cup of coffee
Patrick Ishmael

Over at the Kansas City Star, Dave Helling comments on a raucous online debate about Kansas's LLC tax exemption—specifically, the misgivings of a Kansas business owner interviewed by the Star who, after Kansas's tax cuts, regrets that some of his income isn't taxed anymore. The businessman's detractors say that if he regrets having the money, he should donate it. But in a sympathetic analogy, Dave lays out a story about the potential perils of employees pooling money to buy an office coffee machine and how without forced giving, your morning Folger's would be hard to come by. As Dave puts it, unless everyone contributes the agreed amount for the coffee machine—presumably the office "tax"—then "the coffee pot remains on the store’s shelf."

But the Great Caffeine Shortage of 2016 (and 2015, and before) never really materialized in most of our offices. That's not because the government or some government-analog always provides the capital for coffee. Some of us make coffee ourselves and bring it to the job site in a thermos; others buy coffee on the way to work, or take a break mid-morning to get a pumpkin spice latte. (now available!) In fact, the coffee I drink at my office here on Troost is, more often than not, from my own coffee machine, which I brought to the break room and share with my coworkers.

I could demand that the Show-Me Institute provide me with "free" coffee and force everyone else to pay for it, and certainly there are office necessities and amenities that the Institute does underwrite. The point is, I wanted a certain kind of coffee, and I felt strongly enough that I didn't bother lobbying my employer for "shared sacrifice," but instead took care of that want myself—to the benefit of more than just myself. Not everything is best given from on high, including coffee. And somehow, some way, most of us have easy access to the stuff.

Of course Dave's office analogy for government has other limitations, too. First among them is that taxpayers don't work for the government. Taxpayers also cannot "switch" governments if we find ours unresponsive to our coffee demands—at least not to the extent, manner, and speed with which we can switch actual employers. Moreover, we can vote ourselves other peoples' money in government; I can't, by majority vote, requisition Patrick Tuohey's fancy-pants wallet and force him to pay for, say, a new coffee machine for the other 99% of us. 

You get my point.

Government has appropriate roles, and funding expenditures to carry out those roles is already fraught with all sorts of moral questions, because it requires taking money from people, even if it's against their will. But just because government can force other people to buy you a coffeemaker doesn't mean it should, and it is no virtue to publicly regret your good fortune as a means to force others to pay for your own priorities.

If you care about it, be an example to others and put your money where your mug is. And if you don't really care about it? Don't tell everyone else they owe you a latte.

About the Author

Patrick Ishmael

Patrick Ishmael is the director of government accountability at the Show-Me Institute.