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.