As the father of a two-year-old, I have several opportunities to watch animated films. Now playing in the Hudson home is last year’s Despicable Me. The plot centers around a super-villain who adopts three young girls as part of his latest diabolical scheme. When he brings them home for the first time, he tells them not to touch anything. Intent upon getting under his skin, they ask him whether this rule applies to the floor and the air.
Such wordplay is common among children, who think themselves rather clever for finding a literal meaning contrary to a clear directive. Along with showboating grade school kids, the other group most inclined toward such behavior are leftists.
Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a news segment for my local Fox affiliate. The topic was the funding of infrastructure. NPR put out a story called “Balancing The Budget: The Problem Might Be You.” Its thesis was that Americans want improvements to the country’s infrastructure, but are unwilling to pay for them with additional taxes. Hence, you – the American voter – are the reason we can’t balance the federal budget.
Of course, such is thesis is absurd on its face. There is no dichotomy between raising taxes and maintaining or improving infrastructure. Cuts can be made from areas of the budget which are a lower priority than infrastructure, and those funds can be reallocated.
Upon making this point during the segment, I was treated to a obfuscating rebuttal from Dane Smith, former journalist and current president of Growth & Justice - a leftist think tank working on public policy in Minnesota. Smith took issue with the notion that Americans, and Minnesotans in particular, are over-taxed. He evoked the term “price of government,” stating that this figure was lower in the state of Minnesota than it has been in years.
During the exchange, I was not sure what “price of government” was. However, it seemed clear that Smith was deviating from the question at hand. Respondents to the Rockefeller Foundation poll, which NPR had cited, indicated they were not interested in more taxes. NPR had strongly implied voters’ intransigence on taxes threatened improvements to infrastructure. The question was therefore: how do we fund infrastructure if people are not willing to pay more in taxes? Rather than answer that question, Smith disparaged the taxpayer’s stance on higher taxes. Since the “price of government” had gone down in recent years, Smith argued that people’s sense of being taxed enough already was illegitimate.
It should come as no surprise that, when we examine what “price of government” is, we find public policy jargon concocted for the purpose of helping people like Smith argue for higher taxes. In most people’s minds, the terms “price” and “cost” are interchangeable. The cost of government is the amount we pay in taxes, fees, and charges to finance its operation. The “price of government” measure is that figure divided by “community income.” In other words, if community income goes up, and the “price of government” remains the same, the actual cost of government goes up.
This is a measure borne of the mindset which says, if I have $100, I can spend $100. Such a mindset is what sends you to the store for a loaf of bread, and brings you back with that plus $95 worth of junk you don’t need. This is not the mindset from which state’s, and the federal government, ought to be governed.
More to the point, this “price of government” measure is rhetorically deceptive, as it may go down while the actual cost of government goes up. It is a measure which argues for spending more, not because more is needed, but because there is more to spend. Nevermind how those dollars translate to actual value when accounting for inflation quantitative easing.
When children are told not to touch anything, they know full well what that means. Asking whether the rule applies to the floor is a bad joke at best. But kids are kids. Here we see an example of a grown adult using the same coy wordplay to pull the wool over taxpayers’ eyes.