“Imheleet,” my Camel, seemed to know his way around the sand dunes of the Western Sahara. My bonding with him was just one of the many unusual experiences I had on a recent two-week trip to Morocco. Casablanca, Fez, Marrakesh -- we covered all these ancient cities -- from Rick’s Café to the Roman ruins.
Morocco is a refreshing place to visit considering all that we read in the press about the turmoil in most Muslim countries. The king, a direct descendant of Mohammed, is a graduate of both Princeton and Stanford and his wife has a degree in computer science. Staying several steps ahead of the Arab Spring, he has adopted a series of liberal policies recently -- not the least of which is a newly-elected government. The signs of wealth are everywhere -- at least in the cities -- but I was struck by the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” A typical city scene will be a string of luxury German cars waiting for a stoplight while a donkey pulling a two-wheeled cart trundles by.
It wasn’t that long ago when our country had a similar huge gap between social classes. The 1962 book “The Other America” illustrated the extent to which 20 percent of our population was living in abject poverty with what seemed like no way out. We’d still be there today, like Morocco, if it hadn’t been for Lyndon Johnson.
With time to kill between stops, I read Robert Caro’s “The Passage of Power” about Johnson becoming president and his effectiveness at pushing through Kennedy legislation that had been going nowhere. Many will be surprised to learn that the first law President Johnson enacted was a tax cut. Kennedy had believed that high taxes were throttling growth, and he proposed an $11 billion tax cut to stimulate the economy. The additional taxes resulting from more jobs would more than offset the missing $11 billion. At the same time, the budget of $107 billion (quaint compared to today’s numbers) had to be cut to something less than $100 billion to placate Republicans who were obsessed with a balanced budget. To make that cut happen, Johnson, for example, told the post office that they couldn’t have 5,000 more employees and that their current people would just have to work harder. Johnson cut the final budget number to $98 billion. With that, he was able to pass his tax cut AND the civil rights bill.
I should hasten to add that the top tax rate in 1964 was 91 percent. The “cut” reduced it to 70 percent. A few years later, the top rate descended to 50 percent. But then, during the Reagan administration, taxes were increased seven times including a doubling of Social Security taxes -- the latter being the largest tax increase in the country’s history. The lesson in all this is to never take politics too seriously. Today’s dogma for one party can become tomorrow’s watchword for the opposition.
Thinking back on my own upbringing during an era when taxes were apparently at an all-time high, I don’t recall being at all deprived. I don’t even remember my parents gnashing their teeth over taxes they had to pay. We enjoyed a nice middle-class life with whatever we had after taxes, and all it meant was the challenge of having to save money every time we turned around.
Regardless of who becomes our next president, taxes are sure to go up. To put things into perspective, remember that today’s tax rates are at an all-time low. Moreover, what they buy still represents the best value in the world. All you have to do to appreciate that fact is take a trip to a fledgling democracy where a major part of the population is still illiterate, earning nothing with no safety net, and where critical decisions still rest with a king.