In my latest reading of Clear and Present Dangers: A Conservative View of America’s Government (copyright 1975), M. Stanton Evans critiques the notion that big government helps the little guy while afflicting the better-off.
Well, sort of. Evans also says that the better-off already pay a lot of taxes, and he doubts that soaking them even more will generate enough revenue to support a huge and growing government. But he does attack the liberal narrative that big government helps the little guy while afflicting the better-off. For one, there are a number of cases in which the government is actually on the side of the better-off. As Evans notes, large corporations have been beneficiaries of government dollars that go to anti-poverty, housing, and other programs. Plus, there are many public school teachers who have quite a decent standard of living. Second, there are cases in which the better-off are supported at the expense of the lower-income. For example, the sales tax that raises money to alleviate the cost of higher education benefits students who are largely middle-income, the ones who attend universities, but it hurts lower-income people who have to pay more when they go to the store.
Evans also talks about progressive and regressive taxes. Evans argues that taxes are a burden even on those who are not upper-income, for there are regressive taxes, such as the sales tax and the Social Security tax, and even the middle-income are affected by the tax on capital gains. Moreover, corporations pass on the cost of their taxes to consumers, resulting in higher prices for the middle and lower-income. Evans does not appear to think that rearranging the tax burden is the solution, but rather he argues that high taxes are the result of high and increasing government spending.
Another point that Evans makes is that, were we to equally divide up the money that the government spends on anti-poverty programs among the poor, that would lift the poor out of their poverty. I’m not sure if Evans supports doing this, but that is an interesting thought!
Do I agree with Evans, as someone who lives in the year 2012? (Evans does too, but this book was published in 1975.) First, I’d say that he’s right that government is allied with corporations, for that occurs both when Democrats are in power, and also when Republicans are in charge. Sometimes this makes a degree of sense, for wouldn’t it be wiser for the government to outsource (say) the building of homes for the low-income to businesses that have experience in building, rather than for it to build those homes itself? And yet, there have been plenty of times when the cooperative relationship between big government and big business has resulted in corruption, the suppression of competition, and businesses over-billing the government.
Second, is it necessarily a bad thing for the government to create jobs that give people a decent standard of living, such as teachers? Teachers then spend the money that they make, and that helps the economy. Or does it if, as Evans argues, lower or middle-income people are paying more in taxes (whether they be property taxes, or from another source)? I’m not sure how to answer that question.
Third, do public universities primarily benefit the middle-income today? I wouldn’t be surprised if they primarily serve the middle-income, but perhaps affirmative action, scholarships, grants, and loans have helped more people from lower-income families to attend college, too. I hope so.
Fourth, is the tax situation still as grim as when Evans wrote this book in the 1970’s? I’d say that Ronald Reagan made some things better. There’s the Earned Income Tax Credit, for example. But there are still a number of regressive taxes that hit the lower and middle-income. This occurs at the state and local level, but it’s also the case with federal payroll taxes.