What is it again that government does?

We’ve all heard the angry rants from the angry right against government regulation… the nearly religious jeremiads against bureaucrats and politicians meddling in the affairs of the free market. Read my comment threads and you’d think that regulating commerce was a crime against God. (Although regulating a woman’s right to her own body is apparently God’s work.)

And so I thought I’d just point to an article in today’s Seattle P-I to remind folk how mundane and uniformly welcome most government regulation really is.

Last year, a little more than half the gas stations in Seattle had pumps that failed their measuring inspections. Four out of five stations inspected since 2002 have had pumps that failed, according to city inspection data analyzed by the Seattle P-I.

“The consumers are never going to notice it,” Tim Douglas, a city inspector, said of the small discrepancies. “Over time, the dealer will notice it. Some of these stations are pumping close to a million gallons a month. Pretty soon, a penny here and a penny there starts adding up to real money.”

According to the article, annual inspection cycles in Seattle and Spokane assure that drivers there get a fairer deal than the rest of the state, where some pumps haven’t been inspected in years. And Tim Hamilton, a petroleum industry lobbyist who represents independent gas station owners welcomes the government inspections:

“One thing we can’t have is we don’t want the public to lose confidence in the accuracy of pumps.”

Although the city’s primary concern is to protect taxpayers, Douglas said a program of consistent inspections in Seattle is creating a level playing field for gas stations.

See, contrary to what they apparently teach in bible class business school… there is no such thing as a “free” market. Markets rely on trust, and some form of regulation is absolutely required to make sure that everybody plays by rules. When we shop for gas we do so based on price or convenience or perceived quality; but we all assume that over time, we’re pretty much getting the same quantity of gas per gallon, regardless of station. And we assume this because we also assume that government regulators are periodically inspecting the pumps.

I’m not saying that all regulation is productive or that none of it is overreaching or poorly implemented. But for the most part, government regulation levels the playing field while protecting the health, safety and welfare of consumers and workers. That’s the humdrum role of most regulation and enforcement, and quite frankly, our economy wouldn’t function smoothly without it.

So for those ideologues who insist on absolute fealty to the “govmint bad” meme, I suggest filling up at the Admiral Chevron in West Seattle, where one pump was shorting customers by about a cup a gallon.

Comments

  1. 1

    Libertarian spews:

    Daddy Love,

    I go through about 50 personal tax returns every month, plus another 50 or so business tax returns. It’s what I do for a living. The amount of cheating, due to the tax code’s complexity, is astounding.

    Why can’t we just have a flat rate tax, and move, over time, to a national sales tax?

    I’m not the bad guy here. I just want simple and fair, that’s all.

  2. 3

    rhp6033 spews:

    RE: # 3, above:

    Your comment got me thinking about my own situation. Without having access to my tax returns in order to do a more detailed calculation, I did some quick estimates and found I paid about $14K in combined federal, state, and local taxes (about 20% of total household income). Both my kids are in college (state-subsidized colleges), so I, too, feel I am getting my money’s worth most of the time.

    Personally, I wonder if the people who believe that private enterprise is ALWAYS more efficient than government has spent any real time in a large private business. My personal experience provides evidence contrary to that belief.

  3. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    20

    “Did you … make your child support payment?” Commentby momus— 3/27/06@ 12:07

    We can be pretty sure Redneck didn’t make his, because he isn’t bitching about it.

  4. 5

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    7

    “Ultimately, the state goverment increases in size and makes more money off the local business men and the taxpayers, but HOW DOES IT HELP THE LOCAL TAYPAYER who is struglling to make ends meet?” Commentby momus— 3/27/06@ 10:20 am

    You’re right, Assus. The weights & measures system is only creating more bureaucracy. Let’s let the lawyers handle this. They need the money.

  5. 6

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    6

    The rich will never go for it. They do better under a “progressive” tax system full of shelters and loopholes.

  6. 7

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    “According to the article, annual inspection cycles in Seattle and Spokane assure that drivers there get a fairer deal than the rest of the state, where some pumps haven’t been inspected in years.”

    Maybe this explains why I get better gas mileage in Seattle than in “red” Washington!

  7. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    1

    “30-40% of the average America’s income goes to taxes”

    Bush is spending $1 trillion on a war; what the fuck did you expect?

  8. 9

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    DO NOT FEED THE IMMIGRANTS!

    The House Rethugs want to make it a felony to feed, house, or provide medical care to undocumented aliens.

  9. 10

    Libertarian spews:

    eponymous coward,

    OK, let’s go to a deduction for each person supported by the income stream, say $10,000 per person. So, a family of 4 would get the first $40,000 of income (wages & salaries, interest income, capital gain, retirements, etc) tax free. The, the anmount over $40,000 shole be taxed at ONE SINGLE RATE! No more of this “progressve rate” crap!

    The income tax that will work is easy to compute, a low rate, and has harsh penalties for cheating. What we have now is a disaster where the middle class gets screwed, glued, and tatooted nine ways from Sunday!

  10. 11

    eponymous coward spews:

    How about shifting to a flat rate income tax and then moving, over time, to a national sales tax instead? Just think – no more forms for individuals to fill out and send in each year. No more accountants, tax preparers and lawyers making good money by filling out government forms and manipulating loopholes. No more politicians using the tax laws to reward friends and punish enemies.

    Libertarian, a national sales tax rate that would support the 20% of GDP that represents federal government spending would be at around 57 percent, according to that noted Stalinist, Bruce Bartlett:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/.....090847.asp

    And yes, millionaires evade taxes. The solution is to fix the tax code in such a way to make that more difficult- by removing exemptions and various tax dodges while flattening rates, like Bradley and Reagan did in 1986. In general, less exemptions and loopholes == lower, more universally applicable rates and less incentive to “cheat”. Max Sawicky’s Simplified Family Credit would be a good place to start, but we could add to that.

    http://www.epinet.org/content.cfm/sfc

  11. 12

    Libertarian spews:

    @13: If you agree taxes should be broadly progressive, i.e., marginal rates increase with income, then the “sales tax” idea is dead on arrival. If you do not agree with this in principle, simply state so, and why.

    Otherwise you are simply prevaricating. Take the Bush tax cuts, for example. Discuss.

    Commentby J.V. Stalin

    Joe, I do not believe that tax rates should be progressive: I believe in one single rate for everybody. I want to go to a national sales tax eventually to get rid of the hassle of income tax preparation entirely. I’m tired of certain professions making money simply because of the “Gordian Knot” that has become the Internal Revenue Code. Don’t you think it a horrendous waste of brain power having people filling-out government forms for a living? Don’t you think it amoral the way the legal profession helps rich jerks avoid paying income taxes entirely? Don’t you find it objectionable that politicians use the tax laws to maintain their power? Trust me on this one, pardner: you and I pay for greater taxes than many, many rich people. Let’s get rid of this lunacy now!

    As far as Bush and his tax policies are conerned, he has does NOTHING to simplify the tax laws, so I have not mentioned him. He and his cronies are part of the problem.

  12. 13

    Proud To Be An Ass spews:

    Some say momus is a child molester….

    Hey, this form of gop argumentation is kinda fun. I can understand now how our Idiot Boy King likes to trot it out so much.

  13. 14

    momus spews:

    GOLDY @ 15…

    Did you sepnd any time with your kids this weekend, make your child support payment?

    As an accused child molestor, are your visits supervised?

  14. 15

    J.V. Stalin(just another dead Rossi voter) spews:

    @13: PS. Oh, please. The complexity and inherent unfairness of the current tax code in not a “little secret”. It is a national disgrace.

  15. 16

    J.V. Stalin(just another dead Rossi voter) spews:

    @13: If you agree taxes should be broadly progressive, i.e., marginal rates increase with income, then the “sales tax” idea is dead on arrival. If you do not agree with this in principle, simply state so, and why.

    Otherwise you are simply prevaricating. Take the Bush tax cuts, for example. Discuss.

  16. 17

    Libertarian spews:

    Don’t you love how the righties are against BIG GOVERNMENT unless it means telling you who you can marry, who you can have sex with, what your wife can and can’t do with her own body, when you can peacefully end a loved one’s pain, when you need more jails, prisons, cops, guns, tanks, airplanes or wars, THEN the righties LOVE big government.

    Commentby LauraBushKilledAGuy— 3/27/06@ 11:04 am

    I don’t care who marries who, what women do with their own bodies, when you can peacefully end a loved one’s pain, or who has sex with who, etc., etc.

  17. 18

    Tree Frog Farmer spews:

    Excellent post Goldy. Right along with the Codex Hammnurabi was a set of standards, both weights and measures. How much more Fundamental CAN YOU GET:?:

  18. 19

    spews:

    Momus @7,

    Once again, your arguments are based on pure fiction. If you read the article I linked to, you’ll see that the gas stations are not fined… their pumps are merely shut down until they fix them.

    You are either lazy, or a liar. Which is it?

  19. 20

    LauraBushKilledAGuy spews:

    Don’t you love how the righties are against BIG GOVERNMENT unless it means telling you who you can marry, who you can have sex with, what your wife can and can’t do with her own body, when you can peacefully end a loved one’s pain, when you need more jails, prisons, cops, guns, tanks, airplanes or wars, THEN the righties LOVE big government.

    So like everything else that comes from the mouths of republicans….

    They are against Big Government EXCEPT when they are not!

  20. 21

    Libertarian spews:

    Grassroots and Stalin,

    Here’s a nasty little secret – the tax code, as it exists now, is very favorable to those that have wealth. In my line of work, I see many multi-millionaires who haven’t paid income taxes in years and years.

    The purpose of taxes is not to make sure accountants, tax preparers, and lawyers have nice incomes, luxury SUVs and houses on the lake. The purpose is not for politicians to reward friends and punish enemies.

    The tax laws are a complicated mess and need major reform. Just because Steve Forbes believes this, too, doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. The only reason anyone would support the current tax code disaster is because he or she garners some benefit from this ridiculous complexity. Or maybe they just prefer a big, intrusive government organization like the IRS prying into their personal affairs.

  21. 23

    Voter Advocate spews:

    So, about that pump in West Seattle that was shorting the customer 6%. You contend that it’s better to let businesses rip people off than pay for inspectors to make a check every year or so?

    if the station owener wants to keep the equipment operating properly, he’d have to do the hiring of someone to do the checking. From the statement of the independent operators representative, they like the government to do it.

    For an example of how it works when the private sector is allowed to do the regulating see:

    http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/14193815.htm

    If voting machine companies ran the gas stations, they’d just say screw you, we want our extra 6%, refine your own oil.

  22. 24

    Teh Grassroots spews:

    Seriously Goldy, Gasoline consumers should be expected to do their own research on pump accuracy rather than letting the nanny state take care of such trivial matters for them. Participating in the free market confers a certain amount of responsibility upon all consumers and constant paranoia about merchants is just one of them.

  23. 25

    Teh Grassroots spews:

    Yeah, a national sales tax. That’ll go over well. Should certainly help to fuck over the poor even more in this country.

    Washington State, because of its sales tax/no income tax structure, has one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. Quite literally, the less money you make, the larger % of your income you pay in taxes.

    Take out federal taxes and poor people pay more taxes than Bill Gates here in this state.

  24. 26

    J.V. Stalin(just another dead Rossi voter) spews:

    @Libertarian above: “It would be nice, wouldn’t it? ”

    No, it would not. It would just put the final nail in the coffin of the total destruction of the social contract as between the classes in this country, and rip apart the social fabric, which, I assume we call all agree, is getting a bit frayed around the edges. Ya’ gotta know when a loon like Steve Forbes makes a big deal out of this, it can only be a disasterous social policy.

  25. 27

    momus spews:

    let’s look at this.

    Seattle residents are taxed to pay for slackers to have a governemnet job.

    Gas pumps are out of calibration, so the state government is going to enforce broader restrictions on gas stations owners. The State governement will additionally fine the gas station owners and the businesses in turn will increase the gas rates.

    So the avergae citizen gets screwed at the pump, the gas station owners have to increase their rates to fix the problems, the state gets more workers to strictly enforce monitoring the pumps (of course we’ll need to have a new state agency to run this program) as we’ll as increasing it’s revenues by collecting the fines issued to the gas station.

    Ultimately, the state goverment increases in size and makes more money off the local business men and the taxpayers, but HOW DOES IT HELP THE LOCAL TAYPAYER who is struglling to make ends meet?

  26. 28

    Libertarian spews:

    How about shifting to a flat rate income tax and then moving, over time, to a national sales tax instead? Just think – no more forms for individuals to fill out and send in each year. No more accountants, tax preparers and lawyers making good money by filling out government forms and manipulating loopholes. No more politicians using the tax laws to reward friends and punish enemies.

    It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

  27. 29

    TheDeadlyShoe spews:

    Did you read the LTEs? There was one moron who insisted that ‘maybe Dixon is just running as a representative of non-voters.’ Jesus christ.

  28. 30

    TheDeadlyShoe spews:


    30-40% of the average America’s income goes to taxes [direct and indirect], and Goldy and Company are saving the world by the Dept of Weights and Measures. Demorats: economic terrorists, and parasites all!!! GBS, did you “gets da “guvment” check????

    Holy punctuation batman, he’s a Groganite.

  29. 31

    bamajenk spews:

    I’ve never understood the ‘high taxes’ claim, like the one mentioned in the first post.

    My family of 3 paid about $6000 in state property and federal income taxes last year, (about 8% of total income) and I feel pretty comfortable with the services that are provided.

    For my 6G’s, I get schools, roads, police & fire protection, and reasonable land use laws that say I won’t be living next to a toxic waste site any time soon.

    I think Goldy has a point, most people don’t know where the money goes, but take the service for granted when they receive it.

  30. 32

    RAMD JCH spews:

    30-40% of the average America’s income goes to taxes [direct and indirect], and Goldy and Company are saving the world by the Dept of Weights and Measures. Demorats: economic terrorists, and parasites all!!! GBS, did you “gets da “guvment” check????

  31. 35

    sgmmac spews:

    Why does this damn nanny state think they have to be the first in the country to do something? I want dishwashing soap that works, not some unknown brand that leaves my dishes greasy.

    All of the bums in the legislature need to thrown out on their asses and that goes for the US Congress too.

  32. 36

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    31

    “Personally, I wonder if the people who believe that private enterprise is ALWAYS more efficient than government has spent any real time in a large private business. My personal experience provides evidence contrary to that belief.” Commentby rhp6033— 3/27/06@ 1:35 pm

    Private enterprise has all the costs government does, plus an additional one: Return on capital (or, if you please, profit).

  33. 37

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    41

    “However, if ti IS revenue neutral, then if some people pay less, others will have to pay more. Who are those people? Identify them, and maybe someone will listen to you.”

    You don’t even have to ask. Under Forbes’ plan, or any other Republican or rich guy or rich Republican guy’s plan, rich guys pay less and you pay more.

  34. 38

    Daddy Love spews:

    Libertarian
    …the only reason anyone would support the current tax code disaster is because he or she garners some benefit from this ridiculous complexity.

    Bravo! Brilliant mix of a false dilemma with argument ad hominem.

    The choices we face are not flat tax versus the current tax code. Given that ANY tax code, even your precious flat tax, will over time become more complicated and accrete more special changes, clauses, incentives, exceptions, and so on. Particularly while our “pay to play” GOP Congress is in charge.

    But leaving that false dilemma aside, a flat tax may not the be worst idea ever conceived, but neither is it the best. The problem with taxes and taxation is not multiple tax rates, but instead is the difficult task of determoining income. Face it: people and companies have complicated affairs. Steve Forbes is never going to be able to file HIS taxes on a postcard.

    Also, the issue is pretty much always presented dishonestly. It is most often sold as “it’s simple” and “everyone pays less” as if those things are related. Genreally speaking, any person would supports a plan where THEY will pay less. Steve Forbes’ planned flat tax percentage of 17% may be revenue neutral, though I don’t think it is even close. However, if ti IS revenue neutral, then if some people pay less, others will have to pay more. Who are those people? Identify them, and maybe someone will listen to you.

    Or, find us some folks who would choose a flat tax over the current system EVEN if it meant that they would pay more, not less, and then I’ll be impressed.

  35. 39

    jsa on commercial drive spews:

    Sheesh…isn’t there even ONE Wingnut who has ever learned about basic human behavior?

    Probably not. If they had, they wouldn’t be wingnuts.

    There is an argument for small government. I’m not sure if I’m sold on this argument, but it’s there.

    Our friends the trolls are not on this page. They are way out on the deep end of laisez-faire thinking. How nice it must be to feel you’re the only productive member of society and you owe nobody else anything. Will you grow your own food, produce your own water, and educate your own children on your private island? If so, I am in awe.

  36. 40

    J.V. Stalin(just another dead Rossi voter) spews:

    @37: You ask a communist if socialism is OK?

    1. Wrong, regressive, unworkable, and unfair.
    2. Define “income”. Why shouldn’t those who have and\or make more pay more at the margin?
    3. It’s not 1790, lib. Hate to break it to you.
    4. Hell–wean everybody off subsidies. Why pick on farmers?
    5. OK by me. We could cut a lot of idiotic spending from the defense budget.
    6. We have democratically made the choice (for now it seems) to keep the system of social insurance as it is. What’s your point?

  37. 41

    Anonymous spews:

    I’ll have to check the archives,but I believe one quiet night Momus ADMITTED he was a child molester. . . . .

  38. 42

    eponymous coward spews:

    OK, let’s go to a deduction for each person supported by the income stream, say $10,000 per person. So, a family of 4 would get the first $40,000 of income (wages & salaries, interest income, capital gain, retirements, etc) tax free. The, the anmount over $40,000 shole be taxed at ONE SINGLE RATE! No more of this “progressve rate” crap!

    The reason we tax rich people more is the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: it’s where the money is. Rich people have it; poor people don’t. Why is it intrinsically bad to tax rich people more heavily, especially if some pretty smart rich white dudes like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates indicate it would be a good idea?

    I already know you’re going to go for the cheap shot of robbery, so I’ll point out that Saint Adam Smith of the Holy Church of Capitalism HIMSELF suggested taxes that are inequitably oriented towards rich people.

    “The subject of every State ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the State.”

    Of course, he wasn’t a big fan of income taxes, but in his day income wasn’t quite the same (lots more independent farmers, for instance). He wanted taxes on luxuries and ground-rents (property income). I guess if we implemented his ideas today, it might be something like the taxes on property income (both tangible and intangible) and sales taxes on luxury items (exempting clothes food etc.)- but I also think they are pretty impractical.

  39. 43

    Libertarian spews:

    OK, Joe, what do you want? Socialism? Total re-distribution of wealth? Give Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, and Utah back to Spain and Mexico? What!

    Here’s what I want:

    1. A national sales tax instead of an income tax.
    2. If we can’t have a national sales tax, then let’s have a simple, flat rate income tax with a single rate applied to income.
    3. Stop getting involved in messses like Iraq, Iran, et. al. Time to let the world save itself.
    4. Wean farmers off subsidies: either there in business to be efficient and make a profit or they’re not.
    5. Close the military bases overseas – bring ‘em all home.
    6. Let those that want to leave the social security program have the choice to do so (choice – what a concert!).

  40. 44

    dj spews:

    momus @ 20

    “As an accused child molestor, are your visits supervised?”

    Funny you should ask this, Momus. I mean, just last week at Drinking Liberally, one of Goldy’s regular readers said to me, “I have evidence that Momus is a child molestor.”

    I just dismissed that as partisan quibbling. But, now that you bring up the topic, I am deeply suspicious….

    So, Momus, as an accused child molestor, why do you bring up such topics?

  41. 45

    J.V. Stalin(just another dead Rossi voter) spews:

    @23: A national sales tax would be a social disaster, inherently unfair, and more breaks for the extremely wealthy.

    You think the middle class will buy off on 57% rates? You are smoking something pretty good.

    Address mr coward’s exellent points directly. Please.

    PS: Max Sawicky rocks.

  42. 46

    J.V. Stalin(just another dead Rossi voter) spews:

    Coward: Bruce is having quite the “sister soulja” moment lately, but he still suffers from many “infantile disorders”.

  43. 47

    J.V. Stalin(just another dead Rossi voter) spews:

    Libertarian: “Joe, I do not believe that tax rates should be progressive: I believe in one single rate for everybody.”

    Why?

    Asserting that the policy should be changed simply because people get away with ignoring it is tenuous, at best. I guess it justified the repeal of prohibition. What about “illegal immigration”? What about regulations concerning health, safety, and the environment? What about bank robbery? Yes, people still rob banks! Whoulda’ thought?

  44. 48

    Edward R. Murrow spews:

    Here’s an interesting tidbit: the IRS was actually going to sell personal income tax return data to private entities. Probably for marketing purposes for the firms involved. The House is moving swiftly to put this bad idea out of our misery.

    It’s bad enough that we have to tell the government out personal financial deatail every April 15th without those bozos selling us out!

  45. 49

    dj spews:

    RUFUS @ 49

    “At least with a war you kill more terrorists.”

    That’s working real well for you. Every time you kill a terrorist you create two new terrorists. Every time you kill an innocent civilian, you create four more terrorists.

    Sheesh…isn’t there even ONE Wingnut who has ever learned about basic human behavior?

  46. 51

    RUFUS spews:

    Bush is spending $1 trillion on a war; what the fuck did you expect?

    Commentby Roger Rabbit— 3/27/06@ 1:15 pm

    At least with a war you kill more terrorists. With social spending all you create is more unhappy democrats on the public dole.

  47. 52

    RUFUS spews:

    Some say momus is a child molester….

    Hey, this form of gop argumentation is kinda fun. I can understand now how our Idiot Boy King likes to trot it out so much.

    Commentby Proud To Be An Ass— 3/27/06@ 6:53 pm

    momus is a public school teacher?

  48. 53

    RUFUS spews:

    This state needs a State income tax………..

    Commentby sgmmac— 3/27/06@ 5:08 pm

    Not until they do away with public unions (schools,ect) and privatize almost everything the government does.