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LETTER: LePage is talking policy; Cain is talking politics

To the Editor:

Governor LePage has felt it necessary to point out something obvious: since 80% of the state’s budget goes to education and the Department of Health and Human Services, he is compelled to make cuts in those areas to balance the budget.

To do this in an orderly and rational manner, he proposes to set priorities. He does not favor the “across the board cuts,” widely favored by politicians like his unlamented predecessor John Baldacci.

That is a dodge that enables politicians to escape responsibility for making difficult choices.

The governor’s priority is to continue work on welfare reform in order to preserve funding to education. He has asked voters to contact their legislators to support this priority.

House Democratic Leader Emily Cain is vehemently opposed to setting priorities. In her view, this amounts to “pitting” one group against another. In a purely political sense, she has a point. A great deal of politics involves competing interest groups entering the pit to fight it out like savage animals for a share of the taxpayers’ income.

The governor is talking policy; Representative Cain is talking politics. She is displaying an ignorance of the concept of “opportunity costs,” which is all too common among politicians. This is an important idea for modern economists. It assumes that it is rational to choose X if the benefit of X is greater than the opportunity cost of X.

Excuse me for talking like an economist. Actually, the concept is quite simple and requires no X’s to grasp. Even as a child of five, I understood the essence of problems presented by calculating opportunity costs.

When I toddled along with my wee allowance to East Wilton’s Home Town Market (still in business 65 years later), it was clear to me that if I invested in licorice sticks I was denying myself the opportunity to purchase a chocolate bar or a jigger of gin. (I’m speaking figuratively here. As far as I know The Home Town Market has never traded in gin).

The Democrats’ Minority Leader was trained in vocal education and academic administration. She apparently knows no more of economics than I did as a stripling 65 years ago.

According to my agents in the legislature, the woman didn’t even know who John Maynard Keynes was until she Googled his name a few months ago. Never mind that Keynes’ theories are the basis of her party’s stimulus policy, of which I don’t doubt she warmly approves. Having Googled, she apparently believes Keynes was the man who rescued the United States from the Great Depression—a factoid that would have been news to the man.

Even so, her inability to understand a concept intelligible to a five-year-old is surprising. We have to assume that she is capable of understanding it, but either pretends she doesn’t or refuses to understand it because it’s politically unpalatable to her.

Just guessing here, but Emily Cain and her colleagues may have their own view of opportunity costs, one that they do not care to openly discuss or even acknowledge to themselves. She, like the great majority of her fellow Democrats in the State House, has spent her life on the public payroll. It’s possible that deep down, they think of all the money the taxpayers spend on themselves as a huge cost to government.

Take-home pay as a “tax expenditure.” Why not? The liberals must often think of all the wonderful things they want to do for and to people with money that citizens are allowed to spend on beer, chewing gum, ammo, RVs, ATVs, cosmetics, etc.

Am I being completely unreasonable in assuming that they see this a terrible misappropriation of the state’s wealth? Can’t prove it, but I have my suspicions.

Professor John Frary



Frary is a former U.S. Congress candidate and retired history professor, a Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United and an associate editor of the International Military Encyclopedia, and can be reached at:

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