Two new articles in the mainstream press demonstrate a problem that afflicts conservatives. The two articles are “Tax Tyrannies” by Richard Rahn, which appears in today’s Washington Times, and “Stop Those Checks” by Bruce Bartlett, which appeared in the March 24 issue of the New York Times.
Rahn makes some good points about taxation. He points out that taxation can be tyrannical even in a representative democracy. Taxation tyranny, he says, occurs when taxes are levied at a higher level than the “revenue maximizing rate.” Taxation tyranny also exists, he states, when “coercive taxation is used to fund government programs of little or no value, or where the expenditure programs are rife with corruption or mismanagement.” He is critical of certain aspects of progressive taxation. Quoting Milton Friedman, he points out that “inflation is taxation without legislation.” He quotes Chief Justice John Marshall’s famous dictum “The power to tax is the power to destroy.”
All fine and good. But notice something important about Rahn’s article: He doesn’t address two critically important issues: (1) The role of government in a free society, and (2) The out-of-control federal spending that currently afflicts our nation.
Without addressing those two issues, Rahn’s article is just meaningless “feel-good” conservative fluff.
The major fiscal problem facing our nation is the fact that federal spending far exceeds tax revenues. This is primarily because of (1) U.S. foreign policy, which includes the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and the maintenance of U.S. military bases all over the world, and (2) the U.S. government’s socialist, interventionist, and regulatory programs and departments, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Homeland Security, DEA, HUD, SEC, INS, the Departments of Education, Commerce, and Agriculture, and many more.
Conservatives hate addressing those two fundamental issues. They would rather play like everything is going to be fine by keeping all these programs and departments in existence and just keep tinkering with tax rates to finance them. They don’t want to face the fact that at some point, no amount of tax-tinkering will magically produce the necessary tax revenues to pay for the ever-soaring government expenditures.
That’s where the following questions become so critical: What should be the role of government in a free society? Should it entail the establishment of a vast overseas military empire? Should it entail invading and occupying countries that have never attacked the United States? Should it entail federal payments to foreign regimes? Shuold it entail a vast military-industrial complex? Should it entail the power to take money from one group of people in order to transfer the money to another group of people? Should it entail the regulation of peaceful behavior? Should it entail such governmental wars as the war on drugs, poverty, immigrants, and illiteracy?
Alas, these are questions that conservatives just do not wish to ask. And one of the reasons for this is that conservatives really do believe that government should be engaged in imperialism, socialism, and interventionism.
For example, consider Bartlett’s article. He objects to President Bush’s economic stimulus package in which people are receiving a rebate check from the government, not because it’s wrong in principle but because he feels that the government is giving the money to the wrong people. He wants Congress to cancel the economic stimulus checks (fat chance of that in an election year) because it’s really just a bribe to voters and redirect the money “into a package of measures that would help the housing sector and those people who actually need assistance.”
Conservatives, like liberals, remain mired within their statist paradigm. Thus, it’s not surprisingly that they continue doing their best to come up with some new-fangled way to make empire, socialism, and interventionism work. Decade after decades, they have jerry-rigged the system in response to each new crisis their statist paradigm has produced.
One cannot help but wonder, however, whether a point is being reached where decades of statism is threatening a series of simultaneous economic, banking, and financial crises which no amount of jerry-rigging can fix. It’s a question that conservatives would rather not think about.