Measures 66, 67 and the Zero Sum Game

It’s not often that an “out of state” writer clearly captures what’s going on in “we’re different here” Oregon. But Reason magazine editor-in-chief Matt Welch has done just that in his February editorial, “More Than Zero.” He can’t vote on tax Measures 66 and 67, but everyone who can should read what he has to say.

The editorial”˜s subtitle reads:

Why won’t people who love to make zero-sum arguments about the economy apply their own lessons to government spending?

A few key sections:

“It’s an alluringly simple vision, this notion that public policy challenges can be solved merely by lifting some gold off one end of the scale and plopping it down on the other.”

“There are three fatal flaws in this line of thinking. The first is that it fails to acknowledge, let alone explain, the fact that we keep placing more and more gold on the ‘government services’ end of the scale without seeing anything like a commensurate increase in results.”

“The second flaw in zero-sum economic logic is that by consciously whittling down issues to a single, hermetically sealed scale, policy makers overlook the complexity of consequences, whether intended or not.”

“Nor do soak-the-rich types entertain the idea that their high-value targets might respond to new incentives in ways that could have negative side effects. The rich are so different from you and me, the thinking goes, that their behavior won’t change.”

“The third and most infuriating aspect of zero-sum economics is that its practitioners suddenly forget to apply the same standard to one of the few entities that can accurately be described with a pie metaphor: government budgets…”

“”¦public-sector unions are not just growing the pie of government on all levels; they are brazenly gobbling up two, three, and even 20 times the amount that they were taking just a few years ago””on guaranteed contributions to their pension plans alone. Wherever you see a politician or public servant warning about “draconian” cuts to public services, you almost certainly are witnessing an agency whose employees have negotiated a sweetheart pension deal within the last decade. It’s awfully hard to balance a budget, let alone improve public services, when you’re tripling a major line item.”

Read the entire editorial yourself and you’ll have a better understanding of what’s at stake in Oregon’s current Measures 66 and 67 campaign.

Two other columns in the February Reason issue seem ready-made for our current election also:

“¢ Who Wants to Tax a Millionaire?
The “millionaire’s tax” will affect more people than you think.

“¢ Class War
How public servants became our masters

Steve Buckstein is founder and senior policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research center.