First published on the Wake Up Tucson Blog:
As we start debating the re-authorization of our state’s 1 cent sales tax I would like to pause for a moment and take a slightly closer look at what has been, and will undoubtably be again, one of the oft heard sentiments in these discussions.
You almost certainly have heard some version of it, but Paul Krugman (writing in his recent release A Manifesto For Economic Sense) provides a good example: “There must of course be a medium-term plan for reducing the government deficit. But if this is too front-loaded it can easily be self-defeating by aborting the recovery.”
So more or less, “Yes, we absolutely, positively know we need to get back to (INSERT NORMAL HERE) but certainly not right now.”
Dr. Krugman is certainly and simply an easy target but is an excellent example of those who, over many years, have maintained an incessant drum beat for “emergency measures”. Whether it is stimulatory fiscal and monetary policy, private company bailouts, vast military spending, expanded police powers, environmental regulatory interventions, increased taxes or other“temporary”, “one-time” reactions to current difficulties, there always seems to happen to be another “emergency” on the horizon which will serve to extend the definition of “temporary” and turn “one-time” into repetitive.
My primary issue are the pundits and government officers who prefer to define us in an almost constant state of “crisis” or for whom at least the pendulum seems only to swing in one direction.
They are quick and aggressive to yell “Crisis!” and push interventionist planning and coercion on our economy and society when any dip or bump in the road occurs, but then they work tirelessly to stretch the crisis ad infinitum until, when finally their pleas for emergency efforts fall on deaf ears due to the simple overwhelming weight of contemporary evidence to the contrary… they fall silent (or at least fairly quiet). They never turn the corner, calling for the legislative counter-actions that would bring budgets or regulations or police/military powers back in line with a healthy normative standard. They let their “gains” stand and then wait at the ready for the next “crisis” which they can use to move the line of scrimmage just a bit more in their favor.
This strategic ideology is fairly well summed up by Rahm Emmanuel, Stanford economist Paul Romer and others, who have been quoted in a variety of ways but always with the same basic message, “NEVER let a good crisis go to waste.”
But for how long have we been hearing these Crisis Seekers (and I include many Arizona intellectuals and politicians in this crowd) make the argument, “Well in the long term we have to get this back to normal but in the short term we have to TAKE ACTION”?
I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems we have been living distinctly in the “short term” for at least 35 years now by my count and I’m kinda ready for the more rational, moderate, disciplined actions of the “long term” to take over.
It all reminds me of those ubiquitous bar signs, the ones you see advertising, “FREE BEER TOMORROW!” But we know when we come back the next day the sign still reads, “FREE BEER TOMORROW!”
That kind of double speak is funny at your favorite pub or restaurant but it is a bit disconcerting out of the mouths of those who purport to instruct our electorate on proper economic and government financial policies. Though it might be refreshingly honest for them to hang a “BALANCED BUDGET NEXT YEAR!” sign over the front steps of the US Capitol.
Which brings me back to our upcoming decision on the sales tax. In this article I am not arguing for or against this levy or the purposes to which the money would be directed. What I am suggesting is that, in the upcoming public debate, our politicians and public intellectuals, academics, pundits, newspaper editors, talking heads, et al, be held to account for their definitions of crisis measures and their idea of the temporary short term. When do the great results show up? How is this different from every other tax increase? When do we “get spending under control”? When does a stable, normal arrive?
I find it self evident that politicians just love their emergency powers. They generally bring with them great expansions of both authorities and revenues which many times are never given back after the “emergency” has passed. I would argue that we should be far more paranoid and skeptical in our examinations of these efforts and arguments (too often we let fear and uncertainty rule our collective wisdom), however, is it too much to ask of Arizona voters that we all at least demand to know from our policy makers, “So, specifically, when is this crisis over?”
I think holding our politicians and pundits accountable for acknowledging when we are NOT in crisis, would be a strong step away from the neverending mousewheel of short term, band-aid fixes that we seem to be ever increasingly reliant upon in today’s Arizona specifically and modern America in general.