Auntie Fatcat's

Sit down, have a cookie, and chat for a spell.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Stuff We Don't Talk About: Politics & Taxes

I’m always surprised when I meet a smart, compassionate Republican.

This isn’t because I assume everyone who disagrees with me must be a selfish dumbass. I’ve known a number of intelligent people who opposed me on a variety of topics, and I’ve learned that other people are right disappointingly often. Most of the time, when somebody with brains disagrees with me, that’s my clue to look at the issue more closely. Even if I turn out to be right, chances are I’ll learn something.

Smart, compassionate Republicans confuse me because it seems clear that the vast majority of people are better off when the government follows traditionally liberal policies, particularly in tax policy. Maybe I’m missing something somewhere, but I can’t see much of anything in the Republicans’ anti-tax sound bites that isn’t strictly manipulative propaganda.

Republican politicians often try to bribe voters with tax cuts. Paying less is good—until you look at the ramifications of cutting taxes. First and most obviously, lower taxes means less revenue for the government. While I won’t try to argue that the government spends all its pennies wisely, I’m willing to bet it usually runs about as well as any real-life large organization can—at least as efficiently as most large corporations, which have their own tendencies toward Dilbert-style fraud and waste. And if “making government smaller” would necessarily make it more efficient, then Republicans ought to be arguing for breaking up Microsoft and Time/Warner/Everybody instead of screaming bloody murder that antitrust lawsuits jeopardize megacompanies’ ability to do business effectively. After all, seems like “what’s good for business is good for everybody” is the Republican Party mantra. So if we’re “running the country like a business,” growth is good, right?

Now if the government gets less money and can’t get significantly more efficient, it has to make up the difference. The George W. Bush method for handling this appears to be running up massive deficits and pretending it will all magically get better sometime far enough in the future that we don’t need to worry about it now. In the real world, the government usually bridges the gap by gutting public services. Raise your hand if you like having fewer cops, firefighters, teachers, food inspectors, animal control officers, garbage haulers, librarians, maintenance guys for roads, parks, and utilities, and similar folks taking care of things for you. When these budgets get slashed and these people go home, we citizens end up doing without or paying out of pocket for private security, private tutoring, road tolls, park fees, and so on. It’s like going to a restaurant where you used to be able to get spaghetti and meatballs with a salad for $10 and finding out the spaghetti is now $8, but they want $2 for the meatballs and $3 for the salad. Sure, nobody’s gonna make you get the meatballs and the salad, but if you do you pay more and if you don’t you get less. Either way, you can’t honestly say you’re better off.

I’ve heard Republicans argue in favor of “a la carte government,” insisting that people who use more services should pay more. Unfortunately for this theory, the heaviest users of government services are the folks who can’t pay more. All the fatcats like me already opt for premium private services whenever we can, because we’ve got the cash to blow and want better quality than the cost-cutting government can provide.

So what happens when you vote to cut taxes? If you’re poor, you don’t see any refunds (because you don’t make enough to pay much in taxes anyhow) and you get screwed out of the public services you depend on because you can’t pay the use fees for private ones. If you’re middle class, you get a couple hundred bucks back, but end up paying that and more to make up for public services you lost, or else you do without. If you’re rich, you get back a wad of cash, keep using your private services like you always did, and walk away tsk-tsking that the government sure doesn’t provide much value anymore and maybe we should cut taxes again. (And if you think rich guys are chomping at the bit to use their tax refunds to create good-paying jobs for anybody in this country, I’ve got a Medicare prescription “discount” card to sell you.)

So it’s clear the poor and middle class, the vast majority of citizens, are better off without Republican tax cuts, thank you very much. But I’ll argue even we fatcats would do well to remember that our wealth relies to some extent on the overall success of the U.S. economy, and it’s hard for the economy to do well when too many of its own citizens can’t afford to buy the products it produces. Even with Wal-Marts providing cheap, imported sweatshop merchandise (thus helping Americans outsource their own jobs), average folks are accumulating huge debts in record numbers. It won’t be a happy time for the banking system when more and more of them default, particularly if the dead-broke government defaults along with them. Don’t think it can’t happen.

Finally, while our own kids may be privately educated, the kids whose public education we shortchange now will later be the idiot adults we have to deal with every day. You know, the ones who give us incorrect change, enter the wrong data on our credit reports, misfile our medical records, miswire our electrical systems, repeatedly screw up tasks for which we’re forced to employ them, and—fate have mercy—vote Republican.


Blogger Marge Marshall said...

I've met a number of smart, compassionate Republican, mostly because I live in Eastern Washington. I always suprised when I meet a Democract. Your blog certainly covers alot of good reasons not to vote Republican and I will try to memorize them for when I am forced to argue. I'm not good at arguing so I avoid it. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy your blogs Mom

11:45 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home