Don’t Balance the Budget That Way

XXXThis morning, Paul Krugman has an article, Squirming Hawks, about a Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget report fear trolling over the upcoming fiscal cliff. The problem with people like this is that for years they’ve been claiming that the federal debt burden is going to destroy our economy, but suddenly when concrete policy comes up that will greatly slash the budget deficit, they aren’t for it. Why could that be?

Krugman has a good idea: they only want to balance the budget in such a way that it hurts the poor and enriches the wealthy. This is not an overstatement; I’ve been complaining about this for a while. In general, the fiscal austerity crowd are made up of people on the right. Calling for a balanced budget isn’t about budgetary matters at all: it is just about using budgetary fear to make the changes the right always wants. This is basically Naomi Klein’s shock treatment theory: use a disaster for political gain.

The CRFB report is revealing.

[A] better approach would be to focus spending cuts on low-priority spending and on changes which can help to encourage growth and generate new revenue through comprehensive tax reform which broadens the base—ideally by enough to also lower tax rates.

Where have I heard that before? I know: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan! Note the contradiction here. They want to “generate new revenue,” but the best thing would be to reduced that new revenue by lowering tax rates. Krugman speculates that by “low-priority spending” they mean, “Spending on the poor.” Of course they do!

Let me discuss this idea of lowering the marginal tax rates but broadening the base. By “base broadening” they mean closing loopholes. An obvious question comes to mind: if you are going to lower tax rates but offset this with fewer deductions, why do it at all? The answer given is that the current tax code creates distortions. This is undoubtedly true. But by far the biggest distortion is the earned income tax rate and the capital gains income tax rate. And these people have no interest in getting rid of that distortion. I think this is a bait and switch. If they can get lower marginal tax rates passed, it will be relatively easy to put deductions back into the tax code later. But it will be very hard to raise tax rates later as we see with the big deal it has been to raise the top rate from 35% to 39.6%.

My biggest complaint with conservatives is that they are dishonest. And this takes place at every level. What most people focus on are the arguments. When they claim that Job Creators must have their taxes slashed so they will look kindly on the peons and hire them, we know this is wrong. But it could be they are just deluding themselves. Unfortunately, the problem is much worse than this. We see this quite clearly in this idea that we must balance the budget by doing things that will not balance the budget. This is just madness and in a sane world, the mainstream media would say so. But instead it is all he said/she said coverage.

Some people claim the sky is blue while others claim it is paisley. It’s just a matter of opinion; who can say?!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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