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Effect of ceiling

With a ceiling on government income in place, why should we expect the ceiling to go down instead of up, as in the current trend of government growth?

      —  Posted 2009-07-09, From Sam Crager, Stanwood, Washington

I address this concern in chapter 6, which is titled, "What is the worst-case scenario?" Here are a few relevant considerations.

The first point to notice is that it takes a two-thirds vote to raise the ceiling, but only a majority vote to lower the ceiling. So it will be much easier to lower the ceiling than to raise the ceiling.

In addition, approval of the amendment means that the people want to stop the government from growing so fast, in particular, at a rate faster than the growth rate of the economy. Approval of the amendment means that the people want the government to grow no faster than the economy grows, thereby implying that a request to increase the ceiling is a request to go against the wishes of the people that were expressed in ratifying the amendment. Since approval of the amendment requires ratification by three-fourths of the states (38 of 50 states), approval implies overwhelming support for the amendment and, hence, for limiting the growth of government.

Another consideration follows from a comparison of the dynamics of a congressional vote with the dynamics of a popular vote. Congress is subject to a divide-and-conquer strategy, while the populace is not. More specifically, lobbyists use a divide-and-conquer strategy by obtaining the support of particular members of Congress, who, in turn, obtain the support of additional members by trading votes. This won't work on the populace as a whole, not only because there are too many people in the nation, but also because these people aren't in jeopardy of losing an elective office and, most importantly, because a popular vote is by secret ballot, so no voter can be held accountable for how they vote.

Evidence from Washington State indicates that although voters may elect fiscal liberals — as the citizens of Washington tend to do — when the voters are given the chance to vote on limiting taxes through Tim Eyman's initiatives, they tend to vote in favor of the initiatives. Similarly, in May 2009, the citizens of California voted against raising their taxes to address the state budget crisis despite the appeal of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for higher taxes.

The skeptic may reply that this sounds just great but that there's no chance of getting the amendment approved, given the longstanding political climate that drives the growth of government up without limit — a disposition that is being dramatically realized right now, with Congress and the presidency in the control of fiscal liberals. In response, I ask the skeptic to reread the prior two paragraphs and to read my July 4 talk "Let's tear up the blank check!"



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