Sunday, November 17, 2013

Raising Taxes: A "Tax and Spend" Primer

Making Peace With Your 1040

A Few "Cosmic Thoughts" 
Concerning the Mechanism of Government
Tax and Spend.

It's easy to look around the country, see the wide spread dilapidation in all the visible infrastructure and then settle in to complain about the state of the government.  Well, the concept, "state of the government," can be refined quite usefully into a "job performance evaluation" -- granted that one knows exactly what the "job" of the government actually is at the start.

If there is to be a "job performance evaluation," we will need to begin with a "job description."

We can immediately start to compile our list of "duties" which will comprise the "job" of government.  It gets quite long right away.  There's the defense of the nation, the maintenance of the infrastructure, public education, the general health of the people [sometimes minimally considered to be absolutely nothing beyond plague and epidemic prevention], the operation of a justice system and so on.  When all the most common ideas have been listed, all of us will be easily able to add "our own favorite thing" at the end.

No matter what all gets included, most of what's listed, more or less, meets with our approval as citizens.  This stuff is important to us.  We generally like to live the way we are living, and the things on the list make that possible.  In fact, we can quite comfortably say that, again, in general, we depend on the things on the list.
In our modern political environment we could also, easily, locate another citizen who would almost automatically disagree with everything on the list, too.  Consequently, to "regain the solid ground," we'll have to plunge directly to the fundamentals.


1. Every citizen understands that the government will need to collect the resources necessary for the country's operation from us, that is, the government must "collectivise" resources -- continually accumulate enough money to do its job.

2.  Next, through the tormented course of representational democracy, the government must "collectivise" need, that is, the government must determine needs which are, generally,  at least as universal as the criteria for collecting the resources.

Government is a mechanism to collect resources -- collectivize our labor and money -- and collectively spend it for things we collectively need -- or collectively want.  The rest is simply the giant pile of arguments we cough up immediately as we disagree about the exactly what is to be included in the "collectives."

Our national record of taxing and spending (chart source)
There's more merit to the old adage "tax and spend" than may first appear.  Taxing and spending is the mechanism of government. Taxing and spending is the purpose of government.

It is the means through which we meet the challenges presented to us as a culture, that is, as an economic civilization.

The chart [above] may present the sterile statistics of the performance of the national economy, but it also tells a story -- a story about the people of the United States, their government -- and their appetites.  As the accumulated wealth contained in our economic civilization increased, our appetite for its benefits increased along with it.  In a very general, "big picture" way, the rising curve on the chart paints the picture of Americans insisting that the conditions of life here -- our standard of living -- reflect the corresponding increases in the great wealth of our nation.

The steady increase in government spending -- again, considered without all the caveats and arguments -- shows an economic civilization more and more inclined to operate the "tax and spend" mechanism at constantly increasing rates.  As we grew accustomed to the benefits made possible by "collectivising" an increasing amount of revenue, both the direct amount of spending and the rate and distribution of taxation, became commensurately more comfortable for us.

At least for the majority of us.

Is What We're Doing Making Sense?

So far, we have avoided the question: "Should we be spending tax revenue for this or that specific thing?  Does such spending, in fact, meet the test of 'collective need' or 'collective want' mentioned above?"

When, as tax payers, we bring out the national budget for our individual "line item Vetoes," we seem to instantly become the equivalent of 16th Century fish mongers.  National interests vaporize as "someone else's responsibility" while the discourse migrates to "who gets what."

The burning question of the day ceases to be couched on the prospect of directing, as voters, the advancement of the country, but instead on the abhorrent possibility that some other citizen may get something I won't be getting -- something someone else will be getting, but which I will be subsidizing with my taxes.

A shocking example of this emerged in the predictable recent flood of complaints about the ACA.  Tax payers -- no doubt parroting an attractive talking point they'd heard somewhere -- lamented: "I'm too old to get pregnant, so why should I have to join the collective effort to insure child birth expenses for other women?"   

Another example also appearing in the same discussion is even more telling: "My kids are adults, so why should I have to pay for public schools?"

Yes, the utter selfishness is shocking, but perhaps the even more troubling conclusion must be drawn with respect to the almost non-existent degree of responsibility these citizens acknowledge for their duties as participants in running the country.  A difficult minority of such citizens has been carefully groomed to embrace this cynical attitude, and they have been susceptible to such "grooming" thanks to a media targeting their ancient "fears and desires."

It's the same trick which made the Old Testament such a big seller.  The awkward problem accompanying this strange phenomenon inevitably arises from the fact that in 2013, the United States is simply unable to function socially or politically as a patriarchal Bronze Age society.

MeanMesa has previously riled incessantly about the price we pay for failed education, but in this example, we see a large demographic of citizens apparently completely unaware of how this thing runs.  Rather than basing their democratic considerations on some actual news and, perhaps, information gleaned from high school civics classes, they are prey to manipulative, emotional propaganda issuing forth from the thousands of hours of biased editorial media they hear every week.

This post would not "dare to trod" on the incendiary ground where decisions are made concerning "appropriate government spending" compared to "inappropriate government spending."  [For those with an interest in joining this debate, there are more than 600 posts on this blog, and most of them deal with precisely this question.]

 Yet, however it is to be done, we find ourselves -- as citizens -- "trapped" with the unavoidable responsibility of "drawing the line" somewhere.

The quite imaginary, yet also quite "perfect," line to be drawn will divide government spending between the funds legitimately expended for the operation of the country in, more or less, its present conditions and funds illegitimately expended for things much more directly aimed at increasing the wealth of only a few citizens.

The inconsistency of rapidly increasing wealth among the top 10% -- or even 1% -- occurring simultaneously with rapidly increasing debt, economic depression  and austerity in government spending is a nightmarish contradiction.  Observing a sizable minority of citizens embracing such a painful paradox under the constant onslaught of media and political propaganda and amid a sinister void of understanding about the structure of the country's economy and government reminds MeanMesa of a conversation with a suicidal maniac carrying a pistol.

Can We Really Be Convinced 
to Go Through With Economic Suicide?

"Winning" in this artificially imposed debacle means surviving it.   

"In the lap of sweet victory," that is, once past the present conflict, we will return to a representative government clumsily collecting tax revenues -- with an entirely rewritten tax code -- and clumsily directing national resources to national needs in a way grudgingly satisfying to the a majority of citizens most of the time.

It is the ultimate test determining "good governance" from "bad governance."  Absent compelling exceptions such as wars or natural disasters, when this primary function cannot be conducted successfully by a government, it is prima facie evidence of bad governance.

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