Charlie Leonard: Inalienable Rights
December 13, 2012
As the president gets closer to achieving his most cherished political ambition – raising taxes on the top earners in our country – I’ve started to wonder what satisfaction he, and those he’s convinced this is a good idea, will actually experience.
Forget all the silly speeches. By any seriously objective standard, the president’s tax increases will do little or nothing to reduce his deficits or his approaching legacy of extraordinary national debt. Without increasing taxes more broadly and without structurally reforming our entitlement programs, which now appears likely, the president’s plan changes virtually nothing about the direction or funding of our government.
The president’s new taxes will not fund a new service, benefit or economic stimulus that anyone will see, touch or feel in their daily life. Despite all the polls that show that a majority of Americans favor increasing taxes on the highest-income earners, I believe they do so out of a belief there is something in it – other than a political victory – for them.
I realize that for some there is an element of wanting nothing more than to try to inflict some small pain on the people they blame for whatever problems they might be experiencing in their own lives. And I also recognize there are other gullible types who really do think the rich don’t pay their “fair share.” But on the whole, I have a sense most people are thinking they’ll come out ahead – and they will be none too happy when they find out it’s all one big political game.
The indisputable truth is that even if the president got every tax increase he is asking for, they are but a drop in a very large bucket. His tax proposals would still result in enormous annual deficits. This is true in part because taxing a fraction of our population – however affluent it is – adds only fractions to our escalating expenditures. And, when you peel back the very thin veneer on the president’s so-called spending cuts, it’s pretty clear that there is no there there. The president’s proposed spending cuts are all out sometime in the future, include gimmicks and double-counting of moneys already counted and provide not a single reform to any of our entitlements. Not a one.
Even if you are one of the people who don’t believe that increasing taxes on the people who own small businesses will harm job creation, there’s not a real economist in the land who thinks increasing taxes on job creators could possibly induce them to spend more on their payrolls.
And, if you accept that taxes on job creators will stymie employment growth, it should be pretty obvious that the president’s additional insistence on increasing taxes on investment earnings is going to adversely impact the creation of new business ventures.
Look no further than the president’s own friends at Costco who cheered his tax plan at the Democratic Convention last summer but last week actually voted to borrow money so they could dividend themselves ahead of the coming tax assault.
To me, what’s going on here is incredibly obvious. For the president, this fight is not about deficits or balance or fairness. It’s about the sport of beating his opponents. It’s about the triumph of his belief that most financially successful Americans are in possession of ill-gotten gains. And it’s about his community-organizer mindset that puts more trust in government benefits than it does in private-sector opportunities.
I fundamentally don’t believe that most Americans share that view, nor will they share the president’s sense of accomplishment a year from now when he has a political victory in his belt but the average American family has nothing to show for it.
To be clear, I’m not one opposed to increasing taxes under any circumstances. In fact, I think taxes should go up, and they should go up progressively on those of us who can afford it most. Not because of fairness – high-income earners already pay more than their fair share relative to what they take back – but because we’re in a fiscal mess and we need more revenue to begin to pay down our massive debt. But, more than tax increases, we need meaningful spending reductions and structural changes to our entitlement programs. That would be big. But big is apparently more than we should expect from a president who continues to act small.