Thursday , August 22 2019
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Voters, progressives, and philanthropists

Summary:
Consider the following story: A couple of progressives were sitting in a Starbucks in Seattle, lamenting the state of public policy.  The government was raising enough revenue to address many social problems, but the vast majority of domestic spending went to middle class entitlements.  Another big chunk of spending went to the bloated military budget.  Much of the small foreign aid budget went toward our military allies, not the global poor. Bill the businessman overheard this conversation and was touched by their lament.  Bill suggested an idea:  “How about if I impose a private tax on every single operating system for PCs, and then consult experts on effective philanthropy.  I’ll give the money where it will do the most good.” Bill then talked his friend Warren into

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Consider the following story:

A couple of progressives were sitting in a Starbucks in Seattle, lamenting the state of public policy.  The government was raising enough revenue to address many social problems, but the vast majority of domestic spending went to middle class entitlements.  Another big chunk of spending went to the bloated military budget.  Much of the small foreign aid budget went toward our military allies, not the global poor.

Bill the businessman overheard this conversation and was touched by their lament.  Bill suggested an idea:  “How about if I impose a private tax on every single operating system for PCs, and then consult experts on effective philanthropy.  I’ll give the money where it will do the most good.”

Bill then talked his friend Warren into imposing a tax on all financial transactions, and also donate the funds to charity.  The idea spread rapidly.  Mark put a tax on social media advertising, which raised vast amounts of money.  Jeff imposed a private tax on internet retail transactions, while Larry and Sergey put a tax on search advertising.

The progressives said that’s all very nice, but the money is still far too small to address “unmet needs”.  And yet they kept losing elections to populist candidates that promised to spend the money on the sorts of things that made average voters feel more comfortable, such as middle class entitlements, and also programs that made America seem like a Great Power, such as the defense budget and military aid to Israel, Egypt and Pakistan.

Then the progressives decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. Because they could not get Americans to vote for candidates who favored helping the less fortunate, the progressives decided they’d start favoring policies that helped the middle class, programs that ignored the needs homeless Americans and hungry Africans.

The progressives decided to advocate expanding federal health care programs from the poor and elderly to the broader population, at such a huge cost that it would absorb most of the revenue that could be potentially be raised with higher taxes.  In addition, they decided that all Americans should pay taxes to pay off the debts of the relatively well off minority that graduate from college.

Thus the 21st century saw a very unusual phenomenon. Billionaires became bleeding heart progressives, donating hundreds of billions of dollars to the world’s neediest people.  The progressives became power hungry politicians, grasping for votes wherever they could find them.

Of course that’s just a story.  You’ll have to read the news media to find out what’s really going on in America.


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Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment".

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