By Mark Mansperger, Special to the Herald
RICHLAND -- During the momentous struggle of World War II, America's national debt increased to 120 percent of GDP.
Subsequent presidents responsibly brought the debt downward until we reached Ronald Reagan, who, in 1981, inherited a national debt that only was 32 percent of GDP.
His tax-cutting policies, however, soon inflated it to 66 percent.
In the early 1990s, the far right then fought vigorously against Bill Clinton's economic policies, predicting they would "stall the economic recovery." In fact, preceded by two tax increases, the 1990s saw one of the best economic expansions in our nation's history.
Al Gore, during the 2000 presidential debates, correctly foretold Bush's Reagan-era policies would lead to record deficits, to which Bush replied, that's "fuzzy math."
Our national debt surged from a stable $5.7 trillion in 2001 to $10.6 trillion by the time Bush left office -- 74 percent of GDP! Moreover, the deficit for Fiscal 2009, which started during Bush's presidency, was approximately $1.5 trillion! Leaving deficits of this magnitude guaranteed that trillions more will accrue.
In spite of their ideological appeal, there is no objective evidence that attacking government and cutting taxes make the economy grow better, reduces deficits or improves the lives of the majority of people. If cutting taxes actually is such an elixir, the economy should have been going gangbusters after the tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Instead, it puttered along until falling into the Great Recession.
Taxes are part of the cost of civilization. We in the Mid-Columbia, who receive far more from the federal government than we pay, should be the last to complain.
Too many Americans are embracing the belief that roads, schools, national defense, etc., should somehow be provided for free, or that the government should curtail the services of their fellow Americans so they can get theirs at reduced rates.
Fifteen years ago, another major governmental change occurred with the contemporary rise of the vicious politics of personal destruction, now chronically encouraged by certain pundits and media.
The era in which there could be cooperation, dialogue, and objective analyses (instead of partisan propaganda) soon died. It is deeply alarming that so many Americas are willing to cast aside the responsibility of actually learning about issues in favor of the comfort and ease of having ideologically-minded authoritarian figures tell them what to believe.
We need to turn away from the "tax cuts and deregulation will save us" political script, which ultimately emanates from the rich and corporate.
Our economic mess predominantly is the result of inadequate regulation and incessant greed, and it will take time to recover. Faulting our current deficits and unemployment on Obama is like dynamiting a dam and then blaming one's successor for the subsequent flood.
The federal deficit commission revealed a plan late last year to reduce our national deficits by cutting spending on defense, Social Security, Medicare, agriculture and by raising taxes.
Unfortunately, the analysis probably is correct. Spending cuts alone will not balance our budget, and if such a draconian policy actually was implemented, the people and activities of the Mid-Columbia would be prime targets.
There are some merits to conservative thought, but if we had never started down this road of deregulation and tax cuts we would have vastly less debt, a stronger economy and higher after-tax personal income (which is what really matters, not tax rates).
Although he didn't go far enough, Obama's State of the Union address was on the right path. The sensible solution to massive deficits is to collect more taxes and reduce expenditures.
Taking the opposite approach of perpetually extending tax cuts to rich people ultimately would ruin us.
A renewal of prosperity requires rejecting the illusory, biased, rancorous policies of the past and instead focusing on those that are realistic and socially responsible.
* Mark Mansperger is an assistant professor of anthropology and world civilizations at Washington State University Tri-Cities. His research includes cultural ecology, development and international economics.