As the earth begins a renewed trip around the sun, the wholly human urge is to mark the annual event with an understandable mixture of reflection and forethought. As we do so this time around, it seems two encompassing issues dominate the public consciousness. The two are not directly related, but the prescriptions written or pondered for remedying them certainly share some characteristics.
The fiscal cliff brouhaha, and the deal purportedly avoiding it, is the news de jour. As I predicted in a previous column, we didn’t get a good deal. Fine, the prediction was on roughly the same plane as one foretelling the emergence of the sun over the eastern horizon, but I still made it.
We wound up with a deal that sees marginal tax rates increased on those making more than $400,000 annually ($450,000 for married couples), payroll taxes raised on everyone and virtually no spending cuts in return. Sure, it could have been worse. Preventing the tax rates from rising on those making under $450,000 probably averted the recession such a massive across-the-board tax hike would have wrought. The estate tax did not go to 50 percent as expected, capital gains tax was capped at (a still too-high) 20 percent and the rates were made permanent. So we did find a corner of the fire that’s not quite as bad as the frying pan.
Nevertheless, the remedy has failed to address major symptoms, let alone the underlying disease. The tax increases will have a restrictive effect on the overall economy. Any short-term revenue increase will be spent, as the lack of spending cuts in the deal (in combination with the political persuasion of the parties most in control of the purse
strings) signals an intention to grow government even more. This means more debt in relation to the size of the economy and more investor concern the United States won’t be able to continue to turn over its debt without raising bond rates sufficiently to attract buyers of Treasuries — the effect being to further discourage investment and prevent economic growth.
In essence, we’ve seen from the Democrats an ideological reaction that will solve nothing and likely make things worse.
Now the second major issue. The nation still reels on certain levels from the tragedy that occurred last month in Newtown, Conn. As in every other major shooting incident in the past few decades, the echo from the shots had barely faded before gun control advocates and their proponents in the Democratic Party were calling for tougher gun laws, perhaps a renewed “assault weapon” ban, bans on high-capacity magazines and maybe others. Given the current political environment, these seem almost inevitable.
None of which will make any difference whatsoever. The perpetrator of the Sandy Hook shootings, just like the criminals who shot up their respective targets in earlier tragedies, clearly felt no compunction about breaking what is widely and historically considered society’s ultimate law — that forbidding the taking of another human life without just cause — leaving insurmountable doubt he would feel compelled to obey any lesser law regarding possession of a particular type of weapon. As for the “access” argument, the individual in question had to steal the arms he used in the first place. One does not steal what one has legal access to. Guns, even scary looking “assault” weapons, cannot be un-invented. The only way to assure their removal from society is through thorough and complete confiscation from even legal possessors — an activity objectionable on both moral and practical grounds, and one that would have the inverse effect of leaving only the government and predators of society with the means to employ force.
So, the left presented us with an ideological reaction that would solve nothing and likely make things worse.
What of alternatives? On the fiscal side, if the Republican Party wishes to remain relevant, it must champion some substantive reforms, even if those ideas are destined to be shot down in the flak-filled skies of the Senate and White House. Some of these are fairly obvious:
state-based entitlement reform in line with welfare reform in the 1990’s; restructuring of the tax code to a flatter, pro-growth model; and a mechanism to keep federal spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product.
Solving the second issue might be a little trickier. But it can’t be avoided that the root cause is cultural — an area in which government-based solutions have a particularly disastrous track record.
To borrow Burke’s phrase, the solution most likely rests in the “little platoons” of society — family, church and community — and a re-examination of the fanatical interpretations of the establishment clause that have kept traditional moral codes and Judeo-Christian virtue out of the public square.
Panaceas will continue to elude us. Feasible, historically grounded solutions directed at addressing the source of the problem, in place of baseless and politically motivated reactions, should not.