Taxes and ideology
by Ari Armstrong
The following article originally appeared at Boulder Weekly on April 7, 2005.
Ideologies at their worst invite easy criticism. They drove decades of socialist slaughter, religious and racial wars, slavery and human sacrifice. But to therefore dismiss ideology is to abuse induction. The proper approach is to find the right ideology, not forsake it for the intellectual sloppiness of pragmatism, itself a false ideology.
Ken Gordon, the majority leader of Colorado's senate, lavished praise on Republican Gov. Bill Owens in a March 24 e-mail. Gordon enjoys leadership with the Democratic majority, and he appreciates Owens's support for letting politicians spend around three billion additional tax dollars in the coming years on top of already-authorized increases. Gordon wrote, "On observing the Governor being beaten up by The Wall Street Journal editorial page and many local conservatives, Sen. Moe Keller said to me, 'You know, I forgive the Governor for his sins.'" While political priests are, indeed, appropriate to the religious worship of the state, the savvy citizen grows nervous over such bipartisan cooperation.
Gordon explained why he thinks legislators started "at the far ends of the political spectrum" and were "able to move." He wrote, "When we both did, to meet somewhere in the middle, I felt that I was participating in a healing moment, and after what we have been through in Colorado in recent years, it was needed. What had brought us together was reality. In the complex and subtle real world it defeats ideology every time."
But Gordon is wrong, his Kumbaya moment notwithstanding. Ideology is capable of dealing with complexity and reality, and it is necessary for doing so.
Oxford's dictionary begins to describe "ideology" as the "science of ideas." True, Oxford lists a secondary meaning of "unpractical or visionary theorizing or speculation." But this sort of dismissal of ideology -- any logical system of ideas -- smacks of sophistry and a snide skepticism.
Why does Gordon want to spend more of other people's money? He noted that "people really do want a good education system, health care, roads, a judicial system and the other things that we work together as a community to provide."
Gordon's appeal to what "people really do want" softly invokes the ideology of social subjectivism. However, sometimes what "people really do want" is to kill, loot or plunder. So we need some logically consistent set of ideas (an ideology) to distinguish between common sense and the tyranny of the majority. No one doubts that a majority of voters can approve a spending hike this November -- the relevant question is whether such a vote would violate the rights of the minority.
Gordon conflates all sorts of spending proposals as if they were of the same variety. But state spending on, say, education is not at all comparable to state spending on courts -- unless one presumes the ideology of welfare-statism, as Gordon does. Yet why is it the job of politicians to forcibly take money from some people to pay for the health care of others? Coloradans who choose not to comply with the demands of Gordon's ideology will be confronted first by bureaucrats and then by armed police. This to achieve the increased socialization of medicine. (The complete socialization of medicine is an explicit ideological goal of many on the left.)
Gordon is a nice guy, even when his political views result in meanness. He asked a legislative aid to send me some information about the budget. The pie chart for the governor's request for general funds for fiscal year 2005-2006 is astounding. The three biggest chunks of the pie, starting with the largest, are K-12 education, Medicaid and higher education, all social welfare programs. Combined, these three projects account for around three-quarters of the budget. These figures square with those Sen. Mark Hillman sent me for past general funds expenditures.
Some academic champions of free speech at the University of Colorado fight to remain stooges of the state, as higher education has consumed around a fifth of general funds over the years. Never mind the fact that forcing people to finance views they find abhorrent violates their rights of speech. These academics want free speech for themselves, but not for the rest of us. Real free speech means freedom from the government dole.
Meanwhile, spending on K-12 education is much less controversial; "people really do want a good education system" funded by tax dollars, it seems. It's a wonderful thing to tax poor couples to subsidize rich families and to create schools regionally segregated by quality. For example, the schools in Boulder are superior to those in Denver, so, when quality is taken into account, wealthy Boulder "liberals" are subsidized by people in Denver. It's a fine deal for rich white kids.
Gordon's assertion that "we work together as a community to provide" education and health care completely ignores the role of the market economy in providing those services. Gordon also describes "community" as if it were synonymous with the state. While most K-12 education is socialized, market education plays an important role, and markets provide most college education and health care. We import college students from around the world, and our health-care system remains good despite being leeched by political intervention. So Gordon's ideology blinds him to the problems his policies produce, as well as to the better alternative of economic liberty.
My ideology is rooted in the concept of individual rights, including economic rights to participate in a voluntary, market economy. While apparently Gordon is too ashamed of his ideology to admit it exists, I'm proud of mine, as I recognize a correct ideology is the only means to appropriately deal with the "complex and subtle real world."