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"Shared Sacrifice": Obama's Demagoguery

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The author of this entry is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or
Sheldon Richman
July 31, 2011 | 1,843 views | 5 comments

The most offensive claim made during the debt-ceiling controversy is that there’s a moral equivalence between cutting government spending and raising taxes. President Obama asks for “shared sacrifice” to reduce the budget deficit. In his view, if the government spends more than it takes in -- it currently borrows more than 40 cents of every dollar spent -- the “balanced” approach is to “cut” spending and raise taxes.

There are quotation marks around “cut” for a good reason. No one -- Republican House Speaker John Boehner included -- wants to cut spending in the commonsense meaning of the term: namely, reducing government spending from today’s level ($3.8 trillion). No, in Washington-talk, to cut a budget is merely to reduce the rate of increase that would have occurred in the future if current law were left unchanged.

If the politicians were honest -- and reporters committed to telling the public the truth -- they would talk about smaller increases in spending, not “cuts,” but even that wouldn’t be entirely truthful, because in many cases the reduction in future increases itself is an illusion. It involves merely canceling the authority to spend money that no one expects to actually be spent.

As noted, the so-called balanced approach to deficit reduction sees a moral equivalence between any reduction in spending (even from future increases) and raising taxes. Some people go further and treat government’s abstention from taxation as spending in itself. Think about that: If the government, in its mercy, decides not to take $10 from you, that is an expenditure. By that logic, if the politicians change the law and take the $10, that’s a spending cut! Only in Washington ...

Bluntly put, there can be no moral equivalence between government’s spending people’s money and abstaining from taxing that money. To believe otherwise is to believe that the government owns all income and wealth -- which would be equivalent to believing that the government owns us!

In a fully free society -- which the United States more assuredly is not -- people would be at liberty to earn income through voluntary exchange (without anti-competitive privilege or subsidy) and to keep what they legitimately acquire. Taking someone’s belongings without consent would be regarded as theft. That would go for politicians as well as anyone else. All transfers of wealth and income would have to be accomplished through persuasion and consent. Physical force and fraud would be forbidden. Taxation, in the words of a great libertarian, Frank Chodorov, is robbery.

Thus the government’s decision not to tax cannot be a form of spending, and it cannot be equated with a refusal to sacrifice in behalf of fiscal integrity.

That is not to deny that in our corporate state, large incomes can be acquired through government-granted privilege and other political machinations. But the way to deal with that is to end all privileges. Politicians are hypocritical when they call for higher taxes on all people making more than $200,000 a year -- even those who earned it without political favor -- while leaving the system of privilege essentially intact.

Part of the political game now being played is assigning blame for the growing debt and deficit. The Democrats, the more openly big-government side (Republicans are for big government too but are more covert about it), say that the deficit is attributable as much to the failure to tax -- through the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 -- as to the propensity to spend. Even a former Reagan and George H.W. Bush official, Bruce Bartlett, agrees. They claim that the government’s fiscal condition would have been far better had those cuts not been enacted, particularly considering that George W. Bush launched two wars and enacted a Medicare drug program. It’s certainly true that big expenditures without revenues to cover them created the deficit -- but the moral course would not have been to abstain from cutting taxes or to raise them. It would have been to not spend the money. The wars were immoral (though profitable for the well-connected), and the drug program was an expansion of the welfare state, which forcibly distributes other people’s money.

A humane society does not require robbery and political corruption. It requires freedom for people to earn, to keep what they earn, and to help each other through mutual aid.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of The Freeman magazine.
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Your Opinions and Comments

The Marcelina Muse  
Dry Tank, TX  
August 3, 2011 12:57pm
The only way out of the tax mess is doing away with the income tax and the IRS by constitutional amendment. Then instituting the fair tax or national sales tax. Everyone would pay at the same rate, of course there could be no... More ›

Rock'n chair Rambler  
Over Taxed, TX  
August 2, 2011 9:03pm
A totally flat tax is the only true fair tax. The so-called "fair tax" is progressive, which is code for Marxist wealth redistribution. There is nothing fair about taxing one person more than another just because... More ›

Alvin Charmaine  
August 2, 2011 5:57pm
RNR i couldnt agree more. We have to start with the tax system. Scrap it and go with flat or fair tax. I personally prefer the fair tax because undocumented people would have to pay it too.

Rock'n chair Rambler  
Over Taxed, TX  
August 2, 2011 5:03pm
Shared sacrifice? You mean like, the 50% who don't pay any taxes? It is time to completely trash the tax code and just tax everyone who earns income the same, equal percentage in taxes. That will make everyone an equal partner... More ›

Elaine K.  
July 31, 2011 8:58pm
New column posted.

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