Sunday, April 18, 2010

Relieved and Guiltless

Some of the people in my circle have formed a very negative attitude about the Tea Party movement which is attracting adherents across America. Tea Partiers thus far don’t seem to have developed a fully consistent set of ideas (government’s too big, don’t raise my taxes, but don’t touch my Medicare); the movement shares many aspects of libertarianism but has a long way to go to become a governing philosophy.

But I am sympathetic to the view that government is growing much too large. This opinion is not so much ideological as it is pragmatic or “scientific”, that is, induced from personal experience. The services that government delivers, such as health care and education, are complex, but no more so than operating an airline or an oil company.

Public servants whom I’ve met mean well, but they’re not subject to the cruel discipline of the market place that forces them or their bosses to make hard choices or be out of business completely. Public sector layoffs do happen, but there is no practical possibility that my woe begotten State of California , for example, will declare bankruptcy and restructure the long-term contracts that are the source of much of its fiscal problems.

As government’s role expands from protector (police, fire) to provider, consumers are forced to obtain the goods and services they need by navigating a bureaucracy instead of shopping amongst competitive sellers. Members of our family have spent innumerable hours reading regulations and instructions, filling out forms, and trying to get through to a real person who will answer our questions. It’s frustrating to apply for the medical, education, unemployment, and other financial benefits for which we qualify. Often, we have given up.

[It’s common at this point to level the charge of hypocrisy against smaller-government advocates if they apply for government benefits. Well, these people may have wanted a world with lower taxes and lower spending, but they lost the argument. To me it’s not hypocritical to apply for Social Security benefits when they’ve been paying Social Security taxes for 40+ years or seek unemployment benefits when they and their employers have been paying Federal and State unemployment taxes. After the law is enacted, if a person, regardless of his position in the debate, pays his taxes, he gets to claim benefits.]

I digress. The real purpose of this meandering post was to celebrate the passage of another April 15th. If you think the benefits side of government is confusing, you should see its revenue/tax side. (I’ve written before about my frustration—here’s an example--regarding not the level but the complexity of the tax system.)

This year I had spent long days compiling our 2009 information and got the basic forms mailed by noon on April 15th. It was only in the late afternoon when I remembered a limited liability corporation (LLC) that I had created over a year ago. This LLC is a so-called “disregarded entity” for income tax purposes, but fees and forms still have to be filed. After they cash my check I know these pieces of paper are destined for the giant warehouse that we saw at the end of “Raiders for the Lost Ark.” However, if I ignore the rules it will doubtless be a black mark on my permanent record somewhere. [BTW, a “permanent record” on every citizen was widely believed to exist during the paranoid 50’s and 60’s; it was dismissed as an urban legend in subsequent decades. Who’s crazy now? (:-) ]

But enough caviling. For the past two nights I’ve slept the blissful sleep of the relieved and guiltless. It’s a beautiful Sunday in the neighborhood and 72 degrees F. I’m closing the laptop and going outside. I hope you, dear reader, do the same. © 2010 Stephen Yuen

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