Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

Another Tax Hike!


Well, for the first time in recorded history, Arizona’s right-leaning voters approved a one-cent sales tax on food. We’re told by the state’s fuzzy, Tea-Partying leadership that this tax will get us off the economic shoals on which we have been cast by the crash of the Bush economy. The public schools will be rescued, and the massive cuts to the state government already planned will not have to take place.


A tax on food, at a time when about 10 percent of Arizonans are officially out of work and many, many more have dropped off the unemployment tracking radar, is about as regressive as a tax can get. It hits hardest at the people who can least afford it: people who are already struggling to buy basics like food and shelter.

Here’s the problem: Arizona has an essentially circular economy. We don’t manufacture anything, unless square mile upon square mile of ticky-tacky houses built by people who build, finance, supply, and repair ticky-tacky houses for people who build, finance, supply, and repair ticky-tacky houses can be called “manufacturing.” The primary bases for the economy here are housing construction and services. We wait on each other—at amazingly low wages—and we build houses for people who wait on each other. We don’t do anything productive.

So, when the economy goes down, we have nothing left to build on. The jobs for people who deliver services dissolve, there’s nothing to take their place, and no amount of taxation or any other make-shift scheme will change the fact that we don’t have jobs and we’re not going to get jobs.

Why? Because we don’t do anything productive. We just wait on each other.

Hilariously, we’re assured that this tax is going to rescue Arizona’s educational system. This is the system that’s already at the bottom of per-pupil funding in the nation—we rank 49th, just ahead of Mississippi! Grade schools now cram about 32 kids in every classroom. One cent per dollar, whose purpose is simply to avoid laying off more teachers, isn’t going to make much difference. Let’s remember, when times were good, graduates of this system arrived in my university classrooms and, as juniors and seniors, informed me that Wisconsin is a Rocky Mountain state, that the only thing of note that happened in the U.S. during the 19th century was the Industrial Revolution—well, if you let out World War I, which also happened in the 19th century—and that the word Episcopal is pronounced ep-is-COP-al. A graduating senior in English—that’s English, not English Education—asked me what a preposition is.

This is a school system that will not be helped by a one-cent Bandaid. It needs major surgery.

Despite being a raving, foaming-at-the-mouth sooooocialist liberal, I did not vote for this tax. I didn’t vote for it because it was cooked up by a retrograde governor and supported by an even more Neanderthal legislature. Nothing that these people say makes sense, and so it’s reasonable to believe that the tax as it was proposed is even more ludicrous than it appears on the surface.

It doesn’t get at the problem. The problem is, we need to build an economy that produces things, not one that waits tables, sells insurance, and polishes shoes.

It’s America’s problem, of course: we’ve off-shored the lifeblood of a strong economy. And since Arizona is part of America, Arizona is part of the problem.

Image: from H. G. Wells, The Outline of History, 1920. Public Domain.

Author: funny

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  1. Nope, I didn’t vote for it. I voted against it. I’m with you on all your points. I heard on NPR this morning the governor say that she heard the 1/3 of us who voted NO and that she saw this tax as only a short-term fix. Why don’t I feel heard? Because Arizona’s education stats didn’t change while the economy was good. AZ education had basically the same standing nationally in the 80’s. Oh, but AZ does have a couple new ball parks/stadiums–big revenue producers. Geez, this line of thought can go on forever, can’t it?

  2. Similar problems here in NJ — only they’re cutting the teachers; our governor just cut state aid to education to “fix” the budget. Now the civil servants and teachers unions are up in arms, and to a point, they’re right. But a tax wouldn’t fix the problem, either — I think Arizona has it wrong, too.

    And as someone who works with words for a living, I would go crazy if I taught university-level students who didn’t know what a preposition is.

  3. Arizona DOES have a manufacturing base- and a huge business base. They are mostly in the southern part of the state. Phoenix is in trouble because it has squeezed out industry for service sector. Farming used to be HUGE in Phoenix. Now they have fields of houses. Snow birds used to be an industry as well- they are living in the south part of the state as well.
    The state of the public schools has been the same since the 1960’s. You can find some excellent ones- but there is a glut of mediocre ones. I don’t blame the teachers- but instead the salaries of those in administration and the benevolent treatment by an unpaid legislature and school board. Take away Native American tribe’s ability to sponsor charter schools and they will close down- leaving more money to run the public schools.
    Last- let your pro teams GO! They are killing the regular people while supplying the rich with the jollies. Notice there isn’t a pro team in Tucson?
    Hey, I could have been a plebeian writing this about Rome—a few thousand years ago.

    • @ Jan: Couldn’t have said it better myself!

      Exactly right about farming: we’re now farming houses. Quite a few people still live here during the winter and go home in the summer. Most of them have places in Sun City or in age-controlled trailer parks out around Apache Junction. Sun City is getting a bit decrepit; Pulte Homes bought out Del Webb, and some of the houses Pulte builds are…well, no better than any of the styrofoam-and-plaster constructs that all the builders toss together en masse. When Sun City Grande opened, I visited thinking maybe I would like to move someplace quieter (at the time I lived near the intersection of two main drags a few blocks south of a war zone). One house’s design was charming…but… It had a nice little bathroom in which the toilet occupied its own watercloset. The door to this miniroom did not clear the toilet! The older houses, built by Webb, are sturdy enough, but because Baby Boomers see themselves retiring to small towns rather than to suburbs of megalopolises, the place is half-empty. Even in today’s depressed market, I could get a larger block house, completely updated and right on the golf course, for $100,000 less than I could get for my house.

      Yes, it’s true that we do have a few good public schools. They’re in places like Scottsdale, where those of us who earn the going wage in Arizona can’t afford to live. Some are in far-flung suburbs, where people have to commute until they’re blue in the face to get in to work. My former research assistant bought a house here in North Central but decided against moving her kids out of their East Valley school into the Madison school district (which still is considered a fairly decent public school district). So she drives her kids to school in Chandler every flicking day!

      I had not heard about Native American sponsorship of charter schools and am not coming up with anything in google searches. Other than that a few tribes sponsor such schools on the rez, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that many of these schools are run by tribal entities.

      The pro teams do enrich a small minority, although the ugly stadium downtown has played a key part in the revival of the downtown area. The appeal to watching grown men chase a ball around a field has always escaped me, and so I’m not in a position to comment intelligently on the issue of pro sport. It’s astonishing what people will pay to watch a baseball game…and the ticket prices here put pro games out of reach of families, unless mom and dad are willing to run up permanent credit-card debt for the privilege of taking the kids out to the ball game.

      Sometimes I feel like a Roman matron watching the fall of the empire, myself…