Acton Institute Powerblog

Feel-Good Taxation and the Monkey’s Paw

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Well, how did I get here?
Well, how did I get here?
File under allegory: An Austin, Texas, resident whose property tax bill has her “at the breaking point.” As noted by Katherine Mary Ham at HotAir, the resident in question, Gretchen Gardner, deems the $8,500 bill for which she’s on the hook a wee tad cumbersome. “It’s not because I don’t like paying taxes,” she said. “I have voted for every park, every library, all the school improvements, for light rail, for anything that will make this city better. But now I can’t afford to live here anymore. I’ll protest my appraisal notice, but that’s not enough. Someone needs to step in and address the big picture.”

According to Ham, Ms. Gardner purchased a 1930s bungalow more than 20 years ago, and the artist apparently can’t understand why her tax bill is so high. In this regard, Ms. Gardner resembles the Nuns on the Bus and other religious shareholder activists who submit proxy shareholder resolutions on a plethora of feel-good (but, in reality, harmful) agenda items through investment groups As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

Similarly, voters in Acton’s Grand Rapids, Mich., front yard have approved a $10 million income tax increase, seemingly unaware of how this additional burden will impact the city and its residents negatively. Oh wait, did I forget to mention the $30 million parks millage approved by voters last year? While we’re at it, let’s toss in the 2011 mass transit millage approval, which will top out at $15.6 million annually. One day, however, Grand Rapids taxpayers may wake up like some allegorical David Byrne character, tapping their arm and asking, “Well, how did I get here?” as they ponder how much less money they take home, save or have available for philanthropic activities.

Whereas Ms. Gardner has harmed only her obtuse self and fellow property owners in the Bouldin neighborhood of Austin and Grand Rapids voters eventually may lament their tax-it-if-it-moves strategy, the religious investors listed above submit resolutions on carbon emissions, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), political spending and a host of other items that – if passed – would drive up costs for those least able to afford them, destroy jobs and harm hundreds of local economies.

All this brings to mind the 1902 W. W. Jacob’s short story, “The Monkey’s Paw.” I’ll spare readers a recap, but will sum it up as a nifty allegory on what happens when three wishes are granted to the protagonists after receiving the titular talisman. In short: nothing good, because everything positive arising from the first two wishes comes at a horrible cost. The only remedy for these costs is to squander the third wish to undo the ill-advised second.

Jacob’s characters– much like Grand Rapids’ taxpayers and Austin’s Gardner – ultimately are forced to face the consequences of their well-intentioned follies. The shareholder activists’ good intentions, on the other hand, pave an economic expressway off-ramp to a hell where those fortunate enough to find jobs will find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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