Says Jeffrey Sachs, economics professor at Columbia, “Economic theory indeed supports the view that high tax rates can actually spur, rather than hinder, work effort.”
Sachs wants government to impose higher taxes, particularly on business. He also wants more regulations on the same. It is his claim that taking more money from business and giving it to government officials to do with it what they will, that increasing the rules that businesses must follow to exist, while simultaneously increasing the size and scope of the bureaucracy to oversee these regulations, that businesses will thrive more so than they do today.
The people must sacrifice, too. Any household making over $50,000, which is to say half of us, “can make do with a little less take-home pay.” That take-home pay must become send-Washington pay, where at least some of it should be used to send abroad, given, Sachs says, our foreign aid policy is “stingy.”
Sachs, incidentally, has made a name for himself by advocating that rich countries redistribute their wealth to poor countries, even those poor countries staffed by dictators. It’s his theory that giving them free money improves the lot of all the citizens of these countries. In their new book, The Dictator’s Handbook, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith agree in part: dumping money into the hands of dictators does improve the standard of living of the dictators—but it also increases the length of the rule.
Anyway, follow Sachs and not only will the economic sun begin to shine, chasing away the shadows, but increasing the restrictions on and decreasing the wallets of its people, Americans will, somehow, become more moral, more socially responsible, more mindful. More, that is, like Jeffrey Sachs.
Jeffrey Sachs, yes: he loves us. Because of that love, he says that is “deeply surprised and unnerved” that he must tell us, we lowly citizens, these ridiculously apparent truths. One imagines his heavy heart, the pen shaking in his hand, a tear poised, ever ready to fall, as he took on the deep burden of laying down the principles for achieving economic and social Bliss. No simple task!
Sachs acknowledges that a unilateral action by government to pick the pockets and chain the hands of business and citizens is not possible given our ancient system of government. That darn bicameral Congress, the friction that exists between the legislative and executive, guarantees gridlock. We are being held back from becoming just like Europe, that heaven of academics—places like the nearly bankrupt Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal, etc.—because of our darned Constitution.
Solution? Change it. Combine the legislative and executive branches. Grease the wheels of government so that the party in charge of it can pass anything they like without opposition. Just like our Congress did when all Democrats in the House, Senate, and White House, and not one member of the opposition, passed the “You’ll have to pass it to see what’s in it” health care bill.
Wouldn’t it be swell, asks Sachs, if we could have that kind of legislation all the time? Just think how big government could grow! Its halls will be a irresistible magnet, drawing those of Great Brain toward it, where these intelligent, Enlightened, disinterested, beneficent fellows will sit and ponder what is best for us.
This had better be the case, because the $8 to $12 trillion—that’s trillion with a ‘t’—of new taxes Sachs would impose will cause an increase in the size of government not seen since that other great experiment in enforced socialism began a century ago.
An ordinary mind might consider that the torrent of money into government would cause it to grow fat, lazy, crony-istic, and corrupt, a place where Kafka would feel at home; in a word, Greece. Sachs agrees but has a solution, “Yes, the federal government is incompetent and corrupt—but we need more, not less, of it.” How can you argue with that?
So, the real key to the distinctiveness of America is the structure of our government…There are very few countries in the world, for example, that have a bicameral legislature. England has a House of Lords, for the time being, but the House of Lords has no substantial power; they can just make the [House of] Commons pass a bill a second time. France has a senate; it’s honorific. Italy has a senate; it’s honorific. Very few countries have two separate bodies in the legislature equally powerful. That’s a lot of trouble, as you gentlemen doubtless know, to get the same language through two different bodies elected in a different fashion…
Unless Americans can appreciate that and learn to love the separation of powers, which means learning to love the gridlock which the Framers believed would be the main protector of minorities, [we lose] the main protection. If a bill is about to pass that really comes down hard on some minority [and] they think it’s terribly unfair, it doesn’t take much to throw a monkey wrench into this complex system. Americans should appreciate that; they should learn to love the gridlock. It’s there so the legislation that does get out is good legislation.
I would amend that last sentence to read that legislation passed is more likely good legislation.
The Framers used history as their guide: they collected example of “a civilization did this, that happened” to design the Constitution. They went with the empirical observation, “Power Corrupts.” Conclusion: keep power from concentrating onto any one group.
On what does Sachs rely for his prescriptions? Look again at the quotation which opened this review: “Economic theory supports the view that high tax rates spur work effort.” That is a true statement: economic theory does indeed say that big government, operating on Enlightened principles and staffed with the sinless, will lead to Utopia.
But Sachs in his glow has forgotten the old, sad, now bloodstained joke: it works in theory, but not in practice.