FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #53: “The essence of politics is taking from the many and giving to the few.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 15th, 2011

That Great Sucking Sound of our Money Leaving our Pockets

All right, here’s the dirty little secret about politics.  Most people enter politics for the money.  They can say whatever they want but when it comes to voting tax increases, guess what?  There are tax increases.  Always.  The amount of money transferring from the private to the public sector is always increasing.  Always.  Congress set up close to half of the federal budget to increase automatically.  That great sucking sound isn’t jobs going to Mexico.  It’s our money leaving our pockets.

Take a look at your check stub.  Compare gross pay to net pay.  Are these numbers almost the same?  Or is the difference closer to a car payment?  A house payment?  Depending on where you are in your career this difference on your weekly paycheck could pay for a nice car.  Add them up in a month and they could get you into that nice house in the good school district.  This is a lot of money.  Ask your grandparents what was the difference between gross pay and net pay on their paychecks.  You’ll probably be surprised.  Because, back then, net pay was very nearly gross pay.

Today, nobody gives gross pay a second thought.  We talk about what we ‘net’.  Because we’re just used to it.  You see, the government (federal, state and local) didn’t just start taking hundreds of dollars out of our paychecks.  It was incremental.  Over a long period of time.  Sometimes coming to pennies a day.  Hard to see.  And just not enough to bitch about.  We may see tens of dollars of our gross pay taxed away over a decade or two.  But we typically make more over that same time.  Again, in the great scheme of things, these are small incremental changes.  Just not big enough for a great number of people to bitch about.

Incrementalism, Progressive Tax Rates and the Withholding Tax

That’s the power of incrementalism.  Baby steps.  Little by little.  Big growth over time.  Like watching grass grow.  You don’t see it grow.  Then one day you have to cut it.  And so it is with taxes.  One day you look at your check stub and realize how much you’re paying in taxes.  You may have never realized you were paying so much.  A progressive tax system keeps the tax burden on the young who don’t make a lot money yet low.  So they don’t see it at first.  And keep voting Democrat.  Not because they want to pay higher taxes.  But because the higher taxes haven’t impacted their lives yet.  When they do start paying more in taxes, that’s when some of them start voting Republican.

So taxes creep up on us.  We don’t see them all that clearly at first because of progressive tax rates.  And the fact we pay them before we see them.  Via the withholding tax.  Which provided the greatest advancement in the collection of confiscatory taxes.  For without it there would be tax revolts when April 15th rolled around and people didn’t have tens of thousands of dollars sitting in their checking accounts to pay their taxes.  I mean, what’s easier?  Getting us to pay our taxes with money we never saw?  Or paying our taxes after having that money in our hands first?  Funny thing about earnings.  Once we have the cash in hand we don’t give it up lightly.

That’s why the government introduced withholding taxes.  It makes getting our money from us easier.  And allows them to raise our taxes ever higher.  Because we pay those taxes with gross pay.  Pay we never get.  In our real world, gross pay is a myth.  It doesn’t exist.  Our earnings only become real at net pay.  Sad.  But true.  So they can increase our taxes a lot more than if we were paying them in full in April.  And do.

Pandering and Patronage

Yeah, but America is a center-right country.  And liberal Democrats on the left are the ones who want to keep increasing our taxes to pay for their Big Government programs.  So how can they?  When America is a center-right country.  I mean, if it’s a minority of Americans that want to raise our taxes to grow government, how do they get the votes to increase our taxes in the first place?

By pandering.  Buying votes.  And patronage.  The power to tax provides near-limitless money for politicians to spend.  The trick is in the getting and giving amounts of money.  You tax the many.  And give to the few.  You tax a hundred dollars or so from each paycheck.  And give hundreds of thousands of dollars to those who can help you win election.  That’s how the tax and spend people win elections.  They give money to small groups in exchange for their vote.  Or legislate favorable legislation for them.  Or put someone from that group in the government itself in an oversight position of the industry there’re in.

A small group by itself can’t make a big difference at the polls.  But you get enough of them, they can.  Luckily for the tax and spenders, a lot of these small groups can be found in the political center.  Which helps pull some of that ‘center-right’ to the left.  And this is how the difference between gross pay and net pay continues to grow larger.  These ‘swing votes’ may pay more in taxes, too, but the special privileges they receive from the government more than makes up for it.

The Little Programs Add Up

We pay a lot in taxes.  And yet you don’t hear too many people complain about it.  Why?  The progressive tax rate plays a role in this.  There are more poor people than rich.  So fewer people pay taxes.  And the withholding tax helps, too.  Because most of us don’t even pay attention to what we’re paying.  But what really helps government is the number of taxpayers.  The total amount of taxes each taxpayer pays can ‘appear’ small.  And the amount each taxpayer pays for a specific program can appear smaller still.  This can get a lot of people to ‘support’ these little programs.  Simply by their passive lack of opposition.

For example, heating assistance for the poor is not a very big part of the budget.  And it doesn’t take much out of your paycheck.  You feel for the poor who can’t pay for heat.  You want to help.  So there isn’t a lot of political action against this program.  It’s like those commercials where you can save a child in Africa for the price of a cup of coffee.  I mean, who wouldn’t feel guilty for refusing to buy one less cup of coffee to save a life?  It’s an effective tactic.  Making people feel guilty for being so greedy that they are unwilling to drink one less cup of coffee.  And no one wants to be seen as this greedy.

But the little programs add up.  You start out by sacrificing a cup of coffee.  But when each of these little programs costs you a cup of coffee, they can add up to a dinner.  A movie.  A night on the town.  A new car.  And they do.  That’s why a lot of people can’t live in the school districts they want to.  Because of the aggregate of all of these little programs.  But we never look at the aggregate.  It’s always one program at a time.  To make the taxpayer feel guilty for their greed.  To break down their will to oppose cuts.  To go along with further tax increases.  And a lot of us do.  Which makes that gap between gross pay and net pay grow ever larger.

Taxpayers and Tax Consumers

But things are changing.  And it’s causing a problem.  The baby boomers are beginning to retire.  They’ll soon be using Medicare.  And collecting Social Security.  So the number of taxpayers will go down.  While the number of tax consumers will go up.  And that changes everything.  The fewer taxpayers will have to pay a larger amount of taxes to support these entitlements as well as all of those little programs.  And this will make it a lot harder to hide these taxes.  To make them appear small.  More people will have to go with less to pay these taxes.  Even those who once did all right during periods of high taxation will have to go with less.  Because more people will be consuming Medicare and Social Security benefits.  And it’ll be political suicide to cut these programs.  Leaving little choice but to cut some of the little programs.  Which will give the patrons of Big Government little incentive to support tax and spend any longer.  Because they’ll see more taxing.  And less spending.  On themselves.

Politics as usual will not work as well as it once did.  Because they will not be able to hide the cost of Big Government any longer.  They won’t be taking from the many to give to the few anymore.  They’ll be taking from the few to give to the many.  Which can’t be anything but a recipe for disaster.

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