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Van Gerpen’s Law: Increasing Taxes Decreases Freedom

Senator Bill Van Gerpen (R-19/Tyndall) delivered the most impassioned remarks on the Senate floor in opposition to House Bill 1182 yesterday (his “Big Stones” speech, beginning around 1:49:50 in the SDPB video).

In opposing the sales tax increase for teachers, Senator Van Gerpen called for turning over budget “stones” and finding existing funds to raise South Dakota’s teacher pay from 51st to 37th in the nation (tying our historical ranking peak in 1945–1946). He offered no formal amendment to pull that money out from under those stones; he just insisted that raising taxes while “our sons and daughters are fighting to protect our freedom” is wrong (scroll to 2:00:55 for full paragraph):

When you take a dollar bill and you take another half-cent off that dollar bill, you take the opportunity for South Dakotans to choose how to use that half-cent. When you increase tax, you decrease freedom. When you increase tax, you sliver away people’s freedom. While they’re over there trying to protect our freedom, we’re back in this house trying to decrease their freedom. That’s what happens with a sales tax increase [Senator Bill Van Gerpen, Senate floor debate, 2016.03.01].

25 Senators and Governor Daugaard evidently hate freedom and the troops.

Senator Van Gerpen posits an inverse relation between taxes and freedom: if one goes up, the other goes down. f = 1/t.

Senator Van Gerpen’s position is wrong.

First, let us test his statement in the extremes. Imagine the state took all of your wealth in taxes. That would take away most if not all of your practical freedom, as you could not buy groceries or pay your mortgage. That’s clearly a bad situation.

But suppose the state taxed none of your wealth, or anyone else’s. If taxes go to zero, freedom goes to… what? infinity? No. More accurately interpreting the mathematical expression above, we say the f of your freedom becomes undefined. Collect no taxes, and every public institution that allows you to secure, cultivate, and enjoy your wealth disappears. Schools, roads, police, courts, parks, laws, the Constitution itself—all become toothless or nonexistent. Whatever “freedom” you retain in a universally tax-free life extends only as far as the height of the walls you can build and the range of the rocks you can throw to stave off the barbarians who want to crush you, take your stuff, and hear your women lament. The freedom to hack away at invaders with your sword to hang onto a half-canteen of dirty rainwater isn’t really freedom. See also Thomas Hobbes and Mad Max.

So somewhere between the state of nature and the soldier-crushing tyranny Senator Van Gerpen envisions arising from House Bill 1182, it seems reasonable to posit that there is some level of taxation that gives us more practical freedom. When we stop barbarizing each other and say, “Hey! Cease fire! Let’s make a state!”, when we collect those first dollars (diamonds? beaver pelts?) to pay for our first cop, our first school, our first jail, our first city snowplow, our lives get better. With our first tax, we buy our first liberty—not just the raw, wild freedom of hunting rabbit and then choosing whether to fight or flee when meaner dudes show up, but real liberty, with rights backed up by law and shared institutions that we create and support with our taxes.

The relationship between freedom and taxes appears not to be inverse but a hill-shaped curve, with zeroes at the extremes (zero freedom with universal tax rates of 0% and 100%) and some peak freedom somewhere in the middle. Senator Van Gerpen himself tacitly acknowledges this truth when he speaks of using existing funds to fund teacher pay raises. Those funds come from taxes that had to have been increased at some point in the past. By Van Gerpen’s Law, those increases should have decreased freedom. Yet Van Gerpen doesn’t propose repealing those taxes; apparently he finds some increase in taxes and the concomitant (by his thinking) decrease in freedom acceptable.

The question Senator Van Gerpen ought to ask about the HB 1182 tax increase is the same question we ask when we buy burgers and cars: “What do we get for our money?”

With HB 1182, we get $67.4 million to support raising South Dakota’s teacher pay 20%. We get to shed our 30-year status as the lowest paying state for teachers in America. We take our boldest swing ever at ending the teacher shortage and making sure our public schools can keep quality teachers in every classroom. We reinforce our schools and ensure the next generation of kids can get a good public education, which will be the basis for their future freedom.

The price tag for those gains: $212 a year for middle-income families. $4 bucks a week.

Senator Van Gerpen and the rest of us should all watch closely to see if the new sales tax and funding formula produce the results in our teaching workforce that we seek. But Senator Van Gerpen’s abstract contention that “When you increase tax, you decrease freedom” is as incorrect as saying that spending money on a car is always a bad deal. We give up our hard-earned money to buy cars to get us to work and take vacations. We give up our hard-earned money to pay taxes to support public schools that make all citizens richer and freer. The additional tax we will start paying in June will improve South Dakota’s overall freedom.


  1. mike from iowa 2016-03-02

    Another wingnut on drugs. Check back to dumbass dubya’s term as unelected Potus to see what happens when you DON”T raise taxes when we send young Americans to die for no reason at all. They weren’t protecting our freedumbs,they were protecting massive tax cuts for the koch bros X 2!

  2. memommamo 2016-03-02

    I used to live in VanGerpen’s district. He is as backwards as he sounds. The real problem is no one has enough gumption to run and so we get this podunk 89 year old backwards thinking farmer. (sidenote, I don’t actually know how old he is, but he is old – and he’s pretty much a career politician).

  3. Rorschach 2016-03-02

    Van Gerpen has sponsored and voted for a lot of bills that limit people’s freedom.

  4. Donald Pay 2016-03-02

    One has to assume that Iowa and Minnesota, for example, must be farther down the line to tyranny, since they actually tax residents to pay for state services. Yet, when you cross state borders you don’t see Minnesotans stumbling around in chains. In fact, you see a pretty prosperous state, far more prosperous and free, in fact, than South Dakota.

    Minnesota tax themselves to pay for their own services, plus they kick in money through federal tax remittances to pay for the services South Dakotans refuse to pay for themselves. South Dakotans, then, are deadbeats. I guess you could say that South Dakota has been paying Minnesota back by sending good teachers across the state line. And, I guess to some legislators, this trade is alright with them. Who, though, is more free? Ask someone in the LGBT community, or your own children, who can’t wait to get out of state.

    What’s the relationship between freedom and taxes? It’s much more complicated than a hill. If you tax the poor at 20 percent, you can end up starving a poor family. If you tax a billionaire at 20 percent, you barely scratch his standard of living. In South Dakota, the tax system is set up for maximum freedom for the ultra wealthy and very little at all for the poor.

  5. Roger Cornelius 2016-03-02

    Thank you Van Gerpen, by your own admission that taxes take away freedoms you have revealed that this state’s republican legislature and governors have been taking away our freedoms for the past 40 years. Remember that it has been the dominant party that raises taxes.

    There isn’t a doubt in my mind that we could find excess money in the state budget to finance teacher pay, why do republicans want to just talk about it and are not willing to find all that extra cash?

    I can assure you that nobody would agree to any budget cuts or transfer for teacher pay because they have a vested or financial interest in some program or contract that must be protected.

    It is past time that our legislature and governor start finding those crony capitalist and put an end to their corruption that could easily pay for K-12 education. If you think they’ll do it, think again.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-02

    “…Minnesotans stumbling around in chains”—hee hee! I quite genuinely Laughed Out Load. Thank you, Donald, for that apt image, and the very apt counterexample to Van Gerpen’s Law.

    And yes, the hill does look different for each household for level of taxation. We need to careful identify the optimal points on the different curves for each income group, then make sure those optima sum to the funding we need for the optimal general welfare.

  7. Darin Larson 2016-03-02

    Yep, he has big stones to vote for a road tax increase last year without a whimper and then tell us the teacher pay tax increase this year is reducing our freedom and unpatriotic.

    Roads are worth fighting for ladies and gentlemen; teacher pay and education not so much– Van Gerpen’s law.

  8. O 2016-03-02

    Darin has hit on something others have spoken to: how people who are against taxes (when it goes to education) have voted before on increasing taxes that go other places. I believe that would be an interesting consistency map to see.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-02

    I’ll work on that map for this year’s teacher pay and last year’s roads. Immediately, I notice that last year’s road bill, 2015 SB 1, underwent 18 amendments. This year’s HB 1182 saw three. Last year’s road bill was a larger net tax increase, and legislators worked harder to work out flaws (and raise the speed limit).

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-02

    Five Senators voted AYE on last year’s road tax increase but NAY on this year’s sales tax increase for teachers:

    1. Phyllis Heineman
    2. Ried Holien
    3. David Novstrup
    4. David Omdahl
    5. Bill Van Gerpen

    14 House members went YEA for roads but NAY for teachers:

    1. Arch Beal
    2. Dennis Feickert
    3. Brian Gosch (SDEA should’ve supported raising speed limit to 85)
    4. Don Haggar
    5. Steven Haugaard
    6. Leslie Heinemann
    7. Roger Hunt
    8. Kris Langer
    9. Lee Qualm
    10. Tim Rounds
    11. Jim Stalzer
    12. Mike Verchio
    13. Steve Westra
    14. John Wiik

    Except for Feickert, these flippers are Republicans.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-02

    On the flip side of this flip side, 4 Senators voted NAY on last year’s road tax but AYE on this year’s sales tax increase for teachers:

    1. Jim Bradford
    2. Troy Heinert
    3. Jim Peterson
    4. Billie Sutton

    2 House members went NAY for roads but AYE for teachers:

    1. Paula Hawks
    2. Kevin Killer

    All six of these are Democrats.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-02

    Voting NAY on both roads and teachers are the following 5 Senators:

    1. Brock Greenfield
    2. Jenna Haggar
    3. Phil Jensen
    4. Jeff Monroe
    5. Betty Olson

    …and these 8 Representatives:

    1. Tom Brunner
    2. Chip Campbell
    3. Lynne DiSanto
    4. Lana Greenfield
    5. Isaac Latterell
    6. Sam Marty
    7. Liz May
    8. Lance Russell
  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-02

    Perhaps Senator Van Gerpen was reviewing David Montgomery’s 2013 article on the evolution of attitudes toward taxation since ancient times:

    Today, we live in a republic with universal suffrage — and direct taxation. Part of the rhetoric used to back taxation is the idea that it’s the civic duty of a citizen to pay their taxes — a possible evolution of the earlier attitudes about the obligation of citizens to give to the state.

    But notice that direct taxation — the income tax, the estate tax, the capital gains tax — provokes far more indignation and opposition than indirect taxes like those on sales. In some sectors, the rhetoric used to describe the income tax is that of government “confiscation” of private wealth — perhaps a necessary evil, but an evil nonetheless, and one to be kept to an absolute minimum. As one can see from history, this indignation is of ancient provenance [David Montgomery, “On Taxes, Tribes, and Freedom,” Political Smokeout, 201302.05].

    Van Gerpen’s indignation remains, but he has perhaps forgotten that taxation in a democracy is itself a choice, an exercise of democratic freedom.

  14. Liberty Dick 2016-03-02

    This was all song and dance from Van Gerpen… He voted for this in committee and realized it had enough support he could save face in a conservative district to oppose on the floor.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-02

    LibDick, I thought he made clear in committee that he opposed the bill but was moving it to the floor only to allow a broader discussion and maybe amendments to get rid of the tax.

  16. Curt Jopling 2016-03-02

    I’d like to know who and how Van Gerpen thinks we are paying for those troops “over there”. Oh I forgot. We are putting it on our children’s credit card.

  17. Jim Sheehan 2016-03-02

    This is quite a long article to wade into. However, a few points I’d like to offer. Freedom isn’t quantifiable. I suppose death is the freedom ‘infinity’ you mention. However, when you create something through your own industry, but then there is an involuntary surrender of it: that is the loss of freedom Sen. Van Gerpen is referring to. The natural born contract we have as a citizen of the United States ensures we abide by the laws of the land and pay our taxes, but in return we receive protection of our rights and representation. Anybody straight off the street can become a legislator and simply raise taxes as a band-aid for poor budgeting and political weakness against lobbyists. Any legislator that wishes to promote a soundness in how we manage our state resources gets my vote. The Senator has not promoted paying no taxes as you insinuate and you seek to frame his argument in a frame that is false.

    Your point about equating buying a car as a loss of freedom through the expense incurred isn’t correct because the purchase was a free action of the individual.

    I thought the Senator gave a great speech based on a point of view that is easy to recognize as American political thought and brilliant based on its simple truth.

  18. larry kurtz 2016-03-02


  19. larry kurtz 2016-03-02

    Hey Sheehan, which beast would jesus bleed?

  20. larry kurtz 2016-03-02

    John Birch is the knothole where liberty is raped by the one percent.

  21. grudznick 2016-03-02

    Where’s Bree?

  22. Mike Kokenge 2016-03-02

    $212 a year for middle income families? That’s a little vague. Can you define middle? For most kids who cannot afford an $80,000 college education, regardless of how great your high school teachers are, this is the reality. A $9 to $10 an hour entry level job. $212 a year may not mean much to most of us here, but it certainly does to those who can least afford it.

  23. Darin Larson 2016-03-02

    Wow, the moral outrage around here for the poor is palpable!

    I guess the problem I have with people defending Van Gerpen and those similarly situated is they have made the tax system and the rules of the system and frankly have set the limit of what can be changed about the system because of their political power. Now should we also entertain their complaints about the system they have made?

    For instance, why does the sales tax apply to food if these legislators truly want to help the poor? How many of them have signed on to get rid of the sales tax on food?

    I can’t wait to see Van Gerpen and Stace Nelson debate.

  24. grudznick 2016-03-02

    Mr. Van Gerpen is an established arm wrestling champion. I think he and that young Mr. Nelson fellow who went all insaner than most should just sit down at Thirsty’s and wrestle over a big plate of wings.

  25. Caleb Evenson 2016-03-02

    Jim Sheehan, I see in the article no equation between purchasing cars and paying taxes, though I do see juxtaposition of the two actions. Perhaps you misunderstood the author’s point.

    On that note, yes, freedom is not quantifiable, but similarly one’s “own industry” is surrounded and supported by some very complicated and hard to measure networks.

  26. Jim Sheehan 2016-03-02

    Buying a car is voluntary. Taxation is involuntary. By mentioning the two together as if they’re related in any way is my objection. A better one would be “It’s like saying every National Draft was a bad idea.” A National Draft is involuntary. He could have simply stated that not every tax is a bad one, which although is deeply opinionated would be also easily conceded.

  27. Darin Larson 2016-03-03

    Mr. Van Gerpen said that the legislature broke its promise to give education the lesser of 3% or the CPI when they cut education (10% state and 8.6% overall) in FY2011. So, did he vote to restore the funding and keep the promise in any of the following 5 years. Nope! He was so broken up about the broken promise that he waited more than 5 years to mention it. I understand, it’s hard to talk when you are all choked up! Sniffle, sniffle. And it’s certainly hard to look under rocks when your eyes are welled up with tears about promises broken.

    Van Gerpen–“for once let’s fund [education] like it needs to be funded.” You mean Mr. Van Gerpen we should fund education based upon your idea of a series of one-time money grabs and fluctuating funds that you found under various rocks? And no one will miss these funds that you raided(said no one ever)?

    He actually thinks he is the education funding champion. Unfortunately, he is the old guy thinking himself generous to hand a kid a nickel for a fountain drink, but it’s 2016 and the fountain drink costs $1.59.

    These living dinosaurs seem to forget one thing as they pontificate about the evils of another 1/2 penny tax and the alternative miracles the 1/2 penny could do if not given to teachers. That thing which seems to be forgotten like passed gas by an Alzheimer’s patient is that we are taking four pennies from people right now. Where is the “I have a dream” speeches about getting rid of the 4 penny tax? What about the poor people paying the 4 penny tax? What about the disadvantaged kids paying seven percent in Sioux Falls right now? Where is the righteous indignation at the evil system? If a 1/2 penny reduces freedom, surely 4 or 7 pennies darn near kills it?

    I have a dream that these same dinosaurs get a chance next year to pontificate on the evils of the other 4 or 7 pennies charged our fair citizenry and that a progressive taxation system springs forth like a tsunami leaving nothing but fairness in its wake. A person can dream can’t they?

  28. Don Coyote 2016-03-03

    @Darin Larson: “For instance, why does the sales tax apply to food if these legislators truly want to help the poor?”

    South Dakota has a broader sales tax base than Minnesota and therefore Minnesota has to have a higher overall rate (4% vs 6.875%). The food tax is just a strawman argument. A broader tax base correctly applied should keep the overall taxation rate lower and make everybody have a stake in the game. If the interstate sales tax rate should be passed by Congress then the rate should drop since the base has grown. It won’t and there should lie the attack for the Democrats to hit the Republicans with. However Libs won’t because their desire to grow government is greater than the Repubs desire.

  29. Steve Sibson 2016-03-03

    ““When you increase tax, you decrease freedom” is as incorrect as saying that spending money on a car is always a bad deal.”

    Strawman argument Cory. Unless the car is going to a teacher who already makes $25 per hour per the taxing authority of government.

  30. mike from iowa 2016-03-03

    Cutting taxes decreases freeumb. Pretty obvious to anyone who has a working brain cell,taxcuts handed the 1% more control of our gubmint, They have the gold,they make the rules. The rest of America is SOL. Fortunately,Obie can correct this disparity by appointing a true constitutional scholar to the Scotus and then reversing the damage activist right wing nut job justices have foisted on us. You go,Obie.

  31. mike from iowa 2016-03-03

    DC- A broader tax base correctly applied should keep the overall taxation rate lower and make everybody have a stake in the game.

    You could certainly argue the same point for single payer health insurance,but I doubt that wingnuts will.

  32. Owen 2016-03-03

    Van Gerpen is my Senator and I’m going to email him. Just have to choose my words.

  33. Disgusted Dakotan 2016-03-03

    Hmmmmmm! Did he have an Epiphany? Didn’t he vote FOR the bill in committee? Why the mysterious and impassioned 180? He was fine voting for one of the largest tax increase bills last year? And for one of the largest fee increases too?

  34. Curt 2016-03-03

    Nice catch, DD. Sen Van Gerpen did vote aye in the Appropriations Comm.

  35. Stumcfar 2016-03-03

    Tax your way to prosperity, the liberal way!!

  36. MD 2016-03-03

    I was in Cuba a few years ago, and I met with a group of my Cuban peers and I asked them what they liked most about Cuba, and I got a surprising answer.
    “I love my freedom”
    That was the day that I learned freedom was subjective.

  37. Roger Cornelius 2016-03-03

    Once again I have to ask, what party in South Dakota grew government the fastest?
    By all accounts Mike Rounds (racist) holds the record for nearly doubling the size of government, I believe he is a republican.
    In the last 40 years what party is responsible for every tax and fee increase in state government. Here’s a clue, it wasn’t the Democrats.
    Even if Democrats for some reason were able to grow government the citizens would see some benefits from that growth.
    republicans have historically grown government to line their own pockets and that of their friends and relatives.

  38. mikel 2016-03-03

    The country has changed, the goal now as it seems in everything is what taxes can we raise on X to spend on Y.

    How many times can money change hands without ever providing any growth? Alan Greenspan is correct when he says until the entitlement mentality changes we won’t see rapid growth anymore.
    Productivity declines, taxes are raised, and ultimately GDP growth slows.

  39. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-03

    Jim: “Freedom isn’t quantifiable—” then stop right there. Measuring an increase or decrease requires quantification. Senator Van Gerpen’s statement is nonsense.

    Jim, at no point do I say that the words, “Let’s have no taxes” came out of Senator Van Gerpen’s mouth. I examine his actual statement by testing the logical conclusions that flow from that statement and find his statement leads to illogical conclusions.

    While this isn’t my main argument, I could argue that taxes are as voluntary as buying a car, at least in South Dakota, where infrastructure and commerce and jobs are built around the assumption that you’ll have a car. From the other side, there are many ways I can choose not to pay taxes. I can grow my won food to avoid paying the food tax. I can buy less new stuff and shop more at rummage sales to avoid paying sales tax. I can cut back my spending and limit my income to remain within the limits of the personal exemption, the standard deduction, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

    My main argument in the tax-car analogy, Jim, is that Van Gerpen’s Law seems to hinge on the idea that money leaving my pocket means freedom leaving my pocket (or my soul, or wherever I keep my freedom). Van Gerpen’s Law assumes that I get no freedom in return for the money (and choices!) I surrender. But when I buy a car, I can suddenly do a lot of things I couldn’t do sans car. Similarly, when I pay my $212 extra per year, I get a bigger teacher labor pool and better teachers who stick around in our South Dakota schools longer, delivering better service to our communities than will happen if we remain at last in the nation for teacher pay. That sounds like more freedom to me.

    And yeah, Stu, in this case, paying more taxes does pave the way to more prosperity. Notice that I’m not proposing some ding-a-ling universal rule that every tax increase leads to a freedom increase. Heck no—tax people too much, and they can’t invest or eat. I’m saying that this tax increase, in this policy context, offers enough benefit to outweigh the cost (at least until we can elect legislators with the intelligence and courage to work for real progressive tax reform).

  40. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-03

    Curt, credit cards are just great for our freedom, aren’t they? ;-) That’s what MIke Huether would tell people before sending them their first bill for 79.9% interest.

  41. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-03

    Mike Kokenge, click the link on that $212 a year. That will explain that I get my data from the South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute. Click on this link straight to SDBPI’s Feb. 7, 2016, post on this topic, and you can see their definition of the income quintiles and smaller divisions they use to figure tax burdens under HB 1182 (and under the superior, less regressive SB151):

    • Lowest 20%: making less than $24K/year
    • Second 20%: $24K–$47K
    • Middle 20%: $47K–$72K
    • Fourth 20%: $72K–$112K
    • Next 15%: $112K–$199K
    • Next 5%: $199K–$551K
    • Top 1%: $551K+

    Actually, my family is floating around the boundary between second and middle quintile. I’m being optimistic about folks ringing the Blog Tip Jar!

    I consider $212 a significant chunk of money, but I agree that paying $212 hurts me much less than it hurts some guy working for $10 an hour. That guy, multiplying that wage out to $20K per year, is in the lowest 20%. According to the SDBPI analysis, that guy will pay $72 more each year in sales tax under HB 1182. He’d have paid $46 more a year under SB 151, the Democratic plan (as I said, less regressive).

    I know there’s still a debate to be had with Senator VanGerpen and everyone else (except for Jim, who says freedom can’t be quantified) about just how much freedom I lose paying $212 a year and how much freedom the minimum wage guy loses paying $72. There may even be an argument that minimum wage guy loses more freedom than I even though he pays only one third the tax that I do.

    But maybe the poor guy gains more relative freedom than I do with the benefit of free universal K-12 education. If I get stinking rich from blogging, I can afford to send my daughter to private school or hire a governess. The minimum wage guy doesn’t have that option: if he doesn’t have public school, his kids are hosed.

    Costs and benefits to raising taxes may be relative to each citizen’s situation. That’s all the more reason that Van Gerpen’s Law is a useless oversimplification.

  42. Jim Sheehan 2016-03-03

    Cory, in order to quantify you must have a range that you can set your variable against real or natural numbers. You never have your range so how can you quantify? Relativism is more useful here. Since Senator Van Gerpen said that you’ll have less freedom with a rise in taxes doesn’t lead to the conclusion that you’ll have zero freedom at 100% taxation as you’ve concluded.

    No, you can’t reasonably grow your own food and take care of your needs without encountering the sales tax, and actually you just coerced the behavior of someone to consider doing so in order to avoid the sales tax therefore affecting the individuals freedom. If entirely withdrawing your purchasing power from a community is the only way to avoid a tax then I’d say that is an involuntary tax from a practical standpoint.

    “…Van Gerpen’s Law seems to hinge on the idea that money leaving my pocket means freedom leaving my pocket (or my soul, or wherever I keep my freedom).” Money is being ‘taken’ from your pocket, not simply leaving. Control of your property is something the founders and Thomas Paine wrote quite a bit on paper about. It was also the original entry as a fundamental right before being replaced with “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. It was changed since there were wise founders that didn’t want the slave owners in the South to use it in their debates as an aid. Also, you elude that freedom cannot be quantifiable since you mention the soul which also cannot be quantifiable.

    The freedom you receive after having your money forcibly taken from you was not asked for by the individual then therefore is unwelcome. It happens often. A tyrant that takes your property but then tells you how fortunate you are that he’s looking out for you because you enjoy new benefits won’t impress the victim. It didn’t the original colonists either when Parliament taxed them.

    You mix up assumed prosperity with freedom. Freedom can bring great failure, but the opportunity to take personal risk in this short life is important to Americans.

    Have you addressed any of Senator Van Gerpens proposals for a reallocation of funds? Have you looked into the budget yourself and sought out any misspent funds to reapply to the teachers fund? Have you decided there are no misspent funds? If there are then why can’t we use them? I stat that it’s obvious that you have no interest in doing so since you are for the entire amount to be attained through taxation without alternative. That’ll be your answer for the next budget problem.

    This entire article is centered on a phrase, or understanding, you had a philosophical disagreement with and missed the long argument the Senator made. He spoke for quite a while and you speak about seconds of it. You wish to ignore the substance of his words to avoid the argument by way of offering a circus distraction.

  43. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-03

    Dang, you’re particular, Jim.

    Quantify: Van Gerpen doesn’t set a range. Thus, his statement is nonsense, and I could have stopped right after the video. (Speak up sooner next time, Jim!)

    If Van Gerpen doesn’t have to set a range, I don’t have to set one, either. And I don’t firmly set a zero on either end of my freedom scale. I contend that zero taxes (and the zero government arising therefrom) means drastically limited practical freedom. I contend the same for the other end of the scale, although even if I am taxed 100%, a decent socialist government might still give me a good education and time off from the kolkhoz to go fishing.

    Your indictment of my self-sufficiency is nonsense. A guy can garden and weave and engage in other forms of self-sufficiency without exiling himself from the community. It’s a heck of a lot of work, but he might still have time to chat with neighbors, help with barn-raisings, bring extra jars of tomatoes to his friends, etc. Sales tax is technically voluntary… but if you want to talk practical freedom, then I go back to the point I was making, that in South Dakota, buying a car is as voluntary as paying sales tax—i.e., hardly, because lots of South Dakotans will contend they can’t reasonably live without a car.

    (By the way, Jim, are you running for Senate? I could use a debate opponent in Pierre.)

    Money is not being taken from my pocket in the way I might pick your pocket (if Bree weren’t watching and waiting to hit me upside the head with her branding iron). Money is being taken by the state, which is acting on the authority we have granted it. The government is us, remember? So really, when we pay taxes, we are picking our own pockets, which isn’t pickpocketing at all. There ain’t no tyrant, and the taking ain’t forcible.

    Addressed Van Gerpen’s proposals—wait a minute! You drag me down this splendid path of philosophical contemplation and parsing, and then you whip around and ask a practical budget question? Holy cow! That’s not fair! :-D

    No, I haven’t addressed Van Gerpen’s policy specifics, not in this post, because this post is about one key phrase, which Van Gerpen himself said was the most important reason to vote against HB 1182. The specific niggledy-pigglediess about pennies under pebbles (pardon me, $450 million under Van Gerpen’s big stones) bear not one jot on the great rhetorical climax to which Van Gerpen built. He didn’t consider his counterplan good enough to offer as a formal amendment. His counterplan was also based on existing revenues that constituted some dreadful past decrease of freedom, so even to consider his counterplan, we still must first dispose of his principle. If Van Gerpen’s Law justifies booting HB 1182, it justifies rejecting his plan, refunding all the taxes on which it would have been based, and giving us all back the freedom fought for by our brave soldiers (who must now go without paychecks and cobble their own combat boots).

  44. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-03

    mikel, my goal is not to raise taxes. My goal is to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare. Dang, that takes money!

  45. Rob Haggar 2016-03-04

    Just a math critique–

    As the (x) of any inverse function approaches zero, the f(x) approaches positive infinity.

    By your theorem, as taxes become zero, then freedom becomes infinite.

  46. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-04

    Rob, that’s what I suggest is the logical conclusion of Van Gerpen’s Law:

    “If taxes go to zero, freedom goes to… what? infinity?”

    I then use the preferred algebra-class term undefined to emphasize the detachment of the Van Gerpen Law from practical political reality. As taxes become zero, practical freedom clearly does not become infinite.

  47. mike from iowa 2016-03-04

    My goal is to provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare. Dang, that takes money!

    Wingnuts don’t see the constitution as half full,they see it as half missing-the way they view the 2nd Amendment sans the important part about well regulated militias. Or promoting welfare for any but the koch bros. Or noticing that crimes against humanity -wingnut style-aren’t impeachable offenses.

  48. Rob Haggar 2016-03-04

    I guess I didn’t catch that– I am thoroughly embarrassed. I agree, though, that it would be interesting to find some “ideal tax rate” that maximized freedom.

  49. bearcreekbat 2016-03-04

    First, Cory is right – we are not “forced” to pay taxes against our will any more than we are “forced” not to commit crimes. Instead we voluntarily have entered into a compact where we elect representatives to enact our laws, including laws requiring the collection of taxes to fund both “entitlements” and discretionary spending.

    Next, Mikel references “the entitlement mentality” as if that is a bad way to think. I have seen others make the same assertion, but it makes very little sense if you understand what “entitlement” actually means and how an “entitlement mentality” works to establish fairness and the rule of law.

    When a government policy is enacted to decide how to distribute tax dollars, this policy can either grant administrators full discretion in deciding who receives these dollars or the policy can set forth rules that must be met to qualify for these dollars. A system that uses actual written rules, rather than an administrator’s discretion, to identify beneficiaries is classified as an “entitlement” program. This means that if an applicant for benefits satisfies the rules he or she is “entitled” to the benefits and no administrator may arbitrarily deny his or her application.

    In a discretionary system, in contrast to an entitlement system, an administrator has discretion and can award benefits to anyone he chooses, including family members, cronies, or political friends, etc.

    So what is the better policy – a entitlement mentality where there are written qualification rules for everyone to see and abide by, or a discretionary mentality without enforceable written rules to limit and guide the authority of an administrator?

  50. O 2016-03-04

    As I listened to Van Gerpen’s plea I thought two things:

    First, our soldiers “fighting over there” are fighting for more than our freedoms; they fight for –in a larger sense our whole way of life — a way of life that includes the range of social structures we promote to sustain the blessings of liberty and welfare for all our citizens. The great social experiment of The United States cannot be reduced to absolute freedom.

    Second, he is right — on face money I spend is a reduction in future choices I can make. But ALL money I spend is that reduction. Inflation reduces freedom and sales increase freedom. To that end, employment is a reduction in my freedom in that I cannot use that time in other ways so by definition a reduction. But what he leaves out is the value proposition (the same value proposition always left out in the “No new taxes” mantra): “is it worth it?” In a vacuum, taxes and reductions of freedom are bad PERIOD; but we are not in a vacuum; we are making choices of value. My groceries cost me freedom and liberty — I am forced to give my time and treasure to purchase them, but that is OK, I like to eat. Buying the new T. Swift album for my daughter’s birthday cost me potential liberty (I now cannot contribute $5.99 to the Trump ’16 campaign), but I am OK with making that value evaluation.

    Money, time, speech, liberty are ALL things we trade every day for what we value.

  51. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-05

    No problem, Rob—my eyes spin reading some blog posts as well. I’m glad we agree on the basic concept here. Van Gerpen’s Law suggests the ideal tax rate is 0%. That is clearly false. 100% is also suboptimal. Finding the ideal tax rate, the proper balance of tasks for the government and tasks for the private sector, is our great challenge.

  52. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-05

    “Is it worth it?” Good summation of the real question, O, the question that Van Gerpen ignores in his narrowminded effort to fight teacher pay. Alas for us progressives, we’ve asked that question and caught hell from some friends, like Lanny, who say the regressive tax is an absolute evil that cannot be worth the gains for teachers HB 1182 will fund. Us and our darned absolutes….

    Bear, good explanation of the entitlement question. I would contend that when we pay taxes, we are all entitled to get our money’s worth in public goods. We are all entitled to see that every penny we pay the taxman comes back to us in the form of schools, roads, cops, parks, and doesn’t get funneled into some crony’s pockets.

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