Go West, Industry Hunters

Paul Greenberg

2/22/2010 6:44:20 PM - Paul Greenberg

Thank you, Oregon voters, for doing your best to boost the fortunes of all the rest of us out here in the good old, investment-hungry U.S. of A.

Surely you were moved by nothing more than generosity of spirit when you raised taxes on business in order to create a happy hunting ground for industry-hunters elsewhere. But the cynic in me suspects it was just class warfare. Or maybe economic illiteracy in action. It's not always easy to tell the difference between the two.

For whatever reason, Oregon has just raised its taxes, and how, on its employers, investors and rich folks in general. You know, the people who employ the rest of us, who invest in things like power plants and wind turbines and widget factories. They're about to get hit hard by Oregon's new tax structure.

Oregon's top income rate has just jumped from 9 to 11 percent, and its corporate rate from 6.6 to 7.9 percent. Taxes and fees on many small businesses have been doubled. That'll teach all those plutocrats, not to mention moms-and-pops who run family businesses, to go on hiring and investing. What a brilliant move -- at least if the goal is to drive industries out of Oregon.

At least one class will benefit by these new and higher taxes on the entrepreneurial: all the tax collectors who work for state government. Not to mention that state's tax accountants, who'll be needed to help businesses keep up with all the changes and new paperwork.

Game Change FREE

The number and salaries of government bureaucrats in Oregon should multiply as tax revenues increase -- for a while. That is, until business and industry begin to relocate to more hospitable locales. This vote to raise taxes may not help Oregon, but it could do a lot for other states. Especially those who already have started courting Oregon's plants and business headquarters.

To quote Mayor Daley the Second of Chicago -- the mayor of Chicago is always named Daley, it's a standing rule -- Oregon's decision to raise taxes across the board "will help our economic development immediately. You'd better believe it. We'll be out in Oregon enticing corporations to relocate to Chicago." That toddlin' town doesn't miss a chance.

The refreshing thing about the Daley dynasty is that its boss has never been shy about what the Windy City (or even America) is about: money. Which is not to be despised, however badly the monied may behave from time to time. For money is a kind of freedom, a truth that the poor may appreciate most of all. It's what supports striving families all over Chicagoland, whether in the tony suburbs or on the struggling South Side. It's also pays for the symphonies and art museums and universities that dot the city, along with a skyline that can compete with any in the world. Michigan Avenue is about to get grander, the Gold Coast golder.

Tourists, please note: Next time you get to visit Chicago, take the riverboat tour of its landmarks. You'll see the whole history of American architecture unfold before you over the course of a few hours; it beats the heck out of any college course. To think, all that was paid for by sweat and enterprise. It is the product of people who came from all over to the City of Big Shoulders -- farm boys from the Great Plains, black migrants from the old Jim Crow South, Europe's huddled masses, the tempest-tossed yearning to be free. They all came in pursuit of the American Dream, and many achieved it.

Tax such people to death (and afterward, too) and they'll start looking around for greener pastures. Burden the kind of people who make Oregon prosperous, or at least used to, and they may begin to look around for other locales. Daley the Younger understands all that. Who says the head of a Democratic machine can't be as savvy about business as any Republican?

To quote this generation's Richard Daley, "What happened in Oregon is not good news for Oregon." The mayor of Chicago could scarcely contain his amazement at how those people out West think, if you could call it thinking: "They believe that anybody who makes $125,000 or more (a year) or businesses or anyone who makes $250,000 -- they're gonna start taxing them. They call them 'rich people.' "

Mayor Daley has a different philosophy, one closer to that of the classical economists -- even if his language may not be as refined. As he sums up his approach to the economic realities: "You finish high school. You work hard, go to college and you hope to succeed in life. I never knew it was a class war -- that those who succeed in life have to bear all the burden. I never realized that. It will be a whole change in America that those who succeed and work hard, we're gonna tax 'em more than anyone else."

Sure, an intellectual could pick apart the mayor's brief statement with its less than fine points -- not to mention his grammar and syntax. After all, a lot of us conservatives also favor progressive tax rates on income, but not the exorbitant kind that dry up capital and, with it, the jobs we all depend on. The mayor's got a point, however he may offend the intelligentsia in his town. And if he does, so what? How many payrolls has your average intellectual met? How many jobs has he created? How much has he -- or she -- given to philanthropic causes and cultural treasures? Compared to, say, your average multi-millionaire.

There may be some glitches in the mayor's language, and one could even accuse Hizzoner of over-simplifying the message of the great economists, but he's got the spirit of the thing right. I'd take his approach to economic questions any day or night over those who under-simplify economics, and make it all a terribly complicated question of how much government can do for us. Politicians who go that route may wind up showing how much government can do to us.

That way lies record deficits to be paid for by successive generations. Generational theft, Sarah Palin calls it. You don't have to be an intellectual to understand that much.