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Sic Semper Tyrannis

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Taxing Chicken or the Spending Egg

Folkbum keeps getting the same question:

The last couple of times I've posted about taxes, my conservative readers have asked a question in the comments that I have opted to ignore.
But not this time, he says. The question is:

How much is too much of someone's income to take [in taxes]? What should the top line total tax picture be in your mind?
That seems a dang fine question to me, and I wonder why Jay doesn't want to answer it? Could it be because he has no "top line total tax picture?"

Is there a limit? How about fifty percent of personal income? Too much? Not enough?

From reading the rest of his post, I think Folkbum would answer "what's it buying us?"

My impression is that no amount of money will ever be enough - not just for Folkbum, but for the entire spending lobby. We could double our tax burden tomorrow, and in ten years be right back to where we are now: with interest groups and local governments screaming for More.

You heartless, greedy conservatives.

Anyway, here’s why Folkbum won’t answer the question: is a classic "gotcha" question--one designed to stop or derail conversation about important questions and instead put people on the spot so they can be criticized personally.
Instead of that question, he says, we should be doing something else that conservatives frequently want to do: set priorities.

Once we know what our priorities are, and what our revenue sources will be, we can set a level for taxes… The process of setting priorities, that important first step, will help us in deciding what to not to fund if there is no way to do that fairly.
I dearly wish we could do that, but in my experience, that's a fairyland picture of how government works.

We'll never set priorities. Government will not. Everything is top priority to somebody. There is no budget item, no potential target for the spending of taxpayer dollars, that doesn't have an interest group to whom that item is the most important thing.

And that interest group will form a coalition, print letterhead, find a legislative champion, find a media champion, and sooner or later get their money. Government hates saying no. This is especially true of social programs.

Put another way: we can't set priorities unless we first have limits. With no limits, there's no reason to set priorities in the first place. That is how we all do our own budgets – we know, generally, how much money we’ll make in the coming year, and so we know about what we can afford. Not the other way around.