U.S. debt from 1940 to 2010. Red lines indicate the Debt Held by the Public (net public debt) and black lines indicate the Total Public Debt Outstanding (gross public debt), the difference being that the gross debt includes that held by the federal government itself. The second panel shows the two debt figures as a percentage of U.S. GDP (dollar value of U.S. economic production for that year). The top panel is deflated so every year is in 2010 dollars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The increasingly partisan struggle over America’s mountainous national debt and budget crisis reminds me of a famous quote by the Roman political theorist Cicero:
“The budget should be balanced, the treasury refilled, public debt reduced, the arrogance of officialdom tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt”
With the current outrage over the outsourcing of middle-class jobs to China and Mexico, insistence on acting as the world’s policeman resulting in foreign entanglements ironically causing more problems than they have solved; and never-ending foreign aid to foreign nations during a domestic economic downturn, is it time for the United States to return to its original foreign policy of isolationism during this time of economic crises?
Isolationism is a foreign policy of non-interventionism and economic protectionism in which a nation refuses to enter alliances or international agreements with other nations in hopes of avoiding wars not related to direct self-defense. Nations practicing isolationism avoid all foreign entanglements and focus all their resources into self-advancement within its own borders. Can a return to this way of thinking ultimately solve America’s national debt crisis? Is a return to isolationism even possible today?
Old hammer during reconstruction of the building in Pleszew. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In graduate school a professor of mine often referred to the “toolbox of government.” The characterization must have resonated with me because I still use it in my own classes almost fifteen years later. Of course he was referring to the variety of actions that governments at all levels have at their disposal to implement and otherwise enforce public policy. For our purposes we can narrow the contents of the “toolbox” down to the bare minimum:
The power of government to deprive a person of liberty (think incarceration and in the most extreme form, the death penalty)—the hammer.
The power of government to deprive a person of property (think real property and money)—the hammer.
Confused? Don’t be. Chief Justice John Marshall (1801-1835) is credited with expressing the position that the power to tax is the power to destroy. In this regard the power to tax is the power to punish those who violate the law, ignore regulations, or otherwise challenge the general welfare—the hammer. The power to tax citizens and residents, businesses, corporations, is generally available to most governments—from Congress to your local water district. Check your text books, one of the first concurrent or shared powers listed is the power to tax. Moreover, taxes are ubiquitous—fees: taxes; assessments: taxes; dues: taxes; levies: taxes; taxes: taxes. The power to tax is the power of government to deprive.
In the months following the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (Obama-care) , much will be made of the taxation aspect of the now upheld health care reform package—especially the individual mandate, which requires people capable of paying for health insurance to do so or risk a penalty (tax). What do you think, is it the most intrusive tax ever devised by government (in this case by democrats)? Is it a new tax? Is it a tax increase (even though it only applies to people who don’t buy their own health insurance—and wouldn’t we otherwise call these people free-riders or equate them to people who don’t buy car insurance and drive up all of our rates)? With all the hammers we get hit with every day, is this the one we’re really going to object to? Ouch! I know how to fix it; where’s my hammer?!
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