The Dish: Opinion: Andrew Sullivan: If America Had Scandinavia’s Tax Rate: Why What Works in Scandinavia Doesn’t Automatically Work in America

Tax Day Not a Holiday For This Guy

The Dish: Opinion: Andrew Sullivan: If America Had Scandinavia’s Tax Rate

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Jonathan Chait had a column in the, formerly liberal (ha ha) New Republic magazine arguing that, as we celebrate tax day, the U.S. should be thinking about increasing taxes on everyone across the board except for the working poor.  He based his argument on the example of Scandinavia.  They have much higher tax rates than we do and have traditionally had a very strong economy.  They have good public services with a very generous welfare state and, as a result, have had strong economic outcomes.

Ross Douhat, a columnist for the, lets say, progressive New York Times opinion page wrote a response to Chait’s column.  In it, he laid out why higher taxes work in Scandinavia and why they wouldn’t work here.  For example, Sweden is physically about the size of Turkey but has only about nine-million people.  Sweden is also not only energy independent but also a net-exporter of oil and gas. They produce a hell of a lot of energy with a lot of land and a small population to take care of. To put it in simple terms, they can afford to be generous with their welfare state.

The U.S., on the other hand, is physically the size of a freaking continent going from one ocean to another, with a three-thousand mile border on the North with Canada and a two-thousand mile border with Mexico on the South and a population of over three-hundred and ten million people.  It is a net-importer of oil.  We are still paying other countries for our energy supplies and paying them to defend them.

We have a seventeen-trillion dollar national debt and have been basically stuck in, or trying to recover from, one recession or another since 2001. We simply do not have the resources to pay for what we currently owe to our population.  We also have a high poverty rate compared to the rest of the developed world.  Our working class is struggling just to pay their current tax obligations.  Most Americans simply can’t afford Mr. Chait’s, and others, socialist, big government tax rates now.

When our economy was booming in the 1980s and 1990s, our taxes were low and our government budget to GDP ratio was low. In plain English, the percentage of the national economy that the Federal Government spent was low in the 1980s and 90s.  In both decades, we had low unemployment, high economic growth and record low poverty levels.  This is what we are trying to get back to and we need to protect middle class tax payers by not increasing their rates.  At the same time, we need to invest more in infrastructure, education and job training so that more Americans can live in freedom and not depend on income assistance. 

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