It’s Never Enough

A lot of ideas for new taxes are being bandied about. The President wants to more heavily tax investments, inherited property and even college savings plans. Mayor de Blasio wants to tax commuters and wealthy out-of-town apartment owners. And many on the left are arguing that since oil prices have fallen, we should dramatically increase taxes on petroleum products – the idea being that consumers won’t notice the new levies, while higher gas prices will both bring forth a gusher of tax revenues and discourage driving – a twofer, from their perspective.

These various ideas got me to wondering: can we even imagine a scenario in which those on the left would say: “That’s it. We have enough in tax revenue; now it’s time for the government to live within its means. “

No, we cannot.

For one thing, our federal government’s self-defined needs are limitless. President Obama keeps piling on new entitlements – Obamacare, cheap – or, for especially favored constituencies, forgiven – college loans, maybe now free community college and discounted mortgages – merrily ignoring the fact that the national debt has risen from $10 trillion to $18 trillion in the six years in which he has been in office. Our states and cities are broke, too, with massive debts and gigantic, off-balance-sheet obligations for retirement benefits.

These obligations accumulate by design: Democrats have figured out that making huge, unfunded promises to favored constituencies will buy them support today at expense of tomorrow: an easy trade, from their perspectives, and one that ratchets ever higher the need for tax revenues.

For another thing, such a statement, that the government has enough of our money, would deprive most Democrats of their raison d’être. They are the party of more. They always want more of our money, because increased governmental revenues give them the power to dispense more goodies to favored constituencies. They also want more control over decisions that affect our lives: in healthcare, for example, they will not rest until we have a fully socialized system in which they get to decide when and whether grandma gets that hip replacement or cancer surgery, and which new medicines are developed. We are not really expected to make decisions, or save, for ourselves.

Inevitably, the constituencies that progressives seek to serve are defined groups – it might be the elderly for one program, college students, food stamp recipients, union members or government employees for another.  There would be no point in extracting taxes from all in order to simply take a cut and return the funds to all – the fun part (for them) is in deciding who gets what – making government the final allocator of resources. In their minds, the government ultimately owns everything, anyway, so that’s how it should be.

This focus on defined groups of constituents, rather than all citizens explains a lot about how progressives seem to want most people to fit themselves into one or more constituencies that are, somehow, owed something by society at large: women, the elderly, African Americans, Hispanics, union members, students, the poor: the list is endless, indeed, nearly all-inclusive. Even the upper middle class elderly are convinced that they are owed Social Security and Medicare, just as if the government had set aside their tax dollars for it like a mutual fund would have – which, I am sorry to write, it didn’t.

If those in government get to make the resource allocation decisions, we are all supplicants: “They’ll turn us all into beggars ’cause they’re easier to please”.   – The Rainmakers.

Progressives often proclaim that they really only want to tax the rich – or somebody, anybody, other than their favored constituencies. But such taxes could never pay their bills, and look at what they do when they think nobody’s watching: few taxes are more regressive than a (hidden) gas tax, which increases the price of pretty much everything, but especially commodities like food – harming the poor in a wildly disproportionate fashion. They would kill for a VAT, for all the same reasons, and with exactly the same regressive effects. Their solicitude for the demands of the teachers’ unions (the largest source of campaign cash and volunteers for Democrats nationwide), too, bespeaks a profound lack of concern for the poor: the inner city schools may be failing, but most elected Democrats want no change in that particular status quo. Well: they would be happy to throw a few more bucks at the unions.

If you think about it, there are few bodies of ideas more illiberal than contemporary progressivism. They want to make all the decisions – which would make you and me the opposite of free.

They want our money. All of it.

M.H. Johnston

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