01.31.2010 0

Populism As Tax Policy

  • On: 02/01/2010 09:33:05
  • In: Taxes
  • By David Bozeman

    One of the casualties of bailout-mania is the very concept of capitalism. Banks and corporations that request taxpayer dollars blur the line between the public and private sectors, and, sadly, the recent financial meltdowns have been attributed not to the excesses of government regulators but to capitalism.

    One takes no joy in opposing the idea that publicly financed bank profits, especially bonuses, should be taxed, but the mindset behind President Obama’s proposal is toxic to the temperament necessary to sustain a free and productive society.

    Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop writes, in a piece entitled ‘Taxing the Bankers Is Only a Start,’ that the move “would help slake the public’s thirst for revenge against Wall Street. Europeans don’t seem to be complaining about these special taxes, and a little economic populism couldn’t hurt Obama’s approval ratings. . .”

    So, we now predicate national tax policy on the public’s thirst for revenge and boosting Obama’s poll numbers? And here we thought the purpose of revenue collection was to secure funds to operate the government while maintaining a free, consumer-driven economy. Some of us are so not European. Speaking of which, for a glimpse of how liberals would like to remake America, note their affection for Europe. Whether the issue is tax policy, worker benefits, sexual mores, etc., liberals extol the one-time cradle of civilization, now a shadow of its former self and sinking under debt, high unemployment, low birth rates and radical Islam. But, hey, they know how to stick it to the rich.

    According to the rules of their playbook, liberals will Euro-fy America by fanning the flames of class envy (”Tax their golf scores,” Harrop jokingly urges) and tapping into America’s resentment of such corporate outrages as extravagant bonuses. Financial institutions are the demons du jour, but the left still vilifies the health insurance industry, big pharmaceuticals, big tobacco, big oil, Wal Mart (and they think Richard Nixon had an enemies list!).

    Harrop concludes that “outrage should linger only briefly on what the bankers did, then should fix itself on what Washington let them do.” The problem with economic populism is that it bypasses the accountability of the free market (where consumers vote with their dollars) for the false hope of government-ensured fairness. Politicians pushed home ownership for those who could not afford to pay their mortgages, helping to cause the economic collapse. Strict oversight of the sale and availability of health insurance makes it less affordable to the poor. In other words, government claims it will alleviate the very problems it helped create in the first place.

    Any institution that calls itself the final arbiter of economic justice seeks power only for its own members. Taxing today’s lavish financial bonuses merits debate, but a free people should proceed with caution in asking that the tax code exact economic revenge on those they don’t like. The bailout may have been wrong , but, as we have seen, layers of taxes and regulations on the ‘fat cats’ hurt the very people they purport to help. In the words of Calvin Coolidge, “The wise and correct course to follow in taxation and in all other economic legislation is not to destroy those who have already secured success, but to create conditions under which everyone will have a better chance to be successful.”

    David Bozeman, former North Carolina Libertarian Party Chairman, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer for Americans for Limited Government.

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