Saturday, November 9, 2013

In Colorado, NYC and SeaTac, the easy ‘virtue’ of a voting booth tick

‘’Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree!’’

Senator Long was right. Taxes don’t have to hurt. Not if you get the benefit while someone else pays.

The 2013 elections emphasize how American voters are growing fond of this understanding.

In SeaTac (the Washington city that’s home to Seattle’s international airport), voters approved a large increase to the local minimum wage. Employers will now have to pay $15/hour to their staff.

In New York City, voters handed the liberal Democrat, Bill de Blasio, a victory that re-defines the word ‘landslide’. In significant part, de Blasio won the keys to Gracie Mansion by promising to raise taxes on those earning over $500,000. More than that, di Blasio committed to using the new revenue for pre-Kindergarten education.

Unfortunately however, as much as they might seem so, these votes aren’t testaments to the triumph of liberal moralism. Instead, they represent self-interest shielded by the pretense of social justice.

Before we examine why, we need to consider two votes in Colorado.

Here, voters were asked to support two different tax propositions. The first sought to introduce taxes on Marijuana purchases. The second sought to raise income taxes to pay for increased education spending. In their decisions, the voters were unequivocal. An overwhelming majority approved the pot tax and simultaneously rejected the income tax increase.

Let’s face facts. 

First, it doesn’t require much courage to tax pot smokers. From a position of self-interest, Colorado voters had an easy choice. Most voters don’t smoke pot, but nearly all voters pay income tax.

Neither does it take much courage to raise taxes on airport travelers. After all, during an airport layover, the need for a bottle of water will probably overpower your wallet. And if you’re not a local resident, well, your vote doesn’t count.

At another level, contrary to ‘1%’ propaganda, it doesn’t take much courage to soak ‘the rich’. America is a democracy – one person, one vote. There are more voters earning less than $500,000, than there are voters earning more. It’s basic math. Thus, in act of political brilliance, de Blasio won election by centering his campaign in an apparently simple choice. A choice of ‘social’ value - whether youngsters deserve the best possible start in life? Or whether the rich should escape paying ‘’a little’’ more? Still, ever noticed how the threshold for ‘richness’ gets a little lower each election and how a ‘’little more’’ has an infinite quality.

Ultimately, these elections will induce bad policy.

For a start, as I’ve argued before, bloated welfare states visit despair on those they seek to serve. 

Paying $15/hour sounds good, but it means small businesses have to absorb, mitigate or transfer the costs of this regulation. That normally means a combination of higher prices, less demand and lower employment.

Taxing the rich sounds easy on paper.,, But only to the degree that the ‘rich’ don’t relocate their capital to a more hospitable locale. As Bruce Bartlett notes, that degree bears closer than one might think. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that progressive taxation is unjustifiable. I’m simply saying that in our already highly progressive tax system, slandering those who pay for our schools, social services and police officers isn't fair. Just ask Sam Seaborn.

In the end, this is about political honesty.

If voters want more funding for education, they should embrace their common responsibility for paying the bills.

If voters want higher taxes on the rich, they should seek those taxes with humility rather than hostility.

If voters want a higher minimum wage, they should be aware of the consequences that are likely to follow.

Genuine civic responsibility demands more than an easy tick in a warm voting booth.

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