What do you think of federal taxes? Do you pay too much? Too little? More importantly, do you think you are getting value out of what you pay?
I would guess that most people feel that they pay too much in taxes. This belief seems likely given the Pew Research poll published over the weekend showing that only 22% of Americans feel they can trust Washington almost always or most of the time. Tough to pay taxes to a government you don’t trust. The poll also finds that nearly 50% of the population feels that government programs are run inefficiently. But are they right?
Professor Tom Schaller would argue they are not. In a recent article he contends that,
“Dollar for dollar, America offers the most effective and efficient government on the planet, doing so for about 20 cents on the dollar nationally, 28 cents if you include state and local taxes. If you ask a conservative to name a country that provides as many quality services for less, or more and better services for the same price, they can’t name one.”
There are two obvious flaws in Schaller’s logic that undermine his attempt to bait conservatives into an argument. One, the government of the United States is sadly rather unique in today’s world given the proliferation of the European nanny-state. This makes it hard to find any of the comparables he asks for. Hard to name a country that does more with less because that is not the name of the game in European style welfare states who are built around the principle of high taxes and more services.
Second, and more pertinent to the national mood, our huge national debt and operating deficits suggest we are not providing programs efficiently as he suggests. The national debt has reached a staggering $12.8 trillion and 2009s budget deficit was a record $1.4 trillion – figures which Schaller failed to include in his analysis. Eventually this unsustainable spending spree must be dealt with. The two clear paths are either higher taxes or cuts in government programs. Given that this choice is an inexorable part of our future, the efficiency and effectiveness of our tax dollars will wane greatly.
In contrast to Schaller’s argument, that we are getting bang for our tax buck, another liberal strategy has been to extol the virtues of Europe. This argument, exemplified in a recent article by noted political writer Steven Hill, posits that the European style welfare state actually delivers more. In the piece Hill recalls a conversation between a fiscally conservative Senator and a man who lived in Sweden.
“The problem with Americans and their taxes is that we get nothing for them.” He then told the senator about the comprehensive services and benefits that Swedes receive.
“If Americans knew what Swedes receive for their taxes, we would probably riot,” he told the senator. The rest of the ride to the theater district was surprisingly quiet.
Hill goes on to list all the things they receive including health care, affordable child care, retirement pensions, subsidized university educations, job retraining, paid sick leave, ample vacations, etc.
Hill and Schaller both approach the problem from the liberal perspective but take two completely different sides of the argument. Schaller argues that the United States government is incredibly efficient at using our tax dollars to fund programs for Americans. Hill on the other hand argues that the European welfare state model deliver an enormous amount of services at a comparatively modest cost in taxes. Despite two opposite positions they are both used to gird the same conclusion – that we should drop our fears of “big government” and pay more in taxes.
Talk about a heads I win, tails you lose argument. No matter which position conservative adopt to limit the size of government liberals have an answer. But only one of them can be right…right?
Frankly, in my view they are both wrong. The problem is they start from the wrong premise. Why should we compare ourselves to European welfare states at all? We are not Europe and we should not seek to be Europe. America was built on a foundation of limited government and personal freedom. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.”
A nanny state and a mommy government in the mold of Europe is just not in our DNA. From the absence of those traits has sprung a United States that is different and blessedly unique in its vision of government. We want it to pave the road for individuals to succeed but not be driving the car. Why now should not now feel the need, or allow anyone to impress upon us the need, to stray from the principles that made us great in the name of mirroring what other nations are doing?
In returning to the words of our founders, George Washington wrote that “[s]ome day, following the example of the United States of America there will be a United States of Europe.” How sad would he have been to find it turned out just the opposite.
by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee
read more: www.collegerepublicans.org