Sunday, July 31, 2011

Whose Fault Is It?

by Libby Sternberg

This post will be short and sweet. We've been hearing a lot lately about how hypocritical it is of Republicans to have suddenly found fiscal "religion," wanting to slash spending, when their party -- most notably the former president, George W. Bush -- was largely responsible for getting us into this mess.

Let's put aside for now whether that really matters. After all, if someone helped create a mess and then wants to try to fix it, isn't that a good thing?

Let's look, instead at a couple of facts that perplex me when I hear this blame-Republicans meme:

1. Until recently, Democrats controlled the House, the Senate and the White House. During that time, they didn't make a serious effort to cut spending, so aren't they equally guilty for not trying to fix the mess, regardless who made it?

2. The president presented a budget earlier this year...that was voted down 97-0 in the Senate. As far as I know, he's not proposed anything since then to fix this mess that average Americans can look at and examine. Again, regardless of who made the mess, can you complain about those who created it if you're not putting forth anything to fix it?

I'm sincerely asking these questions. What am I missing?

Anyway, for what I consider to be a really level-headed, even-handed look at The Mess and how we got here, check out Megan McArdle's "A Few More Charts that Should Accompany All Debt Ceiling Discussions" over at The Atlantic (no conservative bastion there). A quote from it:

"...these blame games are really quite childish. In fact, most of what's driving our current deficits is the economy, and the onrushing retirement of the Baby Boomers. Those are the things that are changing rapidly, not the size of the Bush tax cuts. If you want to blame it on anyone, blame Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, but good luck getting any money out of their estates."

Tax the Wealthy

One thing that conservatives seem to find problematic is explaining why they don't like to raise taxes even on the wealthy. It makes them appear as if they only care about the wealthy (and "Big Business") and are kowtowing to this group to get campaign contributions that allow them to stay in power.

If the country needs more revenues, why not have those who can afford to pay more?

Conservatives believe this is usually a bad idea --raising taxes on anyone -- for practical as well as ideological reasons. Start with the latter, first -- conservatives believe that the power of government to confiscate private property, that is, your money, should be extremely limited, and tax policy shouldn't be based on whether or not elected officials believe you deserve your money. Down that road is peril for everyone.

From a practical standpoint, however, conservatives believe that keeping more money in the private sector grows the economy and creates jobs. Also, conservatives believe that unless you plan to do the tough work of overhauling the tax code, you're just not gonna get all those dollars out of the so-called wealthy that you think you are. That's because wealthy people can hire accountants. And tax lawyers.

Seriously, this is an empirical fact contained in something called "Hauser's Law" (named for the Hoover Institution's W. Kurt Hauser). In a nutshell, Hauser's Law says that tax revenue stays constant at about 19 percent of matter what you do to the tax rates.

As I said already, rich people hire tax accountants and tax lawyers to "game the system" and pay as little as they possibly can. Which is why, I suppose, Warren Buffett can famously complain about paying taxes at a lower rate than his receptionist. (As an aside, I always wonder why he doesn't just then write a check to the government for more, if he believes so strongly that he is undertaxed -- or at least, fire his tax accountants and let the chips fall where they may.)

Now, I'm not completely close-minded about raising some point. But unless someone can show me a new system that truly captures all that "greedy" Wealthy People's Money, a system that doesn't end up stifling growth and job creation, I'm skeptical.

That's why conservatives believe so passionately in cutting spending, not raising revenues, to balance the budget.

They don't believe raising revenues (taxes) will solve the problem. They believe it creates more problems.


by Libby Sternberg

I'm a news junkie. I regularly check numerous news sites throughout the day and switch on cable news whenever I'm in the kitchen. Although I'm a conservative, free-marketeer, my default cable news choice is liberal MSNBC, whose morning show I watch Monday through Friday. I also watch Chris Matthews's Hardball regularly and the noon news on that station. But for evening news, it's Special Report with Bret Baier at 6 p.m. EST on Fox, in my opinion the best news program on television.

I watch MSNBC and read The Daily Kos, though, because I don't want to be a reflexive conservative who never exposes herself to the "other side," to views that don't jibe with my own. Exposure to views counter to mine has opened my eyes to how those who disagree with me see the world. It's a good reminder, too, that not everyone agrees with me, and if my favorites don't win elections, it's not due to some nefarious plot but because my compatriots failed to persuade a majority.

However, I've noticed that if you rely heavily on sources such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and NPR, you might not be hearing my point of view very often at all. Or you might read and hear lots of bad news about conservatives (e.g., the hacking scandal of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World) but scant information on liberal scandals (the "Fast and Furious" gunrunning story that could reach up into the Department of Justice).

It's easy to come away from that kind of coverage thinking that most conservatives are bad and most liberals are good.

I think this is risky. If all you hear are views that affirm your own, then you begin to think that everyone agrees with you. So, when you see your favorite politicians and policies defeated, it's easy to chalk it up to something underhanded, when, in reality, it was because not as many people agreed with you as you were led to believe. (This happens on the right as well, by the way, if people rely too heavily on only media that affirms their point of view -- it's why I like the website -- they're conservative, yes, but they present bad news about conservative pols and ideas, usually in a funny, irreverent way.)

So, I hope this site will provide something of an antidote to all that "everyone agrees with me" thinking that I see in media outlets such as the NYT and NPR. I want this to be a friendly place, but one where my liberal friends can find information that presents another point of view. I'll try to source this information carefully, and I certainly want to hear counterarguments if I'm missing something in a debate.

Let the posting begin!