Ideological Proxy Wars and the US Debtby jason on Jan. 26, 2012, under Arizona Families, AZ Politics, Campaign 2012, Clarity, Conservatism vs. Liberalism, Critical Thinking, Economics, Education, Environment, Government, History, Libertarianism, Logic, Lying G.O.P., Middle Class, Reason, Responsible Government, Separation of Church & State, Supreme Court
Several days ago, I received an email with the following:
Vote for Obama, and here’s the reason you should …
This debt discussion is a symptom of what I like to call an ideological proxy war. Krugman himself has done an about face on the debt issue as described here:
My point isn’t to say that Krugman was wrong in 2003 or that he’s wrong today. My point is that both sides discuss things like the national debt primarily in service to larger agendas that are uncomfortable for them to talk about directly.
In 2003, Krugman wanted the government to do less of what it was doing at the time – invading the middle east and lowering tax rates - so he criticized the debt. Obama criticized the debt too, and voted against raising the debt ceiling as a Senator. Today, Krugman wants the government to do more of what it is doing – spending on social programs and infrastructure projects - so now he defends the debt, and Obama and the Democrats are the ones creating it.
Prominent Republicans did the exact same thing only in reverse: According to the Republican establishment during the Bush years the debt was no problem, a temporary necessity caused by the war on terror, and Democrats who warned about the deficit were portrayed as chicken littles. But now that there’s a Democrat in the white house you’d think all the Republicans went to college and got a PhD in sustainable financial practices. What a crock of bull. You’ll see how quickly all this fiscal discipline goes right out the window if the Republicans get back control of both the legislative and executive branches.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is a failure to face reality issue. The national debt is just a symptom of political choices made about how much to tax and how much to spend. Those are the things people should be thinking about.
The size of our national debt reflects that as a society we are habitually addicted to having government do more than we are willing to tax ourselves to pay for. This isn’t a temporary situation caused by a war or a recession. It doesn’t reflect “special needs” or compassionate priorities or sound management of the economy. Instead, this is a chronic condition that has applied every year for decades upon decades, regardless of which party nominally controlled Washington. The only exception was a couple of years in the late ’90s when new technology caused the economy to grow so much faster than anticipated that it took the politicians a little while to figure out how to screw up the budget again.
This is exacerbated by the fact that people are deliberately led to think they won’t have to pay a dollar (either now -or- later) for every dollar of services the government provides. Taxes are usually sold to the public as falling pimarily on someone else: Tax the rich! Tax the 1%! Tax the corporations! These are appealing to most people simply because most people are not rich, not in the top 1% of income, and are not large shareholders in corporations. Whereas government services are pitched as being primarily for our own benefit or the benefit of “the needy”: Fix our health care! Fix our schools! Fix our roads! Fix our retirements! Fix the environment!
Such broad-based appeals run smack into the political reality few talk about: politicians on both sides of the aisle get the vast majority of their campaign contributions and lobbyist input from the people they purport to tax, and very little from the people that they purport to benefit. Expecting your mark on a ballot to send someone to Washington who actually represents your interests rather than his or her own interests is the same kind of wishful thinking that we criticize religious fanatics for. He who pays the piper calls the tune, which is how it’s always been. And no, marking a ballot does not constitute paying the piper. So who gets the best return on their money from government? Those who contribute the most to the political campaigns and lobbyists for those who run the show – the “1%ers”. Everyone else is just a pawn in the giant political chess game, and is lucky to get ten cents on the dollar.
Lest you think this is just promoting another ideology, it’s not. Whether you or I think that real wealth should be redistributed from the rich to the needy in our society is irrelevant to the fact that in the current political system the government is pretty much incapable of doing so. Whether financing of spending is done by debt or by taxation, the primary beneficiaries are always at the top: the rich, powerful, and well connected. The only thing a major party shift in Washington changes about that is which elites benefit and which lose out.
Need a final example of willful ignorance surrounding this? Krugman says of the debt, “U.S. debt is, to a large extent, money we owe to ourselves.” That’s true only if by ”ourselves” he refers mostly to the same rich 1% who primarily benefit from everything else the government does. Who collects the lion’s share of the interest on the debt? Not the poor and needy. Think about it.