Cutting Through The Crap

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


In my recent post on the deficit, I should have more overtly made an obvious point: using the fun interactive site I referenced at the NYT, what becomes clear is not how hard it is to balance the budget, but how easy it is. All it takes, as I've been saying, is a not-horrendous bit of tax-raising, and a not very painful series of spending cuts. I'm not saying the NYT site isn't oversimplified, but the principle is pretty clear. Give it a try. It's revelatory.

The problem is that you and I (and by "you" I exclude some of my Foxobeckified commenters) are adult enough to be able to make obvious choices; whereas no one in Congress is. The difficulty, in other words, is not in seeing the answers: it's that our political system, fatally wounded by hyper-partisanship and the forsaking of reality-based thinking (mainly but not exclusively on one side of the aisle) is no longer able to function in the way in which it was designed. Our founders, silly boys that they were, imagined there'd always be in Congress at least a handful of educated people, willing to rise above pettiness to act for the common good.

And, of course, the fault is not entirely with our elected representatives: it's with those who elected them. Fed for decades on Reagonian economic fantasies and Bushy redefinition of patriotism to mean shopping and shutting up, the electorate has no stomach for those who'd tell them the truth, much less act on it.

So we'll never get there. Not in time, anyway. But it's not, as you'll see if you play the NYT's game, because it's too hard to find the answer.


Timmyson said...

I think that's the real problem with fun interactive sites like that. They make it look really easy. You don't have to answer for the reduction in capacity of the navy when the UN comes tapping on your shoulder, or the possibly valid opinion from the joint-chiefs that nuclear arsenal reduction is a problem, the very real possibility that reducing troop levels will further destabalize Afghanistan, or wade through the (I'm certain) truly challenging math and economic principles behind the CPI and alternate measures. You don't have to actually sit down and hash out what the malpractice standard would be, decide which behaviours you want to stop disincentivizing by closing tax loopholes (they were put there for some reason, good or bad), or try to arbitrate the proper way to measure carbon emissions.

They're certainly not being adult about it, but you've got, what, 400 people each with different priorities, and representing different constituencies which will be differentially affected by various measures. It wasn't easy to begin with, and you're not doing anyone any favours by implying such. On top of that, most of them are idiots or milquetoasts, so yeah, you're doomed.

Sid Schwab said...

Really? My take on it will affect the larger order of things? I'm not doing anyone favors?

I acknowledged oversimplification. But the general principle remains: reasonable raises in taxes, and reasonable cuts in spending aren't that hard to conjure. The commission's lowering of the highest rate to 23% makes everything else impossible politically. And, sure, my view of the Afghanistan war isn't shared by all. De-stabilize? Doesn't there have to be stability before you can destabilize?

But there are many options for reduced military spending not in the NYT game; same with alternatives to entitlement revision that would begin by indexing.

You're a bit of an over-literalist, I think, when you address my use of the word "easy." It's like Israel-Palestine: the solution, broadly, is recognizable by most people. Getting there, because of politics, is probably impossible. Which is what I said about the budget.