How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Opinion: Moral courage remains in desperately short supply in America

The Times of Trenton Newapape
By Irwin Stoolmacher

Bobby Kennedy, one of my heroes, said, “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.”

We desperately need leaders with moral courage to address America’s most fundamental problems: our growing inequality and decaying intellectual and physical infrastructure.

To put people on the path of opportunity and self-sufficiency and stop the slide toward economic polarization and social immobility, we need the wealthy to give a little more and we need to trim Social Security by gradually moving the retirement age forward to as high as 69 or 70.

To accomplish this, we must end the dishonesty and disingenuous discourse that characterizes our politics today.

We must stop electing politicians who pander to us by taking anti-tax pledges, who indicate that they will not accept $10 in budget cuts for $1 of tax increases, who say that all entitlements are sacrosanct, who oppose the rich paying any more, who propose raising revenue solely by closing unnamed loopholes and eliminating deductions, and who say the only way to cut the deficit is to reduce corporate taxes and shift the costs to the poor and elderly. (That is the position, for example, of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, a group composed of CEOs of America’s most powerful corporations that has raised $80 million to lobby for a debt deal that would severely scale back the social services safety net.)

Two factors have contributed to the closed-mindedness that has become commonplace in our politics. The first is the hyperpartisanship of the media. The left has its MSNBC and CNN, and the right has its Fox News and radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Mark Levin. Listening day in and day out to someone who agrees with and reinforces your point of view fosters dogmatism and does nothing to foster compromise.

The second factor is attacks on the few remaining bastions of nonpartisanship, not only at the federal level, but also in New Jersey, where the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services’ budget projections have been attacked repeatedly by Gov. Christie. The governor has labeled David Rosen, the highly respected longtime budget guru of the OLS, as “the Dr. Kevorkian of the numbers,” in spite of the fact that Rosen’s projections have been consistently on target.

The latest nonpartisan victim at the federal level is the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a division of the Library of Congress. The CRS works exclusively for the U.S. Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to committees and members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation. CRS has been a valued resource on Capitol Hill for nearly a century and is respected for analysis that is authoritative, confidential, objective and nonpartisan.

Recently, the CRS issued a report on the relationship between the top tax rate and the economy.

According to the article “Tax Time” (New Yorker magazine, Nov. 26, 2012), the report by CRS public finance expert Thomas Hungerford “investigated two theories that cutting taxes on the wealthy boosts the economy and that cutting taxes on the wealthy makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.” The report refuted long-held Republican economic theory when it concluded that “changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth” but do “appear to be associated with the increased concentration of income at the top of income distribution.” These findings mirror what occurred during the Reagan years, when reductions in tax rates and some deregulation did not produce increased output or economic growth.

Nevertheless, the report, released last September, was removed from public circulation by CRS shortly thereafter, against the advice of its economics division, after pressure was applied by Republican leadership headed by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The fact that the CRS buckled under pressure and withdrew the report is disconcerting and without precedent. (I did find it on the Senate Democratic Policy Committee website.)

To solve our nation’s most pressing problems, we need to tear down the “my way is the only way” mentality that dominates our politics. We should be listening to nonpartisan messengers rather than stifling their message. I realize that a report that agrees with what economist Paul Krugman has been saying since the economic meltdown that “low taxes on the rich are indefensible” and that “the economic record certainly doesn’t support the notion that super-low taxes on the superrich are the key to prosperity” is not going to be readily accepted by Republicans.

Nevertheless, we should be encouraging and supporting informed nonpartisan analysis and policy making based on sound economic research. To do anything else is to relegate ourselves to repeating the mistakes of the past.