Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Lots of political observers are saying that the one-cent sales tax proposition that voters will decide in May is doomed. Voters, they say, are in no mood to hike their own taxes.
But at the same time, voters aren't ready to give up all the government programs—from classes for gifted students to state parks—that are now on the chopping block.
We want everything, and we don't want to pay for any of it. And we don't understand the tax system, so we can't come up with a better system that reflects a 21st century economy.
Here's an interesting take from Jacob Weisberg over at Slate:
The usual way to describe such inconsistent demands from voters is to say that the public is an angry, populist, tea-partying mood. But a lot more people are watching American Idol than are watching Glenn Beck, and our collective illogic is mostly negligent rather than militant. The more compelling explanation is that the American public lives in Candyland, where government can tackle the big problems and get out of the way at the same time. In this respect, the whole country is becoming more and more like California, where ignorance is bliss and the state's bonds have dropped to an A- rating (the same level as Libya's), thanks to a referendum system that allows the people to be even more irresponsible than their elected representatives. Middle-class Americans really don't want to hear about sacrifices or trade-offs—except as flattering descriptions about how ready we, as a people, are, or used to be, to accept them. We like the idea of hard choices in theory. When was the last time we made one in reality?
The politicians thriving at the moment are the ones who embody this live-for-the-today mentality, those best able to call for the impossible with a straight face. Take Scott Brown, the newly elected Senator from Massachusetts. Brown wants government to take in less revenue: He has signed a no-new-taxes pledge and called for an across-the-board tax cut on families and businesses. But Brown doesn't want government to spend any less money: He opposes reductions in Medicare payments and all other spending cuts of any significance. He says we can lower deficits above 10 percent of GDP—the largest deficits since World War II, deficits so large that they threaten our future as the world's leading military and economic power—simply by cutting government waste. No sensible person who has spent five minutes looking at the budget thinks that's remotely possible. The charitable interpretation is that Brown embodies naive optimism, an approach to politics that Ronald Reagan left as one of his more dubious legacies to Republican Party. A better explanation is that Brown is consciously pandering to the public's ignorance and illusions the same way the rest of his Republican colleagues are.