Reaganism Triumphant

This morning, I made my usual mistake, and listened to the news.

The protests in Wisconsin–and to a lesser extent, Ohio–triggered by efforts to blame fiscal shortages on people who work for government. A story about a southern town that has stopped making pension payments to retired police officers and firefighters, because the town “ran out of money.” Various congresspersons of the Republican persuasion demanding ever-more draconian cuts in social programs we can no longer “afford” (while failing to explain why we can still afford all manner of military expenditures, including the Pentagon’s practice of sponsoring NASCAR races). You all know the drill–it’s drearily familiar.

So here’s my question: why, in all of these discussions, do we never hear anyone suggest raising taxes?

Now, I will grant that taxes can be a double-edged sword: depending upon who and what we tax, we can cause economic distortions. Tax policies can provide perverse incentives, or reduce incentives for behaviors we want to encourage. But that recognition hardly justifies taking taxes off the table, and that seems to be what we’ve done. Taxes have become a dirty word, rather than a revenue source.

The result is that we are strangling government’s ability to invest in the future of the country. When governors refuse federal dollars to built high-speed rail, they are not only refusing to create temporary construction jobs, they are ensuring that America will be less competitive for a generation. When they choose to “balance” budgets on the backs of pensioners and public servants, they are opting to weaken government’s ability to provide services and undermining the public’s trust in that government.

Ronald Reagan famously said that government is the problem, not the solution. Then he set in motion a political ideology that embraced a very selective version of Reagan’s Presidency and made that statement into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Those who subscribe to “Reaganism” conveniently forget that even the Gipper raised taxes when necessary.

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