Government Spending

Tiny Cuts, Big Complaints

Republicans and Democrats squabble over crumbs as the layer cake of debt keeps rising.

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In the context of federal spending that will total something like $3.8 trillion this year, $61 billion is a rounding error. Yet the Democrats resisting that amount in House-approved cuts say it will wreck the economy while leaving children unschooled, taking food from the mouths of the elderly, and casting disabled people into the streets.

Laughter is the only appropriate response to such predictions. In these absurd times, when both parties quibble over crumbs while the layer cake of debt rises higher and higher, laughter is a mark of fiscal seriousness.

How else should one greet a New York Times editorial that concedes the federal deficit, projected to be $1.6 trillion this year, is "too large for comfort" but calls $61 billion in cuts "ruinous"? Or a press release from the Every Child Matters Education Fund that deems them "harsh" and "extreme"?

The cuts represent less than 2 percent of the total budget, less than 4 percent of the deficit, and less than 5 percent of discretionary spending, which rose in real terms by 75 percent from 2000 to 2010 and by about 9 percent in each of the last two fiscal years. If the House-approved reductions would be "the largest one-year cuts in history," as the folks at Every Child Matters say, that is a sad commentary not on Republican cold-heartedness but on the fiscal incontinence of both parties.

This week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) highlighted that tendency. "Do we want jobs?" he asked. "If we do, then we simply cannot pass the plan the Tea Party has already pushed through the House."

This argument got a boost last month from a projection by Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. By Zandi's reckoning, "The House Republicans' proposal…would shave almost half a percentage point from real GDP growth in 2011 and another 0.2 percentage point in 2012," which "would mean some 400,000 fewer jobs created by the end of 2011 and 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of 2012."

At $174,000 a year per job, that does not seem like such a good deal. But if we assume, as Reid apparently does, that money is no object, why not raise federal spending by $2.4 trillion a year, thereby creating 13.7 million jobs and eliminating unemployment altogether?

The answer, presumably, is that the resources diverted to the government's job factory, in terms of new debt and future taxes needed to pay it off, can be better employed elsewhere, creating value instead of make-work. But in that case, we should stop worrying about the jobs "lost" when government spending is cut.

A more sophisticated version of this argument, favored by President Obama, distinguishes between wasteful government spending and "job-creating investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure." The problem with trusting the government to invest our money is that it faces no penalty for making bad calls.

Consider education spending, which Obama treats as an unalloyed good. Between 1961-62 and 2006-07, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education, per-pupil spending in public schools more than tripled in real terms, while student achievement stagnated. This was a "job-creating investment" only in the sense that it created jobs for public school teachers.

Picking up the president's investment theme, The New York Times says it's "obfuscating nonsense" to declare that "we're broke," as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) likes to do. "A country with a deficit is not necessarily any more 'broke' than a family with a mortgage or a college loan," the Times explains.

Suppose the mortgage is twice the home's current value, the college loan was used for an unfinished degree in anthropology, and the family cannot make payments on either without borrowing or stealing because it has no income of its own. Now this family looks more like the federal government. Whether we call it "broke" or not, no one should be lending it any more money until it gets its house in order.

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist.

© Copyright 2011 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. Good morning reason!

  2. If you allow a small cut now, you may have to face a larger one later. Best to establish cuts = death now.

      1. Great. Now I’m hungry for cake.

  3. Great. Now I’m hungry for cake.

  4. One can only laugh, so after the biggest increase in spending ever, some argue against cuts because they are the biggest ever in history.

    1. This is just more of the same tired old politics which got the USA into this mess in the first place.

      Politicans don’t want any restraint on how they can purchase people’s votes with other people’s money, says Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute in his seminal article about Switzerland’s restraint. http://danieljmitchell.wordpre…..restraint/

  5. A billion seconds is about 32 years. A trillion seconds is about 32,000 years. Kinda puts billion vs trillion in perspective. Also puts in perspective how incredibly broke the US is and how there is absolutely zero chance that this country can avert complete financial ruin at this point.

    1. Zero chance? Then why not lie back and enjoy it?

      1. Who are you, Clayton Williams?

      2. Bruce is correct, so are you, so I am.

      3. Let me know if Connie likes it any more when you say it…

  6. What the [hell], this thread is [appropriate] enough for it:

    Paul Ryan Uses This Chilling [Presentation] In The Push For Budget Cuts

    1. Yeah that’s interesting. But, Jaysus, some of those commenters’ Thorazine titers are bottoming out.

      1. It’s amazing how it goes from fiscal insolvency to Truther conspiracy theories in about 2 posts. Just insane.

  7. I think public choice theorists are spot on here. To the people who benefit from government programs the benefit is large, for any general taxpayer the cost to them for any given individual program is not so big (though the combined costs are considerable). The former will fight like mad to not have their program cut while the latter has less incentive to care as much in opposition. Squeaky wheel gets the grease but soon we can’t afford grease.

    1. we can’t afford grease

      Go, get the butter.

      1. FWIW, incidentally, she just died a couple weeks ago. The world mourns.

      2. “Go, get the butter.”

        KY would be more appropriate.

        1. Granted, there are plenty of Paris apartments with a supply of KY but I guaran-dam-tee you they all have butter.

    2. Sometimes the squeaky wheel just gets replaced.

  8. leaving children unschooled, taking food from the mouths of the elderly, and casting disabled people into the streets

    Why aren’t libertarians ‘?’ their platform?

    1. Rather writes in incomplete sentences that no sense.

      1. OM, they require heed

        1. rather, you require sense.

          Let’s cut to the chase: What the fuck are you talking about?

    2. Don’t forget those poor, poor cowboy poets.

      1. You mean like the Midnight Cowboy?

        1. we are all cowboys on the other side of midnight

  9. This was a “job-creating investment” only in the sense that it created jobs for public school teachers.

    Right, good dues-paying, government-supporting union jobs. What’s not to love?

  10. Nero lives on.

  11. Here’s the point Jacob: You don’t cut government spending during a time of massive unemployment. In such times (and we are still living in such times) you need to restore aggregate demand (by spending or tax cuts) until you’ve reduced unemployment. The time to cut spending (or raise taxes) is during the “good times” of full employment. I’ll grant you the discipline hasn’t been there in such times.

    It is quite possible to have the feds boost aggregate demand in a way that doesn’t particularly “grow government” but libertarians seem to want to obscure this fact. For example, through tax cuts (such as a payroll tax holiday) or for road repair (how does employing private contractors to repair roads increase the size of government?).

    There is no reason, in a nation with a fiat currency, to have 9% unemployment (and we all know the true number is higher than that).

    It is the Republican’s dim perception that what I am saying is true (through their experience in government, probably) that makes them pull back from even larger cuts at a time like this.

    1. The time to cut spending (or raise taxes) is during the “good times” of full employment. I’ll grant you the discipline hasn’t been there in such times.

      Have you considered the possibility that [taxing] and [spending] are enough of a drag on the economy to be causing bad times to continue?

      1. Taxes are pretty low now (income taxes). Just wait until 2013 my friend.

        And how could spending possibly be a drag on the economy? This is what your standard libertarian, and clearly most Reasonoids, just doesn’t get.

        Every dollar added to deficit through federal spending is exactly one dollar put into the private sector. Example: pay a contractor $1 to fix a road. That $1 is now in the contractor’s pocket, he pays his workers, and they buy coffee and sandwiches. And people now have jobs at the coffee and sandwich shop.

        Conversely, every dollar in surplus is a dollar extracted from private sector wealth.

        This is fundamentally, axiomatically true.

        1. Well using this fundamentally, axiomatically true logic, why not keep on increasing the deficit then, it will keep on adding jobs to the private sector.

        2. Money is not wealth.

        3. Again you’re just quoting intro level text book material. Read an actual study on the effects of government spending and economic growth. They find the actual multiplier to be around .8, which means that for every dollar the government spends we get about 80 cents return. That’s right, we lose 20 cents on the transaction. This is due to crownding out of private business and distortions in the market from government interference. There is also the fact that every dollar borrowed now is a dollar plus interest that has to be paid back with future taxes; that eats into growth and future budgets.
          Anyway, I don’t have the time or space to mount a full takedown of your assertions. Just look at actual real life history and studies and you will see very quickly and clearly that you are wrong.

          1. Neither do I Mr. Simple. But go to Mosler’s site (which I linked below) and read the mandatory readings there to see how much of what you know to be true just isn’t so. Also, he’s got his book Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds linked there in .pdf form for free download. That’s a must read for all of you guys.

            Mosler is a hedge fund manager, a successful capitalist, and has a fundamental understanding of the operational workings of the federal reserve and our banking system. Unlike a bunch of guys sitting around reading Reason.com and bloviating from their keyboards.

            1. Seriously, Mosler? That’s like bringing a banana to a gun fight. What a bunch of pseudo-intellectual nonsense. Pretty telling that JK Galbraith endorses him.

              1. as well as tea party founders and leaders michael johns and michael patrick leahy

            2. “Successful capitalist” is not the same thing as being successful in a free market. Capitalism is just taking advantage of the existing situation. You could be a capitalist in North Korea, if you know what you’re doing.

          2. Your multiplier is way too high.

            Barro’s work shows it is nowhere near .8 and for non-war spending may actually be zero (its within the error bars).

            1. I may not be familiar with Barro’s work, his name is not instantly recognizable to me, so thanks for the tip. I was using .8 as the general max of what I have seen.

              1. Just from a quick googling (btw, Robert Barro is a Harvard econ prof), Barro’s does have the defense multiplier getting higher than .8. The multiplier rises with unemployment, so at an employment rate of 12%, the DEFENSE multiplier reaches 1. Its between .6 and .7 at normal unemployment levels.

                The non-defense multiplier is much lower.

            2. .8 sounds like a reasonable upper limit return for public subsidized roads. Other things may very well be negative. I base this on nothing.

          3. Well said, Mr. Simple.

            Draco lives in fantasy land.

            Of course, common sense also tells us that Draco’s little fairy tale is nonsense.

        4. This is fundamentally, axiomatically true.

          No, it isn’t. It just seems that way to you because you don’t understand economics.

          1. Every dollar added to deficit through federal spending is exactly one dollar put into the private sector.

            OK, strictly speaking this is true IF the dollar is newly created (not borrowed) – and even then, only if it is intended to mean nothing more than the trivial observation that the creation of the new dollar increases the money supply by one dollar.

            1. Sometimes (as Einstein and others have discovered) trivial observations consistently pursued can lead to breakthroughs in thought.

              Here’s the way it works: first government spends. That’s where the money comes from. That is how, for decades now, money gets into the private sector. Then government taxes or borrows what it does not spend, to maintain interest rates and prevent inflation. That’s it in a nutshell.

              Yes, the government creates the money (mostly electronically). It doesn’t have to be dug out of a gold mine somewhere.

              1. Here’s the way it works: first government spends. That’s where the money comes from. That is how, for decades now, money gets into the private sector. Then government taxes or borrows what it does not spend, to maintain interest rates and prevent inflation. That’s it in a nutshell.

                There are so many thugs wrong with this statement I don’t even know where to start. I’ll just say this, an increase in the money supply relative to the amount of goods incirculation is, by definition, inflation.

                1. @ mr simple

                  People don’t think of it that way (the way I stated it), but it’s factually – operationally! – correct. It’s what actually happens in reality. When government spends to give Granny a SS check, it marks up her account at her bank. Money has just been created. Legal tender. Fully spendable by Granny. Pure, 100% US dollars.

                  The funny thing is that Bernanke has actually “slipped” a few times and explained this himself. I’d have to work a bit to dig up a reference.

                  Taxation is not necessary to “get” money to spend. It is necessary to prevent ruinous inflation – and of course, the egalitarians also use it at the same time to redistribute wealth.

              2. Holy fuck – the government doesn’t have any money because it doesn’t actually produce anything. Every dollar the government puts into the economy it first has to take out of another part of the economy. Thinking that government can grow the economy by taking money out of one part and putting it into another is like thinking you can make a swimming pool more full by taking water out of one end and putting it into the other end.

              3. So who am I going to believe, you and the democrats-liberals or my lying eyes?

                First you have to be able to distinguish between wealth and money and then between the difference between allocation and misallocation of assets.

                Now how about the feds selling off federal land to raise capital to fund the entitlement state. it’s the more honest way of financing the entitlement sector.

                1. Now how about the feds selling off federal land to raise capital to fund the entitlement state.

                  Amusingly enough, Andrew Jackson–a Democrat–did this very thing to pay down the deficit.

              4. first government spends

                wrong. It has to steal (tax), defraud (inflate) or borrow before it can spend. So spending can’t be first.

        5. The government spends money to raise the domestic price of sugar above the world price. How does that help the economy, since we’re not just transferring money from consumers of sugar to producers but spending money too?

          Say we kept the import quotas but dropped the guaranteed price floor by a cent a pound. How would that hurt the economy?

          You’re aggregating all government spending together, but surely you can admit that at least some of it has so much deadweight loss it hurts the economy.

          1. Of course I agree with you on that Thacker. See, this is what prevents you guys from fully grappling with this argument (and I see it all the time from libertarians – and I used to do it myself). You read what I have to say, make all kinds of unwarranted assumptions about what I didn’t say, and then argue about that.

            I’m completely against price supports. I’m for fixing the damned roads (after this winter, you should get out and see the shape they’re in), and cutting people’s taxes, giving them more to spend – in a nation with real unemployment at something like 18%. How is that unreasonable? I think that (outside a completely anarchist fairy tale) you realize that I’m not being unreasonable.

            1. You read what I have to say, make all kinds of unwarranted assumptions about what I didn’t say, and then argue about that.

              We were talking about finding a tiny $61B in cuts out of a $3T budget. You’re the one who changed the subject to “this isn’t the time to cut spending at all” and then argued about that.

              I’ll grant that under your Keynesian framework there are some things that it wouldn’t make sense to cut right now. But $61B in cuts would be easy to find through things like price support programs (loans with sugar as collateral that can be forfeited at a fixed price) that you agree have less than 1 or even negative multipliers.

              You’re the one who is either changing the subject, or insisting that we can’t even find trivial cuts in the current budget. It’s unreasonable for you to treat tiny $61B in cuts the same as a proposal to cut $600B from the deficit in terms of finding “free” things to cut that wouldn’t hurt the economy.

            2. Of course I agree with you on that Thacker.

              When your response to proposals to cut spending by a trivial $61B is “now is not the time to cut spending” and you focus entirely on that rather than mentioning truly wasteful programs that could be cut, I think I’m justified in wondering whether or not you agree.

              I gave you room to clarify that you would be okay with cutting truly wasteful programs that actually do harm the economy, even by the most dyed-in-the-wool Keynesian analysis. I am not going to engage in the argument about whether the entire $1,600,000,000,000 deficit could be eliminated through cutting those programs. I simply ask you if it’s possible to make this $61,000,000,000 number by cutting such inefficient programs.

              If so, then the correct response to the Republican proposal is to suggest better cuts, if possible.

              When you make a hysterical approach to even the smallest of cuts, and Democrats do as well but then “compromise” by going “halfway,” then it becomes clear that Republicans should just automatically ask for as much as possible, and even twice of what they really want, since Democrats and you will yell just as loud either way, and the end result will be getting half no matter what.

              1. Ok, to be clear my tirade is launched not against the $61B in cuts, but against the typical libertarian (and Reason.com) argument that these don’t go anywhere near far enough. If you went “far enough” you’d see another massive recession, because you’d gut aggregated demand.

                1. So let’s swap the massive recession with massive inflation?

                2. If you went “far enough” you’d see another massive recession, because you’d gut aggregated demand.

                  Yeah, just like what happened in 1946 when spending was cut 75%!

                3. So if we simply did not borrow 1.6 trillion and spent only what was collected in taxes your assertion is the recession would be worse for the tax payers? Seriously do you advocate borrowing these unimaginable sums for for what, NPR, farm subsidies, union subsidies, welfare and assorted nonsense?

        6. Taxes are pretty low now (income taxes). Just wait until 2013 my friend.

          Tax burden on employing individuals to work for you is at an historical high in terms of the human race even after temporary payroll deductions are accounted.

      2. Of course, everything I’ve said applies in an economy with less than full employment. Which is where we are. Just wanted to clarify that.

        1. I think you are also forgetting that government has NO money of its own. So it is in effect taking money from the private sector in the first place just to “give it back” to the public via construction jobs, education, welfare, etc.

          1. Yep, and it only has three ways to do it:

            1. Tax, in which it takes a dollar to spend a dollar.

            2. Borrow, in which it takes a dollar to spend a dollar.

            3. Create, in which it makes a dollar to spend a dollar. However, this is exactly equivalent to a tax on wealth, as it lessens the value of every other dollar, so this goes back to case 1.

            In no case is there a net gain. And considering Barro’s research, its a net loss after considering 2nd order terms (multiplier).

            1. The mistake Draco and similar folk dont conside risk is opportunity cost.

              Any dollar not taxed is going to be saved or invested. And dollar not borrowed is going to be saved or invested. The only way Keynesianism “works” (its still fucking immoral even if it did work, which Draco doesnt consider, because he is a fucking vile, evil utilitarian apparently) is if they are spending at a way that creats a multiplier higher than private spending does. And Barro’s research says “No fucking way”.

              In fact, the only government action with a positive mulitplier is tax cuts. It turns out that putting the dollar back in the hands of the person who earning it has a positive multiplier. So, in reverse of Keynesianism, the key in down times is to give massive tax cuts and spend less.

              1. “conside risk” is actually “consider is”

              2. “saved or invested” is “spent or invested”. Both times. Saving == Investing, my brain was cramping apparently.

                1. where does creating “capital” fit into the above?

              3. Wait a minute, you’re saying we don’t spend ourselves out of debt? Heresy!

              4. “vile, evil utilitarian”

                Robc, I really do resent that. We can debate the morality of fiat currency and Keynesianism another day. I’m trying to make the best of what we are facing today. You’d be surprised how much we agree on much of the rest of it.

                1. I know we agree on most things other than monetary policy, but I wont take back what I said about utilitarians.

                  Utilitarianism is evil incarnate. It excuses anything and everything.

                  I’m trying to make the best of what we are facing today.

                  Be moral. That is the best way. If you support a utilitarian approach, you arent making the best of what we face today.

                  I notice you havent responded to any of my Barro related posts – Im even calling out your attempts at utilitarianism. As he points out, the best multiplier is with tax cuts.

          2. Careful: – what you have said is not strictly correct. Monetary cranks like Draco (and JM Keynes) ‘win’ arguments by confusing money with real wealth.

            The government has as much money as it likes, since it has acquired a monopoly of money creation.

            It has no real wealth but that which it takes from the productive economy.

    2. I’ll grant you the discipline hasn’t been there in such times.

      OK, so we grant that it’s only politically possible to cut spending and raise taxes when it’s economically infeasible to do so. That makes your proposal at least as untethered to reality, so what does that leave?

      Perhaps Keynesian budget management was an interesting idea when first proposed. After 90 years of experimentation has demonstrated that it’s politically infeasible, perhaps you have to settle for second best.

      There’s no reason for us to be paying interest on excess reserves.

    3. I see someone has taken a macro 101 course. I’ll give you a tip: they teach Keynes because it’s easy. After you move past that you’ll find that most of what you learned there is nonsense. There is no magic multiplier. Government cannot positively affect the economy. Mises’ Economic Policy and Hayek’s Road to Serfdom are easy reads to start with if you care about educating youself.

      1. Forget it, I’ve given up. Keynesianism is a hopeless cult of invincible ignorance.

        1. No, Mike. Please don’t be so patronizing. I’ve been where you guys are, and I’ve been reading Mises, Hayek, Rand, Rothbard, etc. for many, many years. What I’ve discovered recently is that neo-Keynesianism is a correct model in a fiat currency regime.

          Wake up. We are not on a commodity currency. Much of what you think to be true just isn’t, therefore.

          Explore http://www.moslereconomics.com to learn more.

          1. Its not patroning. You are just fucking wrong. Keynesianism (neo or otherwise) is bullshit, period.

          2. You are not even a neo-Keynesianism, I had a look at your site, arguing for unbound debt is beyond any neo-X school of thought.

          3. The validity of the Austrian-School analysis of monetary inflation and it’s consequences does not depend on the existence of a commodity money.

            The relevant difference between fiat and commodity money is simply that the government doesn’t have a machine that can create arbitrarily large amounts of (for example) gold.

            Thus, governments aiming at inflation must use their coercive power to break any link between money and gold, i.e. by legal tender laws combined with debasement of coinage, devaluation of convertible paper money (“increasing the price of gold”) or establishing a pure fiat currency.

          4. Only, if the desire is a Chemostatic economy.

            For those without knowledge of what a chemostat is. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemostat

          5. The Chartalist is back

      2. “Government cannot positively affect the economy.”

        Of course it can, by providing certain basic infrastructure (sewer lines, roads, well-kept public facilities for administration and recreation, law enforcement, etc.) as a true public goods. That creates the conditions for the private sector to flourish.

        The problem we have at present is the left side of America thinks that since a little of that nutritional vitamin is a good thing, a five gallon bucket of it must be a great thing.

        1. Yes, but all of these things are woefully underfunded. Obviously the only solution is to let the government tax everyone at a rate of 50% so they, in their benevolence, can provide the pretty shiny things to us.

    4. Right. And all that New Deal spending really alleviated unemployment during the Great Depression.

      1. Just curious, were people who were working for the CCC or WPA or like programs still counted as unemployed? Anyone know?

        1. Just curious, were people who were working for the CCC or WPA or like programs still counted as unemployed? Anyone know?

          Robert Higgs claims that the official measure did NOT count them as employed.

        2. Since the stated goal of the WPA was to employ people on “relief”, I’m sure workers under WPA counted as employed (otherwise they would continue to recieve “relief”). Same probably goes for CCC, but I have no sources to cite.

    5. You don’t even cut extremely wasteful government spending with a lot of deadweight loss, Draco? You really think that *all* government spending has the same great multiplier?

      You can’t balance the budget on waste, certainly not. But can you find $61B of waste in a $2.5T budget? Probably so.

      1. I’m all for cutting waste. I’ve just given you guys a program, and you are blithely ignoring it: cut taxes and fix the damned roads (and bury power lines, whatever). Aggregate demand restored. Full employment. Government is not bigger. But go ahead and ignore that.

        I can’t stand the liberals and their programs. They are wasteful and stupid – and very often downright harmful. But, the principle of boosting aggregate demand through spending is correct. In my view, we need the Republicans to take measures to keep aggregate demand high but which does not increase the size and scope of government.

        1. But, the principle of boosting aggregate demand through spending is correct.

          No, it is completely fallacious. The only thing this can possibly do is creat another bubble to take the place of the one that just burst. This is completely unsustainable. It is impeding the actual recovery of the economy. The government cannot soundly choose winners and losers as they have no idea what the myriad wants and needs are of every individual or how those will affect the aggregate. This results in a misallocation of funds. All government interference in the market creates unsustainable distortions that give false signals and hurt the economy. This entire recession, bubble burst was caused by the very thing you espouse. If you are too dense to see his and understand the writings of Mises, Hayek, et al. then there is nothing I can do for you.

        2. To quote the former Deputy Minister of Finance and Governor of the Bank of Canada:

          Bullshit

        3. fix the damned roads (and bury power lines, whatever).

          Break some windows

        4. I’m all for cutting waste. I’ve just given you guys a program, and you are blithely ignoring it: cut taxes and fix the damned roads (and bury power lines, whatever).

          You’re program is curiously like that of the Democrats: claim that you’re for cutting waste, but propose only additional spending, while warning that cutting *any* spending will be disastrous.

          Perhaps I’ve missed the part where you’ve called for redirecting some of the government spending into more efficient areas, and you also mean that as well.

          1. You argue in good faith Thacker – always. I appreciate that.

            But how is my program identical with the Democrats’? When are they for tax cuts? When are they for restricting additional spending to real honest-to goodness infrastructure? (Not including bullshit high speed trains!)

            Look: you are paying these people not to work already. Right? How many months/years have they been collecting unemployment compensation?

            And you’re paying them to keep them spending at the grocery stores and the iPad stores and the gas stations, and, basically, so they can stay alive in relative comfort and not start a bloody revolution. Would it not be slightly better to train them and employ them to: repave roads, build new roads, bury power lines, lay cable, fix beach erosion, cut fire breaks, etc. etc. etc.?

            Again, you do this only until full employment is restored. And you have to work out the details of how you transition them back into the private labor force – I’ll leave that to the pros.

            I’m not for a centrally planned economy. I’d love a very, very small government sector (if any). But I’m also not for wasting resources and money paying people unemployment comp instead of paying them to improve the country.

            1. So, (no snark) if I understand you correctly, you are basically advocating that instead of just giving unemployed people a check every week, we make them work for that check?

              If that IS what you’re saying, I don’t necessarily disagree with you on the premise that my tax dollars are already paying them. However, the materials cost money too and we don’t have the funds to pay for those without raising taxes or slashing spending elsewhere.

              And don’t forget that the unions won’t be too happy with you for putting unemployed people to work on their projects.

              1. The real weakness in Draco’s position is it’s unworkability. Washington doesn’t have two spigots – good spend and bad spend. They have one spigot: look out below.

                Another problem is the false reality that we’re going to fix the roads by funneling money to the private sector, without growing government. Right. No government managers. No new auditors. That doesn’t conform with my experience at all.

      2. Exactly. The Keynesian multiplier argument is the equivalent of saying that all private investments should have identical returns.

        1. Well, what would you expect when all private investment is aggregated in one big I?

          All consumption, aggregated in one big C, also has identical utility.

          As for G, who knows what it is good for.

    6. Most government workers should be shit canned!

    7. What we are experiencing is structural, not cyclical. We can debate whether or not Keynesian theory works for cyclical downturns, but it clearly is not the answer for structural one. When an economy is facing structural problems, then the necessary cure is restructuring. Attempting to apply the usual Keynesian deficit spending band-aid will only make a bad situation worse – which is exactly what we are seeing.

      A structural approach is what is needed for fiscal policy. Incremental little cuts here and there won’t do it. What we need is to look at the whole thing and come up with a big, long-term federal fiscal restructuring. All of the posturing and game playing going on right now is a waste of time, and time is not on our side.

  12. I’ve been interested in politics more than in recent years because I see room for real progress now. Why? They’re rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It sank anyhow, of course. So I’m intrigued because the iceberg is so starkly visible this time. Can they turn the wheel in time? Very interesting news-cycle, for the first time in a long time. I worried over this loudly circa Reagan, and I see now that Clinton’s feat of balancing the budget (though not the debt) 12 years after Reagan was not so good, as it turns out. It was sort of like the kid who goes to Vegas for the first time and wins.

  13. I don’t get the deficit/mortgage loan analogy from the Times. Seems national debt/mortgage loan would be a little more accurate. The deficit would me a little more comparable to a broke single mother getting a home equity loan in order to pay for lottery tickets

    1. If the writers at the Times had a modicum of intelligence, they would be hanging their heads in shame and embarrassment for having made that analogy.

      Or, maybe, they are intelligent, and are attempting to perpetuate the widespread confusion regarding the difference between debt and deficit.

    2. Even assuming they meant debt, it doesnt make sense, as the principle on my mortgage gets lower every month.

      If we were running a surplus and going to pay off the debt over its current bond length, the analogy would hold.

  14. Suppose that the Democrats are right, and these cuts are the wrong cuts. Couldn’t they propose other cuts? There surely are plenty of government programs that benefit the wealthy and connected corporations– not a single one is wasteful or could be cut when we have not only a $1.6T deficit this year, but $700-800B deficits permanently under the Administration’s rosiest assumptions?

    Even though the Democrats’ offer to meet the GOP “halfway” is bogus, being that it’s based on the GOP’s original bogus claims of a $100B cut instead of $61B*, it still makes it seem like the Republicans should have proposed larger cuts to start with, so that the net effect of “halfway” would have been larger.

    *- The Stupid Party has actually been fairly effective on two counts. First, they tossed up a two week budget that included pro-rated cuts all already existing in Obama’s FY2012 budget, making it a sure thing to pass. That’s locked in, now they can move on to more. Second, even the bogus spending cuts thing is actually sort of working in their favor, since the Dems adopted it in response. It allows newspapers like the Washington Post to do their favorite “a pox on both their houses” by saying that both parties are misleading on the size of the cuts, but the net effect helps the side that wants to cut more and it hurts the “halfway” argument more. Too bad they’re only being smart when the stakes are trivial.

    1. Sullum’s article is something of a straw-man, since most of my progressive friends are not against all spending, they just want to see the wars and military budget cut first, before anything else.

      And that’s a valid complaint, I think; why should the Republican sacred cows survive unscathed any more than the Democrats’?

      1. er, make that “not against all spending *cuts*”

      2. Sullum’s article is something of a straw-man, since most of my progressive friends are not against all spending, they just want to see the wars and military budget cut first, before anything else.

        Your progressive friends aren’t in Congress. Sullum’s article isn’t a straw-man, since it’s referring to the rhetoric, performance, and lack of alternatives from the vast majority of Democrats in Congress and the President. (There are some dissents from Joe Manchin and others that Democrats should at least have a response, but no specifics from him either.)

        Perhaps if your progressive friends were actually in Congress, we would have a Democratic response to cut the military– instead we have Obama
        threatening to veto the House budget because it cuts the military too much and would leave us unable to “meet vital military requirements.”

        why should the Republican sacred cows survive unscathed any more than the Democrats’?

        Because the Democrats won’t even propose cutting Republican sacred cows, except in the House, where a bipartisan coalition did vote to end the second F-35 engine.

        It’s perfectly fair to criticize the performance of actual Republican politicians instead of some idealized perfect Republican, and the same for Democrats.

      3. Sullum’s article is something of a straw-man, since most of my progressive friends are not against all spending, they just want to see the wars and military budget cut first, before anything else.

        Most of your progressive friends apparently don’t realize that they could cut the defense budget to $0 and they still wouldn’t get halfway to balancing the current annual deficit.

        Unless they throw in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment in with defense, they won’t make a dent worth bragging about. All government revenue is currently going towards these programs; the rest (including the Department of Education, Energy, Homeland Security, EPA, National Park Service, etc.) is all literally deficit spending. And if interest rates on the debt go back to 2007 levels, look out below.

        ALL the sacred cows need to get axed, not just the ones either Team Red or Team Blue care to cut.

  15. ” Couldn’t they propose other cuts?”

    +1

    The seeming unwillingness of the Dems and/or liberals to offer something of a vision of liberal cost-cutting has been extremely discouraging to myself. It seems to lend support to the idea that liberalism only works via government growth. It’s sad imo.

    I’d like to see stiff defense cuts, cuts in corporate welfare and means testing of many programs offered as real alternatives. The administration has been pathetic here imo.

    1. To liberals, a spending cut is an increase in spending that is less than what they want.

    2. offered as real alternatives.

      Why can’t we cut both sets of programs?

    3. “Liberalism” no longer means what you’d like it to mean, MNG.
      Welcome to the club.

    4. To get this done, we’ll need to liberate liberals from the left, and even some of the left from the zombified corpse of Leonid Brezhnev they’ve become.

    5. “The seeming unwillingness of the Dems and/or liberals to offer something of a vision of liberal cost-cutting has been extremely discouraging to myself.”

      I wonder how much could be saved by shutting down Gitmo, cutting the CIA and NSA by half, ending military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and ending corporate welfare.

      Rather than cutting such waste, the Democrats seem to have doubled down since Obama’s ascendancy.

    6. Ahhh…but MNG, for the Democrats to offer actual cuts that are (allegedly) not ideologically contradictory to them(Military spending, handouts to fatassed zombie corporations, etc…), they would have to come to terms with a probable increase in unemployment while they manned the battlestations in the short run. And of course the greatest sin any public servant can be responsible for is temporarily destroying jobs that probably should not have existed in the first place in their current forms.

      I find it amusing though, since they probably won’t lose many voters. Most people over 30 in the defense industry I’ve met (ANECDOTE WARNING: TAKE WITH GRAIN OF SALT) are some of the most bloodthirsty deluded Reagan-worshipping neocons in the history of insanity. I guess you have to be if you make shit that kills people for money stolen from your neighbors. Perhaps the only real speed-bump is that if such cuts cause temporary unemployment spikes, it could be spun in the media through various bleeding-heart stories about how Steve Jones can’t find a job that pays $90,000 a year where he can design shit that turns people into bloody piles of goo.

      Oh well, it’s never going to happen without a massive externally-imposed depression or possibly an asteroid strike. Possibly.

  16. The feeling is mutual, Harry.

  17. Picking up the president’s investment theme, The New York Times says it’s “obfuscating nonsense” to declare that “we’re broke,” as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) likes to do. “A country with a deficit is not necessarily any more ‘broke’ than a family with a mortgage or a college loan,” the Times explains.

    And the Times is right – they’re both equally broke.

  18. We cannot cut our way to a balanced budget. And nobody has felt it necessary to explain why right now, this instant, is the appropriate time to do draconian budget cuts. Are we in danger of default? Is the likelihood of that higher than the likelihood that unemployment will stay high for the immediate future? So what’s the bigger crisis at the moment?

    Besides, the same people pushing budget hysteria refuse to entertain tax increases to deal with it. This whole discussion is a dishonest Republican-framed means of getting Republican policy goals (turning the country into a fiefdom, and cutting NPR and planned parenthood–that will solve the budget crisis!).

    1. Oh, you CAN cut your way to a balanced budget. But you sure as hell can’t SPEND your way to a balanced budget.

    2. So you’re in the “there is no government spending that benefits the wealthy and corporations but not the overall economy” camp, then?

      The Republicans already showed that they would agree to cuts proposed by Obama. A Democratic response with a similar number would pass.

      Sure, cutting NPR alone won’t since the budget. But is nothing an alternative? Can the Democrats not propose anything else to cut?

      1. There are plenty of cuts I’m for, but they have more to do with what’s good policy and not with setting my hair on fire and screaming about an impending budget apocalypse. If Republicans are that concerned about balanced budgets, they shouldn’t have exploded it in the first place then caused a near-depression.

        1. Neither PP nor NPR deserve our money.

        2. If Democrats are that unconcerned about balanced budgets, then they shouldn’t have screamed about Bush’s deficits being half to a third of the size of Obama’s proposed deficits even five years later under full recovery.

          But sure, the Republican spending under GWB was bad. Let’s go back to the spending patterns under Clinton.

          If what the Republicans did was so bad, then why don’t you want to undo it, instead of ratifying it?

        3. There are plenty of cuts I’m for, but they have more to do with what’s good policy and not with setting my hair on fire and screaming about an impending budget apocalypse.

          Then why don’t the Democrats propose these “good policy” cuts and try to get the Republicans to vote for them on the basis of their rhetoric? Seems to me that calling upon them to put up or shut up would be a much better political response.

          President Obama proposed some “good policy” cuts in his FY 2012 budget. The Republicans promptly accelerated them and put them in CR. The Republicans had a numerical target, the Democrats got to essentially choose what to cut.

          If you really think that the cuts are good policy, why wouldn’t you take that deal?

    3. Topic: Do MNG and Tony really belong to the same side?
      Discuss.

    4. Yes, we are in danger of default…just listen to the rhetoric deployed whenever Congress hesitates in raising the borrowing limit.

      The problem with “tax increases” to balance the budget is that those tax increases are always supposed to come out of *SOMEBODY ELSE’S* hide.

      Listen to the rhetoric on the left….Michael Moore assuring protesters in Wisconsin that “the country isn’t broke, we just misplaced a few trillion in some rich fat-cat’s secret vault somewhere”….look at the argument last year when Congress was renewing the Bush tax cuts; the argument was never “let’s just rescind all of the tax cuts completely”, it was “let’s just rescind the tax cuts for the rich people”.

      The joke is on them, when Helicopter Ben inflates the currency to the point where even lower middle class people have to worry about the AMT.

    5. “We cannot cut our way to a balanced budget.”
      Bullshit!

    6. Re: Tony,

      We cannot cut our way to a balanced budget.

      Thus said the financially challenged.

      Please, post another stupidity just once more… maybe you’ll make the record.

    7. Taxes are unethical. End of story.

    8. Tony, you’re being disingenuous again. Bringing federal government spending back down to 2001 levels IS NOT draconian and you know it.

  19. Here’s the point Jacob: You don’t cut government spending during a time of massive unemployment.

    The one-way ratchet: You can’t cut when times are bad, because the economy needs the stimulation. When times are good, of course, tax receipts are up, so there’s no reason to cut.

    Rinse and repeat.

    We cannot cut our way to a balanced budget.

    Wanna bet? All we would need to do would be to cut all the way back to the 2003 spending levels.

    The seeming unwillingness of the Dems and/or liberals to offer something of a vision of liberal cost-cutting has been extremely discouraging to myself.

    Other than defense cuts, is there any such thing as liberal cost-cutting?

  20. We’ll never erase debt without a tax hike, entitlement/military cuts, or both. I’d prefer cuts to military spending before I see my parents’ generation go without healthcare and money, but that’s just me.

    1. Both are going to be required (both entitlements and military cuts). Tax hikes wont work.

      Your parents wont go without healthcare, they (or you) will just have to pay for it out of pocket.

    2. You know what’s nuts? My parents put in a lot of hard-assed work making sure their children didn’t turn into rape-happy serial killers content with flipping burgers or with working at the DMV for 25 years. As thanks to them, I’ll do my damndest to make sure they aren’t screwed. But when I have to take care of your parents as well, this becomes more and more difficult to accomplish. When my parents aren’t paid by the government because it will be mathematically impossible for that to be a reality, can I tell them they have to starve because I was too busy making sure yours could get every medical procedure they are “entitled” to (including Viagra! Because you “need” that to stay alive, right)?

      But you’re right, something needs to be cut. If we can’t cut one, at least we can cut the other. Unfortunately, those toothless vaginas elected by a country full of toothless vaginas couldn’t cut a cake without creating 4000 bureaucracies to ensure aforementioned cake-cutting would not cause the earth to go spinning of its axis into the sun.

      1. A little over the top, Drax. We’ve spent 3 trillion on our two sojourns into Iraq and Afghanistan. You don’t have to make cuts to save money. Just stop SPENDING money on military, as opposed to maintaining it, and we’d be a lot better off right now.

        As for healthcare for those inching over 65, they’ve earned it. Much like providing public schools money from my property taxes and federal income taxes, some taxes I don’t mind paying. There’s a camp on here who equate taxes with theft, but I don’t see them driving on the grass, eating from victory gardens, or sending their kids to private school.

        1. I’m all for bringing the military home and cutting it by 50%.

          But, how the hell do you earn healthcare just by being over 65? Everybody who’s crosses the finish line gets a prize? What about those who spent all their damn money all their lives without a thought for the future? Did they earn it? What about those who spent most of their lives in jail? Did they earn it? I can think of plenty of people over 65 who haven’t “earned” anything. The question is not who earns or deserves anything, it’s about basic rights. Do you or do you not have a right to healthcare paid for by other’s tax dollars and provided by doctors who must accept the government predetermined rates.

          When the person who is paying for the gov’t cannot affect the rates of pay for the gov’ts employees (public unions) or prevent the gov’t from spending money on wasteful projects, it is theft.

          And I do I mind paying taxes to support schools I don’t use, and yes, I send my kids to private school.

          1. Which are the wasteful projects? Who are the disposable gov’t employees ? You sound like Christine O’Donnell. If it was theft you could call the police or sue. But you can’t, so it’s not.

            1. It’s hard to tell part of the government (Police, Courts) that other parts of the government are stealing from you. It’s all one giant trap, and it is impossible to think the system can/will police itself on a consistent basis.

        2. You don’t have to make cuts to save money. Just stop SPENDING money on military, as opposed to maintaining it, and we’d be a lot better off right now.

          This can’t be repeated enough. You can cut the military to $0 and it will NOT balance the budget. Seriously. Look it up. Throw in the DoE and Homeland Security with the DoD and you MIGHT get halfway there.

          All government revenue right now is being spent on entitlements. Every single penny. Everything else is deficit spending right now, including the interest on the overall debt (how fucked up is that?). Until those entitlement oxes get their horns and tails clipped, the budget will not be balanced.

          Even going back to the Clinton tax rates aren’t guaranteed to close the gap because there’s no industries in the US right now to absorb all the current unemployed on top of the subliterate chimps being pumped out by our institutions of “higher education” every year. Where exactly are the jobs going to come from to employ people at the salaries they expect to survive? The 90s were a complete anomaly because it was built on a massive credit expansion throwing inflated dollars after every basement start-up that had “.com” after it’s name. That was lighting in a bottle and we’ll never see it again.

          I’m sorry, but the math says we’re hosed. It might not happen right away, but we can’t go on running these deficits anymore, with an increasingly shrinking middle class being asked to shoulder the burden for the slugs at the bottom and the ultra-rich at the top. The only thing raising taxes to the levels that people like Tony and that idiot “proud rapist of taxpayers” on the Wisconsin thread would like to see is result in blowing up what’s left of the middle class.

          Everything these politicians have done is to maintain the facade that solving the problem won’t involve some severe pain for a little while to get the system corrected, because ANY pain=getting thrown out on your ass during the next election. So they’ll keep kicking the can until it hits the wall and crashes it right on everyone’s head.

    3. Until I stop being taxed, anyone living off entitlements can die for all I care.

  21. The yelling the Dems are making over the cuts is why you dont do small cuts. Would they be yelling any more over the Paul proposal (which is still too small)?

  22. The reason so many people are out of work is because the government screwed up the economy with bad mortgage regulations. Now the government is such a drain on the economy from taxes and regulation that the economy can’t get back on it’s feet.

    The best way to help the most poor people is to get them jobs by letting business grow by reducing taxes and regulation.

    The government should not be in the nanny business because central planning – for production, health care, or wealth (re)distribution, just makes things less efficient. When the government doesn’t try to be in the nanny business more people are better off.

    1. Ragging on regulations shows a fundamental misunderstanding of economics on your part. Systemic collapse occurs because of negative (and positive) externalities in a market. While regulations might restrain growth in the short term, the net effect is increased growth and, more importantly, stability and prosperity for all, not hampered markets. Those that support the power of the market must support sophisticated regulations as a fundamental starting point or their arguments cannot be taken seriously.

      1. First off, regulation is an externality in the market, isn’t it? So by your own logic, regulation contributes to systemic collapse.

        Anyhow, who’s going to write those sophisticated regulations, Jim? The geniuses that wrote us into a financial meltdown that made Goldman Sachs rich? Those guys? Or the ones that wrote us some spiffy regulation that are gonna tank the health care industry? When the past evidence of ‘sophisticated regulation’ leads us to believe the regulations will end up being a contributory cause to a bigger disaster, how about we skip the regulations for a while and see how we do?

        Always remember, a ‘market failure’ is not the lack of a good at a price point you’re willing to pay.

      2. Jim, comments like yours depress me because they make me realize that there is a chasm between people like me and people like you that is unlikely to be bridged.

        See, I think that people who believe that they “must support sophisticated regulations as a fundamental starting point” cannot be taken seriously.

        How can you be so naive that you believe that bureaucrats have the knowledge necessary to craft these “sophisticated” regulations?

        The more “sophisticated” they are, the more detailed and intrusive they are. The more micromanaging they are. Then more distorting they are.

        The only “regulation” a market needs is a government that will uphold contracts, protect private property, and help stop or punish the initiation of force. Those are generic, fundamental things that governments are somewhat able to do.

        Go beyond that, and you have chaos and the cock-sucking of politicians.

        1. Your argument is circular.

          1. How is his argument circular? Is it circular because you disagree with his conclusions?

          2. Ha! Circular!

            Maybe it is….

            Galileo realized that the heliocentric model of the solar system, with roughly circular orbits of the planets around the sun, was a much simpler and fundamental description of nature, and could easily explain the apparent motions of the planets in the sky.

            Prior to his insight, and in response, the establishment kept crafting more and more “sophisticated regulations” on top of their fundamentally wrong geocentric solar system model. They had very “sophisticated” mathematics and geometries being added, layer after layer, in a desperate attempt to keep the status quo.

            1. Wait did you just call yourself Galileo? Remember, he gave up his positions when he was shown the instruments of torture. Are you saying that once you see what these cuts will be like you’ll shrink from your lofty goal of having a completely regulation-free market? Or is the opposite true, that from such a lofty theoretical perch your ideas will contract hypothetical e. coli because there won’t be any FDA. You’ll call an ambulance but it won’t arrive because free rider costs have shut down the service. You’ll attempt to drive yourself on the cracked and broken infrastructure that was once called a road, and when you attempt to brake, your Toyota keeps pushing ever faster down the road of faulty logic because nobody ever bothered to check if having gas pedals that don’t work was safe or not. Eventually, your car will come to rest, but not because it has hit a tree, as those will have long since been cut down by the corporations into which you place so much faith.

              And finally, zombies.

              1. Sentence after sentence of fail.

                Of course I didn’t call myself Galileo. It was just an analogy showing the complexities people will go through to defend an established idea, when the true nature of things is much simpler.

                Your torture analogy is bizarre. Galileo was seeking and speaking the truth. Threat of torture forced him to recant. The truth itself didn’t change.

                I think that cutting spending and regulation will be beneficial, so I don’t see any “torture” in the future causing me to “recant”.

                Why are people like you unable to make distinctions between the different levels of government? This article and thread are about the Federal government. Two of your scary horrors, not getting an ambulance and roads falling apart, are mostly local and state government issues, and have very little to do with Federal government regulation.

                Do you not think that people in local communities have any incentive to take care of themselves?

                And your Toyota stuff is just laughable. Did you know that there never was a problem with the Toyota digital accelerator pedal, and that the most likely reason for the crashes was driver error? You know, the people pushed the accelerator all the way to the floor thinking they were hitting the brakes.

                That had nothing to do with (a lack of) Federal regulation.

                But, I’m sure you’ll continue to believe that evil Toyota wants to kill it’s customers with its “faulty” gas pedals.

                Why, if you think that evil large corporations are out to kill us, do you think that an even larger entity, the Federal Government, made up of the same humans, but armed with the power to kill, is full of benevolence?

  23. If these cuts are so paltry why then do you not come out in support of cutting subsidies for oil, and other companies that do not need government support to thrive?

    1. Of course. What’s your point?

    2. We do. Thank you very much.

  24. “Jobs” that rely on government welfare are not jobs. We could put thousands of bureaucrats out of a job by establishing a flat rate income tax or sales tax. How would that be a bad thing when it would result in a more productive economy?

    We could eliminate social security, food stamps, medicare, shitchips, medicaid, and all that crap immediately and people would get by. There might be some hardship, but no one would die in this country unless it was passive suicide.

  25. Now imagine that the family owns one third of the land in the US and has untold amounts in other assets and investments, now are they broke?

  26. My wife and I are just sick and tired of these corrupt bas**rds in the Democrat Senate and House. It’s not simply a matter of disagreeing on principles.

    These Socialist-Marxist incompetent, arrogant low-lives have to be DESTROYED politically.

    1. These Socialist-Marxist incompetent, arrogant low-lives have to be DESTROYED politically.

  27. Looks like Ben Nelson is joining Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin in the “ok, we need real cuts, just not these evil Republican cuts” camp… but while all three of them are saying that we need a serious alternative, they’re all very quiet on what that alternative will be.

  28. I have been railing about this for some time now to anybody that would listen. It is such a tiny percent yet the pols and msm-ers constantly tell us how horrible it would be. I am glad somebody else is bringing up the points you made. About time.

  29. Picking up the president’s investment theme, The New York Times says it’s “obfuscating nonsense” to declare that “we’re broke,” as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) likes to do. “A country with a deficit is not necessarily any more ‘broke’ than a family with a mortgage or a college loan,” the Times explains.
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  36. Politicians seem to believe that government jobs are all productive.

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