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Friday, August 27, 2010

On taxing and spending, smaller government and Oregon parochialism

by Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon-- Ever since the rise of Ronald Reagan, no matter what the real issue is, most political arguments have to deal with the phrase "taxing and spending" and the attitudes behind the phrase.

There are many who see government at any level in no other terms. Tax and spend. Tax and spend. This mantra is far more a matter of attitude than it is sound economic or political thought, but it's also a matter of civic engagement.

Ronald Reagan was a master of engaging the intellectually non-engaged, that portion of the electorate who clove to the concept that all political and economic thought could be boiled down into an issue of "taxing and spending", and that government itself is the problem.

Even the village idiot would oppose taxing and spending, if that was the argument, and often the village idiot votes.

The non-engaged could buy into that idea and then continue down the self-indulgent path of non-engagement, and the result was the election of Ronald Reagan, who as Governor set in motion the destruction of California's then-world-class educational system, but I digress....

One certainly cannot expect to sustain a civilization under pressure if everything boils down to three of the most unremarkable words in the English language:

Tax...and...spend.

This mantra is used interchangeably and blindly across all levels of government, local, state and federal, its users generally ignorant of or unwilling to distinguish between the different roles each plays in the American system.

While much has changed since the days of Ronald Reagan, mindset has not.

Now Oregon must compete in a vast global economy, in a world where people are fighting for their very lives, where nations, states and large corporations are not hamstrung by Reagan-thought or by Oregon's unique parochial isolationism.

Geographically, we are the most isolated state in the nation, save Alaska and Hawaii. That fact has a great deal to do with why we are at this place in the history of the state.

Economically, we have a cobbled-together revenue structure that has never made much sense, that was never designed as a system, that is hyper-sensitive to events in the national and world economies, and that no other state has chosen to emulate, for obvious reasons.

Those that argue that the answer lies in small government are unwilling or unable to point to an example of right-size government anywhere in the world, or in the history of the  world. It is a false argument.

It's time to create a revenue structure that will function as a system, that makes Oregon truly competitive, that is not so vulnerable to events taking place outside of the state, and that's where the argument and the work should be.

Pioneer days are long over.

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