Wednesday, February 16, 2011
OK, so forgive my deliberately provocative headline, but in both Washington D.C. and my local state capitol (St. Paul), the battle lines have been drawn (once again) surrounding the annual budget debates. The lines seem, if anything, to be more calcified than ever between the "no tax increase" and the "no significant spending cut" crowds. I find plenty to quibble with in both camps, but I confess to finding the first camp more infuriating. When the preferred option is drastic cuts to programs that serve as lifelines to the most vulnerable among us (e.g. Head Start, prenatal health programs, etc.) -- particularly when those cuts appear to be a desperate attempt to reach a symbolic $100 billion campaign pledge -- I find the refusal to contemplate any increased taxes to be maddening. I know I've raised this before, but I still find any of three potential grounds for a "no new taxes ever!" approach to be problematic: 1) if a categorical opposition to increased taxes is based on a belief that they don't work to the extent that they'll depress levels of economic activity and thus actually reduce revenue, it seems that there would need to be more persuasive evidence to bolster that belief. 2) If opposition is based on the belief that the government is misusing the money and spending it imprudently, then logically the opposition would target specific programs rather than cap revenue in a way that hinders prudent and imprudent spending alike. 3) If the opposition is based on a more principled stance along the lines of "It's the people's money!," that's a viable position, though it seems to stand in some tension with Church teaching. (See, e.g., Compendium para. 355 (discussing "payment of taxes as part of the duty of solidarity.")
I generally find Paul Krugman to be insufferable, but his op-ed from a few days ago was difficult to ignore. Just as some on the left seem to pay no heed to the dangers of an ever-expanding profligate state, the alternative approach emerging from the awkward GOP/Tea Party marriage appears to be equally reckless. A person who takes Catholic social teaching seriously needs to reject both camps, doesn't she? Putting it more concretely -- and yes, I know this is usually consigned to the province of prudential judgment -- in our current fiscal circumstances, can a Catholic who accepts Church teaching on the role of the state in providing a safety net for the vulnerable prudently reject the very possibility of tax increases?