Heroin is less addictive than are tax cuts for high-income individuals and corporations. Give them a little and they smile and nod off for a while. But next thing you know they're back for more. And, as they have proved over the past few decades, if the only way to finance their habit is to steal from grandma and the kids, well, the hunger simply cannot be denied. Sooner or later, the one thing anyone who has ever lived with an addict learns is that the worst thing to do is enable him in the hopes he'll eventually stop doing what he's doing without an intervention.
That's where we're at again with Paul Ryan's Roadmap to America's Future. Strip away all the fancy justifications and it constitutes nothing more than mainlining the plutocrats' favorite drug at the expense of infrastructure, the social safety net, job expansion and other essentials of a vibrant, prosperous society. We all suffer from their addiction. And, eventually, if we and the leaders we elect don't have the guts to intervene, an overdose of the tax-cut drug will bring us all to a bad end.
In a new briefing paper, Abandoning what works (and most other things, too), Josh Bivins at the Economic Policy Institute provides an example of exactly what tax cuts for the rich and corporations do for one crucial aspect of the economy, stimulating the economy to boost job growth. Here it is in chart form:
Paul Ryan's vision of government policy clashes directly with Bivins's analysis. Tax cuts for the wealthy require program cuts. Somebody has to pay. And while Ryan wants to eviscerate grandma's retirement and her grandkids' education, another of the casualties of his and his buddies' addiction would be the good elements included in the stimulus package of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Whether the larger stimulus many of us called for back then could have gotten through Congress is a moot point two years after the fact. There's no doubt now that more stimulus was needed. But what we know is that the stimulus we did get improved the situation for millions of individual Americans and businesses. It kept things from getting worse for others. What we also know, as Bivins and so many others, such as Paul Krugman, have explained is that now, with unemployment still far above "normal," is not the time to go into austerity mode. Especially austerity necessitated by another injection of tax cuts for those Americans who need the money least:
Republicans in the House of Representatives, for example, are pushing for a $61 billion cut in spending for the rest of fiscal 2011. A range of independent estimates (including EPI’s) argues such spending cuts would yield job losses of between 400,000 and 800,000 by the end of the 2011 fiscal year.
The end-game on spending has yet to come, but it seems clear that expansionary fiscal policy is in danger of being abandoned, as even the Obama administration is
not fighting for it to continue past 2011. The administration has preemptively committed to a non-security discretionary spending freeze over the next five years, which means embracing a strategy of fiscal contraction the very near term.
In short, it seems clear that the political will to use expansionary fiscal policy as a tool to stabilize a listing economy has been exhausted. Deficit reduction now dominates the debate. It is crucial to note that there is no economic imperative for such deficit reduction. The costs of government borrowing, for example, remain extraordinarily low today, reflecting the fact that the much feared bond markets either choose not to or (more likely) cannot impose any sanctions on the U.S. government for borrowing. And unless interest rates rise rapidly (which they show no sign of doing), the fear that rising budget deficits will “crowd-out” private-sector activity rather than simply add to it has no basis.
None of that matters to tax-cut addicts. Feeding their habit is all that matters, both now and in the future. Which, at its core, is what Paul Ryan's road map is all about. Like the guy who steals mom's grocery money for a few rocks of crack, he and others of his mind-set will yank the food out of people's mouths if that's what it takes to ratchet down taxes for the rich another notch.
This is nothing new. It's how plutocrats and their lieutenants have always behaved. Prosperity for the few, austerity for many. Every time we enable them, in messaging or policy, we screw ourselves.