Kevin Carey Opposes the Mortgage Deduction

Carey, a pundit at Education Sector, must also oppose the day care tuition tax credit adopted under President Clinton, deductions for charitable donations, and a host of other uses of the tax code to encourage or discourage what people do with their own money.

I say this because it is the logical conclusion that flows from Cary’s post at The Quick and the Ed railing against the tax credit-supported school scholarship program in Arizona whose legality was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

Carey seems to think that the Arizona tax credit is an unusual and inherently “corrupt” deviation from the “well-established process for spending public resources.”  According to Carey, the normal and appropriate process is:

First, the government raises money through taxes. Then, elected representatives pass a law directing how that money should be spent. One could fill a warehouse with examples of how this process fails to be optimal. But it is open, rational and fair at the core, which is why democracies the world over and throughout history spend money this way.

So if Arizona citizens want to support religious schools with taxpayer money, they should go to the statehouse during budget season and make their case alongside advocates for regular public schools, roads, hospitals, police protection, mental health, higher education, state parks, light rail, and so forth.

Of course, that is one way that democratically elected representatives make policy.  Another very common way to make policy is to use the tax code by offering deductions or credits to shape how people behave with their own money.

If Carey were consistent he would be incensed that promoters of home-ownership or charitable-giving use the tax code to encourage these behaviors with private money rather than having direct government appropriations to home-owners or philanthropists.  He should denounce all tax deductions and credits as a “convolution” and “shell game.”

Carey reserves his venom for school scholarship tax credits, while inconsistently ignoring all other similar uses of tax credits and deductions (most of which I assume he supports), because he particularly hates private school choice.  He hates vouchers with a condescension that is extreme even for DC policy-wonks, as we have noted on JPGB in the past.  The only convolution here is Carey inconsistently arguing against private school choice as a violation of democratic policymaking principles rather than making the direct argument against the merits of private school choice.

Carey does not shrink from making the direct (and frightening) argument that the government owns all of our money except for what it deigns to let us keep:  “Katyal’s premise is that people own every dollar they come to possess. They don’t. They owe some of it the government. It’s not their money; it’s the government’s money.”

Again, if Carey wishes to be consistent he should oppose the charitable giving deduction because that money really belongs to the government, not to individuals who the government is encouraging to support charities.  He should also call for an elimination of the deduction because there are some charities that have misused or unwisely spent the money they have received.  Keeping the deduction but cracking down on abuse clearly wouldn’t satisfy him because he seems unmoved by efforts in Arizona to do that with the tax-credit scholarship program.

Perhaps Kevin Carey should stick to writing about higher education, where he has a number of useful things to say.  When he wanders into the world of K-12 he seems to lose the ability to make logical and consistent arguments.  It is obvious he has not thought through the implication of his argument that would oppose all uses of tax deductions and credits.  He’s so focused on under-cutting private school choice that he fails to consider what his position would mean for home-ownership, charitable giving, or pre-school attendance.  Emerson may have been right that a foolish inconsistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but that doesn’t mean we can abandon consistency altogether.

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