The Corner

Who Are the Nihilists?

A common charge is that the tea party was terrorist-like in its willingness to bring the fiscal system to a halt to enforce some sort of limits on new debt. I say ‘common’ since the vice president of the United States purportedly put his own brand on that slur. But tea-party efforts to control the spending were belated and reactive; the real nihilism comes from those who apparently wanted no limits on the debt they might run up and had no plan to pay it back. In one formula, we are borrowing  $4 billion a day and have run up nearly $5 trillion in the first three years of this administration. To define questioning a debt of $16 trillion as heartless cutting is unhinged. The country is now in a surreal cycle of borrowing gargantuan amounts of money, and then almost automatically going ballistic should anyone suggest that we trim any of the new borrowing. Every new dollar borrowed instinctively becomes ossified and sacrosanct; as the hysteria arises not over the old baseline figures, but trimming the proposed rate of new borrowing. At what point would Obama and his team, if unchallenged, have stopped borrowing on their own? And at what point would they be happy with increasing taxes? If some in a New York or California are currently paying 45–50 percent in local, state, and federal income taxes, aside from payroll taxes, should they pay 60 percent or 70 percent — or should 5 percent of households begin to pay 70, 80, or 90 percent of the aggregate tax burden? And of course, these are just the fiscal sides of the argument; lost entirely in the focus over money is whether the new trillions are needed and well spent. Few these days even ask whether $3.6 trillion in its entirety is critical — whether the federal largess  improves American life, has no effect, or makes things worse. The massive borrowers are the real anarchists who apparently want to print money to the point that it is rendered of little value, or so gorge the government beast that vast new redistributive taxes will be necessary — an apparently good end, in and of itself, or create incentives and punishments through new formulas of federal spending and taxes that vastly alter the conduct of present-day American life. Reactionary nihilism best describes any who want to take the old welfare state of the 1960s and expand it to the point of implosion.


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