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The Taxman Stinketh
Beware the nanny state.


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Jonah Goldberg

The man wants my money. I don’t want to give it to him.

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But I will give him my cash, if for no other reason, I am afraid of the government. This puts me on one side of the tax debate. I pay my taxes because I have to, not because I want to.

This is not to say that if taxpaying were totally voluntary, I would be a complete freeloader. There are services that I am grateful for: the military, the police, the courts, some science stuff, food inspection, roads, etc. There are plenty of libertoids who break their ballpoint pens writing checks even for that kind of thing. But I am no purist when it comes to limited government. There are big things the government can do and maybe even should do. I just haven’t heard any good suggestions in this regard for a long time.

But it certainly doesn’t take much skepticism to see that working until May 3 before you’re allowed to make a dime for yourself is criminal. May 3 is this year’s Tax Freedom Day, according to the Tax Foundation (See Today’s Washington Bulletin). In other words, if the guvmint (federal, state, and local) confiscated 100% of your income until you paid off all your taxes, the average American would have to live off of road kill and puddle water until May 3rd before he could buy some beef jerky.

Only hookers and ex-cons have to kick back so much of their income, and at least hookers get their uniforms paid for (which is why Sid Blumenthal always had such nice suits). This is what Ronald Reagan was getting at when he defined the taxpayer as “someone who works for the federal government but doesn’t have to take the civil service exam.”

Of course, there’s the other side of the tax debate. These are the folks who, near as I can tell, think taxes are nifty. What’s funny is that these people tend to be extremely rich. Rob Long, an NR contributing editor and a Hollywood producer, has a theory as to why movie stars, for example, tend to be so liberal. Putting aside the usual explanations (they’re stupid and they’re very emotional, etc.), he says that movie stars never see the taxes they pay. These guys have so many managers, consultants, agents, therapists, and — in the case of Alec Baldwin — people to make sure they don’t take a bath with the TV, that the line items for taxes just seem like another monthly fee in between their divorce attorneys and their raspberry iced tea and granola-frappe enemas.

Hence they feel no obstructions, literally, to paying for nanny-state government programs because they already have constructed their own little nanny-states all around them. They are pampered and protected “talent” and so these king-babies don’t see any problem with the whole world living like they do. (see for example, “Just Like Ozzie and Harriet”)

The other folks who don’t care much about taxes are the mega rich. This is something the Left is incapable of accepting; the super-rich aren’t necessarily conservatives. Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and all those guys don’t care if taxes are high. Corporate taxes and regulations get passed on to the consumer and amount to a barrier to entry for smaller firms. Personal income taxes are easily avoided when you can afford to pay millions to lawyers who can prove you aren’t worth a dime. And even when the super-rich do pay personal income taxes, their quality of life is unaffected.

This worldview is noblesse oblige on the cheap. Rich folks and hyper-liberals are lazy. They want certain things done, but they don’t want to do it on their own. So rather than start a midnight-basketball program, they want the government to start one. Rather than run a soup kitchen, they want the government to do it. Rather than buy rainforests with their own money, they want the government to simply seize them.

What troubles me is that more and more Americans are starting to think this way. Part of it has to do, alas, with the feminization of the culture. As liberal women gain more clout, so too does the idea that the government is mommy. This is, of course, a gross exaggeration, but everyone knows what I mean.

Another reason is that the rhetorical differences between the parties have blurred. Years ago, Chris Matthews dubbed the Democrats the “Mommy Party” and the Republicans the “Daddy party.” Democrats give goodies and say “there, there” and Republicans protect the home and tell people to get off their butts.

Well, by blurring the lines between the Republicans and the Democrats, Bill Clinton made the Democrats, in effect, the unwed-mommy party. Government under the Democrats cared. It felt your pain. It worried about the stupid button-your-coat details, but it also said, “Eat your spinach on taxes and entitlements”; thus it appropriated a few of the typically Daddy-esque qualities of the Republicans. Bill Clinton loved to quote Truman saying that “if you want to live like a Republican vote for the Democrats.” Translation: You don’t need the Daddy Party for anything.

We still don’t know how much mommyfication comes with compassionate conservatism, but be prepared.

We know that taxes are higher than they have been in decades. But what should be a roar for tax cuts is at best a hum. One reason is that so many poor and low-income folks have been taken off the rolls that just as a matter of polling, it’s difficult to get a majority to demand tax cuts. But another reason is, I fear, that Americans, particularly wealthy Americas, just like the idea of government doing all the heavy lifting for them.



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