When I was a good Catholic boy growing up in the early years of the Kennedy presidency — the grim world of the brothers wonderful — the most popular Broadway musical was “Camelot,” a fanciful take on the story of King Arthur. My mother played the songs constantly on our record player, and often while walking to school I found myself humming or singing Richard Burton’s opening lines. 

A law was made a distant moon ago here:

July and August cannot be too hot.

And there’s a legal limit to the snow here

In Camelot.

The winter is forbidden till December

And exits March the second on the dot.

order, summer lingers through September

In Camelot. 

I was reminded of that catchy tune, those sunny lyrics and their romantic idealization of the way life ought to be in the midst of a heated discussion about extending the so-called Bush tax cuts and the propriety of including filers in the highest income brackets.

There are those, I realized, who simply believe that things should be a certain way. And if they’re not well, just make a law.

Households earning more than $250,000 per year simply should not get a tax cut. They don’t need whatever extra they would pay, and they should recognize their obligation to help reduce our federal fiscal deficit. And if they don’t voluntarily agree to meet this obligation? Well, that’s why we should write the tax law to exclude them.

This same sense of idealistic propriety shows up on the production side of the equation.

Corporations should hire more workers instead of hoarding piles of cash while scheming to outsource jobs overseas.

Banks should lend more money to cash-strapped small businesses and struggling homeowners instead of pouring money into speculative Wall Street schemes, or, more realistically, just buying Treasury bonds to finance our ever-growing deficit.

All this hand wringing, finger shaking and partisan bickering is, in my view, an enormous waste of time and, more importantly, an even greater misallocation of political capital.

Having our political representatives and their media camp followers shouting at each other about what rich people should do with their money is about as effective as innkeepers arguing about what the temperature should be in July and August.

Of course it’s important, but so what? Hoping it won’t rain on the Fourth of July weekend, and proving conclusively to two decimals how much revenue will be lost if it does rain won’t make an iota of difference in the actual level of precipitation.

Following Richard Burton we know that, in Camelot, 

The rain may never fall till after sundown.

eight, the morning fog must disappear.

I know it gives a person pause,

But in Camelot, Camelot

Those are the legal laws. 

We don’t live in Camelot. We live in a world where increasing marginal tax rates on those with the means to move their money will naturally lead to most of them moving their money.

Rates go up, but revenues don’t. It would be nice if they did; it would be fair; it would be “good.” But it’s just not very likely to happen.

While King Arthur might not have recognized this reality, President Kennedy did. He cut taxes, and revenues didn’t fall, they rose.

Instead of wasting our political energy arguing about what ought to be, we would be far better served by allocating our political capital to more fundamental problems like throwing out the monumentally confusing, astoundingly unfair and utterly inefficient tax code in its entirety — eliminating the loopholes that are the foundation of truly “unfair” wealth — and building a simple and predictable fiscal system that will allow us to join as a nation and face our problems squarely.

Camelot may seem glorious in theory, but remember that in the end, Richard Burton (King Arthur) morphed into Marc Antony, ran off with Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) and left the kingdom in ruin.

Charles Lawton is senior economist for Planning Decisions, a public policy research firm. He can be reached at:

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