A small story out of New York offers us a glimpse into the mind of progressive politicians and thinkers. A couple years back, as I was driving in upstate New York, I noticed these spiffy new signs extolling the virtues of the state. Turns out, they were an initiative by Governor Cuomo to, among other things, drive tourism, and they cost taxpayers about $8M.

One small problem. The signs were deemed by the Feds to be in violation of signage rules for interstates, which are funded in part by federal money. The State was notified accordingly, but continued undeterred.

Now, the Feds have informed Cuomo that the State will lose $14M in federal highway dollars because of this rules violation. And… a minor pissing match ensues.

This is a small but classic case of big-government types and Other People’s Money. It’s ubiquitous in American politics, where localities press for state money to be added to their coffers, and where states engage in gimmickry to maximize federal moneys coming their way. Pols see this as “free” money, because the imposers of the taxation that provides it are someone else, not them, and thus not an issue come election time. Of course, as this bit illustrates, those who seek this OPM bristle at the notion of being told how it must be spent, ignoring the age-old adage “he who pays the piper calls the tune.”

This is also writ large when it comes to progressivism’s view of taxation in general. The subtext of Marx’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is an unspoken presumption that the deciders of the “from” and “to” are not the people from whom the fruits of labor are taken.

We elect politicians to represent our interests and manage that which is taken from us for keeping things running. These representatives work with our money, making them the pipers and us the payers. But, many of them bristle when we complain about bad tunes, or poor playing, or them spending our money on massive backup bands that we never asked for. While there are some pols who respect us, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

It’s natural for taxpayers to feel displeasure when politicians use their money in ways they dislike. Obviously, no system where every penny spent is approved by every taxpayer is remotely tenable, and rational people know this. But, waste, profligacy, and “damn the rules” libertinism are justifiable reasons for taxpayer anger. As is wanton redistribution, especially when the perception is that those receiving largesse are freeloading. Most people are unlikely to object to the State helping out the truly needy and the genuinely disabled, but when people read that 3 out of 4 NYCity firefighters retire with disability benefits, or that people object to the able-bodied being mandated to work in exchange for welfare or medicaid, or that one of New York’s top lawmakers, who’s been at the fore of resisting tort reform, is “of counsel” to one of the leading tort law firms in the state, suspicion of those in charge of stewarding their tax dollars is justified.

And, indeed, that’s what a handful of politicians attempt. Michigan Congressman Justin Amash posts the reasons for every one of his votes on the Internet (and never misses a vote). Several Senators, including James Lankford, Jeff Flake, Rand Paul, John McCain and Tom Coburn publish waste reports that highlight absurd uses of taxpayer dollars. None of these pols would qualify as “progressive,” where even mentioning that a big-government program is a waste of money (unless it’s in defense or sponsored by the opposition party, of course). Don’t believe me? Try telling a left-leaning friend that Head Start is a complete waste of money, that the government’s own studies have found no measurable difference between Head Start kids and non-Head Start kids, and that the program should be shut down.

Andrew Cuomo has presidential aspirations, and is tailoring his tenure as New York’s governor onto a progressivist mannequin. This sign fiasco is part of his broader effort to pat himself on the back for being such a splendiferous governor, even as upstate New York wallows in economic stagnation and as people flee the state’s onerous taxation.

On top of all that, he has the temerity to screech in high dudgeon about the new tax law, which will cut taxes for most of his constituents, but which will impose higher federal tax burdens on his golden geese (the seven-figure earners that fill 40% of the state’s coffers). While it may seem odd for a liberal politician to decry the raising of taxes on the super-wealthy, it must be remembered that a liberal politician not only wants the goose plucked, he wants to be the plucker. Cuomo and a couple other high-tax blue state governors have disingenuously cast the tax cut package as an onerous burden on New Yorkers in general, when the real reason for objection is that it would only take a few dozen top earners moving out of the state to put a serious dent in the money Cuomo can throw about willy-nilly.

Of course, the flip side of the piper-tune truism when it comes to politics is the influence of lobbyists. Progressivism loudly decries this influence… when it is exerted by certain bogeymen. Or, more specifically, corporations. Not unions, not advocacy groups for favored causes, not trade groups, corporations. With an exception made for the corporations they like. In other words, the other tune-caller needs to call the tune that the progressives like. You can call the tune, as long as you call my tune.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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