Grover Norquist’s Three Laws of Robotics

Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, has come under fire for promoting the strict and unyielding tax policies that have derailed budget negotiations in Washington and Minnesota. But recently he admitted that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, as they are scheduled to in 2012, would not violate Americans for Tax Reform’s strict anti-tax pledge.

Although ending these tax cuts would raise tax rates back to their levels under the Clinton administration, doing so would not require any specific action on the part of lawmakers. Therefore, they would not technically be raising taxes.

If Norquist really wants to control our nation’s policymakers, he could learn a few lessons from Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First law
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second law

In his classic short story collection I, Robot, Asimov explores the various loopholes and inconsistencies of these laws during an exciting future of robots and technology. Norquist’s recent admittance concerning the Bush tax cuts constitutes a similar loophole.

Currently, ATR’s pledge reads, “I, [name], ...will oppose any and all efforts to increase taxes.” But perhaps ATR should take a cue from Asimov and append the pledge with “or, through inaction, allow taxes to be increased”. That way, conservative signees would be forced to preserve massive tax cuts that primarily benefit the rich and contribute to an unsustainable deficit.

But why stop at the first law? Already it seems like the nation’s conservatives are pushing their agenda with robotic efficiency. The three laws of conservative robotics might look something like this:

  1. A conservative may not increase taxes or, through inaction, allow taxes to be increased
  2. A conservative must obey any orders given to him or her by wealthy donors, except where such orders would conflict with the First law
  3. A conservative must protect his or her own career as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second law

Just like Asimov’s, these laws are cleverly designed such that each one supersedes those that follow it. Some of Eric Cantor’s wealthy donors have reportedly expressed their support for higher taxes. But Cantor’s position hasn’t changed; after all, the first law takes precedence over the second.

Conservatives nationwide have also refused to budge on taxes even as polls show that the majority of Americans support balanced solutions to budget deficits. Poll results in Minnesota suggested the same balanced approach of revenue and cuts. This proves that many conservative lawmakers are willing to tank their careers to get their way on taxes, a clear case of the first law overruling the third.

Our representatives in St. Paul and Washington shouldn’t act like robots following strict laws. Instead they should take into account the diverse interests they represent and make well-informed decisions. Asimov, in his later writings, added a zeroth law that took precedence over the original three: A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm. That, perhaps, is the only law our representatives should strictly adhere to.

Posted in Fiscal Policy | Related Topics: Government Policy  Conservative Policy  "No New Taxes"  Income Tax 

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