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Low Friends in High Places

June 20, 2011 – BOOK REVIEW. The Politics of Bad Ideas: The Great Tax Cut Delusion and the Decline of Good Government in America. (2008). Bryan D. Jones and Walter Williams.

Depending upon whom you read and believe, Americans pay less in taxes today than at any time since either 1958 or 1950, take your pick. Coincidentally, American indebtedness now totals over 100% of annual GDP, for only the second time in American history (the first time was the result of militarization in order to fight World War II). Let’s see now – the government has chosen to reduce its income while, at the same time, spending more than it has ever spent in peacetime. When individuals spend more money than they earn, it comes as no surprise that they eventually wind up insolvent. Why Republicans insist that a similar course of action is not only worthy of consideration, where governments are concerned, but actually advisable, is the subject of Jones’ and Williams’ book.

Isn’t it interesting that this notion – that wealthy individuals who pay less in personal taxes will lavish themselves with goodies as a result, thereby creating jobs for the working class, who make the goodies - took shape in the Republican camp, where it has festered and grown, lo these many years, and has done so with nary a Democrat to support it? Good ideas generally collect adherents as the benefits to be derived from their adoption are made clear to constituents/voters. Good ideas are not ideological. Good ideas are simple, practical, logical, broadly beneficial, and improvable. Ideas bound up in ideological theory tend, in fact, to work quite well – in theory. Their real world outcomes turn out to have little to do with theory. This particular ideological theory, by the way, is known as supply-side, or “trickle down,” economics.

As Jones and Williams point out, “ … wealthy recipients [of tax cuts] will save a greater percentage of any tax benefits compared to the bulk of the population with much lower incomes, who are likely to spend the entire amount of a tax cut. “ (p. xiii) Thereby hangs the tale, because money that is saved cannot create jobs. What starts out sounding too good to be true, is, in fact. Which is why George W. Bush managed to turn a budget surplus, inherited from the Clinton administration, into a national debt that promises to be the undoing of the American middle class and, therefore, economy (debt ceiling, anyone?). The Great Tax Delusion – the idea that income tax cuts are always good, and income tax increases are always bad – has resulted in the creation of a “super-rich elite whose money and power corrupted the federal government and moved the United States toward plutocratic government.” (p. ix)

Are Republicans truly so ignorant they are unable to understand there is a direct corollary between money earned and money spent - in this case, by the government? In all likelihood some are. There are always followers and hangers-on who do little in the way of “taxing” (sorry) their brains. They are capable of exerting themselves only to the point of saying, ”If so-and-so thinks that, it must be true. I like so-and-so. He’s a pretty smart guy. That settles it. That’s what I think, too.” In all likelihood some aren’t. I’ll go even one step further. There are plenty of Republicans who know just what a bad idea supply-side economics is, but support it, anyway. Why would they do such a thing?

For a few, supply-side economics (which goes by yet another name - Reaganomics) serve to remind Americans of the last time Republicans were popular with the American voter. For the cynical remainder of Republicans, who have sunk so low they will stop at nothing in order to get elected, it comes down to this: if we let the rich keep more of their money, they will support the election of Republicans. The support of the rich, as opposed to the support of the middle class, is a very good thing. Rich people have rich friends, who also like keeping as much of their wealth as possible. The rich don’t have to think twice about donating the maximum amount allowed by law. And the rich like being on a first-name basis with their congressional representatives. Money makes direct access to the halls of power the next logical step. Write me some laws that will benefit my Fortune 500 company, rich people say, and I’ll make sure even more Republicans get elected next time. See how that works?

Clearly, Jones and Williams have written a book with staying power. Much as I wish we were “over” this delusional form of financing our government, it simply will not go away. So, while you wait for the Azerbaijani’s to step in and pay our taxes for us, read this book. Goodness knows you’ll have plenty of time.


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