To the editor:
In the 1950s and the 1960s economists taught that when prosperity prevailed and inflation threatened, governments should be more austere and spend less, but when recession threatened governments should borrow and spend more until prosperity returned.
Both Reagan and Bush ignored this advice. Though no recession threatened, both borrowed heavily, thus increasing the debt at a time when it was not necessary. Thus when the economy crashed in 2008 Obama faced a large national debt just at a time when deficit spending was needed to climb out of a recession.
What led Reagan and Bush to run heavy deficits in a time of prosperity? It was their and their supporters' hatred of taxes.
The Welfare State introduced by the New Deal in the 1930s led to heavy taxation. This led to the revolt in the 1970s of the "haves," those who paid taxes. Reagan and Bush appealed to these citizens in order to get elected. They dared not, however, to tear down the Welfare State - too many people loved it. They lowered taxes to get elected, but they borrowed money to keep the Welfare State solvent. But one cannot borrow forever; the deficit deepened and the crash came in 2008.
It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reduce a debt while trying to climb out of a recession. If you pursue a policy of austerity, as the Republicans advocate and as Europe and Japan have done, you only deepen a recession into a depression. Austerity is a deflationary policy that draws money out of the economy - money needed to revive it. Once revived, once prosperity is restored, taxes may be passed to reduce the national debt.
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Reagan and Bush should have collected taxes to pay for the Welfare State, but they knew the American people hated taxes.
To avoid future devastating recessions, America must avoid running huge deficits in times of prosperity. And to avoid running huge deficits in times of prosperity, Americans must get over their absurd and irrational hatred of taxes. Taxes are simply the price we pay for government services. They are no more wicked than the price we pay for a cup of coffee or an iPhone.
And we Americans must make up our minds whether we want a Welfare State (and I think we do). If we do, we should resolve to pay for it.