Thomas Sowell

IN this modern scientific age, we no longer believe in magic words that can transform a prince into a frog, or vice versa. But there are still magic words that can cause incredible transformations.

For example, there are words that can transform the most big-spending liberal in Congress, who has for decades been blithely adding to the soaring national debt, into someone who proclaims the need to reduce that debt at all costs. Those magic words are "tax cut." It is like a parlor game where you say one thing and the other person comes back with the first thing that comes to mind. Say "tax cut" to a liberal and the reply is "national debt."

Admittedly, this is not as good as turning a frog into a prince because the frog is only pretending to be a prince. Once the big spenders have fought off or stifled a tax cut, they resume big spending with gusto, regardless of the national debt.

The new twist on this game is to say that the federal surplus that is left in the hands of Washington politicians will be put into a "lockbox" to safeguard it from being spent for anything other than paying down the national debt. This "lockbox" image was first used by Al Gore in last year's election campaign, but it is now being repeated hither and yon by other Democrats who are trying to prevent taxes from being cut.

Who knows? "Lockbox" may take its place in a sort of political hall of fame, alongside other great pat phrases used repeatedly by Democrats, such as "tax cuts for the rich" or "it doesn't rise to the level of impeachment."

But what good is a lockbox when Congress always has the key? So long as the money is in Washington, politicians can spend it. The only way to keep it out of their hands is to put it back into the taxpayers' pockets.

When the big spenders fail to scare us away from a tax cut, Plan B is to make the cut as small as possible. The great ponderous question is raised whether we can "afford" a "big" tax cut.

For these purposes, if taxpayers get back even one-fourth of the surplus, that is called a "big" tax cut.

In other words, after the people have been taxed trillions of dollars more than required to pay for all the vast current spending of the federal government -- and after three quarters of this excess is then used to pay for additional government spending -- it is still "too much" to return the remaining one-fourth to the people who have been over-taxed.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate