Fiscal Responsibility

Read Bruce Bartlett.  I mean, right now.

There are a lot of good things to say about this op-ed, but the one that makes feel best is the fact that Bartlett – unlike so many other commentators – seems to understand that raising taxes is not incompatible with “fiscal responsibility” and in fact, when you’re spending a ton of money, raising taxes is one of the most responsible things you can do.  Indeed, I would even go as far as to say that conservatives shouldn’t blanch so much at the prospect of raising taxes.  One of the (many) good points that Bartlett makes is that raising taxes makes the cost of government services explicit to the public.

Ideally, a major expansion in government services would be financed with increased taxes.  If the public is okay with that, then it stays, but by virtue of paying higher taxes, the public also has the information to decide whether or not they are okay with that, and can vote accordingly.  Forcing voters to confront the full cost of government services might make them less receptive to them, which is a pretty conservative outcome, if you ask me.

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65 thoughts on “Fiscal Responsibility

    • Three things:

      1) I never said that these things are popular, they are simply (I think) good ideas.

      2) My enthusiasm for procedural changes has less to do with strengthening progressives and more to do with making our system less dysfunctional. I believe I’ve said this before, but if Republicans were to win the presidency by a landslide, and control both houses of Congress, then they would deserve the right to set the legislative agenda and pass the legislation they campaigned on. I wouldn’t like it, of course, but that’s the way the system should work.

      3) Tax hikes to pay for our (currently unsustainable) expenditures is a hell of a lot more responsible than pretending like we don’t have a problem.

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        • Republicans did have the right to invade Iraq, didn’t they? I mean, according the Constitution, the Congress can declare war and the President can conduct the war. It was a hideous idea, and it was contrary to international law, and it led to basically every bad thing opponents said it would, but they were certainly allowed to do it.

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              • That the US did not have the right to invade Iraq, though it had the power to do so… and the fact that the Republicans won gains in 2002 and 2004 are not demonstrative of that right materializing (any more than polled support for the Iraq war would be).

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                  • I’m a fan in rights being seated in the individual, myself.

                    I’m a bigger fan of the government being restrained from violating rights.

                    The attitude that a majority (or supermajority) then has earned the (I double-checked to make sure that this was the word used) “right” to violate the rights of others is a bridge too far for me.

                    I’m sure the majority (or super-majority) has the best of intentions, however. Don’t feel like this is an attack on your self-image.

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                    • I imagine the thousands in Iraq count.

                      Though I could see an argument for how they wouldn’t. The Republicans were fans of that argument, after all.

                      Hey, you could point out that rule by Saddam and then Uday/Qusay would have resulted in a bigger pile of bodies.

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                    • There are two arguments here:

                      1. It’s a bad idea to kill a lot of people on the other side of the world for no reason at all. We agree, but I don’t see how rights are part of the discussion. The United States Constitution authorizes Congress and the President to tag-team slaughter anyone they choose outside the borders of the U.S. But, of course, the founders knew exactly what they were doing. *ahem*

                      2. Republicans violated the rights of people on the other side of the world. Where did they get those rights and whose job is it to assess justice claims against them? This is mostly meaningless because the United States recognizes no such authority. I would just as soon see international law vested with real teeth and George Bush hauled before a war crimes tribunal myself. Then we could talk about rights and actually mean something.

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                    • Again. I am not, and would not, argue that they do not have the *POWER*.

                      Rights spring from the individual if they spring from anywhere at all. If “rights” are little more than privilege extended by the powerful to constituents, that’s an argument that I could see being given in good faith.

                      I wouldn’t want to argue it, though.

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                    • I realize that there are a lot of ways in which I am sort of radically out of the mainstream on this issue, but I don’t think it’s particularly meaningful to discuss rights the way we so often do, like some things that exist out in the ether by virtue of… something. Rights, from my perspective, are a specific legal obligation owed by one person/entity to another. They exist only insofar as they are codified into a body of law. Which is not to say that they are privileges granted by the powerful in any strong sense, in that the United States government does not give citizens (most of their) rights – the Constitution does, and the government is obligated to follow the rules set forth in the Constitution.

                      As such, I find it mostly meaningless to discuss rights in an international context (given reality as it is). The Iraqi people, much to my dismay, have no authority to make rights-claims on the United States government. Affording them, or their government, the power to seek redress against crimes committed by the United States would be the kind of policy I would wholeheartedly support, for sure, but it’s only in that kind of context that I find talk about rights at all useful.

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                    • I don’t even know what that means. I am specifically advocating for more legal restrictions on the power of government. I do not plan on getting along with just about anyone, which is why I think strict enforcement of the rights we already have (against warrantless searches, for instance) should be combined with enforcement of new codified rights for non-Americans (against torture, violation of international treaties, and so on). The only thing we disagree on is this idea that rights are meaningful outside of the legal framework in which they’re defined.

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                    • I’m actually interested in unpacking that. Your position, I take it, is that people do not have “positive” rights even if the legal system were to say they do – whether through Congressional action or a Constitutional amendment or whatever – whereas mine is that such rights can be conferred through the standard mechanisms for creating legal obligations?

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                    • Then where do they come from? God? Nature? Human reason? How do we apprehend them? How do we decide whether you have a certain right other than screaming at each other and hurling axioms like grenades? And, ultimately, what’s the difference between having a right the legal system does not recognize and simply not having the right (and vice versa)?

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                    • Rights spring from the individual if they spring from anywhere at all. If “rights” are little more than privilege extended by the powerful to constituents, that’s an argument that I could see being given in good faith.

                      I wouldn’t want to argue it, though.

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                    • That’s not very clear. What does it mean for a right to “spring” from an individual? Are we talking fully-formed like Athena from Zeus’ forehead? Or an aura that only psychics can see? What is the damn thing and how do I understand it?

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  1. If you give the average American a 20% raise, will they increase their savings by 20%? Not likely. Usually they see it as a bonus for their hard work and will increase their entertainment budget. And that is why conservatives fear tax hikes. It’s not because we don’t think Americans should pay more taxes to help decrease the debt…it’s because we’re very, very doubtful the money will actually go to that purpose. The federal government has been getting increasingly larger since about 5 minutes after George Washington was sworn in. The national debt was only erased once and that was when Andrew Jackson was sworn in. It’s just asking too much to put our trust in the government to self-limit and use the money for fiscally-sound purposes. So in that case it’s better to ‘starve the beast’ and pray at some point they start to reduce spending. Giving a drunk another bottle of beer isn’t the way to get them to sober up.

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  2. I have a feeling that if the republicans were in power and it appeared they would be in power for a long time, that you wouldn’t be so supportive of procedural changes which empowered their agenda, nor would you likely be in favor of them raising taxes to pay for conservative policies, or wars, and i doubt you would be silent as they bulldozed over the minority.

    We don’t have a democracy — we have a representative Republic — what you are calling for is dangerous. You’d realize how dangerous if it was a reality under an extreme rightwing government.

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    • I, for one, was just as opposed to the filibuster during the Bush administration as I am now. I stated on numerous occasions that the Democrats’ filibusters of Bush’s judicial nominees were the legislative equivalent of a temper tantrum. And let’s not imagine that I was a supporter of Bush’s judicial nominees.

      Enacting the will of the majority isn’t “bulldozing over the minority”. It’s just plain old democracy, and the rest of the Western world gets by just fine with it, thank you very much.

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  3. It’s not a matter of whether people think it’s right for both sides — it’s not what the founders intended, and history is full of examples that justify the founders reasons for establsihing what they did. Logically, if you respect individual rights, this type of democracy can’t be justified. It concerns me that some people can’t see this — if they’ve read any history at all, they have to know the dangers. Look at the rest of the world — just look at it,

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    • Deification of the founders is overrated. History is full of examples that they profoundly screwed some things up too. They’re not gods; they’re just people who exercised an uncommon amount of foresight. They also created a Constitution for a certain kind of amalgam-of-states that our current government does not really resemble. For a country this size with a mostly national system of government, democracy makes a lot more sense than what we currently have.

      As for the rest of the world… what’s your point? Europe is a pretty good place to live, as are Japan, South Korea, and a few other major Asian democracies. Canada rocks too. It’s not like having a parliament turns everyone into the third world or something here.

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      • Enacting the will of the majority isn’t “bulldozing over the minority”. It’s just plain old democracy, and the rest of the Western world gets by just fine with it, thank you very much.

        As our system of law is not based on the unbridled majoritarianism you seem so willing to embrace, what the rest of the world does is irrelevant.

        As far as your bulldozing statement, I’m sure the law that was upheld in Plessy v Ferguson was just “plain old democracy” and not a completely despicable law aimed solely at keeping a class of citizens in a second class status. Come to think of it, I think gays are experiencing that too. I’ll just tell my gay friends that democratic minorities have nothing to fear from majorities because, by golly, it’s plain old democracy.

        I’m sure this was judicial activism at its worst:

        http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1995/1995_94_1039

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        • /facepalm

          1. We agree that the system is not based on “unbridled majoritarianism”. We even agree that “unbridled majoritarianism” is a bad thing. But you’ll note I haven’t advocated for throwing away the Bill of Rights, so you’re tilting at windmills here.

          2. The law upheld in Plessy v. Ferguson was despicable. A lot of laws are despicable, in fact. The redress, as so often, was a Supereme Court that jealously defended the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Let’s have more of that! That said, segregation was so popular that it was the law of the land even without “unbridled majoritarianism”, so I’m not sure what your point is. That the law is sometimes bad? Gold star, friend.

          3. This is basically the same as 1, but I really want to hammer home how inane your straw-manning is here. Name one person who said minorities have nothing to fear from majorities in this thread. Please, just one. Name one person who thinks the Bill of Rights is a bad thing.

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          • Ryan,

            We agree that the system is not based on “unbridled majoritarianism”. We even agree that “unbridled majoritarianism” is a bad thing.

            I guess I should be comforted by this although liberal constitutional jurisprudence places too much emphasis on democratic process and nowhere near enough on individual liberty.

            But you’ll note I haven’t advocated for throwing away the Bill of Rights, so you’re tilting at windmills here.

            Noted. Of course, I never said nor implied that you advocated throwing away the Bill of Rights so I’m not the one tilting at windmills. I am more than aware that majoritarians recognize certain limits on majority power, with those limits being enumerated in the Bill of Rights.

            The law upheld in Plessy v. Ferguson was despicable. A lot of laws are despicable, in fact.

            Fair point. That a law is despicable does not necessarily mean that a law is illegitmate. What I also should have said about Plessy or any law that targets one class of individuals to the benefit of others is that they are illegitimate exercises of state power. The redress is that to the extent the political process produces laws of this nature, it is the role of the courts to strike them down, no matter what a legislative majority or a democratic majority thinks. The Court failed in Plessy.

            Let’s have more of that!

            It’s kind of difficult when modern legal doctrine rests upon a presumption of constitutionality.

            http://www.ordinary-gentlemen.com/2009/03/new-deal-originalism/

            That said, segregation was so popular that it was the law of the land even without “unbridled majoritarianism”, so I’m not sure what your point is. That the law is sometimes bad? Gold star, friend.

            Per Article VI, Section 2, the Constitution is the law of the land. That segregation was popular as a matter of individuals choosing who to associate with and who they would allow on their private property is a separate issue altogether. In fact, it was considered a private matter up until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the rise of public accommodations laws (Title II).

            Segregation as a legal matter was as unconstitutional when Plessy was decided as it is today and it was beyond the role of the state to pass laws to give segregation legal legitimacy. How did the Supreme Court accomplish this fiasco? It deferred to the will of the majority.

            This is basically the same as 1, but I really want to hammer home how inane your straw-manning is here. Name one person who said minorities have nothing to fear from majorities in this thread. Please, just one. Name one person who thinks the Bill of Rights is a bad thing.

            If you wish to hammer home how inane my strawmanning is, I suggest you not use strawmen of your own to make the point.

            Did I suggest that anyone said that minorities have nothing to fear from majorities? No. All I did was disagree with a statement that you yourself made. I did not mention the Bill of Rights nor did I mention that you think the Bill of Rights is a bad thing. I don’t even know how you can draw those conclusions based on the short response I provided.

            You can keep that Gold Star for that wild imagination you have.

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            • Two things:

              1. Is it the liberals or the conservatives on the Court who think things like laws against sodomy are okay as long as the majority supports them? Who is assuming consitutionality here?

              2. You said: “I’ll just tell my gay friends that democratic minorities have nothing to fear from majorities because, by golly, it’s plain old democracy.” And then you said: “Did I suggest that anyone said that minorities have nothing to fear from majorities? ” So yes, you did suggest that.

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              • I’m actually interested in unpacking that. Your position, I take it, is that people do not have “positive” rights even if the legal system were to say they do – whether through Congressional action or a Constitutional amendment or whatever – whereas mine is that such rights can be conferred through the standard mechanisms for creating legal obligations?

                As soon as we get the aforerequested open thread, earnest unpacking will commence!

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  4. It really does depend on how high taxes are raised, and how that money is then spent. Bartlett is right that raising taxes can be necessary, but it’s also important to point out that cutting spending can also be a good thing.

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  5. Jaybird, I think what’s going to be ironic is that everyone is going to get on board and the democracy that happens ain’t gonna be what the democracy cheerleaders expected. Once Bubba, Thelma, Jr. and Leroy come out of the woodworks and start voting, and they elect Thaddeus P. Ironhart for Boss of America, the cheerleaders are going to very disappointed when the National Parks are turned into hunting lodges and NEA stands for National Endowment of Auto-racing.

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  6. This is all very reasonable, if one assumes that it is as easy to cut spending as it is to raise taxes. Unfortunately, political realities make it extremely difficult to make significant spending cuts in government programs. And so spending increases are largely irreversible, whereas tax increases/decreases can be adjusted.

    In other words, since we are already running a huge deficit (and have been for a while); ‘expansion of government services’ shouldn’t even be on the discussion table.

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