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Cigarette tax imbecility makes college faculty look bad

Usually, a columnist doesn’t concern himself with whatever other columnists write. But I always make an exception when it’s stuff from people associated with academia. And it is time to make another exception with the long-time head of Louisiana Tech’s Journalism Department Wiley Hilburn’s latest missive.

In part, this is self defense because, frankly, I don’t want anybody who reads his latest edition to think that everybody who teaches in Louisiana universities are so unable to make a coherent or logical argument as he demonstrates here. Let’s take this exercise in anti-intellectualism point by point:

What does surprise me is state Republican support, formal and official, for tobacco. We can only assume any lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, voting against Gov. Kathleen Blanco's $1 a pack cigarette tax is pro-tobacco.

So I guess Hilburn would agree with me that we can assume anybody who supports abortion is pro-murder? No, I actually wouldn’t argue that because some people do not have the wisdom of, or perhaps are afraid to embrace, the truth that the unborn are human beings. There are some who labor under the illusion that abortion is a “liberty” to be exercised without regard to a “lump” chock full of human DNA with basic autonomic functions, evidence of simple thinking, and all the potential to fully develop (and has a soul), so they are able to distinguish in their minds the difference between abortion and other forms of murder.

But by his own testimony, Hilburn would take the position I reject. What he seems incapable of understanding is that there are large principles involved. Personally, I’m against smoking, have supported measures to restrict it, and would not be averse to a cigarette tax where the proceeds of it address the health problems it creates, not some activity to which it bears no logical relation. But the more basic principle here is people’s liberty to prevent government from taking their resources except only for great, necessary purposes which otherwise cannot be undertaken. Clearly, the cigarette tax as currently constituted does not meet these criteria.

Hilburn seems totally oblivious to this fact; by his logic, the “evil” of smoking is so overwhelming that any purpose for which the taxes raised from it is legitimate and overrides whatever principle may lie behind its purpose. Therefore, I suppose Hilburn would authorize its proceeds to fund various things such as pro-life organizations (just like these license plates), state-subsidized Ku Klux Klan cookouts, and government organized death squads against journalists.

Hilburn does kind of realize he needs to provide some justification for the tax, and trumpets the tax that will give raises “to our long-suffering teachers, school bus drivers and cafeteria workers.” (Note that he leaves out one category of beneficiaries – college professors. Hilburn is a college professor. You make the inference. For the record, I oppose any tax increase which raises my salary as a college professor.) Then we get these fantastic sentences:

A $3,500 raise would merely allow north Louisiana teachers to stay in the profession they love. And we, public and parents, will get better teachers with better pay.

Note the contradiction between these sentences. In the first, the raise “permits” teachers to stay teaching who we assume are of a certain quality. But in the very next sentence we are told teaching is going to be “better” as a result of the raises. In other words, at first we talk about keeping people because they supposedly are “quality” teachers, but then we say the raise automatically makes them higher quality teachers?

No doubt higher salaries will keep those who have other options from leaving, and others who might have gone elsewhere would stay. But what about the vast majority who are performing (more precisely, underperforming) currently in the system to whom a raise who have no impact on their career plans? Suddenly their teaching becomes so much better because they make more money? There’s no logic to this whatsoever, which is why the only way teachers should be given raises in this state (that is, extra raises on top of their automatic annual raises) is if they also attach to them a true teacher accountability system. Otherwise, we throw good money after bad in many cases.

Then Hilburn simply goes off the deep end:

More pay for teachers is the best investment, the best economic development deed we can do for Louisiana. And the teacher pay raise, if we tax killer-smoke, will have a vast multiplier effect on the north Louisiana economy. Teachers making more money will buy more houses, more franchise food, more cars, more washing machines, more real estate, more television sets, more life insurance, even more cigarettes.

Obviously, Hilburn never will be mistaken for an economist or even someone with common sense on economics. According to Hilburn’s logic, the way to really spur economic growth, if it comes about by government taxing and redistributing, is to tax everybody 100 percent and then redistribute what gets left over into government-sanctioned jobs and salaries. Maybe Hilburn doesn’t remember what happened prior to 1991 in the world, so to remind him, a number of states across the globe until then tried this approach – it’s called communism. And it didn’t work, and it doesn’t work even when we try it on a smaller scale in America because of the natural inefficiencies in how government uses resources and how the private sector does. Optimal economic growth occurs precisely because government stays out of the marketplace as much as possible, not through its wholesale intervention by expropriating people’s resources and then redistributing them.

On behalf of college faculty in the state, I want to apologize that somebody who holds faculty rank actually associates his name with the drivel printed under Hilburn’s name. Many of us are not idiots, and I don’t want the citizens of this state to think “why should we give college faculty raises, or even support higher education, if there is such ignorance being taught” as is represented in Hilburn’s column.

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