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Stockman: The Bipartisan Death March To Fiscal Madness


By David Stockman

It is obvious that the nation’s desperate fiscal condition requires higher taxes on the middle class, not just the richest 2 percent. Likewise, entitlement reform requires means-testing the giant Social Security and Medicare programs, not merely squeezing the far smaller safety net in areas like Medicaid and food stamps.  Unfortunately, in proposing tax increases only for the very rich, President Obama has denied the first of these fiscal truths, while Representative Paul D. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, has contradicted the second by putting the entire burden of entitlement reform on the poor. The resulting squabble is not only deepening the fiscal stalemate, but also bringing us dangerously close to class war.

This lamentable prospect is deeply grounded in the policy-driven transformation of the economy during recent decades that has shifted income and wealth to the top of the economic ladder. While not the stated objective of policy, this reverse Robin Hood outcome cannot be gainsaid: the share of wealth held by the top 1 percent of households has risen to 35 percent from 21 percent since 1979, while their share of income has more than doubled to around 20 percent.

The culprit here was the combination of ultralow rates of interest at the Federal Reserve and ultralow rates of taxation on capital gains. The former destroyed the nation’s capital markets, fueling huge growth in household and business debt, serial asset bubbles and endless leveraged speculation in equities, commodities, currencies and other assets.

At the same time, the nearly untaxed windfall gains accrued to pure financial speculators, not the backyard inventors envisioned by the Republican-inspired capital-gains tax revolution of 1978. And they happened in an environment of essentially zero inflation, the opposite of the double-digit inflation that justified a lower tax rate on capital gains back then — but which is now simply an obsolete tax subsidy to the rich.

In attacking the Bush tax cuts for the top 2 percent of taxpayers, the president is only incidentally addressing the deficit. The larger purpose is to assure the vast bulk of Americans left behind that they will be spared higher taxes — even though entitlements make a tax increase unavoidable. Mr. Obama is thus playing the class-war card more aggressively than any Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt — surpassing Harry S. Truman or John F. Kennedy when they attacked big business or Lyndon B. Johnson or Jimmy Carter when they posed as champions of the little guy.

On the other side, Representative Ryan fails to recognize that we are not in an era of old-time enterprise capitalism in which the gospel of low tax rates and incentives to create wealth might have had relevance. A quasi-bankrupt nation saddled with rampant casino capitalism on Wall Street and a disemboweled, offshored economy on Main Street requires practical and equitable ways to pay its bills.

Ingratiating himself with the neo-cons, Mr. Ryan has put the $700 billion defense and security budget off limits; and caving to pusillanimous Republican politicians, he also exempts $17 trillion of Social Security and Medicare spending over the next decade. What is left, then, is $7 trillion in baseline spending for Medicaid and the social safety net — to which Mr. Ryan applies a meat cleaver, reducing outlays by $1.5 trillion, or 20 percent.

Trapped between the religion of low taxes and the reality of huge deficits, the Ryan plan appears to be an attack on the poor in order to coddle the rich. To the Democrats’ invitation to class war, the Republicans have seemingly sent an R.S.V.P.

Washington’s feckless drift into class war is based on the illusion that we have endless time to put our fiscal house in order. This has instilled a terrible budgetary habit whereby politicians continuously duck concrete but politically painful near-term savings in favor of gimmicks like freezes, caps and block grants that push purely paper cuts into the distant, foggy future. Mr. Ryan’s plan gets to a balanced budget in the fiscal afterlife (i.e., the 2030s); the White House’s tactic of accumulating small-fry deficit cuts over the enormous span of 12 years amounts to the same dodge.

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Reader Comments (10)

Social Security IS NOT an entitlement it is a fully funded trust fund. It is NOT a discretionary budget item......
Defense, on the other hand is a discretionary entitlement expenditure.
Apr 27, 2011 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterFred
Any time I read an article calling for yet more taxation on the middle class I find the author to be a raving moron. No difference with this one, Stockman, you are a MORON! GO AWAY and take your idiotic ideas with you.
Apr 27, 2011 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterBill
Wasn't this guy proven to be a complete asshole 20 or 30 years ago? Who gives a flying fuck what he has to say about anything?
Apr 27, 2011 at 5:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterj r
stockman is a libertarian who supports cuts to defense first...secondly, you guys are reading it wrong...he calls for means testing of the entitlement programs...that will only hit the wealthier retirees...means testing is essential if we wish to keep medicare around in its current form...the wealthy will have to pay more for medicare...there is no other way around it...
Apr 27, 2011 at 5:10 PM | Registered CommenterDailyBail
"It is obvious that the nation’s desperate fiscal condition requires higher taxes on the middle class, not just the richest 2 percent."

This statement alone marks the author as an imbecile and an out-and-out shill for Osama Blackbush and his "administration.". He thinks that the middle class that is being destroyed by the banksters and their shyster accomplices in CONgress should pay for their own demise? Why doesn't he demand that the banksters give up some of the money that they were handed? Or, why doesn't that demand come from the treasonous crapweasels in CONgress? Of course, since the banksters own these s***stains lock, stock and barrel, I guess that won't be happening. And I guess that's why these clowns in DC wring their hands and complain that they just can't seem to figure out a way to prosecute these crooks on Wall St. Oh. I see.

At least he managed to mention the stinking military near the end, but couldn't bring himself to actually demand cuts in the murder machine. Wouldn't want to piss off Israel, now, would he? After all, the NYT, along with the Washington Post, are the flagship Zionist publications in the good 'ol USSA.
Apr 27, 2011 at 6:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterBig M
When will you Americans learn you have an enemy already inside the gates that controls everything?...and I mean everything.
The TSA is groping old women and young children, and has not caught ONE TERRORIST. Are you people insane? Whats wrong with you guys? Don't you see that unless you are FOR all the wars and getting reamed by bankers and love being harrassed by the IRS and TSA etc that you are already labelled a threat, and a terrorist?! When Bush said "you are either with us or against us" he wasn't joking. The puppet masters were telling you to bend over and submit to being a slave. Live free or die trying should be the only slogan that matters.

America, land of the free and home of the brave? I think not. Bunch of confused humans that can't even identify their enemy.

Apr 27, 2011 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterBob
Big Mike,

The correct abbreviation is: US of I. Who will bailout the jobless middle class to pay their share, the speculators? This circle jerk economics philosophy will be the tombstone other lifeforms view as they drift "buy" from this planet. We are at an 83% across the board in agreement as US of I citizens, that we want the first cut to be the 3 WARS! To start anywhere else was a leap from the cliff edge as the coyote. We are in mid-air scrambling to reach back to a place of stability that was the cliff's edge. There is nothing left to do but, FREEFALL! Get ready bitches... the truth is coming home to roost and that skunk in the ME with a history all the way back to India 6 or 7 millennium ago that has tweaked history lessons will be illuminated for it's lack of validity.
Apr 27, 2011 at 7:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterGhana
That's right Bob. The enemy is even within this blog page since it would be impossible with Google and Googleads.

Many do not care who their enemies are because they are simply....to comfortable.

BTW...why does anyone read the NY Times. NO! I ddn't read the article. I read nothing from NY Times, AP, Reuters and a few dozen oithers. Why waste your time?
Apr 27, 2011 at 10:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterdogismyth
Fred - I'm with you. SS is not an entitlement, It is not insolvent. If the gov't would stop borrowing from idiot Gore's "lockbox" this could be taken off the table.

jr and Bill, you are totally lost. Focusing this debate on the 2% that pays almost 40% of all taxes is the simplest way to never do anything; the mark of a life-long politician. As of 2009, the top 25% of American income earners paid 85% of all taxes collected. 75% of Americans paid 15%. The bottom 50% paid nothing.

This is simply unsustainable.

if you don't want to see additional taxes on the 75% of American's that aren't pulling their weight, then you are like me. Let's just cut spending. It is much simpler than it is made out to be.
Apr 28, 2011 at 7:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterOberron4life
Stockman was Reagan's number cruncher. You remember Reagan - he did away with tax and spend and gave us borrow and spend. Reagan is the Godfather and High Priest of trickle down voodoo economics - force feed as much profit and income as possible to corporations and high income tax dodgers and surely once the elites are completely engorged, a few crumbs will fall on the floor for the real Americans.

If Uncle Sam needs more revenues, let him tax security sales.They can generate all the revenue they need. What's that? Oh - securities aren't held by the middle class? Oh - securities are bought and sold by the fat cats? Well, I guess we can forget about taxing security transactions.

This Country. my Country, has become a bad joke.
Apr 28, 2011 at 8:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterM2M

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