“You can pay me now or you can pay me later.”
Many people know that famous auto repair slogan.
When it comes to public policy, people prefer to pay later.
A U.N. Nobel Prize panel on climate change recently reported the earth’s temperature is climbing much faster than expected. It forecast that we are close to the point of no return.
Tides are higher, glaciers melt and low-lying island nations and some major cities are now sure to lose out to rising waters. Storms are becoming more severe, with a loss of life and property, because of climate change.
The Trump Administration accepts that the climate is growing warmer even faster than predicted. Yet it has quit the Paris climate agreement, arguing that controlling the temperature increase will cut economic growth and undercut the coal industry, which President Trump supports.
Relatively few people maintain that there is no climate change. Almost anybody in Maine engaged in fishing for lobsters can tell you the change is obvious and measurable.
Some question whether the change is caused by humans or nature, but little doubt remains that people contribute significantly to warming.
Trump’s policy amounts to saying that we want economic growth now and we cannot do anything meaningful about inevitable global warming. We want money in our pockets and push worries about the costs of climate change out into the future.
So, we ignore the panel’s report, giving a threat to the entire world less attention on news broadcasts than the story of a single lost child.
How about taxes? We are continually told that Washington and Augusta are taking money out of our pockets to support bloated government. Politicians perennially promise tax cuts and scorn almost any policy that has a price tag. Because people depend on some programs, spending cuts cannot equal tax cuts.
Congress passed a tax cut of about $1.5 trillion. Republicans promised the cut would stimulate the economy and increase tax revenues. It didn’t, and the federal deficit shot up 17 percent, which Trump’s Treasury Department concludes is the result of reduced revenue more than increased spending.
Now the GOP Senate leader proposes to reduce the deficit by cutting Social Security and Medicare. In other words, we can have tax cuts now and slash essential programs in the future.
Trump on the campaign trail says he will propose an added ten percent tax cut for middle-income workers. He offers no details on how it would be financed.
For the federal government to provide tax reductions it cannot afford even now, it must increase its borrowing. Payments on the government debt last year passed the amount spent on national defense. In short, the U.S. might be said to borrow just to defend itself.
In Maine, a candidate for governor now proposes to improve education and health care, but suggests that a tax cut is also possible. Since the state must have a balanced budget, we need to know what will be cut. Otherwise, the promises are empty.
Americans are not alone in ignoring the future effects of decisions that make today’s voters happily accept half-baked policies.
The British voted to leave the EU, because they dislike immigration from elsewhere in Europe and having to obey Europe’s rules instead of their own. They said they preferred to go it alone. The empire wanted to bask in its ancient glory for a few more years, but at a price.
With the departure of foreign-born hospital nurses and major financial institutions, the price of Brexit, which had never been fully disclosed, has begun to be paid. It might have felt good to vote for Brexit, but paying the cost of that decision is likely to be high.
For Brexit or tax cuts, voters may still change course and cut the cost. Reversing climate change would be more difficult. These moves would take some political courage and a willingness to be called “socialist.”
Not all government policies are about short-term job creation or seeing how far taxes can be cut. Public purposes for which there is broad need must be supported financially.
Essential spending on national defense, Social Security and environmental protection does not produce a bloated or socialist government. If that spending is coupled with tax cuts, the result is a bloated national debt. If spending then is slashed, the result could be major economic and social harm to the country.
We can pay now for an oil change and new tires or we are sure to own a clunker later, costing a lot more to repair.