A Challenge to Lefty Bloggers: State Your Limits


Several years ago, Matt Welch put up a "pro-war libertarian quiz" in an effort to get pro-war bloggers to go on record stating their limits when it comes to what powers they'd give the government in fighting terrorism.

In that spirit, I'd like to pose a similar query to the lefty blogosphere/opinionsphere on the growth and size of government. Every initiative announced by the Obama administration pushes us further into uncharted territory on both fronts, so it would be interesting to see what if any actual limits lefty opinion makers would put on the size, cost, and influence of the federal government. At what point would you be willing to finally say, "Okay, we've gone far enough"?

Note that the intent here is to find your limits, not what you consider to be ideal.

Next week, I'll post links to any responses to the survey.

Progressive Taxation

Currently, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans make 19 percent of the country's income and pay 37 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent pay 68 percent. The bottom 50 percent of earners pay 3 percent of taxes. (Note: These figures don't include payroll taxes.) Most on the left believe the current tax system isn't progressive enough, so they'd presumably favor shifting the tax burden up the income scale. But what is  your limit? Should the top 1 percent pay 60 or more percent of the government's costs? More than 80? What's the maximum percentage of earners who should pay no income tax at all?

• Inflation

What's the maximum acceptable rate of inflation? How high would the inflation rate need to be for you to say, "This new government program is great, but we can't print anymore money to pay for it"?

• National Debt as a Percentage of GDP

Currently, the federal debt stands at about 80 percent of GDP. That's the highest percentage since the early 1950s. What is the maximum percentage of debt related to GDP that you'd be willing to accept?

• Federal Spending as a Percentage of GDP

For most of the last 50 years, annual federal spending has held at about 20 percent of GDP, the annual deficit at 2 percent. The CBO projects that by 2020, spending will soar to 26 percent of GDP, and the annual deficit to 7 percent. This is before factoring in the cost of Obama's health care plan. What percentage of spending with respect to GDP would you consider too high? The annual federal deficit?

• Unfunded Liability of Entitlement Programs

Right now, Social Security and Medicare face a $106.4 trillion future liability above and beyond what current payroll taxes would be able to fund. Before we start talking about new entitlements, where should we put the celing on unfunded future entitlement liability? That is, how much higher can that $106.4 trillion figure rise before you'd be willing to say, "Hold on, great as this new entitlement idea sounds, I'm not sure we can afford it"?

• Income Equality

As noted above, currently the richest 1 percent of Americans earn about 19 percent of the country's income. The bottom 50 percent of earners make 13 percent. Most on the left believe these figures are too lopsided. So where should they be? Presumably, the answer is somewhere between where they are now and the point at which every earner in the country makes the same amount of money. To phrase the question another way, at what point would you be willing to say the government has gone far enough when it comes to redistributing income? What is an acceptable level of income inequality?

• Individual Tax Rates

The top federal income tax bracket currently stands at 35 percent. What's the maximum top tax rate you'd be willing to endorse? Where should the cutoff be for the top bracket (it's currently $372,950)? Factoring in state and local taxes, the average tax burden on the wealthiest Americans in some states will approach 60 percent if the Democrats' health plan passes. What's an appropriate upper limit on that figure?

• Average Tax Rate

According to a new World Bank report (PDF), the average U.S. tax rate is 46.2 percent, putting us 102 out of 178 countries (meaning 101 countries have a lower total tax burden than the U.S.). Again, how high would you be willing to let that figure climb?