What’s the big deal President Obama is making about raising tax rates on the rich? It’s not that the federal government would get crucial revenue that way — only enough to finance itself for a few extra days. And it’s not that the federal government needs taxes for revenue in the first place, as it can just print whatever money it needs, which is pretty much what it already is doing, with the Federal Reserve purchasing and thus monetizing most of the Treasury Department’s borrowing.
At the federal level taxation is not really a matter of revenue at all but rather one of redistributing or balancing income and thus power in society, a matter of social control and political fairness. Since income inequality long has been worsening, in large part because the wealthy, with ready access to money, are better able to exploit the inflation engineered by government, fairness argues for raising taxes on the wealthy.
But there may be a better argument for Congress to refuse the president’s tax-raising demand and to let the government fly off the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of the month, whereby taxes would be raised on everybody and spending would be cut across the board. That is, the federal government is simply too big and stupid and urgently needs to make some choices before it consumes the whole economy.
After all, the futile, fantastically expensive, and half-hearted war in Afghanistan, so damaging to our soldiers, continues only because Americans don’t have to pay for it with taxes or, say, reductions in Social Security benefits. And farm subsidies, so damaging to markets, continue only because Americans don’t have to pay for them by, say, giving up the income tax deductions for home mortgage interest or charitable contributions.
Flying off the “fiscal cliff” may compel Americans to start paying more attention to what is done in their name with their money or with money their children will have to repay if only through a devalued currency. That would be about time.
* * *
People who work with the mentally ill won’t be surprised by developments in the story about the barefoot vagrant in Times Square in New York for whom a compassionate city police officer was famously photographed buying and delivering winter boots.
As it turns out the vagrant soon was back on the street panhandling without the boots, which he may have sold for alcohol or drugs. And far from neglecting him, government long has placed him in an apartment with various welfare benefits, and he has repeatedly rejected more help from the city agency that looks after the homeless as well as help from his own family. The man’s brother explained ruefully that vagrancy is just the lifestyle he has chosen.
Of course mental illness impairs choices. But a free country can’t just lock up someone who is mentally ill and make his decisions for him unless he is a manifest danger to himself or others. Social workers can’t do much more than guide, nudge, and cajole such people. This often fails. Sometimes not, but the Times Square story suggests that compassion has a better chance with the mentally ill on the street when it is routed through an agency with some experience in the thankless and heartbreaking work.
* * *
The secretary-treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, Lori Pelletier, complains that repealing collective bargaining for state government employees, as proposed in this space, would violate their constitutional right to freedom of association. Not so.
State employees could continue to associate all they wanted, to maintain their unions, and to control Connecticut’s Democratic Party and thereby control and cannibalize state government as they long have been doing. Rather, if collective bargaining for state employees was repealed, state government simply would not be required to bargain with the unions, and thus, theoretically, someday, under new leadership, state government might begin to represent the public instead, putting the public interest first unconditionally.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.