Society’s investments |

Society’s investments

Alan Braunholtz

The public response of many people when asked about the proposed property tax to fund qualified preschool education and child-care starts with a “Let me say I love children, they’re our future, BUT parents should raise them their own children. Government can’t solve every problem. If you can’t look after your children maybe you shouldn’t have them. …” Those are all valid arguments open to debate. There is no right to an education unless society decides to grant one. But none of these responses address how to solve the chronic shortage and expense of preschool child education in this valley.The biggest cheerleaders for supply-side economics and unguided market forces overlook that these same policies have undermined the traditional family roles they also profess to love. With real wages declining and poverty rates increasing more and more parents have to choose two full time jobs just to get by while jiggling the care of their children. If you love the family it’d be consistent if you support economic policies that help families of not only the very rich.It’s true that many people don’t think ahead before they start a family, but it’s not the child’s fault that her parents never considered how they’d manage health care, preschool, and so on. From a societal selfish point of view, money spent on preschool follows the “stitch in term saves nine” proverb. It prevents a lot more expensive problems down the road.Society chooses through taxes to invest in infrastructure that it feels is beneficial to it. Why we have roads, public school systems and police forces, for example. The U.S. led the world in providing an education for all its children and it’s been a huge benefit for us, providing the basis for all sorts of skilled motivated people to energize our economy. If the U.S. ever loses its lead in the world economy, it’ll be because we’ve been out-educated rather than out-militarized.Tipsline reveals a baser reason some people are against subsidizing preschool. They don’t need it, so they don’t want to support it. Same for high schools, too. “My kids have graduated so why should I pay for something that doesn’t help me?” Forget that previous generations helped pay for their education. Those good folks are viewed as altruistic fools, naively looking out for others in our society. Now the American Dream is “all about what works for me,” and forget about the questions of “is it good for our society as a whole?” and “is it fair?”Most of the anti-tax kneejerk rhetoric is driven by this selfish feeling instead of even looking at the benefits and costs to our society of a tax. The recent tax cuts have been lauded as a stimulator of the economy and jobs. Unfortunately for this argument, most of the job growth occurred in industries that received massive increases in government spending on the war in Iraq. Outside of this area, the economy didn’t do so well, losing well-paying jobs and creating mainly poorly paid service-sector jobs. Seems government spending does help, after all.Supply-side economists like to believe that tax cuts pay for themselves through increased revenue from the stimulated economic growth. A recent article by Jason Furman in Slate shows the results of the Treasury Department’s dynamic analysis of measuring the impact of tax cuts. Turns out, it’s not much. The cuts stimulated the economy by an extra 0.04 percent, raising enough revenue to cover one-tenth of the cost of the cuts. If made permanent, they’ll lead to an unsustainable deficit and debt. “Unsustainable” seems to be in vogue these days.This leaves two painful choices of paying for them by big cuts in government spending – 50 percent of programs outside the entitlements of Social Security and Medicare – or future tax raises. Tax cuts are not a free lunch. If they’re not paid for, the growing debt and deficits will eat away at our future economic growth.For real-world economists, none of this is news. They’ve seen it before. But the supply side crowd is more of a faith-based sect than anything else. Tax cuts are a religion to them. Taxes are a part of government and social policy, and they’re not automatically good or bad but should be viewed on their merits. I can’t stand the earmarked spending some politicians pull to look good to their constituents at home. Our country would be better off if we invested more in social rather than military infrastructure.Locally, there is a shortage of preschool education that isn’t being provided by the free market. If this tax helps solve that problem, allowing more children to become productive citizens and helping the poorer families who are on the frontlines of the service economy that drives our valley, it could be worth the 50 odd dollars a year in property tax. Helping these families will also indirectly help our guests and employers with fewer missed workdays due to child-care emergencies, not to mention a less stressed and happier work force.It’s worth finding out who and how it will help before condemning it. Will it work, will it help the social fabric of the valley, and does it seem just? All questions to ask beyond that gut instinct of “what’s in it for me?” Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado

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