The Common Good

Solomon's Wisdom and the Debt Ceiling

As the time shortens for Congress and President Obama to agree to the contours of legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling, I am reminded of the story of King Solomon and his judgment regarding two women who both claimed to be the mother of a child (I Kings 3: 16-28). Solomon ordered that the living child be cut in two and half a dead child be given to both women. The woman who was the true mother insisted that the living child be given to the false mother. She was willing to give up her righteous claim to save the child's life. King Solomon knew the true mother and gave her the child.

In the current problem -- a completely artificial crisis because Congress could have raised the debt ceiling weeks ago -- we are looking at a situation where one side is willing to cut the baby in two rather than bend on its rigid position. Some tea party Republicans in the House of Representatives would rather see the nation default on its debt obligations, causing God only knows how much damage to an already fragile economy, before they ask the wealthiest Americans to pay one penny more in taxes.

They speak of the negative economic effects of raising taxes on so-called "job creators." But the economic reality is that taxes do not cause or stop economic growth. Innovation brings economic growth. The economy grew during the Clinton administration even while tax rates were higher because of innovations in information technology and the Internet. I still say that the country needs more not less government spending at this moment. We need a jobs bill so that people will have money to live and to spend. There will be no expansion of any business, no matter the tax rates, without increased demand. Imagine a lemonade stand. Why would you make a second pitcher of lemonade when you have not sold the first pitcher?

By worshiping at the altar of Grover Norquist and a no new taxes pledge that many Republican lawmakers have signed, some Republicans are willing to crash the economy rather than allow the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans to expire. They take this position in the face of income inequality where the average chief executive officer of a corporation makes 185 times as much as the average worker.

And let us remember, that the economic retraction in which we find ourselves was caused by Wall Street greed. One reason why the deficit is so large is because of high unemployment caused by the retraction. Unemployed people do not pay taxes, and they need the government to give them unemployment insurance while they look for another job. The spending that the Republicans complain about was necessary to keep the social safety net in place and to invest in education and infrastructure that will help make the next economic innovations possible.

I must confess that there is a part of me that wonders why President Obama consents to even talk with the Republican leadership without them putting some plan for increased revenue on the table. This seems to be a sensible ante to begin the negotiations. The president may, in the end, give the Republicans most of what they want. He will give up his own righteous claims for more taxes in order to save the baby that is this nation's fragile economy. The 2012 elections will tell how the nation judges whose ideas and whose love is best for the nation.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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