It has become increasingly clear that no one is willing to blink first in this war of words between Congress, the White House, liberals, conservatives, tea-party conservatives and independents. A common denominator among all of these voices is their inability to come up with a solution. No matter how cleverly-worded the arguments, none of these voices are heard with an actual proposal that would get our economy moving forward.
As the 2010 Census showed, 1 out of 6 Americans are now living below the poverty level. Common sense says that this group currently is unable to give us much help. The wealthier ones among us, although certainly more able to help, with few exceptions, appear unwilling to offer their financial assistance. That would again leave the beleaguered middleclass to shoulder the burden, prime the pump and jumpstart the faltering economy for the rest of us. Historically, the middleclass has been the driver of this economy with their willingness to spend their hard-earned dollars, often at the expense of their own savings and retirement.
It is to this great middleclass that President Obama is appealing in his attempt to make an end-run around the brinkmanship in Congress. Hopefully this strategy will gain traction as Congress digs in for its fall session, which is certain to bring more of the same partisan bickering that we saw demonstrated for us during their summer session.
There are a couple of strategies which have merit in stimulating a flat economy. Assuming that if the American middleclass has extra money, they will willingly spend it, it is suggested that we make more money available to this group. By offering various tax incentives to American business, it is reasoned this will encourage more generous compensation to employees, as well as stimulate job creation.
Much of our current debate involves the priority given to various expenses, how debts are incurred, how they are paid or not paid, how taxes are collected, avoided or deferred to a future date, and how all of this affects the financial solvency of the country. These are all legitimate and debatable issues affecting the efficient operation of any responsible government.
If these are the normal topics of discussion for any successfully managed government, why at this time has it become such a challenge to successfully administer this process? This is not an issue of legislative vs. executive agendas, even as we prepare for 2012 elections. The answer lies in our emotional response to these otherwise mundane issues. Certainly there are polarizing questions regarding war and peace, national defense, our diplomacy and relationship with our fellow nations, domestic social programs, and other various agendas which are common to all civilized nations, but when has this not been the case? Why has this now become such a polarized process where the federal government has steadily ground to a halt, putting our relationships with each other and the rest of the world at risk?
Where are the domestic representatives who are able to identify the key essentials of our debate, calmly and efficiently take actions which unite the various elements and formulate a strategy capable of being both legislated and approved by every branch of government? Can we still do this? Many of us think so and are hopeful that cooler heads will prevail and successfully proceed with the steps necessary to provide the leadership needed to move us toward economic and domestic recovery.
Speaking of mundane issues, any discussion of brinkmanship must involve the current debate on taxation. Although there are many who favor tax reform, few agree on what those reforms should look like. Some favor a flat tax that would mimic a sales tax, while others promote graduated tax rates depending on income level. Many favor a tax on all financial transactions, while still others view any tax increases as a business disincentive. A broader underlying question asks when any taxes have been popular?
A brief trip to any second, third and fourth-world nations, or for that matter, any honest assessment of our own crumbling infrastructure points out the need for effective taxation. Most Americans understand the benefits inherent in taxation which benefits the organization and foundation of our country. Where we disagree involves the methods of tax assessment and a collection process which unfairly targets one group more than another.
The shortcomings of our current system of taxation are apparent to all who do not have a team of tax accountants at their disposal and to everyone who seeks to devise a system of taxation wherein taxes are efficiently and fairly assessed, administered and collected. Every successful form of government has devised forms of taxation which consider the advantages of certain methods to harness the power of the economy without damaging its effectiveness. Why should our approach be any different than the best examples of taxation which civilized mankind has at its disposal, and why must our discussion of ordinary taxation issues be so polarizing?
Have we become a nation where me-first mentality precedes all other thought and meaningful discussion? Where is the common sense and wisdom that guides rational response in our administrative actions? If a proven, effective and fair system of taxation is adopted we will have sufficient revenues to support our aging infrastructure, provide for our common defense, support necessary social programs and simultaneously stimulate our economy.
There will be those who argue that we cannot tax our way out of a recession. This argument gives the lie to various successful governments whose systems of taxation prove that wise taxation improves and stimulates investment rather than becoming a disincentive or impediment. There is no doubt that America has inventive minds which provide leadership, motivation and inspiration for the world. Why should such leadership be limited when it comes to our policies of taxation?
These are not insurmountable difficulties which drive strong people to despair, but rather ordinary issues facing all of mankind. Our response should then be the steady and wise bipartisan approach which typifies good governance everywhere. Let's remember the debt we owe to our predecessors who sacrificed their lives, selfish ambitions and personal agendas and paid their share of taxes so that we could enjoy a nation where we could raise our children in comfort, peace and safety.
Mark Overt Skilbred