The budget deficits and national debt reveal a moral deficit in our country. Most fundamentally, the problem is one of inter-generational injustice. In simpler terms, instead of leaving our children and grand-children better off, we are saddling them with a country increasingly encumbered with debt obligations. Currently that debt amounts to over $55,000 for every man, woman, and child in this country. When China becomes one of our major creditors, we compromise national security. And when we propose deficit reduction programs that cut programs that have a proven track record of lifting people out of poverty and fail to call upon the rich to sacrifice, then we have a moral deficit. So contends Ron Sider.
Ron Sider goes further than simply to decry the problem, or the solutions our polarized political parties have proposed. He actually tackles the hard work of proposing how we might balance the budget without doing so on the backs of the poor. He does propose cutting spending for duplicative social programs and those proven ineffective while preserving programs like food stamps and Pell grants and subsidized education loans while regulating the for-profit schools. He would cut or at least freeze our military spending, which totals what nearly all other nations in the world combined spend. And he would work to control expenditures on seniors, who currently receive $4 for every dollar spent on those under 18. He also argues that tax increases are necessary to make it, and contends that all should sacrifice, and the rich sacrifice more, recognizing the infrastructure that makes that wealth possible. He cites Warren Buffett’s contention that his secretary pays a higher percentage of taxes than he does, mostly because much of the income of the wealthy is in the form of capital gains, taxed at a much lower level. He suggests increasing these taxes, and a tax surcharge for all of us until the debt is paid off.
I can imagine getting comments on this review on what is wrong with Sider’s proposal. My own questions concern whether his proposal gets the job done and the lack of serious attention to the economic implications of what he proposes. I also think until we have safeguards that prevent using taxes levied for debt reduction to increase spending, you will never convince the American people to commit to the sacrifice of greater taxes. Nevertheless, his concerns about the inevitable economic and social consequences of continuing to “kick the can down the road” have to be taken on board, as well as the immorality of deferring this problem to our children and grand-children.
What seems most helpful instead of complaining is to become engaged citizens who really come to terms with both the implications of the debt and the hard decisions that are unavoidable if we are to make real progress in removing this burden. Sider concludes the book with practical steps that can be taken. The question he faces us with is whether we will continue to live in denial of the immoral thing we are doing with leaving these debts to the coming generations, or whether we will make hard decisions and collective sacrifices, which is what good parents have always done so that their children will have the opportunity for a better life.