The British philosopher Bertrand Russell was once giving a lecture in which he stated the earth circled the sun, held in the grip of gravity. He was interrupted by an elderly woman in the audience who told him that was nonsense, and the earth rode on the back of a giant tortoise.
“What does the tortoise stand on?” Russell asked.
“Very clever, young man,” she retorted, ”very clever indeed. But it’s turtles all the way down.”
When it comes to explaining the current fiscal difficulties facing the country, for liberals and their principal mouthpiece, the New York Times editorial page, it’s the Bush tax cuts all the way down. Take this morning’s editorial on the negotiations over the debt ceiling, in which the Times writes, “It is already clear that the Republicans have succeeded spectacularly in their insistence that the agreement be mostly about spending cuts rather than building back the money lost from the Bush tax cuts that was the principal cause of the deficit.”
While I despair, as I’m sure Bertrand Russell did in dealing with the elderly woman, of enlightening the Times with mere facts and logic, let us look at the numbers. In 2003, when the Bush tax cuts became fully operational, federal revenues were $1.782 trillion and the deficit was $377 billion. Unemployment was 6.1 percent. Four years later, federal revenues were $2.568 trillion, 44 percent higher than when the Bush tax cuts kicked in; the deficit was $162 billion, 59.3 percent lower than before the tax cuts; and the unemployment rate was 4.4 percent, 27 percent lower than four years earlier.
And that was not a one-off. Federal revenues increased by 50 percent following the Reagan tax cuts of the 1980s as the economy boomed. They increased by 50 percent after the Kennedy tax cuts of the 1960s as the economy boomed.
One wonders how many times this country needs to cut marginal tax rates and have the economy–and thus federal revenues–subsequently boom before the Times and the choir to which it preaches acknowledge a causal relationship. I suspect the number is infinite. As far as the Times editorial board is concerned, it’s turtles all the way down.