Cultivating our bewitchment
Even Jonathan Swift, who said promises and pie crusts are made to be broken, might have marveled at the limited shelf life of Barack Obama's promise of a “balanced” deficit-reduction plan — substantial spending cuts to accompany revenue increases. Obama made short shrift of that promise when he demanded $1.6 trillion in immediate tax increases and mostly unspecified domestic cuts. He also promised to cut $800 billion from 10 years of war spending that will end in two years, which is like “cutting” $800 billion by deciding not to build a ski resort on Mars.
Year after year, the Democrat-controlled Senate, ignoring the law, refuses to pass budgets. Year after year, Washington makes big government cheap by charging Americans only $6 for every $10 of government services, borrowing the difference. Yet what supposedly is horrifying is a sequester that would cut less than 3 percent of federal spending over the next decade?
Given progressives' “principled” refusal to countenance entitlement reforms, the principal drivers of the fiscal imbalance will not be untouched even by raising, from 65, the age of Medicare eligibility. In 1965, the year this program was created, the average life expectancies of men and women at age 65 were another 13.5 and 18 years respectively. Today they are 19 and 21, and rising. Given modern medical marvels, longevity often involves living with several chronic ailments that might have been fatal a generation ago. For liberals, however, no demographic or scientific changes need be accommodated.
Democrats insist the manufactured unpleasantness due Jan. 1 is a crisis of insufficient revenues. But Jeffrey Dorfman, a University of Georgia economics professor, thinks arithmetic says otherwise. Writing for RealClearMarkets, he says possible tax increases and spending cuts would reduce the current deficit by less than a third, leaving a deficit larger than any run by any president not named Obama.
At the end of the Clinton administration, annual federal spending was $1.94 trillion and revenue was $2.10 trillion. “Adjusting for inflation and population growth since the start of 2001,” Dorfman writes, “today's equivalents would be $2.77 trillion and $3.00 trillion,” and a $230 billion surplus.
What is to blame for today's huge imbalance? The Bush tax cuts? The recession? Obama's spending? Dorfman answers yes, yes and yes — but that “spending is the main culprit”: We are spending $987 billion more than we would be if we had just increased Bill Clinton's last budget for inflation and population growth.
“Philosophy,” said the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, “is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.” In unphilosophic Washington, bewitchment is cultivated. Notice how quickly a phrase used intermittently for more than 50 years — “fiscal cliff” — was made ubiquitous. This melodramatic language encourages the supposition that plunging off the (metaphorical) cliff is unthinkable. But the cliff's consequences — huge tax increases and defense cuts — are progressivism's agenda.
The shrillness of “cliff” talk bewitches minds that should be skeptical about the supposed point of all this — deficit reduction. Conservatives, many of whom are such because they understand government's metabolic urge to metastasize, believe that spending cuts will be chimeras.
Given Obama's “principled” stance against “obdurate” Republicans, the cliff can be dodged only by imposing tax policies that further darken the nation's future, and government spending would continue to rise even under the sequester-imposed “austerity.” More bewitchment of intelligence by language.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates inquire about Red Sox LHP Lester
- Steelers offensive linemen looking to build on strong 2013 finish
- Starkey: Would one big move kill Pirates’ future?
- Rivers Casino sued by family of patron who died in car crash
- Former walk-ons may lose scholarships under Penn State’s Franklin
- Last crew member of Enola Gay dies in Georgia
- 2 killed in East Huntingdon crash
- Satisfy your sweet tooth in Pittsburgh with treats from ethnic bakeries
- Healthy Eating: A Mediterranean twist to tuna salad
- Xxxday’s scouting report: Pirates at Giants
- Pittsburgh native enjoys riding the roller coaster of stand-up comedy