From Each According to His Ability: "Progressive Pricing" Coming Soon to a Nation Near You
Progressive -- in Both Senses of the Word
The term "progressive" has been adopted by the modern left as the understudy for the increasingly besmirched term "liberal," and so we now think of it as a strictly political concept. But "progressive" is also a mathematical and economic notion, referring to rates or ratios which magnify with every step. Our tax system, for example, is called a progressive tax, because the more money you make, the higher the rate of taxation on your income. In Europe, it should be noted, the progressivity of the tax rate is often much higher than it is in the U.S. -- meaning that the tax rates for high earners can be above 50% in some countries.
Progressives love progressive rates -- because they are a mild and socially acceptable way to introduce Marxist concepts into the economic system. Instead of simply confiscating all the assets of the wealthy en masse and consigning them to re-education in the fields, we tap off their assets little by little, and redistribute it painlessly.
We've gotten so used to the concept of progressive tax rates that we don't really think twice about it anymore. We've become acclimated to the notion that wealthy people should be penalized for their wealth to a greater degree than everyone else. But progressive pricing schemes would be basically the same concept, and are just as rational (or as irrational, depending on your point of view).
I believe the AP article linked above is the first salvo in opening a new front in the War on the Rich: progressive pricing. They've broached the idea of progressive fines and introduced it into the American dialogue. Are we ready?
From Each According to His Ability
If all this seems a bit cockeyed from an American vantage point, remember that Europeans have an undying affection for Marx and his slogan, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." While conservative American pundits often focus on the second half of that phrase -- "to each according to his needs" -- when criticizing the Welfare State and incessant government handouts, little attention has been paid in the U.S. to the first part of the slogan, because up until now it hasn't been implemented fully.
Sweetness & Light, one of the few blogs to cover the speeding-ticket story, was also the first to point out the inherent Marxism in the idea of progressive fee structures.
It's kind of hard not to hate Eurotrash who hurtle down Swiss country roads in Ferraris, knocking milkmaids into the mud. They're easy villains, scapegoats used to justify the introduction of an entirely new economic structure.
Just as Bush Sr. used murderer and rapist Willie Horton as a scapegoat to criticize the revolving-door prison policies and to push for harsher sentencing laws, the Left uses smirking rich European joyriders who speed without compunction as scapegoats to criticize standardized fees and instead push for progressive pricing.
Caution: Slippery Slope Ahead
I can see where this is leading.
The graduated fine laws are the leading edge of a wedge to institute variable pricing on everything. After all, it's only "fair," right?
The same argument can be applied to every single transaction, price, expense, fine or fee: A rich man can afford it more than a poor man. So, "to make things fair," we should charge the rich man more.
The price of a $3 hamburger is a burden on a poor family, but it's nothing to a rich man; therefore he should pay $300 for the same hamburger, so he can feel a similar financial burden.
Ten dollars to see a movie is outrageous for someone just trying to scrape by; but a wealthy family can shell out $40 for movie tickets AND buy popcorn for everyone, and still not even notice the expense. Thus, it is rational to charge a wealthy family $100 per person to see a movie.
Underlying this whole drive toward "fairness" is what I consider a rather twisted worldview. The whole reason why anyone bothers to become rich in the first place is so that minor expenses don't remain burdensome. If you're broke and shivering and unable to pay your heating bill, your immediate response is usually, "I need to get a job!" But what if, having gotten that job and made more money, your heating bill is raised proportionally, to account for the fact that you can now "afford" to pay more. If this happens with every expense -- and it already does happen to a certain degree with taxes -- then what's the point of making more money in the first place? You'll always be at the same level of brokeness, since however much you earn, your expenditures will rise and fall in conjunction with your earnings. This, of course, is the recipe for individual inaction, which, multiplied a millionfold, becomes societywide inaction, which leads to the kind of cadaverous economies seen in communist countries.
This is the complementary flipside of the overly generous Welfare State, in which the poor have little motivation to work because they can live just as comfortably on government benefits as they could if they earned a low-end salary. With progressive pricing, the wealthy also have no motivation to work or earn, since their expenses will rise in proportion to their wealth. Why work? It won't gain you anything.
Go Slow: Class-Warfare Xing
Luckily, the idea of progressive fines and prices has not yet caught on in the U.S. -- and might in fact be patently unconstitutional, as noted in this old blog post about Finland's progressive fine structure:
Such a thing is, hopefully, unconstitutional in the United States. In the US, we're supposed to be equal under the law. Imagine the abuse a law like that could cause. Cities looking to increase revenue simply park officers in the wealthier parts of town. Wealthy people, effectively, would have less freedom than non-wealthy people since as a practical matter, most people speed from time to time but the wealthy would disproportionately have their speed limits enforced.
I understand the argument for such a law -- to the rich guy, a traffic fine is meaningless. A $100 fine is more of an annoyance to the millionaire due to having been stopped than the actual cost (and the increase in insurance is a bigger deal anyway). But all citizens are supposed to be equal in the eyes of the law. The rich pay far more in taxes but still have to drive on the same roads.
But where does it all end? If it's unfair that the rich can easily pay their speeding tickets, then it's also unfair that they can easily pay for their health insurance, their Frappuccinos, their underpants and their bongo drums. Those damn millionaires! They can afford stuff!
One can only hope that the United States Constitution is that last gate preventing us from careening down the slippery slope toward a "progressive" utopia of Marx-inspired economic class punishments.