H. Brandt Ayers: A fork in the road
Nov 01, 2012 | 1835 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talk after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press/file
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talk after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver in Denver. Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press/file
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This American’s feelings about the election Tuesday mingle anger and disappointment with a profound sense of sorrow. Our great nation was promised an escape from confusion and a clearly lit path to a better future.

That is not to be. All signs point to an election so close it settles nothing.

We had come to a fork in the road: one fork favored further concentration of wealth in a talented and wealthy few, a plutocratic path; the other fork led to wider distribution of wealth, a more democratic or little “r” republican path.

Neither the candidates nor the news media have clearly shown us the two roads or their implications; they have conspired to operate the fog machine.

Shame on them all!

Let’s look at our situation more as a historian would rather than a partisan, though fair judgments have to be made that will irritate all sides.

Our story begins in the happy Reagan years, dominated by his sunny personality and a theory that had immediate benefits, for some more than others. It was the package of supply-side economics and deregulation.

The supply-side theory claimed that feeding the “job creators” at the top end with tax cuts would make a hole in the treasury, but create such fabulous growth that taxes coming in will more than fill the hole left by the cuts.

Andrew Samwick, who was chief economist on Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2003-2004, responded to the claim:

“You are smart people. You know that the tax cuts have not fueled record revenues. You know what it takes to establish causality. You know that the first order effect of cutting taxes is to lower tax revenues …”

Before President George W. Bush signed the 2003 tax cuts, the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a statement signed by 10 Nobel Prize laureates, which states that:

“Passing these tax cuts will worsen the long-term budget outlook, adding to the nation’s projected chronic deficits. This fiscal deterioration will reduce the capacity of the government to finance Social Security and Medicare benefits as well as investments in schools, health, infrastructure and basic research. Moreover, the proposed tax cuts will generate further inequalities in after-tax income.”

Milton Friedman, the god of conservative economists, seconded that motion, asserting that the tax cuts would lead to intolerable deficits. My friend, the late Jim Tobin, himself a Nobel Prize winner, said the theory “deserves ridicule.”

Which brings us to the 1990s, where Bill Clinton balanced fiscal and monetary policies, slightly raised taxes on the upper end and pursued policies that led to economic growth. He left office with a surplus that began paying down the national debt.

In comes the good-natured Texan George W. Bush to reinstate supply-side economics while turning a laudable police action in Afghanistan into a sustained but neglected war, and starting another war in Iraq to protect us from “weapons of mass destruction,” which didn’t exist.

The consequent overhang of deficits matched with loosely regulated housing and mortgage “rackets” brought a crash that stunned the world, a great (Bush) recession almost as deep as the Great Depression.

Next up is Barack Obama, who kept the economy from cratering into another depression, saved the auto industry and tightened regulation of Wall Street while fighting a two-front war with the GOP opposition.

In the Senate, the Republican Leader Mitch McConnell declared on day one that his top priority was to defeat Obama. In the House, an obsessed insurgency, the Tea Party, fought all attempts to solve the fiscal crisis.

Tea Party people who talk endlessly of the Constitution should know that one of the Framers, James Madison, would call them a “faction … adverse to the permanent and aggregate interests of the Community.”

It is puzzling and disappointing that the president has not defined the Tea Party faction as the cause of the government freezing up like a motor without oil, and hasn’t run Truman-style against Congress, which the public dislikes already.

The smart people of the national media don’t seem to remember any of this history or see where the obstruction is in efforts to get the economy kick-started, though the economy now is beginning to grow in the eleventh hour of the campaign.

Amnesia in the media has allowed Mitt Romney, who may suffer from multiple-personality disorder, which causes him to reverse every position he has ever taken, to blithely pledge without question that he’ll create 12 million new jobs.

Though Romney has so blurred who he actually is, his fiscal policy is the same old package of supply-side economics and deregulation that helped get us in the mess and which conservative and liberal economists agree won’t work.

A president so inarticulate he can’t explain why the people should reject a return to supply-side economics and a media too incurious to nail its advocate is enough to make anybody angry and sad.

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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