All current signs point to a much larger federal deficit. At over $450 billion, it’s already large — and the recession is sure to raise it higher as revenues fall and spending grows. This will set off the usual deficit reduction scramble, with the Left urging tax hikes and the Right, spending cuts. Before it begins, let’s look at a simple solution to “square” this circuitous debate: Tax the liberals.
The conservative economist Milton Friedman long ago recognized that deficits can be a spending escalator. Biographer Lanny Ebenstein, quotes him from 1967: “If taxes are raised in order to keep down the deficit, the result is likely to be a higher norm for government spending. Deficits will again mount and the process will be repeated…”
In theory, the process could work the other way — deficits being a fillip to lower spending — but in Washington it rarely does. Since that is the case, then we must resign ourselves to making the most out of it.
Purist conservatives will still have qualms about taxing anyone, even liberals. For them, quaint notions, like higher taxes are always to be avoided, still apply. They see taxes as a deterrent to endeavor. And that taxation’s result is the diversion of resources from more productive uses.
For the rest of the population though, there would be a delicious irony in the result. And there even may be some productive secondary benefits as well.
Perhaps it would inspire liberals to think the unthinkable, like cutting spending. Or, since they would be the only ones taxed, they might finally ask whether spending’s benefits were worth its costs. Maybe less government for once would not seem like such a bad thing!
Of course questions can be raised about the practicality of a liberal tax. Are there enough liberals to make it plausible? According to exit polling from November’s election, they made up 22% of voters. Not enormous, but almost a quarter of the electorate. Could 22% support a new taxation scheme? Well, according to the IRS’s latest figures from 2006 data, less than half that percentage — the top 10% of income tax filers — pay 71% of all income taxes currently. Apparently, reliance for so much from so few does not make liberals squeamish now.
Liberals should not lack for resources. Consider how concentrated they are in high-earning occupations. Acting, music, art, and the media — all are liberal-loaded. They make fabulous sums entertaining — and preaching to — us, so they should certainly have the wherewithal. And even if conservatives are correct and you get less of what you tax, America could probably get by with a little less entertaining (and a lot less preaching).
Another indication that liberals could afford this new tax is that they tend to live in wealthy areas. Hollywood, Manhattan, some of America’s toniest zip codes are its most liberal. No need to worry about soup (or quiche) kitchens springing up here!
And finally, liberals have lots of disposable income. All those liberal organizations and causes don’t have bake sales! They are flush with cash from…? Liberals, of course. Look at Harvard, the essence of America’s liberal educational system, with the largest private endowment of any university.
Of course just because an idea is possible, does not mean it’s practical. Would liberals cooperate at being singled out for a new tax? If you listen to them, they should love it. They already feel America is under-taxed. What could offer a path of less resistance than taxing them? They feel paying high taxes is a duty. Then this isn’t being taxed, it’s public service — the "giving back" they so extol. They think government, not the individuals earning it, is better able to determine money’s best uses. Then liberals should be thrilled at this "improvement." And they love nonprofit organizations. Well, the federal government is the very apotheosis of nonprofitability.
So liberals have the desire for more taxes, the means to pay, and — taken at their word — the willingness to pay. So let them. All liberal programs begin as an idea requiring someone else’s money. For once, let it start with theirs.
The willingness to tax ourselves for what we want should be America’s first rule of taxation. Somehow it was left out of the 16th Amendment. It is infinitely easy to imagine better uses for other people’s money. But the power to make them contribute is a dangerous one. It is relatively easy to assemble a larger crowd to benefit from a tax than to pay it. But it does not mean that it is right to do so. Leaving the tab with others for our good intentions isn’t right, but for once singling out the group that is forever ordering without paying, would at least be fair.