All Commentary
Sunday, November 1, 1992

We, the People, and Our Deficit

People working together can accomplish great things without the government’s help.

Mr. Harris is a student at Auburn University in Alabama.

Criticizing the government’s continuing failure to deal with the mounting federal budget deficit, New Hampshire Senator Warren Rudman announced in March that he would not seek re-election. The senator held nearly everyone responsible for the budget gridlock: the Congress, the President, and—surprisingly—even the American people.

“What?” you ask. “How are we, the people, responsible?” The answer is simple: We, the people, love big government. Oh sure, we complain about high taxes, and we are indignant whenever the government tells us to do something or not to do something, but we love being on the receiving end of government handouts and vote accordingly.

At election time, politicians engage in a bidding war in order to gain—if not affection or trust—votes. If one candidate promises a new interstate highway for his district, the other promises to move the headquarters of the Department of Transportation to the district. If one promises pie in the sky, the other adds a scoop of ice cream. When the auction gavel finally comes down, the high bidder usually wins.

But government programs cost money; the government raises money through taxation; and no one likes taxes—just ask President Bush. The nation is in the midst of a Tax Revolt. In my own state of Alabama, countless attempts to raise property taxes have gone down in defeat when placed on the ballot. The mayor of one city faces possible recall because he reneged on one of those “no new taxes” pledges (he raised the old ones). And, in the state’s largest city, Birmingham, a group called HELP (Help Everyone Live Proudly) was formed with the immediate goal of repealing a recent sales tax increase. Nationwide, voters are reacting in similar fashion. Jerry Brown’s 13 percent flat tax—whatever its merits or flaws might be—gained attention because people believed it would lower their taxes.

This is not to attack people for not wanting higher taxes—or indeed, wanting to repeal many of the old ones. Public disgust with taxation is justified. According to the Tax Foundation, Americans work from January 1 to May 8 just to pay their taxes. This is not a misprint: Over one third of the year is spent in effective slavery. There can be no justification for this level of taxation, especially when considering that most of that tax money goes to finance someone else’s “entitlement.” Whether it is farm subsidies or welfare or that sacred (and fat) cow, Social Security, most money is taken from one person’s pocket in order to end up in someone else’s. In the process, bureaucrats skim some funds off the top through transfer costs and just plain waste. Furthermore, taxation is coercion. We do not hand part of our income over to the IRS because we want to; never mind the IRS’s prattling about “voluntary compliance.” We pay taxes under threat of penalties: fines and prison terms. It is perfectly reasonable for people to resist coercion; after all, it was just such resistance that brought down Communism in Eastern Europe.

The answer to the budget deficit problem is not higher taxes. The deficit has continued to worsen even as taxes have gone up. The answer is to reduce Federal spending substantially. The American voting public must learn to curb its appetite for government programs and benefits.

It is not unreasonable to expect people to live their lives without the “assistance” of government’s various agencies and policies. In fact, we got along quite well without them in the past. The arts flourished without the National Endowment for the Arts. Farmers raised crops and fed America (and much of the world) without farm subsidies. Settlers traversed the entire North American continent without the Department of Transportation to pave the way. Children were taught to read and write long before the advent of mass public education, student loans, and the Department of Education. People saved for retirement and lived their golden years without dependence on Social Security.

There is something to be said for individual initiative. People working together can accomplish great things without the government’s help (or interference). One hundred years ago they raised barns; today, organizations build housing for the homeless. This volunteer work has proved much more effective than the government’s ill-managed shelters and counterproductive housing policy.

By returning to “old-fashioned” self-reliance, America can do without the government’s assorted boondoggles. Then, spending can be cut and the budget deficit, which is soaking up credit and dragging down the economy, can at last be dealt with. The budget deficit is our fault. We, the People, must recognize this simple truth if the deficit is ever to be brought under control.