Welcome to Behind the Lines, a weekly conversation with Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley and BYU economist Val Lambson.
Lambson: Your Romney Road Trip cartoon gives us yet another chance to discuss income distribution. I remember my leftist days when it seemed so obvious that forced redistribution was a moral imperative. I care about the poor as much as ever, but I lost faith in government to wield such power without becoming tyrannical.
Bagley: If you mean that our legislators are bought and paid for, then we might kinda, sorta agree here. I wouldn't trust a government infested with corporate lickspittles either, but that is what we have. Two-thirds of our Utah legislators receive virtually nothing in campaign contributions from their constituents; their campaign bucks come from special interests, lobbies and corporations. Nationally, it's worse. The top 1 percent give the lion's share of campaign dollars in return for friendly legislation and favorable tax rates. If you want to know how a legislator will vote, check to see who gives him or her money. http://www.opensecrets.org/index.php This is true of Republicans and Democrats. The rest of us fail to be represented because we can't afford to buy our very own congressperson.
Lambson: I get that. What I don't get is why you want to give power to redistribute wealth to such a government. And any government with the power to redistribute wealth is likely to become such a government even if it doesn't start that way.
Bagley: You say you want a revolution? I still have hope for reform. There have been previous times that government was in the pocket of the moneyed few, but when the excess and inequality become too much to stomach, We The People usually come to our senses and demand reforms that restore a semblance of fairness.
Lambson: Revolution? Well, you know ... we all want to change the world. But novelist Milan Kundera rightly referred to a basic, pervasive evil, the image of which is a crowd of people marching with raised fists shouting identical syllables in unison. From the Extermination Order to Kristallnacht, from the Sans Culottes to the Bolsheviks, mob action has usually led only to horror and destruction.
Bagley: Have I told you about the Rush Limbaugh fans who phone and email me to shout identical syllables in unison? They call themselves "dittoheads." I don't even have to turn on the radio in order to hear Limbaugh's latest fulminations.
As I said before, I pin my hopes on reform. The first step is simple: Let the Bush tax cuts expire. They are the root cause of income inequality over the past decade, allowing the nation's wealth to trickle upwardmore of a geyser, actually to the very wealthy. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/bush-tax-cuts-helped-the-rich-get-richer/2012/01/06/gIQALoi53P_story.html In one stroke the deficit could be cut in half and Romney's yearly accrued millions would begin to be taxed at a rate approaching the level of my, and your, sweat-of-the-brow thousands.
Lambson: You make economic analysis sound so easy! One of these days you must explain to me whether you are interested in equality or helping the poor. They are not the same thing. Hope you had a good weekend, my friend.
Bagley: I rested my drawing hand in anticipation of the Utah Legislature. Do yourself a favor for the next seven weeks and tune out statewide news.
The top comment from last week's BTL about Salt Lake being the gayest city in America, is from Digital Bath:
"It's very hard to meet people, and to get to know them, and to have real discussions with them face-to-face and still maintain they're some sort of horrible monster."