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Malice in Plunderland

Economist Richard Ebeling explains why government grows.  Here’s a particularly telling paragraph, especially in light of David Broder’s claim in Sunday’s Washington Post that we Americans of late have a "toxic aversion to taxing ourselves enough to pay our bills."

Meanwhile, the government will take in an estimated $2.5 trillion in
taxes in the current fiscal year, roughly $22,100 per household.

Given the logic of politics, it’s misleading to suggest (as Broder and so many others do), that Americans choose, in any meaningful way, Uncle Sam’s spending and taxing policies.  From the perspective of each individual taxpayer or voter, and from the perspective of each elected official, what government spends is unconnected with what government receives as tax revenues, and what Uncle Sam receives as tax revenues is unconnected with what it spends.

Elected officials make government-spending decisions overwhelmingly in response to political pressures — the clamoring of this group, the self-serving pleas of that group.  It’s not terribly difficult for politicians to vote to lavish money on interest groups because, in doing so, no politician spends his or her own money; the money spent comes from faceless others.

Of course, many of those faceless others do vote, and they generally prefer to pay less in taxes.  So passing the bill to future generations is even better politics: mollify interest-groups today and pass the bill to people not yet born.

It’s amazing, really, that budget deficits are not larger than they are.  The fact that the average American household forks over about $22,100 each year in taxes to Uncle Sam alone suggests that Americans aren’t as repulsed by taxes as Broder suggests.

(By the way, the title of this post is stolen from a pamphlet my friend Dwight Lee wrote many years ago.)