Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Fiscal Cliff Notes
By Thomas Sowell
Amid all the political and media hoopla about the "fiscal cliff" crisis, there are a few facts that are worth noting.
First of all, despite all the melodrama about raising taxes on "the rich," even if that is done it will scarcely make a dent in the government's financial problems. Raising the tax rates on everybody in the top two percent will not get enough additional tax revenue to run the government for ten days.
And what will the government do to pay for the other 355 days in the year?
All the political angst and moral melodrama about getting "the rich" to pay "their fair share" is part of a big charade. This is not about economics, it is about politics. Taxing "the rich" will produce a drop in the bucket when compared to the staggering and unprecedented deficits of the Obama administration.
No previous administration in the entire history of the nation ever finished the year with a trillion dollar deficit. The Obama administration has done so every single year. Yet political and media discussions of the financial crisis have been focused overwhelmingly on how to get more tax revenue to pay for past and future spending.
The very catchwords and phrases used by the Obama administration betray how phony this all is. For example, "We are just asking the rich to pay a little more."
This is an insult to our intelligence. The government doesn't "ask" anybody to pay anything. It orders you to pay the taxes they impose and you can go to prison if you don't.
Then there are all the fancy substitute words for plain old spending-- words like "stimulus" or "investing in the industries of the future."
The theory about "stimulus" is that government spending will stimulate private businesses and financial institutions to put more of their money into the economy, speeding up the recovery. But the fact that you call something a "stimulus" does not make it a stimulus.
Stimulus spending began during the Bush administration and has continued full blast during the Obama administration. But the end result is that both businesses and financial institutions have had record amounts of their own money sitting idle. The rate of circulation of money slowed down. All this is the opposite of stimulus.
What about "investing in the industries of the future"? Does the White House come equipped with a crystal ball? Calling government spending "investment" does not make it investment any more than calling spending "stimulus" makes it stimulate anything.
What in the world would lead anyone to think that politicians have some magic way of knowing what the industries of the future are? Thus far the Obama administration has repeatedly "invested" in the bankruptcies of the present, such as Solyndra.
Using lofty words to obscure tawdry realities extends beyond the White House. Referring to the Federal Reserve System's creation of hundreds of billions of new dollars out of thin air as "quantitative easing" makes it seem as if this is some soothing and esoteric process, rather than amounting essentially to nothing more than printing more money.
Debasing the value of money by creating more of it is nothing new or esoteric. Irresponsible governments have done this, not just for centuries, but for thousands of years.
It is a way to take people's wealth from them without having to openly raise taxes. Inflation is the most universal tax of all.
All the pretty talk about how tax rates will be raised only on "the rich" hides the ugly fact that the poorest people in the country will see the value of their money decline, just like everybody else, and at the same rate as everybody else, when the government creates more money and spends it.
If you have $100 and, after inflation follows from "quantitative easing," that $100 dollars will only buy what $80 bought before, then that is the same economically as if the government had taxed away one-fifth of your money and spent it.
But it is not the same politically, so long as gullible people don't look beyond words to the reality that inflation taxes everybody, the poorest as well as the richest.
By Thomas Sowell
One of the big advantages that President Obama has, as he plays "chicken" with the Congressional Republicans along the "fiscal cliff," is that Obama is a master of the plausible lie, which will never be exposed by the mainstream media-- nor, apparently, by the Republicans.
A key lie that has been repeated over and over, largely unanswered, is that President Bush's "tax cuts for the rich" cost the government so much lost tax revenue that this added to the budget deficit-- so that the government cannot afford to allow the cost of letting the Bush tax rates continue for "the rich."
It sounds very plausible, and constant repetition without a challenge may well be enough to convince the voting public that, if the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not go along with Barack Obama's demands for more spending and higher tax rates on the top 2 percent, it just shows that they care more for "the rich" than for the other 98 percent.
What is remarkable is how easy it is to show how completely false Obama's argument is. That also makes it completely inexplicable why the Republicans have not done so.
The official statistics which show plainly how wrong Barack Obama is can be found in his own "Economic Report of the President" for 2012, on page 411. You can look it up.
You may be able to find a copy of the "Economic Report of the President" for 2012 at your local public library. Or you can buy a hard copy from the Government Printing Office or download an electronic version from the Internet.
For those who find that "a picture is worth a thousand words," they need only see the graphs published in the November 30th issue of Investor's Business Daily.
What both the statistical tables in the "Economic Report of the President" and the graphs in Investor's Business Daily show is that (1) tax revenues went up-- not down-- after tax rates were cut during the Bush administration, and (2) the budget deficit declined, year after year, after the cut in tax rates that have been blamed by Obama for increasing the deficit.
Indeed, the New York Times reported in 2006: "An unexpectedly steep rise in tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy is driving down the projected budget deficit this year."
While the New York Times may not have expected this, there is nothing unprecedented about lower tax rates leading to higher tax revenues, despite automatic assumptions by many in the media and elsewhere that tax rates and tax revenues automatically move in the same direction. They do not.
The Congressional Budget Office has been embarrassed repeatedly by making projections based on the assumption that tax revenues and tax rates move in the same direction.
This has happened as recently as the George W. Bush administration and as far back as the Reagan administration. Moreover, tax revenues went up when tax rates went down, as far back as the Coolidge administration, before there was a Congressional Budget Office to make false predictions.
The bottom line is that Barack Obama's blaming increased budget deficits on the Bush tax cuts is demonstrably false. What caused the decreasing budget deficits after the Bush tax cuts to suddenly reverse and start increasing was the mortgage crisis. The deficit increased in 2008, followed by a huge increase in 2009.
So it is sheer hogwash that "tax cuts for the rich" caused the government to lose tax revenues. The government gained tax revenues, not lost them. Moreover, "the rich" paid a larger amount of taxes, and a larger share of all taxes, after the tax rates were cut.
That is because people change their economic behavior when tax rates are changed, contrary to what the Congressional Budget Office and others seem to assume, and this can stimulate the economy more than a government "stimulus" has done under either Bush or Obama.
Yet there is no need to assume that Barack Obama is mistaken about the way to get the economy out of the doldrums. His top priority has always been increasing the size and scope of government. If that means sacrificing the economy or the truth, that is no deterrent to Obama. That is why he is willing to play chicken with Republicans along the fiscal cliff.
To read another article by Thomas Sowell, click here.
Posted by Brett at 5:38 PM