Tag Archives: government spending

Winning the Argument on Tax Cuts and Government Spending

By Marc Seltzer; originally published at care2.com on December 5, 2010.

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It’s a funny thing.  Only about two percent of Americans make up the wealthiest two percent of Americans.  How is it then that so many Americans are willing to stand with Republicans in their efforts to lower taxes on the top two percent?

What is it about slogans like “no more taxes,” and “government spending is out of control” that are so appealing to the other ninety-eight percent of Americans?  The 98% don’t really pay all that much in taxes, and they recoup a substantial amount of what they do pay through their use of social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Veteran’s benefits, welfare, public education, transportation, environmental protection and unemployment insurance, etc.

Liberal commentators often skip over this question and jump into the fray accusing Republicans of greed, manipulation and deception.  Rachel Maddow recently expressed concern that Democrats would compromise on the Bush tax cuts.  She railed against the Republicans’ consistent refusal to compromise and extolled Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for blasting Republicans for cutting taxes on the wealthy at the same time as they complain about debt and deficits.

SANDERS: “We are now faced with the issue of what we do with the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, and if you can believe it, we have people here, many of my Republican colleagues who tell us, oh, I am so concerned with debt and deficits, I am terribly concerned with a trillion dollar national debt, terribly concerned, but wait a minute, its very important that we give, over a ten year period, 700 billion in tax breaks to the top 2 percent.”

“We talk about a lot of things on the floor of the Senate, but somehow we forget to talk about the reality of who is winning in this economy and who is losing, and it is very clear to anyone who spends two minutes studying the issue, the people on top are doing extraordinarily well at the same time as the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing.”

This is true, so why don’t Americans vote 98-2 in support of taxes and government spending?  Why don’t Democrats have more traction when they argue for raising taxes on the wealthy and spending money on social programs?

Could it be that Americans don’t feel good about taxes and government spending because they really are naturally wary of big government?  Remember that the nation was born of the fundamental principles that power corrupts and authority must be held in check.  Yet the size and scope of government today dwarfs any monarchy or authority that the founding fathers could even have imagined.  The British Empire of old doesn’t hold a candle to present day Washington.

This isn’t to say that Social Security and Medicare shouldn’t be revered and safeguarded.  But costly foreign wars and catastrophic financial mismanagement have caused more than the usual doubt or despair over government.

Anyone who argues in the public arena that taxes must be collected and spending authorized would do well to respect the public’s healthy skepticism. To speak to this concern is to talk about good management practices and improved efficiency; more persons served and better services with lower costs.  This doesn’t have to hide the difficult decisions about balancing budgets and taking care of our fellow citizens.  But it’s not enough to say the rich can afford to pay, or that Republicans want to cut spending on social programs, and think that you’ve won the argument.

Americans know that the breakdown in good government is in part because government’s very size and financial power have turned it into an unwieldy, unaccountable beast.  How the public regains control is not yet known, but those working to preserve the social safety net, should avoid collisions with the public’s genuine desire for government reform.

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Public v. Private: Which part of “of the people, by the people, for the people” don’t you get?

Originally published on February 26, 2009, at care2.com


Thomas Jefferson -- photo by chadh, licensed creative commons

Thomas Jefferson -- photo by chadh, licensed creative commons

If it were possible to take a step back from the current focus on the economic crisis with its financial breakdown, housing glut, contracting commerce, growing unemployment, and menacing deficits, we could make out an even broader political picture:  the failure of the me-only private vision of civic life and its replacement by a public-private partnership of sound leadership.

Take the four areas that President Obama has now committed to reform:  finance, education, energy and health care.  In each area, those whose political philosophy is that public vision is necessarily faulty, and private interest is all, have pushed and pulled their version of reform through the Republican Revolution of 1994, talk-radio over-simplification, and anti-government rhetoric.  This is not to say that Republicans, per se, embrace a private-only solution to reform, as they don’t, but many who have sought to gut the government and replace all regulation and public funding with self-interest and free-markets have done so at least masquerading as conservatives.

In the financial arena, faith was placed in the market to regulate itself.  Instead, short-term self-interest led too many to take fatal risks requiring government bailout to protect the larger economy.

In public education, anti-government vision led to stripping schools of resources, spurring many who could afford it to choose private schools with outstanding resources and leaving others to suffer emaciated public education.

Our energy system allowed the market to dictate the most economically efficient energy despite the consequent flow of money to nations who act against our national interests.  Short- and long-term environmental costs associated with self-interested energy choices were shifted to the public from the private sector.

Finally, health care expenditures press business and family budgets and leave many under-served, yet there is resistance to public supervision of the health care system, where industry money influences elections and portrays government action as the problem, despite huge inefficiencies in the current system.

Critics of the new president’s budget and priorities attack the plan as “big government.”  This is nonsense.  Limited regulation, adequate funding for education, and limited macro-management of sectors of the economy with strategic and economic national importance are not big government but good government. Calling spending “socialism” because it increases the budget is pure political rhetoric. We need to balance the budget, but we need education as well.  Good government provides oversight, restricts harmful actions, and promotes positive ones.

There are, of course, inefficiencies in the system.  President Obama has in no way acted to protect and preserve government waste.  Improvements are also part of good government.  But the fact that members of the government, whose philosophy was “hands off,” failed to regulate the financial sector, is hardly an indictment of the ability of Americans to benefit from government of the people, by the people, for the people.  Good public leadership and judgment has tremendous potential, not to take over for private action, but to guide private enterprise to serve democratically determined purposes and to fill the vacuum created in public decision-making by those seeking to gut, rather than reform government.