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On whether politicians are serious about fiscal responsibility
squiggleslash
Let's talk about cutting taxes. Everyone in government's in favor of it, and generally a politician who wants to be popular these days tends to make some comment about "making hard choices", announcing they want to cut {some program they never liked anyway}, and claiming this will help the deficit. It's all bollocks, in reality, because the cut had nothing to do with the deficit - if the deficit was the real issue, the politicians involved would not be lowering taxes for those who can afford to pay them, and would be addressing the whole picture. But they won't, because it's not about fiscal responsibility at all.

Look at the current economic situation and you see a major problem. The government cannot realistically make cuts in spending without worsening the economy further, but insists on reducing its income using tax cuts anyway. Why does it insist on cutting taxes? Because politicians have learned that cutting taxes is popular. But why is it popular? It's popular because lowering taxes reduces a household's expenditures. It lowers their cost of living.

But here's the joke: there are proactive, unnecessary, and frankly anti-freedom activities that the governments, local, state, and federal, of the United States engage in that have a severe effect on the cost of living. I don't mean "Things they spend money on that if they didn't we'd be able to use the saved tax money to spend on ourselves", I mean policies and policy decisions that force people to make decisions that objectively cause greater spending. If the purpose of tax cuts is to lower the cost of living, then the question should be raised as to why the governments are still doing those things. These activities increase the cost of food, of travel, of employment, and indeed indirectly increase the cost of government (and thus taxes) - welfare, social security, and unemployment benefits, for example, are heavily dependent, politically, on the cost of living.  To cut them below the cost of living would be inhumane. And these same issues also increase government spending, to subsidize certain aspects of living expensively. We'll get to that in a moment

What am I talking about? Well, let's address planning policy.

Let's look at where I am. In order to go the supermarket, I get out of my house, I walk to the car, I drive the car for five to ten minutes, I get out, I walk across a parking lot, I buy what I need, walk back across the parking lot, drive the car home, and walk from the car to my door. I do a lot of walking, the walk between the house and the car obviously isn't a lot, but the walk across the parking lot is somewhat longer, depending on whether I can find a good parking spot. I do this because the nearest convenience store is a mile away. So I drive to the supermarket, regardless of whether I just need a gallon of milk or something more.

Now, people who live in the major North Eastern cities (New York, Boston, etc) don't have to do that. They generally walk out of their homes, walk a short distance - longer than the walks described above, maybe even two or three times as long, but not so long that it's somehow a massive hardship (and the timings involved mean the entire round trip is shorter) - go into a convenience store (or maybe a supermarket) - buy the gallon of milk, and walk back home. And people there rather like the fact, unsurprisingly enough, which is probably why a cramped two bedroom apartment on the outskirts of these types of city costs way more than the four bedroom two story home my wife and I just bought in Stuart, Florida. There's way more "Huge houses that require driving to get a gallon of milk" compared to the populous that wants them than homes of any quality in walkable communities.

Huh? Why? I mean, by rights, if you can get away with making people pay way more for a cramped apartment than a large house, and pay less in terms of building out essential infrastructure, then why wouldn't you? Well, because it's illegal, that's why. With the exception of that handful of large cities, and some small grandfathered downtowns in the middle of small cities that have long grown far beyond their original boundaries, planning laws makes walkable communities virtually impossible. Businesses are required to build well away from the communities they serve, and this leads to a number of unpleasant side effects. Customers must pay more to merely visit the businesses in question; the businesses need to factor in travel costs when deciding on wages for their employees, and the businesses also have to spend larger amounts of money on transportation of supplies, supplies that must travel a significant amount of distance by road.

Governments and utilities too must spend more to support such an environment. Governments become responsible for building roads to nowhere, long, expensive, two lane strips of tarmac that service tens of drivers a day. I drive on one myself - a fifteen mile stretch of highway built in the middle of nowhere that serves, at most, one hundred different drivers a day. Why does it exist? Because it's the only transportation option for a very small group of people, and it has to be built to standards intended to avoid discrimination against people who choose to live an extremely expensive to support lifestyle.

Various types of business are barely possible in this environment, from public transport companies (which, contrary to myth, can be profitable - Britain is full of profitable, commercial, bus companies that don't receive a penny in subsidies, for instance, and while I lived there, the part of British Rail dealing with the densely populated South East, was profitable. Likewise, Amtrak's North East corridor is profitable, and would have no problems surviving if Amtrak was privatized) to businesses built primarily around socialization such as a bars and cafes.

Now, look at what happens if you change planning laws. You create the following environment:

1. People suddenly have the option of walking to many local businesses, and many would. You reduce their cost of living, as even assuming they keep the car, they spend less on gasoline.
2. Pools of higher density services result in locations people want to visit, creating a market for public transport, again reducing the need for people to be dependent on motor vehicles, and thus cutting many of their costs.
3. Local governments can concentrate on ensuring a smaller, more concentrated, group of roads are built and are high quality. Governments struggling for cash could even privatize the intercity road system, with major arteries owned by toll operators, and smaller roads, like the one I mentioned above, owned by the communities that use them - both increasing accountability, and bringing the costs of operation closer to those who use them.
4. Businesses see a reduction in their costs - lower taxes (due to local government efficiencies), the ability to employ more employees for less (because those employees don't have to spend $4 a day on travel), and cheaper access to local commodities, resulting in lower prices.

In short, with lower local taxes, the ability to avoid spending money on gasoline, and lower prices, the results would be a much lower cost of living for the majority of people.

Why aren't we doing it? Well, I think some of it is kneejerk reactionaryism. Reducing dependencies on road transportation is a liberal cause both because it's a fixed cost that, by its nature, will affect the poor more than anyone else, and because of the environmental issues, and thus the same group that refuses to believe in Global Warming because liberals are concerned about it, automatically oppose abolishing bad planning laws. Part of it is because people are used to living a particular way, and they're convinced that such reforms would force them to live a different way (in practice, you'd only be "forced" to live in walkable neighborhoods if you're currently heavily reliant on the hidden subsidies  that go into non-walkable neighborhoods.) 

But if you talk a good game about "freedom' and "lower taxes" and "fiscal responsibility", you're full of crap if you don't deal with the elephant in the room. A single act that can increase freedom of choice, and reduce the cost of living, will have a major impact on taxes. You suddenly have:

1. Room to reduce social security, welfare, and unemployment benefits, without being cruel.
2. Room to reduce expenditure on expensive infrastructure (as shown above), without cutting jobs (because new businesses become viable.)
3. Room to increase taxes - yes, increase them - to pay off the deficits you claim to care about - while being comfortable that your reforms have left people better off because the increased taxes do not wipe out the cost of living benefits.
4. Increase tax revenue anyway, by bringing more people into the employment pool, by reducing the threshold needed to make a job worth doing, in turn also helping to cut expenditure on welfare and unemployment benefits.
5. Even reduce government spending because of the number of supplies and services supplied to government whose cost is related to... again, the cost of living.

I'm sure others can think of other ways in which the government pro-actively does something that's anti-freedom (not in an "Spending taxes I could be spending" way, but in a "Forbidding you from doing something reasonable") that increases the cost of living as a result. But this one seems to particularly an issue right now.

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