Just like he said he would, the president is hooking us up with a tax refund. Most Americans, whether or not we agree with the practicality or principle behind the economic feel-good move of the year, will be getting checks in the mail from Uncle Sam for either $300 or $600. Well, most of y'all, anyway. I file completely exempt from state and federal taxes as my own personal form of reparations, seeing as how the government "taxed" several generations of my family who never got a thing in return for their "voluntary" contribution. (Alright, I'm just playing about filing exempt, but I'm saying, though ... I shouldn't have to pay jack).The potential side effects of Bush's tax giveback should haunt North Carolinians, particularly those of us in Wake County. It was back in 1995 when our genius county commissioners gave out an impromptu, across-the-board tax rebate to Wake County citizens. For about the price of a 30-minute shopping spree at Wal- Mart for most of us, the commissioners bought themselves ideological self-satisfaction. Their unsolicited largesse was largely responsible for turning the public school system into a trailer park of temporary buildings a few years later, when the diminished county coffers proved insufficient to allow Wake's educational infrastructure to keep pace with its explosive population growth.
I know I should just shut up and take the rebate check, but I can't help but think that what's going on at the national level is going to come back in the future and bite us. While I sometimes stare wistfully at the big chunk that taxes take from my paychecks, I'm not philosophically opposed to taxation. If the citizenry is receiving value from their government in the form of services that, for economies of scale, they wouldn't be able to provide for themselves, then taxes are cool with me.
It's the same principle as (back in my party days) when the "host" would run out of refreshments, and someone would pass the hat for a "beer run." It wouldn't have made sense for everyone at the party to go out to the store as individuals and buy more beer. We'd all end up with too much, or we'd waste time and burn unnecessary gas, so it made sense to chip in.
I do have major issues with what a lot of my tax money is spent on. I'd much prefer that our "beer money" go for universal health care and free college education, as is the norm in a lot of industrialized European nations, than, say, to fund Star Wars, private prisons and submarine factories in Senator Pork Barrel's hometown.
Likewise, at a party, I'd be pissed if I sent a dude out with Heineken money and he came back with Pabst Blue Ribbon or Milwaukee's Best. But I digress.
Then again, maybe the "no taxes" crowd is right, and we should do it all by ourselves. In the spirit of inter-ideological cooperation, I've decided that we can use this tax rebate as a dry run for getting rid of big gubmint and I'm offering the following Self-Government Spending Guide, to show what we Joe Citizens can do to make a difference with our rebates.
Build a school: This is a great use of rebate money. If you build your own school, your child won't have to endure all those frills and non-essentials that Big Government keeps forcing down their throats, like gyms, computers and other students. You can buy a fair to middlin' shed at your nearest Lowes or Home Depot nowadays for a couple hundred bucks. If it's good enough to park a John Deere in, it damn well oughta be good enough for some spoiled kid. If you get a good deal, you may even have enough left over for a book or two.
Increase teacher salaries through direct action: Use your rebate money to bribe a couple of 'em to fix your kids' grades (or get them off the list for those high-stakes tests).
Increase funding for disadvantaged districts: Let's pick some of the poorer counties and as concerned private citizens, use the money to buy them some stuff. Of course, this may result in some truly bizarre spending patterns that only private funding can generate, but that's a lot better than a generic approach that treats everyone the same. Just start sending gifts to schools on the disadvantaged list, and watch the smiles on the kids' faces. They may still have asbestos in the building and no math books, but hey, they may also have shiny new Palm Pilots.
Build a road: OK, this one's a stretch, but hey, pave as much as you can and hope that enough of your neighbors will do the same.
Privately fund public transportation: This is a profoundly democratic idea (in an Adam Smith sort of way). If people really want public transportation, the market will provide it. Get together with about 50 friends and neighbors, chip in and buy yourselves a bus or light-rail car. If enough of us do that (or the road thing) we can individually generate the critical "mass" required to enact a mass-transit strategy now noticeably absent from our region.
Buy a car: Should the above strategy fail and there simply aren't bus routes to get you where you need to go, take your rebate and solve that problem. If recent classifieds and sales circulars are any indication, $500 should put you in something plush, like an '84 Chevette, or, at the least, a '79 Buick Regal.
Plant a Bush bush: Forget stem cells, the hottest unsolved national medical crisis concerns pain and appetite management for glaucoma, cancer and AIDS patients. If you want to do your part (and are faithful that the Supreme Court will start using Ecstasy and somehow let this slip past), here's what your rebate check can do for health care. Get yourself a subscription to High Times, a bunch of seeds, a special quiet area in the woods and--Voilà!
Become a high-tech high roller (after the fact): Right now, $300 will get you 600 shares of dot-com stock that probably was worth $60,000 this time last year. Go on out and buy a bunch of stock in eBay, Priceline.com and all that stuff in hopes that everyone loses their minds again. Also, if the economy continues to fly south like Canadian geese, maybe the government will issue a bailout like with the S&Ls and junk bonds, and will make you a beneficiary.
Conspicuous Consumption (aka Ghetto Fabulousness):
One of the justifications given for the Bush tax cut was the old supply-side economic adage that slashing taxes improves the economy by increasing spending. Viewed that way, blowing the money on dumb shit is not only patriotic; it's an exercise in fiscal conservatism. Here's some ideas for those of you out there holding it down.
New Rims: Use the funds from Dubyah to fund some "dubs" (those shiny and mad expensive custom-car wheels adorning many of the cars in the Triangle). You may only be able to afford one or two rims for your ride, but that would be tight. If two or more of you chip in, one of you can buy the '84 Chevette, and the others can mack it out.
Entrepreneurial Opportunity: Don't buy the gold teeth, supply the gold teeth. Learn the fundamentals of goldsmithing from the Internet, and then use the gift from Uncle Sam to rack up on chunky bracelets, rings and chains from playas who left their game at the pawnshop. Smelt it down, roll it out into sheets, and start stamping out your future.
State Economic Development
New incentives: With health science increasingly taking the shine off of the golden leaf, North Carolina needs another major product it can use to shape a national and international identity. So let's consider another irresistible product: malt liquor. Get together with a bunch of friends and use your Bush money to offer a relocation incentive to some major brewers. Then craft a careful marketing strategy and watch the dollars roll in. Politicians will probably go for this in a big way. Imagine Jesse Helms talking with heads of state in Belgium, feigning shock when informed that they don't have either the red or blue bull versions of Schlitz' trademark drink. "No MALT LIKKAH???" Jesse will shout in front of the international press corps. "You ain't got no malt likkah? You ain't keepin' it REAL!!!"
International Economic Development
Buy some sneakers: For $300, you can probably buy about two pairs of Nikes, and feel good in the knowledge that you've just pumped about $8 into the local economy of Indonesia or someplace.
Buy a diamond: Not only are you subsidizing DeBeers, the conglomerate that monopolizes the world diamond market and artificially limits the supply to keep prices up, you'll also be making an indirect investment in an underresourced continent. For most African nations, where the diamonds are mined legally, your investment truly trickles down as they surrender their stones at prices dictated by DeBeers. But if you get ahold of a rock from Sierra Leone, you get the added satisfaction of knowing that you're helping DeBeers subsidize a truly murderous and mindless revolution, in which "soldiers" routinely mutilate the civilians they don't kill outright, leading to a horrifically high incidence of amputee women and children. (Chopped off hands, like diamonds, are "forever").
Right now, our government spends millions of dollars in tax money on expanding democracy throughout the world. Our most recent national elections were a model of efficiency, accuracy and fairness that will endure as an exemplar of democracy for every so-called third world nation struggling with wooden ballot boxes and a slate of 23 generals vying for political office. Not.
We could really, really use some millions and billions to promote the cause of democracy at home, as many are suggesting the federal government do. But that's not currently possible on two grounds. First, I'm dubious of Dubyah, the Fox-in-chief, overseeing an overhaul of our nation's voting henhouses. Second, having the feds do this work conflicts with my newfound laissez faire-ism, so here are two alternatives:
Buy a voting machine: I'm figuring $600 would probably buy you 50 of the machines used in poor and minority voting districts, but resist the temptation to bargain hunt and see if you can get just one really nice one. We can take a page from the sports world here (a bastion of democracy if there ever was one) and further defray the costs of voting equipment by selling naming rights. Step up into the Microsoft Memorial Election Hall and cast your vote on the IBM Deep Red White and Blue computer using a stylish Coke stylus. Later for CNN and the Voter Information Network--the winner will be announced by PricewaterhouseCoopers (vice presidents and other less important officials will have been selected and awarded their offices via tape delay).
Buy a politician: If you're really worried about future taxes, you can always go this route. Sure, $600 won't get you too far, but you may be able to buy a junior city councilor with that, or put a state legislator from a small district on layaway. Besides, owning a politician is a very sound investment that pays real dividends. Of course, not all politicians are for sale, and even the ones who are generally don't advertise outside of election season. If you're looking to purchase one, you may try hanging out with a few real estate developers and asking where they shop.