Tell the last teacher to turn off the classroom lights on her way out of town. Put up the for sale signs on our remaining municipal assets. America is going out of business.
A Big Lie is breaking our country. You hear it all the time: America is overtaxed.
No, it isn’t. As a percentage of GDP, federal taxes have averaged 18.4% since World War II. They’re down now, some say as low as 16%. And, shockingly, the government is out of money.
When the times get tough, the tough get scapegoating. But times have been tough for so long that they’re running out of victims to blame.
When the middle class began its long, slow plunge into oblivion back in the 70s, it was easy; blame it on the welfare queens. There actually were a few of those and they cost us some money. Not as much as Citibank or AIG—every welfare queen in America could have ten kids and send them all to Harvard and still not approach those numbers—but some.
Later it was illegal immigrants, or sleazy lawyers, or featherbedding bureaucrats, or pork, or earmarks or whatever came to hand when trying to avoid the awful truth. You’re out of money because we have it all.
But now the easy targets are all hit, the small game is wiped out—shot, stuffed and mounted on the Trickle Down Country Club Wall of Shame. Who’s left to take the heat?
The good guys, that’s who. Sorry cops, sorry firefighters, not-quite-so sorry teachers, it’s your turn now. You are the new scapegoats, your jobs, your pay, your healthcare, your pensions, and most of all, your unions.
But they can kill all the unions they want. We’ll still have to pay people for the essential services that hold our nation together. If we want to hold our nation together, because that’s what’s at stake.
When you can’t afford to police your streets, keep your parks clean, libraries open, children taught, potholes fixed, garbage collected and bridges standing, you have a mortal problem. And it isn’t “too much spending.” It’s not enough revenue.
But we’re not overtaxed; we’re fraudulently taxed. The real wealth isn’t taxed at all.
There is plenty of wealth in the nation. Wall Street is making more money than before it wrecked the economy, corporations are sitting on two trillion dollars of idle money, markets and speculators are through the roof with cash.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. If we simply kept cutting taxes a magical rain of wealth was supposed to descend upon us from on high, so we kept cutting taxes.
We’re still waiting for the wealth. And the government, which runs on taxes, is bankrupt.
What is at stake now isn’t a matter of dollars and cents, it’s not another policy debate between conservatives and liberals. It goes far deeper than that. Right down to the meaning of civilization.
This isn’t about taxes. It’s not about spending. It’s about what we want as a society.
Our choice is this. Find the money or lose our civilization. If we want safety, hire cops; if we want education, hire teachers; if we want roads, pay construction workers; if we want clean air, food, drugs and water, pay inspectors. If we want chaos, don’t.
When you don’t have enough cops and teachers and libraries and garbage collectors and maintenance workers where you live, you live in a dirty, dangerous, uneducated, crumbling place. And, selfish as they are, I don’t think even the superrich want that.
So, how do we fix it? I’m not an expert in fiscal policy, but I know what we’re doing now—or more to the point, not doing—isn’t working. But I have a suggestion.
Find the money. See where the heaving oceans of untaxed wealth are hiding in plain sight, drowning everyone in their excess, demanding more and more and more—and tax them.
But I’m not here to debate the fine points of tax policy. I’m here to speak truth to power.
This is my warning to the powerful. You are starving our society to death. You’ve put a tourniquet around our civic neck and squeezed the life out of our revenue stream. If you keep it up, everything we cherish, everything we count on as Americans will die.
Call it restructuring, call it tax reform, call it budget normalization, call it whatever the hell you want, I don’t care. But find the money.
Because if we don’t: count on it. The next scapegoat is you.