I've never been a fan of soap operas, but as I worked out on a stationary bike the other day, a co-worker happened to be watching "Guiding Light."
It was the last episode of that 72-year-old series — a bad time to become engrossed, so I plugged in my MP3 player instead.
But I got to thinking. How do you end a soap opera for good? Do all the problems resolve themselves? Are all the secrets revealed, the paternity issues settled? Does everyone go away happy? Soap operas thrive on being able to perpetuate problems, not on finding solutions.
Which makes them a lot like recessions.
The toughest part of recessions is that they always put pressure on governments to do exactly the wrong thing — perpetuating the problem.
When a good share of the people are out of work, trying to make do without a raise — or with less money than the year before — and when businesses are struggling to turn profits while inventories linger, a tax increase would be the soap-opera equivalent of a betrayal.
And yet, at your local city hall or county government center or state capitol, politicians and bureaucrats are struggling to make do with less. Recessions always reduce income and sales taxes, but this one has the added bonus of significantly reducing home values, which puts a strain on property-tax receipts, too.
I know what a lot of you are thinking right now. Two words: tough luck. Tell those government pencil pushers to get their fingers off our wallets and go find honest work.
Well … that makes for a good bumper sticker, and it sure works as a philosophy, so long as you don't venture too far from your own little world. But I'm seeing real people come through the door with real needs that only government can supply.
Like the foster mother from Brigham City who visited the editorial board last week with a toddler in tow. The little girl was born with a methamphetamine addiction, thanks to a mother who used the stuff all through her pregnancy. The state gives foster parents $15 a day, which is about $100 less than it takes to support her each month. And now some lawmakers want to give less.
And like the Salt Lake City police and fire departments, which desperately need a new headquarters and emergency-operations center. Voters soon will get a chance to decide whether to raise property taxes by $75 a year, on average, to do this. In my opinion, they should. But that won't be easy.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, economist Arthur Laffer offered an analysis on what caused the Great Depression. It wasn't the Federal Reserve tightening the money supply, he said. It was taxes.
First came an increase in tariffs, which led to an international trade war. Then came huge increases in income taxes — the top rate went from 25 percent to 79 percent over a few years.
A whole catalog of other tax hikes followed. But Laffer touches on a piece of history that often gets ignored. State and local taxes went up, too. By his calculations, they went from 7.2 percent of the nation's gross domestic product in 1929 to 12.3 percent in 1932.
It was during this time that Utah instituted a sales tax as a temporary measure to combat the Depression. In case you hadn't noticed, it wasn't temporary.
Now, Utah faces an $850 million deficit. There was good news from the Washington-based Tax Foundation this week. Utah ranks 10th best in terms of its business climate. Unemployment is relatively low here. And yet the economy is as fragile as a desert flower.
I don't have all the answers, but I know people, right now, should come before projects. And government fingers should stay out of pockets as much as possible. That's the only way to bring prosperity back.
Will it happen? Unlike with "Guiding Light," you can stay tuned for the next episode.