Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Taxes, Sodomy and the Commonweal-That sounds like a disjointed premise, but let me tie things together. When we pass laws, ideally we are passing them in order to make a better country, to improve the collective well-being of the country. The two-dollar word for "collective well-being" is commonweal. On taxes, we're shooting for a tax package (and the commensurate level of spending that results) that will maximize the commonweal. Josh asked yesterday whether the Bush tax cut "may go too far." That depends on whether the tax cuts will increase or diminish the commonweal. Tax cuts will encourage more investments by both giving people more take-home pay to invest and to increase the after-tax income on investments. As I explored yesterday, it's likely that the lower tax rates will offset the crowding-out effect of a higher real interest rate due to increase competition by the government for investment money; in fact, it might create more private-sector investment as well, helping to grow the economy down the line, increasing income and decreasing the deficits in the future. However, that only addresses the investment side of the equation. In the short term, you won't see a huge income increase from the tax cut, for there are two effects of a tax cut, an income effect and a substitution effect. The income effect means that people can afford to work less with a lower tax burden; students might opt to go to summer school, moms might opt to stay at home more, and seniors might opt to retire sooner. The substitution effect means that an extra hour of work brings in more take-home-pay than before, making leisure (or at least uncompensated time; that would include schooling and housework) more expensive. Given that it's easier for most people to work less than work more , I'd expect the income effect to be dominant. If you combine the empowering aspect of the tax cut, allowing the people who want to work hard to enjoy more of the fruits of their labor and the people who want to get away from the workplace the option to do so, that might offset the loss of government programs now and in the future that the deficits needed to finance the cuts will cost. It should grow the economy economically by increased investment and grow the commonweal by giving families the option of having fewer hours in the workplace. Is that tax cut too much? If you add the extra benefit of putting a collar on future government spending which generally seems to be net bogon-producers, I don't think so. It encourages investment, hard work for those who can work harder on a marginal basis and the option of staying away from work for people who have good uses for that uncompensated time and makes the big-government folks job that much harder. "What about the sodomy stuff?" Since that's a topic in play these days, I felt it was a good time to look at a general philosophy of governance. Our goal should be to increase the commonweal. In general, government intervention is a net minus unless the action is to either stop something that's clearly disruptive to the commonweal or to promote something that is clearly conducive to the commonweal. Are laws against consensual sexual acts in our best interest? If the acts are clearly disruptive to the commonweal, yes. Three categories come quickly to mind-sodomy, incest and prostitution. We can start with the concept that they're sinful, but we need to make a better case to make a law against something, since most people need more than a Bible verse to make a decision. Prostitution tends to have a lot of externalities of damaged lives, both for the prostitute and for the johns. It carries STDs including AIDS, and tends to disrupt healthy marital sexuality and destroy families. Prostitution is often a marker of bigger problems in the prostitute's life; for every woman (I'll leave the male ones out for the moment) who made a "shrewd career decision" (the Jamie Lee Curtis character in Trading Places comes to mind), you have many more with badly dysfunctional lives. Incest is another one that doesn't add to the commonweal. Even if both parties are above the age of consent, the dysfunctional nature of the act, both from a genetic and from a emotional basis, makes it a no-go zone. A teenage girl (or boy, but it's usually a girl) may be "of age" but not in a position to easily turn down a father or older brother. Banning such predatory sexuality is the reason we have both incest and statutory rape laws, to insure that any extramarital activity is truly consensual. Now, on to sodomy. Let's break it down to oral and anal sex. Both tend themselves towards dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships. Oral sex is more likely to be seen outside a long-term functional relationship, often being part prostitution or abuses of power; I'll introduce Monica as State Exhibit One. Anal sex is inherently unhealthy; for a moment, let's recall what an anus' primary function is. It is a recipe for the spread of STDs. You can make a good case for making sodomy illegal on a omnisexual basis, but Texas (in the case before the Supreme Court) has opted to ban homosexual sodomy only. On the whole, anal and oral sex between two men (I'm not going to go to the mat for the anti-lesbian case today) is unhealthy on a number of levels. The first is the inherent physical unhealthiness; it's a disaster from a public health perspective. The second is that it gives men an option to scrotch their crotch outside of a environment that leads to family-development; yes, some gays do lead devoted, monogamous lives, but they are the exception to the rule. For people who are omnisexual, failing to legally discourage homosexual activity will tend to lead them away from healthier heterosexual behavior, where a morally and culturally healthy family can develop. There is a sexual desire in the vast majority of us; homosexual sex has an appeal for some. It lacks the burdens of child-rearing and conventional male-female roles, and that is liberating to some while still getting one's crotch scrotched. However, it comes at a cost of higher spread of STDs and the civilizing role of a nuclear family. It might not be fun for the people who are clearly homosexually oriented (we'll have the nature-versus-nurture fight another day), but it will help keep the omnisexual in a healthier place. The foes of the sodomy law have a valid point about selective enforcement; sodomy laws are infrequently applied. Gambling laws are loosely applied, yet serve a purpose to keep such activity at a low level that reduces the externalities. Even if we're not bashing down doors of same-sex housemates to see if they're doing the Wild Thang at 1:30AM, it still worth keeping it on the books to be able to point people away from such activity and to have a rationale for shutting down bathhouses, seedier massage parlors, and other places of ill repute.

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