Jayne: There’s what we owe, and what we owe people in need

By Greg Jayne, Columbian Opinion Editor

Published:

 

Greg Jayne, Opinion page editor

It was a thoughtful and considerate note, the kind that deserves a thoughtful and considerate response. So, when a reader recently sent me an email that raised some valid questions, it sounded like good column fodder.

Under the subject “thank you for your fine comments,” Bob Waber of Battle Ground wrote, “I always read your editorials.” Clearly, he is a well-informed man of exceptional taste and profound intellect.

“About the ‘socialism’ piece, I think socialism is kind of a misnomer,” he continued. “The real issue is the creeping welfare state that supplies all manner of entitlements to seemingly everyone. It’s bankrupting the country to the tune of $20 trillion, but who cares? Will we end up like Greece? How much longer can we live on the credit card? The liberals are buying votes by doling out plenty of stuff. And then just try to omit any benefit, recipients will scream bloody murder, asserting cruelty, racism, etc.”

As I said, it raises some good questions. Because even if I do not agree with those assertions, a lot of other people do. And that means we should discuss them.

Undoubtedly, a national debt of about $20 trillion is unsustainable. It went up 85 percent under President George W. Bush, which tends to happen when you commit to two wars without a way to fund them. It went up another 86 percent under President Obama, which tends to happen when you have to rescue the economy from the policies of your predecessor.

OK, OK, that was snarky and biased. The fact is that both Bush and Obama increased the debt at an unforgivable rate. But it also should be noted that the debt grew 285 percent during eight years of the Reagan presidency, and that Reagan expanded federal spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product. So much for the “small government” trope upon which he built his legacy.

None of that is meant to dismiss the importance of the national debt. According to USDebtClock.org, which provides a mesmerizing array of ever-changing numbers, the United States’ debt now amounts to more than $61,000 per person, which is a heck of a national credit card bill.

But logic would suggest that the crux of the problem lies not in the so-called welfare state, but in grossly warped priorities. Logic would suggest that the best ways to attack the debt are through increased taxes upon the wealthy and a cut to defense spending.

Make America Great Again

Donald Trump’s unlikely ascension to the presidency was largely built upon his plan to “Make America Great Again.” It’s short, it’s pithy, it’s inarguable. Who wouldn’t want to make America great again? But it is interesting that many people who buy into that philosophy believe America was at its greatest during the 1950s, and yet the highest marginal income tax during those years was 92 percent.

By the time Reagan took office in 1981, the highest rate was 70 percent, and then the slashing began. Today, the highest marginal tax rate is less than 40 percent.

It seems that one of the keys to making America great is to live by the creed that, “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.” You might have heard that one; it’s in the Bible. Conservatives like to claim that tax cuts boost the economy, yet there is no evidence to support this. We’ve written about this before, and there is no reason to rehash the facts.

Instead, let us move on to the defense budget. The United States spends more than $600 billion a year on defense — nearly three times any other country on the planet. We spend more than the next eight nations combined. And still, Republicans want to increase that amount. It’s like a homeowner saying, “Sure, I have a state-of-the-art security system and an AR-15 to keep my family safe, but we really need a moat and a bazooka.”

That brings us back to priorities. Because the thoughtful argument says that helping people in need does more to Make America Great Again than buying a bazooka.