Double jeopardy: because fair is fair!

Mr Smith burns out

Last year was good to me financially, even if was another annus horribilis (Latin for “shit show”) in almost every other respect.

I’m not one of those people for whom money simply materializes out of the blue: I’m one of those unfortunates who has to actually go out and earn it. No work, no money. More work, more money. Crazy, right? I was born unlucky. You fat cats with your money trees and hot and cold running cash faucets don’t know what working chumps like me have to deal with.

So when I say “last year was good to me financially,” I’m actually saying “I worked my butt off last year and was compensated for the effort.”

Naturally, the more one earns in Denmark the higher the tax rate one pays. It’s obviously unfair—fair would be taxing everyone at the same rate. Financial types call that scenario of squeezing citizens harder as they earn more money “progressive” or “graduated” taxation, which is perfect. Of course it’s progressive to punish people for working harder to earn more money.

It’s a little galling that the harder I work the more of my money Denmark takes—really I should have said last year was good to Denmark financially, since the state got more of my money than I did—but the state then pours salt into that open wound by simultaneously depriving me of the benefits my taxes are paying for.

See, there’s this thing in Denmark called børnepenge, which literally means “children money.”

Children money is a quarterly payment that all parents are entitled to for each of their children under the age of 18. It’s a staggeringly stupid system—the state takes your money, pays administrators to shuffle it around in the state coffers, then gives you some of it back in quarterly installments to help finance the raising of your own children.

However, as I mentioned last week, money is fungible, so there’s no guarantee that parents are going to spend that quarterly “bonus” on anything related to their children. I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, here’s table from a site I’m unfamiliar with called Tigerspringer. It shows how much money Danish parents are paid, as an annual amount and as the actual amount paid out per quarter, for each child of the four age groups:

The quarterly payment for an infant comes to about 678 bucks. More than 2500 bucks a year.

The government could simply lower taxes, thereby allowing parents more cash on hand every month (and reducing its own payroll by no longer having to pay people to manage the whole ungodly børnepenge system), but then they wouldn’t have the pleasure of sending us money to show us how wonderfully benevolent they are.

Now, this children money gets doled out to everyone at the same time, so guess what? All the stores have big sales on everything right when the money’s being handed out. Televisions. Stereos. Cars. Travel agencies. Liquor. Strip clubs. I’m sure even the drug dealers offer specials. And why wouldn’t they? Every parent in Denmark just got a little extra cash and is therefore feeling a little flush. Baby may need a new pair of shoes, but so does Mommy, and Daddy’s got his eye on a new leather jacket…

When you point this out to a solidly red Dane—Danish red, the very opposite of American red—they’ll browbeat you for your inability to understand that children can be very expensive for the poor, and that it’s hard for someone who’s barely making ends meet, or not making them meet at all, to accumulate a big enough pile of money to keep their kids nicely fed clothed, or take them to a movie now and then, or buy them an iPhone.

Which is another entirely stupid argument: very well then, instead of showering all Danish families with this money, why not just provide larger amounts to those who really can’t scrape by without it? It would be a lot cheaper, meaning you could tax less and still provide more support where it’s really needed.

Impossible!, you’ll be told, this is Denmark, we must treat everyone the same!

Except we don’t treat everyone the same. I worked my ass off to earn more money for my family, and our reward was that Denmark decided to take even more money away from me and my children—and to deprive us of børnepenge.

Do you get how obscene that is?

“Because you work so very hard to earn more money, we’re going to take more from you. And you know what? We’re also going to withhold the benefits you’re paying for, even though you’re paying more for them.”

Seriously. They get me coming and going. They take more of money and give me fewer benefits.

Because the system is so fair.

And this is one of the great flaws of democracy: unless you establish Constitutional prohibitions on this kind of obvious unfairness it will always and inevitably arise.

A familiar passage comes to mind:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; From spiritual faith to great courage; From courage to liberty; From liberty to abundance; From abundance to selfishness; From selfishness to apathy; From apathy to dependence; From dependence back into bondage.

Preach, Lord Woodhouselee, preach!

(By which I mean, Preach, Elmer T. Peterson and Henning W. Prentiss Jr, preach!)

The second sentence of the passage hardly needed anyone to say it: given the opportunity, of course people will always vote themselves more stuff. Through the election of representatives who promise to give them more stuff… and the unelection of reps who threaten to take stuff away.

Does that really doom democracy? No: but it makes it dependent on a certain selfless civic virtue that’s hard to find and even harder to maintain. I’ll be happy to retract that opinion when someone can point me to an example of a democracy whose citizens voted to deprive themselves of government largesse, or voted out the legislators who were showering them with benefits.

I’m looking right at you, Joe Biden: student loan forgiveness? Couldn’t help noticing it was only really pushed in election years. Crazy, that. There is no good economic reason for transferring privately incurred debt from the people who incurred it (voluntarily!) to the larger public. None. But there are plenty of good political reasons for doing so.

This is too much for a single post, I’ll have to finish it tomorrow…