David Leonhardt very helpfully explains why Republicans are so single-mindedly pursuing what turns out to be a very popular idea, to keep the debt ceiling right where it is and force the government, come hell or high water (or both and worse), to get its financial house in order:
Not so long ago, nobody was talking about tax increases or Medicare cuts, and the federal budgetseemed to be in fine shape. If only we could get back to the past — get spending under control, as the cliché goes — we’d be O.K. The debt ceiling, with its harsh finality, offers the chance.Unfortunately, this nostalgic view depends on a misunderstanding of the budget. It imagines a budget in which the United States indefinitely has the world’s highest medical costs, its largest military, an aging population and, nonetheless, taxes that are among the world’s lowest. Economists have a name for that combination: a free lunch.
Free lunchism is ultimately the problem with the no-new-taxes pledge that so many politicians have adopted. A refusal to raise taxes, no matter how principled, cannot take us back to the good old days. It would instead lead to a very different American society. For taxes to remain where they are, Washington would need to end Medicare as we know it, end Social Security as we know it, severely shrink the military — or do some combination of the above.
I wonder if our friends on the right really get this, that their representatives are pushing, not just to return to those good old days of Eisenhowerite-Nixonite-Reaganite “In God We Trust”ism, but to a new kind of nation in which the elders, the indigent, the unemployed, the veterans, the people with disabilities all become disentitled. And this doesn’t just mean some unkown quantities in other people’s neighborhoods will be affected so we can pop our corks, then go on accumulating our wealth in peace and at ease. This would mean a social displacement that no American anywhere will be able to ignore. Much like the shock treatments Friedmanites inflicted on Chile, Argentina, Poland, China–wherever free marketism has paid the powerful a friendly visit–this revolution may not be televised, but it will be visible in the faces of your family, friends and neighbors, my right-wing friends. You won’t miss it. It will not be the utopia you’ve been promised or suckered into believing in. You should be aware of that.
Leonhardt expects that this revolution won’t happen at all because Americans won’t let it happen: ” National polls show huge majorities favor keeping Medicare and Social Security in something approaching their current form — much larger majorities, tellingly, than oppose an increase in the debt ceiling.” Furthermore, America’s business and economic elite are not sure even they want Paul “Randian” Ryan’s and the Tea Party Republicans’ non-entitlement utopia– just yet, anyway. But their plans to raise taxes by closing corporate loopholes a la the Simpson-Bowles commission’s recommendations are not supported by the masses. “So what kind of tax increases do Americans support?” Leonhardt asks. “The old-fashioned kind. Seventy-two percent support raising taxes on income above $250,000, according to a recent New York Times/CBS poll, and a large majority likewise favor raising Social Security taxes on the affluent.”
In any case, one way or another, the bill for our long national daydream is about to come due. And we’re all going to pay one way or another.
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