September 23, 2010
Faith and tax cuts

Faith: 2.b.1: firm belief in something for which there is no proof; 2: complete trust. (Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary)

So Republicans are today announcing their “Pledge to America,” an updated version of their somewhat infamous “Contract with America.” Central to its tenets is a promise to permanently extend the Bush tax cuts for all income classes.

The thing about this pledge is that it actually constitutes an assertion of faith, not reason.

For the last thirty years the Republican rhetorical position on taxes has remained remarkably consistent: tax cuts are good; tax increases are bad. Those who might transgress this mantra are ritually purged, starting with George H.W. Bush and continuing on through the various “RINOs” who have been beaten by conservative, often Tea Party movement affiliated candidates in this primary election cycle. (The only significant exception to this pattern is Ronald Reagan himself, who twice raised taxes during his Presidency.) Indeed, Reagan has been elevated to a kind of sainthood, and his imagined purity on the question of taxes has turned him into the holy icon of Republican mythology. 

Like all holy texts, the doctrine of tax cuts is seen to have essentially miraculous powers. Cut them and jobs blossom; taxes flow to government; freedom spreads. Regardless of the disease, they are the cure. Times are good? Tax cuts! Times are bad? Tax cuts! Times are uncertain? Tax cuts! 

Also like all holy texts, this faith in no way depends on evidence. Thirty years of accumulated evidence demonstrates that tax cuts do not always lead to economic nirvana, increased government revenues, and opportunity for all. It turns out that if you want roads, and schools, and fire departments, and police departments, and prisons, and social services for the most needy, and defense systems, you have to pay for them, usually through taxes. If you want the next generation of Americans to have the training and skills needed to succeed in a globalized world, you have to educate them, usually though publicly-funded schools and universities. Thus, while it is certainly possible to overtax a society, it is also possible to undertax one, too.

But none of this matters to the faithful. Indeed, the act of questioning the faith becomes a rallying cry among the believers: “they” don’t get it and are out to destroy the one true way! We must crusade for the truth!

In the end, talking to Republicans and conservatives about tax cuts is like talking to committed persons of any faith that you do not share. The conversation may be civil. It may be extensive. But nothing you say, and no evidence you muster, is going to change their minds. Truth is made by faith, and you, you unbeliever, you just don’t get it.