“Tax Tea Party Time”

Bruce Bartlett says tax protesters “are not entitled to be taken seriously”:

Tax Tea Party Time, Part Two, by Bruce Bartlett, Commentary, Forbes: Last week, I presented data comparing taxation in the United States to other major countries and concluded that Americans are not especially overtaxed. … But what if we compare U.S. taxes today to those in the past? Are Americans more heavily taxed than those in earlier years, and do polls show greater dissatisfaction with taxes today? … [I]t is hard to find evidence that taxes are rising or unusually high. …

In response to these facts, some critics say that it is not today’s taxes that concern them, but those that will have to be paid in coming years as a result of the large spending and deficits being projected. …

I have problems with this argument as a justification for the sudden appearance of tea parties to protest taxes. First, many protesters implicitly assume that that the deficit has increased solely as a result of Barack Obama’s policies. But in fact, the Congressional Budget Office was projecting a deficit of more than $1 trillion this year back in January…

It’s true that projected deficits have gotten larger since January. But much of this resulted from deteriorating economic conditions that would have occurred even if John McCain were president. Moreover, it is absurd to assume that McCain would not have enacted any stimulus programs had he been elected.

More than likely, McCain would have proposed a stimulus plan of roughly the same size as that proposed by Obama. No doubt, it would have had a different composition–heavier on tax cuts, different kinds of tax cuts, less spending, different spending–but it wouldn’t have been all that different from Obama’s package given large Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and the pressure to act quickly.

I strongly suspect that many of those that loudly denounced the Obama stimulus package for its impact on the deficit would have cheered the McCain stimulus package even though it would have increased the deficit by about the same amount.

Proof of this proposition is that there were no tea parties during the years when George W. Bush was turning the surpluses of the Clinton years into massive deficits. … Those protesting this week were only protesting because it is a Democrat who has increased the deficit. When a Republican did worse, it’s like Emily Litella used to say, “Never mind.”

Of course, people are free to protest whatever they want whenever they want, and are also free to change their minds. Maybe this week’s tax protesters would have been out protesting even if McCain were president, but I don’t think so. I believe this was largely a partisan exercise designed to improve the fortunes of the Republican Party, not an expression of genuine concern about taxes or our nation’s fiscal future.

People should remember that while they have the right to their opinion, they are not entitled to be taken seriously. That only comes from having credibility gained by the correct presentation of facts and analysis and a willingness to be even-handed–criticizing one’s own side when it is wrong and not only speaking up when the other party does the same thing.


Originally published at the Economist’s View and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

6 Responses to "“Tax Tea Party Time”"

  1. Guest   April 18, 2009 at 7:12 am

    Sir,You forget the point of the original Tea Party. It is taxation without representation. Spending trillions without yet raising the tax forit scares the hell out of a lot of people. Trying to tax through enviremental controls, cap and trade, is likewise not representing the views of millions

  2. Guest   April 18, 2009 at 7:19 am

    I rarely agree with your opinion but I do agree with your last paragraph 100% – people do have a right of an opinion but not taken seriously. I mostly read your column and most of the RGE Monitor for the educational purpose and I must admit amusement. As a young person I lived through the seventies, wage and price controls, whip inflation now, high inflation rates , high interest rates, long gas lines caused by managed energy policies capped off by a President who said we can not do any better, our future is one of decline. Looking back I must say the seventies was the absolute worst decade I lived in. I lived it I know what it was like, graduating from high school and going into the dairy business in the late seventies with borrowed money. I really thought the economic theory you so support died due to lack of success, it just amazes me how we like to repeat history and failure.I would of taken part in the one of those Tea parties if I had the time, and proudly so. I am astounded at the amount of money being spent on non-productive things at all government levels. I am fully aware there are things the government needs to do and be involved in since the private sector would be a poor option.My state and local government by law must have a balanced budget but what a joke. All they do is float bonds to spend, my local government is almost drowning in bond debt. My thought is if the government truly believes it needs to spend all this money on non productive items I believe it would be better if I got my money back and spent it myself, that may seem like a foreign idea to you but not to me. Farther more I keep reading that the economy is on the road to recovery and if that is the case why are we running such huge deficit to stimulate it? What would the deficit be if we did not do the Tarp, Stimulus and the budget spending bill passed this year to complete the 2008 – 2009 budget bill?I voted for McCain but was not happy to do so – thought the choice was between dumber and dumber. I voted for Bush 2 times but the second time was not happy to do so – mainly spending. I felt it was the lesser of 2 evils. The surplus in the Clinton years was not brought on by Clinton but by the election of new faces in Congress who were not corrupted by politics. I am a registered Republican but my view points are closer to Ron Paul on economic matters. In my life I have seen on three occasions on what I call three election cycles that brought on super Democratic majorities and on each occasion they have expanded government social programs that I do not see how they can be sustained. In my life time I have never lived under a super Republican majority. I must say a super Republican party would not be the same as a super Democratic majority because the politics in the Republican party is more diverse than that of the Democratic party.So again I would have proudly taken part in the Tea Party

  3. Guest   April 24, 2009 at 8:29 am

    I find it comical how many people justify high tax rates by comparing them to other countries both now and in the past. Read your history books. Let me summarize all of them: States begin. Governments get stronger. Governments tax more. This carries on until it collapses because the unproductive nature of government eventually drains the resources. The amount of time it takes varies. The result is always the same. The single biggest indicator of impending failure is concentration of power over the money supply, usually but not always in a central bank. This usually happens because higher tax rates have become politically untenable so taxation through inflation is the only option. I would rather not justify higher taxes because I want to follow the example of failure that has continued over and over again for at least 3000 years.

  4. Stop the insanity   April 24, 2009 at 8:39 am

    I did not participate in the tea parties, but I supported them in spirit, and would have exactly the same feeling regardless of the political party. Bush’s economic policy of destroying the currency while handing pallets of fresh printed bills to corrupt pseudogovernment/corporate entities was no better than Obame doing the same thing. Yes, the Republicans capitalized on the opportunity, but if you get out and talk to the people who are fired up about this, they were the same people who called their congressmen opposing Bush’s TARP. Most of them, like me, are people who see the government as completely out of control and outside the bounds of its constitutionally restricted role. Yes, this is typically more of a Republican view point, but believe you me, it is much more of a common sense, comman man observation that when someone gets drunk and wrecks the car, the fix isn’t to give him a case of whiskey and tell him to try again but dodge the light poles this time.

  5. Guest   April 24, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    If you actually attended a tea party, which I doubt you did, they were actually anti-democrat and anti-republican. In fact, they didn’t want any politicians speaking. This was against large government— get your facts straight Mr.

  6. Dr. Fred in PA   April 26, 2009 at 9:47 pm

    OK, Mr. Thomas. George Bush nearly spent us into economic oblivion and now Mr. Obama is promising to finish the job. Here in PA Mr. Specter is probably going to lose his job over spending. Fine. You don’t think we’re serious. Well, I’m just letting you know that we who pay the bills are really pissed and we’ve just about had it with politicians and academics who play word games while Turbo Tax Cheat Geithner shovels billions out of the back door of AIG to foreign banks. See you July 4th.