Free Liberal

Coordinating towards higher values

Don't Tax You and Don't Tax Me

By Ali H. Massoud
I saw a satirical political cartoon in my local paper a few days ago that made the artist's point this way: It's a two panel before and after sequence. The "before" panel show some redneck sitting on his porch spouting Reaganite platitudes about the government being the problem and how they should get off people's backs. The second "after" panel shows the redneck's home destroyed by a natural disaster. Now though Mr. Redneck is loudly screaming "Where's the help from Washington?"

Now, I understand conventional politics of the Dem/Rep variety pretty well, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was my local paper for a few years and so I know what a partisan left-winger the paper's editorial cartoonist David Horsey is. His point with this scribbling was "Look at how ignorant right-wingers are. They loudly bitch about government, until they need it. Then it's a different matter." And so it goes.

The sad fact though is that Horsey's right. People want to have their illusions about being self-reliant individualists. Until they need help or their ox is gored somehow. Then their attitude reverts to: "We're all in this together folks, so everyone's gonna have to do (meaning pay), their (government ordered) 'fair share', to help (me) out."

Most of us want the state to MIOB as much as possible. Until of course we need help or there's something we want. Then it's all another matter. This mindset has been noted before. In graduate school I took a course on public opinion polling and the manipulation thereof. We students asked the public if they would be willing to accept a two-mill [1] tax increase in order to pay for some boondoggle our prof dreamed up. By a wide margin those polled said no they wouldn't.

We then asked a new but demographically identical group if they'd support the prof's dream boondoggle if the federal or state government paid the whole tab. Now the margin swung by a large margin the other way. "Sure build the damn thing", most of 'em said. "It might drum up some new jobs or increase sales for local businesses too." And the most telling comment of all in my view, "It won't cost me a dime!" Such honestly!

Everyone with eyes to see and a brain to think knows that the old expression "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" is true. Simply put, it means that one cannot get something for nothing. Even if something appears to be free, there is always a catch. Either you pay for what you get or someone else does. But somebody somewhere is paying. Somehow and in some way everything people do has to be paid for. Very often though this point is forgotten when applied to expenditures by the state.

For those that have C-Span and a strong interest in government affairs (or insomnia), the public hearings of a government entity called the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BCRC) are a real education. These hearings concern the BCRC's annual recommendations to Congress on what military facilities are no longer needed and can be consolidated or shut down.

And then the dog and pony show begins. Mayors, governors, senators, and the local pols all go before BCRC to plead, argue, and even grovel at the feet of the BCRC commissioners in order to persuade them not close their local National Guard hall or military related facility. Some maintain with a straight face that America is actually safer because of a combat boot re-soling depot that just happens to be based where they happen to live.

However many are much more honest. They simply want the taxpayers of the rest of the nation to continue to maintain the well paying government jobs that these facilities provide. And screw any notions about national defense considerations too. I think that if the fookin' cavalry still had an outpost somewhere in America the locals there would no doubt try to claim that it is absolutely vital for the United States of America to have horse mounted soldiers available if needed. Who knows, they'd say, it could happen couldn't it? Even in the 21st century too.

There was a US Senator by the name of Earl Long who was a Democrat from Louisiana. He was an expert in arcane tax policy and the previous Capitol Hill King of Pork before he died. He had saying that went like this: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that other fellow behind the tree."

So to end where I began; nobody cares that much about taxes they don't have to pay. People do however care a great deal about government spending that they benefit from. So if you want to know how come the state is always broke and always seems to stay that way no matter how much money it takes in, just look in the mirror.

[1] A "mill" = $1 tax per $1000 of value for real estate. So a 2-mill tax on a $100,000 property equals $200 in tax per year.

Ali Massoud writes for the Internet and blogs.