Gov. Jared Polis's Rocky Mountain Tax Hike Is a Self-Defeating Non Sequitur

Gov. Jared Polis's Rocky Mountain Tax Hike Is a Self-Defeating Non Sequitur
AP Photo/The Denver Post, Helen H. Richardson
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There was an uncomfortable surgery that could improve eyesight back in the 1990s. Some readers no doubt remember it. Radial Keratotomy (RK) required a knife-wielding ophthalmologist to essentially re-shape the eye.

This most primitive – at least in hindsight – of surgeries was a two-part process. Doctors would operate on the first eye, wait usually a month and a half for it to heal, then operate on the other one.

The price of this surgery? While accounts will vary, it was roughly $8,000.

Fast forward to the present, and the modern version of RK is LASIK, as many know. Thankfully the doctor-operated knife is no longer part of the process. Nowadays the path to better sight comes through a computer-guided laser that doctors direct. Automation doesn’t put us out of work as much as it enhances the quality of our work. But that’s a digression.

For the purposes of this piece, the evolution of surgery meant to give people perfect vision continues. Better yet the cost of that which is safe, and that improves our vision, continues to decline. Nowadays the average cost of LASIK is roughly $2,000/eye; quite a bit less than the stone-age RK of the late ‘90s.

It’s more than a bit trite to say it, but here lies the genius of capitalism. Innovators backed by rich, intrepid investors come up with wildly expensive ways to improve our lives, rich “venture buyers” test these primitive innovations, and then the ones that prove desirable serve as a lure for entrepreneurs eager to get rich by virtue of making them affordable and commonplace.

That LASIK is increasingly inexpensive is a statement of the obvious. Just about everything that was once pricey, desirable and (sometimes) cruelly obscure is now cheap, similarly desirable, and wondrously ubiquitous. In free economies, what the rich enjoy is always and everywhere a preview of what we’ll all enjoy if the economy remains free.

That’s why the announced tax-increase proposals in Colorado, levies promoted by Gov. Jared Polis, are so puzzling. Polis is calling for tobacco taxes with an eye on raising $300 million in extra revenue in order to boost education and health programs in the state. His proposal is self-defeating, anti-health, and it's a non sequitur. 

To understand why the above is true, let’s stop and consider what Polis is trying to achieve. He wants to deliver more in the way of healthcare and education to his constituents. Polis doesn’t want money; rather he wants what money can be exchanged for. He wants his constituents to get things.

That he does speaks loudly to why proposals like the one he’s backing invariably fail. They come up short precisely because they ignore the explicit, health and wealth enhancing motivation of entrepreneurs: they too want to get us things, and strive to do so as cheaply as possible.

While politicians want to deliver the goods as it were, their process is quite a bit more than archaic. Politicians merely tax, after which they buy things to be distributed.

Contrast the above with entrepreneurs. They want to deliver the goods too, but realize that no one will back their vision if it amounts to just buying things. For entrepreneurs to succeed, they must devise ways to deliver ever-improving “things” and consumer outcomes at price points that continue to plummet.

That’s why it’s so comical and sad when politicians make promises of the goods and services variety. Voters shouldn’t be fooled. There are no “government” services as it were. More realistically, politicians strive – and often fail - to deliver the status quo in highly inefficient fashion. The previous statement isn’t a political one, rather it’s a tautology. A government service is merely an inefficient way for politicians to provide voters with yesterday’s services. That’s unacceptable.

It’s unacceptable when we remember that the profit-motivated economy is wholly focused on mass-producing what the superrich exclusively enjoy today. Politicians deliver the past in wasteful fashion, while entrepreneurs deliver what is presently only available to the rich, and once again do so at prices that are pointing downward.

Thinking about all this in terms of Polis’s proposal, the supposedly innovative governor is showcasing a less than original mind. He wants the needs of his constituents met, but government cannot do that. It can only take the money of voters in order to fund what is in bumbling fashion, all at the expense of entrepreneurs feverishly working to get what will be to us in life-enhancing ways we never imagined.

Polis once again wants his constituents to get things. In that case he should be striving to reduce the tax burden on those most capable of turning today's luxuries into tomorrow's common goods. Government is not up to the task of providing what Polis aims to provide. His tax-hike proposal is a non sequitur. 

John Tamny is a speechwriter and writer of opinion pieces for clients, he's editor of RealClearMarkets, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading (www.trtadvisors.com). His new book is The End of Work, about the exciting explosion of remunerative jobs that don't feel at all like work.  He's also the author of Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at jtamny@realclearmarkets.com.  

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