Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Useless Trope: Taxpayers Know How to Spend Their Money Better Than the Government!

Uh, no they don't.

If you give tax revenues back to tax payers, chances are they won't save it for retirement. There is an exception: rich people. If you cut taxes for the rich, they invest it (which amounts to saving for retirement), unless, of course, they say, "Now I can buy that obscenely large yacht I've been dreaming of!" And as for the poor, any tax break they receive they turn into home meals and a few at Burger King, soft drinks, beer, cigarettes, rent, utilities, school supplies, and maybe some new clothes from Wal-mart. Then they're broke again, of course.

And the middle class? Yes, a few folks throw a few hundred bucks into savings, but generally they pay down debt, which actually amounts to alleviating the burden of previous spending they shouldn't have engaged in in the first place. But then, if you just lost a job, maybe the only way to take care of your family is to put it on a high-interest credit card. Some of us "uniquely American" people don't have it easy.

None of this behavior on any level is bad for the overall economy: GDP will get a modest bump from this economic activity, though as private spending crowds out government spending, the whole exercise settles in as a wash.

So what's the problem, and what's the origin of the trope? The trope was generated by "fiscal conservatives" who want to make the point that taxes are "stolen" from citizens who can use their money very wisely, thank you very much.

The problem is that these tax savings are not used for fixing our roads, hiring more cops in distressed neighborhoods, medical research, maintaining our emergency services, building airports or ports, fighting wars (necessary or not), building schools and expanding school programs, cleaning up aging forests to prevent catastrophic fires, or job training. The list is endless of the things government does that private citizens don't. And when we don't do it, our society slowly crumbles.

The point is that there are tasks best left to government because government is good at doing things that average -- or above average -- citizens can't do by themselves. When was the last time you heard a school teacher say, "I just got a tax cut. I'm buying new fire hoses for Engine #6 down the street."

Government, though you'll rarely hear conservatives or libertarians saying it, is actually the people banding together to do things they can't do individually. And taxes are the individual contributions the people agree to make to pay for these necessary projects individuals can't do.

So, please, knock it off with this stupid expression. It's absolutely meaningless. Instead, turn it around. What is it that the government knows best how to spend our tax money on? Then, after giving it a lot of thought, vote for the politicians that seem to know what to spend our money on and hold them accountable.

Why? Because we need this stuff done. We can't do it, so get people into government who will.

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