Monday, November 07, 2011

Busting the budget myths

Robert Samuelson is right about some of this:
The conservatives’ fiction is: We can reduce deficits and cut taxes by eliminating “wasteful spending.”

The liberals’ fiction is: We can subdue deficits and raise social spending by taxing “the rich” and shrinking the bloated Pentagon.

You will notice one similarity. Both suggest that reducing deficits involves little real pain. No one, after all, favors “wasteful spending.” Similarly, taxing “the rich” doesn’t threaten most people who aren’t rich. Liberals and conservatives alike can reconcile all good things: fiscal rectitude (for both), tax cuts (for conservatives) and high social spending (for liberals). I wish it were so.

It isn’t.

I've said some of this before...
There are trade-offs that have to be made at the national level, too. If we want a cradle-to-grave welfare system, guess what? It has to be paid for. And there's not enough money in the pockets of the "rich" to pay for it all. So poll results like the above CNN poll are not useful. They're not helpful. They offer a bunch of a la carte options that people can't actually simultaneously get. They present "or" choices as "ands." You can have a cradle-to-grave welfare state which provides all things for all people OR you can have low middle class tax rates and economic freedom. One or the other. Not both. The math doesn't work.

That all remains true.

And the second of his fictions, the liberals' fiction, appear to me to be dead-on accurate. As near as I can tell, the left in this country has no other argument, no other position than raising taxes on "the rich" and the only cutting they are willing to contemplate is the military budget.

But I don't think that the conservatives' fiction is accurate. At least, it's not accurate in the way those terms are usually used. Do conservatives really believe that you can reduce the deficits simply by cutting "wasteful" spending?

I don't.

At least, not in the way that the term "wasteful" spending is usually used. "Wasteful," in common political parlance, refers to the anecdotal $500 hammers, the "waste and abuse" of the Medicare system, spending that is allocated for useful purpose and then gets lost or spent badly. There is, I suspect, far too much of the taxpayers' money that's squandered in that way, but it's unlikely to be enough to close the current deficits.

And that isn't the problem that most conservatives have with Government spending. The problem is not the money that the Government is "wastefully" spending on things that it should be doing. The problem is all of the money spent, "wastefully" or efficiently, on things that the Government shouldn't be doing at all. I don't want an "efficient" Federal Department of Education - I want the Federal Government out of the Education business entirely. I don't want to crack down on "fraud and abuse" in Federally guaranteed student loan programs - I want the Government out of the student loan business entirely. I don't want to crack down on "fraud and abuse" in Federally guaranteed mortgage programs - I want the Government out of the mortgage business entirely. I don't want to crack down on "fraud and abuse" in Federal health care programs - I want the Government out of the health care business entirely.

You see, the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars doesn't result from the Federal Government "wasting" money on things that it should be doing. It comes from the Federal Government spending money on things that it should not be doing. Spending money on things that not only don't benefit the private sector, and the general welfare, but actively impede and obstruct it.

We, as a nation, would be a lot better off if all politicians would be bound by the Hippocratic oath - "first, do no harm..."

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