Thursday, April 13, 2006

Right-wing tax populism.

(Originally posted, as all my posts will be, at my blog Liberalism without Cynicism. Huge, huge thanks to Dave and Cheryl for inviting me to post here over the next few months. Also, anyone who's had better luck at navigating the swamp of Canadian online statistics, please also feel free to email me any corrections you think need to be made to my posts. -- Laura)

YOU PAY TOO MUCH TAX. Prime Minister Harper explains:

During Wednesday's speech, Mr. Harper focused largely on tax-relief for Canadians, reiterating a number of campaign promises which his government says would improve the lot of individual Canadians and companies.

Mr. Harper also accused the previous government of racking up massive surpluses on the backs of Canadians.

“Billions upon billions were taken from Canadians,” he said. “Talk about surpluses. They were taken from Canadians through over-taxation.

“Nothing more, nothing less.”

Total federal debt per capita in Canada is currently about $16,300, down from $17,700 in 2001 -- a modest reduction over the past five years. The current net per-capita external public debt -- the debt on which Canadian residents don't recoup the interest -- was about $5,000 per capita in 2005, down from about $8400 per capita in 2001 (the latter figure is adjusted using the US-Canada exchange rate and not PPP so it might be a little off). And the Liberals took the % of federal revenues spent servicing the debt rollover from about 38% in 1995 to about 21% in 2003 -- and down further to 19% in 2004, the last year for which I can locate data. Much of this decline came from lower interest rates, though a case has been made that these were themselves facilitated by the "virtuous cycle" of responsible fiscal/monetary policy, what I think of as (within reason) the "good" supply-side economics.

Now, there is a valid argument that running sustained surplusses to pay down debt in is generally bad public policy, but that argument traditionally comes from the left, and -- allowing for a few purple claims here and there -- really constitutes a debate over degree rather than kind (how big the surplusses should be; whether simply balancing the budget and allowing productivity growth and inflation to eat at the debt is good enough). Needless to say, that's not Harper's contention. Harper's contention, complete with occasional cowboy hat, is that THOSE EVIL LIBERALS MADE YOU PAY TOO MUCH TAX, even as he laughs off the proposed Liberal broad-based income tax cut in favour of his own party's regressive tax package.

Not shocking: Harper is a classic New Rightie, smarter than the typical US version, but a fine specimen nonetheless. Here, he is simply staking out The Movement's position on fiscal responsibility. "Nothing more, nothing less."

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