Tax cut obsession is absurd; vote for tax increases!

The paper was full of Democrats promising middle-class tax cuts yesterday. I really don’t understand why the national obsession with tax cuts. People seem to think about taxes as if the government is stealing from them. As much as I believe the government does steal on occasion(1), mostly, the money is going to needed common goods and services.

We’d love to believe that cutting taxes makes the government efficient. Nonsense. If a simple lack of money could make an organization efficient, then increasing taxes would make all our families more efficient because we’d have less money. It doesn’t. It just means we feel more pain, can do less, save less, and live our lives at poorer quality.

Do we want an efficient government? If so, we need to train people how to be more efficient! Government employees have neither the training nor the incentive to streamline their operations. In fact, exactly the opposite: when running on less money this year means you get less next year (often the case in government), “lean and mean” becomes a recipe for waste. But money cuts without adequate training and reorganizing won’t do much except kill the quality of the services that remain.

Of course, it would sure help if those cutting the budget demonstrated some money-savvy themselves. They don’t. The Bush Administration granted Halliburton several billion dollars worth of contracts in a no-bid decision. Halliburton promptly spent an extra $61 million on gas, either through incompetence (paying a supplier twice the market rate) or through willfull overcharging. Either way, the message to the rest of the government employees is clear:cost-cutting and efficiency aren’t the measures that matter in doing a job.

And by the way, people, cutting your income taxes won’t even make a big dent in your tax bill. If you make less than about $200,000, your social security (FICA) taxes make up as much or more of your tax burden than your income taxes. And while your employer pays half of your FICA, it’s still taxes being paid that could have been money in your pocket instead if your employer didn’t have to pay Uncle Sam.

Your overall tax bill is probably higher after the tax cuts. Do you own your own home? The federal tax cut meant Massachusetts got less federal aid. The state promptly raised property taxes to help close the gap. My property taxes went up more than I saved on federal taxes, and we still laid off teachers and cut services like graffitti cleanup. And oh, yes, subway prices took a 25% hike as well. Nice. I’m now paying more in taxes overall and receiving fewer services.
(If you rent, don’t gloat too much. Your landlord will be passing through that tax increase momentarily.)

I’ve had fun with all this, of course. We’ve seen an unusually large number of teenagers begging for money for their sports teams, uniforms, etc. this year. I educate them. Their parents got a $300 tax refund. That’s the money that would have paid for their school programs. If their parents chose to blow the $300 on something else, rather than saving it to make up for the services their kids lost, then it’s kind of silly for me to show more care, love, and financial commitment to these kids than their parents showed. It’s a cold, cruel world out there. And taxes are how we join together as a community to make it a warmer, friendlier, and happier world for humans.

Let’s have clean streets. Let’s have decent schools that prepare our kids to succeed(2). Let’s have food inspection that can afford to use “healthy for you” as a standard! That all takes money, and that’s where our taxes go. Instead of blindly voting for tax cuts, think for a few minutes about which services you benefit from. Street cleaning, perhaps? Sewer systems? Water treatment? Toxic waste cleanup? Because when services get cut, the military and terror budgets stay steady and it’s the quality-of-life budgets that get decimated.

(1) See

(2) Except for graduates of 4-year colleges, the U.S. ranked near list in the world in terms of literacy. See the National Institute for Literacy resources: