There is a pretty interesting book, The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, that explains how when a few people are influential, that influence can spread throughout a populace much bigger than themselves. It can be used to explain advertising, car sales, births out of wedlock or a number of other things. I’m going to use the book to explain what has happened to conservatism in the last decade or so.
Back in the time of Goldwater and Reagan, the political fathers of modern conservatism, they both believed that small taxation was important; however, they each also believed that small government was a virtue. Thus, the two goals intertwined with one another. In their brand of government, if tax receipts were low, then government expenditures would necessarily be low as well. This probably explains the time warp that I am trapped in ideologically.
In the 1980s, Newt Gingrich came up with a clever idea in Georgia. At the time, Dems and Reps were about evenly split among the people, and they had about an equal number of Congressional seats. Newt went to the African-American leaders in the state, and offered to make some seats permanently African-American, which they readily agreed to. White Dems couldn’t complain about it, since if they did, few African-Americans would vote for them anyway. So, a number of Republicans were elected in seats that were previously held by Dems. This was repeated in the rest of the Deep South.
After the 1992 election, a large percentage of Republican House seats were held by those in Southern states, giving them the balance in power within the party. I never recognized the scope of this until I lived here, but in the South, we don’t believe in taxes of any kind. We provide services, but only those (with the exception of prisons) that are subsidized by people who live in the rest of the nation. Thus, virtually all Southern states receive much more from the federal government than they pay into it. Part of this, to be sure, is because of the high poverty rates in this area, but that is clearly endogenous to the issue.
So, generally Southern politicians don’t see it as incongruous to decry raising taxes while not exerting much pressure to reduce services. Their state and local governments depend on the lucre provided by the rest of the nation to keep this region afloat. And we can see how the tipping point comes into play. No big deal to fix our problems is possible, because Boehner can’t agree to anything that raises taxes. Likewise, if taxes do not go up, no Democrats will find it palatable politically to sacrifice their vote-getting mechanism, entitlements, if they are not offered anything substantial in return. And unless the problem with entitlements is fixed, the whole debt limit problem will be with us for generations to come. So, in all probability, we’ll just kick the can down the road and let someone else in one of these future generations find the courage to actually deal with this.
No politician is discussing how the problem is going to be exacerbated exponentially soon. The problem is that baby boomers are going to be retiring soon. This will obviously cause pressure on Medicare and Medicaid funding levels. As the percentage of the population receiving these entitlements increases, politicians are going to be ever more fearful of reducing their benefits. So if the problem with entitlements is not dealt with right now, it never will be, I submit.
Nobody will much care. People who think that they are dependent on government largess will gladly spend the money that is given them. Interest groups will be grateful that nobody eliminated their loopholes or raised their taxes. Democrats will continue to bemoan any movement to reduce Medicare; Republicans will continue to warn us that raising taxes even a little, for only a few people, is one of the signs of the apocalypse.