Government Shutdown

"Plenty of Waste, Big and Small": Nick Gillespie in the New York Times


On Tuesday, October 8, I participated in a New York Times debate about the effects of the government shutdown and budget sequestration. "What federal spending are we better off without?" asked the Times of analysts from the left, right, and libertarian parts of the ideological spectrum. "What have we learned, seven months into sequestration and one week into a government shutdown?"

Here's my answer:

Much of what the feds spend money on is either unnecessary or ineffective … or both. The sequestration and the shutdown force voters and politicians to engage in serious and hopefully consequential cost-benefit analyses.

Start small, with something like arts funding, which comes to $1.8 billion annually for "the whole suite of federal arts-related agencies," according to The Arts Index. That total is dwarfed by the $13 billion that Americans donate to cultural nonprofits and the $150 billion that we spend on art, music, movies and the like. Leaving aside the ethical questions posed by state-sponsored art (which are exactly the same as those raised by state-sponsored religion), it's clear that the arts don't "need" tax support any more than professional sports teams do.

Whole agencies are demonstrably ineffective. The Department of Education was created in 1979, and its annual budget for K-12 education comes in just shy of$40 billion. Test scores for high-school seniors on the National Assessment of Educational Progress – called the Nation's Report Card – are either flat or slightly below where they were before the department existed.

Then there's Defense, which is one of the single-biggest items in the federal budget. The U.S. accounts for 40 percent of global expenditures on military might and, in real dollars, our defense spending rose nearly 80 percent between 2001 and 2012. As the shutdown entered its second week, The Dayton Daily News reported that the Pentagon is sending half a billion dollars' worth of "nearly new" cargo planes to a storage facility in Arizona, where they will join $35 billion worth of other unnecessary aircraft and vehicles.

When leaders like Representative Nancy Pelosi claim "there's no more cuts to make," I have to wonder whether they are tripping on powerful hallucinogens – whose availability undercuts another unnecessary, ineffective and costly federal program: the war on drugs.

Read the whole discussion here.

NEXT: Watch Nick Gillespie on Fox News' Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld Tonight at 11pm ET

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  1. 11111111111

    1. 2?

        1. +5000

        1. 7FF, of course; I haven't had enough coffee yet this morning. 🙁

            1. The scariest thing was to read the comments section...when you see libertarian ideas presented on, the comments themselves may be bizarre, but in the NYT, the underlying thought processes are have to remember that the average person is no very smart, and then remember that half of the people are below average, and this group seems to be heavily over-represented in the NYT comments section. The good news is that these people seem to be able to form coherent sentences, even if the coherence stops at grammar alone, the scary news is that they no doubt know how to reproduce as well...we are doomed.

              1. This.

                Particularly the guy who brought up "state-sponsored libertarianism" with a straight face.

                1. Oh, you mean "Rednblu"? Yeah, that guy was f-ing hilarious.

              2. Why? Why did I read them? It's just undermined any good will humanity has earned from me so far this day...

          1. Those are hobbit feet, I think. 😉

      1. SFW, btw.

  2. Test scores for high-school seniors on the National Assessment of Educational Progress ? called the Nation's Report Card ? are either flat or slightly below where they were before the department existed.

    It's hardly the Department of Education's fault that we keep sending them students so dumb they don't respond to taxpayer cash.

    1. Hey, but everyone has access to education! Don't you get it? Better to have mediocrity than half the population who can't afford education being illiterate, no?

      Free mediocrity.

      Mission accomplished.

      1. "free mediocrity"

        there is more truth in that than many folks care to admit.

  3. ...the Pentagon is sending half a billion dollars' worth of "nearly new" cargo planes to a storage facility in Arizona, where they will join $35 billion worth of other unnecessary aircraft and vehicles.

    Everyone knows it's better to have them and not need them then need them and not have them.

    1. It's almost like we forgot the $4000 toilets and $500 hammers from back in the 80's.

      1. I remember those stories. I also remember that they were artifacts of the federal acquisition and accounting systems, rather than real things.

        I may have details wrong, but as I recall the toilet was a toilet for an airplane, which jumps the price considerably, and on top of that congressional regulations required that it be put out for bid on specs rather than bought off the shelf, which means that we got to pay tool-up costs.

        I don't recall a $500 hammer. I DO recall a $700 screwdriver. It was a component of an F-14 engine rebuild kit, the price of which was (by Congressional accounting rules) evenly divided by the number of components ?. one of which was an ant ire F-14 engine. So $700 is a trifle high for a screwdriver, but a hell of a bargain for an engine.

        Not saying that the military doesn't waste money, but the 1980's was rife with stories about "Military Waste" that were actually stories about accounting phantoms, while actual waste went unremarked.

        1. In no small part because you had media who hated the Reagan defense buildup.

        2. I worked acquisition for a few years. Not that the military is any model of efficiency, but the vast majority of military acquisition "fuckups" are a direct result of congressional regulation/mandates.

          A for instance:

          We were in the middle of putting data-link on the B-1 (a 10+ year program) and right in the middle of it, some idiot tells us we cannot use the radio we had planned as they were mandating that all new radios placed in aircraft would need to be the new all purpose radio they were developing (JTRS). Which, oh, by the way won't be available for several years. Who's responsible for that slip?

          We eventually got a waiver, and the time it took to do so did cause the program to slip. But that's just one instance. That kinda shit happens continuously. The taxpayer pays dearly for all the regulation designed to provide oversight and save the taxpayer money. Only the government could devise such a fucked up system.

          1. I have a friend who works in acquisitions in the medical devices field, the horror stories he tells of the minefield of contradictory regulations makes you wonder how anyone ever comes out of surgery alive.

            1. More people die in hospitals than anywhere else.

          2. Only the government could afford such a fucked up system.

            1. Well there you are. Without government, who'd pay for our bombers?

        3. Do you know why airplane parts cost so much money?

          Because the FAA regulates them. Seriously, go look it up.

          A simple grade 8 bolt with no special properties can cost 40 dollars.

          So yes, government, by governing, raises prices needlessly.

        4. Related: The SR-71 and YF-12 jets had no fuel tank bladders; their skins became so hot due to air friction and expanded; when cool and on the ground, they contracted and leaked fuel. That meant that all maintenance tools had to be made of non-sparking (non-ferrous, usually) metals. Those specs and the small quantities required made the tools very expensive.

          1. Doh! "friction and" = "friction, they"

    2. At least they're mothballing the planes, and not giving them to local police and university security like they are $600,000 MRAPs.

      1. Maybe Concord, NH needs a military jet?

  4. I've got a few to cut. Eliminate federal funding for any program that the federal government itself does not have a mandate for, including funding that is laundered through state, local, and private programs. Eliminate most of the tax code. Eliminate the DOE, the DOEd, the DOL, the DOHUD, the DOC, the DOA. Eliminate half our overseas bases. Eliminate the FTC, the FCC, the FEC.

    Is that a good enough start?

    1. I can go one better.

      Flat tax the feds and eliminate everything but DoD, Justice and Treasury, and even those get some serious asshole-enlarging reforms.

  5. Oh, and sell the national parks back to the States where they belong.

    1. ...or the tribes, to make up for chronic BIA embezzlement.

      1. Cool. We can gamble for 67 minutes, then go outside and watch Old Faithful, then gamble again.

        1. Or was it gambol?

  6. Here is some waste at NASA. There is some bright spots with commercial NASA programs but the old style programs are eating up lots of money. Much of NASA organization is still based around the old Apollo program

    There is the J-2X rocket engine that NASA spent over a billion dollars on and now is mothballing the program since they have changed the Space Launch System so that it does not require it.

    Then there is the Space Launch System program which is going to cost at least 20 billion but is so large and expensive that few launches are possible. One of the biggest roadblocks to expanding the use of Space is cost of launching and the SLS does little to fix this.

    Then there is the Orion capsule, a super Apollo capable of leaving Earths orbit but NASA does not have enough money to build landers or buy the SLS used to launch it anywhere.

    Plus there is the James Webb Space Telescope which is years behind schedule and multiple times over budget at at least 8 billion.

    And finally there is the Space Station which was vastly over budget and does little of what was promised in research and manufacturing. Most of its research is about trying to keep a Space Station working which is valuable but not what was advertised

  7. Bringing up lists of wastage, such as the accounting stupidities which produce $600 hammers, is pointless; anyone with a brain knows real competition would drive them way down. But statists of all stripes despise true free markets and can find all sorts of excuses why their particular programs need to be run by government.

    The only "permanent" solution is to get these programs out into the free market. Reduce government down to an absolute minimum so the sunshine of competition can take care of these petty problems which add up to such malfeasance.

    I once figured that the only things taxes actually need to pay for is investigation of crimes far enough to identify victims who can take over the investigation (stolen cars abandoned by the roadside, bodies to find the relatives, houses with the front door broken in, ...) and interim guardians for children whose parents died in an accident, etc, until permanent guardians can be found (relatives, Sisters of Mercy, monocle factories, ...).

    Assuming those costs won't all be recovered, you could do all of it for $1B a year, which is roughly $10 per family or $1 per $20K property value. And if you make the property value self-declared, but limit restitution in court cases to the self-declared value, then you can make it semi-voluntary and eliminate a whole bunch of verification bureaucracy and intrusion.

    1. I once figured that the only things taxes actually need to pay for is investigation of crimes far enough to identify victims who can take over the investigation (stolen cars abandoned by the roadside, bodies to find the relatives, houses with the front door broken in, ...)

      Leaving aside the fact that this means the poor could be preyed upon with impunity, as they could not afford an investigation, there's also the messy matters of determining guilt and meting out punishment. Are the victims' families required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to an independent jury, or can they just grab a person they don't like off the street and declare them guilty? Are they empowered to execute a person they declare guilty?

      State coercion isn't the only bad kind of coercion.

      1. You are 180 wrong on the poor. The poor now, if charged with anything, are stuck with government defenders. With loser pays, poor with a good case would have no problem getting a lawyer on contingency. Ditto for filing a lawsuit; if it's a good case, they would have no problem finding a lawyer on contingency.

        The rest of your rant is garbage obfuscation. It's still the same standards, unanimous beyond a reasonable doubt.

        I expected no more thought from you.

        1. Or a poor plaintiff could sell the complaint to a speculator, who prosecutes it and keeps the award. (A contingency fee is, in effect, a restricted version of that concept.)

          Juries might be unwilling to give such speculators the same award that they'd give the original plaintiff, and that would in turn depress the price that speculators pay to plaintiffs. On the other hand, "make the defendant pay" might outweigh "make the plaintiff whole" in jurors' minds. We'll see.

          1. I hadn't thought of a market in lawsuits. I wonder how well that would work -- if it requires testimony from any of the parties selling their case, they might be less inclined to testify as well once they'd made their dime, unlike a contingency fee where they still have some skin in the game.

            1. Medieval iceland had such a system. It's interesting reading. It helped that the entire legal system was based around restitution (even for murder and such).

              1. Got some links? I like reading that kind of history.

                1. Never mind, google is my friend, and this is apparently more well-known than I would have thought. Thanks for the tip.

      2. I see I missed answering the specific part of your question about investigations. But it's the same general answer. Some cities now won't investigate anything less than murder; no burglaries, robberies, car theft, nothing. Won't even come out to your house to take a report.

        As for investigating murders, yes the poor would have to fund that, but there are plenty of charities who would do that, especially with loser pays. I read somewhere that if you eliminate the drug war and other criminal-on-criminal murders, and family murders, there are only something like 1000 non-obvious murders to investigate every year. Not many of those would be the poor, since they don't attract robbers. What's that leave, 100 murders a year which would require charity to investigate?

        Insurance for things like that would be dirt cheap.

  8. Waste is all relative.

  9. Nice job compacting all the basics. People have got that short attention span and I'm sure they missed half of what was said but even with that, they may have learned something.

  10. Data You Can Believe In
    ...Once permission was granted, the campaign had access to millions of names and faces they could match against their lists of persuadable voters, potential donors, unregistered voters and so on. "It would take us 5 to 10 seconds to get a friends list and match it against the voter list," St. Clair said. They found matches about 50 percent of the time, he said. But the campaign's ultimate goal was to deputize the closest Obama-supporting friends of voters who were wavering in their affections for the president. "We would grab the top 50 you were most active with and then crawl their wall" to figure out who were most likely to be their real-life friends, not just casual Facebook acquaintances. ...

    ...The campaign's exhaustive use of Facebook triggered the site's internal safeguards. "It was more like we blew through an alarm that their engineers hadn't planned for or knew about," said St. Clair, who had been working at a small firm in Chicago and joined the campaign at the suggestion of a friend. "They'd sigh and say, 'You can do this as long as you stop doing it on Nov. 7.' " (Facebook officials say warning bells go off when the site sees large amounts of unusual activity, but in each case the company was satisfied the campaign was not violating its privacy and data standards.)...

    1. ...Her previous employer, Navic Networks, was a very early pioneer in the field of set-top-box data collection. And she was one of the early programmers to figure out how to make a television, designed as a one-way path for sending programming into American homes, relay information back about what exactly a viewer was watching.

      Davidsen determined that Rentrak could roughly do what Grisolano wanted it to do: produce data that could be checked against Wagner's list of most-persuadable voters to find matches. Rentrak had access to the set-top boxes in the homes of thousands of the targeted voters in every competitive market of every swing state. (For instance, Rentrak had 100,000 people in its Denver sample, some 20,000 of whom were on the Obama list; Nielsen had a total of 600 people in Denver.)

      But there was the potentially politically explosive matter of privacy. Unlike Facebook, where users were at least giving the campaign explicit permission to collect personal data even if they had not read the fine print, television watchers were making no such agreement. To address this, the campaign and Rentrak hired a third party to "anonymize" the data so that they would only know that the information was coming from a set-top box of somebody on the persuadable list; identifying information would be stripped away....

  11. I made the mistake of reading some of the comments.

    My "favorite" is the guy who criticized Nick for putting arts first and War on Drugs last, not understanding the basic concept that he was going from small money to large money, not highest priority to lowest.

    Fucking idiots, one and all.

    1. Ah yes, the cool and hip libertarian platform... legal drugs, no public schools no FDA. It's sheer madness..... worn like a mask conferring a certain "rebellious intellectual" status on the speaker. This kind of absurd naivete is popular among undergraduates, yes, but in the New York Times Debate section? All I can say is your University failed you miserably by graduating you without the slightest appreciation for the value of publicly funded arts.

      emphasis mine

      1. AND THAT, boyz and girlz, is what we are up against.

      2. I want that person to die a slow and painful death.

      3. I wonder which university failed him/her miserably in teaching the value of critical thinking?

        1. There was plenty more "critical thinking" fail to be found in the comments. One chap argued that without public funding, we wouldn't have Beethoven. I suppose he could have been referring to current public performances of Beethoven, but I'm not going to be that charitable. I think he really believes that the National Endowment for the Arts identified the talented young Beethoven and it was these public grants that allowed him to flourish.

          More to the point, many of Beethoven's private patrons got their wealth from their positions in royal families - but his primary source of funds was public performances of his works.

      4. I have to say that this kind of response only makes me want to zero out public funding for the Arts even more. I think that one of the biggest problems with "The Arts" as matters stand is the excess of funding. I don't want to CENSOR Andres Serrano (who made Piss Christ), but the simple fact that his sophomoric anti-Christian joke was given museum space argues (at least to me) that there is too much museum space.

    2. Er, Nick explicitly said "Start small" which can be interpreted to mean he's giving highest priority to the small money stuff. You and I know that Gillespie wants to end the WOD more than anything, but I forgive an NYT reader for not knowing that.

      1. which can be interpreted to mean he's giving highest priority to the small money stuff

        No it cant.

        It means he is starting on the small end and working up to the big end in his list.

        Nothing more, nothing less.

        And the WOD comment was outside the monetary list anyway. Its a double level of fail.

    3. Fucking idiots, one and all.

      Sadly, yes. Fucking idiots with endless demands for FREE SHIT, which our masters are only too happy too oblige.

      The main problem is that we're getting the gubmint that other people richly deserve.

    4. There were several comments in the couple-dozen that I read that completely missed the point being made by referencing sports teams. They actually thought that Nick was arguing that sports is unsubsidized.

      It underlines the level of blinding we have due to our own base understanding of the world. From HnR's point of view, the notion that sports teams are stupidly gifted large subsidies is a bedrock piece of knowledge. For the larger world, not so much.

      The same was true of the statistics on education. There were several lame attempts at "correlation is not causation" type arguments. "We don't know what the statistics would have been without the Dept. of Education!" "You might as well argue that the advent of the internet or Y2K caused low test scores." Even equating cutting the Department of Education with eliminating public education.

      Because of our own cognitive biases, we cannot see our own arguments in the way that "normals" see them. And they cannot see our arguments at all, apparently. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't force him to acknowledge the existence of the water....

  12. The Dayton Daily News reported that the Pentagon is sending half a billion dollars' worth of "nearly new" cargo planes to a storage facility in Arizona, where they will join $35 billion worth of other unnecessary aircraft and vehicles.

    Those unwanted cargo planes aside, the Boneyard is actually pretty handy repository of aircraft. That $35 billion of warplanes is like a savings account for war - yet physically stashed in a manner which makes it hard for politicians to exploit on the timescales which their foolish whims operate. Those planes will never fly again unless we actually maybe need them.

    The whole military should be more on the Boneyard model throughout.

    1. Those planes will never fly again unless we actually maybe need them.

      The costs associated with bringing those aircraft back up to speed are astronomical. On the order of it's cheaper to build more (probably faster too).

      1. I'm not entirely confident that the US can convert to a wartime production economy as quickly as it did in WW2 given our reduced heavy industrial capacity.

        1. You are correct and that's not what I said.

          1. How are we going to build more, more cheaply, without a wartime production economy?

            1. You are not going to have either. You will fight with what is operationally available when you go to war. Aircraft manufacture is orders of magnitude more complex than it was in WWII.

              The machines required to step up production in an EXISTING production facility do not exist. They would need to build them. And then they would need to train people to run them. That would literally take YEARS.

              Likewise with the aircraft in the boneyard. The tools, expertise, assembly facilities, manpower... required to make those aircraft flyable would take years to spin up. Then you need to train people to fly and maintain them.

              Neither is going to happen in the short time periods in which wars are currently fought.

              1. Neither is going to happen in the short time periods in which wars are currently fought.

                If you look at the first or second Iraq war, lead-up times were measured in months.

                Likewise with the aircraft in the boneyard. The tools, expertise, assembly facilities, manpower... required to make those aircraft flyable would take years to spin up. Then you need to train people to fly and maintain them.

                There are currently hundreds of airframes (at least) at AMARG for aircraft currently in service including A-10, B-1, B-52, F-15, F-16, F/A-18 aircrafts among others.

                The logistics and personnel for these machines are emplaced in the current force structure. Some airframes stashed out there don't make too much sense (B-47's, WTF?) anymore but all in all the USA has a spare airforce it can fly if/when it needs to in a matter of months in a mobilizing effort. Relative to many military efforts, AMARG is a comparative deal.

                1. Yes, you are correct, allow me to move the goalposts. The the aircraft types still in operation and that have been placed in inviolate storage, which are a fraction of the total, can be reconstituted and it WOULD NOT cost as much as to replace them.

                  As an example, of the 33 B-1s taken out of service 7 are capable of being returned to service and it's still on the order of $20M to do so.

                  I was originally speaking of the retired aircraft.

                  1. On a side note, I was surprised by condition of some of the airplanes at Museum of Air Force's R&D hangar. Loved the way you can walk up and kick the tires on them.

                    I remember specifically the YF-23; all the hydraulics, engines, lights - everything was still on the aircraft - right down to an engineer's scribbles on the nosewheel door. It was dang near flyaway just sitting there.

        2. Which is a good thing.

      2. I don't know the inventory disposition of the vehicles there, but re-habilitating an airplane from that facility vs. building a new one varies I imagine with whether there is even an open production line for said aircraft.

        Its like saying restoring a properly stored car from 1986 is somehow more expensive than firing up a production line to stamp out brand new cars from 1986. I don't buy that.

  13. The tour of the Boneyard is pretty cool.

  14. Wrong question. It assumes we start with the $3.5T budget and trim unnecessary stuff from it.

    How about we start with a budget of $0 and add the stuff that we can justify spending coercively-obtained money on.

    1. Holy shit, Tulpa. You said something non-retarded.

      Good boy!

    2. Even easier, start with the current budget and put a unique priority number of every line item from 1 to whatever.

      And then only fund the first N items, where N is determined by amount of coercively-obtained money.

      This is basically what the House is doing (poorly) by passing one appropriation at a time.

  15. Reading the comment over at the NYT leads me to conclude there's little hope for libertarianism. These people want their free money and they're absolutely contemptuous of any suggestion otherwise.

    They're better educated welfare queens.

    1. Yeah, we all know the story. If one dime of government arts funding gets cut, apocalypse, children dropping dead in the streets.

      These people are morons. Just because I like to do something doesn't give me a right to demand tax payer money so that I can continue doing it. Art was going on way before governments were funding it, and will continue unabated after it stops.

      These idiots aren't going to determine the fate of libertarianism, though.

      1. Do you honestly want us to go back to the dark, primitive times of 2007, when the budget was a trillion dollars smaller?

        Where will the Federales get the money to make all those iPhones?

    2. Reading the comment over at the NYT leads me to conclude there's little hope for libertarianism humanity.


    3. My personal favorite: According to some study by a Republican, "every dollar spent on the arts generates $9 in economic activity, quite a bargain."

      Of course he doesn't wonder, "Hmmmm, then maybe we should put $100 billion into the arts to get $900 billion of economic activity" or "is economic activity the same as higher living standards for everyone?".

      1. You think too small. We need a kajillion dollars into the arts.

        A serious question: can you even get that kind of return out of private investment in something that people are actually willing to pay full price for?

        1. How about Obama mints those 2 trillion dollar platinum coins, and then lets an artist paint them? Would that generate 18 trillion and pay off the debt?

      2. I would love to see that study

        1. I have a feeling it comes from the same methodology as the studies "proving" that the taxpayers funding sports stadiums is a winner.

          In other words, they decide on the findings first, then do the research to prove them.

          1. It is the "Broken Windows as Performance Art" fallacy.

  16. Michael J.

    That is your opinion of what government should or shouldn't do, not a fact.


  17. Here's my pet budget idea. You can think of it as treating the budget process as a series of votes on how (and whether) to spend each incremental dollar.

    For each item on the budget, each member of Congress writes a number, and the numbers for each item are listed high to low. Strike out the top half of each list, leaving only such spending as has majority support. If the high numbers remaining on the lists (the medians of the original lists) add up to less than the available money, that's the budget. If not, strike the highest number from each list, and repeat.

    Eventually you're left with a balanced budget consisting of programs that have broad support; blatant porkbarrels are the first to go. There's less motive for logrolling ("I'll support your bridge to nowhere if you'll support my war-dildo") because that would lower the overall cutoff.

    Bicameralism complicates the scheme a bit, producing two sets of numbers. The consensus budget, consisting of the lower of the two numbers for each item,is enacted. To reduce the resulting surplus (because who likes a surplus?), the process can be repeated with that smaller pot.

  18. Just cut spending by 19.7 percent, and the debt ceiling law doesn't have to be changed.

    FY2014 spending (est): 3.778T
    FY 2014 looting (est): 3.034T

  19. It was more interesting to read the rather shrill replies from NYT lefties to Nick's post.

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