- When you tax something, you get less of it. When you subsidize something, you get more of it
- The Left recognizes this – but only selectively
- The Left’s goal isn’t logical consistency, but power
Cognitive dissonance is described as a condition in which a person simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs. The result for the individual is typically a feeling of discomfort which prompts him to adjust one of the beliefs. People typically strive for internal consistency.
But not so for liberal progressives when it comes to many public policies, first and foremost among them being government subsidies and taxation.
Specifically, progressives choose to selectively acknowledge the universally-recognized principle: “if you tax an activity, there will be less of it; and if you subsidize an activity, you will see more of it.”
To wit: the Left wants to reduce “greenhouse gas pollution,” so it favors a carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions. The Center for American Progress, for instance, declares that a tax will “discourage pollution” due to the higher price paid for such emissions.
And of course there is the constant call for ever-higher taxes on cigarettes in order to reduce smoking, and other “sin” taxes on alcohol or big gulps to lower consumption of those products.
Finally, in their zeal to reduce the amount of gun violence, one popular proposition is implementing a steep tax on bullet sales. Indeed, the author of an article proposing such a scheme reminds us that “The U.S. has had some success in reducing cigarette use, alcohol consumption, and even fuel consumption by increasing taxes on the consumable.”
Clearly, when it comes to accomplishing goals they are sympathetic with, leftist eagerly wield the “if you tax something, you get less of it” principle.
But cognitive dissonance rears its head when progressives discuss taxes on income and investment. Suddenly, taxes don’t matter. Taxes on productive activity won’t result in less of that activity.
A prime example of that can be found in the Left’s opposition to North Carolina’s 2013 tax reforms, which reduced individual and corporate income taxes. “(T)ax cuts don’t address our most pressing economic challenges and don’t supercharge the economy as their proponents often claim” proclaimed the N.C. Justice Center. The progressive group went so far as to say tax cuts will “harm” North Carolina’s economy. In another article, the Center downplayed any importance tax rates have on business investment:
“A well-educated, highly productive workforce, access to markets and suppliers, sound infrastructure, and a high quality of life for employees are more important to corporate leaders than state taxes, according to numerous surveys, studies and popular rankings of “business friendly” states.”
Moving on to subsidies, progressives likewise wholeheartedly adhere to the principle “if you subsidize something, you will get more of it” when it comes to policies aimed at results they favor.
Note the billions in government subsidies showered upon renewable energy projects in order to encourage more investment.
Want to boost the film industry in North Carolina? Progressives believe state subsidies targeting film production will do the trick.
And let’s not forget the nanny-staters’ pet project of subsidizing the sale of fresh veggies in so-called rural “food deserts” so that people can pick up some broccoli with their six-packs at the convenience mart.
Yet when it comes to unemployment insurance benefits, progressives are appalled at the notion that subsidizing joblessness could possibly create more unemployment.
For instance, this Think Progress article discussing North Carolina’s 2013 unemployment insurance reforms makes the claim that “getting these benefits doesn’t discourage people from trying to get back to work.”
Never mind the vast amount of research from economists of all stripes concluding the opposite, including New York Times left-wing economist Paul Krugman’s 2010 economics textbook that states “Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect,” because such benefits “reduce(s) a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job.” Most progressives will insist that the subsidization principle does not apply to paying people not to work.
How can progressives so steadfastly engage in such blatant cognitive dissonance on these issues without suffering any mental discomfort that would lead them to reevaluate such obviously conflicting views?
Because they only care about power. Notice the one consistency they do have is to consistently apply the principle of increasing social control. Cutting taxes reduces the main instrument of state power – the use of coercion to finance government programs – and as such must be opposed. Reducing unemployment insurance benefits reduces government dependency and encourages people to return to self-sufficiency. Self-sufficient people are harder to control, so this too must be opposed.
If the end result is more social control by politicians and bureaucrats, logical consistency is not only unnecessary but frowned upon by the Left.
Progressives readily acknowledge that taxing an activity reduces that activity – when the result is what the left favors. Otherwise, that principle gets tossed aside and even ridiculed. Likewise for the principle that subsidizing an activity results in more of that activity. The left will eagerly recognize this principle to achieve their goals, but then adamantly deny it when it runs counter to their ends.
To most observers, the Left’s glaring self-contradictions regarding basic and obvious principles on taxation and subsidies seem like ignorance. But when viewed through the lens of progressives’ true motivation, we realize that cognitive dissonance is just another tactic the left uses to accomplish its true goal: power.