Gordon Weil

Here are three statements made last week.

In a Democratic debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders said he wants a national system in which the government provides health care and there is no insurance.

Washington Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen commented on the Democratic debates and concluded, “[T]here was one clear loser – the American taxpayer.”

Billionaire Eli Broad wrote in the New York Times, “I am in the 1 percent. Please raise my taxes.”

Their statements focused on taxes and the role of government – two sides of the same coin.

Obviously beyond their notice was a popular vote in one Maine school district. Voters in all four towns of SAD 75 added $600,000 of new spending to raise teacher pay beyond the school board’s own proposed increase.

This vote demonstrated what can happen when people take government spending into their own hands. They raised their own taxes, but did not see themselves as “losers.” They simply set government policy, weighing both the costs and benefits.

Thiessen’s conservative view makes taxes the enemy and assumes that any action to increase taxes will be unpopular no matter what the purpose. People would rather make their own decisions about how to spend their money, which means turning as little as possible over to government.

Behind this position is basic opposition to government itself. If you pay less in taxes, you get less government. A conservative view is that people are better individually at making choices than through a common effort by government.

Ultimately, the free market, driven by competition to make money, will produce the results people need and want, the theory goes. That’s better than public policy made by legislators who may impose their views and be out of touch with what people really want.

The wealthiest people have the money to drive market growth, so cutting their taxes makes sense, according to this conservative view. Because they pay most of the taxes, they should get most of the tax cuts. That has led to what the news agency Reuters calls “an ever-widening chasm between the unfathomably rich and everyone else.”

Opposing more taxes to pay for more government, critics often distort proposals for government action. They have also increasingly resorted to labeling as “socialism” almost any proposal for increased government. “Socialism” is a foreign system designed to crush free enterprise, they suggest.

Problems arise. The America health system, run by hospitals and private insurers, left tens of millions without adequate care. Veterans and older people were given greater assured access, but many remained outside the system.

To cover the uninsured, Congress adopted the Affordable Care Act, providing government aid to allow more people to purchase private insurance. But it blocked a public, non-profit insurer, which might have provided lower-cost competition and limits on drug prices.

Sanders and some other Democrats argue that only a public insurer and care provider can bring costs under control and prevent the drug industry from raising prices to boost its profits and advertising budget. The Democrats’ proposed system would be taxpayer supported.

That would require a big tax increase. However, its opponents ignore the elimination of insurance premiums. Medical and drug costs could be controlled. This year, Maine took the first step toward cost controls, which Congress has banned for Medicare, and the free market fails to produce.

If there is a net taxpayer cost for including the millions still outside the health care system (or for any other policy), perhaps voters would pay it. That’s a choice to be made or rejected, but it is hardly socialism to provide a public health care option and more help for the uninsured.

Increased public spending should be financed by new taxes. Both parties readily adopt measures, from tax cuts to social spending, without paying for them. They create more debt and pass the bill to future generations.

Broad wants the wealthiest to pay more taxes, just as the not-so-wealthy school district voters decided. He offers neither a blank check nor to be the sole payer. Like the district voters, he likely wants to know the purpose of any tax increase, like debt reduction, and that others are also paying.

In light of all the tax-cutting loopholes and the sharp curtailment of inheritance and estate taxes, he proposes an annual two percent tax on wealth above $50 million. A businessman and philanthropist, Broad is hardly a socialist.

Broad, Thiessen and Sanders focus on what may be the central debate of this election: what is the proper role of government and are we willing to pay for it?

Comments are not available on this story.