The mobility of human beings has advanced to the point that technology allows us to accomplish many of the things we used to have to move around to do without leaving our homes. Meetings. Research. Shopping. Collaboration.
With the growing trend of a dispersed workforce, what’s the progressive solution for saving Providence government financials? Well, if Sam Bell, leader of the state branch of the Progressive Democrats of America, is representative:
“If Providence were able to tax the income of wealthy commuters who live in the suburbs, we could eliminate or drastically reduce property taxes and solve Providence’s fiscal nightmare overnight. This is the policy solution many other states take to this challenge, but the General Assembly will not allow Providence to implement it. And so our central city crumbles—plagued by poverty, a shrunken police and fire force, struggling schools, brutally high taxes, and fundamentally impossible math,” Bell added.
The first thing to note is that Bell should really be required to substantiate his “many other states” assertion. A quick online search mainly brings up articles about cities that are seeking this particular golden goose, but their success seems limited mainly to Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and Scranton… stop laughing). New York City let its commuter tax expire with the last century.
More important, though, is the sheer economic illiteracy, matched with historical anachronism. Cities’ main problem is that people no longer have to interact with them. When transportation was limited to feet and horses, it made life a lot easier to live close to work and to the services that other people provided. Those days are gone. Not only can we drive and telecommute, but individuals and businesses alike can order products from around the world and have them shipped quickly and cheaply. Increasingly, we can order products and services that can be delivered instantly via the Internet.
Now that necessity is moving out of the picture, the challenge for cities is that people have to want to go there — for work, convenience, or entertainment. Taxing them to work there while living somewhere else makes working there less desirable. (It’s a complicated equation, I know.)
At bottom, the progressive view on such policies winds around two poles: being able to tell people how to live and distributing government services (while collecting votes in exchange). That’s a very old-fashioned model, and it’s the one that cities still serve best, as proven by the strength of Democrats in cities even within Republican-dominated states like Texas.
This simple truth is easily forgotten, but our society shouldn’t be structured entirely around government services. That’s not what life is supposed to be about, and people should be suspicious of anybody who seems to believe otherwise.