Tuesday, August 26, 2008

He was pleasured again by the Invisible Hand

Captain Fishsticks can be counted on to consistently deliver pompous and ornate - and entirely vacuous - apologies for the state of his calcified little heart. He did it again here in his standard imperious ass-clenched fashion, lecturing the Speaker of the Minnesota House, Margaret Anderson Kelliher:

Lunching in the sustainable urban environment the other day, I ran into Minnesota Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher. I casually reminded the speaker, a DFLer, to take note and pay the new transit sales tax on her bistro bill. She was happy to pay it, she replied.

"Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society," she added, quoting words physically and metaphorically "carved in stone" above the portal of the Internal Revenue Service.

"Not quite right," I responded. "Taxes are the price we pay because we are not entirely civilized."

Being taunted by the occasional astringent adolescent gnome is apparently the price you pay for being the DFL Speaker of the House. Of course, Madame Speaker was quoting not the Internal Revenue Service, but rather Oliver Wendell Holmes. but the IRS sounds so much more oppressive to Sticks. It is, after all, picking on fellow travelers like Mac Hammond.

For the support of his proposition, our Kafka-on-the-St.-Croix goes right to the Bat Cave, the Cato Institute:

"Taxes are, in fact, a reflection of our failure to achieve a fully civilized society," observes the Cato Institute's David Boaz in his book "The Politics of Freedom." "Civilized people get what they want by voluntary means, through persuasion or exchange. The use of force to acquire property is uncivilized, and the history of civilization is the history of limitations on the use of force."

Right. Say you're unemployed, maybe because you're disabled, mentally ill, or just down on your luck. You try to "persuade" the Captain or Katie to give you a buck; were do you think that will get you?

Fishsticks tells these are the only reasons we pay taxes:

  • To protect us from force and fraud.
  • To have our civil disputes mediated in courts of law.
  • To be protected from risks imposed by others to which we do not consent and cannot reasonably avoid on our own.
  • For public goods (not private benefits) necessary for government to carry out its defined and limited obligations.

Recognize, boys and girls, that our Captain appears to have come with this list on his own.

For his pièce de résistance he offers proof, as if it was a theorem in geometry, that public transit is a private benefit, not a public good:

The best way to understand the idea of "public good" is by contrasting it with the more familiar "private benefit." Each of us engages in private benefit transactions when we exchange money for products and services we want. We get in a taxi, and for a fare, we enjoy the benefit of getting from point A to point B. We buy cup of coffee; we drink it, and nobody else gets to drink it. That particular cab ride and cup of coffee are not available to others.

Public goods in support of legitimate government functions provide benefits that, unlike our cab ride or cup of coffee, don't exclude anyone. A streetlight is the classic example: It benefits everyone and anyone equally at the same time. It would be virtually impossible and highly inefficient to limit access or proportionally charge people for the streetlight's glow. Police and fire protection and the court system are other examples — they don't limit discrete benefits to some at the exclusion of others.

The policy distinction boils down to this: If a taxi ride from point A to point B is a private benefit for which an individual pays a market fare, why is a bus or light-rail ride from point A to point B a "public good" subsidized with tax dollars? The only answer is, it is a more "civilized" way to travel.

Fishsticks doesn't explain how some people are barred from getting on a train or bus. But then Sticks has apparently never heard of airports, navigable waterways (think locks and dams), the Federal Reserve System, securities regulation, or the countless other things that government does that empowers individuals and business to make the economy work.

It also apparently doesn't occur to Sticks that there are probably a lot of people at the newspaper he writies for who take public transit to work where they assist Sticks in publishing his silly bile. Everyone who takes transit helps unclog the roads for Sticks in his '88 Cordoba, and it improves the labor supply for business, too. That's why business owners like transit.

Holding out the utopian view that civilized people wouldn't need government is naive almost beyond imagination.

If there is a more delusional newspaper writer about in our fair city, Spot hasn't met 'em yet. Well, Katie's right up there, now that Spot thinks about. But still.

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