Give Thanks for the Bear Patrol—Supported by Your Tax Dollars!


Remember this Simpsons episode?:

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.
Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, dear.
Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: Oh, how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: Uh-huh.
Lisa: But I don't see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

Well, that scene kept running through my head as I read a post by Ruth Rosen at TPMCafe about all the wonderful things we should be thanking government for as we pony up our taxes this weekend. She begins:

The Republican mantra—"shrink government and lower taxes"—is fundamentally dishonest. They want us to believe that we are heavily taxed by an oppressive government and get nothing in return.

Now, imperative statements don't have truth values, so I don't know how this one can be "fundamentally dishonest," but we can give her a pass on that one–she's a historian, not a logician. But it is worth noting how this ridiculous setup frames the debate: Republicans apparently think we get literally nothing for our taxes. So we don't need to worry about questions like "how much are we getting for what we pay?" and "is it worth it?" and "could someone else do it better or cheaper if government didn't?" Nah, we just need to see whether government does anything with our tax dollars. Gotcha Republicans–it does!

I wake up and brush my teeth with water whose purity is inspected by government agencies. I pour some cereal and milk into a bowl. No creepy crawlers appear; both are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Federally mandated labels on the cereal box and milk container, moreover, list the ingredients contained inside. [….]

In a cafe, I turn on my computer, remembering that a Pentagon agency created the Internet and that the federal government subsidized the development of the chips that now drive my laptop. To complete some research, I call a colleague at the University of California at Berkeley, the world's premier public university. The U.C. system has educated hundreds of thousands of undergraduates who, as educated and skilled workers, have fueled this state's economy.

By now, I have a headache. So I take some ibuprofen, tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Now, plenty of the things Rosen mentions are things I think government should do. But nothing about this list does anything to answer the question of whether we should "cut taxes" or "shrink government." Would some of these things get done without government action? And even where government is uniquely suited to perform some function, could we be getting a better value? Could we get more for less? Never mind! You didn't find roaches in your Cheerios or arsenic in your ibuprofin, the magic government-rock must be working! My favorite bit, though, is this:

Rarely do I remember that it's the taxpayers of California who pay my salary and give me the opportunity to teach and write.

So thanks to government, a woman who thinks that her post constitutes an interesting argument—and who, incidentally, is capable of producing linguistic abortions like "our quality of life is far safer and more convenient"—draws a monthly check for helping to form young minds? I can't wait to pay my taxes!