One of the most fascinating characteristics of government borrowing – whether at the local, state, or federal level – is that debts contracted over time are obligations tied to specific geographical boundaries but not to the citizens living there when those debts were incurred. For example, while it’s customary to say that each of the 210,000 residents of Stockton, California, are on the hook for their share of the bankrupt municipality’s estimated $700 million in unpaid bills, the day one of them picks up and moves, personal responsibility for that debt drops to zero.
Imagine if that type of tax “evasion” were eliminated. How would it change America?
Government debts are accrued on your behalf by elected officials for whom you had a chance to vote, all supposedly representing your interests. In a democracy, all citizens are obliged to pay the government’s bills as determined by the duly empowered taxing authorities – regardless of whether they voted for a particular officeholder or not. What’s to stop legislators from passing laws that make debt obligations due and payable by any citizen who decides to leave for another jurisdiction? After all, they don’t hesitate to take your money when you die.
Mayors and governors of most tax-and-spend, heavily unionized, low-growth cities and states are both desperate for revenue and tired of watching disgruntled citizens vote with their feet. Think how politically attractive it would be for them to make “economic deserters” pay their “fair share” of old debts. I can see the arguments already: “You can’t move away from credit card debt or commercial debt, so why should government debt be so easy to dodge?” Politicians could easily win kudos from both public employee unions and the overtaxed residents left behind, for the mere cost of enraging emigrants who won’t be around to exact retribution at the next election.