20 July 2012

The first of a set of two

I've been watching the campaigns unfold and have mostly been silent because they're not very interesting. I've already long settled on voting for Gary Johnson, and most of what gets talked about in campaigns isn't very exciting prior to debates when candidates might (and I stress might), have to outline some actual plans with more flesh for our approval. Something they've largely avoided doing so far.

That said, I'm also living in Ohio, and Ohio, as most election observers will tell you, is one of the key battleground states in this (as in most) cycles. Along with Florida and Virginia and North Carolina, there are no states of greater importance to media coverage, and by extension, to campaign coverage and ad warfare. That means I get inundated by wacky campaign ads from PACs and committees and all sorts. And most of these ads offend my sense of intelligence by insulting it. "Outsourcing"? Really? That's a problem now? And so on with bad commercial after bad commercial.

And then, into that open maw of insanity, there's the Warren moment.

I'm having a hard time seeing how calling Republicans anarchists is at this point anything other than an insult to anarchists. I don't agree with their moral authority conclusions relating to governments of otherwise free societies, but I find they're at least consistent and intellectually sensible conclusions based on those moral judgments rather than partisan hacks who say one thing and do the other, more precisely who say one thing and then do the other when it becomes politically expedient to suddenly support or oppose it.

I'm also having a hard time seeing how these arguments are actually useful. Supporting basic public goods or resolving externality and free rider problems through central action of governments is not the same as saying "hey we should spend a lot of money on X", or "we should spend a lot of money on X at this level rather than at this level", or "we should force lots of people to pay for X through taxation", instead of some other means. Those are more complicated legal and moral arguments, to say nothing of economic objections that could be raised in some cases (light rail for instance). One would have to show that we need to use a government body to resolve X, that X is a public goods problem of some kind, that there's no other effective means to do X, and that a proposed plan Y actually does X, and then if we get through all of those steps with modestly positive results, then we might have something worth doing. Perhaps, it could be argued, that means that we don't tax people enough to pay for what we need to do through public action (though this is doubtful given that there are a lot of things we do that aren't public action problems or that we expend too much time and money on as public action problems relative to what we could do instead). That's a really strange way to set up an argument for higher taxes on mostly successful people with the presumption being that either a) their gains are ill-gotten from rigging the system say, or b) that they're not paying enough for public goods that ALL people could have used to their advantage to succeed. The proper line of attack is on A, not on B. That line of attack has allies on both the left and right, with public choice theorists and rent seeking economic analysis in the academic world, and then Austrian economists or outright socialists in some other world.

Maybe that line of attack prescribes a particular set of actions or maybe it does not, and maybe those actions are at one level of government versus another or one branch versus another, and so on, but at least that's the argument that we ought to be having. And not an argument that roads require taxation and government. Because very few people want to have that argument. And really, people pretending that that's the actual argument, that there's that much of a gap between "conservatives" and "liberals" just look stupid as a consequence when I'm well aware they're usually much smarter people than that (on both sides).

I suspect the only reason we're having this argument instead is that somehow a very small marginal income tax rate change has come to be defined as the difference between having socialism and a free economy. When that change will do very little, if anything, to alter the dynamics of our economic mode, will do nothing to alleviate the acquisition of wealth and inequality therein, will do nothing to resolve other social issues, nothing of consequence to resolve fiscal indiscipline, and so on. This means that taxes somehow become a core value structure, and other actual core values (say, free market economics instead of crony capitalism) are ignored.
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