NYT's David Leonhardt: All True 'Fiscal Conservatives' Support Tax Increases

Wednesday's 'Lessons From The Malaise' is David Leonhardt's last economics column before becoming the New York Times' Washington bureau chief. It pretty much encapsulates his liberal worldview, while assuming his premises are universally shared.

One of the tricky things about the subject is that almost nothing is certain in the way that, say, two plus two equals four. Economics - which is at root a study of human behavior - tends to be messier. Because it's messier, it can be tempting to think that all uncertainty is equal and that we don't really know anything.

Leonhardt again writes as if it is all serious thinkers admit tax increases are necessary.

When it comes to economics, we know that a market economy with a significant government role is the only proven model of success. The United States has outgrown Europe partly because of our greater comfort with market forces. China and India boomed after allowing more of a market economy. On the other hand, unencumbered market forces often lead to disaster, as 1929 and 2008 made clear.

We also know that ever-rising levels of education are crucial to a country's success. Not only is the evidence all around us - the college wage premium has been higher than ever lately - but careful studies have found that, on the margin, education itself tends to make people wealthier, healthier and happier. The next time you hear naysayers poormouth college, ask them if they plan to send their own children.

We know that the federal government has promised more benefits than it can currently afford. The only way out of this problem involves some combination of tax increases and cuts to Medicare, Social Security and the military. Anyone who won't get specific about which ones they favor is not a fiscal conservative.

We know this country spends vastly more on health care than any other country - about 75 percent more per person than other rich countries - without getting vastly better results. The waste in our medical system offers the best chance to reduce the deficit without harming our living standards.

Who exactly is in favor of 'waste in our medical system'? What many are against is rationing medical care in the name of cost savings, which would be encouraged under Obama-care (and which Leonhardt strongly supports).

Leonhardt concluded with the conventional liberal wisdom on global warming, er, "climate change."

We know the planet is getting hotter. Last year tied for the warmest on record, and the 10 hottest have all occurred since 1998. The resulting risks, economic and otherwise, may be even more serious than the risks from the deficit, but receive far less attention in Washington. (And climate worriers do not need to be so skittish about making the connection between heat waves and the larger trend. The thing about global warming is that it warms the globe.)

- Clay Waters is director of Times Watch. You can follow him on Twitter.