March 11, 2011

Budget, Deficits, Ideas, and Stuff

Posted in federal budget, role of government, taxes, U.S. Economy tagged , , , , , , at 12:48 pm by realitytax

The thing people are best at is exchanging stuff, including ideas; that’s what sets us apart from every animal on the face of the earth. Dogs don’t exchange bones with each other, chimpanzees and dolphins don’t ask for advice, and yet nobody reading this could build the simplest device we rely on every day in any reasonable amount of time without the active participation of many, many other people.

You doubt it? Name your example: Could you make a toothbrush? How will you get the petroleum to make the various plastics? OK, so you can whittle down a piece of wood to serve as the handle, sure, but are you going to use a knife you traded for or make your own? You can collect some stiff bristly stuff, but to trim it all to a nearly uniform length would you like a scissors? …and glue the bristles in place…how? Let’s not even consider transportation machines and mp3 players. So much more efficient to let somebody else mine and smelt the metals, while legions of people build and maintain the systems to distribute the stuff, and still others focus on food, wouldn’t you agree?

Another way to think of it is that while any of us can probably manage to be self-sufficient, it wouldn’t leave us much time for anything else at all. Complex trading makes it possible for specialists to efficiently do what they’re best at, and the whole society can enjoy the fruits of the labor of others.

Now what’s that got to do with the U.S. economy, government budget decisions, and the federal deficit?

Well, while we can all agree that while the government has a long-term fiscal management issue, (call it a problem if you like,) the key factor in the budget challenges is health care costs, and more to the point the rate at which those costs are growing. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “The Congressional Budget Office expects Social Security outlays as a percentage of G.D.P. to rise 30 percent over the next quarter-century, as the population ages, but it expects a near doubling of the share of G.D.P. spent on Medicare and Medicaid.

We don’t solve that by reducing what we spend on either education or job creation. Cutting the benefits for military veterans only shifts the costs of their health care, it doesn’t control it. Cutting taxes surely doesn’t provide any free-market incentive to rein in runaway health care costs, nor does reducing and/or eliminating the collective bargaining rights of public-sector employees (another way of shifting the costs without actually addressing the cause.)

There’s a time for catching the drips coming through the roof, but that’s a stop-gap until you can properly fix the roof. If you’re in charge of the building it’s not responsible to tell the people who live or work in it to just keep emptying their buckets – if you don’t know what to do yourself, you call somebody who can fix it, and if you have to raise the rent you do that, too. That’s the whole point of participating in society instead of being self-sufficient.

Bernie SandersIt’s time for Congress to do their job and stop asking the American people to keep emptying the buckets. They asked voters to trust them to solve problems – to keep the roof in good repair – not kick them down the road while we collect rainwater and listen to their complaints about how hard it is to fix. Lowering taxes to fight a budget deficit is like bringing gasoline to fight a fire.

Those elected officials that have no idea how to actually live up to that promise should get out of the business and let somebody with real solutions work on it before they ruin the building and bring down the value of the whole neighborhood even further. Stop talking about “partnering with business” and how regulations are a burden and go work on whatever stuff it is you’re actually good at doing (other than interviews with sound-bites and acting like absentee slumlords, that is,) and leave my government – for the people – alone.

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