America has become a train with too many cabooses and not enough engines, and our government is riding the brakes with anti-competitive taxes and regulations. We cannot hope to re-establish our AAA credit rating until we once again start behaving like a AAA nation. Welcome to downgraded America. President Obama is “leading from behind” the seat where the buck once stopped. The White House seeks someone - anyone - to blame. The irony of choosing the Tea Party as its scapegoat is not just that its patriotic citizen-activists are on the sidelines, but that the president blocked the one debt-crisis plan that could have prevented the downgrade: the Tea Party-endorsed Cut, Cap and Balance Act.
The truth is, there’s plenty of blame to go around. But finger-pointing is the vice of poor leaders, and right now, America is in desperate need of so much more. It’s time we ask ourselves a difficult question: Who are we?
The welfare state
More than half of Americans receive some form of government assistance. It’s everywhere - hidden right before our eyes within massive programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Some of it is obvious: Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment benefits and a thousand other lofty-sounding programs. Let’s call all of this what it is: welfare. If you take one dime more from the government than you pay in, you are receiving welfare and your neighbors are giving you handouts. Still more welfare is doled out to corporate America in the form of bailouts, subsidies, targeted tax breaks and the like. The cliche is true: For too many, the safety net has become a hammock.
We pay people not to work and then act surprised when they don’t. We reward businesses for failing and then act surprised when they do.
It’s time for America to expect businesses to pay their own bills and expect those who can work to do so. This isn’t tough love - it’s common sense. There’s nothing tough about expecting businesses and individuals to behave responsibly. We must hold fast to the noble principle of helping those Americans who truly cannot help themselves, but even in the face of the predictable wailing that will come from the whining left, we need not fear reintroducing the concept of personal responsibility.
The tax state
America has the highest effective corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. In addition, capital gains taxes suffocate new job-creating investments. Our leviathan of a tax system has been morphed from an economic instrument into a social-engineering machine that concentrates more on wealth redistribution than efficient revenue collection. Washington wields the tax code like a blunt club to bully you into behaving in accordance with its demands. Buy a hybrid car. Don’t buy a beer. But most important, obey the whims of your ruling-class betters.
President Obama himself confessed in 2008 that taxes are about “fairness” (translation: social engineering) - even if it sacrifices revenue that otherwise would benefit the nation. The collectivist notion of fairness is peculiar. Half of Americans pay no income tax while the top 1 percent pay more than the bottom 95 percent combined, and still Democrats think the rich are not paying their fair share.
It’s time America abandon its outmoded Depression-era, command-and-control, job-killing tax system. The Internal Revenue Service has proved to be a profoundly poor instrument for social engineering and, in doing so, has stifled economic growth that otherwise would have benefited all Americans - rich and poor. If we hope to compete in the global economy of the 21st century, we need a flatter and fairer tax system that concentrates on the efficient collection of revenue rather than one filled with endless loopholes designed to manipulate the behavior of free Americans.
The regulatory state
Liberals try to blame every economic woe on “market failures,” but where is this free market exactly? From top to bottom, there’s not one inch of our economy on which the government does not exert some control. Mr. Obama’s National Labor Relations Board, for example, recently filed a lawsuit to prevent the Boeing Co. from opening a $1 billion factory in South Carolina that would employ 900 workers to produce its new 787 Dreamliner passenger jet. Why? Because statists like Mr. Obama would rather Americans be unemployed than non-unionized.
At the other end of the spectrum, last month in Midway, Ga., three young girls eager to earn enough money to buy swim-park tickets got their first real lesson of entrepreneurship in today’s state-controlled America when police closed down their front-yard lemonade stand. Why? The autocrats explained: “We were not aware of how the lemonade was made, who made the lemonade, of what the lemonade was made with, so we acted accordingly by city ordinance.” The girls’ tender age may have created national headlines, but it’s the intrusive and heavy-handed, enterprise-killing government - in this case, a police department that is overfunded enough to form a lemonade patrol - that should alarm us, regardless of the age of the entrepreneur.
It’s time America reintroduce freedom back into the free market. Every government regulation is a limitation on free choice, and this ultimately destroys opportunities, jobs and wealth. Americans are not allowed to buy an incandescent light bulb, flush a toilet, start a lemonade stand or invest in a multibillion-dollar enterprise unless some all-powerful bureaucrat grants permission.
So we must ask ourselves the difficult questions: Who are we and who will be?
Will we continue our current downgrade death spiral and become the first generation of Americans to sacrifice our freedom and the republic itself on the altar of European-style, social-welfare-state utopian false promises? Or will we be the rugged Americans who once conquered a continent and built the most prosperous nation in human history based on the principles of limited government, individual liberty and responsibility and free-market capitalism?
Dr. Milton R. Wolf is a board-certified diagnostic radiologist and a cousin of President Obama’s. He blogs at MiltonWolf.com.