Perhaps the pre-eminent task of philosophy today is to challenge the veracity of ideological constructs through processes of demystification. That is, rather than providing pedestrian resolutions to complex social contradictions, it is possible to argue that philosophy must be operationalized to illustrate that our perception of a problem can itself constitute the problem. Answers cannot exist a priori because they are engendered through the posing of questions. Any correct social diagnosis, therefore, must be tethered to the correct conceptualization of extant verifiable symptoms. Inadequate solutions to social antinomies reflect first the inadequacy of the questions asked. To this end, I will argue that ideology is less a misguided answer and more a poorly constructed question. Louis Althusser once quipped that “ideology never says ‘I am ideological.” That is, on account of its ubiquity, ideology appears as its own obverse: non-ideology.
By far the most distressing site of ideological theatre these days is Capitol Hill. For weeks now an inimitable troupe of republican platitudinarians has been hurling unsubstantiated “no revenue” bromides across the aisle in an alleged effort to compromise with democrats on a debt-ceiling proposal; and both clocks are ticking. The United States will default on its (war) debt if congressional leaders cannot broker an agreement by August 2nd. (According to the CATO institute, U.S. military spending since the War of 1812 accounts for 80% of our $14 trillion debt.) Over the past several days congressional republicans have struck tenors of both intransigence and inanity in their proposed solutions for preventing national default and for developing long term debt reduction strategies. Republicans such as members such as McConnell, Ryan, Boehner, among others, have argued that the only way they'll vote to prevent America's first-ever default is if the rest of us agree to their deep, spending cuts-only approach.
Last weekend, for example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a package that would decrease spending by $2.7 trillion over the next decade, without any revenues increases, in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and avoiding default through the 2012 elections. Days later, Speaker of the House John Boehner, rolled out a counter-proposal that would raise the debt ceiling by around 1 trillion – enough to keep the government funded through the beginning of next year – in exchange for a trillion in cuts to socialized programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Neither McConnell nor Boehner’s plan includes any provision for revenue generation by way of modest income tax increases on million- or billionaires. Broken-record Republicans remain reluctant to include tax increases in a debt ceiling agreement by claiming that raising taxes on the wealthy will stultify job creation.
I will now debunk this tired Republican Myth in less than a few sentences. First, in examining 4-year periods of time where tax cut and deregulation policies have been ascendant, job creation underperformed periods where progressive tax policies and reasonable regulatory frameworks have been implemented. The data displayed in the following table are total non-farm payrolls. Notice that taxes were raised on the wealthiest of Americans during the 1990′s and our country experienced a robust economic run and strong job creation, particularly for small businesses.
Second, since the mid-1970′s our national debt increased at a rate faster than the growth of our economy – and that is unsustainable. And again, during every period where progressive tax policy was in place our debt became smaller as a fraction of our GDP.
Debt, of course, is a genuine problem, but we must adopt a balanced approach to solving this barbed issue. Such a solution ought to be one in which spending cuts are coupled with taxing those to which capitalism and government has been so good – million- and billionaires— at a scantly higher income tax rate. Any deficit reduction proposal that only include cuts without a plan for revenue generation is, at its core, ideological. After all, it was taxation that built our interstate highway system, an enormous propellant of commerce; that fueled the space program that stimulated new technologies, new industries, and new jobs; and that supported public education. If we fail to ask the right questions like “Why the war? Why the poor? Debt ceiling or wageless floor?,” then we’re all but destined to remain as weak as our strongest ideologies.