Friday, July 08, 2011

Our Own Worst Enemy

My patience with the politics of the debt ceiling exstention was never particularly durable and, as the negotiations drag on, I've grown less amused.  It would be one thing if the United States was some punk economy with little impact on the world, but that's not the case.  We are the largest economy in the world and while we don't always act as if we deserve the responsibility that comes with that status, historically we've been quite reliable.  We organized the Marshall Plan, we managed the Bretton Woods agreement, and we've done our best to help other nations when economic ruin came calling for them.  In sum, we behaved like a responsible nation.

Then came Grover Norquist and his crowd.  Norquist, convinced that government is always bad, drafted an agenda which persuaded the nation to cut taxes while government spending grew.  His goal was to starve the government out of existence.  He didn't care who suffered in the process.  So in the 1980s, we listened to Norquist and our common sense abandoned us.  Since that time, marginal tax rates for high income earners have declined, even as spending has grown.  Ronald Reagan started this madness (though, as the chart indicates, he's not the most guilty party…..that distinction belongs to George W. Bush).  And in Bush Junior's case, the commitment to lower taxes while spending on two ill-advised wars blew up and led us to the edge of the cliff.  The recession, a function of failed government regulation, pushed us over.  Now the banks and Wall Street are fine while average Americans find themselves unemployed and with stagnant incomes.

But though the debt is high, there's no reason to panic about it.  For starters, big nations require large governments.  But more important is the fact that some very reasonable tax increases, combined with government spending to stimulate growth can have us out of the hole in a relatively short amount of time.  We'd have to make some responsible decisions, of course.  That sounds easy because it is easy.  Kevin Drum shows us how easy it could be.

Yet these facts are simply lost on the current GOP leadership.  Instead we get endless political grandstanding and Republicans who no longer care what happens to our national economy as long as they win elections.  I sometimes tell my students that we get the government that we deserve.  What I mean is that elected officials work for us and we must tell them what we want.  This system works when you have both an educated, responsible electorate and educated, responsible leaders.  These days, we seem to have neither.  So we're getting what we deserve. 

I don't know about y'all, but that's rather cold comfort to me.

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