Robert J. Samuelson: Budget fairy tales, left and right

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  • NorthboundZax Makanda, IL
    Nov. 10, 2011 8:17 a.m.

    Pretty good article. There is one statement that i can't let go without commenting on, though:
    "In 2007, the richest 1 percent of Americans paid 28 percent of all federal taxes; the richest 10 percent (including the 1 percent) paid 55 percent."

    While I don't doubt its validity, this is a bad metric to be using. Similar statements gets bandied about a lot as a suggestion of a large inequality in taxation. However, it really doesn't give the necessary information to make that case. We need to know how much of the total wealth that 1% controls to know whether 28% is too large or not. By definition, the richest 1% control far more than 1% of the wealth. As in most societies, they control a large, disproportionate fraction. I don't know what the number is, but if they controlled - say - 35% of the wealth, the implications of that 28% number would be far different than that suggested by the misleading metric above.

  • atl134 Salt Lake City, UT
    Nov. 9, 2011 3:51 p.m.

    Wasn't Obama and Boehner working on a 4 trillion dollar plan that, as Obama put it... would put everything on the table? Obama was offering entitlement spending reductions in exchange for tax revenue.

  • JoeBlow Miami Area, Fl
    Nov. 9, 2011 5:32 a.m.

    You mean

    Cut Spending


    Raise taxes?

    But, that would mean that both sides get some of what they want.
    What a novel concept.

  • Dektol Powell, OH
    Nov. 8, 2011 2:11 p.m.

    The biggest is that people who pay to get elected should get retirement pay for their 'service'. They can go back to the real world and do a real job after doing 'public service'. No elected official should get retirement pay for their time in office.

  • Roland Kayser Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Nov. 8, 2011 12:42 p.m.

    To Invisible Hand: William Niskannen, the head of the ultra-conservative Cato foundation published a study a few years back. He analysed tax rates and federal spending going back decades. His conclusion was that every time taxes are cut, spending increases. Every time taxes go up, spending goes down.

    His theory is that a tax cut is like putting government services on sale, so people naturally want more. Tax increases make people pay the cost of those services, so they settle for less.

    A more prosaic assessment may be that Democrats will compromise on spending when Republicans compromise on taxes, and vice versa. In either case, it supports your opinion, and I agree. My point has always been that we need to pay for the government we use.

  • one old man Ogden, UT
    Nov. 8, 2011 11:17 a.m.

    Invisible, that might not be a bad idea at all. And I'm one of those "liberals."

  • Invisible Hand Provo, UT
    Nov. 8, 2011 10:48 a.m.

    Roland, your usual rhetoric is that Americans WANT all those government services. My rebuttal is that of course they want all the services they can get as long as they are not paying for them. But if people had to pay the full cost of those services they would probably decide they could do without.

    The solution then is to make people pay for their services either through user fees (toll roads, higher medicare premiums, higher unemployment insurance that comes out of the employee's check, and so on) or higher taxes that are visible. Rather than hiding war spending "off budget", let's levy a "war tax" to pay for it. Rather than running deficits, make the post office send everyone a bill at the end of the year to pay for any shortfall.

    My guess is Americans really don't want all those government services after all.

  • Brother Chuck Schroeder A Tropical Paradise USA, FL
    Nov. 8, 2011 9:55 a.m.

    Re: one old man - 8:39 a.m.
    Term limits, along with a complete overhaul of campaign funding.

    Reply: Well said. I'm for term limits to. Here's why. The "Kaleidoscope Wishes" along with these budget fairy tales of RINO lifer conservatives fiction is, we can reduce deficits and cut taxes by eliminating "wasteful spending." Here's a example. The Bush administration has found yet another way to waste taxpayer money while providing huge sums to private contractors. According to a survey of activities in 2007 by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, about a third of the federal professional intelligence workforce now consists of contractors, mostly in the K-Street Washington, DC area. About $80 billion annually is being provided to private contractor businesses that could be avoided by hiring government employees. This is incredible Bush administration fiscal insanity, but totally consistent with how Republicans changed their views on the federal government. As House leadership continues to slash federal funding for public institutions such as NPR, Planned Parenthood, and the National Endowment for the Arts, the GOP is more than happy to throw your well-earned money toward reactionary political theater. Mr. Boehner, where are the jobs?.

  • Roland Kayser Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Nov. 8, 2011 9:53 a.m.

    To Twin Lights: Thank you.

  • one old man Ogden, UT
    Nov. 8, 2011 8:39 a.m.

    Although I don't agree with some of the details, this is really a very sensible and quite balanced editorial.

    But it ain't gonna happen as long as big money buys our legislators.

    How about term limits and complete overhaul of campaign funding? That would almost certainly start something that just might help solve our mess.

  • Truthseeker SLO, CA
    Nov. 8, 2011 8:30 a.m.

    Mr. Samuelson is overlooking the plan proposed by the Democrats on the Super Committee which proposed around $400 billion in Medicare savings, with half coming in benefit cuts and the other half in cuts to healthcare providers.

    However, the Republicans aren't willing to seriously look at revenue.

    Amtrak ridership has been increasing. It is a major form of transportation along the East Coast. I know people here in CA who would be negatively impacted if Amtrak stopped operations or had to dramatically increase their prices. Public transportation is a worthwhile investment.

  • Twin Lights Louisville, KY
    Nov. 8, 2011 8:19 a.m.


    I have read (and enjoyed) many of your posts. And yes, you have been laying down a balanced approach to the problem for quite awhile.

    If you have any delusion, it is one I share. That the politicians on both sides would stop drinking the party line Kool-Aid long enough to get us to a real solution. One based on facts and what will benefit the people. Instead, we get what amounts to little more than posturing and war cries for the next election.

    Keep at it.

  • Roland Kayser Cottonwood Heights, UT
    Nov. 8, 2011 6:39 a.m.

    It almost sounds as if Mr. Smauelson has been reading my posts on this forum. It is what I say almost every day here: we need higher taxes and less spending. (don't worry, I'm not delusional enough to believe that his thoughts came from me)

    I wish he would have spent a little more time on healthcare costs, which are the primary driver of our long term deficit projections. If we got our healthcare expenditures down to the level of, say, Germany, our long term deficit picture would look quite manageable.