Sunday, April 12, 2009

When an Economic Cure Fights Itself

The New York Times - ALMOST every day, a few letters arrive, saying that a group in some city or town is about to have a “tea party.”

The gist, in case you haven’t received any of these invitations, is that President Obama’s taxing and spending plans are far too lavish. The United States will be burdened with immense debts, the protesters say. Taxes will be far too high for comfort, and we will decline as a nation. The tea parties are aimed at stopping all that.

These tea parties strike me as off-base, in some respects, though they evoke a certain principle that rings true, or at least possibly true.

First, I don’t quite get the taxation uproar. As far as I know, no new taxes of any size have been enacted. The only new tax I can spot immediately in front of us is the “cap and trade” levy on carbon emissions, which would be a tax on energy consumers. And even that, based on a questionable idea, doesn’t seem imminent.

When the recession ends, though, we will be facing very large budget deficits, even under the best projections. Unless the Federal Reserve is just going to print money — usually a dangerous road to inflation — how will we pay for government, except through taxes? And who has the money to pay, except the rich? So unless I am missing something, don’t we have to tax the rich, defined in some sensible way?

That’s just arithmetic. I wish that lowering spending were an option, but it’s not. Politicians talk about cutting spending and going through the budget, line by line, looking for waste. It never happens — except that sometimes, the military budget is cut, which is the last thing we should cut in a world as dangerous as ours. And right now, over all, the military budget isn’t being cut, although some programs are being reduced while others are expanding.

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