Is Congress a Den of Thieves?

2 Nov 2021 | John Goodman, What's New

The Bible says, “Thou shall not steal.”

Yet stealing – in the sense of robbing Peter to give to Paul – is what every government in the world does, on a daily basis.  They have been doing it for a very long time.

H. L. Mencken once said that elections are an advance auction on the sale of stolen goods. Watching the tax-and-spend circus on Capitol Hill right now brings Mencken to mind.

Have you ever seen a good argument for stealing? I don’t mean taking property that isn’t yours to save a life in an emergency. I’m talking about ordinary, garden-variety theft. 

If you haven’t seen a good argument that’s because government theft is so fully ingrained in our way of life that no one thinks a justification is needed.

One consistent advocate for theft on a grand scale is Paul Krugman, editorial writer for the New York Times. Krugman, for example,  thinks the government should take as much as 90 percent of the income of LeBron James.

And that’s only because he judges the revenue-maximizing tax rate is somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent. If he could be confident that Lebron would keep on playing basketball regardless, it appears Krugman would like to see the government take every penny he earns.

Slaves on southern plantations in the rural south got to consume a much greater portion of their product than Krugman would leave for James. So, what did James do to deserve this fate? He’s good at what he does. That’s it? That’s it.

Krugman cites Teddy Roosevelt approvingly for the view that it is good in principle to tax the wealthy, even if nothing useful is done with the money.

Like a stereotypical villain in an Ayn Rand novel, Krugman seems to hate achievement as such. The successful should be punished precisely because they are successful. The productive should be penalized because they are productive. The good should be made to suffer precisely because they are good.

Krugman claims his view of progressive taxation “is as American as apple pie.” He couldn’t be more wrong.

The Declaration of Independence declares that we each have an “unalienable right” to pursue our own happiness. There is no ambiguity in that statement. Making Peter less happy so that Paul can be more happy is a violation of fundamental rights per se.

The founding fathers were not against taxation, even progressive taxation. But as the Constitution makes clear, the government’s role is to promote the general welfare. So, taxes to pay for a road, a bridge, or a dam would be legit if the project benefited people generally. Revenue measures that took more from the rich than the poor would make sense if the rich expected more benefits from the project.

But none of the founders thought it was permissible to rob Peter for the benefit of Paul for no other reason than the fact that Paul has more votes.

In his latest apology for government theft, Krugman says we should “Tax the Rich [to] Help America’s Children.” Since this line is likely to be repeated often on the left, let’s pause to focus on two things the catchphrase overlooks: (1) the tendency for taxes on the rich to trickle down to others, and (2) the tendency for programs designed for children (who don’t vote) to morph into job programs for adults (who do vote).

When the federal income tax was first created, its target was the top 1 percent. Yet in no time at all, ordinary citizens were swept up in its web. The tax on Social Security benefits initially applied only to high-income seniors. But since the parameters were not indexed, that tax is moving down the income ladder – year by year – to reach every retiree eventually. Joe Biden’s proposed payroll tax would initially apply only to couples earning $400,000 or more.  But lack of indexing means the tax will eventually apply to everyone, regardless of income.

These are not oversights of the tax-writing committees in Congress. The left really believes in trickle-down taxation.

What it doesn’t believe in is empowering parents with children. Economics teaches that family utility is maximized when the family controls the money spent on its behalf; and common sense tells us that parents care more about their children than strangers who don’t even know them.

But the congressional Democrats are unmoved by economics or common sense. Concerning their plan for child care, John Cochran writes:

“It stipulates that childcare workers must be paid at least as much as elementary school teachers ($63,930), rather than the current average ($25,510). Providers must be licensed. Families pay a fixed and rising fraction of family income. If families earn more money, benefits are reduced. If a couple marries, they pay a higher rate, based on combined income.”

In other words, the proposal is anti-marriage and anti-work, in addition to being wasteful. And considering what a poor job the public schools do with low-income children in Democratic-run cities, it’s probably anti-child as well.

I might be inclined to cut Krugman some slack if there was the slightest evidence that he really cares about children. There isn’t.

In the news section of the Times, there have been many articles through the years on the plight of poor children in New York City – trapped in bad schools with bad teachers and given no hope of escape by politicians who do the bidding of the teachers’ unions. Yet these facts are routinely ignored on the editorial page.

You would be hard-pressed to find a single Krugman column that expresses any sympathy at all for these kids.

Krugman is not a lover. He is a hater. And that is true for a great many others on the left.

John C. Goodman is President of the Goodman Institute and Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute. His books include the soon-to-be-published updated edition of Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, the widely acclaimed A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America, and New Way to Care: Social Protections that Put Families First. The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, among other media, have called him the “Father of Health Savings Accounts.”