Higher Taxes

The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn is positively giddy about tax day (see here).  Echoing the first George Bush, Cohn wants everybody to “read his lips.” Except unlike Bush, Cohn is demanding more new taxes rather than no new taxes.  Ah yes, what a clever fellow.

According to Cohn, we shouldn’t resent paying taxes because taxes, through the massive government they support, take care of our “basic needs.” Such as pensions and medical care upon retirement, road and railway infrastructure, clean air and water, national defense, and law enforcement. Our taxes purchase a safety net and social harmony, and who can possibly be opposed to that – well, other than unconscionable Republicans?

The far-sighted Cohn also warns us that Paul Ryan’s budget would reduce government spending and “end government-provided health insurance, housing vouchers, and food assistance for millions.” Not a few people, mind you, but millions and millions. Even if some of us don’t figure to fall into this category, Cohn notes that misfortune can always strike, leaving us also dependent on the welfare state “to get by.”

Cohn casually mentions the welfare state, but with that mention, we’ve come to the heart of the matter for liberals:  dependency on the central government. What Cohn doesn’t tell us is that competition and markets can provide much of the goods and services provided by government – not to mention more efficiently. No, Cohn prefers instead to create the false impression that we have to choose between a welfare state and nothing at all.

But the fundamental choice is between centralized control of the economy, on the one hand, and a system of markets and competition, on the other hand. And although history shows that market approaches are superior to centrally directed ones, Cohn would force the latter upon us all. (Obviously, only government can provide some types of services, so some government will always be necessary.)

The high taxation of European countries impresses Cohn very much, especially those in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, where taxes account for more than half of total national income. He even includes the obligatory chart showing that taxation in the U.S. ranks among the lowest in the developed world, from which Cohn claims there is room for a rise in U.S. taxes.

Cohn argues that high taxes in Scandinavia and Northern Europe provide citizens of those countries with a secure safety net that makes them “more comfortable with a dynamic, ever-changing economy.” These economies are not as “dynamic” as Cohn implies, and by the way, let’s not even think about other highly taxed European countries, such as Greece and Spain, with 26% unemployment rates (over 50% for young people).

If we read his lips, we see that Cohn is demanding higher taxes on wealth and carbon and lower taxes on the working poor. Yeah, that’s the ticket:  take more from those who create the wealth, increase the handouts, and say hello to increased economic stagnation in this country. Catching up to the economic stagnation that permeates Europe is the true liberal vision, and it will harm all of us.

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