Robert Samuelson reminds us vegetables must be eaten

I wish to call to your attention this piece by Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post Writers Group.

An excerpt:

SamuelsonLet’s be clear: America is an undertaxed society. Our wants and needs from government — the two blur — exceed our willingness to be taxed. This has been true for decades, but it’s especially relevant now because the number of older Americans, who are the largest beneficiaries of federal spending, is rising rapidly. Unless we’re prepared to make sizable spending cuts (and there’s no evidence we are), we need higher taxes.

To the extent that President Trump’s proposed “tax reform” obscures or worsens this inconvenient reality, it is a dangerous distraction. We cannot afford large tax cuts, which are pleasing to propose (“something for nothing”) but involve long-term risks that are not understood by the president or, to be fair, by economists. Piling up massive peacetime deficits is something we haven’t done before. We cannot know the full consequences….

Looks like Samuelson’s bucking to be named patron saint of the Grownup Party, noting matter-of-factly that not only are vegetables good for us, but we must eat them.

By the way that line, “America is an undertaxed society,” goes double — no, triple, nay, 100 times — for South Carolina. I just thought I’d point that out for those still confused, especially the senators who think you can’t raise a tax that badly needs raising — the gas tax — without lowering some other taxes that has nothing to do with it.

14 thoughts on “Robert Samuelson reminds us vegetables must be eaten

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    There’s a very disturbing assumption underlying what Samuelson is saying.

    Federal spending isn’t going to go down appreciably because so much of it is entitlement spending, and there’s no political appetite for cutting it, particularly Social Security and Medicare.

    Which leads to the disturbing assumption being made: Americans don’t want to cut entitlements as long as they see themselves as eventually benefiting from them.

    And here’s the MORE disturbing part: They are all too willing to cut spending that they see as benefiting OTHER people.

    Hence the much greater appetite for holding down or cutting spending on the state level. In South Carolina, the largest spending is on Medicaid and education. The average white voter believes the only Medicaid recipients are “those people.” A lot of them believe something similar about education. But whether they think of it precisely the same way or not, at any given time only about a fourth of households have someone currently attending K-12 public schools. So the sense that “That benefits other people, not me” is strong, even though it’s stupid and self-destructive, being based in the absurd assumption that one gains nothing from the other people in society being educated…

  2. bud

    On the federal level we can do 2 pretty obvious things. First, increase taxes on the wealthy. Since they are the great beneficiaries of our current system and since much of their wealth is unearned, IE, inherited, there is no downside to taxing this huge untapped source of income. Taxing the wealthy has the further advantage that it doesn’t materially slow down the economy since rich folks spend a relatively small percentage of their income. Second, decrease the amount we spend on the military. Perhaps a modest reduction of about 30% would go a long way toward paying for SS and Medicare. There really is no justifiable reason to spend more than the next 8 nations combined.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      “Perhaps a modest reduction of about 30% would go a long way toward paying for SS and Medicare.”

      Three points:

      1. No, it wouldn’t. Not really. Entitlement spending is a LOT greater than military spending. I’m having trouble finding the exact numbers, but I think it’s about twice as much.

      2. There’s nothing “moderate” about a 30 cut in ANYTHING the government does. And of course, you’re talking about 30 percent damage to defense to achieve a 15 percent benefit to entitlements.

      3. It would be a very bad idea. And contrary to what you say, there’s every reason for us to spend what the next 8 countries do combined. But we aren’t going to agree there, are we?

      Oh, wait, I thought of another one: We’ve already cut defense spending, even more drastically than you’re suggesting. It represented three times as much of GDP in the 1950s as it does today. And while I know you’ll never agree, I believe we’ve already cut it far too much…

      1. Claus2

        Let’s cut defense and entitlement programs. For every $1 cut from defense, cut $5 from entitlement programs.

          1. Richard

            Because cutting entitlement programs would ruin this country. I’m being sarcastic by the way. This country got along just fine before them… we’re just fatter and lazier now.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Actually, we didn’t. Try telling those ruined by the Great Depression that everything was fine before the New Deal.

              People aren’t “fat” and “lazy” because they have Social Security and are able to eat in retirement, or Medicare that enables them to see the doctor instead of just dying…

    2. Juan Caruso

      Bud (and Brad) neither of you may not want to hold your breath for your communi-socialist faux-utopias of ever rising confiscation of what others have earned, especially from those who defended the very country whose successful capitalism apparently offends you. C.A.P.I.T.A.L.I.S.M. means Choices Among People in Their Allocations of Leisure to Idleness, Self-improvement, or Manpower.

      Granted, those few without leisure to allocate (not you Bud) are truly in need, but in reality more are only in need of temporary assistance, improved self-discipline, or the advantageous price of prescription medicines available in less litigious nations like Canada.

      The U.S. would be better able to provide legitimate needs if waste, fraud and padded federal payrolls were MANAGED the way the Constitution intended. Today’s governments at all levels ail from mismanagement: duplicative programs, abusive employees, widespread unaccountability which together promote deficit spending or the fantasy prospect of the only alternative – – – raising taxes.

      Thinking like yours, Samuelson’s is naively wreckless at best or perhaps in Obama’s case, intentionally subversive.

  3. Doug Ross

    I’m certainly not undertaxed. My wife essentially works for the Federal government and the state of South Carolina as our total income tax bill for those two exceed her income. And that’s not including Social Security, Medicare, property, sales, and gas taxes. That’s WAY too much. 45% or more of every dollar I earn goes to the government. How much FREAKIN’ more do you want?

    Too many people don’t pay any taxes that go to funding the government — sure, they pay a pittance for medicare and Social Security that they get back many times over. I will support any increase in taxes that is paid by EVERYONE, not just the “rich”.

    And even if we WERE undertaxed, what we get for the money that is collected now is terrible. Mediocrity is the ceiling with inefficiency and incompetence the standard. We have a department of transportation begging for more money when they have done a poor job for decades. Their monopoly guarantees this next gas tax increase will be wasted as well.

    1. Doug Ross

      But if you do want to raise my taxes, tell me how much more… give me a number — a percent you want me to pay. And hopefully that number is the same for you as well. And for bud and for everyone else on this blog.

      I’ve already given you the penny you wanted for roads — every penny I gave was embezzled.. And I gave two cents for hospitality taxes that are wasted on more useless items. Every time I give more, I get less in return.

      Now you want more money for roads for the morons and do-nothings at the DOT to waste.

      1. bud

        This former DOT moron and do nothing is glad to have your money. 🙂

        Doug I know there is nothing I can say that will make any difference but just drive around town and see what’s going on. Two major bridges over I-26, Leaphart and Rainbow are being rebuilt thanks to damage from trucks exceeding the height limit. Blame the damage on the greed of capitalism. Then there are 3 major interstate widening project. 20, 26 and 77. Also Harscrabble Road is undergoing a major upgrade. Throw in money for routine maintenance, storm cleanup, winter snow removal, safety work and many other pressing needs and the ‘do nothing morons’ are tapped out financially. Nothing left for the back roads. Why? The gas tax is effectively half what it was 3 decades ago.

        Truth is, with any large organization there’s waste and inefficiency. But I’d match the stewardship of the money available to the DOT with corporate America any day. With their bloated executive salaries and profit distribution and law suit payouts United Airlines can hardly claim to be efficient. Simply put corporate waste is staggering compared to the trivial waste at the DOT.

        Well, enough for now. Thanks to the generosity of Doug and his generous tax payments this former moron is headed to the fridge to enjoy an expensive craft beer. I’m sure you’ll take comfort knowing just how much I’m going to enjoy it. 🙂

        1. Doug Ross

          Ok, bud, I’ll play your game. For the projects you listed, tell us what the cost is projected to be and when they will be finished. Care to bet they will on time and under budget? Meanwhile, when do the crumbing roads get fixed? Oh yeah, need more money for that. There are so many short stretches of road – like the bridge over I77 at exit 27 that could be repaired in days. But, no, gotta do the big projects that take years. Easier to hide waste and laziness on big projects.

          I wish I could show you a photo of a recent repair job done on a road near my home that crosses I77. This road has about a half mile of pot holes. So what did the geniuses do? They paved 1/3 of the road. Not on one side. On various stretches, leaving plenty of room for more potholes to develop.

          Then there’s the stretch on 321 near I-20 that has barrels closing to lanes for a year. No work ever done. Just barrels.
          If that’s what the DOT is good for, then surely we need to give them even more money.

          Enjoy your beer.

          1. Larry Slaughter

            Any chance paving only 1/3 of the road was a decision forced by lack of adequate funding?

            1. Doug Ross

              If it was, then it was the wrong way to pave 1/3 of the road. Paving random sides along a stretch looks bad and appears to be the work of someone who doesn’t care. The way they did it won’t prevent any new potholes from popping up in the unpaved sections. They left the smaller ones to grow larger.

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