TribLIVE

| Opinion/The Review

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Cultivating our bewitchment

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

Letters home ...

Traveling abroad for personal, educational or professional reasons?

Why not share your impressions — and those of residents of foreign countries about the United States — with Trib readers in 150 words?

The world's a big place. Bring it home with Letters Home.

Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

Daily Photo Galleries

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 8:59 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON

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.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Inside the Steelers: Rookie linebacker Chickillo continues to excel
  2. Police: Escaped Armstrong County inmate armed, dangerous homicide suspect
  3. Pirates bolster bullpen by trading for former closer Soria
  4. Bubble soccer bounces its way into Western Pa. sports venues
  5. Since 1969, Pine resident Fitzgerald’s garden has flourished
  6. Fashion FYI: RAW: Pittsburgh showcase features over 40 artists
  7. Stocks bounce back from big losses to close relatively flat
  8. Passing the illegals buck
  9. Confirm Judge Restrepo
  10. Pirates notebook: Blanton introduced; Worley designated for assignment
  11. Review: Latest ‘M:I’ Cruises by on top talent