Originally published 4/8/2013.
Even though I disagree with almost everything Paul Krugman writes, I normally read his columns just to see what points he is failing to make. In his continued attack on fiscal conservatives today, he includes the following sentence, which jumped off the page and stuck in my mind:
“It goes without saying that Republicans oppose any expansion of programs that help the less fortunate — along with tax cuts for the wealthy, such opposition is pretty much what defines modern conservatism.”
I don’t know about “modern conservatism” in general, but he describes two thirds of my position fairly well. I favor strong, well funded, programs that truly help the truly poor, but being “less fortunate” does not, in my mind, qualify anyone for help. If it did, I should get in line because I am clearly far “less fortunate” than Buffett and Gates and Obama and millions of others. Well, at least financially less fortunate. And there are scores of millions who are less fortunate than I and are getting along just fine and don’t need any financial help at all from me or from other fellow taxpayers.
The problem at one end is that all the chatter about millionaires and billionaires not paying their fair share does nothing, in the absence of some understanding of basic economics and the nature of and responsibilities associated with wealth, but stoke envy and dissatisfaction and encourage a misguided sense of entitlement to some of that wealth. And, at the other end, the problem is that many of the programs we have to help the “less fortunate” are more likely to enslave and insult and demoralize and perpetuate the poverty of the truly poor than to preserve their dignity by helping them become more self sufficient.
As far as taxation of the wealthy goes, I would argue that there are many “wealthy” or, more accurately, high income folks who should be paying more in taxes than they currently pay and many who should be paying less than they currently pay. We need to solve those problems by cutting tax rates and eliminating the exemptions, deductions, credits, and exclusions that enable the government to make personal judgments, show favoritism, and pick winners and losers.
And Mr. Krugman fails to mention the third leg of my conservative perch, elimination of wasteful spending by government. He always advocates more spending, usually for good things such as infrastructure, but never suggests that more could be spent on infrastructure by spending less on the frivolous and useless. In his mind, it always takes more revenue.
So, just to make it clear what “defines” my own brand of conservatism, here are the three main points:
- Simpler personal and corporate tax codes with lower marginal rates for all and no special treatment for anybody. If it collects more tax revenue immediately in order to help get our debt back to a reasonable percentage of GDP, that is fine with me. I have no doubt such a system would collect more tax revenue in the future because it would promote investment and revitalize the economy.
- Full financial support for the truly mentally and physically disabled along with job training, child care, meaningful work, and income for the poor who are able to work. Let’s show them some respect rather than patronize and insult them by handing out food stamp EBT cards and asking them to stand in line for housing vouchers.
- Wise choices and responsible control of federal spending at or below 20% of GDP. (State and local governments will spend another 10% to 15%.)
And, that brand of conservatism does not include any programs to just spread wealth around from the “more fortunate” to the “less fortunate.” Those are meaningless descriptors, and we are all more fortunate than some and less fortunate than others.