The subtext behind the tax talk

Steven Miller

Your priorities don’t count.

That’s the message, loud and clear, from Nevada’s ever-higher taxes crowd once again.

All that yammering you’re hearing about how Gov. Jim Gibbons ought to renounce his no-new-taxes pledge? About some mythical need for another “broad-based business tax” in Nevada? And about the state’s supposedly deficient “tax structure?”

It's all just another way of saying that, when it comes to the money you work for and earn, your plans for it really don’t matter.

That’s right. Collectivism’s amen corner here in the Silver State is convinced that the financial goals you may have for your family or for your own life are way less important than what they want to use your money for.

This is the simple, basic meaning of their current campaign to once again expand the proportion of your income that they confiscate. To repeat: the proportion. As always, they don’t want to set priorities. As always, they just demand more.

It is fundamentally bizarre that the ever-higher taxes clique never gets called on this. Decade in and decade out they seek nothing other than a reduction in every citizen’s realm of personal economic freedom. Yet the significance of this never seems to register in some media quarters.

Yes, supposedly these new taxes would, like all the others, be on “business.” But that’s a ruse. Everyone in Nevada, except government employees, works for a business. And every business buys from other businesses. Thus any new business tax, broad-based or narrow, will be on everyone not working for government. Sucking money out of the free and productive private sector and channeling it into the coercive and inefficient government sector, it will have a destructive impact on all of us.

This is a point, of course, that the amen chorus won’t ever willingly admit. To hear them tell it, the road to paradise is paved with ever-higher taxes. More taxes, they regularly seek to suggest, mean more “services” and thus a better Nevada for all.

There are many things wrong with this argument. First, it doesn’t acknowledge that for every supposed “service” government provides, even more services in the private sector — services that people genuinely desire — will evaporate. That’s because when government takes money away from the private sector economy, fewer dollars are available to go into the development of new goods and services that would appeal to consumers. And at the same time, consumers, especially modest-income consumers, have fewer dollars with which to buy those goods and services.

The second thing wrong with the argument is that the private sector, because of its freedoms and incentives, uses resources much more efficiently, creatively and productively than does the government sector. Because the latter is necessarily dominated by the political class, by power-mongers and by bureaucrats, government’s attempts to provide goods and services generally result in automobiles like the Yugo and school systems like Nevada’s.

A final point is that the term “government services” is fundamentally an oxymoron. In a marketplace economy, what validates services as valuable and desired is the fact that individuals can and do make voluntary, mutually enforceable contracts. For example: “If you will prune my trees, I will pay you X per tree or Y for the whole job.”

Government’s so-called “services,” on the other hand, are not voluntarily purchased and the government is not contractually obligated. The realm of government, rather, is the realm of diktat: Government tells you that you will give it a specified portion of your earnings. Should you refuse to pay your assigned tax, of course, you’ll be subjected to civil penalties. Resist those and you’ll end up either shot or jailed.

Then, when government has your money, its functionaries tell you what they may or may not do for you — if anything at all. Consider K-12 education again. For decades the state and its subdivisions have wrung billions out of Nevadans, while delivering an ever-more shoddy and often even damaging one-size-fits-all product to Nevada’s children. At the same time the state school establishment (including, most emphatically, the teacher union) fights tooth and nail against any reforms that would let working and middle-class Nevada families find more effective, efficient and customer-friendly educational services in the private sector.

Practically speaking, the expansion of government “services” is the expansion of the realm where citizens are at government’s mercy.

For many of Nevada’s collectivists — scornfully dismissive, as they so often reveal themselves, of taxpayers — that, clearly, is the real attraction here. 

Steven Miller is policy director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute.

Steven Miller

Senior Vice President, Nevada Journal Managing Editor

Steven Miller is Nevada Journal Managing Editor, Emeritus, and has been with the Institute since 1997.

Steven graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Philosophy from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna). Before joining NPRI, Steven worked as a news reporter in California and Nevada, and a political cartoonist in Nevada, Hawaii and North Carolina. For 10 years he ran a successful commercial illustration studio in New York City, then for five years worked at First Boston Credit Suisse in New York as a technical analyst. After returning to Nevada in 1991, Steven worked as an investigative reporter before joining NPRI.