Many have said this before, but now I believe we are clearly in a period when politicians that overlook our Federal programs can no longer effectively deal with their responsibility. They gravitate to the lowest common politically-safe denominator of cutting taxes without corresponding program spending cuts. They point to the Laffer Curve as discussed in my previous posting and they always assume we are in the ‘green zone’ when evidence suggests otherwise. I even heard former vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, refer to it last Sunday during her appearance on FOX News.
While I was still thinking about what Palin had said earlier in the day, David Stockman, President’s Reagan’s first budget director, appeared on 60 Minutes later that evening. Stockman previously lamented about the politics of tax cuts and lack of corresponding spending cuts (I assume he figured we were in the ‘green zone’ after the initial Reagan cuts) in his book, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed. But on Sunday, he was even more candid and bolder. Not only did he accuse the tax cut proponents as adhering to some kind of a tax cut religion, but he even called for a one time 15% surtax on the richest 5% in order to reduce the national debt by half. But what he said next was mind-boggling to me. In 1985, he said, the net worth of the top 5% wealthiest households in America was eight trillion dollars, and since 1985, the same group is now worth forty trillion dollars. He added that that accumulation of wealth between 1985 and 2010 was more than the wealth all human kind had accumulated up to 1980. Mind-boggling.
As scholars and practitioners of public administration, we spend a lot of time thinking about policies in the form of programs our discipline administers. That is because Woodrow Wilson taught us well about the need and the wisdom of separating politics from administration. But as the debate about taxes and spending plays out in the political arena it is difficult to ignore the politics. Maybe I am coming to this realization much later than others, but I am now totally convinced we are in a period of collective governance insanity from which we are less likely to recover in my lifetime. I think I have at least a couple decades left in me.