Here is my TIME.com column today on the Paul Ryan budget.
Americans often tell pollsters they yearn for a return to the Christian principles on which the U.S. was founded. If so, they should take a closer look at the Romney-Ryan ticket. Jesus’s teachings regarding wealth are nowhere to be found in Paul Ryan’s budget proposals…
As usual, my opinions in the comments section over at TIME are being pilloried and distorted. I take this as a compliment, by the way. For the record, I understand full well the difference between private philanthropy and a government safety net. There is clearly an argument for keeping taxes low for the wealthy in order to free them to direct their charity (or their profligacy) as they see fit. Naturally, most people (including myself) would love to live in the fantasy world where we could force others to pay for medical research, roads, security, and the like.
Who wouldn’t want that? I, for one, would love to keep all of my money — as Mitt Romney will be able to do, under Ryan’s tax plan (and this analysis was done by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, by the way, and not concocted in my feverish brain). But we have a social contract which still provides for services and opportunities to others, through taxes, some of which are beneficial to me, and some of which have no impact on me or even contradict my belief system and funding priorities. This is life in a representative democracy. When we don’t like the way the government spends our money, we have three choices: we can vote for a new government; we can exercise civil disobedience (and pay the consequences, as Henry David Thoreau did); or we can accept it as the price we pay for democracy, taking comfort in the fact that other people find different government expenditures just as intolerable and/or excessive as we do: military expenditures, food stamps, medicare, prisons, schools, public transportation infrastructure, agriculture subsidies, health clinics, capital punishment appeals, tax breaks for various sectors of society, take your pick.
My view is that a tax structure that punishes the working poor is immoral. And I also think there is a lot of disingenuous obfuscation about what counts as government assistance. For example: there are a couple very different ways to look at Food Stamps. Some believe they are a hand-out to people who may or may not ‘deserve’ it. On the other hand, Food Stamps can also be viewed as a business subsidy to companies, allowing them to keep wages low, since many recipients of Food Stamps (nearly 50 percent) are full-time employees who can’t feed their families on their meager salaries.
Others can debate the evidence for trickle-down economics. From my perch, it doesn’t work. But I think we need to have political arguments that are rooted in evidence. The Republican party was once the party of reality; the democrats espoused the big ideas – some of which were idiotic and not grounded in real life. Now, it seems, the reverse has happened. I really miss the New England-style fiscal conservatives. Their absence in our national discourse is a terrible loss. I often disagreed with them, but their principles were tempered by a cold-eyed realism I respected a lot.