How Civilized do You Want to Be?

In the 1970s the FDA carried out, on average, around 10,000 inspections per year.  During the fifties, sixties and seventies the interstate system and the national power grid were constructed, numerous schools and universities built amongst many other projects that changed the way people lived, communicated and traveled for decades to come.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Supreme Court Justice, said that “taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.”  My question is how far down the scale of civilization do we want to slide?  FDA inspections have been reduced to about a thousand per year. Now it seems like every couple of years there is an outbreak of salmonella or e. coli.  Hundreds or even thousands of people are hospitalized for these outbreaks, many never recovering.  In fact, just this week Cargill has had to recall 36 million pounds of ground turkey due to salmonella.  But compared to the three hundred million people that live in the U.S., this is a statistically insignificant number.  Perhaps Americans feel this is acceptable today.  In 2007, the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed.  While the funds to repair this and other bridges were the federal government’s responsibility, it was up to the local municipalities to have them inspected.  Thirteen were killed and 145 injured.  Again, perhaps this is an acceptable number.  How far down the civilization scale do you want to slide?  In an age when every new car has standard or as an option a GPS system, airlines and air traffic control systems are operating on forty-year-old technology.  It has been decades since any sort of upgrade or expansion was done to the national power grid.  Many municipalities across the country have water and sewage systems that have been patched and re-patched because they are well past their initial life span.  How far down the civilization scale do you want to slide?

At a point where federal taxes are the lowest they have been in over fifty years, there is a very vocal part of the conservative movement that says taxes are too high.  Republicans say that lower taxes are stimulators to the economy, making investment by small, medium and large businesses easier.  If this were true, then wouldn’t America have experienced a huge boom in growth the first decade of the twenty-first century, after the Bush tax cuts took effect?  It didn’t.  In fact, the net number of jobs created during Bush the Younger’s administration was a poor showing of three million jobs.

The biggest red herring though was the industry-growing tax cuts that were passed into law.  Instead of creating jobs and raising overall tax revenue, they have actually cost the government $2.8 trillion in collected revenue.  Add to this over $800 billion of the Iraq Folly and we arrive at a total which is larger than plans suggested by the either party in congress.  While we are considering revenue lost by the federal government, I have been trying to find a solid number of revenue lost by those who file fraudulent tax returns.  What I mean by this ranges from those who just game the system to those who make actual false claims on their returns to those who don’t file anything at all.  I, personally, would put it between five to ten percent, since I know statistically that is the range of people that will try to cheat any given system.  The highest number I have seen is fourteen percent, but I haven’t been able to verify that.  Even if we take the average of 7.5% of taxpayers avoiding their civic duty, that puts the total lost revenue at about $150 billion dollars per year.  That’s a lot of money, even for the government.

I understand there is a problem with the government spending more than it brings in and also that the major entitlement programs have to be reworked to be viable in the long term.  But the continuation of lowering taxes hoping that will have some effect is only sinking us into a hole it will be more difficult and expensive to climb out of.  Clinton was the only one who got close to balancing the budget (no, I didn’t vote for him).  I know many of you will contest this notion, but if Bush the Elder’s economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, admits Clinton did it, then I think we can agree on it.

So, let’s cut some spending, and raise some taxes (see some ideas in upcoming posts).  Given the current climate not just in the congress between left and right, but in the country as a whole, it seems that we as a nation are not doing very well.  Just how civilized do you want to be?

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