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The U.S. economy, taxes and politics

Bruce Bartlett, whom I cited last month in my post Fiscal responsibility requires higher taxes, is getting more ink.

BruceBartlett2 In today's New York Times Economic Scene column Partisan Economics in Action, David Leonhardt looks at Bartlett's approach to politics and taxes. Not to get into a big political debate here, but I was struck, again, by Bartlett's forthrightness.

"So much of what passes for conservatism today is just pure partisan opposition," says Bartlett, pictured there at right. "It's not conservative at all."

Bartlett addresses what he believes is conservative in a book coming out next week, The New American Economy. Leonhardt, whose word I'll have to take since I don't have an advance copy, says the former Ronald Reagan and Bush 41 adviser lays "intellectual groundwork for a Republican Bill Clinton — the politician who curbs his party's excesses."

"You can argue that this sort of reassessment should not make conservatives feel insecure," writes Leonhardt. "In many ways, they have won. Mr. Obama, like Mr. Clinton, has proposed raising the top marginal tax rate to a level that's lower than it was for most of the Reagan administration. Most Democrats now acknowledge the central idea of supply-side economics: tax rates matter."

Now about those taxes: As I noted in my previous post, Bartlett believes that high taxes are no longer the problem. In fact, federal taxes today are on pace to equal just 15 percent of gross domestic product, the lowest share since 1950.

Leonhardt elaborates on several of Bartlett's tax ideas, acknowledging readers are not likely to like all of them. But, he adds, you don't have to agree with all the specifics to see that Bartlett has a larger point:

"One of the country's two political parties has no answer to an enormous economic issue — the fact that the federal government cannot pay for its obligations. This lack of engagement is a problem, just as it was a problem when Democrats were saying that welfare was working, teachers' unions were always right and stagflation couldn’t happen."

Based on Leonhardt's assessment, I plan to pick up a copy of The New American Economy next week. I suggest that the publisher, Palgrave Macmillan, send a volume to every member of Congress, too.


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