Ignorance of The Costs Doesn’t Make it Free

I live in the largest state park in the country.  One of the things I’ve learned over the years from living here is that many people in this country haven’t connected “services” with “taxes.”    In this area there are a number of state campgrounds.  People have to pay to stay there or to use the facilities.   Although people can (and do) gripe about the cost of using the facilities,  they understand that they’re paying for the costs of running the facilities and providing those services.   In addition to those, there are a number of wilderness camping areas.   These are “free”  to stay at, and they’re heavily used by people who either want the experience or don’t want to pay for staying at a formal campground.   The reason I put “free” in quotes is that those sites aren’t free.   They’ve been paid for by taxes.  But, because people don’t make that connection, they assume that their camping there doesn’t cost anything.

I use that as an example, because it’s something that people never think about.  Someone had to build those roads and trails into those wilderness areas.  Someone had to construct the sites.  Someone has to go out there and check on them, and make repairs or pick up any garbage.  That someone is the government and  government employees, and no, private business or groups wouldn’t do it.  It took tax money to build them, and it takes tax money to keep them accessible and usable.   The “free” camping people receive is actually tax-subsidized camping.

If that were the only example, one might excuse it, but it’s not.  It’s a common theme and in particular among Republicans.   We “pay too much in taxes,” we need “self-reliance,” and “government isn’t necessary.”  It’s just that it’s the “free” stuff that businesses and people depend on.  But there’s a cost attached to it, which they don’t connect with taxes.  There was a story in one of the regional newspapers about what “used to be” in a small city.  In winter, the city not only plowed the streets, they even had someone take care of the sidewalks.   It was all paid for with tax revenues.  Then the city decided to cut back on the services to save money and cut taxes.   No more winter sidewalk maintenance, because of that.  Great, people “saved” a lot on taxes, right?  Well, not really.   Whatever they saved was more than wiped out by having to take over those services.  Yes, they had to shovel the sidewalks, or if they couldn’t, pay someone to do it.   Sure,  they weren’t depending on government anymore, but it cost as much if not more to do it themselves.

I’ve run a business, so I’m quite aware of how “the free stuff” impacted it.  I needed good roads to travel on, as well as to receive and ship goods.  I needed police around to make sure my business was secure.  I had clean water, sewage treatment, and garbage disposal.  There were school systems and colleges nearby, to not only further my own education, but provide educated customers and workers.   All things my business depended on, and that’s just a small sample.

But if you listen to various “conservatives” – and yes, I mean the quotes – none of those are “necessary” or in particular, taxes to pay for them.  They might want to take another look.  Consider that Mississippi is routinely listed by various business magazines as one of the – if not the – “worst states for business.”  Why?  After all, they have very low wage rates, little state regulation, not many unions, and low taxes.  All the things that conservatives say the country needs.  Using those measures, Mississippi should have a booming economy.  Except if you look at where else Mississippi ranks near the bottom:  At virtually everything, with education and infrastructure among them.  In other words, yes, you can do business “cheap” there with little regulation, but the other things that make it worthwhile – that you need as a business – aren’t there.

That’s why the President said that business people didn’t “do it on their own.”  It’s because it’s true.   You don’t start or build a business in a vacuum.  You had roads built for you, you have utilities, you have educated customers, you have services.  They didn’t “just happen,” and the someone who built them was the taxpayers.   Just because you don’t know the costs, or that you’re ignoring them didn’t make it free.   The day they might learn that lesson is the day they learn they’re going to have to do without.

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7 Comments

Filed under Business, Politics

7 responses to “Ignorance of The Costs Doesn’t Make it Free

  1. sidney18511

    Ronald Reagan got the ball rolling with his lie that government is the problem, and the cons have run with that for years. People don’t realize that government services and social programs are not meant to make a profit. They believe that private entities can run programs much more efficiently, not realizing that ALL the financial collapse that has happened over the years was caused by private industry. They also mistakenly believe that if our public education was profitized their taxes would go down. They don’t realize that they will still pay taxes, but it would go to profit some billionaire at the expense of teachers salary, and children’s education. The TEAPUBLICANS see the world backwards.

    • I think they sold the idea that “private industry can do it more efficiently.” Of course, actual performance data shows something else again. For an easy example, the government is far more efficient as a healthcare insurer than any private company. No one would accept the overhead costs that every private insurer tacks on if it were a government program. The drive to make a profit doing what was once a public function usually means that you will receive less, since any private contractor will attempt to cut as many costs while charging as much as they can. That’s why most “privatization efforts” usually end up costing more and delivering less. Charter schools, for all the bouquets thrown at them, have turned out to be at best a wash when compared to public schools, and often not as good.

      • majiir

        Louisiana is the latest example of what happens when a state throws tax money at private religious schools. It was only after the state lawmakers passed the bill and Jindal signed it that they realized that none of the schools that would receive the funds are required to meet any of the state’s education standards, including showing that student achievement occurs. Some of the lawmakers are now appalled that non-Christian schools are also eligible for the funds. Educational research shows that charter/religious schools are not significantly better at educating our students, but none of this mattered to Jindal and the republicans in LA. Their main goal was to use public tax money mainly to fund Christian schools. I read a few weeks ago that a Christian school that will receive thousands of taxpayer dollars has no gym and no library, and it teaches students by having them look at videos all day. I’m a retired public high school teacher, and there’s no way I could have gotten away with teaching my students by showing them videos all day. We had to write lesson plans that showed how any video we used in our classroom related to the curriculum and state standards for the course. What happened in LA recently shows what can happen when ideologues are in charge of lawmaking. Not one of the legislators thought of getting the input of experts in the field of education before passing the bill. I think they decided to not include experts because they were afraid that the experts wouldn’t agree with them writing a bill that would grant thousands of dollars to Christian schools with no accountability. Now they’re left with a flawed law that gives taxpayers’ money to religious schools and no way to determine whether their teaching methods yield better educational results for their students than students in public schools. It makes me ill that Jindal is said to be on the shortlist as a VP candidate for Romney. It makes me more ill to think that if Romney wins in November, Jindal could become the new Secretary of Education. Ugh.

        • nathkatun7

          Excellent comment majiir! For us in California we know the price of privatization for essential services. Under Republicans. with the help of some Democrats, we went through privatization of gas and electricity. The result: rolling black outs and massive profits for corrupt energy companies like Enron. I really get annoyed because most of us quickly forget what we went through. Republicans feed on the Americans’ attention deficit disorder.

          Four years ago, the government, using our tax dollars, had to bail out banks. But already we have forgotten this. Once again, Republicans, with massive campaign contributions from the same banks we bailed out, are out there trashing government and touting the magical benefits of private free enterprise. Gore Vidal was right! USA increasing means the United States of Amnesia!

        • Excellent comment, and yes you’re right. Another example, since where I live has numerous examples: I can tell, walking into any state campground up here whether the buildings were built prior to 1970 or after. It’s actually simple, you just have to look at any concrete work. Prior to the 70’s, the state hired its own crews to do construction. Their work looks virtually new. After that, they hired construction companies to do it, and most of their work has had to be replaced or is falling apart. If you compare them side-by-side, you’d think the older work was the newer work.

  2. Huge difference between taxes that cover infrastructure and the basic needs of the people versus taxes that allow the government to basically nanny us. There aren’t many conservatives who are so fully anti- taxes and government as to be anarchistic.

    • Funny, but all the rhetoric coming out of the conservative side says just that. You really need to look at the consequences. As I said in earlier posts here, they “don’t want socialism” – until they do. For example, ask any senior citizen about Medicare and Social Security. They’ll mostly tell you they “paid for that.” The truth is they didn’t pay for their benefits, current taxpayers are. The same for much of what you seem to term “nanny.” There’s nothing to stop you from personally raising all your own food, processing it, and eating it – or even feeding your family with it. Hey, if you fuck it up and get food poisoning, that’s on you. On the other hand, your selling that to other people? Not a good thing. Conservatives like you have grown up in an era where much of what you take “for granted” is only because previous generations learned the hard way that it was a good idea to regulate things or set up social nets. What you seem to want is to return to the days when the reason for those things suddenly become clear again. Then again, most conservatives are still bleating about supply side economics and deregulation, despite all (massive) evidence that they don’t work.