"The Upside of Paying More Taxes"

Staff writer and columnist David Leonhardt on the civilizing joys of higher tax rates: "Think of it this way: A tax increase isn't so much a barrier to a society becoming richer as it is a result of a society becoming richer."

"Your taxes are going up" because of "a basic economic reality," staff writer David Leonhardt writes, with an air of finality, in his latest economics column, "The Upside Of Paying More Taxes." The online headline made an appeal to the big-government lover in all of us: "Like Having Medicare? Then Taxes Must Rise."

Leonhardt isn't much displeased by this apparently inevitable turn, arguing that it's the only way to pay for the vast array of services the American people have come to expect from government. That's true as far as it goes. But wouldn't it be nice if Times writers scrutinized the people's love of government programs with the same intensity it employs on the people's love of tax cuts?

Toward the end of Monday's meetings on fiscal responsibility at the White House, Senator Kent Conrad stood up and produced a little bolt of honesty. "Revenue is the thing almost nobody wants to talk about," said Mr. Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "But I think if we're going to be honest with each other, we've got to recognize that is part of a solution as well."

Mr. Conrad's frankness was delivered in the cryptic language of budget experts, and many people might have missed the point. So allow me to translate:

Your taxes are going up.

They will probably go up in the coming decade, and the increase will be permanent. For a half-century, federal taxes have remained fairly constant relative to the size of the American economy - equal to about 18 percent of gross domestic product. But the 18 percent era has to end soon.

It won't end because President Obamais some radical tax and spender, either. It will end because of a basic economic reality.

Americans have made it clear that they want a certain kind of government, one that can field a strong military and also maintain popular programs like Medicare. Yet we are not paying nearly enough taxes to maintain those programs. Even major changes to the health care system - the single most important step for closing the budget gap - will not close it entirely. Taxes must rise, too.

Leonhardt argued that "Despite all the scary stories you've heard, the evidence that higher taxes necessarily cripple an economy is somewhere between thin and nonexistent." He pointed to the 1950s and 60s, where the top marginal tax rate was 90 percent, and paid only lip service to the fact that tax hikes "reduce people's incentive to work. But history has shown that this cost isn't enormous."

In fact, he sees high tax rates as a sign of a civilized society:

Think of it this way: A tax increase isn't so much a barrier to a society becoming richer as it is a result of a society becoming richer.

During the campaign Leonhardt insisted candidate Obama was "a fiscal conservative" compared to John McCain.