Are High Marginal Taxe Rates a Feminist Issue?

Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore has railed against a proposal by Republican candidate George W. Bush to reduce taxes saying it would benefit only the top one percent of income earners. Writing in the New York Times, however, Virginia Postrel points out that high marginal tax rates at higher income levels encourage married professional women to reduce the number of hours they work, which has strong affects their future promotion potential, or to quit the workforce altogether.

Feminists typically complain that there aren’t enough women at the upper echelons of corporations. While women are more and more represented at mid-level management, they claim, there are not enough women breaking through the “glass ceiling” into executive level positions. As Postrel points out, though, married professional women get screwed by the high marginal taxes if they get promoted too high. Since women are more likely than men to consider not working outside the home, if a woman’s income pushes her family’s income into a higher tax break, there is an economic incentive there not to work.

But does this actually make a difference in the real world? Yes. Postrel cites a 1995 study by University of California at Berkeley economist Nada Eissa on the Tax Reform Act of 1986 which, among other things, reduced the highest tax rate from 50 percent to 28 percent. The result, the percentage of married women in the highest tax bracket who worked outside the home jumped from 46 percent to 55 percent, and those who had jobs increased the number of hours they worked by 13 percent. Looking at women in the 75th percentile, who didn’t receive as dramatic a tax cut, the percentage of married women who worked increased by only 7 percent and the number of hours they worked increased by only 9 percent. As Eissa told Postrel, “There is a relationship between taxes and labor-force participation.”

Eissa found similar results when looking at the effects of the earned income tax credit which provides an economic incentive for poor families not too raise their incomes to high since it applies a de facto 21 percent marginal tax rate on all income above about $12,000 for a family of four. Women in that situation were 5 percent less likely to work outside the home if they were in a position where working would bump their family income above that level.

As Postrel notes, however, this is a topic that neither liberal or conservatives want to raise,

Democrats don’t want to admit that the soak-the-rich taxation wallops working wives, lest they split feminists and redistributionists. And Republicans don’t want to admit that cutting taxes will lead more married women to get jobs, lest they split economic libertarians and social conservatives. So everyone stays mum.

But the empirical evidence is pretty clear. Tax rates are a feminist issue.

Personally I tend to think the liberal feminists are the biggest hypocrites here, as they seem committed to maintaining that a professional woman has the right to decide whether or not to terminate a pregnancy but then is too stupid or too mean spirited to control her own finances, but instead must hand much of it over to the government which presumably knows better than she does. Much of the pro-choice movement has little use for truly giving women (much less men) the ability to make wide ranges of choices over their lives, turning incredibly statist once anything besides the narrow issue of abortion is put on the table.


Tax System Discourages Married Women from Working. Virginia Postrel, The New York Times, November 2, 2000.

Was the Holocaust Unique?

A few days ago I noted that NOVA was going to run a special on Holocaust denial. The special turned out to be very good. It recreated part of the libel trial in Great Britain that Holocaust denier David Irving brought against author/scholar Deborah Lipstadt.

Lipstadt refuses to debate Holocaust deniers saying that their position is so illegitimate that it does more damage than good to take them on. Thankfully, overall the NOVA piece did an effective job of simply slamming the inanities of the denial position by showing just how intellectually bankrupt it is. I think this is important, because I think people like Lipstadt don’t realize just how deeply the denial-like mentality has spread. I remember several history classes in college in which the instructor maintained that there simply was no way to evaluate historical statements for their truth value — “The Holocaust happened” had no more or less truth value than “The Cubs won the 2000 World Series.” To say either of these statements is true or false, my professors said, is meaningless.

Don Larson had a different tack wondering why there is so much attention paid to the Holocaust despite the fact that there are other 20th century states that murdered as many or more people. The Soviet Union and China, for example, killed far more people than died in the Holocaust. Why the special attention to that particular act of genocide?

First, of course, we simply know more about the Holocaust than any other state-sponsored mass murder in this century. Even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, former Communists in Russia have managed to keep a lid on the more sensitive Soviet-era records. For China the case is even worse with speculation often having to take the place of documentary evidence. We know that upwards of 30 million people died as a direct result of actions taken by the Chinese Communists during Mao’s reign, but we still only know the broad outlines.

On the other hand, thanks to the Allied victory in World War II the documentary evidence for the Holocaust is overwhelming.

There is an ideological reason, and that is the claim that the Holocaust was a unique event unlike anything that happened at any other time in world history. In one sense, of course, the Holocaust was unique. Although somewhat derivative of socialist ideology, fascism was a unique ideological force in the world and combining that with a vitriolic anti-Semitism that could lead to plans to entirely wipe out an ethnic group on the scale that the Nazis attempted to do has very few precedents or antecedents (though I would argue they are there, from the Turkish slaughter of Armenians early in the century to the racial violence in Rwanda near the end of the century).

Neither China nor the Soviet Union’s massacres ever had the sort of pure ethnic motivations that the Holocaust had (yes Stalin wiped out millions of Ukrainians, but largely for political reasons — Stalin was never motivated by the sort of racial hatred that Hitler was).

Even so, I wonder how useful these distinctions are in the broad picture. Sociologist RJ Rummel has done intensive research into this area documenting what he terms democide — murder committed by the state. In his book Death By Government, Rummel estimates that in the 20th century states murdered about 170 million people at a minimum (the figure could be as high as 300+ million).

Rather than hold important the individual causes behind murders committed by fascist Germany or imperial Japan or even the democratic United States (although Rummel does explore such motivations), Rummel’s analysis suggests that it is political power itself which is dangerous. He summarizes his findings by revising Lord Acton’s famous maxim; according to Rummel, Power kills, and absolute Power kills absolutely. As Rummel puts it, the underlying motivations that states give for genocide and state-sponsored murder are certainly important to understand, but “power is a necessary cause for war or democide.” (And of course, to the victims of state terror, the motivation is less important than action — the Czechoslovakian prisoners of war massacred by the Soviet Union are no less dead than their counterparts murdered by Nazi Germany or those hacked to death in Rwanda simply because the ideological underpinnings of the murders in each case differed).

Although the 20th century saw a mind boggling array of improvements in standard of living, when it comes to state-sponsored murder, the trend was actually regressive. Gerald W. Scully has estimated the percentage of people murdered by states for several centuries and the results look like this,

Century Percentage of

world population

murdered by states
13th century 8.9%
17th century 4.7%
19th century 3.7%
20th century 7.3%

Rummel’s numbers are even worse because he put the percentage of people killed by states in the 20th century at 9%, but his figures end with 1991, and there were significant state-sponsored murders after this period that aren’t included such as the massive racially motivated 1994 killings in Rwanda.

Although the Holocaust was certainly a unique historical event that (hopefully) will remain unprecedented, the sad fact is that state-sponsored murder on a massive scale was rather commonplace and unexceptional in the 20th century.

Why Democracy Scares Me, Part II

Like a lot of places around the country, the fight over education reform is a big topic in Michigan. We’ve already got an ongoing charter school system set up and a ballot initiative to allow parents in the 7 worst school districts in the state to use vouchers will be voted on tomorrow (and probably lose big time if the polls are any indication).

There are politicians on both sides of the argument, obviously, but a Democratic candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives makes me wonder if he even understands the point of the debate. A very nicely done color brochure from Alexander Lipsey’s campaign tells me that he favors quality education saying,

The competition between the charter school system and the public schools has not improved education; it has created a fierce competition for funds. Vouchers will not improve this situation.

I will fight to assure our children will receive a quality educational experience of our choosing, not the government’s.

Huh? School choice is bad and divisive and Lipsey opposes it, but it’s also a very good thing and he supports it? Maybe he’s just trying to be all things to all people, but I suspect that he’s probably got some of the geniuses who go through the local public high school (where 40 percent of students can’t read at their grade level) to do his campaign brochures.

Bush Up By 7 Points in Rasmussen Poll

Tomorrow is going to be an interesting look at how well polls do in close elections. Throughout the nomination process, Rasmussen Research was the most accurate and I personally find their methods to be a lot better than those used by competing services such as Gallup.

While CNN and other media outlets have Gore and Bush at statistical dead heats, the Rasmussen poll has Bush beating Gore 48 to 41 percent, and has shown Bush with a consistent lead over Gore since mid-October.

As the polling service puts it on their Portrait of America web site,

A review of our tracking data over the past seven months indicates that Campaign 2000 has not been a volatile whirlwind as reported in many media outlets. Partisan voters knew back in March how they would vote. Less partisan voters have been gradually making up their minds over the past seven months in a manner that is anything but volatile.

The interesting thing is the possibility of Bush not just winning the popular vote but winning it by several percentage points but losing the election. If Gore can just barely squeak by in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida and a few other states, he could lose the popular vote by 2 or 3 percentage points and still win the election (and to my mind a Republican-controlled Congress with a Democratic president who actually received fewer votes than his Republican challenger would fascinating to watch over the next four years).

With Mbeki Out of the Picture, AIDS Strategy in South Africa Goes Ahead

The last year or so should have seen news reports about steps that South AFrica was taking to tackles it enormous AIDS problem. Instead, news reports were filled with the controversy over president Thabo Mbeki’s denial that HIV causes AIDS. Although most of his ministers seemed unified behind Mbeki, he came in for criticism from the world scientific establishment and even former president Nelson Mandela directed some veiled criticism at Mbeki’s position. A few weeks ago, Mbeki did his entire country a favor by effectively withdrawing from the AIDS debate.

Mbeki relinquished control over the controversial committee assembled in South Africa to tackle the AIDS committee. That committee had been stacked with people who believed that AIDS is caused by drug use and other behaviors rather than by HIV, along with people convinced that AIDS is a Western conspiracy to depopulate Africa.

That committee has apparently been dissolved and replaced by a new committee chosen by the Mbeki’s cabinet ministers. In addition, South Africa’s Sunday Times reported that Mbeki told the executive committee of the African National Congress that he would no longer make public statements about the relation between HIV and AIDS.

About four million South Africans — 10 percent of the population — are infected with HIV/AIDS. A couple weeks after Mbeki’s announcement, the government released a report including specific recommendations on condom use, monogamy and other approaches to stop the disease which implicitly recognize the connection between HIV and AIDS. This is a very important first step.

Not that there aren’ t still enormous problems. The government unbelievably still refuses to provide anti-AIDS medication to pregnant women with the disease. Study after study has demonstrated that giving antiviral medication to pregnant women is the most effective method of preventing transmission to newborn infants, yet the South AFrican government stubbornly refuses to offer antivirals to pregnant woman, saying it needs more time to study the issue.

The ANC, in fact, maintains that the antivirals are dangerous and accuses opposition parties who disagree with the government’s position of trying to force dangerous drugs onto South African AIDS patients.


Mbeki ‘withdraws’ from AIDS debate. The BBC, October 16, 2000.

SA’s new war against AIDS. The BBC, October 24, 2000.

Mbeki accepts defeat after protests over AIDS policy. Tim Butcher, The Telegraph (UK), October 18, 2000.

ALF Activist Receives Two Year Prison Sentence

In September I wrote about the capture of Animal Liberation Front activist Justin Samuel. Samuel was arrested in Belgium after fleeing the United States to avoid federal charges related to the release of animals from fur farms. Upon his return to the United States, Samuel plead guilty to two misdemeanors.

Last week Samuel became the first person sentenced under the federal animal enterprise terrorism law and received a two year sentence in federal prison for his role in the animal releases. He was also ordered to pay more than $360,000 to business he had harmed. The sentence was the maximum allowable for misdemeanor charges under the statute.

In sentencing Samuel, federal magistrate Stephen Crocker told Samuel that, “You have the right to voice an opinion, but you’re not being prosecuted or sentenced for voicing an opinion but for engaging in an act of terrorism.”

Peter D. Young, who allegedly accompanied Samuel on his fur farm raids, also fled after being indicted and remains at large. The duo released about 36,000 mink from Wisconsin farms during October 1997, but were found in the area with a list of mink farms compiled by the ALF as well as equipment designed to carry out raids against fur farms.

Samuel was allowed to plea bargain to misdemeanor charges after agreeing to “make a full, complete, truthful statement regarding his involvement in violations of federal criminal statutes charged in the original Indictment, as well as the involvement of all other individuals known to him regarding the crimes charged in that Indictment. And the defendant agrees to testify fully and truthfully at any trials or hearings.”

Samuel’s decision to cooperate with authorities hasn’t exactly endeared him to the ALF crowed, but here’s hoping his testimony ensure that he’ll soon be joined in prison by other animal rights terrorists.


Animal rights activist gets two years in prison. The Associated Press, November 3, 2000.

Activist sentenced for letting minks go. Kevin Murphy, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 4, 2000.