Former New York Times economics reporter Eduardo Porter’s signed NYT editorial Monday left no doubt where his political sympathies lay: "A Budget Without Core Purposes, Taxation Without Compassion."
President Obama trusts America’s generous and compassionate nature, that our rugged individualism is tempered by a belief that we’re all connected. In his speech on budget reform on April 13, he celebrated "our belief that those who benefited most from our way of life can afford to give back a little bit more."
The president’s faith in Americans’ sense of common purpose is uplifting. But it does not fit the history of American budgetary politics.
I don’t just mean Tea Partiers’ revulsion at the government spending "our money," or Republican Paul Ryan’s Reverse Robin Hood gambit to cut trillions from spending on social programs in order to pay for a tax cut for the rich.
The budgetary policy of the United States has been the least generous in the industrial world for a very long time.
Tax revenues in the United States have not reached 30 percent of gross domestic product since at least 1965. Today they amount to only 24 percent of G.D.P. In Britain, by contrast, they are 34 percent; in Sweden, 46 percent. And our government spending on social programs is equally puny. In 2007 Britain spent 25 percent more, as a share of its economy. Germany spent almost 60 percent more.
Porter, now on the paper's editorial board, conflates charity, which is voluntary, with taxes, which are mandatory, as if someone's compassion should be measured based on how much money they want other people to hand over to the federal government:
But perhaps he shouldn’t trust Americans’ generosity and compassion to simply carry the day on Capitol Hill. To build the America he extols he is going to have to fight for it.
In October 2009, Porter wondered why life couldn’t be more like a Ralph Nader novel: "Maybe the jolt of billion-plus losses can spur plutocrats to change. Ralph Nader just wrote a novel called ‘Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!’ in which Mr. Buffett (already a major philanthropist), Ross Perot and a few other billionaires go to Maui to ‘redirect’ society onto the right path. Warren Beatty gets to run California. Wal-Mart workers unionize. Corporate greed is brought to heel. There is no sign of such enlightenment on Wall Street."