Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Politics and Regulation

If most people were asked what they think of government regulation (or taxes for that matter) they'd probably tell you they don't like them. It probably has something to do with the growing mistrust of government over the last 30 years or so, and it may actually be healthy to have some mistrust.

But I'm telling you: Everyone likes regulation, just so long as it involves government controls over something that someone else is doing that I do not and that bothers me. No one really wants to make the sacrifice of being forced to constrain their own habits, but when the neighbor dog comes across to our yard to do his business, then we petition for a pooper-scooper law. Why? Because we're selfish, but at the same time we're in this whole thing called civilization (or, America) together. When it comes to unemployment insurance it's easy to say "government get off my back" as long as you have a stable job, and as long as someone else is losing theirs. But if that person loses his job and decides to drink a case of natural light or smoke a joint, there will be a long line of people wanting the government on HIS back.

And then there's taxes. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said "I like paying taxes. With them I buy Civilization." How true. My mother tells me that even though my grandfather was a cranky old farmer about most things, he never voted against a school bond issue. That tells us something. Schools, roads, security (police), and so on are important, and not just for the people who can buy them for themselves. And that, I think, is why a lot of rich folks (like Warren Buffet) are willing to support a candidate who has said up front that they would bear a greater tax burden at the top. One reason might be credibility - that candidate isn't playing games by trying to say he can keep the tax code flatter and lower than it was 8 years ago and still be able to lift the middle class. Another is the fact that we are simply burdened by debt and need to raise revenues to keep it in check. Yet another is simply getting that tax dollar's worth of civilization that even an independent cranky old farmer sees the value in.

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