Boris Ryvkin ’09: Brown students should worry about the Obama budget

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The budget proposed by the Obama administration for Fiscal Year 2010 should trouble every member of the Brown community. It is a declaration of a class war, the likes of which this country has not seen in decades. It also seeks a restructuring of the way America does business by placing the state in a position of perpetual economic dominance at the expense of the private sector.

The Obama budget sends a message to all hard-working, aspiring professionals: don’t aim too high and succeed too much. The stereotypical student at Brown seems not particularly bothered by this. Nevertheless, planning for one’s future is serious business. What you thought you would do now may prove totally unfeasible tomorrow. Therefore, it is important not to cut your options off at the knees and oppose policies that punish upward mobility.

The administration’s visceral hatred for the affluent, successful and entrepreneurial among us is expressed most vividly at two points in the budget summary. The President’s Message, which opens the document, condemns the “many on Wall Street” who irresponsibly chased profits and snubbed the public good. Borrowers who took on unaffordable mortgages were “inadequately informed of the risks and overwhelmed by fine print.” In other words, in order to correctly envisage the story of the credit crisis, one should picture a group of fat cat investors and bankers plotting the demise of the dupes on Main Street.

Whatever happened to two-way responsibility? If the borrower takes out a mortgage he knows he cannot afford because of inadequate income or the potential of a high interest rate, why take one out in the first place? The belief that Wall Street and Main Street can be clearly separated into good and evil, criminals and victims, is utter nonsense.

The section following the President’s Message continues the barrage. “Prudent investments in education, clean energy, healthcare, and infrastructure were sacrificed for huge tax cuts to the wealthy and well-connected.” I never knew that our options for improving any of these sectors were limited to two: allow them to collapse or inject capital from Washington.

Certainly no one would want to assign property rights to our infrastructure and have some bloke on Wall Street get three to four times the return, at half the cost, than what the state currently receives. We all know that without significant government intervention, or better yet control, we will continue to produce sub-standard students and have to tolerate people dying on the streets without health insurance. No alternatives between this black and white need be examined.

Then there is the hackneyed clarion call for a need to “restore a basic sense of fairness to the tax code, eliminating incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas, and giving a generous package of tax cuts to 95 percent of working families.” Translation? We aim to increase marginal tax rates on those already paying between 60 and 75 percent of all federal income taxes, punish companies taking advantage of economies of scale to control fixed costs and lower prices for consumers and give cash handouts to millions of people paying no federal income taxes at all. I have trouble understanding where fairness comes into play, but the melody of the rhetoric is soothing.

Obama’s budget targets families earning more than $250,000 and individuals earning over $200,000 for the brunt of the tax increases embedded in the budget. The Bush tax cuts will expire, which means an instant increase in federal income tax rates from 35 to 39.6 percent. These ingrates will also be hit with a 5 percent capital gains tax hike, reductions in personal exemptions and fewer deductions for charitable contributions (let’s say public good one more time!). Their wealth, justly carted away to Washington, will be spent toward a down-payment for nationalized healthcare, wasteful social welfare programs and the aforementioned handouts to non-filers.

Demonization of the rich is standard fare at Brown. Public service and a life of frugality is the ethos, the University default. The decent people are over here and the rich, exploitative, skunks on Wall Street are over there. The recent debate in the pages of The Herald over whether GPA matters underscores the attitude of some that what happens “out there” really does not affect me.

That might be fine and good now, but life changes people and forces them to make difficult decisions about their futures. I hope more members of the Brown community take heed, and do not let clichés and empty rhetoric blind them.

Boris Ryvkin ’09 is an economics and political science concentrator from New York City. He can be reached at Boris_Ryvkin(at)