Buffeted by Taxes

California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger has picked Warren Buffet to be his economic adviser. Since Buffet is one of the world’s richest men, it might be reasonably assumed that he would be a good man for the job. To date, however, Buffet’s remarks have demonstrated none of his economic expertise, but rather, his aptitude for government. He wants to raise taxes.

California, like most other states, claims that it needs more money. So what’s new? Well, in California, what is at least different is that, thanks to Proposition 13, property taxes cannot be increased by more than 2% annually. What would seem like grounds for rejoicing is bad news to Buffet.

The billionaire supported his suggestion that California property taxes be raised by comparing the taxes on his own two homes. The 500,000 place he owns in Omaha costs him 14,401 annually in property taxes; his 4,000,000 California home costs him only 2,264 yearly. Now to some of us, the conclusion would be obvious: Nebraska property taxes are too high. Buffet, however, showing his pro-government bias, evidently did not even contemplate such a conclusion. Rather, he concluded that California taxes are too low! It’s interesting that, rich as he is, Buffet doesn’t simply make up what he considers to be the shortfall out of his own pocket. That idea, I guess, never occurred to him either.

Perhaps the question should be asked: just what is California, anyway? If it is a corporation calling itself government, then obviously, high taxes and reduced services are the way to go. On the other hand, if it is countless families minding their own business, working hard, and, perhaps navely, thinking that they ought to be able to keep what they earn, then any taxes, especially for services which may not be desired or desirable, are to be deplored. Mr. Schwarzenegger, in declaring his candidacy, announced that he was to be the people’s governor; not just the governor of special interests, but of everybody. His economic adviser apparently doesn’t share his view.

In other words, do the people exist to serve the state corporation, or vice-versa? Politicians invariably refer to themselves as public servants, especially at election time. Those as yet unelected promise, if elected, to serve the people. Usually, though, servants do not dictate the terms of their service to their masters. They do not threaten to harm, in some way, the master who fails to heed their demands. They can easily be dismissed for insubordination.

It is neither surprising nor improper for Mr. Buffet to be concerned about California taxes. Perhaps his concern ought to involve a few questions which are rarely, if ever, addressed by politicians or their advisers. In the first place, by what principle does "California" (i.e., the government of that state) claim other people’s wealth? How is it that simply by virtue of living in that state, productive individuals must cede their property to the state corporation, whether they want to or not? What other corporation would even dream of making such claims? And if government piously claims to represent the people, and do their will, by what process is it determined that some of the people want some of their wealth taken from them and given to other people, and in what proportions? One might concede the need for an organization to guarantee justice, but how is justice served by redirecting income, or favoring some groups over others?

The people of California have spoken, via Proposition 13. Those who want to "serve" them cannot but agree with that decision. If the income provided is inadequate to their grandiose schemes, then let them choose lower salaries for themselves, or eliminate some of the services which they provide, which the people never requested in the first place. Or they could move to Nebraska, although I suspect the government of that state claims it needs more money, also.

California for Californians!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a semi-retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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