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Jewish World Review /Feb. 16, 1999 / 30 Shevat, 5759

Tony Snow

Tony Snow Why we feel so good

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT NOW that the impeachment ordeal has stumbled to a close and politicians vow to do "the people's business"? Expect more fighting.

The prosperity we now enjoy has become the bane of Democrats and Republicans because it has stolen any sense of urgency from the issues both have relied upon for the past 25 years.

Begin with the GOP. The tax issue, the latest best hope of the party of Lincoln and Reagan, packs no punch even though we surrender more of our pay than ever to government.

Why? Several explanations: In the past 35 years, our top tax rate has fallen from 92 percent to 39.6 percent. Half the citizens in this country pay next to no income tax. The top 50 percent of wage earners shells out an astounding 96 percent of all federal income taxes; the top 10 percent pays nearly two-thirds of the bill.

You might think the rich would feel put out, but they're not fussing. Cuts in the capital gains tax have let investors keep more of their boom-generated bounty and encouraged investors to spend more time looking for the next Microsoft.

Lower taxes also have lured people back to work. The employment ratio -- the proportion of work-eligible adults who hold jobs -- stands at 64.5 percent, the highest on record. In many households, both parents punch the clock. But chances are, they get home together: The length of the average work week hasn't changed appreciably since late 1989.

One other factor has eased the pain of high taxes. Michael Cox and Richard Alm of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas have documented how much more we can buy today than in ages past. Just 30 years ago, a gigantic mainframe computer could perform up to 12.7 million calculations per second.

It cost far more than most people earned in their lifetimes. Today, we can go to an appliance store, plunk down $800 and take home a system that's 15 times as powerful as the 1970s behemoth. To take another example: The amount of time we had to work to afford a cell phone has dropped more than 98 percent in the last 15 years.

Consider the phenomenon from another angle. The average home of 1956 was a one-story ranch. It had none of the following: central heat, central air conditioning, insulation in the walls, dishwasher, refrigerator, range, microwave, garage-door opener, storm windows and fireplace. The garbage disposal was known as "Fido." Today's average house has all these things, two stories, twice as many bathrooms and a garage. It is 70 percent larger than the 1956 model and costs less per square foot (with "cost" being measured by how long we have to work to pay for it).

We feel good these days because we expect the trend to continue. And perhaps it will. Brian Wesbury of Griffin, Kubic, Stephens and Thompson Inc. notes in his most recent newsletter that productivity growth has hit "record levels." Laissez les bon temps roulez!

We spend our idle hours fretting not about the economy, but about matters of home and hearth. We want our kids to grow up healthy and good. We want schools to teach the basics. We want prisons to lock up the bad people. And we want state authorities to build new roads and fill potholes in the old ones.

Republicans make the mistake of talking about taxes in accounting terms rather than human ones. They deliver carny huckster promises of what an additional four bucks per day could mean for the average family of four. What bothers people about taxes isn't the money -- but time. When taxes rise, we work longer to pay the bills and we lose life's one unrecoverable treasure -- time with our families, our friends and our hobbies.

The good economy also has undercut liberal Democrats. In the Camelot years, we shared President Kennedy's belief that "man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life."

We have lowered our sights since then -- from moonshots to blue dresses; from the New Frontier to the Mr. Goodwrench theory of government. Bill Clinton's most recent State of the Union Address featured 99 new programs, not half of which he or his speech writers could name today. His suggestions were political cotton candy -- sweet and quick to dissolve. They offered eloquent testimony to the fact that we no longer trust the government to do big jobs other than wars.

So, irony of ironies! The booming economy has both parties atwitter. Neither knows what to do or how to sell its wares. How, then, will they distinguish themselves from one another? In all likelihood, by doing what they've done the last five years -- seizing on small differences and ripping each other to shreds.


02/11/99: What exactly does George W. stand for?
02/08/99: Run, GOPers, run?
02/04/99: The languid sigh of waves lapping ashore
02/01/99: Verbal vortex
01/28/99: To be a ‘sell-out’ or an unelectable pol --- that is the question
01/25/99: The apogee of a trend
01/21/99:What my 3-year-old taught me
01/17/99:Don't be fooled, folks
01/14/99: Must a pol be ‘baaaad’ in order to get elected?
01/12/99: Jumpin’ Jack (Kemp)
01/08/99 : Hot air in the Windy City

©1999, Creators Syndicate