Saturday, September 11, 2004

Another great quote

This time from G.K. Chesterton's book "Orthodoxy":

"We need not debate about the mere words evolution or progress: personally I prefer to call it reform. For reform implies form. It implies that we are trying to shape the world in a particular image; to make it something that we see already in our minds. Evolution is a metaphor from mere automatic unrolling. Progress is a metaphor from merely walking along a road -- very likely the wrong road. But reform is a metaphor for reasonable and determined men: it means that we see a certain thing out of shape and we mean to put it into shape. And we know what shape."

(sniff) I love it.

I just watched one of my favorite movies of all time: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (with Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur, directed by Frank Capra).

Oh the glorious idealism and determination, integrity and principle!

For all the "freedom-fighters" out there, the words of Clarissa Sanders (Arthur): "Your friend Mr. Lincoln [faced powerful enemies]. So did every other man who tried to lift his thought up off the ground. Odds against them didn't stop those men. They were fools that way. All the good that ever came into this world came from fools with faith like that. You can't quit now."

And from Jefferson Smith (Stewart): "No sir, I will not yield!"

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Concentrated costs, diffused benefits

There's an economic "model" to explain why taxpayers allow themselves to be slowly sucked dry by taxes: Concentrated benefits, diffused costs.

Quite simply, members of a small special interest group who stand to gain millions of dollars from a ten-cent tax on widgets have a greater incentive to pursue the tax than the multitude of taxpayers (who stand to lose ten cents on each widget) have to defend against it.

Well, it seems to me the model can be enlightening when pondered in reverse as well, and that it might behoove some tax-happy politicians to do so: Concentrated costs, diffused benefits.

I recently calculated my visible monthly tax bill, which turns out to be almost $1,000. Here's an itemization:

Income tax: $440.00
Social Security: $220.30
Medicare: $51.52
Property: $160.00
Phone tax/fees: $15.00
Sales: $50.00
Total: $936.82

That's probably not comprehensive.

So let's just suppose for a minute that government is not as efficient and effective as it could be. Let's suppose there's some waste, fraud and mismanagement. Let's suppose some government programs are unnecessary and illegitimate (i.e. they can and should be provided in the private sector).

Let's suppose we could cut the cost of government in half by eliminating waste, fraud and mismanagement, and by limiting it to its constitutionally defined boundaries. (My guess is we could cut it even more, but let's just say half. I'm already thinking wishfully as it is.)

That would mean I could keep an additional $500 of the wages I earn each month.

Concentrated Costs
What is $500 to someone like me? How about: A car payment ($250), a college loan payment ($125), a car insurance payment ($100), and a three-month supply of cat food ($25)? (The cat food is for the cat, but if government gets any bigger, I might be sharing it with him.)

Or how about: A cell phone payment ($60), a mortgage payment ($300), a utility bill ($50), a month's worth of gas ($70), and a dinner out with a friend ($30)?

I kind of like the thought of being able to use my money for those things. (Gasp! Greedy capitalist pig!)

Diffused Benefits
What is $500 to a big, wasteful government with a multi-trillion dollar budget? Nothing, nada, not even a blip on the radar. Which is why politicians and bureaucrats who are used to throwing that kind of money around seem to think it doesn't matter when they take it from us.

It's why the people pushing so hard for a new billion-dollar sales tax increase in our state act like it's no big deal. Since many of them get paid with the money they take from us, I suppose to them it isn't. (Coo. Sympathetic generous liberals.)

Friday, September 03, 2004

In which the Queen of Carrots interviews me

It's your seventy-fifth birthday tomorrow. How are you going to celebrate it?
What?? It's tomorrow?! I have to work! . . . I have to work?!? I DEMAND to know why I'm not retired by now!! [gasp!] Where are my teeth??!

Before you sits a book with your entire life history written out in it. Do you peek? Read the whole thing? Or what?
I am definitely gonna figure out why I'm an unretired 75-year-old with no teeth!

If you had to be shipwrecked on a deserted island, what would be the ideal number of people to be shipwrecked with, and why?
What would those people be doing? Fanning me with palm fronds? Feeding me peeled grapes? Throwing sand in my eye? Talking incessantly? Ideal numbers could vary dramatically.

I should have been a crafty lawyer.

Choose one current habit or character trait you'd most like to improve, and tell us why.
How about the habit of staying at the office too late? Because I'm still here.

Describe the view from your favorite chair.
Just to my right, easily within reach of my arm, is a tall shelf of interesting books. In front of me, a green and white couch, with an annoyed cat sitting on it. To my left, another couch. And on the burgundy rug at my feet, another cat, getting ready to pounce on the first. Behind the couch, a big window with sunlight streaming in at an angl ... zzzZzz.