Taming the Alligators, Draining the Swamp, Redux

Posted on June 17, 2018

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One of President Trump’s campaign goals was to make America great again. Another goal was to tame or throw the alligators out of Washington, by which most of us take that to mean reduce and bring the gigantic federal government down to scale. The “Deep State” is controlling us.

According to my instant source of usually reliable information online, Wikipedia, “deep state” is used by political scientists “to describe influential decision-making bodies believed to be within government who are relatively permanent and whose policies and long-term plans are unaffected by changing administrations.”

Furthermore, Wikipedia adds “the term is often used in a critical sense, vis-à-vis, the general electorate to refer to the lack of influence popular democracy has on these institutions and the decisions they make as a shadow government.”

Mr. Trump wants us to return to a point in time, or a culture, in the past when America “was great,” and I kind of like that. As an old timer, I always think things were better in the past. It’s a generational thing, and while I subscribe to it in part, I kind of like my cell phone, the Internet, and doing my shopping at amazon.com, all totally unavailable, or perhaps not even imagined, in the 1940s and 50s when I grew up.

When Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1979, he set out to do many things, among them root out waste and inefficiency in the government. Clear the alligators Donald Trump would repeat over thirty-five years later when he was elected to the same office in 2016. The French have a phrase for this phenomenon: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, or roughly “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

What are we talking about here? Let’s briefly examine Reagan’s effort which resulted in the creation of the Grace Commission (chaired by J. Peter Grace, CEO of W. R. Grace & Co.) in 1982. The Commission submitted its report in 1984 and it was a zinger. If you thought big government was a problem, the Commission defined it for you. Trump would do well to send some interns to read it and create a new Commission.

After reading some of the preliminary findings, Reagan declared in an address at Williamsburg, Va. That “our federal tax system is, in short, utterly impossible, utterly unjust and completely counterproductive, [it] reeks with injustice and is fundamentally un-American…it has earned a rebellion and it’s time we rebelled.”

A few years earlier, President Jimmy Carter declared in 1976 that “our Income Tax system is a disgrace to the human race.”

Neither Carter nor Reagan, nor Trump for that matter, minced words. The basic findings of the Grace Commission were that little of what was collected in taxes goes to support government services the public expects.

One third of taxes collected were consumed by waste and inefficiency. One third escapes collection because of the underground economy. If two thirds were accounted for by waste, inefficiency, or not collected, how about the final one-third? The Commission discovered that 100% of the last third of taxes collected is absorbed solely by interest on the federal debt and by federal government contributions to transfer payments.

For those wishing to consult the report, the recommendations are contained in 2478 pages, while other documents numbering over 1.8 million pages can also be skimmed if you like. The gist of the recommendations is contained in 36 task force reports. There are numerous summaries online dating from early 1984 when the Commission reported to the President, and numerous articles also online written over the years.

The bottom line, if there ever can be a bottom line to such a huge and apparently inaccessible monolith by the normal human being, is that Peter Grace applied his fanatical devotion to efficiency, productivity, and sound economic principles from the private sector of industry to the public sector of government. Or, what was good for the goose was also good for the gander.

That the Commission report confirmed that income tax revenues went 100% to pay the interest on the national debt and not a single nickel of it went to the government didn’t seem to phase the alligators or the reformers.

To accept recommendation such as the Commission made in 1984, updated to 2018, would require a powerful majority of Congress to push it through. It can be done, through the ballot box, but watch out for the gators. Congress, by the way, ignored the Grace Commission Report.

Published Sunday June 3, 2018 in The Tuscaloosa News.

 

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Posted in: History, Politics