We became frustrated at the sorts of arguments expressed in a recent Statesman Journal artical by Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayer’s Union (NTUF). This generalized “Lower taxes at any cost” type of argument is typical of pro-business front groups for the top one percent, such as the NTUF.
The article cites a recent poll that reports many Americans feel they pay too much in taxes. Do they think they pay too much for automobiles? How about food? And a big question would be: how about housing? In other words, why is it that the supposedly too high price of public services is the only thing that’s ever questioned? If the same sort of questions were asked about almost any consumer good, the issue of quality of the goods would likely immediately come up. “Well, I’ll pay more for a quality product – that’s only smart…”
Let’s examine that argument. Private sector goods come in many shapes, sizes and degrees of necessity. To be sure, food, clothing, housing and other “necessities” are included. But so are lawn chairs, hula hoops, backyard barbecues and the like. When last we looked, most public goods can clearly be labelled necessities: police and fire protection, emergency medical services, schools and roads, etc. So supposedly we should be willing to pay more money for a better barbecue, but not for a better education for our kids…?
This way of thinking doesn’t make any sense – especially since it comes at us from a mindset that has been known to argue that government should be run more like a business. Apparently, this decidedly market based “value for value received” argument that we are encouraged to apply to our private sector purchases is not allowed to be extended to public goods, even though such products and services are in many cases much more valuable to our everyday well-being and happiness.
In general terms, the conservative anti-government rhetoric which has become a familiar part of common discourse encourages citizens to think of government as an enemy and virtually any public spending as a waste. We are not allowed to even make the case that higher taxes can mean better public services. With no other product would we think that it’s even rational to say: “My goal is to pay the lowest possible price, no matter what.”
The Sepp article also states that “residents face some of the highest state and local tax rates in the country.” Nowhere does it mention that Oregon is one of only three states in the nation without a sales tax, and thus does not get into the more thoughtful question of overall tax burden. Given the regressivity of a sales tax and the progressivity of an income tax, we applaud the state of Oregon for reliance on a tax structure that tends to work against the rising inequality that is by all odds our country’s most pressing economic problem.
There are many other questionable uses of facts and logic in this blatantly self-interested article. But its worst characteristic is that it innately relies on the completely discredited “trickle-down” theory of economics as the path to material well-being. In truth, the recommended path actually will lead merely to greater inequality and corporate hegemony – and we already have too much of that.
Salem Weekly editorial board members:
Russ Beaton, Jim Scheppke, William Smaldone, Naseem Rakha, A.P. Walther.