By: Robert Scott
All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
I teach mathematics at the college level, so numbers mean something concrete to me. But I’m experienced enough to know that’s not true for everybody, and that many people’s eyes glaze over when discussing numbers, especially large numbers. So, in this political year, what is the best way to explain the federal budget? Here is one way: go over four major goals we can all agree on, at least in the big picture kind of description.
The first is national security. We all want that. We need to have a strong military, capable of ramping up quickly to take care of crises in several places all at the same time. We need to have strength in East Asia, around Korea and China. We need to have strength in the Middle East where we have been fighting terrorism for decades. We need to have strength in Europe, too, because with Putin’s Russia one just never knows. And we need to have national security when it comes to our borders, to enforce controlled and fair immigration.
The second is a strong social safety net with a robust national infrastructure. We are told by President Trump that our economy is the best in history. That is surely an exaggeration, but not by much. We are prosperous right now, and if we cannot take good care of the most vulnerable among us, and if we cannot build or rebuild the best infrastructure (it’s more than just roads and bridges) when we are this prosperous, then when can we do those things? There is a strong argument that now is the time to do all of this, while we are at peak prosperity.
The third is lower tax rates. The economy is booming in large part because we have treasured our free economy and enabled it to work well, ever since the end of the Second World War. We have successively lowered taxes in most of the decades since then, and our economy has continued to boom. If we were to raise taxes to 1950’s levels, we can expect that prosperity to slow down, perhaps to end and even to reverse. Not every economist agrees with these statements, but they have a strong appeal. National prosperity depends on low taxes.
The fourth is the national debt. In this time of prosperity, it makes no sense to fund the federal government largely on our borrowing more and more money from our children and grandchildren. If we can’t have a balanced budget when the nation is at peak prosperity, then what happens when the economic cycle turns, as sooner or later it must? We should be reducing, not increasing, our national debt when the nation is the most prosperous.
The problem with those four is this: you only get to choose three. If you listen to the national debate this year, you can hear which three each party, and each candidate for almost every office, thinks are the most important three. Smart candidates never mention which of the four they plan to ignore. But almost every politician plans to ignore one of those four.
Which three do you want us to follow, this election year?