In the recent debates in Congress in America, the Republicans and Democrats have been unable to agree to on some basic things. Taxes and entitlement spending, are basic issues. In reality, the question is even more basic and is really the one that needs to be asked. What do you want government to do? The second question then becomes what is the best way for government to accomplish this?
People see taxes as evil. Of course they ignore the roads, USDA inspectors, OSHA regulators, EPA regulators, Hoover Dam, army bases, Medicare, and Social Security payments that are paid by taxes. Americans can’t have it both ways, either some of those things get defunded or taxes go up. Part of the problem with public perception is a lack of differentiation between various levels of government. In Maryland where there are property taxes, sales taxes, state income taxes, and the various fees and tolls charged in addition to federal taxes, it can get quite confusing. And a bit redundant.
Federalism is an interesting thing. What real difference does it make which governmental entity is performing a task? It seems to me that people in favor of less government(libertarians I’m looking at you) would be in favor of more things being handled by the federal government. Less levels of government inherently means less government. How many little police districts are there in townships in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, each with its own captain and command staff, some of which are not more than five miles from another township?
This goes back to what does the public want from government. Does it want numerous services and universal health care and a robust army and roads and trains and meat inspectors? One of the interesting proposals in the past few years has been to provide a receipt upon payment of taxes. It would give a breakdown of where every tax dollar goes. Granted the overwhelming majority would go to social security, medicare, and defense spending, but the three cents that each of us contribute to the National Endowment for the Arts would be listed too.
People say that the president needs to do more to create jobs. This ignores, of course, that jobs are being created in the private sector and lost in the public sector. And the number one way the president could create jobs would be to buy things. Roads, trains, bridges, guns, airplanes, buildings, energy research would all be things to buy that would create jobs and last. This is not allowed because taxes can’t be raised and money can’t be borrowed. If the president isn’t allowed to use the pretty much unlimited spending power of the federal government (thanks Dole v. South Dakota, Reagan’s transportation secretary expands power of federal government, who would have thought) then the tax power or regulatory power, and those really won’t create jobs. But if the economy doesn’t improve it’s the president’s fault. Okay.
One of the best examples I have seen recently of the duality or hypocrisy is in the comments by Senator Lindsay Graham. On his Twitter feed he can go from requesting a plan from the president on debt reduction or a balanced budget amendment to not ten minutes later saying how necessary it is to deepen Charleston harbor. And no one questions this. This is the problem. This is the way the American people want it. It’s not good enough anymore.