Friday, March 25, 2005

Now this is the Times we know!

With Paul Krugman on vacation, someone had to step in and write an op-ed full of Marxist anti-capitalist rhetoric, especially class warfare and bleeding heart "Only government can take care of the poor" liberalism. Not to fear, here's Bob Herbert to act as his cha'Dich. (That's Klingon for, roughly, a "second," someone who fights in your stead.)
So very little attention is being paid to pending budget proposals that are scandalously unfair, but that pretty accurately reflect the kind of country the U.S. has become.
Unfair? Oh, I forgot. Liberals think it's "unfair" when I actually get to keep the wealth I earned, instead of the majority of society taking it away and giving it to others. Even if I dispose of some charitably (which is according to my ascertainment of potential recipients' worth), that's not good enough. Liberals don't think you're capable of determining what to do with your own money, something exemplified by Paul Krugman every time he rails against Social Security privatization. This paternalism also happens to be the basis of socialism's state-planning.
President Bush believes in an "ownership" society, which means that except for the wealthy, you're on your own. The president's budget would cut funding for Medicaid, food stamps, education, transportation, health care for veterans, law enforcement, medical research and safety inspections for food and drugs. And, of course, it contains big new tax cuts for the wealthy.
First, why is it such a bad thing for people to be on their own, with the government letting them stand on their own two feet? Why do liberals perenially dredge up the fallacial idea that success in a free market comes at the expense of others? It doesn't.

Donald Luskin recently posted an excellent explanation of liberals' "budget bunk" claims: these cuts are hardly the draconian measures that liberals would have you believe. Mr. Luskin has also noted, more than once, something I've tried to tell my liberal friends since 2001: a lot of Bush's budget "cuts" aren't even real cuts, but reductions in the rate of spending growth for these programs. That can still be a bad thing, though, because there's a lot of federal fat that needs serious trimming, not just cuts in how fast these programs are growing.

And once again, I'll refer to my entry explaining why you can't soak the rich -- not to say the rich shouldn't pay any taxes and the lower income brackets should bear all tax burdens, but a heavily progressive tax on the rich will also hurt the poor.
These are the new American priorities. Republicans will tell you they were ratified in the last presidential election. We may be locked in a long and costly war, and federal deficits may be spiraling toward the moon, but the era of shared sacrifices is over. This is the era of entrenched exploitation. All sacrifices will be made by working people and the poor, and the vast bulk of the benefits will accrue to the rich.
Krugman had better watch out, because Herbert is outdoing him on the class warfare schtick!

"Long and costly war"? Two years in Iraq, 25 million people free, Saddam brought to justice... Compare that to World War II, which was a longer and costlier war. I guess Herbert doesn't think we should have fought that one, either, because it was too long and cost too much. I'm not saying that our current deficits don't matter, but they're not as bad as they've been in the past.

And if Herbert doesn't think everybody got a tax cut, he'd better look again. Dr. Antler didn't have to fudge any numbers -- his data are straight from the CBO. What's wrong with the upper incomes receiving tax breaks, anyway, since they pay the bulk of taxes?

Now regarding the federal budget deficit, the only true measure of its extent is as a percentage of the economy. Let's take a look at those numbers. (Budget data is from the CBO, GDP data is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.)

                Budget             Full
Year GDP deficit % of deficit % of
(bil $) GDP (bil $) GDP
1962 585.6 -7.1 -1.21 -5.9 -1.01
1963 617.7 -4.8 -0.78 -4.0 -0.65
1964 663.6 -5.9 -0.89 -6.5 -0.98
1965 719.1 -1.4 -0.19 -1.6 -0.22
1966 787.8 -3.7 -0.47 -3.1 -0.39
1967 832.6 -8.6 -1.03 -12.6 -1.51
1968 910.0 -25.2 -2.77 -27.7 -3.04
1969 984.6 3.2 0.33 -0.5 -0.05
1970 1038.5 -2.8 -0.27 -8.7 -0.84
1971 1127.1 -23.0 -2.04 -26.1 -2.32
1972 1238.3 -23.4 -1.89 -26.1 -2.11
1973 1382.7 -14.9 -1.08 -15.2 -1.10
1974 1500.0 -6.1 -0.41 -7.2 -0.48
1975 1638.3 -53.2 -3.25 -54.1 -3.30
1976 1825.3 -73.7 -4.04 -69.4 -3.80
1977 2030.9 -53.7 -2.64 -49.9 -2.46
1978 2294.7 -59.2 -2.58 -55.4 -2.41
1979 2563.3 -40.7 -1.59 -39.6 -1.54
1980 2789.5 -73.8 -2.65 -73.1 -2.62
1981 3128.4 -79.0 -2.53 -73.9 -2.36
1982 3255.0 -128.0 -3.93 -120.6 -3.71
1983 3536.7 -207.8 -5.88 -207.7 -5.87
1984 3933.2 -185.4 -4.71 -185.3 -4.71
1985 4220.3 -212.3 -5.03 -221.5 -5.25
1986 4462.8 -221.2 -4.96 -237.9 -5.33
1987 4739.5 -149.7 -3.16 -168.4 -3.55
1988 5103.8 -155.2 -3.04 -192.3 -3.77
1989 5484.4 -152.6 -2.78 -205.4 -3.75
1990 5803.1 -221.1 -3.81 -277.7 -4.79
1991 5995.9 -269.3 -4.49 -321.5 -5.36
1992 6337.7 -290.3 -4.58 -340.4 -5.37
1993 6657.4 -255.1 -3.83 -300.4 -4.51
1994 7072.2 -203.2 -2.87 -258.9 -3.66
1995 7397.7 -164.0 -2.22 -226.4 -3.06
1996 7816.9 -107.5 -1.38 -174.1 -2.23
1997 8304.3 -21.9 -0.26 -103.3 -1.24
1998 8747.0 69.2 0.79 -30.0 -0.34
1999 9268.4 125.5 1.35 1.9 0.02
2000 9817.0 236.2 2.41 86.3 0.88
2001 10128.0 128.2 1.27 -32.5 -0.32
2002 10487.0 -157.8 -1.50 -317.5 -3.03
2003 11004.0 -377.6 -3.43 -538.4 -4.89
2004 11733.5 -412.1 -3.51 -567.4 -4.84
There are two accountings of the federal budget deficit: the official deficit, which includes Social Security revenues, and the actual deficit, which does not include Social Security revenues. Regardless of which number, we've still had higher budget deficits in the past. Either way, Herbert's worry that "federal deficits may be spiraling to the moon" is completely unfounded.

I wonder, did his great-grandfather (maybe great-great-grandfather) worry about the huge budget deficits in 1918 and 1919? Did they harp that the U.S. was headed for a "fiscal train wreck"? After all, the federal government took in only $3.6 and $5.1 billion (respectively) in tax revenues, yet it spent $12.7 and $18.5 billion (respectively). Did Herbert's grandfather worry about the huge budget deficits during World War II? The federal budget deficits in 1943, 1944 and 1945 were, respectively, 30%, 22.7% and 21.5% of GDP.

Herbert continued on, accusing Bush of having no sympathy for the poor, which is completely absurd. Bush donated $10,000 to tsunami relief efforts, and he has a history of donating a lot to charity. I don't agree with President Bush and Congress "donating" our tax revenues, which is not charity, but that's another story.

Herbert even referenced the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a socialist thinktank that actually links to Robert Schiller's so-called analysis of "life-cycle personal accounts" as applied to Social Security -- which Donald Luskin recently debunked as "bogus research." All you have to do is skim through the CBPP's Social Security updates to see their agenda: they'd rather keep everybody equal and equally poor, rather than risk a single person get ahead, even though "getting ahead" isn't necessarily at the expense of everyone else.

The CBPP even quotes Peter Orszag as saying, "Social Security is like a car with a flat tire. We should fix the tire...not borrow the money to buy a [new] car." I like that analogy, actually. But Orszag doesn't realize that the problem isn't the tire, it's the car. With the demographic shift in our society, that's like a car with a suspension problem: one corner keeps getting heavier, and heavier, making the replacement tire go flat sooner than the next one. The next replacement goes flat even sooner, and so on. Meanwhile, you're spending so much time buying new tires that you might as well have bought a good car in the first place. Nobody said a new car was cheap, just better because it's less expensive in the long run.

Another ignorant thing that Herbert said:
The advances in areas like education, antipoverty programs, health services, environmental protection and food safety were achieved after struggles that, in some cases, took many decades. To slide backward now (hurting millions of people in the process) because of a desire to siphon funds from those programs and hand them over as tax cuts to the wealthiest members of our society, is obscene.
What Herbert doesn't realize is that advances against poverty and disease were made possible by technology, not government. So as a wealthy society, why is it so bad to transfer the "helping hand" from government, who has proven time and time again it spends money inefficiently, back to private hands that know best how to give charitably? Or should we just move Bob Herbert to the top of the list of state-worshipping devout? And I ask again, what's so "obscene" about tax cuts for everyone, including those at the top who pay the bulk of taxes?

Of all the things, Herbert quoted Herbert Hoover: "The only trouble with capitalism is capitalists -- they are too damn greedy." This was fairly obscure, as well as meaningless once you see who Hoover really was. Then David M. Kennedy included it in his 1999 book, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, and it became fashionable for liberals to quote. The first problem with that quote is that it's a stupid truism like Warhol's "If anything is art then nothing is art." Neither oft-quoted statement is that clever once one thinks a little about it, and neither is that original. A few years ago, William F. Buckley recounted a friend saying that, with no mention of Hoover, with the preface, "The trouble with Communism is Communism." Actually his friend had that almost right: the trouble with communism is communists. But I think Buckley was a little off: while capitalists won't necessarily act honorably just because they're engaged in capitalism, who is to say they'll act dishonorably just because they're engaged in capitalism? There's nothing intrinsic about "capitalist" behavior that induces honorable or dishonorable behavior.

The second problem with quoting Hoover is the very fact that it's quoting Hoover. Hoover was hardly a believer in free markets and limited government. Despite any connotations that Herbert would have you think about Hoover being a Republican, Hoover was a "progressive," which is a euphemism for "liberal." When I hear the "All in the Family" theme song, which says "We could use a man like Herbert Hoover again," I cringe and say to myself, "Heavens no!" Hoover wasn't that far from FDR in his statist belief that big government could step in to solve society's problems. Think of Hoover as a 1920s Arlen Specter with Ralph Nader views on free trade. It was Hoover who approved and signed the Hawley-Smooth Tariffs of 1930, which were a big part of wrecking the global economy. Our trading partners' subsequent retaliation exacerbated the Depression, which presented a challenge for FDR: how to make things even worse? After the Depression hit, Hoover tried massive spending increases on "public works" to alleviate it, which has led some to call him "the first Keynesian president." FDR's banking "reforms" and innumerable "employment" programs merely continued the policies that Hoover began. Ironically, FDR during the 1932 election had accused Hoover of taxing and spending too much. Yes, FDR of all people really did say that: he campaigned on a platform of lower taxes, limited government, and sound gold-backed money.

Well, Herbert and Herbert, the problem with capitalism is when the socialist comes along, and to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, proclaims himself "the state" and that he's here to help, then starts helping himself to what the "capitalists" earned. It doesn't matter to the socialist that the "capitalists" might have already been giving to charity, or that the nature of "capitalism" creates jobs -- what do Krugman and Herbert think happens when output capital is returned as input, and the business thereby expands? But when the socialist comes along and takes from the "capitalists," that's less capital for them to invest back in their businesses. That means the business expands by less than potential, which means fewer jobs are created than potential. Moreover, the "capitalists" are left there wondering, "Tell me again why we worked so hard for the government to take so much of it?" This is why I've turned to supply-side economics, because I believe that taxation necessarily inhibits business expansion and costs jobs -- it inhibits the creation of more wealth for everyone.

I for one can't wait for Krugman to get back. With Herbert throwing out such groundless Marxist rhetoric, Krugman will have to outdo himself to stay competitive as a Times op-ed columnist. Be careful, Paul: I don't know if you have the same kind of tenure at the Times!


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