Gordon Gekko’s Government

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/08/13/gordon-gekkos-government/

“Greed,” declared Gordon Gekko in a memorable movie scene, “for lack of a better word, is good.”

The lead character in the 1987 hit movie Wall Street, Gekko took center stage in the anti-capitalism screed from lefty filmmaker Oliver Stone. The familiar quote is frequently rolled out when liberal media barons are highlighting defects in oil companies, coal mines, or other sectors of the private economy disfavored by the progressive mindset.

Of course, greed was not revealed to elitist liberals in the 20th Century. Long before, this universal flaw of human nature was condemned by the Bible and counted among the Seven Deadly Sins. Today, it is as easily detected in government as in the private sector, as common among politicians as among investors. 

As an example:  Take the Massachusetts legislature … Please. (Apologies to “The King of the One Liners,” the great Henny Youngman.)

In the current legislative session, the overriding goal of the Beacon Hill power-brokers centered on increasing the pay of the House and Senate leadership. On that particular point, they succeeded. With the first vote on their legislative calendar, they jacked-up their own taxpayer-funded income by egregiously large amounts, crassly “feathering their own nests.” In fact, if these insiders ever appeared blushing red-faced, they must have been fully flushed from laughing all the way to the bank.

Most appalling, the legislature boosted the salaries of Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo by 46 percent, or $46,000 apiece, to nearly $143,000. That more than doubles the median income level of ordinary working folks who bear the burden of Bay State taxes. When was the last time any ordinary taxpaying family saw a 46 percent pay hike? Not to be left out, all the power-brokers grabbed their unfair share, as the pay package granted raises to other legislative insiders, state office holders, and well-compensated judges.

After satisfying their own greed, one might have expected the legislature to toss a few crumbs to those taxpaying families who are obligated to pay for the salaries and benefits of the governing elite. But like the rich man in the Biblical parable about Lazarus, the legislative power-brokers would not condescend to offer even the morsels left on the Big Government table.

Turning their back on taxpayers, the Democrat leaders on Beacon Hill canned the sales tax holiday, a traditional summertime weekend reprieve from the 6.25 percent tax levied on most retail purchases in Massachusetts. “Tough luck,” said the leaders of the House and Senate. “We got our pay raises. Now you must pay for them.”

This may seem strange for liberal politicians, who routinely spout off about their concern for “working families.” After all, the regressive sales tax hits hardest at the pocketbooks of working and middle class families. Nevertheless, that realization apparently failed to soften the hearts of the greedy political leaders and their self-centered “I’ve got mine, Jack” attitude. 

Fortunately, taxpaying families are not solely dependent upon the noblesse oblige of the plump aristocrats in the state legislature. Another group of taxpayers got stiffed by the legislative pay hike and the decision to end the sales tax holiday. Those taxpayers own and work in small retail shops that depend upon the annual suspension of the sales tax as a means to pump up sagging sales at their brick-and-mortar establishments. The sales tax holiday represents a win-win weekend for working families and mom-and-pop businesses. 

It manifests a concrete example of the public-private partnerships about which liberals often rhapsodize. Only this time, government greed overpowered the common good that unites families and businesses. Sadly, the private enrichment of politicians triumphed over the public interest.  

Yet out of this selfish mischief something positive may yet arise. In the face of Beacon Hill intransigence, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts is reluctantly planning to lead a petition drive placing a sales tax question on the state ballot in November 2018. The Retailers must gather 64,750 signatures in order to give voters authority to decide the fate of a sales tax rollback and an annual sales tax holiday weekend. 

The goals will include rolling back the 25 percent sales tax hike that the Democrat legislature passed under Governor Deval Patrick, increasing the levy from its longstanding 5 percent rate all the way to the current 6.25 percent. Unsatisfied by such a massive money-grab, many of those same Democrats are now denying taxpaying families and small businesses the brief dispensation of a two-day sales tax holiday.  

Most recently in April of this year, Representative Shaunna O’Connell, the redoubtable Republican from Taunton, championed an amendment to authorize an annual sales tax holiday. In a largely party-line effort, the Democrat majority sidelined the proposal by a 115-38 vote.  

Never being satisfied with more and more makes up one definition of greed.  A selfish and excessive desire for greater wealth or power is another. A rapacious desire to exploit workers and taxpayers characterizes the worst excesses of both business and government. And in the exploitation of working and taxpaying families, such selfishness may ultimately backfire. 

In the Bible lesson, that’s exactly what happened to the rich man, who was condemned to suffer in Hades.

In Massachusetts, it could happen to the political power-brokers. By rolling back the sales tax and establishing an annual retailers’ holiday, voters can provide much-needed relief to taxpaying families and family-owned businesses. Voters can also serve notice to politicians that, contra-Gekko, “government greed, for lack of a better phrase, must respect tolerable limits.” To the political class, that might resound like a fate worse than Hades.


Joseph Tortelli is a freelancer writer. Read Mr. Tortelli’s past articles here.