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Pyle: How not to be a chump

Published February 8, 2013 4:57 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

You could read to your children every day, surround them with art and music, home school them or do everything you could to support your children's teachers and the neighborhood public school. But, without enough state and local support for the local school district, you would still be likely to find yourself surrounded by illiterate dolts.

You could lock your doors and windows, install an alarm system with motion-activited lights and take turns with your wife or your neighbor standing watch with a shotgun. But, without well-trained police force on alert, you would still find yourself surrounded by criminals.

You could eat a healthy diet, exercise, monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol, drink in moderation and smoke not at all. But, unless collective action of some kind keeps the poisons out of the soil, food, water and air, you and all your loved ones stand a real chance of being sickened or killed by some gruesome substance that you can't even pronounce.

And you could, as Gov. Gary Herbert is heard to suggest whenever the Salt Lake Valley air quality gets so bad that your breath burns in your throat, cut down on your driving, walk or ride the bus, shift your commuting schedule or work from home. But, unless you have some reason to believe that 100,000 of your closest friends are going to do those same things at roughly the same time, you are not a savior of the planet. You are a chump.

It would be the closest most of us will ever be to identifying with Warren Buffett. The multi-gazillionaire has been known to complain that his taxes aren't high enough, at least when compared to the percentages paid by those with much less annual income. Such as Buffett's over-taxed secretary.

The Republican answer to Buffett's complaint is that, if he or any of his rich friends feels under-taxed, any one of them can figure out what he thinks his fair share would be and just cut a check for that amount to the Treasury. There's no law preventing it.

But it would be stupid. And Buffett is not stupid. He knows that, if he would accept that invitation, he'd be out a few million dollars, but the problems he was trying to solve — growing inequality in the American economy and a federal budget that's increasingly out of whack — would not be touched. It's only when the law requires all rich people to pay more that any one of them could have the satisfaction of knowing their contributions counted.

Gov. Herbert, meanwhile, clings to the idea that voluntary actions on the part of individuals and businesses can make a dent in the horrible air quality we've been suffering through lately. It is a belief that is probably sincere, but without foundation in reality. When a problem is this bad, and has this many causes, a broad range of mandatory actions are the only chance for any kind of success.

In the case of air quality, there will have to be real rules, with teeth, cutting back on the smokestack emissions from factories and refineries, not because their managers want to kill us all, but because no business owner is going to be allowed by his stockholders to put his firm at a competitive disadvantage unless the alternative is a hefty fine, or a shut-down order.

Of course, we should all read to our children, lock our doors, watch after our own diet, drive less and do the other things people do to take care of themselves without government mandate. Individual responsibility and community responsibility. Both are necessary, or civilization just does not exist.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, enjoys watching other people do the right thing. gpyle@sltrib.com. Twitter: @debatestate