How Big Government Undermines Freedom and Prosperity

The dangers of viewing government as the be-all-and-end-all of our society.

After hearing the criticism directed toward golfer Phil Mickelson for his modest comments about California’s highest-in-the-nation tax rates causing him to consider relocating, I was left wondering what country we live in. Did you ever have one of those moments?

“If you add up all the federal and you look at the disability and the unemployment and the Social Security and the state, my tax rate is 62, 63 percent,” Mickelson said. “So I've got to make some decisions on what I’m going to do.” He pointed to “drastic changes” that are driving his decision—an obvious reference to the income-tax hikes California voters placed on millionaires like him. Media and public critics were aghast and mocked this poor rich guy for his complaints.

The spectacle of Mickelson apologizing on Sunday, then doing so a second time later in the week, was the worst part of this spectacle. “I think that it was insensitive to talk about it publicly to those people who are not able to find a job, that are struggling paycheck to paycheck,” Mickelson said. To the AP reporter, Mickelson wasn't sufficiently apologetic: "He didn't apologize for what he said, only that he said it."

Mickelson is just trying to get his mind back in golf, so I don’t begrudge him for using the lingo that our society requires from the chastened. It’s now “insensitive” for a wealthy person to complain about a confiscatory tax rate as long as there are other, less fortunate people out there somewhere. That’s not a healthy attitude in a free and prosperous society.

“A generation ago, the vitriol his comments triggered would have been surprising, and somewhat isolated,” CalWatchdog’s Chris Reed argued. “Griping about taxes used to be something of an American tradition. No more.” This attitude, he notes, now comes from the highest level of government.

Consider the president’s second inaugural address, which was a celebration of the wonders of government. The Democrats who run our state view private business as something ranging from a blight to a necessary evil that can be endlessly tapped to fund every new program they envision.

If you think the “blight” comment is an exaggeration, consider this: Recently, the California Air Resources Board sent out a press release celebrating a $300,000 fine it imposed on a business. The quotation from CARB’s chief enforcement officer included this warning: “All business owners should pay attention to this case.” That’s like something uttered by a villain in an Ayn Rand novel.

I’ve always sensed a deep understanding that transcends left and right in America—you can make it big and enjoy the fruits of your labor. During the early days of the labor movement, the hard leftists never made much headway because of that deep-seated idea that, no matter how humble one’s beginnings, an American can make it big some day.

Something has changed, even as our society has become wealthier. Sure businesses have to comply with regulations and millionaires need to pay taxes, but somewhere we’ve shifted from honoring success to envying it, from viewing government as a limited tool to achieve a few necessary things (infrastructure, enforcing the rule of law) to seeing it as the be-all and end-all of our society.

Why is it assumed by these moralistic Affluence Police that the rich are mainly greedy people who spend their money on luxury goods? Charities and non-profits are funded by wealthy people. Real capitalists invest millions of dollars into ideas and often create good jobs in the process. I have no idea what Mickelson does with his money, but it isn’t any of my business. Given California governmental attitudes, one can’t blame him for looking elsewhere.

For instance, during a recent Capitol press conference, the Orange County Register’s Sacramento reporter asked Gov. Jerry Brown about the spending increases in his supposedly austere budget. Brown joked about there being no hope for Orange County readers, according to a Register editorial. Then he mocked “this doctrine that government is the problem,” which he said is promoted by the “Orange County Register or whoever all these people are.”

At the Capitol, the free market is viewed as an arcane joke. Yet I look at everything government does—at all those programs and bureaucracies and entitlements that Brown and Obama prefer. I see enormous debt, corruption, abuses of power, union-enrichment schemes, shoddy services, terrible attitudes, and an endless sea of scandal and greed. Just read the newspapers.

But the scorn should be expected. The state uses a static model for calculating revenues. It assumes that if you raise taxes by, say, 20 percent that the state will get 20 percent more money. In the real world, people move to lower-tax places or work less or hide more of their income, and the government gets 20 percent of a smaller pie.

If wealthy people keep leaving, then the state will have to pare back its budget. Perhaps the backlash against Mickelson is a sign of desperation by those who understand there might be limits to how many golden eggs the geese keep laying.

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  • Pro Libertate||

    You can have freedom and prosperity, or you can have a big clunking government. Choose wisely.

  • Mediterranean Death Cult||

    Oo-oo-oo! Big is good! Big is better! Like those people who get too big to get out of bed! Yeah, baby!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Okay, that's one vote for big government and one vote against (me).

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Make that two!

  • Pro Libertate||

    Two against? Am I detecting a trend towards a mandate for absolute nongovernment?

  • BarryD||

    All-powerful anarchy!

  • Agammamon||

    Some good news - Obama's recess appointment to the NLRB was shot down by the court as unconstitutional.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Un-what?

  • Agammamon||

    And you know what - fuck googleads!

  • sarcasmic||

    Don't worry, I'm sure the Supremes will find a way to rationalize it.

  • sarcasmic||

    C'mon! Everyone knows that the rich don't pay their fair share! I mean, the fact that they are rich is proof that they haven't paid their fair share! Tax them until they aren't rich anymore! Then they will have paid their fair share!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Sarc, you have a call on line one. Some guy named Fork. Morton Fork.

  • Jimbo BTR||

    Yeah, he called to say you're forked either way.

    Government d-bags just love forking people over.

  • KDN||

    Big Government Undermines Freedom and Prosperity

    Feature, not bug.

  • T o n y||

    The fact is the affluent are just not that important to the economy overall. And the response to the so-called far left in the last few decades has gone far further than protecting the wealthy from confiscatory tax rates or other "burdens" to unapologetic protectionism. If the "far left" were so successful at targeting the rich, it wouldn't have taken so long and been so teeth-pullingly difficult to modestly raise their taxes this year.

    And anyone who bitches about the cronyism of unions without talking about the far more pervasive cronyism of corporations is just a biased clown. "You know we're against cronyism in all forms" is the response I usually get, it's just curious why corporate cronyism is always just understood while unions get all the actual verbal lashing.

  • sarcasmic||

    I see someone found his stupid pills.

  • KDN||

    RAWR! ANGRY PUPPET SMASH LIBERTARIAN STRAWMAN! RAWR!

    Mothra save us!

  • Heroic Mulatto||

  • sarcasmic||

    I tried, but I could only take forty seconds.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    There are two kinds of people in the world; kaiju fans and homos.

    Homo.

  • Sosalty||

    The top 10% pay 70% of taxes, Not fair enough!!! Phil you must play the 1st 11 holes for your charitable govt and then emot great satisfaction in having done so. It is only patriotic.

  • NoVAHockey||

    they're "free" now.

  • sarcasmic||

    He actually made a coherent comment on the extinction thread. But then he found his pills.

  • AZ||

    Cronyism wouldn't exist if the reach and power of government hadn't made it such a good investment.

  • sarcasmic||

    No, no, no, no! Teh corporations control the government because the government doesn't have enough power! You see, if the government was more powerful then it would be able to control teh corporations that control it! Then it could wrest those resources from the rich and give them to teh People, because we are government! Power to teh People!

  • 34lbs||

    F***ing Noah Chomsky said so in his new book derp

  • Tom Beebe||

    Want to end tax breaks for corporations? End their taxes. Where do you think they get the money to pay those taxes? Want to end special favors for corporations? End payments by government for anything but a price arrived at by competitive bidding for goods and services received by government. Idealistic? What else would you suggest? Achievable? Only if you and I elect OUR representatives, not let them (corporations, unions the Sierra Club, the NRA, you name it, ANY group) make the contributions (and that includes free rides from the media). Here's a couple of specifics (in succeeding posts)

  • Tom Beebe||

    There will be no taxes other than provided in this act and no payments except in return for goods or services rendered. There shall be no federal tax any business.

    Residents shall come together in households to report income and receive federal benefits. They need not be related, need not reside together, and a household may consist of as few as one person.

    Each year congress shall set a personal exemption and tax rate.

    Exempt from taxation:

    A year's earnings at the minimum wage rate, for adults (age 20-65), decreasing to 50% at age 15, and increasing to 150% at age 70.

    Health care such as pharmaceuticals prescribed by a recognized health care professional, vision and hearing aids. Health insurance premiums may be deducted but not health care expense paid for by such insurance.

    Educational expense including day care, and state and local taxes spent on education, parochial school expenses going for non-sectarian education, and private education.

    Savingsto an account from which investments may be made. All withdrawals from this account for the benefit of any member of the household are taxable. Withdrawals that are not for a members’ benefit are exempt from taxation.

    The "tax rate" shall be applied to any income over and above the deductions listed above, regardless of amount. When deductions exceed income, the government shall make payment to the household equal to the tax rate times the deficiency.

  • Tom Beebe||

    There will be no taxes other than provided in this act and no payments except in return for goods or services rendered. There shall be no federal tax any business.

    Residents shall come together in households to report income and receive federal benefits. They need not be related, need not reside together, and a household may consist of as few as one person.

    Each year congress shall set a personal exemption and tax rate.

    Exempt from taxation:

    A year's earnings at the minimum wage rate, for adults (age 20-65), decreasing to 50% at age 15, and increasing to 150% at age 70.

    Health care such as pharmaceuticals prescribed by a recognized health care professional, vision and hearing aids. Health insurance premiums may be deducted but not health care expense paid for by such insurance.

    Educational expense including day care, and state and local taxes spent on education, parochial school expenses going for non-sectarian education, and private education.

    Savingsto an account from which investments may be made. All withdrawals from this account for the benefit of any member of the household are taxable. Withdrawals that are not for a members’ benefit are exempt from taxation.

    The "tax rate" shall be applied to any income over and above the deductions listed above, regardless of amount. When deductions exceed income, the government shall make payment to the household equal to the tax rate times the deficiency.

  • some guy||

    Define "affluent", please. Because I don't think you think it means what I think it means.

  • Shun Yu||

    The fact is the affluent are just not that important to the economy overall.

    That is an incredibly uninformed thing to say. Without the affluent, who do you think would invest the sums to start enterprises that employ labour. The affluent are often leading indicators of future mass-produced products. Without the affluent risking their capital, the world would be much worse off.

  • sarcasmic||

    Oh, come on! Every job I had was working for homeless people! No affluent person has ever given me a job! They just hoard their money like Scrooge McDuck! If only there were more homeless people I might be able to get a better job!

  • T o n y||

    I will now call this the Downton Abbey theory of economics in lieu of "trickle-down." We must support the rich, because they provide so much support for their underlings. There are many problems with this.

    One is the well evidenced fact that focusing on protecting the rich from unfairness easily turns into coddling the rich. The rich in this country haven't seen confiscatory tax rates in a long time--yet the Downton Abbey theorists have never once stopped complaining about it.

    Another is the well evidenced fact that there comes a point of diminishing returns. Isn't it better to have more people able to invest capital (or borrow to invest), given that the tiny number of affluent people in a society may not possess all the best ideas? The fact is a more equitable distribution of wealth makes for a more prosperous society. And no that's not an argument for communism--there are plenty of positive aspects of some amount of wealth disparity. But perhaps there is a sweet spot between communism and the Gilded Age.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Tony,

    One is the well evidenced fact that focusing on protecting the rich from unfairness easily turns into coddling the rich.


    Hmm, not stealing means "coddling". Got it.

    I'm writing a Tonyese to English dictionary of classic euphemisms. That one was gold.

    Isn't it better to have more people able to invest capital (or borrow to invest), given that the tiny number of affluent people in a society may not possess all the best ideas?


    Who's stopping them from investing, except government itself?

    And it is government that's stopping them from investing, don't delude yourself. The reason there are so many superrich compared to everybody else is precisely because of all those barriers of entry you call (with a disturbing, very sick sense of humor) "Regulations."

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm writing a Tonyese to English dictionary of classic euphemisms.

    Good luck with that. The fallacies may cause your head to explode.

  • Shun Yu||

    I will now call this the Downton Abbey theory of economics in lieu of "trickle-down." - Call it whatever you wish, but without the money to invest, no jobs. It is called "basic economics." I guess the real question is what do you call "affluent?"

    The rich in this country haven't seen confiscatory tax rates in a long time--yet the Downton Abbey theorists have never once stopped complaining about it. I have no idea what the "rich" in America pay. But the fact that you want it to be "confiscatory" tells me a lot about you. If a person works hard, invests, starts a company and takes risks, tell me why they shouldn't enjoy rewards for that.

    The fact is a more equitable distribution of wealth makes for a more prosperous society. Do you have proof of this? What societies are more equitable yet more prosperous that others? I am sure you have examples to back up your claim.

  • Brandon||

    Isn't it better to have more people able to invest capital (or borrow to invest)

    Sure. But who are they going to borrow money from to invest? Do you have any ideas that don't lead to government control of everything just because?

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Isn't it better to have more people able to invest capital (or borrow to invest), given that the tiny number of affluent people in a society may not possess all the best ideas?

    Except there's these things called banks and securities and direct investments that let affluent people have other people with the best ideas use their money productively. They tend to work really well.

  • ThatSkepticGuy||

    "We must support the rich, because they provide so much support for their underlings. There are many problems with this."

    And yet, replace the word "rich" with "Federal Government", and you have your idiotic Candyland political philosophy nailed to a T.

    Seriously, you Regressives have dedicated so much time and energy to complaining about "Trickle Down" and "Too Big to Fail" that you've neglected to notice they adequately encapsulate your own views on government.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Tony,

    The fact is the affluent are just not that important to the economy overall.


    How come? Just saying it does not mean it is.

    If the "far left" were so successful at targeting the rich, it wouldn't have taken so long and been so teeth-pullingly difficult to modestly raise their taxes this year.


    Because, as everybody knows, people are not really self-interested and take anything thrown at them without moving a muscle to defend themselves and their property. So, clearly, the obvious conclusion is that the left has been moving too slow - yeah, that's it. Makes sense.

    Idiot.

    And anyone who bitches about the cronyism of unions without talking about the far more pervasive cronyism of corporations is just a biased clown.


    You're absolutely right!! Totally correct!! And when you go to websites where people ignore the big-business cronyism, give them a big, fat "fuck you" from my part.

    Go, now. They're waiting for you to tell them off. G'won.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    The fact is the affluent are just not that important to the economy overall.

    Not really true, as most ventures are not self-financed without outside capital. But, I'll leave that aside for now.

    What I'd hope even you would have the basic intellect to realize is that, even if your statement were true, people acting to get rich are incredibly important to the economy. Their actions are what economic growth is. If you can acknowledge this basic, uncontroversial fact, then your argument falls apart. We tax incomes, people's getting rich, not wealth, people's riches. That effects people's incentives. Do you quit your decent job and put everything on the line to work 70 hour weeks trying to build a business? Well if the payout if millions it's a lot different a proposition than if the payout is not much more than you make now.

  • OldMexican||

    Re: Bill Dalasio,

    people acting to get rich are incredibly important to the economy.


    Tony is not into that. He's one that wants someone to pay him. You know, like a bureaucrat.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    "You know we're against cronyism in all forms" is the response I usually get, it's just curious why corporate cronyism is always just understood while unions get all the actual verbal lashing.

    Because you're usually at your mommies' tits when we're busy bitching about "sport socialism", eminent domain abuse, bailouts, regulatory capture, barriers to entry, political entrenuership, etc.

    And when Solyndra, Beacon Power, Ener-One, or any of Barry's other venture socialism boondoggles is mentioned, you scream and drool about "RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY!"

  • ||

    Tony said:

    The fact is the affluent are just not that important to the economy overall.


    That's a strange statement, coming from someone who views taxing the affluent as the solution to our country's fiscal problems (it's a tax problem, not a spending problem, right?). Apparently, they've got all the wealth necessary to balance the budget for our glorious super state with only a small tax increase that no one will notice, but they're just not really that important.

    I'd say that the affluent have a pretty important role in the Democrat narrative of how this country all works out. According to the story, the affluent are going to pay the government bills for everyone else, because that's so fair. Being the primary shoulders that bear the burden of our great society sounds pretty important to me.

  • Sosalty||

    The Obawma adminstration has been prosecuting corporations under the Sherman Act? I didn't know such a thing had occurred since Reagan. How can corporate cronyism exist with such diligent oversight from Eric Holder DOJ? Don't tell me it is so

  • Bill||

    Except for all the times corporate cronyism is bad-mouthed. When someone is against government subsidies it is usually because they are against cronyism and don't believe govt. has any real way to pick winners as it is a few politicians trying to get votes and special interest groups and the people who want the subsidies that influence how the money is spent, rather than thousands of investors putting their own money on the line in the real world.

  • 34lbs||

    YAY ITS THIS GUY!!!

  • Hopfiend||

    I could care less about unions in the private sector. If people think that really improves their life..so be it. I don't like the idea of being forced to join in order to work but...public sector unions have no place in a free society.

    It just strikes me as odd that people who express outrage at corporate cronyism, yet want to empower government even more (even though government power spawns the cronyism in the first place). Makes. No. Sense.

  • dan'o||

    +1

  • Milton Devotee||

    While not as complex as 'if a tree falls'. I wonder if Tony 'gets off' when we swear at him?

  • SugarFree||

    Every reply to the sockpuppet is a loving caress of his troll-boner.

    Unless you are into that sort of thing, I suggest never caressing the troll-boner.

  • Troglodyte Rex||

    This reminds me of Governor O'Malley raising the taxes on the well-to-do in Maryland and how they returned the favor by telling him to sod off by moving assets, or themselves, or both.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    Shit, I could almost ignore the morality of it all if I actually got some of this confiscated wealth, but we're 16 trillion in the hole and I haven't seen a dime.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    These punks are stealing the money that my generation was supposed to steal.

  • Northstar||

    THEY do not care.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Something has changed, even as our society has become wealthier. "

    We've had a sustained ideological attack on wealth creators by the moochers, looters, and their media collaborators, led by a Moocher in Chief.

    When someone like the golf dude notes that tax rates are kind of high, and it may adjust his behavior, the media collaborators jump down his throat. And he gives a cringing apology.

  • kfs||

    The liberal-progressive mantra: Government can never tax enough, government never spends enough, government is never big enough.

  • 34lbs||

    Reading the title i thought this was gonna be a John Stossel article. amirite? I mean preaching to the choir much...

  • Robert Arvanitis||

    Excellent note on the careless, arrogant growth of government.

    To clarify the economics -- "In the real world, government gets 20% of a smaller pie."

    It's in fact worse. Say government gets 10% of 100 today, or $10. Raise rates BY 20%, TO 12%. In the real world the economy will respond, and shrink to 80 or less. The government will less money all told, like $9.6 or even lower.

    Point is, the smaller economy applies to the entire tax burden, not just the increase.

  • Old School Conservative||

    Mickelson did nothing to apologize about. Crazyfornia is going down the tubes, and so is the US if we don't wake up to the dangers of unbridled debt and taxation.

    Phil should have just flipped aging hippie Jerry Brown the bird on the way out and moved to Texas or Florida.

  • Flynn Parish||

    As for the almighty gov regulations for corporations... wait do we even know what is to be "regular" to begin with?

  • eltoroverde||

    If all rich people are greedy and evil, does that mean all poor people are lazy and stupid?

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