I Support Coercion and I Vote

Why Donate Your Own Money When You Can Force Taxpayers to Cough It Up?


Filed Under : Coercion, Taxation, Special Interests

Jon Sanders is a master’s student in economics at North Carolina State University and the director of publications for the Pope Center for Higher Education Reform in Raleigh, N.C.

People place a wide variety of slogans on the bumpers of their cars, and the messages those bumper stickers convey range from the ridiculous to the sublime. I’ve read many a bumper sticker in my commute, and I’ve come to the studied opinion that there is no more ridiculous genre of bumper sticker than that of “I support [insert a political cause] and I vote.”

Whenever I have the misfortune of being behind a car proclaiming “I support the arts and I vote,” “I support the environment and I vote,” or “I support farming,” I am stricken with the urge to confront the driver to get his explanation for it. I don’t do so, of course, because it’s dangerous to confront drivers these days and I already know what he means.

The meaning of “I support the arts and I vote” is not only obvious, it’s gushing with smarmy priggishness. It also happens to be entirely self-defeating. The meaning is, of course, “I don’t support the arts, but I vote for politicians who have convinced me they’ll force you to give money to the arts.” What vainglorious hooey! Not only are they tightwads who conscript others into paying for their desires, they’re proud of it. And if that’s not enough, they expect us to appreciate them for it.

The fact is these vehicular vanities don’t support the arts, the environment, or whatever other cause at all. They don’t give a dime to a damn about the cause; if they did, they’d pay for it themselves. Their mindset is similar to that of the NIMBYs, the infamous “Not In My Back Yard” bumpkins who didn’t mind a hazardous-waste operation so long as it wasn’t near them. But those folks are worse than the NIMBYs; they actually want the program in question, but they don’t want to pay for it, except through taxes, which everyone else has to pay, too. Call them the Not In My Back Pockets, or NIMBPies.

If the NIMBPies truly cared for their pet causes, they’d see the utter void of virtue in being too stingy to pay for what they like. If they cared for a cause, they would give to it. Surely they wouldn’t want to consign it to the yoke of governmental largess, thereby subjecting it to the fickle whims of legislators and voters. They would therefore make contributions to save that cause from an ill-advised reliance on politicians who get elected by promising enough nongiving voters that they, too—with a lot of help from their neighbors, of course—can “support” the cause. After all, those politicians could be replaced at any election by politicians of a different stripe who support nongivers of an opposing cause. The original cause, accustomed to receiving pilfered bounty rather than raising its own funds, would then languish and perhaps fail in its sudden inability to earn money. No true supporter of a cause would wish to imperil it so.

An Honest Bumper Sticker

Oblivious to that, of course, the bumper-sticker “supporter” putts along, snug in his car and smug in the knowledge that he has done his part for his cause. Can you imagine what would happen if the rhetorical filters fell from that bumper sticker for just a moment? Picture the scene when, in heavy downtown traffic, the bumper sticker suddenly read, “Hey, you! Driver! I want you to know that I am extraordinarily pleased with myself for being personally responsible in small part for your high taxes. How would you like to bring home just a little more to your family tonight? Well, tough! I ‘support’ the arts. But since I’m a cheapskate, I found me some politicians who take money from you and your family to fund my personal fetish. Am I deserving of your praise or what? Can you believe I’m so satisfied with myself?”


November 2000

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December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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