The Twisting Path to a Nonsense Answer

Still kills me, as a parent, to hear that we as citizens don’t value the education of our kids enough to fund it.

My brother tweeted that today while at an education conference.

I was thinking tonight about the attorney who works for the state who just lost a part-time job because of schedule conflicts. Why does an attorney need a part-time job? She’s a recent graduate, so she might have crushing student debts, but why can’t an attorney find a job that pays well enough that she can live modestly and pay off her student loans?

NASA, like most Federal government agencies, is funded for existing programs but can’t launch new programs, because Congress is unable to pass a new budget that would allow for such programs. Because some Americans insist that there can be nothing new that we call a “tax,” politicians feel obligated to pay for any new program by cutting some other program.

Why do so many Americans have more than one job? Is it because American values have skewed so that we expect a higher standard of living than we can afford on one job, or is it because real wages have dropped over the past couple of decades?

Why do so many Americans let their state governments reject Federal grants to fund increases in Medicaid in the name of avoiding future state liabilities instead of concluding that giving more of their state’s residents modest health insurance coverage?

I can explain each question I asked and rationalize the answer, but whole isn’t just the sum of the parts. If the whole doesn’t make sense, than the collection of individual answers can’t make sense. You can I might quibble on a hundred different programs about which are underfunded and which aren’t. Lord knows, some policy advocates love highlighting the few programs that have conspicuous waste or whose purpose at first glance seems frivolous. At some core, fundamental level, though, our mentality as a country has changed. Somehow, “tax and spend” has become an negative instead of a description of what governments do.

Similarly, we have demanded that the companies we buy from minimize our costs without regard to the dignity and humanity of their workers. We don’t consistently condemn those companies that drive their workers hardest to squeeze the most “productivity” out of them. We might occasionally condemn the stores that decide to open on the tail end of Thanksgiving Day, but we don’t get upset about how many of those employees need two jobs just to make ends meet.

What would have to change in the typical American life to pay more taxes so government can provide more and dare to do more? How much less could I consume if the costs of goods were raised to pay living wages to all employees? If half they money we spent on “smart phones”, their applications, and the data plans they need were instead spent on increased retail costs or increased taxes, would that be a horrible thing? If we gut an area of the economy that didn’t even exist a decade ago, can the money be spent better elsewhere?

Don’t panic; this is a thought experiment, not a policy proposal.

If all the money spent to lobby for lower taxes were instead put into the Federal coffers, how much more could Congress spend without guilt each year? Again, thought experiment, not policy proposal.

I get that excessive tax rates kill economic motivations. I remember stories about rock stars moving out of Great Britain because of punitive tax rates driving them away. However, I don’t think we’re on the cusp of that. I think we can raise taxes on the upper middle class and the upper class a point or more without causing all the capitalists to move to a tax paradise like the Sudan, where tax rates are very low and they don’t have to worry about the government taking credit for anything. I wouldn’t like to have to cut back on how often I dine out, but if that’s what it takes to fund public schools and enable some new NASA programs, is that so awful? Others might cut back on clothes or premium cinemas or their cable TV packages. We all have some idea about discretionary spending we can cut back on. We may have come to take some things for granted, but what about the things we used to take for granted that we now have dismantled? Are these the trade-offs we want?

Look at the big picture. If you don’t like where we are, then some of the decisions we collectively have made must have been wrong. Admitting that is the first step.


One thought on “The Twisting Path to a Nonsense Answer

  1. Ross Patterson

    When your government doesn’t just dump your taxes into a big room full of gold, taxation is just a method for redistributing wealth. Robin Government Hood takes from the populace and gives to the big corporations, who then give to others in the populace, including workers and investors (and also to offshore rooms full of gold, called “banks”). In the process, if all is well, something good and necessary happens. I’ve never understood why so-called conservatives think this kind of wealth redistribution is good when businesses do it and bad when governments do it.


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