By Ed Gross, member of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County
I’m no economist. I never even took a class in Economics. I do read Paul Krugman’s column, however, and his blog, too, so I’m familiar with the terms of the debate. And what I’d like to suggest is that our politicians, who are also not economists by the way, are having the wrong debate.
The issue being debated currently is whether the government needs to raise tax rates or whether it can get by mainly by spending less. Sounds reasonable, right? Here’s what’s wrong with it. We have a jobs crisis in this country that was brought on by the financial collapse and exacerbated by governors–most, if not all of them, Republicans–who decided to use the shortfalls in their states’ revenues as an excuse to eliminate public service jobs, mainly teachers, cops and firefighters.
People who are out of work aren’t just statistics in an unfortunate unemployment rate. Most of them belong to families who have been devastated or are barely hanging on due to the loss of income. Let’s stop and think about that for a moment. These are real people, people who want to contribute to society, people who need a job in order to keep their home or even just to feed and clothe themselves and their kids. Loss of income is generally the worst thing other than illness and death that will ever happen to them.
Should a government that is of, by and for the people decide whether to spend money so people will have jobs based first and foremost on whether it’s good for the economy? Of course, people with jobs need less help from the government. And they have money to spend, so they create demand, which is good for business. But in a way, even those positive results are beside the point. Why do we let politicians push the idea that any particular tax rate paid by the rich is more important than offering a lifeline to the citizens who desperately need one?
Imagine you were creating a budget for the federal government from scratch. Would you start from the revenue side? I hope not. I hope that your humanism would motivate you to start by figuring out what the government can do to make life livable for everyone. Then you’d put in place a progressive tax system, including the deductions that are absolutely necessary in a fair society. Finally, you’d figure out the cost of everything else the government should be doing and establish tax rates that bring in enough revenue.
As long as our government is captive to big business and the moneyed interests, they’ll keep the fiction going that balancing the budget–without increasing taxes on their patrons, of course–must be accomplished no matter how many jobs it destroys or how many families it crushes. The heartless movers and shakers in this system who are supposedly scared to death of the so-called fiscal cliff don’t mind how many of us go over our own more precipitous cliffs. And that’s what’s really scary.