Bitter medicine

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Taxes. Everybody hates them. Well, those who actually pay them hate them. At any rate, taxes are evil – at least according to the predominant Utah right-wing Republican ideology.

Taking people’s money away always makes the economy worse. And on top of that, it is wrong to take money from some to give to others, even if you’re trying to do something good. It’s called Stalinism.

Enter the Salt Lake County Council. Recently, they voted to reduce the salaries of county employees by 2.75 percent in 2010. The County has a daunting budget to overcome, and this measure will save almost $5 million, no insignificant chunk of change.

Roughly 4,000 county employees will have their paychecks docked, and the county gets the money. This sounds familiar, though. It’s almost as if these employees are themselves being taxed. Not only taxed, but taxed in order to continue providing the necessary services of local government. Where’s McCarthy when you need him – I think there are some Stalinists up north.

There really is something hypocritical, or least self-deceptive, going on in Salt Lake county. These employees are being asked to foot a disproportionate piece of the bill to govern a much larger polity, even though they are the very people doing the actual down and dirty work of making a government operate.

Are we so averse to taxes in this state that we are willing to punish the few people who least deserve to be punished in order to save the rest of us from a minor increase in our own contribution?
These employees are not the richest of the rich, who you might think would be the ones to single out for financial punishment if you had to choose. They are middle class workers, the very kind of people one might think are extremely important to a functioning local economy.

In ancient Greece when something terrible happened, a famine or a plague or a bad harvest, it was sometimes the case that a city state would choose a citizen, called a pharmakos, send them off into the wilderness, and either leave them to die, or actively seek to kill them. This was done in order to purge and cleanse the city of the problem that had beset it. Is the County Council not treating its employees, in a way, like just such a pharmakos? That’s bitter medicine.
In our own county and at our own university, we ought to consider this example when faced, as we undoubtedly will be, with similar choices. Even if we are against “sharing the wealth,” we ought to be in favor of sharing the burden of paying for local government instead of dumping it on the very people who make it work for us.

4 thoughts on “Bitter medicine

  1. Why should a government institution be immune from cyclical expansions and contractions of the economy? My company started the year with a salary freeze, then layoffs. It sounds like the city council is trying to avoid layoffs by reducing salary across the board rather than cutting jobs.

    In any case, tough decisions have to be made everywhere when trying to match the budget. I make those decisions in my personal finances. Is it unreasonable to ask government to do the same?

  2. I guess you could setup a charity in order to raise 5 million dollars for the 4000 employees. Wait… people like David don’t believe in charity.

  3. @Nathan I think the characterization of your criticism is flawed; the government could not ever possibly be immune from economic cycles and to phrase it in therms of a “should” or “ought” makes the mistake of thinking that a capitalist liberal democracy like ours could ever make it otherwise, even if we wanted to. It also sounds rather accusatory. But at any rate, there are actually good reasons to protect the government from market fluctuations (which requires some kind of socialization), one of them stability and functionality in the face of crises and disasters. Or is it better that the government simply cease to operate in a crisis bad enough? Further, you seem to treat the government as though it were some kind of private individual, only responsible for itself, which is a category mistake. Governments and people are in fundamentally different logical categories. There are…

  4. There are more options than just laying people off or cutting salaries, namely raising taxes by (seriously) just a smidgen.

    @Clay What in this article makes you think the author does not believe in charity, much less allows you to make that claim of “people like” him? Who is like him and what is he like, exactly? He seems like a guy who wants government employees to keep their money.

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