Bruce Chapman

The ‘Soft Tyranny’ of Hidden Taxation

THE issues of scandals, term limits, Haiti, Iraq and crime dominate the news and TV ads this campaign season. However something deeper and mostly unarticulated may be doing more to shape the nation's politics. The decisive issue of 1994 could well be people's continuing frustration over their inability to get ahead financially - and their conviction that government is both directly and indirectly hampering them. The large, increasingly middle-aged middle class finds salary increases scarce and restructuring layoffs common. If these are prosperous times, people wonder, what will the next recession bring? With many ordinary families turning over to government at various levels almost half their incomes (roughly 25 percent federal income tax, 15.3 percent Social Security, 8 percent state and local sales tax, plus property taxes and assorted special taxes and fees), it becomes harder and harder for the baby boomers who have so shaped political trends in the past to see how they can afford to send their children to college or save adequately for retirement. Polls show that voters no longer are impressed by politicians' offers to satisfy their personal concerns with still more government programs. That is part of the reason why Democrats, as the party that traditionally defends the utility of government action, are in particular trouble this year. Even now-standard efforts by congressional candidates to avoid a negative national trend by "localizing" campaigns may backfire. Localizing usually means showing how the incumbent can "bring home the bacon." But as voters watch television accounts of this going on all over the country - Sen. Ted Kennedy holding up giant posters of federal checks he is delivering to particular constituencies and Speaker Tom Foley boasting of road contracts and police positions brought to Spokane - they see that it is they who are paying for all that bacon and that the price is too high. Yesterday's bacon is becoming today's pork. Read More ›

Happy Birthmother’s Day

Wall Street Journal; New York; May 10, 1985; By ; Edition: Eastern edition Start Page: 1 ISSN: 00999660 Abstract: But you could not bring yourself to abort your baby. And it also became clear to you that you were in no position to raise a child alone. My wife and I know from the adoption agency that you quit school Read More ›

The Hidden Fears of High-Tech Learning

IN THE 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge declared, "The business of America is business." In the 1990s it might be at least as true to say that the business of America is learning. Constant adjustment to change - coping with new facts and ways of doing things - has become the norm in commerce as computer hardware and software is introduced, adapted and, later, replaced. Now the high-tech revolution is coming to education. You might think that everyone would be thrilled. The high-tech motto of "better, cheaper, faster" sounds like an admirable aim for general school reform. But talking to many educators, business people, high-tech manufacturers, government officials and even parents, one soon realizes that below the surface many of them are as anxious as they are hopeful. There are new software products that recognize what kind of learning style works best for a student and adjusts accordingly. Some, for example, can help kids get over very specialized reading problems. On the other hand, for the established scholar and writer there is the entire three-volume Oxford English Dictionary on disc for a third of the cost of a hard-cover copy, and the manufacturer throws in several other reference works for good measure. Dozens of new products like these are appearing monthly, many of them produced in the Seattle area. Read More ›

Ethic Cleansing

The Clinton honeymoon is hardly underway and the Society of Permanent Busybodies is already questioning the integrity of his Transition Committee. They want to know: How can Vernon Jordan, former head of the Urban League and co-chair of the transition, presume to give advice on presidential appointments when he serves on the board of a tobacco company? About the time Read More ›

Pass National Service, Cripple Charity

Drawing on a moral tradition going back to the Bible, and wending through the American founding and the young republic described by Alexis de Tocqueville, this ideal has created what some call a "mediating" institution between the profit sector and the government. Now the government proposes not only to compete with this sector (as in the Vista program), but to invade it directly. Under President Clinton's national service bill, politically appointed boards chosen by state governors would funnel federal funds for service jobs to selected private and civic groups. Imagine you run a private charity. If it is chosen to participate in the national service program, you've hit the jackpot financially. But if your charity, like the great majority, is not chosen, your cause will find itself trying to compete with the federal treasury. Americans familiar with the notorious Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of the 1970s should find the prospects for unabashed political patronage, and even corruption, obvious. Incapacitating the nongovernment charitable sector further, the national service bill allows (read, "encourages") the programs it backs to raise additional funds from private sources. Imagine trying to raise money for a private charity when the government's endorsed charities, blessed by your state's governor, can offer donors federal "matching money," prestige and public recognition as incentives to fund them instead. Read More ›

‘Let’s Draft Everybody’ – National Service vs. Real Service

THERE she is, a sweet, but emotionally overcome young woman from the New Jersey Youth Corps, being consoled with a hug from the president of the United States. Onlookers in a flag-decked classroom beam at this latest exciting moment in the new political production, "The Selling of National Service." It is the kind of scene repeated in photo-opportunities nationally as the White House hustles its plan to have college loan recipients pay off Uncle Sam with government-approved service. The consequence is a distinctly American tradition of committed, creative and effective community service. As figures from the Gallup Poll and the respected group Independent Sector show, in recent years Americans actually are giving more money and time to charities. And because they give it as they wish - not as they are directed by government - the voluntary service sector is more popular than either the profit sector of society or the government sector. Read More ›

National Service Promise Should be Broken

The idea, whose father was military conscription and whose mother was the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, was incubated in the Progressive Policy Institute in the '80s, placed in the foster care of the Democratic Leadership Council and then adopted by the [President] Clinton campaign. "Maintain the Pell Grant program but scrap the existing student-loan program and establish a National Service Trust Fund to guarantee every American who wants a college education the means to obtain one. Those who borrow from the fund will pay it back either as a small percentage of their income over time, or through community service as teachers, law-enforcement officers, health-care workers or peer counselors helping kids stay off drugs and in school." Would taxpayers really think they were getting a bargain by paying for students' college loans and then paying again to hire these same people in government-financed jobs? Would workers now in health care and education jobs be happy to see the cheeky new government-paid "volunteers" arrive, eliminate private-sector growth in low-skill jobs and drive down the private-pay scale? Would the volunteers really serve society best in such artificial, temporary posts, expending tax revenues, or by getting on with their own careers and contributing to tax revenues? Read More ›

Let’s Get It Straight: The Empire Was Evil

LET'S be blunt: It is necessary to make it clear who was right about the Cold War. The reason is not to glorify the aging Republicans and Henry Jackson Democrats who were derided as "Cold Warriors" during the four decades between Stalin and Gorbachev, nor to kick those on the left who led peace marches and befriended Havana, Hanoi and Managua. The purposes, rather, are, first, to get the history straight, before the regnant revisionists in academia succeed in distorting it, and, secondly, to reflect on the lessons for our current foreign policy. Under the revisionist interpretation, American sacrifices of blood and treasure during the Cold War were largely a waste of both. The West's actions in the Cold War are seen as more or less morally equivalent to those of the Soviets. These remarkable programs should attract heightened interest in Washington state, home of the late Sen. Henry Jackson, a leader of Cold War "hawks," and also home to some of the most militant opponents of U.S. policy during the Cold War. But of greatest immediate interest, Seattle is home to the chief consultant and inspiration of the project, Dr. Herbert Ellison of the University of Washington. (The series was written and directed by an Englishman, Daniel Wolf, with project management provided by the National Bureau of Asian Research in Seattle.) Read More ›

Bell Street Pier Project A Jewel In Seattle Port Crown

The Port of Seattle's tax rates over the last five years have declined by 33 percent, while its revenues have increased by 34 percent. Incorrect numbers were published in Bruce Chapman's column last Friday on the port's new Bell Street project. Somehow, the Bell Street Pier, a multipurpose, $88 million creation of the Port of Seattle, has managed to go through the whole development process, right up to the interior work now under way, without raising the ire of any economic interest, environmental body or taxpayer watchdog group. But already little bands of potential users are lining up to get a hard-hat tour of a civic facility that is sure to attract international attention. Ordinary folks are beginning to ask about it, too. When a class of fifth graders from the "TOPS" program at Seward School on Capitol Hill walked down to a parking lot above the site recently, they were given a description of the project that left them reporting back like the legendary blind man who encountered an elephant. Each one had a different impression of the beast. Read More ›

The New Century Contrary to Calendar, 20th Century is History

It turns out that Jesus was really born between four and six B.C., not in the year 0, as you might expect. A sixth century monk named Dionysius Exiguus, who was given responsibility for settling a dispute over the date of Easter, miscalculated the chronology of Jesus's life and placed his birth several years late. This scholarly error, which was perpetuated in later calendars, means - if we take the middle range of the error - that we already are entering the 21st century, and, for that matter, the Third Millenium. Of course, there was some good to the 20th century, and some necessary change. For example, we probably did need a civil service to replace the political spoils system, though we later got carried away and let bureaucracies regulate away many of our freedoms. We did need civil rights protection through central government action in order, finally, to right the great wrong of slavery and to fulfill the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. But the best intellectual innovations of the 20th century were in the fields of science and technology - medicine and communications, notably. Most of the others were of lesser significance or were baneful. The 20th century brought us the scourges of fascism and communism, and it also brought us what Alexis de Tocqueville correctly foresaw as the "democratic tyrannies" of socialism and the welfare state. Specialization and expertise flourished, bringing benefits in some areas, but also contributing to the depreciation of the liberal arts. Over-emphasis on expertise also tempted leaders in one field to claim authority in others, which is always a moral usurpation. Some generalists claimed the label of science for arts and crafts that did not deserve it. This holds true for several of the "social sciences," but especially for something that grandly calls itself "political science." Even economics claimed more scientific stature than it deserved, guided by the conceit that the qualitative can always be quantified. What the experts and pseudo-experts did was separate ordinary people from their government and culture, robbing them of their authority and undermining their morale. Read More ›