Are Tax Cuts Inspirational?

Rudy Giuliani has issued a new television ad, in which he promises, with stirring – perhaps almost inspirational – music in the background, to cut taxes. No, not simply to cut taxes, but to cut them by “trillions of dollars.” “[O]n his first day in office,” in fact, he “will send Congress the largest tax cut in American history.” For all the dramatic music, the bold words “trillions of dollars” on the screen, and Giuliani’s obvious excitement about the possibility, however, I was somehow left unmoved.

Perhaps that isn’t especially surprising, given my general attitudes about society’s obligations to open doors of opportunity for those without opportunities, and to support those of its members in need. But do those who disagree with me actually respond differently to a promise to introduce “the largest tax cut in American history”? Does introducing such a tax represent a stirring moment in American history? Will American elementary school students one day study Washington’s refusal to stand for another term, Lincoln’s Gettysburg’s Address, Roosevelt’s address to Congress following Pearl Harbor, and Giuliani’s massive tax cut?

More seriously, it’s hard to imagine that the inspirational quality of tax cuts is about (the possibility of) a higher growth rate in the economy. Significant as the latter is, I don’t see many folks crying about it. Is it just about having more money in one’s pocket on April 16th? Surely some, with desperate needs, might find such savings to be intensely felt. But just as surely, everyone knows by now that tax cuts in the “trillions of dollars” aren’t about those with such desperate needs.

It’s possible, I suppose, that “tax cuts” are today a kind of short hand for individual freedom and liberty. They’re what Tom Paine would talking about, if he were alive today and trying to get people excited about his notions of governing best by governing least. But can tax cuts really stand in as an effective rhetorical substitute for freedom and liberty? Wouldn’t Giuliani do better to tell us exactly why “the largest tax cut in American history” would be so exciting?

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4 Responses

  1. Frank says:

    Some thoughts from David Frum:

    “When Republicans speak of “tax cuts,” they mean “income tax cuts.” Yet after almost three decades of income-tax cutting, most Americans no longer pay very much income tax. In fact, four out of five taxpayers now pay more in payroll taxes than federal income taxes. Some 29 million income-earning American households pay no income tax at all. By contrast, the . . . top 1 percent of taxpayers pay well over one-third of all U.S. income taxes. The top 1 percent may make a disproportionate amount of money. But they still cast only 1 percent of the votes.”

    from

    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/20937

  2. Egg Nog says:

    The issue for me turns on your idea of “society’s obligations to open doors of opportunity for those without opportunities.” I agree with you wholeheartedly, but I don’t think that government and society are the same thing. We the people are the ones who should be taking care of those in need; we should not depend on the government to do it for us.

    Since you believe so strongly in this societal noblesse oblige, consider how much of you time and money did you give to those less fortunate in 2007. If we each do what we know is right, the government won’t have to do it for us, and help will be delievered faster and more efficiently.

    I don’t think that tax cuts stand for individual freedom and liberty (at least I hope not), but they’re a step in the right direction.

  3. Robert Ahdieh says:

    Egg Nog:

    On the question of the equivalence of society and government, I don’t particularly disagree with you. For me, the operative questions in electing one way or the other are ones of coordination, economies of scale, free-riding, and, perhaps, equity and fairness. None of those, however, are dispositive of how we meet the relevan obligations, at least in my view. That said, my basic question, of why cutting taxes should be inspirational, remains.

  4. Tax cuts can be inspiring to many of us because they can signal a recognition by our government that the people creating wealth just might have some better ideas about what to do with earned income than some slackers in DC…of course, in the larger picture, many of us do not – and do not want to – look to our federal government as an ongoing source of inspiration. It would be inspiring to see an administration that finally recognizes that. Tax cuts are a good start.

    Conversely, here in Maryland we have a governor and legislature that have no problems passing large spending increases, later citing these increased expenditures as “structural deficits” requiring (most recently) a rather large tax increase…said increase has, shall we say, been rather UN-inspiring – some Maryland polls now have O’Malley lower than the President.