALL tax raises, doesn’t it?

At the same time, there is some amazingly wasteful spending that goes on in government. Elected officials have an amazing ability to forget that the huge dollar numbers they play with started with struggling artists and low level office workers like us. Wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t fund anything that wasn’t as beneficial as leaving that money in our pockets?

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

  • Brad Williams

    Ummm…Ben, the government is not entitled to my money either. You act like a tax cut is some sort of grace bestowed upon us. In fact, it is in my best interest to resist higher taxes because I like to keep the money I make.

    I know that this is a small tax “raise”, or relapse. Whatever. But at what point do we get to complain? In France, they are proposing to raise the taxes on the rich to 75%! (It seems to have been deemed unconstitutional

    But point of fact, George Washington and crew started shooting people over a 3 cent tea tax. I don’t feel so bad about missing my $1000 a month.

    As you admit, this little tax hike did nothing to solve the big picture problem. That is, government is completely unwilling to trim its budget but it feels perfectly happy to trim mine.

  • Brad Williams

    Oops…not $1000 a month. Heheheh…don’t have that kind of money. $1000 a year. I mean, WHAT TAX BRACKET DO I THINK I’M IN?! :D

  • Ben Bartlett

    Brad, I’m not saying you can’t complain about a tax raise. I’m just saying it’s more complex than a lot of conservatives are making it. And since your most powerful form of complaint is your vote, I’ll go ahead and say the Tea Party is representing the no-taxes perspective so the system seems to be working.

    And yes, you are a citizen and as such your government is entitled to SOME of your money. Unless you can somehow avoid things like roads, defense, and the enforcement of regulations that protect you from exploitation. The system isn’t hyper-efficient or anything, but it’s better than many places in the world.

    George Washington is probably a bad example because, frankly, what he and his, “crew,” did was decidedly un-christian.

  • Jake T

    And yes, you are a citizen and as such your government is entitled to SOME of your money. Unless you can somehow avoid things like roads, defense, and the enforcement of regulations that protect you from exploitation.


    Well said, sir.

  • J. Raymond Kelley

    While all this recent attention was paid by the popular media to a fiscal “cliff” which was not really a cliff …

    The payroll tax holiday expired (77% of wage earners see their taxes go up), and then Congress took $68 billion of that “new” money and gave it to NASCAR, Hollywood, and Goldman Sachs.

    So, yes, it is important to recognize the necessity for funding a government that holds this nation together. But, the while so many whine about government “redistribution” to aid the needy (often referring to the “cheaters” as if they represent the majority receiving these needed benefits), very little is said about this type of redistribution from the working people to special classes of the wealthy.

    See, e.g.,

  • Ian B

    “George Washington is probably a bad example because, frankly, what he and his, “crew,” did was decidedly un-christian.”

    Samuel Rutherford might disagree… So might have Martin Luther. And Thomas Aquinas. The doctrine of resistance to tyrannical government was hardly some new, radical Modernist idea in 1776.

    (That is not to say that, necessarily, they were right. Or, obviously, that all Christians then or now agree with Rutherford, Luther and Aquinas. But “decidedly un-christian” is a rather sweeping way of dismissing an entire strand of Christian thought going back (at least) to Aquinas.)

  • Ben Bartlett

    Ian, I may have gone too far by saying “decidedly un-Christian.” Thanks for checking me in that!

    That said, though I can’t speak for Luther, I don’t know that the British governance of the American colonies was tyrranical enough to rise to the level of revolution for almost ANY Christian thinker. In my mind, the very first hurdle you have to overcome is Christ’s admonishment to “give unto Ceasar what is Ceasar’s.” A revolution primarily based on the tyrranny of, “taxation without representation” doesn’t seem to me to meet that hurdle.

    Further, I think though there were many Christians involved in the American Revolution, the fact remains that it was primarily a secular revolution in purpose and scope. The dispute was about self-governance and taxation, not about violation of conscience, forced religious affiliation, or the authority of the church.

    So, you’re right, but I also feel pretty comfortable saying GW and his buds weren’t examples of Christian thought and practice.

  • Amber

    “But, like so many Americans (and children under the age of 6), you feel entitled and ungrateful.”

    I don’t have much to say except that this made me laugh out loud. And, that I will probably be one of these grumpy, ungrateful Americans when my paycheck is cut.

  • Brad Williams


    Touche. They are entitled to “some” of my money. However, the amount that they are entitled to is what is up for debate. My point is simple: until the government is willing to cut it’s budget, I do not feel particularly keen on cutting mine.

    And NASCAR? Goldmen Sachs? Really?

  • Ian B

    “A revolution primarily based on the tyrranny of, “taxation without representation” doesn’t seem to me to meet that hurdle.”

    Hmmm, I’ll have to think about that. Specifically, how it interacts with the British history prior to the 1770s (IM-not-soH O, the American War of Independence was at least as much the last of the British political struggles of the 17th C onwards as the first of the modern revolutions). Burke, in his “Speech on Conciliation with the North American colonies” in 1775 (which every American should read) spends a considerable amount of time arguing that the abstract principle of “Liberty” always develops a attachment to specific issue in every country, and that in Britain that issue was that of consent to taxation. Which, as he points out, was a driving force in the English Civil War of 1642 -49.

    Now I know Burke was a genius but not necessarily a theologian, but his point stands that the history and politics behind the American revolutionaries all pre-disposed them to see the attempt to tax without representation as not simply about revenue, but as intimately connected with their freedom, and representing an attempt to deny them of long-established and acknowledged rights.

    (FYI, I have no cultural axe to grind for Washington: I was born and raised and studied in Britain, now live in the MidWest and am a British-American dual citizen. So I’m on both sides…)

  • Ben

    Very interesting thoughts, Ian.

    For myself, I actually think that in a secular sense revolution was probably justified. America by that point was a cash cow for Britain, and it was smart enough to KNOW it was being used as a cash cow. Revolution only came after GB’s refusal to set up self-governance elements to the relationship with the colonies. I just don’t view that as justifiable provocation for revolution among Christians, is all.

    Brad, I’m probably more on your side than you think with this. I’m a big proponent of cutting spending, entitlement reform, and tax reform. In fact, in the article above I highlighted that very fact (see last paragraph). Rich can tell you that my number one issue in the past election was the need to change budget and spending policies to right our financial house.

    That said, I can still step back and state that the restoration of 2% in social security taxes after two years of relief isn’t the same thing as Obama unilaterally raising my taxes.