Government vs. Selfless Acts

The advancement of society is measured by its selfless acts.

“That is why young men die in battle for their country’s sake and why old men plant trees they will never sit under.” -Walter Lippman, Essays in the Public Philosophy, (1955)

A voluntary act done solely for the benefit of someone else or the general well being of the community. The country’s history is replete with examples of such acts and Oregon has its fair share of them — the annual clean up of the Oregon beaches by volunteers from all over the state, the charitable giving for worthy causes such as breast cancer research, AIDS research and care, the feeding and sheltering of the homeless, and on and on.

But mark that these are voluntary acts. When politicians take your money for their “causes” it no longer constitutes a selfless act. How much better would we feel if the Millionaires’ Club in the United States Senate spent their own personal fortunes on the social programs they impose before demanding that taxpayer dollars are used. How much better would we feel if the Vice President of the United States (Joe Biden) had contributed more than a meager sum over the past ten years to the very programs for which he now advocates we must raise taxes to fund.

In most instances where politicians impose such programs at someone else’s (your) expense, the charitable purpose is mixed with political gain: additional public employees to fund the public employee unions who in turn fund the liberal politicians; another voting bloc of “beneficiaries” now dependent on the politicians for their largesse, and another segment of business now dependent on their subsidies and/or government contracts. And in each instance, the dependencies beget demands for more — more participation, more benefits, more public employees to “administer” to the demands, and more contracts and subsidies.

Therein lies the seeds of the famed comment of Alexis de Touqueville:

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

Or more exactly, from the pen of Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee

“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years.

Thus the antithesis of the advancement of society might be measured by its selfish acts:

“It is why old men vote themselves benefits for which they will never pay.”

And that is precisely what is happening on both a national and state level. The Bush/Obama administrations are rolling up gigantic mounds of debt in order to pay for the “benefits” for their political causes. Articles in Tuesday’s papers indicated that the while the last days of the Bush administration left the nation in debt by more than $1Trillion in aggregate, the first year of the Obama administration will add an additional $1.84 Trillion.

Oregon finds itself anticipating a budgetary shortfall of more than $4 Billion — somewhere in the neighborhood of 25% of its total general fund and lottery budget.

In both instances reckless spending by politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, has out paced the ability of its citizenry to pay without dire economic consequences. President Obama and the Democrat Congress are anticipating raising taxes by hundreds of billions through a combination of new taxes and the expiration of the current Bush tax cuts. And in Oregon, Gov. Kulongoski and his Democrat colleagues in the House and Senate are poised to raise taxes on everything from income to motor fuels, and beer to cigarettes (please note that Oregon’s wine industry which contributes heavily to Democrats appears to be exempt).

And in each instance it appears that government spending has outpaced the growth of total personal income of the citizens thus imposing a greater and greater burden on taxpayers. Government spending by Oregon increased from $6.41 Billion in 1993-94 to $15.1 Billion for 2007-08, or 135.6 per cent.

In Oregon, from 1994 (the midway point for the 1993-1995 biennium) through 2008 (the midway point for the 2007-09 biennium) total personal income (that is income from all sources) increased from $68.0 Billion to $136.7 Billion — or 101.03 percent. During the period from 1993 to 2007 Oregon’s population grew from 3,059,110 to 3,747,455 or 22.5 per cent and its CPI (the measure for inflation) grew from 144.5 to 204.8 or 41.7 percent. The combination of population growth and inflation was thus 64.2 percent.

Had Oregon state government matched its spending to the growth in is citizens’ total personal income, the budget for 2007-09 would have been $12.89 Billion or $2.2 Billion less than the current budget. And assuming that the Governor’s proposed $600 million from 2007-09 to 2009-2011 is appropriate, the budget for 2009-2011 would be $13.5 Billion instead of $15.85 Billion and probably more in line with a projected four plus percent increase in total personal income by 2010 (the midway point for the 2009-2011 biennium).

This remarkable lack of fiscal discipline, like its counterpart in the United States Congress, is creating a burden for future generations who must now pay for the “benefits” extended by the current crop of politicians in order to maintain their power and their social agendas.

The best measure of the decline of the citizens’ well being is whether government spending increases at a rate faster than the growth in their total personal income. To date, that has been occurring at least for the last dozen years and there does not appear to be relief in sight — at least for Oregon.

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 19 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • John Fairplay

    And virtually 100 percent of the increased spending from 1994 to 2008 has gone right into the pockets of government employees.

  • dartagnan

    Here are a couple other DeTocqueville quotes that conservatives seldom mention:

    “What is the most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands. In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class.”

    “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

  • eagle eye

    Adding the % growth in CPI to the % growth in population makes no sense i.e. 22.5% + 41.7%. It should be (1.225) x (1.417) = 1.735% (rounding off to significant figures), for an increase of 73.5%.

  • contrarian

    I’ve not checked Larry’s figures, so will take them at face value. Oregonians passed ourselves a property tax cut, 2 of them, that shifted spending for schools from localities to the state. Oregonians also passed an anti-crime measure that significantly increased the number of people in prison that have to be housed and fed and watched at state expense. The state income tax rate has not changed, so our taxes have not gone up to pay for these voter driven measures.

    In other words, it was we the people who chose to increase the things we wanted state government to do for us. Not just the politicians who we elect to represent us.

  • Jay Bozievich


    Have you ever looked at the movement of the American population between income quintiles? Who the wealthy and poor are changes greatly with time as documented by the Census Bureau as noted in this Federal Reserve report:

    Your second quote goes directly to Larry’s point. America is good because of the massive amount of private voluntary charity Americans take it upon themselves to carry out. Forced charity is bad and our continued path towards that end will cause America to cease to be good and therfore cease to be great.

    E. E., Good catch on Larry’s math, still a big difference between the growth in the cost of government and “popflation” A better measure than popflation may be percentage of State GDP as that is a true measure of the economic activity avaiable as a tax base. I believe you would find that state spending has grown significantly relative to the growth of our economy.

    Contra, You can also look at the State and local spending as a percentage of GDP and see it has increased over time.

    • contrarian

      Jay, that may be so. At the local level people often vote new levies on themselves, for schools, libraries, parks and open space, enhanced police services, or new sports stadiums. Drawing sweeping conclusions from the amount of spending is what I was challenging, because we the people often are the drivers of increased spending, not the politicians.

      • Jay Bozievich


        I disagree that citizens are the drivers of spending because they are often duped into supporting local option levies to prevent cuts in essential services while the employees unions are getting steps and COLA’s on top of across the board increases granted by the politicians. Politicians that are elected using donations from public employee unions. It is no secret that the cost of public labor at all levels of Orgeon government have been increasing at a rate of over 7% annually while inflation has been averaging 3%, but we never see that in a newspaper or hear it from a politician. As school districts spend 81% of their budgets on labor, you can see why their budgets have been unsustainable and require constant approval of levies etc. to continue.

        Your observation on the income tax rate staying flat leaves out all of the other sources of revenue that both the state and localities turn to such as user fees. Here is Lane County we now pay to use any county park and the City of Eugene just raised ther stormwater fees by 4.5% well above the CPI-U. I did not vote on either of those or the myriad of other increases in fees and new fees that localities and the state are now implementing.

        • contrarian

          Jay, if citizens are that gullible, then the same can be said for any ballot measure put in front of them, including the 2 property tax limitations, the anti-crime measures, and so forth. Do we conclude that the citizens are brilliant when they support what we like, and are hopeless dupes when they support the opposite? I’ll admit I feel that way at times. Do you?

          Education is labor expensive because it is labor intensive. Back in the 80s the complaint on Oregon school districts was that they spent too much on administration, not enough on teaching. Well they cut way back on administration, and now the complaint is they spend too much on teaching. Where does it all end?

          Yes, local governments have turned to user fees and charges as a way to make up for what used to be subsidized by property taxes before they were capped. I would think user fees, as long as they are used for particular services, would be the more acceptable approach since only the user of that service then pays that fee, thus eliminating subsidies from those who don’t use it. In Portland you can reduce your stormwater fee by disconnecting your downspout from the street drain and dealing with the runnoff from your personal roof on your own personal property. That seems fair and reasonable to me. What is your alternative?

          • Jay Bozievich


            Okay, duped was not an accurate term. The voters are often given a false choice between voting for a levy or bond or to have some essential service cut. They are never given the choice to renegotiate salaries and benifits or to cut other non-essential services.

            As to education if you read my comment I noted that labor is 81% of education costs that implies that it is labor intensive. That 81% includes both teachers and administration. Where it ends is with school choice.

            As to user fees, I have no problem with them except that most can be raised by administrative actions and usually out pace inflation. I brought them up to address your point on income and property taxes to show that even though those have remained flat many other revenues are being increased to pay for the unsustainable growth in the cost of government.

          • contrarian

            We agree. False choices and incomplete information. Like cut taxes but don’t worry about schools being funded because the state will somehow take care of it. Lock more people up and don’t worry about the cost.

            School choice sounds great. But teachers still cost money unless you choose a school staffed by volunteers.

    • eagle eye

      “A better measure than popflation may be percentage of State GDP as that is a true measure of the economic activity avaiable as a tax base. I believe you would find that state spending has grown significantly relative to the growth of our economy.”

      I agree with the above, but when you say:

      “You can also look at the State and local spending as a percentage of GDP and see it has increased over time.”

      I looked at the website, a useful compendium. I can’t find that it shows any such thing, if anything, the examples I looked at show the opposite. Can you be more specific?

      By the way, you were on the Lane Community College board, right? I don’t recall that you were much for spending restraint then, you supported a tax measure for them, right?

      • Jay Bozievich


        You are correct I did serve as Board Chair when the board voted to refer that levy over my no vote against it. My duties as a board member where to support the levy after the vote.

        Even so, the LCC Board and the President of the College had managed to negotiate concessions from both unions to control labor cost increases but the OR Legislature funded CC’c at a level lower than 2000 in inflation adjusted dollars even though enrollment was up. It is a very long story but LCC has done what I would advocate all of Oregon government do, (pay attention here contrarian) negotiate contracts with their unions that keep costs in line with inflation including benefits.

        So yes as part of my duties as Board President I supported a tax levy I voted against. I sound like John Kerry but it would take a long explaination of policy governance I don’t care to ge into.

      • Jay Bozievich


        Just found some more data on total state and local spending:

        2006 state and local spending

        Oregon $8,346 per capita or $21,572 per household

        US average $8,433 per capita or $22,623 per household

        Oregon $8,276 per capita or 23.4% of personal income

        US average $8,393 per capita or 21.5% of personal income

        Overspending of Oregon State and Local governments

        The last one says that looking on ly at per capita or per household is not accurate that you have to compare Oregon against states with similar demographics. They then conclude the state is overspending in almost every area of government.

        I still think that 23.4% of personal income on state and local government is a pretty high burden on the citizens.

        • eagle eye

          That of course is percent of personal income, not percent of gdp. It makes a difference in putting it in perspective. Whether it is too high or too low, I don’t know. I’m open to cuts, as long as the proponent is up front about how much and where the cuts are going to be, and how they’re going to be paid for. No more tax cuts for me without the itemized spending plan to go along with it.

          It also makes a difference how the aggregate is made up. One place where Oregon is out of line is in something called “trust fund expenditures”. I’ve never seen that explained, but I surmise that that is income and payments from PERS. But that is misleading, what counts is the amount that has to be paid into PERS, not the amount that PERS is earning (and paying out) from the money already contributed to it.

          I’m not surprised that Cascade Policy Insitute would come to the conclusion that Oregon is overspending, I would be floored if that outfit concluded anything else.

          It is true that in some categories, Oregon spending is high. One item is prisons, where Oregon is completely out of line.

          I would be more sympathetic to the local anti-government people if they made this as much of an issue as they do of other things.

          Another item where Oregon is out of line is something called “financial management” or something like that. I have no idea what that is or why it is high in Oregon. I’ve never seen an explanation.

          As for holding spending increases to inflation + population growth (but doing the math properly, as I explaned above) — that’s always seemed kind of wrongheaded index. I think % of personal income or % of gdp is much more reasonable. Holding that constant basically means keeping the size of government constant, relatively speaking.

          As far as LCC goes — as you probably know, community colleges in Oregon have been funded at levels way above national norms (unlike the public universities especially the higher level ones, which have been funded way below national levels).

          So in line with your professed thinking, you should have been advocating for drastic cuts to CC’s, and drastic action against the unions at LCC to bring their compensation packages into line.

          What I actually saw when you were in that position struck me as pretty tepid, especially compared to your earlier public pronouncements.

          I don’t mean that as criticism, necessarily, but it’s an example of how when people get into positions of real responsibility, their tune changes.

          • Jay Bozievich


            If you might have noticed, the Cascade report was posted on the Oregon Center for Public Policy website, not exactly and anti-government institution.

            As to LCC, did you attend the Board and budget meetings and actually hear what I advocated in them? Unfortunately, my position on the labor contracts is mostly expressed behind the curtain of executive sessions or in private meetings with the President, but I can tell you that I was public enemy #1 of the unions.

            I also challenge you to back up your claim CC’s have been overfunded in Oregon.

          • eagle eye

            No, I didn’t go to the LCC budget meetings, and of course, I wasn’t invited to the private meetings where you say your real opinions were expressed. I’m going by the impression I got from reading the newspaper. If you were public enemy #1 of the unions, it wasn’t very public.

            I don’t have data tables handy on Oregon CC funding. The Cascade Policy types seem to think just about everything else is overfunded. Do you think CC’s are any different? You were in on the LCC budget committee meetings, do you have any data handy on these matters?

            I do remember that CC’s got whacked by the legislature a few years back, the rationale being that they were overfunded and the public universities underfunded.

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    • dartagnan

      “Have you ever looked at the movement of the American population between income quintiles? Who the wealthy and poor are changes greatly with time as documented by the Census Bureau”

      That data is misleading because it tracks movement of individual incomes over lifetimes. Of course when a young person is still in college or medical school or law school or business school his/her income will be low, but it will move up dramatically as he/she rises in his/her profession.

      It’s more meaningful to look at inter-generational mobility, and when you do that it’s apparent there’s not much upward movement. Those who are born low-income tend to stay low-income.

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