The Myth of Republican Fiscal Conservatism

The liberal agenda of fiscal conservatism is misunderstood.

Your average person seems to think that, when push comes to shove, matters of business and economy are best handled by Republicans. Even liberal friends of mine sometimes refer to so-called fiscal conservatism as being a trait of the Right. This is a lie. The Right is not more fiscally conservative than the Left. The Republicans also love to talk about cutting taxes. It is a tried and true Republican campaign tactic to say they will cut taxes and their liberal opponent will raise taxes. This is also a lie, although slightly more complex. When people describe themselves as “socially liberal but fiscally conservative”, they are basically saying they are liberals.

Here’s how this fits together.

When we say “fiscally conservative” what do we mean? To most people, it means to manage money carefully, frugally and without a great deal of risk. To play it safe. To focus on necessities and not luxuries. What is the goal of fiscal conservatism? To maximize dollar value. The goal is to make our hard-earned tax dollars go as far as they can.

That is one aspect. But the ideals of the Republican Party don’t stop there. The math is unforgiving: if you take in less tax dollars you can do less. Since you cannot increase efficiency infinitely, a program to reduce taxes is ultimately a program for government to do less. This fits in well with the Republican rhetoric of “smaller government”. So the Republicans aren’t really for fiscal conservatism, they are for a shrinking federal government. Well, what’s wrong with that? Republicans want to grow the military. Big time. They are funding billions and billions into the military. So if we shrink the government but grow the military, it means the military is becoming proportionally an ever more dominant fraction of the federal government. In addition, the real heart of the Republican ideal is keeping the government’s hands off their money. So what they want is the government to be built with someone else’s money to fund a military to protect their wealth. We are becoming a military state controlled by the richest few percent of the population. Shouldn’t that bother us a bit?

There is one thing that everyone can relate to: No one wants to have less money. The goal in this matter, if you will, is to have more money. Yet we know how important government is. It takes a lot of money to have great highways, control our borders, manage our parks, make sure workplaces are safe, make sure food is safe, police the neighborhood, sweeps the streets, protect our country in wartime, interact diplomatically with other countries, provide for social security. This list goes on. This is expensive stuff. This is important stuff. The government does a lot of very, very useful things for all people. Our government does a remarkable job at most of this stuff. Every time it comes down to cutting these programs, Republicans and Democrats alike have a terrible struggle. Republicans love to spend the government’s money, too, and their pet project, the military, spends more money then the next 7 largest militaries in the world. Republicans could accurately be described as “tax-cut and spend”. Why did Ronald Reagan, in a booming economy deficit spend and raise the debt, while President Clinton, in a booming economy, ran a surplus budget and paid down the debt. Ronald Reagan cut taxes and the financial situation of the country got worse. That is not fiscal conservatism. Republicans know they can’t cut taxes and grow the military unless they cut somewhere else. This is where they really screw up. They attempt to take away the very programs that make us a good country and would make us a great country. For example, we need a national solution to health care insurance. No one should ever be turned away from a hospital. In light of the fact that insurance companies are cash cows for their owners, no one should go bankrupt because they suffer from a serious illness. In American we take care of our own. We don’t leave anybody behind. In America, if someone needs a bite to eat, a bed to sleep in or an operation to save their life, we take care of them. We take care of our parks, our roads, our neighborhoods, our workers, our food and our people . There is no person in American who would rather be on welfare than be successful. There is no one at a soup kitchen who wouldn’t rather be in a nice restaurant or in their own kitchen. When people ask for help, we give them help. If you do not, what happens? You have homeless, hungry, dying people, which ends up costing immeasurably more.

True fiscal conservatism does not come with this baggage of needing to shrink government, grow the military and cut social programs. Fiscal conservatism means we should spend money wisely. This means you can’t be penny wise and pound foolish. It is cheaper to have good education programs that prevent crime than to build prisons and incarcerate a huge segment of our population. It is cheaper to protect the environment before it is destroyed than to try to rebuild it once it is destroyed. It is cheaper to develop alternative energy now while we still have fossil fuels, than be scavenging for the last drop when it’s gone at the end of this century. (Please read that sentence again: fossil fuels will be GONE by the end of this century!) America is going to be like a junkie kicking heroin when the oil fields start drying up and the so-called fiscally conservative Republicans are still dragging their feet on alternative energy. It should be a number one priority and instead they want to risk one of the last pristine environments in the world for one more fix of domestic oil.

Issue after issue after issue — the Republican ideals are risky, short-sighted, greedy, expensive and in no way, shape or form fiscally conservative. Here, in a short list, is the essence of fiscal conservatism:

1. Education is the best crime prevention we know of and it is infinitely cheaper than fighting our high crime rate. Fund the crap out of education.
2. Taking care of the environment is going to get exponentially more expensive every decade. Do not pass that nightmare on to your grandchildren. Protect the environment now in a way that will keep it healthy for millenia.
3. Support programs that keep the poorest Americans fed, healthy and with some degree of self-esteem. This is also cheaper than fighting crime and is also the American way.
4. Don’t claim you are patriotic if you don’t support our government financially. A high-quality government costs money. The richest Americans should gladly pay more. They did not get wealthy in a vacuum. They are lucky as hell and they have a civic duty to give back.
5. Insist that our government run a surplus budget. Clinton did, so can Bush. It is immoral to spend the money of future governments today.
6. Do not allow our leaders to turn us into a military state. We do not need a military 100 times bigger than our fellow countries. This is fear and greed in action, it depletes resources that would be better used elsewhere, and supports the ill-conceived notion that might is right. We must solve our problems non-violently when at all possible for many reasons, but one good reason is that it is fiscally conservative.

Conservative vs. Republican

OK, so I just slammed the hell out of Republicans. Please note: I am not slamming Conservatives. I don’t think Republicans and Conservatives are the same thing. Conservatives are generally people who are fiscally conservative. Some of them are also socially conservative. There is a healthy tension between liberals and conservatives on these issues. That’s a good thing. What many good Conservatives don’t see is how the Republican Party is tricking and betraying them. I’ve listed many examples above. The Republican Party is systematically undermining public education, social security, the environment, the health care system and many other things because it is a tactic to achieve an ideological agenda. To be more blunt, they lie because they know if they tell the truth, we won’t buy it. Even good Conservatives would balk at a systematic attack on the health and welfare of the country as a whole. Republicans are deluded into thinking that a liberal agenda is somehow akin to Communism. I won’t shy from that charge: our country is a mix of capitalist and communist tactics. Our military is a communist organization. Our highways are a communist system. Get it out of your head that social cooperation is bad. We all agree: markets should be capitalist. Many, many things work best under capitalism. Not all things. Let’s focus on getting the best for ourselves and our countrymen by spending money wisely so we can continue to be the best country in the world. You are a liberal.

The Myth of Republican Fiscal Conservatism

5 thoughts on “The Myth of Republican Fiscal Conservatism

  1. Thanks for writing, Ron. You seem to be an intelligent and well-meaning person. I’m a small business owner, too. Let me ask you — what is the difference between a healthy small business and one that is struggling? It is about financial health. Too little income kills businesses. No business ever died because of too much income. Now of course I realize that the government doesn’t create revenue, per se, but it still has a balance sheet that we need to keep healthy. There are a million reasons why we need the USA’s balance sheet to be healthy.

    I believe your premise: “No nation has ever taxed it’s way into prosperity” is completely wrong. Government’s that invest create better economies than government’s that don’t. For example, some southern states are so starved for resources that their education systems suck, their infrastructures suck and their economies suck. The rich hoarding their money does not create healthy economies. As Paul Wellstone said “We all do better when we all do better.”

    Yes, tax burdens fall disproportionally on the rich. So what? Taxing the poor is not effective and starving the government of money creates ineffective governments which undermines our values, our economy and our potential for growth.

    OF COURSE a surplus is a good thing. It means we balanced the budget and had a little extra. Am I gonna cry because some mulit-millionaire is out a fraction of a percent of his wealth? Fuck no. There is no more patriotic act than supporting your country financially.

    You seem to be implying that government is not necessary, which is insane.

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  2. Ron says:

    To borrow from what I heard someone say a long time ago, “No nation has ever taxed it’s way into prosperity.” I don’t believe a dollar in the government’s hands will ever hire as many people as a dollar in the private sector ever will.

    John Kerry was promising to raise taxes on everyone earning over $200,000 the last time he ran. I also heard him a few months ago complaining about “tax cuts for the rich”, low paying jobs, and jobs going over seas. I’d like someone to exlplain to me how raising someone else’s taxes provides us all with a net benefit.

    More Americans work for small businesses than any other kind, and I am small business owner. The day they announce a tax cut, it does nothing for me. It takes time for me to save the money. When I do, most of it will be invested in growth and upgrading equipment, both of which puts people to work. When you multiply me by all the small businesses in America, I believe THAT is what booms an economy.

    Americans have had “tax cuts for the rich” pounded into them by a mostly liberal media for how long now? When I hear that, what I really hear is “tax cuts for the employers.” I ask you something. How do you raise an employer’s taxes AND expect them to hand out raises and increased benefits?

    Even if a wealthy person only invests in the stock market, I believe that provides a net benefit. Stock prices are based on supply and demand. I also believe that far more stocks are held as long term retirement investments via mutual funds than by individuals who are trying to make a quick buck with single stocks. It’s a volume thing. The more people who are in, the more the value goes up for everyone. The more the value goes up, the more those drawing out for retirement have available to spend on goods and services, again, putting people to work to PROVIDE those goods and services.

    Instead of focusing on partisanship, let’s just focus on nuts and bolts/what works and what doesn’t. As far as I’m concerned, there are two parties. The liberal one and the more liberal one. The Republicans are nowhere near where they need to be but, tax raising Democrats aren’t the solution, either. Even the Republicans didn’t stand up the last time around and say “Look at how our tax cuts brought us out of Bill Clinton’s recession. Let’s do it again and again until it doesn’t work.”

    Who thinks that the government having a surplus at the end of Clinton while the private sector was headed into a recession was a GOOD THING? Where should that money have been?

    I think the estimated 10-12 million illegals in this country should have any legal American crying for a national sales tax to remove the automatic earning advantage an illegal has when no deductions are coming out. I’m sure it will break everyone’s heart when a drug dealer has to pay income tax and FICA on his next BMW purchase.

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  3. Dan Moreman says:

    I agree with a lot of what you say and I applaud you for making these points. There are, however, a few points where I you and I see it differently.

    First, why don’t you talk about the staggering amounts of money the Republican party spends of corporate wellfare. Look at the tens of billions the Republican party gave away to the pharmacutical and insurance industries in the recent Medicare Reform Bill. To me that is more obscene than the growth in military spending. Its staggering to see how much of our money the Republicans gave away in exchange for large political contributions. This is just one example of a cancer that is eating away at our political system. Until we reform campaign finance, the politicians have an incentive to trade billions of our dollars for millions in campaign contributions so they can buy elections with politicals ads to an uninformed & apathetic electorate. We need to hit both the methods of political fundraising and pork barrel legislation at the same time. Any proposal to alter the uninformed and apathetic electorate would be silly & totally impractical so I will refrain from that line of thought.

    Second, I do not think universal health coverage provided by the federal government will work unless we come up with a totally different approach. The inefficiencies of government distribution of our collective wealth makes it prohibitive. In lieu of something along the lines of Hillary Clinton’s proposal from the early nineties, I would prefer to see some direct subsidy to the hospitals for treating uninsured patients. We still need to leave the privately created mechanisms in place (for the most part) and also allow for a profit motive that will keep the human and financial capital flowing into healthcare.

    Third, I do not think the rich should pay so much more as they do today. The bottom 50% of income earners pay virtually nothing. The bottom 75% pay less than they draw out. That means that the top 25% of income earners pay for everyone. Lets set aside the arguements of equity, fairness and my discomfort for other people getting comfortable leaving their hands in my pockets just because they are deeper. Lets look at the corrosive effect this has had on our political system. When 75% of the eligible voters take more than they contribute, how motivated do you think they will be to hold politicians accountable for the obscene waste in pork barrel bills and inefficient distribution of governement resources? That is why I support a less “progressive” and more flat tax structure. Until more people feel the pain of bad government, nothing will change. Self interest will be at the heart of any true reform.

    Fourth, I think crime is an issue with many sides. For the sake of brevity, I will try to reduce it to two. The flow of new people into criminal behavior should be combated. I agree 100% with you that better education is a key for this to happen specifically because better educated people are more likely to earn a better income and more likely to provide a stable family environment for their children. In time, the increase in stable families will decrease the numbers of new criminals. As for the existing criminals, however, we have to sometimes be willing to cut our losses. More prisons should be built and hard labor should be the rule. Work these guys long and hard to pay for their keep and allow the extra revenue to flow into more prisons so we can keep these guys there for the full term. When you can get out in less than 5 years for armed robbery, its hard for me to think we have a credible deterrent for criminals.

    Fifth, I want to give you another way to look at controlling costs in healthcare. I work for a medical equipment company so I have some direct knowledge in this area. We should spend more time on disease management and assisting the seniors (by far the biggest healthcare spenders) in staying in their homes longer. When a person goes into a nursing home and their funds are exhausted, medicare will easily pay 25 to 30 K per year for their being warehoused in a nursing home until they die. No quality of life for the senior and a big additional costs to the federal government. If a few relatively inexpensive items such as a raised commode seat, lift chair, power chair or walker can allow this person to get around in their own home longer, then you have saved the federal goverment a lot of cash and allowed this person to stay in their home and remain independent longer. Second, with degenerative diseases like diabetes and respiratory problems such as COPD, the biggest avoidable cost is noncompliance. When a diabetic does not check his blood suger, take his insulin, montitor his diet, etc, then he speeds up the larger healthcare costs such as kidney failure, amputation, blindness, etc. Similar things happen on the respiratory side. By spending a disproportionately smaller ammount on the front end in training, education and compliance monitoring, we could save hundreds of billions of dollars and add years of quality life to millions of people suffering from these degenerative medical conditions. Private insurance companies are aware that disease management is the next reveloutionary step in healthcare, but they are still years away from understanding how to properly implement it. Medicare is so clueless that they could not find the issue if you beat them over the head with it. An issue like disease management cannot be implemented by a government organization or even a major insurance company such as BlueCross. Its best implementation will come from people at the local level working under a string of carrots laid out by the private insurance comapanies and the federal goverment. If you want, I could go into greatter detail with you on this subject.

    Sixth, is another idea about controlling healthcare costs. Sorry, but this is a big issue to me. : ) Why not reform our legal system so every sleezy lawyer out there does not have the incentive to run up legal costs unneccisarily. I am not talking about the ridiculous big awards like the tobacco suits. I am talking about a systmen where ambulance chasers and other crooks who happen to be lawyers know exactly where the line is for a settlement even when everyone knows the suit us baseless. If you bring lawsuits under control and regulate the legal industry better, then you will cut down on healthcare insurance, workers’ compensation, auto insurance, general liability insurance, etc. This will not only save the federal goverment billions of dollars by lowering healthcare costs, but it will also put huge sums back into the hands of everyone through lower insurance premiums. Isn’t creating more discretionary income for working people at the heart of most “liberal” tax policy? If so, then why not have sympathy for helping payors of insurance premiums by reforming the legal system.

    Sorry if this seems a bit disjointed and sorry for my spelling and grammer errors. I did this in a rush on my lunchbreak while eating a sandwich. Hopefully, the content will make the other problems with my response a little more tolerable.

    Take care and keep it up.

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