The Robin Hood legend has evolved over the centuries with thousands of re-tellings. No one knows if the legend is based on a real man leading a gang of outlaws. Some, like one of the characters in the movie, Time Bandits, interpret Robin Hood as nothing more than a brigand using his ill-gotten gains to buy the loyalty of locals. Others interpret the legend as telling the story of a freedom fighter plundering the corrupt Prince John and Sheriff of Nottingham of the proceeds of oppressive taxes in order to give the money back to the plundered. But even if you’re not a leftist looking to redistribute income, and despite some moral ambiguity depending on the circumstances, there is at least a certain amount of logic in robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
There seems to be no moral ambiguity, however, when it comes to the idea of robbing the poor to give to the rich. Put simply, that’s just wrong. Right, left, or center, whatever one’s political philosophy, and regardless of one’s religious beliefs, taking by force from poor people to make someone already richer than them even better off is disgusting to contemplate.
Oklahoma’s state government does it all the time.
Other states do it, too, and that’s one of the excuses given for doing the morally reprehensible. We give money to rich Hollywood productions, calling it a tax break, so that those productions will take advantage of our tax-supported infrastructure and institutions supposedly to be competitive with other states. We give money and facilities to a pro basketball franchise to be competitive with other states. And other states do the same thing, supposedly to be competitive with us.
We do the same thing with three different programs aimed at subsidizing the aerospace industry in this state by favoring aerospace engineers. Two of these provide employers with tax credits for hiring aerospace engineers. One provides a tax credit to newly minted engineers themselves to compensate for the college tuition paid to obtain their engineering degrees.
Aerospace engineers are well paid. Right out of college, they will out-earn most college graduates and certainly out-earn high school graduates. Oklahoma doesn’t subsidize hiring high school graduates, through tax credits or anything else. Whether due to poor choices, inability, or because their families are new to the country, these lower-earning individuals are expected to pay full freight in taxes while those earning far more, or their employers, are given at least a partial pass.
One of the excuses given for doing the reprehensible is that government-created (taxpayer-financed) incentives lead to economic development, with benefits that outweigh the costs. The Incentive Evaluation Commission (IEC), created ostensibly to review Oklahoma’s incentives with an eye to eliminating as many as possible, makes this very case for the aerospace engineer tax credits. It attempts to put lipstick on the proverbial pig by painting a picture of a profession that hasn’t seen as much wage growth in recent years as others (in percentage terms). At least the IEC is honest enough to acknowledge engineers are well paid even as it practically claims the aerospace industry in Oklahoma wouldn’t exist but for the credits.
Here’s a proposition. If Oklahoma is such a lousy place to do business that our legislature feels compelled to bribe businesses and professionals to live and do business here, maybe something deeper is amiss. Perhaps the legislature should be looking into that and correcting it rather than robbing poor Peter to pay rich (and well-connected) Paul.