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Wednesday, Aug 08 2012 11:06 PM

Time to sail away from GOP's 'Trickle Down Island'

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    Mark Martinez

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By MARK MARTINEZ

After World War II there were numerous stories of Japanese soldiers hiding out and fighting in the jungles of the Pacific islands. Cut off from lines of communication, and clinging to an out-of-touch military culture, these holdouts refused to believe that the war had ended.

Tales of people lost in time help paint great portraits of history -- except when it happens to us in real time.

Like the cave-dwelling Japanese who believed in an "imperial way" that made their emperor a god, House Republicans cling to the belief that tax cuts for the rich -- brought to us by their political god, Ronald Reagan -- are the cornerstone of the American Way. Tax cuts, according to the theory, allow entrepreneurs to keep more of their money to invest, which "trickles down" to the rest of us in the form of jobs. This is what GOP holdouts see from their war caves on Trickle Down Island.

Clinging to a failed "tax cuts for the rich" strategy that helped Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush triple and double our national debt, last week House Republicans voted down a proposal that would keep Bush-era tax cuts for middle-class Americans. Instead, marooned on Trickle Down Island, the House passed a bill with middle class tax relief, but with the proviso that we keep tax cuts for the richest 1 percent.

There are two problems here. First, trickle-down economics doesn't work. It was always a political gimmick. As George H.W. Bush pointed out in 1980, it's voodoo economics. Even Greg Mankiw, who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under George W. Bush, referred to the policy as a "crank theory" (before he became President Bush's top economic adviser).

The fact that George W. Bush's unfunded spending binge and tax cuts turned budget surpluses into record deficits validates both Mankiw's original position, and George H.W. Bush's instincts on voodoo economics.

Another problem with blindly believing in a failed economic policy is that the GOP's position on tax cuts and entrepreneurialism is a slap in the face to the human spirit and the American experience.

Creativity and vibrant markets were with us long before Reagan and the GOP's 30-year tax cut jihad came along. Think about it. Does anyone believe Steve Jobs and Bill Gates sat around their garages waiting for the capital gains tax to drop before their creative inspiration kicked in?

Innovation and creativity are human constants and depend on many factors beyond tax cuts. Benjamin Franklin's lightning rod and Jonas Salk's polio vaccine are examples of this. The influenza outbreak during World War I stirred curiosity and spurred some of the greatest publicly funded medical research the world has ever seen.

Think about the inventions from the 1940s through the early 1960s, when the tax rate on America's wealthiest class was more than 90 percent. People invent and do things for reasons that go beyond tax cuts.

Whether it's pride, curiosity, art, professional achievement, nationalism or simple accidents, it's clear that what motivates the human condition isn't dominated by tax breaks.

If you like ear thermometers, ultraviolet-blocking lenses, memory foam, satellites and long-distance communication, you can thank taxpayer-funded NASA technology. The same goes for cordless tools (Apollo missions), ionized charcoal filters, kidney dialysis, MRIs, cancer drugs and at least 1,723 (or more) patented inventions.

Then we have the products of the military and war. Submarine technology (American Revolution), anesthesia (Civil War), nuclear energy (World War II), the computer (from code breaking), the Internet, synthetic rubber, penicillin and jet engines were motivated by factors other than tax breaks. The most popular gun in the world, the AK-47, was created by a communist Russian tank driver recovering in a military hospital during World War II.

Then we have the accidents of markets and curiosity. The microwave, Viagra, artificial sweeteners, brandy, the pacemaker, Teflon and Velcro owe their existence to serendipity.

None of this matters to our Shinto-like GOP. Taking their cue from ill-informed talk show hosts and garrulously dressed tea partyers -- cave dwellers who think they're tax revolutionaries, but ignore that federal taxes are at a 60-year low -- the GOP seems hellbent on pushing our nation into another suicidal "tax cuts for the rich" mission. As if tripling (Reagan) and doubling (George W. Bush) our national debt weren't kamikaze enough.

Creativity and innovation rely on more than tax cuts. Holding America's middle class hostage to bolster a failed economic theory that subsidizes America's richest class cheapens both the American experience and the human spirit.

Mark A. Martinez, Ph.D., is the author of "The Myth of the Free Market" and professor of political science at Cal State Bakersfield.

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