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Sunday, September 7, 2003

By Steven Taylor @ 11:08 am

I had written this for publication in support of the upcoming vote in Alabama, but it wasn’t picked up. So, here it is:

Will Alabama Make the Rational Choice?

There is a school of thought in the discipline of political science called rational choice theory which argues that the best way to understand political behavior is to understand that individuals are rational (i.e., use reason to make decisions) and are self-interested (and therefore weigh options in terms of cost and benefit to self). Therefore, says this theory, the best way to understand political action is to understand how individuals perceive their own self-interest. Further, this theory assumes that people will make the right choice (i.e., the choice that is in their best interest) if they have adequate information. The upcoming September 9th vote will be an interesting test of this theory, and perhaps provide some theorists somewhere with quite a bit of grist for their academic mill.

I say this because it is quite possible that many Alabamians will not vote in their own self-interest in this election. Now, it may be that many have philosophical problems with taxes, or with particular elements of this plan. Further, it may be that many voters will oppose the plan because they honestly believe that this state does not need the revenue. I am not talking about these people. I am talking about the fact that if one looks at the polls, and listens to the arguments of many of the opposition, one wonders if, in fact, all the information on this plan is penetrating the public consciousness.

First, the vast, vast majority of Alabamians would receive tax cuts. This is especially true of lower income votes who, ironically, oppose the plan in large numbers. Families with one child start getting an income tax cut at the $30,000 level, and families with three children receive an income tax cut at the $50,000 level. Further, if ones home is valued at $50,000 or less, ones property taxes will fall, and the increases for homes valued in the $100,000 range are modest. Further, the first 200 acres of a family farmstead will be exempt from property taxes. To see this data visit the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabamas (PARCA) website at Samford University. However, to watch and listen to the opposition groups, one would think that the burden of this plan falls on the middle class and the poor. It does not. If one wishes to make a reasoned choice, get the facts, and ignore the commercials.

Second, consider who it is that is opposed to this package. One of the more prominent commercials on television has been the one featuring cigar-smoking insiders who want to bilk dollars from hard-working citizens. These ads are paid for by a group called The Tax Accountability Coalition, which sounds like a nice grassroots organization looking out for the defenseless little guy, protecting him from the wily special interests which crowd the street of Montgomery. However, if one does a little digging, one finds that the largest contributors to this organization is the Alabama Farmers Federation, through its country chapters, and their affiliate, ALFA Insurance. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a group of individuals seeking to promote their best interests in government, it is rather difficult to consider these organizations little guysindeed, the Alabama Farmers Federation is one of the largest special interest groups in the state. According to the Secretary of States office, other key contributors to the opposition include Southtrust Bank and Gulf States Paper Corp. Again, these contributors, who gave tens of thousands of dollars, are just as much involved in Montgomery politics as any other group, making their commercials, which claim to eschew insider politics, hypocritical at best, and purposefully misleading at the worst.

So, if one is motivated to vote no by a misguided belief that the yes forces represent special interests and politicians, and the no forces represent only the little guy, think again. Find out who it is that is opposed and what interests they are protecting. Information is key for making a choice. Remember: ones own interest is vital; other peoples interests are special. The question in regards to the September vote is whether the interests one is voting for are indeed ones own (and the states), or whether one is being persuaded to protect one specific group of interests, i.e., keeping property taxes low for large farms. (Again: under the plan, the first 200 acres of a residential farmstead will be exempt from property taxes. This plan does not target small family farms).

Now, if one is happy with current state of education, public safety, and social services for the elderly in our state, then voting no makes sense, and it makes sense if one believes that the new taxes would truly damage ones livelihood, or even if one is convinced philosophically that the government simply doesnt have any right whatsoever to new revenues (and one is willing to accept the consequences of that position).

However, if you are of the opinion that change is needed, then voting yes may be our only chance for years to come. If you are of the opinion that Alabamas economy needs help, and if you know that our schools are in dire need of development, then maintaining the status quo makes no sense. Things wont change for the better if we, the voters of the state of Alabama, reject this plan. Indeed, they will get worse. Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We have done the same thing for decadesunder-funded our schools and hoped that they would eventually improve. They havent . We arent ranked fiftieth, or near fiftieth in key educational indicators by happenstance.

So, if you think that change is needed, doing the same old thing would be tantamount to insanity. And it certainly wouldnt be rational.

Filed under: My Columns
  • Insults Unpunished linked with Tax Increases In Alabama
  • Signifying Nothing linked with Rationality and taxes
  • Modulator linked with Late Night Reading
  • Insults Unpunished linked with Paul Krugman Decides To Become An Economist Again

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1 Comment

  1. Comment by Anonymous — Tuesday, August 10, 2004 @ 3:10 pm

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