Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

If you're paying, I'll have top sirloin
WSJ | unknown | By Russell Roberts

Posted on 01/03/2003 11:19:14 AM PST by hsmomx3

(First published in The Wall Street Journal and republished in "The Libertarian Reader.")

As Congress tries to cut spending, I am reminded of an evening last fall at the St. Louis Repertory Theater, our local company. Before the curtain rose, the company's director appeared and encouraged us to vote against a ballot proposition to limit state taxes. He feared it would lead to reduced funding for the company.

I turned to the woman sitting next to me and asked her if she felt guilty knowing that her ticket was subsidized by some farmer in the "boot heel" of Missouri. No, she answered, he's probably getting something, too. She seemed to be implying that somehow it all evened out.

I left her alone. But I wanted to say: No, it doesn't even out. That's the whole idea behind much of what the government does. The subsidized theatergoer thinks she's getting a good deal, and so does the farmer. If it "evened out" for everybody, then matters would really be depressing: all that money shuffled around, all those people working for the IRS, all those marginal tax rates discouraging work effort just to get everybody to get the same deal.

Here in St. Louis we recently completed the Metrolink, a light rail system. It cost $380 million to build. We locals contributed zero out of pocket, except for the usual federal taxes. Shouldn't we feel guilty making people in California pay for our trips to the hockey arena downtown? No, say the beneficiaries. After all, we paid for BART in San Francisco, MARTA in Atlanta and all the other extraordinarily expensive, underutilized public transportation systems whose benefits fall far short of their costs. It's only fair that we get our turn at the trough.

This destructive justification reminds me of a very strange restaurant.

When you eat there, you usually spend about $6. You have a sandwich, fries and a drink. Of course you'd also enjoy dessert and a second drink, but they would cost an additional $4. The extra food isn't worth $4 to you, so you stick with the $6 meal.

Sometimes, you go to the restaurant with three friends. The four of you split the check evenly. You realize after a while that the $4 drink and desert will end up costing you only $1 because the tab is split four ways. Should you order the drink and dessert? If you're a nice person, you might want to spare your friends from having to subsidize your extravagance. Then it dawns on you that they may be ordering extras financed out of your pocket. But they're your friends. You wouldn't do that to each other.

But now suppose the tab is split not at each table but across the 100 diners at all the tables. Now adding the $4 drink and dessert costs only four cents. Splurging is easy to justify now. In fact, you won't just add a drink and dessert, you'll upgrade to the steak and add a bottle of wine.

Suppose you and everybody else orders $40 worth of food. The tab for the entire restaurant will be $4,000. Divided by the 100 diners, your bill comes to $40. Like my neighbor at the theater, you'll get your "fair share." But this outcome is a disaster. When you dined alone, you spent $6. The extra $34 of steak and other treats was not worth it. But in competition with the others, you chose a meal far out of your price range whose enjoyment fell far short of its cost.

Self-restraint goes unrewarded. If you go back to ordering your $6 meal in hopes of saving money, your tab will be close to $40 anyway, unless the other 99 diners cut back also. The good citizen starts to feel like a chump.

And so read of the freshmen congressman eager to cut pork out of the budget but in trouble back home because local projects will also come under the knife. Instead of being proud to lead the way, he is forced to fight for the projects, to make sure his district gets its "fair share."

Matters get much worse when there are gluttons and drunkards at the restaurant mixing with dieters and teetotalers. The average tab might be $40, but some are eating $80 worth of food while others are stuck with salad and an iced tea. Those with modest appetites would like to flee the premises, but suppose it's the only restaurant in town and you're forced to eat there every night. Resentment and anger come naturally. And since it's the only restaurant in town, you can imagine the quality of service.

Such a restaurant can be a happy place if the light eaters enjoy watching the gluttony of those who eat and drink with gusto. Many government programs generate a comparable range of support. But many do not.

How many Americans other than farmers benefit from agriculture subsidies? How many Americans other than train riders benefit from the Amtrak subsidy? How many Americans outside of the theater and its patrons benefit from the subsidy to the arts?

People who are overeating at the expense of others should be ashamed. The only way to avoid national indigestion is to close the government restaurant where few benefit at the expense of many.

__________

The author is the director of the Management Center at Washington University in St. Louis.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Your Opinion/Questions
KEYWORDS: libertarians; lightrail; taxes

1 posted on 01/03/2003 11:19:14 AM PST by hsmomx3
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
This is an excellent article. Thanks for posting.
2 posted on 01/03/2003 11:24:43 AM PST by RobFromGa
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
Powder..Patch..Ball FIRE!

you'll never see this article in the St. Louis Post Disspatched..... To bad, it could make a few people wake up.

3 posted on 01/03/2003 11:25:21 AM PST by BallandPowder
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
People who are overeating at the expense of others should be ashamed.

But they aren't. In fact, it's practically a liberal mantra that they shouldn't be ashamed.

And good luck trying to close that restaurant...

4 posted on 01/03/2003 11:25:38 AM PST by Eala
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
That's a great analogy! Someone finally explained the problem with socialism.

Great post!!
5 posted on 01/03/2003 11:25:50 AM PST by canuck_conservative
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3; All
This is why the United States is doomed, and has been since it's inception. Many of you are familiar with the following quote, penned before we were no more than a British colony. It says it all:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been two hundred years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again into bondage."

- Alexander Frasier Tytler in his book, "The decline and fall of the Athenian republic"


6 posted on 01/03/2003 11:36:43 AM PST by RobRoy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: canuck_conservative
Nice piece. Hard to believe it ran in St. Louis.
7 posted on 01/03/2003 11:39:06 AM PST by Eric in the Ozarks
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
The only way to avoid national indigestion is to close the government restaurant where few benefit at the expense of many.

And how do you propose to do that?

8 posted on 01/03/2003 11:46:54 AM PST by expatpat
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
Unfortunately, liberals could never understand something so simple.
9 posted on 01/03/2003 11:49:39 AM PST by Bullish
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: RobRoy
From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again into bondage."

I put us somewhere in the complacency to apathy area.

10 posted on 01/03/2003 11:51:47 AM PST by tnlibertarian
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: tnlibertarian
I think we're in the dependence area, at least at the beginning.
11 posted on 01/03/2003 12:00:26 PM PST by RobRoy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: RobRoy
You may be right. At least a greater percentage of Americans are every year. And the Dems try to add to that list every year.
12 posted on 01/03/2003 12:06:31 PM PST by tnlibertarian
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: tnlibertarian
Gee, if only Hillary's health care had passed. I was quite aware of this quote when I was at her rally in downtown Seattle 10 years ago. If I'd had the tools I have today, I would have passed this quote around to all her supporters that were there. I would only have needed a couple hundred copies.
13 posted on 01/03/2003 12:10:05 PM PST by RobRoy
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 12 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
But now suppose the tab is split not at each table but across the 100 diners at all the tables. Now adding the $4 drink and dessert costs only four cents. Splurging is easy to justify now. In fact, you won't just add a drink and dessert, you'll upgrade to the steak and add a bottle of wine.

This is how group lunches at the office go. Somehow my $6 meal and $1.50 soda (already too expensive for what I'm getting) cost me $20 to $25 including the tip.

14 posted on 01/03/2003 12:13:45 PM PST by lepton
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
Punt for later reference in argument; thanks!

15 posted on 01/03/2003 12:15:37 PM PST by No.6
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: RobRoy
Or live here in Tennessee where we had to have a federal appeals court say it was okay (for now) to kick 200,000 "unqualified" recipients off of TennCare. This is a program that 25% of Tennesseans are dependent on. IOW this leaves 1.23 million people beholden to the State for their health care.
16 posted on 01/03/2003 12:26:26 PM PST by tnlibertarian
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 13 | View Replies]

To: *libertarians
http://www.freerepublic.com/perl/bump-list
17 posted on 01/03/2003 12:26:49 PM PST by Libertarianize the GOP
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: tnlibertarian
"I put us somewhere in the complacency to apathy area."

Wow! You are an optimist. I figure that we are at the last comma (I almost spelled that 'coma' and was reluctant to correct it) and moving full speed ahead.

18 posted on 01/03/2003 12:34:23 PM PST by Badray
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
I like his restaurant analogy. Kind of puts the idea of feeding at the public trough into perspective.

Here's hoping the new congress shows a little backbone and trims the fat, now that they hold the upper hand. (But I won't hold my breath.)

19 posted on 01/03/2003 12:36:14 PM PST by shezza
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
Nice article.
It sort of complements the Dinner & Taxes e-mail posted recently on FR.

BTW, this article originally ran in the WSJ on May 18, 1995.

20 posted on 01/03/2003 12:44:21 PM PST by citizenK
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: expatpat
And how do you propose to do that?

I dunno, respecting the Constitution might be a good start.

21 posted on 01/03/2003 12:52:47 PM PST by Lonesome in Massachussets
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

To: hsmomx3
My uncle on a date when he was a young man:

Date: "I'll have the lobster."

Uncle: "Have you ever had lobster before?"

Date: "No."

Uncle: "Well, you're not having it now."

(Of course my uncle was born in Scotland, God bless his soul.)

22 posted on 01/03/2003 1:34:45 PM PST by Question_Assumptions
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: lepton
Makes me glad that when I go out with friends we all pay our share of the bill rather than everyone else's. That way we all stay friends and don't resent those who make more.
23 posted on 01/03/2003 1:40:59 PM PST by sparkydragon
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
News/Activism
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson