Tag Archives: Todd Henderson

Electronic Lynch Mob

A law professor at the University of Chicago wrote a post about what a bad idea increasing the marginal tax rates on couples making more than 250,000 is.  His was an ad misericoridiam (not the fallacious kind by the way) argument: look at me, I'm a potential payer at this rate, I will suffer, so it's not fair for people like me to pay and so forth.  It turns out that he had not cleared with his wife (who rightfully disagreed with his analysis), so he took the post down.  More on that in a second.

Here is some of the original argument.

I, like the president before me, am a law professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and my wife, like the first lady before her, works at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she is a doctor who treats children with cancer. Our combined income exceeds the $250,000 threshold for the super rich (but not by that much), and the president plans on raising my taxes. After all, we can afford it, and the world we are now living in has that familiar Marxian tone of those who need take and those who can afford it pay. The problem is, we can’t afford it. Here is why.

The biggest expense for us is financing government. Last year, my wife and I paid nearly $100,000 in federal and state taxes, not even including sales and other taxes. This amount is so high because we can’t afford fancy accountants and lawyers to help us evade taxes and we are penalized by the tax code because we choose to be married and we both work outside the home. (If my wife and I divorced or were never married, the government would write us a check for tens of thousands of dollars. Talk about perverse incentives.)

Our next biggest expense, like most people, is our mortgage. Homes near our work in Chicago aren’t cheap and we do not have friends who were willing to help us finance the deal. We chose to invest in the University community and renovate and old property, but we did so at an inopportune time.

We pay about $15,000 in property taxes, about half of which goes to fund public education in Chicago. Since we care the education of our three children, this means we also have to pay to send them to private school. My wife has school loans of nearly $250,000 and I do too, although becoming a lawyer is significantly cheaper. We try to invest in our retirement by putting some money in the stock market, something that these days sounds like a patriotic act. Our account isn’t worth much, and is worth a lot less than it used to be.

Like most working Americans, insurance, doctors’ bills, utilities, two cars, daycare, groceries, gasoline, cell phones, and cable TV (no movie channels) round out our monthly expenses. We also have someone who cuts our grass, cleans our house, and watches our new baby so we can both work outside the home. At the end of all this, we have less than a few hundred dollars per month of discretionary income. We occasionally eat out but with a baby sitter, these nights take a toll on our budget. Life in America is wonderful, but expensive.  

For a complete refutation of this argument, click here.  Read the whole thing (and the comments).  I'm not interested in this argument. 

What interests me is a subsequent post, where the good professor explains why he took down the post.  Here it is:

The posts that generated an unintended blogocane have been deleted. I stand by the posts, the facts in them, and the points they were making. The reason I took the very unusual step of deleting them is because my wife, who did not approve of my original post and disagrees vehemently with my opinion, did not consent to the publication of personal details about our family. In retrospect, it was a highly effective but incredibly stupid thing to do. The electronic lynch mob that has attacked and harassed me — you should see the emails sent to me personally! — has made my family feel threatened and insecure. We recently had a very early preemie, and this was a quite inopportune time to bring this on my family. For the record, I still think the planned tax increases will negatively impact my family and my country, but that is basically all I should have said. To my wife, my three children, and to anyone who was offended by my remarks, please accept my apologies. To those with pitchforks trying to attack me instead of my message, I feel sorry for you. You have caused untold damage to me personally. I may be wrong, even stupid, but I don’t think I deserved that.

This is worse than the original.  The good professor ought to know that he made himself and his very sorry financial planning skills, understanding of tax law, sense of empathy, and so on, the argument.  To respond to such an argument–which one has a duty an obligation to do if one disagrees (and besides he published it)–one has to go ad hominem.  This going ad hominem is not going ad hominem of the fallacious kind, because the initial position is an ad hominem too.

Let me put this another way.  If I claim that event x will negatively impact me personally, and it turns out that instead the negative impact is due to my own poor decision making, that is completely relevant to whether it will negatively impact me.  I cannot believe this guy cannot appreciate that point.  If you don't want to get attacked personally, don't make ad misericordiam arguments.