“I’m so sorry,” I said with true contrition. “Could I get youa coffee or something?” “Something,” she said, “but stronger than coffee.” Thus, to the bar we went and placed our respective anti-temperance orders. She seemed agitated. “I’m Asbesta Camisole,” she said, fidgeting. “And before you ask-my father was an attorney who made his fortune in the asbestos cases a while back.” “Is something special plaguing you?” I asked. “There’s a new $15 charge to check a bag,” she muttered. “The transportation security folks require you to put certain articles in your checked baggage. Then the airline charges you for checking your bag which you would not do if not required to by the transportation police.” “That’s a harsh judgment,” I said. “You make the choice to carry items that are banned from the passenger cabin. You could send them ahead or not take them at all. It’s your choice.
“The airlines are trying to keep their fares as low as possible. To do this, they are unbundling and discontinuing various services that used to be free. No free meals or drinks; you want to eat or sip soda, you can pay for it or bring your own. That means I don’t have to pay for your snack.
“The same with checked baggage. It has to be handled by people at two or more airports and sometimes it is shuffled about on expensive, sophisticated equipment. In the past, all passengers paid for these services whether or not they used them. Now I fly for less if I don’t check a bag.”
Bess did not seem engaged by this argument.
“I guess,” she said, “you have nothing against flat fees charged to each household for garbage removal without any concern for how much trash it puts out. You probably approve of fees on the water bill for fire hydrants. You think anyone who rents a car should pay fees and taxes that have nothing to do with the use of the car.”
“No,” I said. “Fees and taxes need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. If possible, direct beneficiaries should pay for services they use. This does not mean, however, that those without children be exemptfrom supporting public education. Everyone is an indirect beneficiary of a literate and competent citizenry. All of us benefit from the availability of fire hydrants.”
“What about sports facilities?” she asked. “Should people who eat in restaurants miles away pay for playing fields? Should hotel guests pay to attract more visitors to those hotels?”
“That’s easy,” I said. “Sports facilities are natural communal goods, ordained by Scripture for the public’s benefit. If you do not use the stadium, you are failing to support the interests, the passions and psychological needs of your neighbors.
“As for placing taxes on rental cars, hotels and other services used by out-of-towners, if they don’t like it, let them vote against it.”
“You’re joking,” she asserted.
“I am very serious,” I said, “but those last answers were meant to be amusing. If an honest case for the general good cannot be made (as in the case of most sports, entertainment and tourist facilities), government revenue streams should not be used to support private enterprises.”
“You’re a funny one,” she slurred. “How about another drinkie?” •
Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mmarcus@IBJ.com.