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Asking the Right Question July 29, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne asks the right question.

Can a nation remain a superpower if its internal politics are incorrigibly stupid?

I think the answer to that is no. Stupid politics leads to stupid policies that will continue to harm our interests and undermine our way of life.

What stupid politics does Dionne have in mind?

Start with taxes. In every other serious democracy, conservative political parties feel at least some obligation to match their tax policies with their spending plans. […]

That could never happen here because the fairy tale of supply-side economics insists that taxes are always too high, especially on the rich.

The simple truth is that the wealthy in the United States — the people who have made almost all the income gains in recent years — are undertaxed compared with everyone else.

Consider two reports from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. One, issued last month, highlighted findings from the Congressional Budget Office showing that “the gaps in after-tax income between the richest 1 percent of Americans and the middle and poorest fifths of the country more than tripled between 1979 and 2007.”

The other, from February, used Internal Revenue Service data to show that the effective federal income tax rate for the 400 taxpayers with the very highest incomes declined by nearly half in just over a decade, even as their pre-tax incomes have grown five times larger.

The study found that the top 400 households “paid 16.6 percent of their income in federal individual income taxes in 2007, down from 30 percent in 1995.” We are talking here about truly rich people. Using 2007 dollars, it took an adjusted gross income of at least $35 million to make the top 400 in 1992, and $139 million in 2007.

The notion that when we are fighting two wars, we’re not supposed to consider raising taxes on such Americans is one sign of a country that’s no longer serious. Why do so few foreign policy hawks acknowledge that if they lack the gumption to ask taxpayers to finance the projection of American military power, we won’t be able to project it in the long run?

Our discussion of the economic stimulus is another symptom of political irrationality. It’s entirely true that the $787 billion recovery package passed last year was not big enough to keep unemployment from rising above 9 percent. But this is not actually an argument against the stimulus. On the contrary, studies showing that the stimulus created or saved as many as 3 million jobs are very hard to refute. It’s much easier to pretend that all this money was wasted, although the evidence is overwhelming that we should have stimulated more.

Dionne goes on to lament the rules of the Senate which enable a minority of conservative Senators from small states who represent 11% of the population  to block legislation approved by Senators representing 89% of the public. That is not democracy—it is the very definition of tyranny.

The United States used to be the envy of the world, but on almost every dimension of flourishing—life expectancy, literacy, education, healthcare, exports, employment, poverty—the United States is falling behind the rest of the developed world.

And the public seems not to notice.

As I described in Reviving the Left, Republicans have prosecuted a so-called “values” agenda in which, regardless of how corrupt, dishonest, or incompetent they are, they are viewed by the public as authentically American. When that “values agenda” is supported by the financial resources of corporate America, it may be impossible in the short run to defeat the stupid.

Changes in values takes time—and generational change.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com



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