We are the stewards of American civilization

Raising taxes is not a popular proposal, but it is a necessary action for ensuring America’s long-term prosperity.

Ian J Byrne

Does this sound familiar? “The attitude of the American toward political power is a curiously dual one âĦ The American is prone to suspect every government he elects âĦ Thus the politician and bureaucrat are fair game for every shaft, the sacrificial kings to whom the Americans grant power but whom they reserve the right to stone to death.” No, this was not said by a cable news pundit last week but was written down more than 50 years ago.

A few days after Christmas every year, my family visits my 91-year-old great aunt Betty at her home in St. Louis Park, Minn. She spent 25 years working for the Minneapolis Public Library as head of the rare books section. Scanning the bookcase-lined walls of her house, a patriotically colored red, white and blue book titled “America as a Civilization” caught my eye. In this book âÄîpublished in 1957 âÄî Harvard Professor Max Lerner examines the history and process of AmericaâÄôs rise to economic, societal and political dominance.

LernerâÄôs observations are still relevant, yet the book was written at a time when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the Minnesota Twins were still the Washington Senators and gas cost 24 cents a gallon.

The title intrigued me. Throughout my schooling, I had come to regard civilizations as a thing of the past. A society isnâÄôt a civilization until its glory days are over. Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire: All are equally civilizations, and all are equally long gone. I do not often hear America referred to as a civilization. Politicians have time and again referred to America as a dream, an experiment and a city upon a hill.

The fact of the matter is we are living amidst the American civilization. We are the stewards of our civilization. What America is and will be is of our doing.

We currently face the consequences of poor economic and political decisions made over the past decade. We face a real threat from the fragile economy.

High unemployment and high levels of local, state and federal debt have angered people, and calls for sweeping policy changes emit daily from Congress and the media. I agree that the weak job market and skyrocketing debt levels are pressing issues, but I am saddened by the make-believe economic policy of spending cuts and declaring tax raises off limits in order to solve our economic woes.

A civilization requires adapting to the times and adopting forward-thinking policies in order to prolong its existence. I fear that our societyâÄôs aversion to taxes will plague any efforts to reign in debt and hamper economic recovery.

In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, 62 percent of Americans said they prefer cutting spending to the 29 percent who said they prefer raising taxes to alleviate the budget deficit. When asked where to cut, 55 percent preferred cutting military spending over Medicare and Social Security. With domestic programs, 34 percent preferred cuts to roads, bridges and other infrastructure investments over funding scientific and medical research as well as aid to the unemployed and the poor.

Thankfully only 8 percent preferred cuts to education. Coming from the city that is home to the I-35W bridge collapse, I hope that the majority of respondents preferred cuts to roads, bridges, etc. because they are a rather anonymous choice. No one seems to suffer immediately when funding is cut to roads, unless you make the daily commute between Minneapolis and St. Paul on I-94.

Cuts are not the solution to everything. Minnesota had eight years of Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his no-new-taxes scheme. Pawlenty loves to make it known that he never raised taxes, although numerous “user fees” were created, and property taxes increased by over $3 billion during his time in office.

Reflecting on LernerâÄôs statement that “the most telling complaint against any administration is that it has been wasteful of the âÄòtaxpayerâÄôs money,âÄô” I ask, what are we so afraid of the government wasting our money on? Adjusted for the times, the quote should be “the most telling complaint against any administration is that it has been wasteful of ChinaâÄôs money.”

There is a responsibility to pay taxes. There is a cost for government and the services we enjoy: quality public education, a reliable police and fire department, entitlement programs and a sturdy transportation infrastructure, among other things.

Where is the savings in not raising taxes? Any savings from PawlentyâÄôs refusal to raise state taxes has, for example, gone to paying higher property taxes and, for students, higher tuition costs.

Currently, the federal debt is about $290 billion away from its legal limit of $14.3 trillion. Anti-tax forces are sounding their battle cries that spending cuts are the answer. Spending cuts are a tactic, not a strategy. Americans and the government need to recognize the reality of the situation: Raising taxes is just as much a part of a solution as spending cuts are.

We are the stewards of the American civilization. We cannot allow ourselves to be had by shortsighted spending-cut proposals that will diminish the quality and ability of our education, entitlement programs, police and fire departments, roads and so on and so forth.

The argument between tax raisers and spending cutters is a ferocious one, and Lerner does point out that “Americans like their politics pugnacious,” but for the sake of our civilization, we need a balance.


Ian J Byrne welcomes comments at [email protected]