Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The libertarian/republican logic that fails

I've stated it a million times before, of all the political parties available, I identify most with the libertarian party. The only problem is I have this HORRIBLE ability to find the flaw in anything, which is a really annoying ability to have because it means I can't commit to anything. So, no, I'm not signing up to be a registered democrat any time soon, but I can't sleep without pointing out this major flaw that gets passed off as logic from libertarians and republicans all the time.

There is this idea that libertarians and republicans state a lot and it's just wrong in so many ways. It deals with government spending, and depending on the issue, it can be packaged many ways, but the basic argument  goes like this:

Well, if we had smaller government and fewer taxes, then everyone would get to keep a lot more of their paychecks and would be able to afford ___________ so we wouldn't all have to be paying for it.  

People will use it as a defense to cut welfare, food stamps, health care, Planned Parenthood, education programs...anything really. The problem? Although at first glance, it seems true, it just isn't.

Let's put together a hypothetical situation. There's a single mother of two kids. She's not a single mother because she's just some ho-bag that doesn't know what contraception is, which is a character conservatives love to believe in. She is a single mother because her husband was abusing her and her kids and he's in jail now. Before he was arrested, her husband was the breadwinner and made about $50,000 a year. They weren't rich, but they had enough money to cover their $1000/month mortgage, $80/month electricity bill, $70/month gas bill, $30/month water bill, $40/month internet bill, $70/month cable bill, $400/month food/school supply budget, $300/month gasoline budget ($2000 a month/$24,000 a year in sheer expenses for those of you that are keeping up).

She has a part time job working 20 hours a week at an office making about $10/hour. Before her husband was arrested, they used that income for incidentals; that once a moth trip to IHOP, that time they went to Six Flags last summer, that new pair of shoes Junior needed, that transmission in her car that blew up, etc. Yes, we'll say that even though her husband abused her and the kids, he took 'em out to IHOP now and then.

With her husband in jail, that woman now has about $800 a month to provide for herself and her two children. She slashed every cost she could. She managed to sell the house and break even. She moved herself and her kids to a two bedroom apartment in a lower class neighborhood for $600 a month. She cancelled the cable TV, but still needs internet to search for work and to help her kids with their school work. She started cycling to work. She quit buying meat and dairy to cut down the food budget by about $100 a month. She started buying the kids' clothes and school supplies at Good Will. She's started timing her kids' showers, making them go to bed and turn off every light and appliance off after 9pm, and started planning meals that use minimal cooking. With all those changes, she's managed to bring the cost of her family's basic necessities down to about $1200 a month. There's nothing left to cut, but she is still $400 in the hole every month.

She's talked to her employer many times about hiring her full time so she could at least get about $1600 a month (which is still inadequate to provide for a family of three, by the way), but they continue to insist they cannot offer her more work. She looks and looks and looks for another job and all she can come up with is a second part time job at Publix, where she makes $7 an hour for 20 hours a week. She's now up to $1360 a month (before taxes). If she continues to enforce a shoe string budget, she will have $160 a month extra. She may even start driving back and forth to her two jobs again, or letting the family stay up past 9pm, or turning on the A/C once in a while. If she's feeling super rich, she may take her kids to the dentist, or take herself to the doctor, or pay her long overdue car insurance.

Just to make it interesting, let's say she pays ZERO income tax, so she keeps her $1360 a month in full. Is that REALLY enough money for a family of three? Is that woman still going to be able to afford food, shelter, water, electricity, gas for the house, gas for the car, and medical care for herself and her kids with that money? We didn't even talk about who will watch her young children when she's away at work 40 hours a week, which turns out to be more like 50 hours a week due to her long bicycle commute.

Can you maybe see where this idea that, "If everyone would get to keep a lot more of their paychecks, they would be able to afford ___________ so we wouldn't all have to be paying for it," doesn't exactly work?

Sure, it would be "easier" for this single mom of two making $1360 a month if she paid no taxes at all, but it would still be a constant struggle. She would likely still have to rely on food stamps, medicaid, possibly welfare just to get by.

This exact woman may be a concoction of my imagination, but I know women like her do exist, and women in even worse conundrums. I talk to them every day. I also know that a perfect world where nobody pays any taxes, everyone keeps all their money, everyone can afford everything they need and poor people magically disappear is a concoction of the conservative imagination.

I don't know how to fix it. I don't use it to say we should all be paying way more taxes, because that doesn't appear to work either. I don't use it to say ALL conservative/libertarian ideas are bunk. You don't have to know how to fix it either, you just have to know that the idea that if nobody paid taxes, we'd all just be a-okay is preposterous!

 Image stolen from whyweprotest.net, who definitely stole it from someone else.
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