Thursday, November 01, 2007

I think you do have to answer the question

Jay Bullock doesn't want to say how much taxation is too much. He'd rather ask how much government we need and then allow the tax thing to take care of itself.

Jay has a point in that government is presumably something that we decide to fund because it provides things that we want and what we want certainly has to be part of the equation.

But, I think, a consideration of how much taxation is too much has to be part of that calculus. Jay offers two examples. He says that a business does not set a price point before it knows what it wants to sell. That is true, but determining what you want to sell (and how much profit you want to make) does not establish the price point. There is an external restriction. I can't charge more than people are willing to pay for whatever it is that I want.

Now Jay may well respond that determining the size of government is the equivalent of someone deciding what they are willing to pay for, but there is a difference. Taxation is imposed at the barrel of a gun. While I agree that taxation is not theft, it is a mistake to treat it like it is voluntary or chosen by all those who are asked to pay it. This is particularly true where taxation is progressive. Whatever it's other merits (and it has some), progressive taxation suffers from the ills associated with asking someone else to pay for what I want.

Those ills - or, if your prefer, concerns - fall into two categories. One is fairness. How much can I ask someone to contribute to services that he neither wants not will receive. Certainly there is a limit.

Second, how will the imposition of this level of taxation affect society? The idea that one can simply tax and not effect the manner in which people behave is just as "unscientific" as young earth creationism.

Jay's other example, constructing a class curriculum, helps to illustrate the point. He thinks that upper and lower limits on "homework" don't mean much when he is putting together a syllabus. That is certainly not my experience. When I plan a course (and I'm putting together two right now), there are all sorts of external restrictions. The semester is only 14 weeks. The course is two, three or four credits. The capacity and willingness of students to absorb material is not unlimited. Students have other obligations.

So I don't think the question of "how much is too much" can be subordinated to the assembly of our wish list.

In fairness to Jay, he does acknowledge that there must be some limit. He just seems to think that it's awfully high. (Apparently 91% marginal rates don't shock his conscience even though, when they existed, few people actually paid them.)

In the end, he responds to the question that he won't answer with one of his own. Taxes he says are a means to the end of government services. I disagree in that government services are also a means to some desired result.

He wants to know what we should do about the poor performance of MPS:

If so many students are currently failing in a well-funded, well-organized, tightly-regulated school system staffed by generally very talented and compassionate teachers, what would you replace it with? What would you cut, change, rearrange, or do differently to achieve different results? If the superintendent's requests above aren't going to make a difference, what will?

If we see MPS as a means to education, the answer may well be that no additional input to MPS will do much of anything. That's certainly the impression I seem to get whenever I talk to someone who actually works there.

Driving down to Marquette this morning, I heard Gwen Moore interviewed on WMCS. She talked about child care being a "bottomless pit of need" and, based on her comments during the interview, I think she sees the entire world that way with government being the only way to meet those needs.

It struck me, though, that much of what she wants government to do for kids are things that one would normally expect their families to do. Government, in her view, ought to be a sort of surrogate family.

I can understand, in the face of substantial family breakdown, why she would feel this way. The problem, it seems to me, is that the government makes a rather poor surrogate family. Shouldn't the emphasis be on resisting, rather than accommodating, family breakdown?


Anonymous said...

Been there. In Jay's world tax revenues just magically appear. He has a "Let them eat cake" card that allows him to ignore the economic effects of taxes. For example, a car dealer will see sales go down as his potential customers car budgets are eroded by money lost to taxes.

Arguments like that are lost on Jay. He doesn't have to understand.

Billiam said...

Hang it all, mr. Rick! Haven't you heard that it takes a village to raise the children? No matter what, no matter the cost, no matter the results, if it's for the children, you MUST NOT question it! Man, how un-pc of you.

Anonymous said...

The other response to the business analogy is that when a company's product is failing and people are not buying it in droves, the company doesn't get to raise the price.

The best way for MPS to figure out its problems and solve them is for them to feel the consequences of failure - lost revenue - like a private company does. Then, like a private company, they'll figure it out in a hurry... or they will go out of business.

Terrence Berres said...

"If so many students are currently failing in a well-funded, well-organized, tightly-regulated school system staffed by generally very talented and compassionate teachers, what would you replace it with?"

Why raise it hypothetically? Have MPS announce it plans to phase out operations with the RFP for its replacement.

Dad29 said...

Truly, we have passed 1984, as Gwen Moore is now voicing a call for Gummint to arrogate to itself the only remnant of Western Civilization's heritage--caring for children.

Did she not mention promiscuity?

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