Greg Anrig

Greg Anrig, vice president of programs at The Century Foundation, is the author of The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing (John Wiley & Sons).

Recent Articles

Austerity: The False Cure

The formula of the deficit hawks will bring us a deeper recession, stunted social outlay, and a much tougher road back to fiscal balance.

Democratic and Republican politicians, prestigious media commentators, and other prominent opinion leaders have recited the causes and grim consequences of large federal deficits with such incessant consistency that many citizens have come to accept their ominous story. The proposed cures, however, remain as perverse and unpopular as ever because social outlays are highly valued. We are told that current deficits are higher than they have ever been and will grow to unsustainable levels as overly generous entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare plunge the nation into deeper and deeper debt. If benefits provided by those unaffordable programs aren't cut soon, the nation is at risk of following Greece toward bankruptcy -- or at the very least, becoming more dangerously indebted to China. The only hope for salvaging a decent future for our children, supposedly, is a commitment to a smaller, more austere federal government. While the prospect of federal debt spiraling out of...

Reform Amid Fiscal Ruin

In some states, progressive leadership and grass-roots activism have turned crisis into opportunity for long-deferred tax reform.

As governor of New York, David Paterson has struggled to bring down a $3.2 billion deficit. (Flickr/Long Island Business News)
In October 2007, two months before the onset of the worst U.S. recession since the Great Depression, Maryland's Democratic governor, Martin O'Malley, convened a special session of his state's Democrat-controlled General Assembly in a high-stakes effort to close an unexpectedly large $1.7 billion budgetary shortfall. A central component of O'Malley's proposal was converting the state's flat income tax of 4.75 percent to a progressive system with higher brackets of 6 percent and 6.5 percent for upper-income households. At the same time, he advocated a combination of tax hikes on corporate income, sales, tobacco, and vehicle titles, along with reductions in taxes on property and the incomes of lower earners. The progressivity of O'Malley's plan was somewhat weakened as the negotiating process unfolded, largely through the interventions of legislators representing Montgomery County and its influential minority of multimillionaires. Nonetheless, the final budget reduced income taxes for...

"Strategic Deficit" Redux

Republicans create deficits to foil progressivism. Do we have to learn that lesson again?

President Ronald Reagan and Management and Budget Director David Stockman, Monday, Jan. 28, 1985 in Washington at a meeting on the deficit with business leaders from around the nation. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
President Ronald Reagan's budget director David Stockman coined the phrase "strategic deficit" to describe the usefulness of creating long-term budgetary shortfalls to undercut political support for governmental spending. As Stockman privately told Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1981, accruing large deficits "gives you an argument for cutting back programs that really weren't desired and giving you an argument against establishing new programs you don't really want." Moreover, strategic deficits can enable opponents of public investments to sound compassionate -- "We can't steal from our children to pay for our short-term desires." Of course, the enormity of today's deficit is, to a large extent, an outgrowth of the severe economic downturn, which depleted tax revenues while generating higher governmental spending as automatic safety-net stabilizers and the stimulus package kicked in -- responses that significantly softened the economic blow relative to what it otherwise would have...

The State Tax Wars

How have some states managed to raise taxes during a recession?

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (AP Photo/Don Ryan)
In July, Oregon's Democratic governor, Ted Kulongoski, and the state's Democratic legislature soaked the rich. They agreed on a budget that includes an income tax hike for married couples earning more than $250,000 a year and individuals making over $125,000. Corporations netting more than $250,000 annually also will pay higher taxes. At the same time, the Oregon legislature largely avoided the kind of draconian cuts to public services California approved at the insistence of its Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, even though Oregon has the second highest unemployment rate in the country and faced a huge budget gap of its own. The day after the legislature adjourned, Kulongoski said, "In a time when many states I know have gone backward, Oregon has the courage to look to the future. I will be the first to tell you I do not think Oregon is California." Still, the tax hikes could be challenged in a January statewide vote if 55,000 signatures are gathered by Sept. 25. If Oregon'...

Four Ways States Could Squander the Stimulus

Implementation of Obama's stimulus bill is largely in the hands of the state governments. Here are four ways they might derail it.

When President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) into law Feb. 17, he underscored how state governments would be largely responsible for implementing the legislation. Edward G. Rendell, the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and chair of the National Governors Association, said at the time: "All of us, whether we supported the bill wholeheartedly or whether we had questions about it, intend to be good stewards of the money we spend. All of us intend to do it in an effective and efficient way." While the stimulus bill has unquestionably eased some of America's economic pain just a few months after its enactment, already four main roadblocks have emerged that threaten the success of the legislation's state-focused aspects: state budget shortfalls; political dysfunction in many populous, economically important states; limited administrative capacity, exacerbated by budget cuts, at the state and local level; and state resistance to new...

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