Free Markets, Free People
The Problem, and the False Solution
Mark Steyn makes an interesting—indeed, vitally important—point about government spending. The Left is always keen on telling us that we are under-taxed, or that the "rich" aren’t paying their fair share, or some such nonsense. We’ve argues long and hard here that what we face is not a revenue problem, but a spending problem. Mr. Steyn pithily sums up an important bit of evidence for that assertion.
The total combined wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans is $1.5 trillion. So, if you confiscated the lot, it would barely cover one Obama debt-ceiling increase.
That’s really the problem in a nutshell. This week, the President asked for a $1.2 trillion debt increase. We could pay for it, I suppose, by confiscating all the wealth of the Forbes 400, and have a nice $300 billion left over…but there won’t be too many people left that we can soak to cover the next debt ceiling increase. Also, as a point of academic interest, President Obama’s debt ceiling increase is $200 billion more than the entire national debt was in 1980.
To the extent we do have a revenue problem, perhaps it’s not that the rich pay too little, but rather that the poor do. 47% of American’s don’t pay any income tax at all. Which means that the "soak the rich" argument can really be boiled down to the 47% of Americans that don’t pay income taxes think the remaining 53% aren’t paying their fair share.
Well, someone isn’t, at any rate.
At the deepest levels within our governing structures, we are committed to living beyond our means on a scale no civilization has ever done. Our most enlightened citizens think it’s rather vulgar and boorish to obsess about debt. The urbane, educated, Western progressive would rather "save the planet," a cause which offers the grandiose narcissism that, say, reforming Medicare lacks.
And reforming Social Security, while we’re at it. Which we aren’t. And which, combined, will eat up the entire Federal budget in the not-too-distant future.
Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. It’d be great to have a first-class military, generous Medicare and Social Security benefits. Along with all the rest of the coddling state that supports in the grand manner to which we’ve become accustomed. But the future won’t allow us to be that generous. You see, we’re heading to a $16.5 trillion national debt, because, instead of being prudent with our money in order to meet all those future obligations, we blew it.
We spent money we didn’t have to build carrier groups and JDAMs, No Child left Behind and Medicare Part D. At the current rate, the federal government will, sometime this century, consist of a single department that does nothing but collect taxes and issue Social Security checks, because there won’t be one red cent left over for Defense, Justice, State, Commerce, Agriculture, or Treasury. And, we probably won’t be able to afford even that.
Mainly, because we won’t be able to produce much of anything.
Last January, the BBC’s Brian Milligan inaugurated the New Year by driving an electric Mini from London to Edinburgh, taking advantage of the many government-subsidized charge posts en route. It took him four days, which works out to an average speed of 6 mph — or longer than it would have taken on a stagecoach in the mid-19th century. This was hailed as a great triumph by the environmentalists. I mean, c’mon, what’s the hurry?
What indeed? In September, the 10th anniversary of a murderous strike at the heart of America’s most glittering city was commemorated at a building site: The Empire State Building was finished in 18 months during the Depression, but in the 21st century the global superpower cannot put up two replacement skyscrapers within a decade.
The 9/11 memorial museum was supposed to open on the 11th anniversary, this coming September. On Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced there is "no chance of it being open on time." No big deal. What’s one more endlessly delayed, inefficient, over-bureaucratized construction project in a sclerotic republic?
This is—as hard as it may be to believe—the same country that, in 1940, had an army smaller than Rumania, and by 1945, had the military power to, had we wanted, rule the globe. Now, we’re the country that can’t replace the World Trade Center in 10 years. This is not emblematic of a can-do country with the willingness to attack and solve problems with a vengeance.
But the president thinks that if we can only tax millionaires more, we can fix this place up quick.