Home > Facts and Figures, Primacy of Society, Public Service > Setting Fire to Straw Men and Slaughtering Paper Tigers

Setting Fire to Straw Men and Slaughtering Paper Tigers

If you’re a regular on www.facebook.com, you have probably seen various picture-quotations popping up on your wall lately.  In a word, these need to stop.  They are almost universally moronic (see: Elizabeth Warren), and they never encapsulate the depth of thought required to address real issues.  In fact, the only purpose they serve is to make the public discourse all the more shallow.  My position is that we need more principles and fewer slogans.

Take this gem of stupidity for example, provided by rocket scientists over at “Americans Against the Tea Party”:

Click through and you’ll see exactly what I mean about shallow public discourse.  We see tax protestors, and then we see various things pointed out as government services which are supposedly beyond reproach.  There are multiple problems with this.

First, street signs, roads, sidewalks, power lines, etc. are indeed a part of the state budget (most power lines and utilities are in fact privately owned, but let’s extend the benefit of the doubt).  Because the tax protesters are in close proximity to these things, and probably use them on a daily basis, their arguments are somehow supposed to be less valid.

This is not so, and it is one of the most common rhetorical head fakes of the class warrior set.  Those people who talk about limited government are not talking about roads.  They are not talking about police, or fire departments, or even education as a general matter.  Cutting budgets for these are just about the last thing on the agenda.

The things that are crushing this country and the states within it are not the “night-watchmen” government services like the foregoing.  They are overwhelmingly transfer payments, corporate welfare, bureaucracy, and regulation.

Take California for example.  In state-issued budget charts, we can easily see that “Transportation, Total” is about $8.7 billion out of a $117 billion 2009-10 budget (and more than half of that is federally-provided funds!).  Even if we assume that all spending remotely related to transportation is justified, that is about 7.4% of the total budget. 

What about the other 92%?  Is it that unreasonable to think that perhaps something could be cut there?  That perhaps we do not need any more taxes to support the bloat that makes up the majority of government?  Congratulations “Americans Against the Tea Party.”  You’ve set fire to a straw man, and the nation is dumber for it.

My point is that we should all be thinking a little bit deeper about the real issues, so I’ll briefly touch on what I think those are: 

According to other publicly-available information, in the past 25 years the California budget has grown from $12.5 billion to $129.5 billion (although it peaked one year earlier at $135.9 billion).  That is a 1,036% increase.  What are the main drivers of the increase in state spending?  Transfer payments. 

Because we have decided that people deserve health care because they cannot pay for it, and because we have decided that people deserve to be given things because they have not earned them, we have blown up our budgets ten-fold.  But there aren’t any little arrows pointing to entitlements are there?  No arrow that points to lack of responsibility.  No arrow that points to vote buying.

Then there is the idea that whatever the government “provides” us is better than the alternative.  I find it insufferable when people defending government spending point to government monopolies as evidence of the great things that government provides us.  They are monopolies!  If we had a choice about how to fund our roads and street signs and sidewalks, I would imagine that we would find better ways to fund them than funneling real money through make-work bureaucrats, overpaying for labor, and ending up with sub-par facilities anyway.  In fact, just about any system of private financing would make more sense.

But let us assume ad arguendum that it is, in fact, the state’s responsibility to fund things like transportation.  Can we then justify even that 7.4% of the overall budget, as is clearly assumed by the picture above?  Even the most superficial investigation tells us no. 

Certainly main roads and highways should be built and maintained.  But what about light rail that nobody rides?  What about bus routes that nobody uses?  What about public transport options that hemorrhage taxpayer cash yet exclude private competitors by law?  What about “green” options that do nothing but prop up politically-connected businesses that have no way of sustaining themselves other than patronage?  Even under the assumption that the picture above has justified transportation spending, I believe that it has justified a fraction of the total.  Perhaps half if I am charitable.

And what of the funding options available?  Again, assuming that it is the state’s duty to fund this sort of thing, what makes us think that we are doing it correctly by using taxes?  Why spread the costs among everyone, despite the fact that usage varies?  I would argue that a system of user fees would a far more equitable way to go.  This would put the burden of transportation use on those people who actually use transportation.  And like the sign says, it would require no taxes. 

If I had one piece of advice to give my facebook friends it would be this.  Think before you post.  What seems like a cutting commentary on social issues ends up making you look like an idiot.

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  1. Maynard DuBow
    March 16, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    Your logic is crystal clear, to you. You’re an idiot. Lets just take public transit and compare it to- say- buying a car. According to your philosophy, I’d send a payment every time I drove the car? The Corps that manufacture transportation, be it bus or rail, need to be paid in a complete and timely manner, upon delivery, not as the money dribbles in from riders. They cannot pay their own people if they dont get paid, it’s called operating capital. No capital flow, they must borrow the money, pay interest which depletes the bottom line. As for workers being overpaid, every time I hear this I know for a certainty that the speaker has never done a days physical work in their life, God forbid you get your hands dirty, you’re obviously too good for that.
    AS for people getting health care they cannot pay for: “We hold these truths to be self evident; that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights. Among them are LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Life as an unalienable RIGHT must really bother you, lets start a revisionist Declaration of Independence. First, we must remove the awful word “unalienable”. Next lets add the phrase ” as long as you have the money to pay for it” to the end of “…pursuit of happiness.”

  2. March 16, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    Your personal attacks give you away. Your logic is poor and your points are invalid.

    Why would it be necessary for a corporation to rely on user fees for the building, as opposed to the operating, of transportation? Private roads and transportation systems are built all the time with private capital. Think a little harder.

    I’ve worked in physical labor before. You know nothing about me, but clearly you don’t care to learn.

    And finally, the right to life does not mean the right to have your life sustained by others. If that were the case, then nobody would be allowed to die. Ever. This is beyond stupid. Your right to life means that others can’t kill you, not that others must be forced to support you. Again, think a little harder.

    • Maynard DuBow
      September 4, 2012 at 5:46 PM

      My logic is crystal clear, you refuse to acknowledge anything that differs from your viewpoint. You claim a transportation company has no need of user funds to “build” a system. Where does the start-up money come from? Private investors? Fine in large metropolitan areas. Rural communities dont support that kind of investment wealth locally. You say “private roads and transportation systems are built all the time with private capital”. Yet in your initial diatribe you claim government”monopolies” prevent private development. You cant have it both ways.
      As for your comment about having worked at physical labor before, I care to learn; educate me. When, where, what, and for how long. A summer job at construction? Hardly counts, except to teach you it was something you hated.
      And speaking of hate, you hate the idea that taking care of the less fortunate is costing you money out of your pocket, right? Right to life means what it says, dont interpret the Constitution for me, I dont care if your a constitutional lawyer. It says “UNALIENABLE RIGHT TO LIFE”. I would be happy to debate this with you, but a debate requires intelligence, and its obvious you’re a cretin, I mean Republican Tea Bagger.

      • September 7, 2012 at 2:21 PM

        Let’s start with your statement: “my logic is crystal clear” and go through the list of your logical fallacies one by one.

        1. “Where does the start-up money come from? Private investors? Fine in large metropolitan areas. Rural communities dont support that kind of investment wealth locally.” – FAILURE TO CONSIDER THE RELEVANT EVIDENCE.

        There is no reason to assume that all investment must be local. Otherwise, the big New York banks would find their investment opportunities a bit restricted, don’t you think?

        2. “You say “private roads and transportation systems are built all the time with private capital”. Yet in your initial diatribe you claim government”monopolies” prevent private development. You cant have it both ways.” – FALSE DILEMMA

        Why can’t I have it both ways? Government monopolies prevent private development in many places. In many other places, they don’t. Look around you. It’s a big country.

        3. “And speaking of hate, you hate the idea that taking care of the less fortunate is costing you money out of your pocket, right?” – STRAW MAN

        This is where you take what I said, twist it, and argue against the distorted version. I would prefer to take care of the poor by treating them like human beings, not by filtering money through a wasteful bureaucracy rife with fraud and abuse. Harder to argue against that, huh?

        4. “Right to life means what it says, dont interpret the Constitution for me, I dont care if your a constitutional lawyer. “- ASSIGNMENT OF SUBJECTIVE MEANING TO AN OBJECTIVE TERM

        I don’t care if you think “the right to free speech” is more properly interpreted as “the right of dogs to color their fur purple on alternating Tuesdays.” That’s not what it means, and if it has no objective meaning, it has no meaning at all. I’m not interpreting the Constitution for you; I’m giving the meaning it’s always had for more than 200 years.

        5. “I would be happy to debate this with you, but a debate requires intelligence, and its obvious you’re a cretin, I mean Republican Tea Bagger.” – AD HOMINEM ARGUMENT

        I’m not a cretin. I’m not even a Republican. And if, as you stated earlier, you actually were interested in my situation, you could have read other posts on this very blog where I said the same thing. In fact, if you dig hard enough, you can find where I explicitly identify my politics. And by the way, “teabagger”? Really? You can do better than that.

        So by my count, you’ve served up five logical fallacies. That’s about 1 every four lines of type. I’m not even mad. That’s impressive!

  3. JazzyJim
    September 4, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    This is the American Taliban – if you’re voting Republican today – you’re no longer a conservative – you’ve lost your mind: Are these the people that “love” America – or hate those whom don’t agree with them:

    • September 4, 2012 at 1:01 PM

      Anecdotal. I could find just as many examples of fear, misinformation, and hate on the other side.

      Besides, I never considered myself a conservative anyway.

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