Wednesday, June 16

Walking Tall, Vol. XXI

Andrew Ferguson, "Ride Along With Mitch: Can the astonishing popularity of Indiana's penny-pinching governor carry him to the White House in 2012?" Six volumes. June 14

WHEREIN Philosophy is something you can't argue with:
In Indiana, as elsewhere, schools have been typically funded by local property taxes, which local officials could raise to match their budgets, by increasing either rates or assessments. Consolidation took that option away from them. Under Daniels, home property taxes have been cut drastically—by one third in most cases—and are now capped at one percent.

“Property taxation is the most pernicious taxation there is,” he said. “Where else in life can you just decide how much you want to spend and then just dial up the rates to get enough revenue to pay for it? Elsewhere in life, you figure out how much money you have and fit your budget to that. If you’ve got less to spend, well, you’ve got less to spend.”

I was stuck at a red light the other afternoon behind a guy with a "This is my Peace Symbol" bumpersticker--the graphic was a reticle, perhaps better known as "crosshairs"--a few inches above his In God We Trust license plate.

Okay, so I read a little into that, and those plates--they're the sort of thing Daniels thinks the government should be doing with the dollars it seizes--aren't Christian, but merely a tribute to Our Selectively Semitic Heritage. It's perfectly possible to be a monotheist and routinely solve problems at 900-1200 meters. It's just that, well, there's Philosophy, and there's the things that Philosophy is used to justify, and somehow we refuse to acknowledge both at once, preferring to tout our own, while pointing out the shortcomings of others.
He treats waste in government as a moral offense. “Government isn’t a business, and it shouldn’t be run as a business,” he said. “But it can be more like business. It has a lot to learn from businessmen.” Government operates without the market pressures that produce efficiency and increase quality. The challenge for government leaders is to produce those pressures to economize internally, through an act of will. “Never take a dollar from a free citizen through the coercion of taxation without a very legitimate purpose,” he said in an interview last year. “We have a solemn duty to spend that dollar as carefully as possible, because when we took it we diminished that person’s freedom.” When you put it like that, overspending by government seems un-American.

No, Andrew; when you put it like that government seems un-American. After you've declared that Taxation=coercive seizure, how do you justify taxes at all?

Is this the root cause, or just a symptom, of the modern rhetorical syndrome which requires the hearer to fill in any pertinent information the speaker can't be bothered with? (Watch the nightly news, your choice of network, or any half-hour chunk of CNN. Count the number of stories where you come away knowing less about it than when you went in. Note how many times language is used to convey to you the emotion you're supposed to take away, or the emotion you're already supposed to have, rather than the information that's supposed to be at the heart of the thing. It dates to Nixon's assault on the Press, and the Press' hasty retreat into Happy Talk once it took fire.)

Of course with Daniels this isn't just sloppiness; he's even older than I am, he remembers all this stuff, it's just that he was on the other side, and instead of reviling it these past decades he's been honing his skill. The blank we're supposed to fill in here is that Taxes are Confiscation, Unless They're Going for Something Mitch Daniels Supports. Meaning, at least to someone educated in the previous century, that the proper question for debate is "So fucking what?" Is this supposed to close off discussion or something? It's "seizure" when our "overlords" address skyrocketing health care costs, but it's the proper function of government when we spend a trillion dollars, or, off the top of my head, roughly a trillion dollars more than Mitch "OMB" Daniels predicted it would cost, to overthrow a tin-horn strongman in Iraq because none of the top Bush administration officials could get laid in high school?

Suppose we simply agree, arguendo, that Defense is the only legitimate communal function of a Randian Superparadise. That settles the argument? It's not seizure when you build eight more carriers than you need? Where are the weapons systems Big Brain Mitch has called for us to eliminate? What did we eliminate when he was at OMB? (The Bush administration cancelled three--the Crusader artillery system, the Comanche reconnaissance helicopter, and the Navy Area Missile Defense system--in its first four years, for a net savings of…zero. We spent the money on other Bright Shiny Penis Replacements.)

So if we divide both sides of the equation by What We Buy we get…zero. Tax=Seizure. Or divide by Tax and we get Shit You Approve Of vs. Shit I Approve Of. I understand why the argument doesn't get treated that way at The Weekly Standard, but what about elsewhere? Over the past thirty years the Federal Government didn't shrink during Republican administrations and expand during Democratic; still, the argument gets phrased as Wanton Spending Democrats vs. Good, Practical Republican Stewards of The Public's Money Who Are Sadly Required To Spend Sixty Cents of Every Dollar On The Defense Industry, And Who Are Really, Really Certain That The Invisible Hand Will Take Care Of Any Future Problems If We Just Let It. And not only are both those premises demonstrably False, but it's not even the way Republicans act when they get the chance.
When Daniels took office, in 2004, the state faced a $200 million deficit

Are we back to using the original number now, Andrew, or did you get some out-of-date figures? Damn thing had ballooned to $500 million just before the 2008 election.
and hadn’t balanced its budget in seven years.

Though, again, it had; it just hadn't bothered (or obsessed with, for partisan political purposes) squaring all accounts at the end of every fiscal year. Really, again, it's fucking Indiana; it's not like we pass out free Government Jumbo Tenderloins and heroin to all unwed mothers. It's not like the one real constant over the past twenty years hasn't been that every budget deal has to win the approval of a state senate which is two-thirds Republican. The first Bush II recession (Mitch Daniels, Enormous OMB Brain-director; see, I can play that game, too) hit Indiana particularly hard, and, like everywhere, was particularly long-lived, unless your source of income was buying and selling derivatives, or providing secondary-market armoring for US military vehicles. We could have "solved" it the way we had for seven years previous, without, y'know, declaring State Bankruptcy or having a huge Statehouse Yard Sale; that is, we could have squeezed some here, cut some there, raised this tax or that fee, amortized some expenses, and fudged some others. Not pretty, but lawmaking never is. Instead we elected a guy who wanted to use Big Brained Budget Balancer on the logo for his next two campaigns, and we gave the GOPers a majority in the House to match the Senate, and they turned the whole thing into one big Republican PR Fest, which is precisely where we are today. They took the Debits column, sliced it to match the Income column, and declared Mitch Daniels a genius. Nothing to it, provided you have the political power, the political will, and the temerity to assume it won't blow up on your watch, or if it does you'll be able to finesse it, given that your base consists of backwoods RV gawkers with atrocious eating habits.

And yet "cut here, squeeze there, raise some taxes, and pass other expenses down the line" is precisely what we did, while giving it a spiffy new wrapper that tested well with the vital Don't Know No Better demo.

Let's say you are among Indiana's 10% (counted) unemployed. Wait, better yet, let's say you're a Heroic Indiana Jobs Creating Entrepreneur, not like Mitch Daniels. Your business drops off 30% in the present economy. Do you take a list of everything you spend money on and cut it all by 30%, thereby solving the problem and becoming Profitable again? Well, if you cut your hours by 30%, you might lose even more business. You cut employee hours 30% your customers might not get the personal attention they crave and shop elsewhere. You're not going to dim the lights 30%, or switch off the AC for two-and-a-half hours every day. You're going to look at all your options and make informed decisions. You're not going to destroy your business to save it. You're not going to pawn your wife's jewelry, or her Toll Road, without getting her permission first, and when you do, you're not going to spend that money on more jewelry and more Toll Roads. This is yet another way business is different from government.

Oh, and if you do, you're not going to be able to convince some guy at the Weekly Standard that you're actually open longer now, and that at 95% it's still 20% cooler inside than it is in Michigan stores. Unless, of course, he's desperate for a candidate who talks shit because he needs to, not because it's all he has for brains.


DocAmazing said...

I think you've pretty conclusively demonstrated that the Weekly Standard is produced by and for idiots and those who need reassurance that their rapacious scumbaggery is benficial to the public.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who couldn't get laid in high school, but nonetheless has opposed every sending of U.S. troops to the MidEast in my lifetime, I think you may be making unwarranted causal connections.

Deggjr said...

Stand up Mitch, oh you already are standing up. I don't him at all, I just like the joke.

Augustus Mulliner said...

That would be the same Weekly Standard that is telling us the oil spill is no biggie, nothing to see here, everyone move along. Still, I think there's a critical need for some kind of boom or toxin-gobbling bacteria that we can throw out there to keep this shit from seeping under the door.