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Robert P. George’s Cross of Gold

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

“Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

-William Jennings Bryan, July 8, 1896

I recently discussed how the Right has howled about the judicious use of debt and taxes to ensure a sound economy for the past thirty years. Now Catholic neocon-turned-Tea Party avatar Robert P. George is leading a a coalescing alliance of economic and social conservatives that aims to crucify common prosperity, once more, upon a cross of gold.

After the Panic of 1893, the nation was suffering from a period of deflation — the downward spiral of prices and wages. Farmers were among the hardest hit. Crop prices dropped the point where many faced financial ruin.

Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan, campaigned in the election of 1896 against the Republican economic plan of setting the value of the dollar to the value of the amount of gold the United States held in reserve. At his party’s convention Bryan gave his famous Cross of Gold Speech. Therein, he accused the Republicans of failing to employ commodity or “demand-pull” inflation (as opposed to wage inflation, an increase in prices for commodities such as agricultural products, petroleum or minerals) as a means if checking deflation.

Now, more than a century after Bryan’s historic speech, and almost eighty years since FDR ended it — the gold standard is rising in our national discourse like zombies from the grave in a bad horror movie.

Back then, before the creation of the Federal Reserve System, Bryan was arguing for a monetary standard based upon bimetallism — one that would have established a fixed rate of exchange between gold and silver. The economic landscape has changed since then, but the role of governmental action to improve the standard of living remains an issue.

Inflation pegged to increases in worker productivity is the reason why a couple that bought a house in 1960 saw their fixed mortgage become more manageable with each passing year. Moderate increases in wage inflation make debt more manageable for the employed. It also reduces the reliance upon tenuous credit. In other words, a judicious amount of annual inflation is a vital component of wealth creation and thus, economic liberty for the many, not just the few.

The web site The Aporetic explains why the Right is getting so gold buggy:

People who like the idea of a gold standard like the idea that gold has “real,” “intrinsic” value, which is a fancy way of saying it just is valuable, in the same way that lead is heavy. “Value,” they argue, is a property installed in gold by God or nature. An economy based on gold is thus an economy founded in natural law: gold bugs dream of an economy which government can’t tamper with. All values will be “real” values. The government can’t issue more gold, so it can’t create debt by simply printing more money.

Slate ran a good piece on what would happen if we returned to the gold standard. You can add to that rapid deflation and spikes in interest rates. Deflation sounds good, except that interest rates would spike while the prices manufacturers and businesses could get for their goods would collapse. Deflation was precisely the problem in 1932. But one set of people would benefit to a remarkable degree, and that is, those who hold capital, e.g the rich. The value of their money would sky-rocket, as would the price they could demand for lending it.

Get it? As wages go down, workers rely more and more on credit instead of their own earnings to obtain property and services. In short, the American economy goes from being one made up of upwardly mobile individuals to larger numbers of debtors in living in one huge company town. This is not exactly the concept of individual liberty envisioned by Adam Smith in 1776.

There was no better example of the way that the Right is campaigning against the controlled use of inflation than recent comments by Sarah Palin.

Palin – echoing Glen Beck, attempted to take on the Wall Street Journal over the rising costs of groceries, erroneously implying that food prices are a reliable indicator of overall inflation (they are not, as explained below).

The problem with Palin’s analysis is that food and fuel costs are so volatile that they are not counted as a core indicator of inflation. Paul Krugman pointed out, for example, that over the past decade, food prices have not been that far a field of the general rate of inflation, which in and of itself is practically non-existent. If anything, there is a much greater risk of overall deflation.

What the gold bugs like Glen Beck, Palin and George won’t acknowledge is that the economy could use a bit of moderate wage inflation, the type that does not exceed increases in the percentage of worker productivity, but keeps pace with it. The reason they won’t say anything about it is that it requires the use of the other defamed economic tool, taxation.

There is nothing new about gold bugs. But what is new is Religious Right strategist and well-connected GOP neocon of Robert P. George’s emergence as a leader of the contemporary gold bug brigade. I suspect that George sees that advocating a doctrine of classical, laissez-faire economics. enhances his appeal with non-Catholic fundamentalist Protestant Reconstructionists

In short, it makes for good coalition building on the far right. As Julie Ingersoll recently at observed at Religion Dispatches:

For the former Alaska governor’s audience, though, her attack on the Fed is adequate-shall we say-stimulus. In the Tea Party’s short life, the Federal Reserve has been a target of its oppositional rage, spurred by Tea Party godfather Rep. Ron Paul’s persistent calls to eliminate it.

While Paul’s anti-Fed crusade is widely thought of as economic libertarianism, the roots of this combat lie in a theocratic reading of the Bible, arising out of the nexus between Paul (and now his son, Senator-elect Rand Paul), Howard Phillips and his Constitution Party, and Gary North and the Christian Reconstructionists.

This supposed Biblical prosciption against the Fed — as well as inflation — is described by Gary North:

The Bible is clear on three legal principles: (1) monetary debasement is wrong (Isaiah 1:22); (2) multiple indebtedness, which is the basis of fractional reserve banking, must not be allowed (Exodus 22:26) ; (3) weights and measures must not be tampered with (Lev. 19:36). All three are violated by modern economic policy.

That’s why it is so significant that the gold standard is a featured issue of George’s American Principles Project. The goal of Gold Standard 2012 is “…to reach out to lawmakers to advance legislation that will put the U.S. back on the gold standard.” They claim to be alarmed about the “…explosive growth of government and unrestrained deficit spending kicked into high gear by the Obama administration and the 111th Congress…” But I suspect that their real concern is Keynesian economics.

Using deficits to create aggregate demand and then judiciously using taxation to pay down the resulting debt (which simultaneously applies the brake to any possible resulting inflation), has a proven track record.

Add to my suspicions the vital role that organized labor plays in increasing wages. We must remember that many of (the economists Robert P. George and friends subscribe to (Amity Shlaes, Richard A. Epstein) believe that if workers would just work for lower wages, unemployment ceases to be a problem. This is economic conservatism’s dirty little secret — the exposure of which is liberalism’s opportunity.

And this brings us back to William Jennings Bryan. He is speaking to us from the past. Bryan’s unimpeachable credentials as fundamentalist Christian refute the Reconstructionists who cite inflation as sinful. And he fully understood the perils of wealth inequality built solely upon political power.

And to that end, in 1896 Bryan reminded the nation who creates wealth:

When you come before us and tell us that we shall disturb your business interests, we reply that you have disturbed our business interests by your action. We say to you that you have made too limited in its application the definition of a businessman. The man who is employed for wages is as much a businessman as his employer. … The farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day, begins in the spring and toils all summer, and by the application of brain and muscle to the natural resources of this country creates wealth, is as much a businessman as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain. The miners who go 1,000 feet into the earth or climb 2,000 feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured in the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who in a backroom corner the money of the world.

More than a century later, Bryan still refutes the zombie gold bug madness of Robert P. George. Yes, like the Princeton neocon Bryan was orthodox in his Christianity. But unlike George, Bryan did not put his faith at the disposal of his generation’s oligarchs. Instead, he tried to to use it to improve the lot of all God’s people..

Related Posts:

The Meaning of Wealth

The Miserly Society

Catholic Tea Party Economics

Catholic Right: Are the Neo-Cons Out and the Tea-Partiers In?

Catholic Neocons Distort Church Teachings on Economics

The Culture War Majority of the Catholic Bishops Seize the Day

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The American Catholic bishops have sent a clear message to Catholics and non-Catholics alike by electing New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: They are going to escalate the culture wars at the expense of economic justice.

Dolan’s dogmatism on non-economic issues concerning priestly celibacy, abortion, birth control, divorce and gay marriage reflects the steady restocking of hierarchy with avatars of conservative orthodoxy that began with Pope John Paul II. Like the late conservative pope, Dolan cloaks his aggressive culture warriorisms with a genial demeanor.

Dolan offers a stylistic balance to the grating take-no prisoners style of Bill Donohue, even as they differ little in substance. “Archbishop Dolan is a moderate conservative” observed the Cathnews.com, “who is willing to put his affable and outgoing demeanor in service of a more assertively confrontational approach to the church’s critics.” Nevertheless, Dolan appeals to the prejudices of socially conservative Catholics by creating strawmen and attacking them. And like Donohue, Dolan has no patience for those who dissent from his notions of orthodoxy.

Dolan has sought to silence critics of the Church – even when the criticism is justified. For example, soon after ascending to the leadership of the New York archdiocese, Dolan picked a fight with one of movement conservatism’s favorite bogeymen: The New York Times. I wrote about this at the time.

In his October 29, 2009 blog posting entitled “Foul Ball!”, Archbishop Dolan described a litany of alleged slights of Catholicism by various reporters, including op-ed columnist Maureen Dowd. In her piece Dowd examined the second class Church citizenship nuns must endure. She even dared discuss (as a Catholic herself) the current Inquisition reactionaries in the Vatican are now carrying out; an Inquisition designed to quiet one of the most compassionate yet progressive parts of Catholicism.

Two of the other journalists were singled out by the Archbishop was Times religion correspondent, Laurie Goldstein and her colleague, Paul Vitello.

Dolan complained that Vitello’s piece, which was about pedophilia within the orthodox Jewish community, was anti-Catholic because, “According to the article, there were forty cases of such abuse in this tiny community last year alone. Yet the Times did not demand what it has called for incessantly when addressing the same kind of abuse by a tiny minority of priests: release of names of abusers, rollback of statute of limitations, external investigations, release of all records, and total transparency”

Goldstein fired back, exposing the archbishop’s flimsy arguments.

I concluded about the affair:

The archbishop’s attack on the Times is nothing more than the tired old tactic of raising up strawmen to attack. There is no anti-Catholicism to be found in the works of Dowd, Goldstein or Vitello; only the discussion of Church issues that, if left unaddressed, could lead to real harm to the Catholic faith. Pedophilia, the lack of accountability and the suppression of new ideas put forth by nuns are the real ticking time bombs that will eventually destroy Catholicism.

Following his election, Dolan made it clear that traditional Catholic advocacy of economic justice would be given the heave-ho in favor of biological issues. As The New York Times‘ Laurie Goldstein recently reported that as USCCB president he intends to stifle dissenters while increasing the Catholic Right’s obsession with all-things-abortion:

Archbishop Dolan said in a news conference after the vote that he would carry on the forceful opposition of his predecessor, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, to the recent health care overhaul because the bishops believed it would permit expanded government financing for abortion.

“My major priority would be to continue with all vigor I can muster what’s already in place,” Archbishop Dolan said. “It’s not like we’re in crisis; it’s not like all of a sudden we need some daring new initiatives. Thank God for the leadership of Cardinal Francis George, things are going well.”

Archbishop Dolan also suggested that he would not countenance other Catholic leaders and organizations when they take public positions that contradict the bishops. That is what happened this year when some groups representing Catholic hospitals and nuns came out in support of the health care overhaul bill, despite the bishops’ staunch opposition.

“We’re pastors and teachers,” Archbishop Dolan said of the bishops’ role, “not just one set of teachers in the Catholic community, but the teachers.”

Apparently, abortion is now the only thing that matters. Never mind that the health care legislation as passed totally denuded women of coverage for abortion services; never mind that the same bill was watered down by excluding a public option — accomplished with the help of several hard-line bishops; and never mind that at least the legislation does prevent the vile insurance company practice of excluding enrollees with a pre-existing medical condition. All that matters to this cultural warrior is abortion.

While this must have sent a thrill up the leg of Catholic neo-conservative leader Robert P. George (which he admits, it did) this episode shows that life issues are more complicated than mere opposition to reproductive rights. Large scale economics are also involved.

Indeed, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops appears to have joined in the Religious Right’s efforts to advance a laissez-faire economic agenda. This is a triumph for for those such as Robert P. George who openly call for the merging of economic and religious conservatism and the voice of Catholic economic justice (since the USCCB’s predecessor organization, The National Catholic War Council in 1919) the very progressive Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction, has been neutered.

——————–

(For further discussion, see posts by Frederick Clarkson, Colleen Kochivar-Baker and Betty Clermont.)

The promised Robert P. George/Gold Standard piece will be the next post.

The Meaning of Wealth

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

I based the title of my last post, The Miserly Society upon a term used by the economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946). In this post I want to further explain what the revolutionary thinker meant by “miserly”; how it ran contrary to what wealth meant to him as well as his contemporary, the Catholic economist Monsignor John A. Ryan (1869-1945); and how their often similar views matter now more than ever — especially in responding to the economic agenda of the modern American Religious Right.

Keynes’ and Ryan help us to answer such questions as “what is the meaning of wealth?” And “what is its purpose and how much is necessary?” These are fundamental questions that need to be answered afresh in every age. And for liberals in America, we also need to answer “what is the relationship between wealth creation and liberty? Our answers to these questions have everything to do with the political viability of the Left – religious or otherwise.

Both economists – one a British atheist and the other, an Irish-American Catholic priest – understood the elements of economic justice. And although Keynes arrived at his views from different experiences and beliefs, he defined it in a way Ryan would approve: the balancing of economic efficiency, individual rights, and yes, social justice. As I pointed out in my last post, the gathering of wealth has a purpose beyond simply becoming rich; it was a means to live an agreeable, reasonable life, free of the privations of poverty.

Author Robert Skidelksy summarized Keynes’ take on wealth in Keynes: The Return of the Master :

By ‘love of money’ Keynes means two things, between which he did not always distinguish. The first was the objectless pursuit of wealth. The second was a specific subset of the first, which was the disposition to ‘board’ or not spend money-the psychology of the miser. The first was the engine which drove our capitalism; the second was the brake on its progress, which related particularly to uncertainty.

As well as:

Briefly stated, his conclusion was that the pursuit of money – what he called ‘love of money’- was justified only to the extent that it led to a ‘good life.’ And a good life was not what made people better off: it was what made them good. To make the world ethically better was the only justifiable purpose of economic striving.

Keynes’s contemporary, the distributive justice advocate Monsignor Ryan arrived at a similar conclusion. Ryan biographer Harlan Beckley wrote in Passion for Justice: Retrieving the Legacies of Walter Rauschenbusch, John A. Ryan, and Reinhold Niebuhr:

All persons have a right to whatever they need to achieve the proximate end of their rational nature. Satisfying this aspect of the canon of needs demands near equality in the distribution of a minimal level of “external goods, because all people have equal needs for a decent livelihood, rational liberties, education, and so forth.”

Keynes and Ryan both rose to prominence in the first half of the twentieth century when economics was viewed as a moral science, and both men did so through an Aristotelian lens. We may define this approach as seeking to engage in endeavors in a just, virtuous manner, eschewing extreme behavior for moderation. It also incorporates the idea that there is an undeniable connection between contribution and receipt and the individual and society. Ryan came to such thinking through his Thomistic training; Keynes via his studies under the philosopher G.E. Moore.

Their view about the role of taxes and the economy run contrary to what we usually hear from the contemporary Religious Right: That progressive taxation is either confiscatory (Michael Novak) or must remain low for moral reasons (Robert P. George). It perfectly echoes the conservative claim that higher tax rates on the wealthy constitutes “a penalty for success.”

This idea has gained more traction than many of us would like to believe. But just this week alone I had two friends claim that taxes are a penalty for success when I suggested that the well-to-do could handle a modest increase on their federal tax rate – especially those corporate CEOs who either hoard their companies’ profits, and pay themselves exorbitant salaries, bonuses and dividends instead of investing in new equipment or better yet, workers’ salaries.

But such notions as “confiscation” and “penalizing success.” have little to do with the realities we face. “The goal of progressive taxes,” as Beckley observed about Ryan, “for example, was to equalize sacrifices, not to achieve equality. Taxes should never be so progressive as to discourage socially useful activity or deny rewards for productive efficiency.” To put into a contemporary context, imposing a 40% tax rate upon an unmarried CEO earning seven figures a years is a bit more just than a rate of 35% — especially when a married laborer earning $35,000 a year pays a federal tax rate of 25%.

As I discussed in my last post, taxation is an important tool for creating wealth for an entire society. Those who espouse the evisceration of such useful taxation are frankly arguing on behalf of an oligarchic few. The complaint about the cost of nannies and elite private schools for their children not withstanding, taxation can alleviate burdensome national debt, finance job-creating infrastructure construction, control inflation and prevent the concentration of economic power in the hands of the few. Indeed, the dogmatic opposition to progressive taxation is the economic mindset that creates the fertile ground for sub-prime mortgages and the buccaneer financial instruments upon which they are predicated.

And yet, Novak has claimed that progressive taxation is a denial of liberty, an unwarranted intrusion on the successful to their right to wealth. When Novak and his ilk raise the issue of liberty in this way, they do not mention how their unwillingness to part company with an extra 4% of their bountiful income so that the greater part of society can achieve a measure of financial independence may well violate a key component of liberty itself, the harm principle. According to philosopher John Stuart Mill, this is the concept that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

What the laissez-faire apostles of the Religious Right are advocating is not liberty, but a form of harm; i.e., reliance upon those who provide credit. When wages are kept low, credit becomes the only viable option to provide for food, clothing and shelter. Such behavior does not define ethical behavior or religiosity let alone liberty, but instead, the attributes of the miser.

Novak and George are attempting to equate taxation with sin in the eyes of religious Americans. This effort to cloak laissez-faire economics with holiness, and to elevate miserliness as inherently moral, is at odds with historic Christian principles.

Keynes and Ryan lived in a time when the well-being of the individual being inextricably linked to the betterment of the whole society was an ascendent idea. In that period, free-thinking people understood that miserliness and an open-ended definition of economic liberty both caused and prolonged the Great Depression. Certainly Keynes and Ryan understood that true economic freedom was tied to reasonableness, self-discipline and yes, social justice. And while they were imperfect in their applications of social justice, they were central players in pointing us in a better direction; a trend that lasted until the coming of a late twentieth century conservatism.

Now, a different set of thinkers seems to have America’s ear. That set includes neo-conservatives such as Robert P. George and Michael Novak who, their Catholicism notwithstanding, make the perverse case for the wealthy miser and call it liberty.

Opposition to the judicious use of taxation is not the Religious Right’s only economic poison pill. In the next post we shall examine how Robert P. George would have real prosperity crucified upon a cross of gold.

Related Posts:

The Miserly Society

Catholic Tea Party Economics

Catholic Right: Are the Neo-Cons Out and the Tea-Partiers In?

Catholic Neocons Distort Church Teachings on Economics

The Miserly Society

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Right here in North Carolina, the State where I stand, poverty has left its mark. Some people say that if these Americans are poor, it is their own fault. I have even heard others say that God ordains poverty for the poor. Well, I don’t believe them, and I don’t believe God believes them either.
-Lyndon B. Johnson, May 7, 1964

There have been times when for many, maybe most of us, personal wealth was not merely a personal end but a means to build a better country. This is not one of those times. Magnificent things such as eradicating poverty, expanding infrastructure or even exploring outer space are nowhere on the national agenda. We have become so averse to shared sacrifice, we can’t even work for full employment. Instead, we have devolved to a point where the accumulation of personal wealth has become an end in and of itself. In fact, too often it is the only sought-after end. We are becoming a nation of misers. And this ignoble retrenchment is being aided and abetted by the Religious Right.

I remember President Lyndon Johnson wanting to use government for the greater good. “Do something we can be proud of,” he said, “help the weak and the meek and lift them up and help them dream; give them an education where they can make their own way instead of having to live off the bounty of our generosity.” Johnson wanted government to transform victims of poverty into self-sufficient citizens.

Back then we were a more prosperous nation where wealth was more equitably – and more meritoriously – distributed. The Great Society continued the legacy of the New Deal through which we sought to achieve full employment by implementing economic policies that encouraged a continuous aggregate demand for its products. This was part of a greater era when both Democratic and Republican administrations knew that the judicious use of debt and taxation were powerful tools in keeping both unemployment and deflation at bay.

Johnson’s exhortation that we “to do something we can be proud of,” was rooted in a transcendent notion that God does not ordain poverty. And to that end, it is our collective responsibility to use our abundant wealth and resources to prevent and to minimize economic calamity. Not coincidentally, it was also the era when mainstream interpretations of Christianity emphasized public salvation rather than individual salvation. It was a time when government was more often than not seen to be a force for good. More importantly, wealth was not generally thought of as an end in and of itself but instead a means to reasonable life; a vehicle to create a better world for both society and the individual. And it was a time we measured achievement more goals we attained as a people than by the amount of personal wealth we were able to thrust in our individual pockets.

While the Great Society clearly had its genesis in FDR’s New Deal (which in and of itself was deeply rooted in Catholic and Protestant notions of distributive justice and Social Gospel), it also reflected Truman’s thwarted effort to achieve single-payer universal health care; Eisenhower’s commitment to infrastructure as well as JFK’s challenge to land on the Moon by the end of the 1960s.

Sadly, LBJ’s Great Society program was largely pushed aside by the Viet Nam War. But his generous vision for a caring society is still with us. Medicare has kept untold numbers of senior citizens from needless poverty. Project Head Start has given generations of children a much needed leg up at the outset of their elementary school education. And perhaps its most impressive accomplishment was that from the time LBJ took office until circa 1970 (when the Nixon administration began curtailing some of the Great Society programs) the share of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2% to 12.6%.

But with the ascension of a more hardcore conservatism since the election of Ronald Reagan to the presidency, the sense of nation has changed from being a story of us to a story of being about the individual gain.

Beyond that, this was also the beginning pf ascendancy of a more fundamentalist version of Christianity, one that focused on the salvation of the individual rather salvation through the reform of public institutions. It is no small coincidence that many of the movers and shakers of the contemporary Right would simultaneously hold that both wealth creation and eternal salvation were individualistic endeavors.

This is evidenced in the actions of New Jersey’s current governor, Chris Christie, who, despite the numerous jobs it would create, killed the building of a necessary rail tunnel between his state and New York City. He claimed that, “New Jersey could not afford its rising share of the projected costs.” As a socially conservative Catholic who embraces classical economics, replete with its anti-tax dogmas, Christie would rather bequeath a legacy of obsolete infrastructure simply because he chooses not to ask some of constituents to sacrifice a tiny fraction of their wealth.

Go to the Moon? Governor Christie won’t even help commuters cross the Hudson River!

Lest anyone think I am straying off topic for this site, let’s now note that Religious Right activists, led by Catholic neocon-turned Tea Party cheerleader Robert P. George are front and center in this race to the bottom.

The Religious Right Providing Cover

Writing recently on the web site of his American Principles Project, George called for the marriage of economic and religious conservatives, declaring:

Sound conservatism, as a matter of principle and not mere pragmatism, will honor limited government, restrain spending, and provide honest money and low taxes-while at the same time upholding the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions; the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife; and protect the innocence of children.

This view is common on the Religious Right, particularly the Catholic Right. Back in 2003 neocon Michael Novak equated progressive taxation with “confiscation.”

Robert P. George may believe that he is espousing, “sound conservatism” but in reality it is nothing more than miserliness encapsulated in very unsound economics.

Debt and Taxes

But what of debt and taxes? The neocons and most other conservatives demagogue these things all the time. But liberals have been silent to the point of philosophical negligence; and in failing to answer, we leave the average citizen badly informed, and essentially thrown to these ideological wolves.

As we all know there is good debt and bad debt. And debt that is used to create full employment can hardly be deemed as wasteful.

We have had such debt before. “Some day” the economist William T. Foster noted at the outset of the Great Depression, “we shall realize that if money is available for a blood-and-bullets war, just as much money is available for a food-and-famine war”
Consider the observations of post-Keynesian economist (and author of the highly recommend The Keynes Solution: The Path to Global Economic Prosperity) Paul Davidson:

When the United States entered the war in 1941, the fear of deficits and the size of the national debt were forgotten. The important thing was to defeat the enemy. In the war years from 1941 to 1945, the GDP doubled while the national debt increased by more than 500 percent as Roosevelt financed much of the war expenditures by government borrowing. By the end of the war in 1945, the national debt had increased to $258 billion and was equal to approximately 120 percent of GDP.

As well as:

Rather than bankrupting the nation, this large growth in the national debt promoted a prosperous economy. By 1946, the average American household was living much better economically than in the prewar days. Moreover, the children of that Depression-World War II generation were not burdened by having to pay off what then was considered a huge national debt. Instead, for the next quarter century, the economy continued on a path of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity with the Eisenhower administration launching the biggest public works project-the interstate highway system-and the Kennedy-Johnson administration spending large sums on sending a man to the moon and the escalating Vietnam War. at the same time, the inequality in the distribution of income was significantly narrowed. It was the golden age of economic development for the United States as the rich grew richer while the poor gained even more in a rapidly rising level of income that created a large American middle class.

As a child of the Depression and a young teenager during the World War II, I have never felt burdened by the huge government deficits that accrued due to government spending during the Great Depression and the war that followed. The legacy that the Great Generation who were adults during the depression and the war left to their children was an economy of abundance and prosperity. I inherited an economy that made finding a good job easy for me and all of my cohorts and provided excellent opportunities to improve our living standards. If this is burdening children and grandchildren, I hope the current generation can create such a “burden” for their progeny.

Sometimes you can spend your way out of bad times. It’s been successfully done before.

But with that said, debt cannot go unchecked. When and if full employment is reached, public borrowing can crowd out private borrowing. But this is not a real concern today when unemployment and deflation are lurking. That is where taxation becomes an important tool.

It is disheartening when demagogues such as Robert P. George mindlessly denigrate the judicious use of taxation. His call for 24/7 low tax rates is nothing more than an esoteric equating of its use with sin.

Taxation is an extremely useful tool for regulating economies. We are experiencing a crisis of abundance not poverty. There is great wealth out there but it is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. Businesses are hoarding profits to pay bloated dividends and executive salaries or simply sitting on it instead of investing of in their businesses or paying their workers a better wage. This is the scenario of savings exceeding investing that the economist John Maynard Keynes warned us about. When such hoarding takes place, hoarding that is detrimental to the overall economy, The threat of taxation is a handy device to get money circulating again. A truly progressive idea would present such hoarders a choice: either invest a portion of those profits in non-executive salaries and purchasing equipment or pay a premium tax.

And of course taxation can be used to pay down debt. Yes, we have to borrow in economic times like these. But when full employment returns, that debt should be paid back via taxation. Besides paying off debt, taxation in times of full employment provides the added benefit of reducing the specter of inflation by trimming purchasing power.

Writing in the early 1960s when the maximum federal tax rate exceeded 90%, the conservative writer Willmoore Kendall declared that if the top bracket were to be lowered to 40%, it would allow anyone to become “smacking rich.” Now, when the already wealthy hear that their federal tax rate may be adjusted a mere four percentage points up to 40%, they overreact by complaining about the costs of nannies and gardeners. Perhaps even more troubling is that Religious Right movers and shakers such as Robert P. George and Michael Novak offer such advocates of avarice religious cover.

Welcome to the Miserly Society.

The Pope Pontificates Again: Gays as Threat to World Ecology

Benedict and Cardinals, Christmas 2008

I had a teacher in college, a brilliant, multi-lingual Jesuit, who once told my class about a stunning poem he had written. He had awakened in the night with the poem complete in his head, Athena springing full-clad from Zeus’s brow. He wrote the poem down and went back to sleep satisfied that he’d captured a dazzling insight that would surely change the course of history.

Then he got up in the morning. He read what he’d written in the night and found it was total gibberish—a mix of six or seven different languages that didn’t make a whit of sense in any or all of them. The lesson our teacher told us he drew from this experience: be careful about those stunning inspirations that promise to cap every argument, explain everything for everybody, or provide the singular key that unlocks all mystery. Continue reading

The Madness of Robert P. George

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

Catholic neoconservatism has been guruless since the passing of  Richard John Neuhaus.  I thought at first, that newly minted conservative Catholic Newt Gingrich might be the logical successor.  Much like Neuhaus, Gingrich was a Protestant who converted to a strident form of Catholicism, thus straddling both worlds.

But I was wrong.   Gingrich is, after all, just a politician who may even be casting an eye towards the 2012 Presidential Elections.  Both neoconservatism and its religiously orthodox variant, theoconsevatism, require leaders who do not themselves seek elected office but instead, seek to influence others who do.  To that end there is another contender for the Neuhaus Throne:  Robert P. George.  I should have known. Continue reading