History shows that deficit reduction works best when most of the burden falls on spending cuts. That means that middle-class entitlements will have to be reduced, no matter what Mr Obama tells his supporters. But, just as in every other budget squeeze, a portion must come from higher taxes, no matter what the Republicans say.
Democrats say only the top 1% need pay more; that’s misleading. Others will have to pay too. But more of the increase should be shouldered by the rich who have done so well from recent trends. Technological change and globalisation have sharpened demand for the most skilled workers...thus sharply increasing inequality. Tax policy has exacerbated this trend instead of mitigating it. George Bush junior slashed top income-tax rates as well as rates on dividends and capital gains, which explains why Warren Buffett and Mr Romney have such low tax rates.
However, restoring the top income tax rates, as Mr Obama proposes, is not the best way of extracting extra revenue from the rich. It would raise revenues of about 0.3% of GDP and do nothing to make America’s grotesquely complicated tax system more efficient. It would be far better to close or limit loopholes and deductions, currently worth up to 7% of GDP, which distort behaviour (by, for example, encouraging people to take out big mortgages) and mostly benefit the affluent.