#212 – Dick Bernard: "Free Lunch"?

Last week my wife was in conversation with a neighbor down the street. “Georgie” is a good neighbor, a nice person: one of those people you hope will be in your neighborhood.
But she’s not one to rely on if you’re in some other neighborhood. She has boundaries. In her sphere, there is only one side to any story: the one she chooses to believe.
This particular day Georgie was sharing her apocalyptic vision of January, 2011, when the twin evils of huge tax increases and “Obamacare” are to take effect. She was speaking, of course, about what she’d heard about Health Care Reform, and the pending Sunset on the Bush-era tax cuts. She, a never married retired single lady of Medicare age and moderate means who chooses her own information and associations, was horrified by the twin prospects of approaching financial Armageddon. She believed what she’d been told.
As it happened, the very next day came a forwarded e-mail from somebody in Arkansas who calls himself “Dr. Larry”. He is one of these folks who has a computer and knows how to forward stuff to a personal list. Most of what he sends is either false or wildly inaccurate, and it is always hate-Obama or hate-Democrats oriented. Sometimes I take a shot back, but it’s a waste of cyber-energy.
The “doctor’s” screed this particular day was about the evil of sunsetting the Bush tax cuts. His forward came from the anti-tax outfit founded by Grover Norquist, whose goal is, essentially, to demolish government (except for certain things like “defense”). Norquists most famous quote: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.
It could fairly be said that Norquist was a prime architect of the Bush tax-cuts, so his groups news release was extraordinarily self-serving. Of course, the name on the groups letterhead did nothing to identify who it actually represented – but that is another story.
The two pieces of information, from Georgie and Dr. Larry, caused me to look into this business of taxes from a personal perspective.
I am a very ordinary middle class type. I have also kept every tax return I have ever filed – now nearing 50 of them, all in a big box in chronological order – easy to research.
I decided to dig out my 1999 and 2009 tax returns, to see what had happened to my state and federal taxes in those years.
For all of us, personal circumstances change, and the same is true for me. But it was possible for me to establish something of an “apples to apples” comparison between 1999 and 2009.
Succinctly, my state taxes were roughly the same in the two years; my 2009 federal taxes were about two-thirds of the 1999 level. That tax cut was a heckuva deal.

Or was it?
The extra money from the tax cut may have made it seem, to me, that I was wealthier…but that is not the case. Because of that tax cut, my life style didn’t change. All that changed was the national debt, part of which is my responsibility.
As we all know, those tax cuts were not accompanied by spending cuts by government in the roaring years of 2001-2009. The Federal government was spending money like drunken sailors, mostly off the books for the war in Iraq, and to fund, on the national credit card, big special interest benefits – like tax cuts – that someday would have to be paid for. Norquist and company were, in effect, filling the bathtub to make it easier, now, in 2010, to drown the unsuspecting victim: the people.
If we are smart, we will let the sun set on those ill-advised tax cuts, and start paying our bills, rather than suffering the delusion that the national credit card will last long into our future.
Sorry, Georgie and Dr. Larry, the free lunch is NOT free.
We were deceived into thinking that it was possible to get something for nothing. It’s not.