Contributed by Rep.-Elect David Eastman
I rarely think on the legacy of my grandparents. That legacy is so engrained in our family that it rarely comes to the surface. But two aspects of that legacy have become tangible enough over the years for me to be able to talk about. The first is a love of camping and the outdoors, and the second is a healthy distrust of government. The latter crystalized during my great grandmother’s brief experience working for a new governmental agency called the IRS during World War I, and the first was something my grandparents lived out on family fly-fishing, backpacking and camping trips with us until they were both well into their 70s.
To give you an idea of just how engrained that legacy was in my case, I didn’t realize that a hunting or camping trip could actually be not enjoyable until I was well into my twenties and had already spent more than a year of my life sleeping in the outdoors. I remember the trip vividly. After decades of enjoying treks with family and boy scouts, I found myself as a last minute addition to a two-week hunting trip with some friends I served with in the army. They had hunted in the area before, so it made sense for them to take the lead on planning and leading the trip. Only one problem, the thought literally never crossed their mind that spending time in the outdoors could be an enjoyable experience.
It was a mind-blowing moment for me. Here I was, camping with people (friends of mine) who literally found no joy in camping. Worse, they were the ones leading the trip. Now as luck would have it, they also invited an entrepreneur (small business owner) to join them on the trip. And here’s where the trip got very interesting.
I found myself noticing that within the group there were two very different approaches to the same set of circumstances. The differences were night and day. The entrepreneur was focused on finding ways of improving the experience for himself (and often everyone else in the group). My army buddies weren’t.
What made the experience so fascinating is that these are all men that I admire and respect to this day. They are true friends. But there was a complete disconnect between those whose orientation to the trip was focused on making the trip better, and those who had resigned themselves to a painful experience and saw their role as ensuring that “the suck” was spread equally among every member of the group.
As a veteran, I sympathized with the latter. There are times when you just have to suck it up and drive on. But I was raised by an entrepreneur, and my orientation to life is much more that of the entrepreneur. Just because something has been done one way in the past is no reason to assume that we must continue to do it that way in the future.
As I look out on the current political landscape in Alaska, I’m reminded of that trip. There are those advocating for a state income tax to “better” redistribute wealth (and hard times) among Alaskans. And there are those like myself who stand steadfastly against the idea and want government to stay out of wealth redistribution entirely. I want government to return to its original role - to serve every member of society, to protect the rights of the people and to facilitate our working together voluntarily to improve our communities.
Limited government means recognizing what government is good at, and what it’s not. We all benefit from roads that are plowed, potholes that are filled and working traffic lights that help us travel safely from place to place. We benefit from police who stand ready to protect and defend, and firefighters who can quickly respond to help rescue those in need. When government is doing its job well, we all benefit from these things. In these situations, government is helping us all to be better and is making our communities stronger.
Contrast this with what happens when government adopts the mindset of my army buddies; when it resigns itself to ensuring that “the suck” of one person is spread equally to everyone in society. From an economic perspective, this almost always means taking from those parts of society that are performing well, and giving or “redistributing” to those parts of society that are doing poorly by definition. This means “taking” from the entrepreneurs who are in the best position to create jobs in Alaska, and “giving” to those who are not in any position to even think about creating a job.
After a time, consumption is more balanced, and someone in government see this and declare a partial victory. But it is a pyrrhic victory at best. Over time, what you have really accomplished is to limit job growth. And if you pursue this plan aggressively enough over time, you begin to lose even the jobs that you started with.
In pursuing wealth redistribution, wouldn’t it make at least as much sense to redistribute wealth to those in the private sector who are in the best position to create the jobs that will make our economy stronger and more resilient over time? What a horrifying thought. But then, I’m not a socialist.
I have a local business owner in my district who has been creating jobs year after year, and is in the business of actually manufacturing goods. And while all the talking heads tell us how important it is to grow the manufacturing sector in Alaska, the prescriptions I have been hearing lately will stop that growth deader than a doornail. It’s as though the current administration is trying to play a high level game of whack-a-mole across the state.
Here’s a business that is creating jobs - quick, let’s tax them more so that they can’t. Here are people who are managing to live above the poverty line, let’s cut their PFD so that they no longer can. There are thousands of Alaskans in that category.
How does it help Alaska to push people below the poverty line, and then take money out of the private sector to help prop up the increase in government services that then comes into play? It doesn’t. We are robbing Peter to pay Joshua, Mark and Pauline, and the only thing we are accomplishing is pushing Alaska’s economy further into recession. The PFD raid was the first tax on income. And now they want to double down with a statewide personal income tax on top of that. Help! Do they think that by sinking Alaska further that somehow the federal government will step in to save us?
For the sake of our future, Alaska desperately needs to adopt the mindset of an entrepreneur.
David Eastman will be a freshman member of the Alaska State House of Representatives, representing Mat-Su House District 10, which runs from the border of Denali National Park to the Wasilla City Limits