In several forums, CIP has argued
that before the United States makes a larger commitment to Colombia, we should
first see greater sacrifice from the wealthiest 10 percent of Colombians. In
particular, the richest Colombians must pay more taxes. In one of the worldâ€™s
most unequal countries, only the top income brackets have the resources Colombiaâ€™s
government needs in order to end the war, establish the rule of law, and make
neglected conflict zones economically viable.
As you might imagine, Colombiaâ€™s business community disagrees strongly with
us. Using arguments reminiscent of the domestic U.S. debate over the Bush tax
cuts, they contend that taking more from the wealthiest will stifle investment
and retard economic growth. The best way to raise money for Colombiaâ€™s defense
and governance needs, our opponents argue, is to demand less sacrifice and eliminate
trade barriers, which will spur economic growth, which will lead to higher tax
Those who support this idea of a â€œsupply side warâ€ in Colombia have been pointing
to the countryâ€™s rosy macroeconomic prospects. GDP growth was expected to exceed
4 percent this year, allowing Colombia to whittle away at its very high deficit.
This forecast growth rate still lags behind Latin America as a whole, which
is expected to grow 4.7 percent this year, href="http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:20282028~isCURL:Y~menuPK:34467~pagePK:64003015~piPK:64003012~theSitePK:4607,00.html" target="_blank">according
to the World Bank. (Colombiaâ€™s largest newspaper, El Tiempo, meanwhile,
estimates that 5 percent growth is in fact needed to guarantee a lasting drop
However, this weekâ€™s news indicates that even 4 percent growth isnâ€™t likely.
Due to â€œa decline in consumer demand,â€ GDP grew only 2.43 percent during
the third quarter of 2004, compared with a year earlier. This rate, the lowest
since mid-2003 and less than 1 percent above population growth, was far lower
than expected. The news, according to an El Tiempo href="http://eltiempo.terra.com.co/opinion/reda/2004-12-08/ARTICULO-WEB-_NOTA_INTERIOR-1918429.html" target="_blank">editorial,
hit â€œlike a bucket of cold water.â€
Less growth means projected tax revenue will be less, which means that Colombia
will have to borrow more even to meet its existing commitments. The Treasury
Ministry href="http://www.vanguardia.com/2004/12/8/eco2.htm" target="_blank">foresees
spending cuts and a need to go back to Congress in March for more money â€“ deficit
spending, though the deficit is already too high â€“ to cover expenses.
This bad economic news makes it even less likely that Colombia is going to
have the resources it needs for courts, schools, hospitals and roads â€“ or for
helicopters, planes and special-forces units, for that matter. While U.S. aid
can help, the current rate of $700-750 million a year â€“ whether mostly military
or mostly economic â€“ is just a drop in the bucket.
Which takes us back to our original conclusion. Thereâ€™s no such thing as a
supply-side war. Fighting a war â€“ as well as â€œnation-buildingâ€ in areas where
the state has never been â€“ is essentially a socialistic exercise. It requires
a government to take a big share of resources out of the economy and redirect
them toward an important national goal: in this case, ending the conflict and
guaranteeing that it doesnâ€™t flare up again.
That is going to have to be done with mostly Colombian resources. Which means,
again, that the wealthiest Colombians are going to have to pay more taxes.