Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Arse Up

One sad thing about our path to a glorious social democracy is that even the best ideas in Washington get transformed into Rube Goldberg machines. I actually haven't figured the full reasons for why this is, but maybe it's just that wonks are gonna wonk (I also hate that anyone who can grasp really simple policy arguments fancies styles him/herself a "wonk." It usually isn't rocket surgery.) As someone I know in DC said (roughly), "There's no good policy idea that people in DC can't find a way to arse up completely."

The obvious one is means testing. We already means test through the tax code. It's called progressive taxation. There's no reason to add an entire additional layer of complexity and bureaucracy and verification to every new and existing government program out there. If we built the highway system today we'd probably toll it for everyone earning above, say, $100,000, but everyone earning less than that would have to get their income verified and a separate form and a special toll free card and would have to pay back the free tolls if they made too much money the next year blah blah blah. We'd have to contract out to private companies to hire "navigators" in order to guide people through the free toll application process. "Make the rich pay more" actually just means "make it harder and more costly for everybody else."

Usually this doesn't even "save" much money, even ignoring the individual cost of compliance and associated bureaucracy. Think rich people get too many nice things from the government? Raise their damn taxes. Don't use it as an excuse to make giving nice things to everyone else so complicated that it practically isn't worth bothering. The net cost of stopping a few Richie Riches from getting free state university tuition or pre-K is yuge. The cost of increasing taxes a tiny bit on rich people generally is essentially zero, except to the rich people in question of course.