With every Republican Party leader preaching a religion of tax cuts, one Republican sounds like John the Baptist in the wilderness, a lone voice with a counter message, a disruptive note, a word of truth.
That Republican may feel like John the Baptist, but given his interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” broadcast on Halloween, Republican officials probably see him as Freddy Krueger, a nightmarish monster who strikes when people are in their dream world.
That Republican is none other than David Stockman, who was President Ronald Reagan’s director of the Office of Management and Budget (1981-85).
Stockman was once a doctrinaire advocate of “supply-side economics,” a theory sometimes called “trickle-down economics.”
“Trickle-down economics” claims that low taxes or no taxes on the wealthy somehow benefits the rest of society. It also opposes regulation.
The former Michigan congressman said that Reagan’s 1981 tax cut “was always a Trojan horse to bring down the top rate… It’s kind of hard to sell ‘trickle down.’ So the supply-side formula was the only way to get a tax policy that was really ‘trickle down.’ Supply-side is ‘trickle-down’ theory.”
In an interview with “60 Minutes” about tax cuts, Stockman said: “[I]t’s become in a sense an absolute. Something that can’t be questioned, something that’s gospel, something that’s sort of embedded into the catechism and so scratch the average Republican today and he’ll say, ‘Tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.'”
The former Harvard Divinity School student said such a belief is “rank demagoguery.”
“We should call it for what it is,” he said. “If these people were all put into a room on penalty of death to come up with how much they could cut, they couldn’t come up with $50 billion, when the problem is $1.3 trillion. So, to stand before the public and rub raw this anti-tax sentiment, the Republican Party, as much as it pains me to say this, should be ashamed of themselves.”
“We’ve demonized taxes,” said Stockman. “We’ve created almost the idea that they’re a metaphysical evil.”
Stockman didn’t have kind words for President Obama either. He said he cringed when he heard Obama talk about making middle-class tax cuts permanent.
“We have now got both parties essentially telling a Big Lie, with a capital ‘B’ and a capital ‘L,’ to the public,” said Stockman. “And that is that we can have all this government, 24 percent of GDP, this huge entitlement program, all of the bailouts. And yet, we don’t have to tax ourselves and pay our bills. That’s delusional.”
In an extra clip from the “60 Minutes” interview, Stockman said: “We’re going to have to dramatically scale back defense. We are out of the imperialism business. We are out of the world policeman business. We can’t afford it… We’re going to have to cut back… We’re going to have to reform and means-test entitlements. But … we’re still going to have to raise a lot of revenue.”
A few days later on CNBC, Stockman said the new Congress would be rancorous and stalemated.
“Republicans can’t cut any material spending, and given a trillion dollar-plus deficit that continues to grow year after year, we’re gonna have to have to raise revenues – you have to pay your bills sooner or later,” he said.
Criticizing Republicans for being unwilling to reform Social Security and cut other federal programs, Stockman said that “there is only a tiny portion of the budget that they [Republicans] even want to cut. And during the Bush administration, discretionary spending went up by 60 percent, too.”
Stockman said he favored letting the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of the year.
“That’s why I think we have to let the tax cuts expire. We’d like to have them for both the middle class, we’d like to have them for rich too for that matter, but we can’t afford them,” he said. “We couldn’t afford them in 2001. We certainly can’t afford them now.”
Americans are in a dream world about cutting taxes. And we had better wake up.
Interviewed in “Sacred Texts, Social Duty,” a documentary on faith and taxes, Ralph Martire, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago, said, “There is no data to support the stance that the way you grow the economy is to cut taxes on the wealthy and support corporate giveaways.”
Aside from the lack of empirical evidence that cutting taxes on the rich benefits the entire society, the tax-cut religion is a false religion. It’s a fictitious belief that protecting the rich will reward society.
The biblical witness teaches the reverse – protecting the poor creates a good society.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.