Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Demagoguery Falls Between Pawn Stars and American Pickers

The adjustment I made a few weeks ago so that my mortgage payment would be sure to reflect a modest increase in local property taxes made me think back to something I read in a book a month or two ago.

I found it interesting that:

“the federal government accounts for about 65 percent of total tax revenues, while state and local governments account for 35 percent.”

“…the United States collects around 18 percent of GDP in tax revenues at the federal level and another 12 percent of GDP at the state and local levels. Washington currently returns around 4 percent of GDP to the states to implement health, education and infrastructure programs at the state and local levels.”

Equally interesting was the data that the book’s author, clinical economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, used to illustrate that “federal tax revenues as a share of GDP were nearly constant from mid-1950s onward at 17 percent to 18 percent of GDP.”

He continued by asserting that “in the United States, there has been essentially no change in the tax-to-GDP ratio since 1965.” The title of Sachs’ book, The Price of Civilization, comes from a quote by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in a speech he made in 1904, just a few years after he was made a recess appointee to the court by Republican President Theodore Roosevelt.

Holmes said that “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”  He had been wounded in combat, fighting for the Union during the American Civil War.  He died two days shy of his 94th birthday in 1935 --  just more than a decade before I was born and only a few years after he retired from the nation's highest court.

To put that in perspective, I was two years old when the 1st Cavalry Division was breaking through Korea's Pusan perimeter and the last time taxes were this low as a share of the nation's economy, according to the Associated Press. 

So I smiled yesterday as I read a weekly opinion column in the Washington Post by Richard Cohen who wrote that “it is entirely appropriate that last week’s GOP debates fell between ‘Pawn Stars’ and ‘American Pickers’ in the 10 most-watched cable television shows.”

I admit to watching two of the three.  I avoided the debate probably because, in the words of another WP columnist Kathleen Parker written a few months ago, I have trouble with “the Palinization of the GOP, in which the least informed earns the loudest applause.”

I agree with Cohen that the GOP appears to have “turned hostile to thought, reason and the two most important words in the English language: It depends.”

As with taxes he continues, “Should they be raised? It depends. It depends on economic and fiscal conditions — and on whose taxes will be raised and by how much.”  It depends!

“The answer cannot be “No, never.” That’s not an economic position; it is an ideological one and exhibits a closed mind.”

By the way, is it just me or is Rick on Pawn Stars a dead ringer for Homer Simpson?

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