When I read this piece on Truthdig by Alexander Reed Kelly, which referred to an article in the November Harper’s Magazine by economist Jeff Madrick saying that entitlements aren’t the problem causing our deficits, too-low tax rates are the problem, it reminded me of something I wrote a couple of years ago:
Yesterday President Obama and the Republicans worked out a deal on extending the Bush tax cuts from 2001. They also threw in a “temporary” reduction in the payroll tax we pay for social security, dropping it by two percentage points. So now we’ll pay even less in taxes, without giving up anything. We’ve come to believe we shouldn’t have to. It’s really a pretty sweet deal – we just keep shoving this massive debt off on you. You’ll be paying on this long after we’re dead, buried, and cursed by you a dozen times over. There’s a fair chance that the United States you’ll know will be crippled by this debt, but hey, we don’t like paying taxes, and we punish anyone who says we should. Oh sure, some of our politicians talked about cutting the deficit in our time, but that was just posturing to get elected. So we’ll keep spending, and cutting taxes because we come up with these nice theories that say cutting taxes will somehow increase the amount of money the government takes in, and we keep on spending like we have even more money coming in. It’s really been a bizarre thirty years, if you stop and think about it, as we’ve piled up deficit after deficit. There was this president named Bill Clinton who actually did do something about the deficit – he even left office with a budget surplus – but the next president, George Bush, took care of that in short order. Tax cuts, you know. Have to cut taxes, give money back to the people. It sounds noble, except that – you guessed it – he kept spending like there weren’t any tax cuts. So, the debt got higher and higher. Anyway, I digress. We, as I said, have another deal on the way, cutting taxes more, sending you more debt, all nicely wrapped up with a pretty bow. Yeah, I know, you’d have preferred to have been able to spend your tax money on repairing roads and bridges, and building new schools, and keeping the military in tip-top shape. Heck, you might have even wished you could have had some tax cuts for yourself. That last will be hard for you to do, I suspect. Just the interest on what we’ve piled up will probably strain what you can afford in taxes. But, you know, tough. We like all this stuff we have. We just don’t like paying for it. That’s what you’re for. And, like I said, we’ll be dead. We won’t care, any more than we do now.
We The People
In the two years since I wrote that, the deficit has stayed absurdly high, social security has gotten less secure (due to the reduced revenue from the 2% payroll tax cut), and President Obama’s willingness to attempt to compromise with the Republicans has gotten him exactly zero credit with the populace. The payroll tax cut is the one thing Obama has done that really disappointed me. And the problem with a “temporary” tax cut is that there’s no such thing in our political environment. The Republicans will always paint the end of a tax cut as a tax increase. It’s as if you let employees leave early one day, then the next when they have to stay until the regular leaving time, they start screaming about lengthening the workday. Paul Ryan’s plan is for a 10% base tax rate, but the problem is no American wants to live with a 10% tax rate budget. We want to pay taxes like it’s 10% and get government services like it’s 20%. We have the lowest taxes in several generations, and all we do is whine about high taxes. You want low taxes and small government, move to Somalia.