Past experience with government intervention deflates 'quick fix' ideals

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:55 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Hello, I'm from the Government and I'm here to help” is a standard routine for stand-up comics as the first of the three biggest lies told to man. That this and the other two phrases have grown legs to endure lo these many years indicates that there just may be more than a grain of truth in those sentiments.

As do most responsible citizens, I hope that the President’s stimulus package works as advertised and, if not, at the very least does minimum damage to our economic system while it rights itself in the normal cycle of bulls and bears. But, the very fact that Congress voted into existence a nearly trillion dollar spending bill without providing Members opportunity to read it hardly inspires optimism among the ones who pay the bills.

Yes, we have been promised that the 95 percent of us who earn less than $250,000 per year will not see our taxes raised one dime—the five percent who have exploited us through greed and avarice will bear the burden instead. However, we have traveled that road before, as recently as 1993. The 1993 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, signed into law by then President Clinton after Vice President Gore cast the tie-breaking Senate vote, advertised that the tax increase applied only to those making $200,000 plus per year while promising also a middle class tax cut.

Apparently, no one thought to inform the President and Vice President that, along with raising taxes on the wealthy, those of us whose combined retirement income reached the magnificent sum of $32,000 per year found our social security benefit taxed at 85 percent, an increase of 35 percent. This added taxing of benefits was not only an attack on those on fixed income but also assessed a charge on income already taxed. That increase on those who can least afford to pay it remains with us but the guaranteed middle class tax cut never came to pass.

I don't wish to appear to cast stones at or be overly pessimistic about the efforts of the present administration to restore the economy; nevertheless, experience with government “quick fixes” begets a dose of reality. Along with the certainty of death and taxes, comes the law of unintended consequences. This magnitude of spending, only just begun with the stimulus package and the stated intent also to reform health care, energy production, education, housing, banking and to change the direction of the war on terror, represents the most sweeping expansion of government in the memory of those still living.

Among the most glaring unintended consequences of “government knows best” is found in the proposed energy innovations tied primarily to the overreaction to global warming. While individual taxes might remain stable, the proposed carbon tax or “cap and trade” to reduce greenhouse gasses (CO2) will cause electricity costs to rise from 36 to 65 percent by 2015 according to a study by Charles River Associates.

Inasmuch as fossil fuel combustion, with its inevitable byproduct of carbon dioxide, provides 85 percent of our energy, the cost of the carbon tax and the exploration for more “carbon-friendly” energy will be passed on to the consumer. Additionally, since wind and solar power make up but five percent of our energy along with being up to four times as costly, is it prudent to change that horse in the middle of an economic downturn?

Admittedly, government has a role to play in our everyday lives and to fix things obviously broken; however, the notion that the newly elected administration is either mandated to or capable of curing all our ills in one fell swoop is evidence of an overdose of self-aggrandizement. A look the government’s less than sterling record in the postal, immigration, education, transportation and baseball businesses bodes rather darkly for immediate, state-run amelioration of  infrastructure, banking and health care problems.

The most sobering aspect of the stimulus and the added $3-4 trillion projected in the 2008 and 2009 fiscal year budgets, is that sooner or later, it must be paid for by those who worked to earn it. While it may play well among populists and folks who somehow believe profit to be synonymous with evil, the whimsical notion that economic health can be restored merely by increasing the tax burden on the upper 5 percent of the nation while also issuing checks to those who pay no taxes is but promotion of class envy.

Raising the levy on people who pay over 60 percent of the income tax serves only to lessen the resources of the most able to provide investment capital and jobs. Those who have faith in social engineering projects to build the economy need look no further than California–its people and industries are departing in droves.  To where will the rest of us escape?

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at


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Sally Crockett March 11, 2009 | 6:06 a.m.

I agree that a cap and trade scheme is not the best approach to capping emissions but I do believe that we need to stem the tide of climate change. For my money, the best way to do that is with a revenue-neutral carbon tax; it is simpler, fairer, more transparent and straightforward and avoids the evasion and market manipulation inherent to a cap and trade scheme. Take a look at the research:

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