Monday, July 20, 2009

When Things Get Pathological

When Stephen Harper declared in an interview after the G8 summit that, "I don't believe that any taxes are good taxes," Jeffrey Simpson wrote in The Globe and Mail: "There is no 'school' . . . anywhere in economics that says 'no taxes are good taxes.'" Some economists, Simpson wrote, "like right wing politicians, might think taxes are too high, maybe way too high. They might think the private sector can do lots of things better than the public sector. They might believe taxes should be lower. But anyone who says 'no taxes are good taxes' and 'I don't believe any taxes are good taxes' is wrong economically and very, very scary socially and politically."

The response from Terrence Corcoran, in The National Post, was withering. "Rev. Simpson," Corcoran wrote, "propelled himself and his Liberal congregation into a hysterical anti- Conservative, anti-Harper orbit." While Simpson would be the first to admit that he is no fan of Mr. Harper, one can ask, "Who is truly hysterical?" Simpson long ago stopped referring to the government as "the Conservatives" and instead chose the term "Harperites," suggesting that what Harper is selling is not conservatism.

He made that distinction clear later in his column. "Only libertarian anarchists believe that all taxes are bad and that society can get along without them." Besides, Simpson asked, "Who will provide, if not the taxpayers, the revenues to pay for the two services that even the most right wing ideologues agree only public authorities can provide: the defence of the realm and law and order?"

Corcoran saw a conspiracy in the making. "What is really going on here," he claimed, "is a mounting Liberal campaign to set the state for tax increases to cover future deficits. Liberals cannot officially plant this idea, and they would much rather have Mr. Harper bear the burden by forcing him to raise taxes." No, says Mr. Corcoran, the way to solve the problem is to cut spending.

What's strange is that we've been here before, fifteen years ago, and the solution -- under the Chretien government -- was to do both: to raise taxes and cut spending. We know what we will have to do. The Harperites -- and Mr.Corcoran -- suffer from a peculiar pathology, a pathology which occasionally shows up -- as it did last November, and immediately after the G8 summit -- when Mr. Harper lashes out at the opposition in a fury of indignation, determined to crush them. He seems unable to help himself. Mr. Simpson is right to worry that the Prime Minister is pathological.

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