Daniel J. Mitchell
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You sneak up to the house with the nice things and you suddenly see a sign.

Here’s a quiz. What do you do after seeing this sign?

a. break into the house because you once heard a politician or journalist assert that gun ownership doesn’t deter crime?

b. decide after a bit of reflection about potential costs and benefits that it might be more prudent to find another house to rob?

If you need some help with the answer, think about the meaning of this cartoon.

If you’re still having trouble grasping the concept, this Chuck Asay cartoon might be worth a look. Or this post has some signs that may help your understanding.

California’s Economic Suicide and other News from Yesterday’s Ballot Measures

I was surprised when the people of Oregon voted for a tax increase back in early 2010.

Yes, I realize that the politicians and interest groups structured the measure so that the majority of voters would be unaffected. It was basically a class-warfare proposal, with a small fraction of the population being targeted to generate (at least in theory) a bunch of revenue that could be used to maintain a bloated and over-compensated state bureaucracy.

But I was nonetheless surprised because I figured voters would realize that upper-income taxpayers aren’t fatted calves idly awaiting slaughter. They can easily move to other states (particularly nearby zero-income tax states such as Washington and Nevada).

In other words, I thought Oregon voters understood that you shouldn’t drive away the geese that lay the golden eggs. A state isn’t like the old Soviet Empire, with an “Iron Curtain” of watchtowers and guard dogs to keep a population under control.

I was wrong about Oregon, so I shouldn’t be too surprised that California voters basically just made the same mistake.

Yesterday, the looters and moochers of the Golden State voted for Prop 30, a measure to significantly boost both the state sales tax and also hike income tax rates on investors, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

I’m generally reluctant to make predictions, but I feel safe in stating that this measure is going to accelerate California’s economic decline. Some successful taxpayers are going to tunnel under the proverbial Berlin Wall and escape to states with better (or less worse) fiscal policy. And that will mean fewer jobs and lower wages than otherwise would be the case.

It goes without saying, of course, that California’s politicians will respond to Prop 30 by increasing the burden of government spending. They then will act surprised when revenues fall short of projections because of the Laffer Curve.

The bottom line is that the state will remain in the fiscal ditch and I expect a Greek-style fiscal crisis. When that happens, I’ll be tempted to point and laugh and make snarky comments such as “you broke it, you bought it.” But my long-run worry is that Obama may push for a federal bailout.

Let’s now take a look at the other ballot measures I wrote about on Monday.

I said the two most important measures were Prop 30 in California and Prop 2 in Michigan. Well, we know things went the wrong way in the Golden State on Prop 30, but it seems the voters in the Wolverine State are a bit more rational.

Prop 2, which would have permanently rigged the rules even further in favor of government workers, was soundly defeated by a 58-42 margin. Taxpayers presumably recognized that it wouldn’t be a good idea to dig the hole even deeper.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the other ballot measures. A majority of them went the right way. I’ve underlined good votes.

Prop 38 and Prop 39 – Two additional tax hike measures, the first targeting individual taxpayers and the second targeting businesses. Rejected 73-27 and approved 60-40.

Prop 204 in Arizona – Renewing a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, ostensibly for the education bureaucracy. Rejected 65-35.

Issue 1 in Arkansas – Imposing a half-cent increase in the state sales tax, supposedly for highway spending. Approved 58-42.

Prop 5 in Michigan – Would require a two-thirds vote of both the state house and state senate to raise any tax. Rejected 69-31.

Prop B in Missouri – Raise the cigarette tax by 73 cents per pack. Rejected 51-49.

Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 13 in New Hampshire – A constitutional amendment to prohibit enactment of an income tax. Received 57 percent of the vote, but needed a super-majority for approval.

Measure 84 in Oregon – Would repeal the state’s death tax. Rejected 53-47.

Initiated Measure 15 in South Dakota – Increases the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent. Rejected 57-43.

Initiative 1185 in Washington – Reaffirms the state’s two-thirds supermajority requirement before the state legislature can increase taxes. Approved 65-35.

Prop 114 in Arizona – Protects crime victims from being sued if they injure or kill criminals. Approved 80-20.

Amendment 2 in Louisiana – Strengthens right to keep and bear arms. Approved 73-27.

Amendment 64 in Colorado, Measure 80 in Oregon, and Initiative 502 in Washington – All of these ballot measures end marijuana prohibition to varying degrees. Approved 55-45 in Colorado. Rejected 55-45 in Oregon. Approved in Washington.

Prop 1 in Idaho – This measure would overturn recent legislative reforms to end tenure in government schools. Rejected 57-43.

Prop 3 in Michigan – Require 25 percent of electricity to come from renewables. Rejected 63-37.

Question 1 in Virginia – Limits eminent domain to public purposes. Approved 75-25.

Amendment 6 in Alabama, Amendment 1 in Florida, Prop E in Missouri, Legislative Referendum 122 in Montana, and Amendment A in Wyoming – These are all anti-Obamacare initiatives in some form or fashion. Approved 60-40 in Alabama. Rejected 51-49 in Florida. Approved 62-38 in Missouri. Approved 67-33 in Montana. Approved 77-23 in Wyoming.

Is there a single lesson or theme we can discern from all these results? Other than the fact that people in California and Oregon are downright crazy?

Beats me. I think most Americans still believe in the classical liberal vision of a small federal government. But I also think the entitlement culture is becoming a greater and greater problem.

P.S. Speaking of the Iron Curtain, Walter Williams imagines California with a barbed wire fence to stop tax escapees.

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Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.