A PENNY-ANTE FAUSTIAN BARGAIN

15 09 2005

There’s a special election in Nashville this week over whether to raise the sales tax another half cent on the dollar to pay for improvements in the school system, or what the tax’s proponents call improvements in the school system. When it comes to public schools, I tend to agree with H.L. Mencken, who asserted that the aim of public education “is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” (Thanks to Adbusters Magazine for that), but as a somewhat practical guy I have to admit that most people in America right now are not living lives in which they could organize their children’s education from scratch, and so public school, like the Democratic party, is a necessary evil.

And, speaking of evils, Tennessee’s tax system is disgusting. A sales tax of nearly ten percent and no income tax is about as regressive as it gets. The state might as well hire special police to shake down poor people. Wait—we do that already—it’s called “the lottery.” I think it’s ludicrous to load the sales tax up like this.

But on the other hand, it’s a half cent per dollar, another nickel on ten dollars, an extra fifty cents on a hundred dollars. If you spend two hundred dollars a week on taxable items, (I don’t) you will be contributing an extra fifty-two dollars a year to Nashville city schools, an extra fifteen cents every day. You know and I know that we can spare that kind of change—so why fuss? The principle? “Sales taxes are regressive—no more?” That certainly resonates–but what about the principle of generosity—the schoolteachers in our community—and a great many of them are idealistic about teaching children—they certainly aren’t in it for the money—would appreciate another fifteen cents a day from me—why turn down such a modest request?

Caught between two principles, I’m still making up my mind.

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