Are Taxes Too Damn High?

The Debate About the Rate

CUT AND GROW
Grover G. Norquist

Andrea Campbell tips her hand partway through her essay “America the Undertaxed” (September/October 2012) when she writes that “the central debate in U.S. politics is whether to keep taxes, particularly federal taxes, at their current levels in the long term or emulate other advanced nations and raise them.”

So the choice facing Americans is between maintaining the size of the government under President Barack Obama and expanding it further? Who knew? In framing things this way, Campbell posits a Brezhnev Doctrine for U.S. government spending and taxation: what the government takes and spends today is forever ceded by Americans to the state, and that portion of their income not yet taken by the government is negotiable. Such ideological blinders limit the author’s ability to understand or explain how the United States arrived at its present level of historically high spending and taxation -- and what the American people would like its government to do and how much it would like it to cost in the future.

The U.S. government was created to maximize liberty. Unlike the European nations Campbell offers as models for how much Americans should be taxed, the United States was not organized around defending or promoting historical land claims or one religion, tribe, or ethnicity. Americans are a people of the book: the Constitution. According to the founders, government should play a limited role in the lives of Americans, by providing for a common defense, the rule of law, property rights, and a justice system that protects them.

Despite these strict limits, the U.S. federal government has grown enormously in size, cost, and power over the last two centuries, mostly as a result of the country’s engagement in successive wars. With each conflict, Washington increased its spending and powers of taxation under the false flag of temporary necessity and appeals to patriotism. After each war, the government refused to return to its previous size and level of power.

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