I spent about fifteen minutes of unproductive time this morning watching part of a segment on C-Span’s “Washington Journal.” The guest was a legislative analyst for Congressional Quarterly. The subject of the discussion was farm subsidies and the recent Congressional vote to eliminate $3 billion in ethanol subsidies. I know next to nothing about ethanol. I don’t use it and I don’t pay much attention to the politics surrounding the issue. About the only time it seems to matter to me is when the price of commodities like corn skyrocket. When that happens I mount a spirited defense. I eat less corn. I think it’s the only defense guys like me, who aren’t experts, can muster.
About ten minutes into the segment, the legislative analyst (expert) said the issue of subsidies was playing itself out along party lines. The Republicans, armed with whips and chains, support the status quo. They oppose “enhancing revenue streams,” support taxpayer dollars for fat cats, and endorse starvation of the masses. The Democrats, defenders of the people, are standing at the gates, armed with truth and justice.
It’s all quite confusing. That’s why I’m glad there are legislative analysts who get paid to sort it all out for me.
The morning was about half over and I got curious about the legislative analyst and her analysis. What was it that qualified her as an expert? I decided to check her credentials. They were quite impressive. She’d earned a master’s degree and a doctorate to boot. After a bit of closer examination, I concluded her education had absolutely nothing to do with farm subsidies. Her undergraduate degree is in English and her advanced degrees are in medieval English literature. But, she’d been invited to speak about farm subsidies, which meant the invitation itself must have been the qualifier. Who knows? If Chaucer, Milton, or Shakespeare were alive today they too might be gracing the airwaves with expert opinions on farming, interplanetary space travel, or technology.
There’s something curious about subject matter experts¸ even when they have no expertise in the subject they’re discussing. Their points of view almost always go uncontested. So, for example, when our expert said that Republicans are against increasing revenues, neither the moderator nor those calling in challenged her assumption.
Was her assumption correct? I have more than a few nagging doubts.
Why is it that so many experts and politicians (please forgive my being redundant) have made the leap in logic that concludes that the only way to increase government revenues is to increase taxes? Do they think we’re dumb enough to believe that replacing the word “taxes” with terms like “revenue enhancements” or “user fees” will mask what they’re doing? I guess so, because politicians and experts at all levels seem to be afflicted with the irritating habit of using clever catch phrases when honesty should do.
Last week the city of Emporia seemed mystified that the most recent increase in water rates hasn’t increased revenues. In fact, revenues have decreased…..significantly. How could that be? You don’t suppose a lot of folks got wise and decided to conserve, do you? It seems sensible to me, but I’m not an expert.
Some years ago the people of California went through the same thing. In response to a drought, local municipalities levied penalties against citizens who used more water than the bureaucrats determined was a fair level of usage. People got wise. The reservoirs filled to overflowing. Revenues shrank. In response to the revenue shortfall, municipalities instituted a non-water use penalty, assessing surcharges against customers who used less than the desired level of water. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Californians passed Proposition 13, which restricted government’s ability to tax the people.
Prior to our most recent election, welcome rocks became the talk of the town. Proponents of the expenditure were taken aback when a lot of Emporians objected. They couldn’t understand the outcry and reasoned that it wasn’t that big an expense and that the rocks would bring tourists by the boatload to our fair city. The money was allocated, then spent. Our new crop of commissioners was then greeted with a piece of unexpected news. Revenues from the visitor’s tax (or fee or whatever they call it) fell far below expectations. I think it might be fair to ask why our city’s experts didn’t see that coming, but they'd just get into a huff and call me an unpatriotic contrarian. If I were to try to remind them were tapped out they’d just call me an insensitive brute. Experts tend to do those sorts of things.
If you’re like me you’re probably wondering what’s next. I’m no expert, but I’d be willing to bet it has something to do with manipulating language and picking our pockets.