The Corner

Flattening, Ctd.

Veronique, I don’t want to leave the impression that “political feasibility” is my only objection to raising taxes on poor and middle-class people. I don’t agree that it is sound policy. I certainly don’t agree that any sound conservative principle compels us to move in this direction.

But since I’ve already said my piece on this question, let me turn to two claims you make. I hear these claims a lot from conservatives and libertarians. And while I don’t fault you for not presenting detailed evidence for them in a Corner post, whether any evidence can be adduced in their support is an open question. I’ve never seen any.

The first claim is that people who don’t pay income taxes, or don’t pay much in income taxes, are more likely than people who do to support big government. It is a plausible story. But I would like to see some evidence for it, especially before adopting policies that would otherwise seem noxious and risky on the basis of it. Over the last few decades have we actually seen an increase, concentrated among non-taxpayers, in public support for big government?

The second is that it was Republican departures from sound policy — chiefly on federal spending — that caused the party’s fall. There is quite a bit of evidence that the claim, though appealing, is false. From 2005 through 2007, when the bottom fell out for Republicans, they were actually more restrained in spending growth than they had been from 2001 through 2004, when they were making gains; it was moderate voters, not conservatives, whose defection cost control of Congress in 2006. Also, these two claims are in serious tension with each other. If increased tax progressivity has made the electorate much friendlier to government activism, then it would be odd to expect a tougher anti-statist line to produce political success, wouldn’t it?

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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