By N.S. Palmer
Democrats and some Republicans (notably Newt Gingrich in his famous video, “When Mitt Romney Came to Town”) portray Mitt Romney as a heartless “vulture capitalist” who’s better at destroying jobs than creating them. I’m not at all sure how inaccurate those portrayals are. I’ve known people very much like that: people who are completely indifferent to the welfare of those outside their own circle.
Of course, I might be wrong: Romney might be the sweetest and most compassionate person on the planet. I just don’t see evidence of that in his background or behavior.
Romney and the Republicans are making a lot of noise about our “deficit problem.” It’s worth noting, by the way, that Republicans see deficits as a problem only when there’s a Democratic president. Under the administration of he-who-shall-not-be-named (let’s call him “BushCheney”), Republicans thought that deficits were a good thing. That’s why they turned the budget surpluses at the end of the Clinton years into trillion-dollar deficits by the end of the BushCheney years. But I digress.
Our government deficit and national debt are long-term problems, not short-term problems. Even liberal lions like Paul Krugman agree that we need to address excessive deficits in the long term. However, our deficits result partly from economic depression. More budget cuts would worsen our economic situation, thereby defeating the purpose of the cuts. We’ve seen exactly that scenario play out in Europe due to the misguided “austerity” policies dictated by the Cameron government in the UK and by Angela Merkel in the EU. Further depressing economic activity would not only cause great hardship (though not on the people who advocate it), but it would make it harder to address the deficit in the long run.
Moreover, our deficit problem does not result mainly from the things that are proposed as cuts: help for the poor and elderly, Obamacare, teacher salaries, and so forth. To the extent that our deficit problem does not result mainly from economic depression, it’s caused mainly by (a) higher medical costs than other developed countries that provide better medical care and (b) inadequate taxes on those who benefit most from the system, including people like Romney. Most people don’t know that in the 1950s, the top income tax bracket was 91 percent, while taxes on capital gains and corporate profits were much higher than today, but economic growth was much better and a family could live comfortably on a single wage-earner’s pay.
Even the most militaristic neo-conservatives must admit that U.S. government’s counter-productive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with its apparent decision to garrison the entire planet, have made our national debt problem much worse. When I was a movement conservative, that was openly discussed as part of the game plan: Run up such huge deficits that we would then be “forced” to cut Social Security, Medicare, and other so-called entitlements, as well as get the government out of areas where we didn’t think it should be in the first place, such as regulating Wall Street and providing public education.
One more general point: There’s a temptation to think that suffering is good for the soul — that the “tough” solution is necessarily the best solution. It’s the same argument that “tough-minded” atheists use to argue against what they see as the weak and cowardly belief in God. It’s no more valid in economics than it is in theology. And the suffering that tough-minded people advocate always falls, surely by coincidence, on people other than themselves.
Copyright 2012 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL (http://www.ashesblog.com) are included.