Eduardo Porter's column on the front of Wednesday's Business section of the New York Times explained how "America's Aversion To Taxes" was dooming the country, and urged Americans to be more like the bankrupt financial basket-case Italy, which enjoys confiscatory taxes and "the benefits of public health care," and a "more generous social safety net."
There is something to be said for universal health care systems.
When my son developed a rash on an Italian vacation in Liguria last month, the pharmacist showed me to the doctor downstairs, who diagnosed the problem at no charge and sent me off with a handshake and a joke about a daughter in med school at the University of California, San Diego.
Italy may be in a funk, with a shrinking economy and a high unemployment rate, but the United States can learn a lot from it, and not just about the benefits of public health care. Italians live longer. Their poverty rate is much lower than ours. If they lose their jobs or suffer some other misfortune, they can turn to a more generous social safety net.
Every developed country aspires to provide a better life for its people. The United States, among the richest of all, fails in important ways. It has the highest poverty and the highest infant mortality among developed nations. We provide among the least generous unemployment benefits in the industrial world. Not long ago one of the most educated countries in the world, the United States is slipping behind.
But though the nation’s fiscal challenge has taken center stage in the presidential election campaign, raising more taxes from American families remains stubbornly off the table.
President Obama is willing to accept higher taxes on families earning over $250,000 a year. But he is going nowhere near higher taxes on the middle class. And Mitt Romney and his vice-presidential pick, Paul Ryan, are moving decidedly in the opposite direction. Not only do they want to extend indefinitely the tax cuts passed by President George W. Bush, but they are also calling for a piñata of additional ones, and would cut social spending in return.
Offensively, Porter boiled down the complicated issue of infant mortality into a simplistic question of federal spending:
No wonder we can’t afford to keep more children alive. In 2007, the most recent year for which figures are available, the United States government spent about 16 percent of its output on social programs -- things like public health, food and housing for the poor. In Italy, that figure was 25 percent.
American policy makers justify our choice for low taxes with the claim that they foster economic growth. But the evidence is, at best, mixed. Since 1980, income per person has grown roughly the same across developed nations, about 300 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. It has grown a little faster in the United States than in the European Union and Canada, but slower than in higher tax countries like Japan, Norway and Sweden.
Porter ended with the cri de coeur: "Will no administration ever again dare raise taxes on the middle class?"