Dear Mr. President,
I am writing to remind you that from a just peace perspective no one can “win” a debate with political prevarications – a.k.a. lies. In my interpretation of just peace, truth, respect and security are three primary principles rooted and grounded in the Golden Rule that are necessary for peace. Just peace is not only a relatively new paradigm for thinking about war and peace, but it is also a way of conducting our lives in ways that make for both personal and political, for local and global peace.
Truth-telling is a necessary component of justice. And without the due regard that justice is, there can be no peace. Respect for the American electorate, for the realities of our lives, for our fears and dreams, means that public policy ought to be built upon a foundation of rock solid principles. Government of the people, by the people and for the people is how we ALL come together to make life better for EACH of us. The end goal is the sustenance and joy of every person. The end goal begins with a eudemonism that helps to create the conditions for human flourishing and for the flourishing of the natural world and for all of creation.
Respect for the intelligence of the American people means that the women and men who want to lead us ought to know the truth of the observation that you can fool some of the people all of the time; you can fool all of the people some of the time; but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. When people seeking public office change position from one day to the next, even holding contradictory positions within the same sentence – “I will cut taxes for everyone but the rich will not pay less.” – this demonstrates a profound lack of respect for We the People of the United States. Worse, it demonstrates a lack of moral intelligence. (I have written about this in an essay at JustPeaceTheory.com)
The good news is: The American people are paying attention, and while you have their attention it is imperative to speak the truth to the people. You were correct to say in the first debate that we have data. As you know the data show that tax cuts for the rich, for the so-called job creators do not lead to higher gross domestic product (GDP). In a report issued by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), an arm of the Library of Congress that exists to give “authoritative, confidential, objective and nonpartisan” analyses to members of Congress, we learn that tax cuts for the rich only leads to income inequality.
The report – “Taxes and the Economy: An economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945″ – shows that when the top tax rates come down so does GDP. The study examined the relationship between top tax rates and saving and investment; productivity and growth; real per capita GDP growth; and the distribution of income. The top marginal tax rates have declined from 90% in the late 1940s and 1950s to 35% today. The top capital gains tax rate has gone from 25% in the 1950s and 1960s to 15% today. The report says: “The average tax rate faced by the top 0.01% of taxpayers was above 40% until the mid-1980s; today it is below 25%” (16).
The study concludes: “The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie” (16).
However cuts in the top tax rates do contribute to income inequality. The top 0.1% keeps a larger slice of the economic pie. So, we can conclude that when we hear economic arguments that say we have to reduce taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to spur economic growth, those arguments are not rooted in the facts. They are not true.
Another report by the CRS – “Tax Rates and Economic Growth” – looks at historical data and statistical evidence to better understand the question of whether or not to extend the 2001-2003 income tax cuts. The study says in part: “In general, for stand-alone rate reductions the additions to the deficit would cause tax cuts to have a larger cost both because of debt service and because of crowding out of investment which would swamp most behavioral effects” (summary).
This report seems to say that tax cuts will lead to increased deficits. Further, tax cuts on the so called “job creators” do not create jobs. The report says:
“Some arguments have been made that raising the top rates may especially harm small businesses who create most of the jobs. However, as noted earlier, job creation is a short-term issue. In any case, an examination of the evidence suggests that small businesses do not create a disproportionate share of jobs, that only a small fraction of unincorporated businesses would be affected by changes in the two top rates (around 2% to 3%) and that 80% of the reduced taxes are likely to accrue to non-business income and almost 90% to either non-business income or businesses without employees. Finally, while evidence is mixed, most evidence suggests that higher tax rates encourage self employment” (8).
So, the argument that higher tax rates will hurt small business and hurt job creation is a canard. Knowing this data, the question becomes: who pays and who benefits from tax cuts? I hope you share the results of these analyses with the American people.
In the first debate, you did not mention Mitt Romney’s 47% remarks to a group of donors. I do not think it is necessary for you to give him an opportunity to retreat from those remarks. However, it is important for the American people to know that the redistribution of wealth in the county is primarily horizontal, not vertical. It is not from the top to the bottom of the income scale, but it is from the young to the old in all income categories. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense spending consume the lion’s share of federal spending, nearly two-thirds in 2008. Cuts to the Public Broadcasting Service, or to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities will not bring down the federal budget deficit by much.
In another CRS report – “The Size and Role of Government: Economic Issues – describes four ways the government intervenes in the economy: 1) producing infrastructure, education, and national defense 2) transfer income 3) levies taxes 4) issues regulations. During economic crises, the government intervention in the economy increases. The report says:
“In the absence of policy changes, economic conditions cause mandatory spending and revenue levels to automatically change, a phenomenon known as ‘automatic stabilizers.’ For example, when the economy enters a recession, benefits paid under certain mandatory spending programs such as unemployment insurance automatically rise and revenues automatically fall as taxable income falls. CBO predicts that the recession will automatically reduce revenues by $235 billion and increase outlay by $75 billion in 2009″ (12).
This tells us that a large portion of the budget deficit is automatic. Added to this the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to help Wall Street banks and the bridge loan to the automobile industry, plus the stimulus spending in the Recovery Act, would seem to explode the debt. However, you must be heartened by the news reported by the Congressional Budget Office that at the close of fiscal year 2012, the deficit as a portion of the GDP fell this year and has fallen every year since you have been president.
Others standing to the left of you and I want to see more federal spending on jobs. I laugh when your political opponents refer to you as a socialist. They need to talk to me, and I will point them to the economics of Jesus of Nazareth.
Many of your progressive supporters were disappointed after the last debate because you did not argue vigorously for progressive positions. I was not disappointed because I have not projected my ideological position onto you. I consider you to be a pragmatist, a just peace pragmatist. This is not an amoral, non-committal, no soul philosophy. It is a philosophical outlook on life that measures truth in blood, sweat and tears, in the real-life consequences of practices and policies.
I do not ask you to champion a progressive ideology. I ask you to champion the economic facts, not only of your own record, but of the economic analyses of the CRS. I hope you will champion the truth that our security as individuals and as a nation comes in our willingness to keep faith in ourselves as individuals, faith in our sister and brother citizens, and faith in a transcendent higher power, faith in a radical love that can be a cohesive force that helps us to pull together, to work together, ALL of us helping to make life better for EACH of us.
A debate is a contestation of ideas. At the same time it is important to seize the opportunity to speak the truth to the people. You may know of the blackwoman poet Mari Evans. She wrote a poem entitled “Speak the Truth to the People.” She wrote this poem specifically for African-American people, but the truth of it is important to all of humanity. The poem begins:
Speak the truth to the people,
Talk sense to the people
Free them with honesty
Free the people with Love and Courage for their Being
Mr. President I believe in the power of the truth. A political campaign will mightily test that faith, but I still believe in it. Anti-foundational, postmodern thinker that I am, I still believe in the Truth with a capital T. I know that we all can never know all of it. But we can certainly speak that portion of it that we know. And inside of the courage to love and respect the American people enough to speak the truth to us is victory, no matter the outcome of this election.
Valerie Elverton Dixon