The folks at Blue Oregon love love love paying taxes. “It’s an honor and a privilege to do so,” wrote Carla Axtman on Monday. Today Steve Novick goes even farther and willingly pays more than he is required to:
In completing my tax forms, I decided to make a symbolic statement of concern about what’s going to happen to our state: I didn’t take the $50 tax credit for political contributions, even though I made several times that amount in political contributions. I’m not exactly rolling in dough these days – I made a little over $40,000 last year – but I figured the state needs the $50 more than I need to be subsidized for making political contributions I would have made anyway.
As a libertarian I’m glad to see Steve spending his income however he sees fit. I’ll also give him credit for putting his money where is mouth is and voluntarily raising his own tax bill; I wish other tax advocates were equally consistent.
But that said, this is a very weird thing to do. Steve wants to see children educated, the elderly cared for, addicts treated, and the sick provided with health care. These are all noble goals. They’re not, however, goals that only the government can achieve. Charities address these needs too, and by contributing $50 to them Steve could ensure that his donation is directed to the right ends.
Instead he donates to politicians who share some, but perhaps not all of his views, who might get elected and who might succeed in putting his agenda into action. Then he gives them even more money that might or might not get spent wisely. At the end of this process, I wonder how much of his political contributions actually end up benefiting the people he wants to help?
Steve gets near the truth when he says that the Oregon tax credit for campaign contributions is “subsidizing the political contributions of the relatively wealthy.” It’s a subsidy for the politicians too, transferring money from the state treasury to their own campaigns. It’s a neat trick: the relatively wealthy get to feel good about donating to their favored politicians and the politicians get more money to crow about the good things they’ll accomplish in office.
The downside of having such an active government is that we tend to forget about civil society’s private solutions to public problems; the importance of people wielding the levers of power looms too large in our view. Steve’s extra $50 in taxes is, as he says, a “small symbolic gesture.” I’d humbly suggest that a more effective gesture would be cutting out the political middlemen and donating that money to a cause that directly addresses his concerns.