A belief is a thought repeated over time until accepted as a fact. Fact and belief are not synonyms. There appear to be a couple of national beliefs that are changing – to the good.
Economist Walter Williams sums up the first:
"A rule of law regime would require that we scrap the Internal Revenue Code in its current form. What justification is there for different tax treatment of one American because he has a higher income, minor children or receives his income from capital gains instead of wages? Equal treatment would require Congress to figure out the cost of the constitutionally authorized functions of the federal government, divide it by the adult population and send us each a bill for our share. You say, "What about the ability-to-pay principle of taxation to pay for the cost of government?" That's just a politics of envy concept that would be revealed as utter nonsense if applied to any other cost. Would you apply the ability-to-pay principle to, say, gasoline or food purchases where different prices are charged to different people depending on how many dependents they had, their income, or whether their income was derived from wages, dividends or capital gains?"
Twenty years ago I was writing a feature story for Shreveport Magazine about taxes. Like many innocent young folks I had this silly notion that the income tax and other taxes were necessary means of funding the government. Then Congressman Buddy Roemer enlightened me. He said, in effect, that Congress would never give up its power to tax because it was the means Congress shaped society and personal behavior.
It was true in the 1980’s and it’s more true today. One need only consider the intense opposition to the Fair Tax proposal to learn that it isn’t about revenue. Also curious is how certain terms and phrases become “beliefs.”
Pay for a tax cut. Huh? Where does one purchase a tax cut? I’d like some. You don’t pay for a tax cut. Even the phrase “tax cut” is suspicious. The more wordy, but factual, rendition is “the government will seize less of your property.” But it’s the cuts and increases that influence behavior. People instinctively resist coercion and thus seek ways to retain the fruit of their physical and mental labor.
The Fair Tax concept is gaining ground. It provides the means to fund the federal government. And that’s all it does. It doesn’t reward/punish. That’s the problem. In a nut-shell, the Fair Tax eliminates all federal income tax. That includes the sneaky payroll taxes – FICA, Medicaid, Medicare – as well as the undisguised tax on income. The Fair Tax revenue would come from an embedded national sales tax.
The belief that the government has a “right” to personal property is widely held. This presumption shows up in responses such as “the Fair Tax eliminates my mortgage interest deduction.” Duh, yeah. Because there’s no longer a hunk of your income going to the government that you have to connive to reduce. No more tax breaks. No more tax punishment. Check it out. It’s truly Fair. And that’s a radical idea.
Along the same lines of national beliefs that are evolving is that of Public Education. As I’ve written before, a national referendum on the question “Should the public be taxed to provide basic education to all citizens?” would get 90% approval. We, The People must be educated in order to rule ourselves. Mischief through the decades, however, has made public education synonymous with a monopoly of Government Run Schools. If the imagined referendum had the question “Should the public be taxed to pay for a monopoly on education by government run schools?” there might be 20% of the voters who’d like that (never really connecting that it’s their money.)
Consumer watch dog John Stossel regularly takes the monopolistic education industry to task. So does Jonah Goldberg. Some good ideas are discussed (presuming the current tax structure remains) such as vouchers that follow the student or an equal tax credit for families. Since we don’t have a open and free educational system, we can’t imagine the magnitude of what public education could be. We are capable of much, much, more than we have.
Like opposition to the Fair Tax, opposition to Choice in Education is based on control - power. Parents are punished if their children don’t go to school (home schooling being an alternative for some) and unless the family has the means to pay for a private school, the children have no choice but to attend the government school they are told to attend. I had to read that sentence again. That doesn’t sound like anything We, The People would want. Yet that’s what we’ve permitted, based on beliefs about public education rather than facts. But that's changing.
Being a political year, 2008 may provide a forum for “radical” notions of School Choice and Fair Tax. Both dramatically limit the intrusion of government into personal life. There seems to be momentum for such fundamental change.
Happy New Year!