Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On the morality of taxes

Many conservative columnists have been writing lately about how immoral it is for the government to take money from one person and give it to another. While I agree with the general principle, I think it's a good example of how conservatives go wrong by talking about grand philosophies that don't really make much sense in the world as it actually is. Of course it's good to remind people what taxation really is: the taking of property by force. Despite the fact that you have to pay and go to jail if you don't, a lot of people for some reason forget that hard reality. It's just another example of how you can get used to something and think of it as perfectly normal if it's been part of your life as long as you can remember.

However, that wave of logic ends up crashing on the rocks of "What do we do about the poor, hungry children?" Some conservatives may insist that only voluntary contributions should help, but voluntary contributions have never been enough to do anything but keep children from starving to death, except in some especially generous localities(mainly small towns).

In my opinion, we should all understand that taking money from people who earned it is a very serious matter. It's not something that should be done blithely just because we want to spend money on something that would be nice to have. We need to understand the very real impact of taxation on individuals and families. Even the poor end up paying 15-18% of their income in taxes every year due to sales taxes and payroll taxes. The middle class pays a similar percentage, and for most middle class families, taxes are their first or second largest bill. Many liberals agree that the poor and middle class are overtaxed and want to raise taxes on the rich. The problem with that is that taxing the rich doesn't yield all that much revenue. The big money is in the middle class and upper middle class. The only way to get big revenues from taxing the rich is to define the rich as households making more than $75,000. While that is certainly well off(in most areas), you're talking about a rather large percentage of people these days. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd really be mad if I "made it" to that income level and now had to pay 50% of my income in taxes, kicking me right off the ladder of progress back into the lower middle class.

Since we've established that taxation is a very serious matter, we need to make sure that our money is spent wisely, and only on things that are absolutely necessary. Not things that are just kinda nice or nifty. That means we should build a national defense. We should feed and provide health care to poor children. We should provide a basic safety net for adults temporarily down on their luck.

What we should not be taking peoples' money away from them at gunpoint to pay for are local projects of limited value(such as the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and statues of Robert Byrd), unlimited support for people who will not work or are to morally dysfunctional to hold down a job, corporate welfare, or subsidies.

In all, unnecessary spending probably accounts for a good 20-30% of the budget. Keep in mind I didn't say "wasteful", just unnecessary. Not only that, but even worthwhile programs tend to grow faster than necessary. We need to limit the growth of those programs to population + inflation. I haven't seen many domestic programs benefit from 10% annual spending hikes. They often performed just as well on 3% annual spending hikes.

Conservatives need to fight against the tax and spend mentality, but they need to do it intelligently. In 1995, the Republicans entered Congress and immediately started attacking programs for the poor and elderly, when there was a good $100 billion in corporate welfare and another $50 billion in agricultural subsidies to knock off. Not to mention $30 billion worth of pork.

That's why I support John McCain. McCain knows where the unnecessary spending is. He knows where the outright waste is. He has been a staunch opponent of unnecessary spending for decades. He will make sure that whatever money we pay will be spent well. He will fight Congress on behalf of taxpayers. Although there are many other decent candidates in both parties who oppose unnecessary spending, all others have more important priorities. And as Bush and even Reagan have shown, when a President has higher priorities than controlling spending, the only way to get Congress to do what they wanted was to give in on spending.

For fiscal conservatives, there is only one really reliable choice in this race: John McCain. If you have "other priorities", such as the war on terror, family values issues, or immigration, that's fine, but understand that spending WILL increase in order to get Congress to move on those issues. Congress only responds to bribery. Unless controlling spending is priority #1, it won't get done at all.