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Since When Are Government Services Considered a Good Deal for Taxpayers?

December 18, 1988

Regarding the Times Board of Economists column on Dec. 4 by David M. Gordon, "U.S. Tax Burdens Aren't Too High":

David Gordon thinks that the U.S. tax burden isn't too high. He also thinks that most Americans would like higher taxes for the "right" things, but the tax rate is being kept criminally low by Republicans and Democrats who are eager to keep rich voters happy. His theories are pure--inasmuch as they haven't been contaminated by association with facts or reality.

Does Gordon believe that Americans think they are getting a good deal on their purchases of government services? He didn't quote any surveys of consumer satisfaction with such "services" as those from the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency or the Post Office.

I don't think I can name any government-run entity that would qualify for an efficiency or consumer satisfaction award. Most people, I bet, would associate government agencies with the absolute worst in inefficiency and waste.

Gordon admits to some waste in government. But, he argues, there is waste in corporations. Ah yes, but we consumers have a choice of where to buy our burgers. If a private commercial concern becomes too inefficient relative to the market, some other private concern comes along (whether American, or more likely, Japanese) and relieves the inefficient producer of its waste and customers.

The proof of voter sentiment is seen at the polls. I don't know what voters are doing around Gordon's New School for Social Research in New York, but here in California voters defeated almost every proposition that had anything to do with raising taxes of any kind. By this standard, then, it seems ludicrous to conclude that the vast majority of Californians think that they are receiving, or could receive, good value from their government in any area.

Gordon also compares our tax burden to those of other countries, using as a gauge the percentage of the gross domestic product that taxes make up in each country. Out of 20 economies, the U.S. had the 19th-lowest burden, and Japan's was 20th.

Gordon claims that there is no correlation between tax burden and economic vitality. If I were asked to trade the U.S. economy for that of France or Great Britain or Italy, well, I'll keep ours.



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