Postscript: A Brief Note on Hypocrisy

In my previous post, I wrote about the series of Covid-triggered political windfalls enjoyed by Gov. Phil Scott. There’s one point I made in passing that deserves a bit more consideration.

The governor is dead set against raising revenue or increasing the size of state government, but he’s perfectly happy to take whatever the feds will give him.

Yeah, the governor is a fiscal hypocrite. He hasn’t raised an eyebrow over the federal government’s rampant deficit spending. And he is benefiting mightily from the ongoing tsunami of Biden Bucks.

And yet he wouldn’t be caught dead raising taxes in Vermont or spending outside his comfort level. He refuses to countenance any increase in the size of state government.

Now, there’s one big structural difference. States can’t deficit spend, and the feds can. But, if only as a fig leaf to cover his tacit opportunism, he might want to express the merest hint of concern over the fact that Covid relief and Biden’s infrastructure plan are classic examples of Keynesian economics — spending our way out of trouble with no concern for long-term fiscal ramifications.

I must make it clear, I’m not especially concerned about the spending, although I would support tax increases on corporations and the wealthy to help pay the freight. Covid relief is helping us avoid a depression. Biden’s proposed infrastructure bill would be an investment in growing the economic capacity of our country. If done properly, the spending should pay for itself down the road.

But heck, ain’t nobody in national politics that really gives a damn about deficit spending. The only difference between the two parties is how they increase the deficit.

Republicans do it with tax cuts for the wealthy and “job creators,” homeland security and national defense. Plus they routinely shy away from unpopular budget cuts. Democrats do it by boosting spending on a wide array of programs, refusing to cut military and security budgets, and not having the stomach to impose tax hikes big enough to close the fiscal gap.

Phil Scott apparently agrees with that consensus. Federal deficit spending is just fine, especially if it helps Vermont and makes him a political hero. But that makes it a little hard to countenance all his talk of limiting spending just like families have to do around the dinner table. It rings a little hollow these days.

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