Stairstep Economics

James Lileks engages a doorbell pusher for Kerry in dialogue. Confusion ensues.

The other day a young girl came to the door to solicit my support for her presidential candidate. I asked her why I should vote for this man. She was very nice and earnest, but if you got her off the talking points she was utterly unprepared to argue anything, because she didn̢۪t know what she was talking about. She had bullet points, and she believed that any reasonable person would see the importance of these issues and naturally fall in line. But she could not support any of her assertions. Her final selling point: Kerry would roll back the tax cuts.

Then came the Parable of the Stairs, of course. My tiresome, shopworn, oft-told tale, a piece of unsupportable meaningless anecdotal drivel about how I turned my tax cut into a nice staircase that replaced a crumbling eyesore, hired a few people and injected money far and wide – from the guys who demolished the old stairs, the guys who built the new one, the family firm that sold the stone, the other firm that rented the Bobcats, the entrepreneur who fabricated the railings in his garage, and the guy who did the landscaping. Also the company that sold him the plants. And the light fixtures. It’s called economic activity. What’s more, home improvements added to the value of this pile, which mean that my assessment would increase, bumping up my property taxes. To say nothing of the general beautification of the neighborhood. Next year, if my taxes didn’t shoot up, I had another project planned. Raise my taxes, and it won’t happen — I won’t hire anyone, and they won’t hire anyone, rent anything, buy anything. You see?

“Well, it’s a philosophical difference,†she sniffed. She had pegged me as a form of life last seen clilcking the leash off a dog at Abu Ghraib. “I think the money should have gone straight to those people instead of trickling down.†Those last two words were said with an edge.

“But then I wouldn’t have hired them,†I said. “I wouldn’t have new steps. And they wouldn’t have done anything to get the money.â€

“Well, what did you do?†she snapped.

“What do you mean?â€

“Why should the government have given you the money in the first place?â€

“They didn’t give it to me. They just took less of my money.â€

That was the last straw. Now she was angry. And the truth came out:

“Well, why is it your money? I think it should be their money.â€

Then she left.

And walked down the stairs. I let her go without charging a toll. It̢۪s the philanthropist in me.

But why should they be his stairs?

Hat tip: Max Jacobs

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. M. Murcek says:

    Yep, that’s it. How you feel about private property drives which side you’re on. Some amount of wealth re-distribution is inevitable. When someone argues it should ALL be re-distributed, they lose my attention.

  2. Boyd says:

    This reminds me of something I heard once. Something about everyone receiving based on their needs, and contributing based on their abilities. Where did I hear that…?

    Oh, yeah, I remember now. I think they called it “Communism.”