Five Best Friday Columns
Tax reform, animal abuse, and dot-gov online ads
Stephen Moore on the Case for Tax Reform In 1986, Congress passed an overhaul of the tax system against great odds because by "going radical," writes Stephen Moore in The Wall Street Journal. When he asks people whether we could do it again today, they say no, the atmosphere in Washington is too poisonous. "But don't be so sure. What everyone inside and outside the Beltway wants to know, given the recent economic funk, is: Where will the growth come from?" He says it can't be from another stimulus, nor can Republicans get tax cuts without closing loopholes. But there are signs of agreement in Washington. Former fed chairman Paul Volcker decried the corporate tax rate which encourages businesses to go overseas, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said "Everybody who looks at the current system says we can do better than this." "For the first time since 1986 we have Democrats--even liberals like Dick Durbin of Illinois--endorsing lower tax rates and finally acknowledging that soaking the rich with confiscatory taxes is an economic loser," he writes. Democrats should realize that reforming the tax code is the only way to stimulate growth before the election and Republicans shouldn't insist on maintaining "special-interest favors" at the expense of overall lower rates.
Emile Nakhleh on Saudi Arabia and the West Increasing demand among Arabs for freedom make the West's unquestioning support for Saudi Arabia "untenable," argues Emile Nakhleh in the Financial Times. "Saudi Arabia itself also still relies on the West to help it mute critics of its dismal human rights record, growing anti-Shia policies and export of intolerant religious doctrines." Nakhleh writes. "The reward for tolerating such behaviour is obvious: Saudi oil and natural gas, in large quantities and at reasonable prices." The Saudis purport to promote stability but in fact seek out anti-Shia policies in the larger region. With the rise of Shia power, the United States may be dragged into more Sunni-Shia conflicts caused by the Saudis. The ruling powers there face challenges in the future with growing calls for freedom and an increasingly western-educated young ruling class that will cause inner-tensions. "President Barack Obama should state publicly that the ruling monarchy must move towards genuine political, legislative and judicial reforms," Nakhleh writes. Saudis would take a public rebuke seriously and it would influence them as they decide whether to move toward reform or take a Syrian approach.
Mark Lewyn on Dot-Gov Advertising "In January, Paula J. Hammond, Washington's secretary of transportation, gave the green light to place ads on a portion of the state's website," writes Mark Lewyn in The Wall Street Journal. "The effort marked the first time a government of any size had dipped its toe into the lucrative Web advertising pool now dominated by Google." Few have joined Hammond, he says, because of a federal regulation that prevents commercial ads on dot-gov domains. (Hammond placed ads on Washington's dot-com site.) He likens dot-gov ads to ads on the side of federal highways. But some bureaucrats are squeamish and say that ads would open the sites up to liability or assault citizens with commercial messaging in what should be a space free of that. "Governments can steer clear of the problems associated with picking one product to promote over another by simply outsourcing the ad-sales function to a third party, which would have to abide by government guidelines as to what's OK and what's not--no political ads, hate speech, adult content, etc." he says. "Meanwhile, liability can be mitigated, if not eliminated, by simply labeling an ad as just that--an ad!--which is what virtually every other site on the Web does today."
Michael Gerson on God and the Federal Budget People on both sides of the debt ceiling debate at some point claimed God supported their cause. "On the testimony of some of his followers, God is both to the right of Boehner and to the left of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (who didn’t include revenue in his approach)," writes Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. "Both parties read the same Bible and pray to the same God--but apparently listen to different economists." Gerson says we should be suspicious of faith that conforms too neatly to a certain political viewpoint. When people see opposing views as heretical, it limits political dialogue, he argues. There is some room for faith in the public sector though. "While a Christian position on monetary policy is a stretch," he says, "Christian opposition to slavery or segregation is a matter of consistency." Federal budgeting can be fit into having moral implications, too. One group, A Circle of Protection, says the programs that serve the needy must be protected. Another, Christians for a Sustainable Economy, argues that the poor "are best served by policies that promote economic freedom and growth." CASE also argues, though, that faith-based charities should replace government programs, an argument Gerson casts off as "dangerously oblivious." Gerson supports Circle's philosophy more because, he says, "Public spending on poverty and global health programs is a sliver of discretionary spending... This is not an argument endorsed by God, but it corresponds to budgetary reality. And this has a virtue of its own."