One of the things that I don't understand about the government protesters is how they were overwhelmingly likely to support huge government expenditures to rebuild a foreign, non-threatening nation, but protest like mad against government expenditures to rebuilt our own nation in the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. The Iraq War has now cost over $700 billion, with much of the cost deferred to where the total cost will end up in the trillions. And yet when a similar amount is spent by our government to shore up the financial system, assist the millions that have lost their jobs, and spur new growth, Sarah Palin has to show up and read off her hand that government is destroying our liberties.
It may surprise you to learn, though, that I am concerned about the spending and debt of the federal government. I don't think this is an ideological concern, I think most Americans are at least uncomfortable with our national debt. Some Americans are downright angry about it, which I don't understand, but I think it is important to understand the problem and react appropriately. Unfortunately, the government protesters, with all the vitriol and hyperbole, have made it difficult to discuss the issue intelligently.
And as far as I'm concerned, here is the problem: Americans don't want to pay for what we demand. As a result, politicians from both parties promise the benefits of government without requiring the requisite sacrifices from the public. This is no shocking revelation, of course, but consider the following facts, taken from a Washington Post article from last year:
- The average family pays only nine percent of its income to taxes (down significantly from previous decades).
- The middle fifth of taxpayers pay only three percent of their income to taxes (again, down significantly).
- A majority of Americans considers their tax burden either too low or about right.
- About a third of all taxpayers pay no taxes at all (excluding Social Security and Medicare).
Also note that, contrary to popular belief, corporations in America actually pay less taxes than in the average developed country (average 16.1%, US 13.4%), largely due a graduated tax rate and generous business deductions.
I am among the many Americans that want health care insurance for all Americans, programs to help low and middle income Americans pay for college, Social Security for low income retirees, a safety net for the poor that cannot find any work or cannot find work that pays for the basic necessities of life, etc. I'm a liberal, therefore I want programs that help level the playing field. That is not to say that everyone should make the same amount of money or that we should pay for people to be lazy, but that everyone should have equal opportunity to get ahead if they so desire.
Remember, as we've pointed out here many times in the past, only a very small, minuscule fraction of Americans are intentionally lazy and living off the government for years on end. Most Americans are hard-working and have self-respect and pride, and try their best to survive on their own. But the system (i.e. market) is set up for poor people to become more poor, no matter how hard-working or talented they are, and for the rich to become more rich, no matter how lazy and incompetent they are. The rags to riches story is a heart-warming exception to the rule. So we turn to the government to make some new rules which are more equitable.
But we stopped paying for it. We give corporations huge tax breaks and promise the middle and upper classes lower and lower taxes until they are hardly paying any at all. And then we borrow money to pay for the things we want. So we have two choices to lower the debt: we eliminate those playing-field-leveling programs or we require more taxes from Americans.
Liberals and conservatives alike can agree that we should require more accountability and efficiency from the federal government. Pres. Obama has said that he is going through the government now and looking for ineffective programs to eliminate, and I hope that this is true. There should absolutely be pressure on him, once the economy is righted, to balance the budget and eliminate waste, like Pres. Clinton did. But Pres. Obama is right that we first have to stabilize the economy, and that requires spending. Then, in prosperous economic times we should have every expectation that government will scale back its spending, again, like what Pres. Clinton did.
We shouldn't let the government protesters hijack a meaningful and important conversation about government spending and deficits by injecting vitriol and absurd arguments about how government spending equals a lack of personal liberties. Everyone can agree that fiscal responsibility is best in the long term, but right now is the time for the government to build our country up again after a terrible economic disaster. If we are committed to doing it in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should be committed to doing it in America.