If something is repeated often enough, some people start to believe it, even if the facts say otherwise. So with Election Day less than a week away, let’s deal with some oft-heard assertions that run up against history or facts or common sense.
Republicans are warning that if Democrats win, it will spell economic wrack and ruin. Sound familiar? It’s been the conservative contention in almost every election in the last half-century.
But consider the conclusion of a 2016 study by Princeton University economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson that examined US economic performance since the end of World War II: “The US economy performs much better when a Democrat is president than when a Republican is.” Not only that, but also this: “By many measures, the performance gap is startlingly large.” Theories abound as to why, but the data is clear on the overarching point: Democrats don’t spell economic disaster.
A second falsity: Democratic nominee Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris have embraced socialism.
Biden, historically a center-left Democrat, is indeed running on a progressive platform, but it’s a steep mountain mile from socialism. Consider: Biden doesn’t even support that favorite nostrum of the Democratic left, single-payer health care. He does not — repeat, does not — favor eliminating health insurance companies and having the federal government set rates and pay doctors and hospitals accordingly, from tax dollars, as self-declared democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders does.
Instead, the former vice president wants to expand the Affordable Care Act. Like Romneycare, on which it was based, the ACA has private health insurance as its cornerstone.
Now, one needn’t be a socialist to support single-payer. Britain has such a system, as does Canada, and both conservative and liberal parties back those health care arrangements. But it’s silly to speak of someone as socialist who doesn’t support such a system.
But, some may protest, doesn’t Biden favor a big tax increase — and isn’t that socialism? No. The 39.6 percent top income-tax rate under Biden would be substantially lower than the 50 percent to which Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut reduced it. Those with elephantine memories may recall that conservatives celebrated the Gipper’s tax cuts as the liberation of the American economy.
During the last three decades, the top marginal rate has ping-ponged back and forth from the low to the high 30s, without ever topping 39.6 percent. Hiking the top rate from 37 to 39.6 percent, as Biden would do, hardly constitutes socialism.
Nor, the tax fearful should note, would the cost of the Biden-Harris policy platform fall heavily on most of America. Biden has pledged to hold families making less than $400,000 harmless in terms of new taxes — and various analyses say his plan would indeed do that.
Those earning more than $400,000 — the top 1.8 percent of taxpayers — would see tax hikes, most notably in income and Social Security taxes. About 80 percent of the new tax burden would fall on households that make more than $788,000. According to the Penn Wharton budget model’s analysis, the top 1 percent of households would see an average effective tax increase of $81,420, or about 6.6 percent, while the top 0.1 percent would see a hike of $1,338,810, or 12.4 percent.
That’s a substantial hike for top earners. But it’s hardly confiscatory — and it’s not socialism, particularly not as socialism has long been defined. That is, as government control of the means of — and decision-making about — economic production and distribution. Rather, it is liberalism. Despite conservative attempts at conflation, the two concepts are very different things.
Finally, Donald Trump really didn’t build an economy worthy of the endless string of superlatives he showers upon it. He inherited a strong economy and made it somewhat better through a big deficit-financed tax cut. Had Trump produced the “4, 5, or even 6” percent growth he predicted from his tax-cut package, that would indeed have been remarkable. In fact, pre-pandemic, he didn’t achieve even a single year of 3 percent growth — even as his top-heavy tax cut boosted the budget deficit to $1 trillion a year.
Facts always matter — and in these tumultuous, truth-tossed times, they should matter more than ever.