Posted by: bkivey | 4 March 2013

One Hand Clapping

The big national financial story this year has been the threat and implementation of ‘sequestration’. If you only get your information from the news, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a sudden crisis that sprang unforeseen out of nowhere. Sequestration is a consequence of the 2011 Budget Control Act passed on 2 August of that year, so Congress has had a year-and-a-half to come up with a budget plan. Now some of the very same people who voted for the Act, and the person who signed it into law, are falling all over themselves crying about the terrible effect of the required budget cuts.

“Is this the deal I would have preferred? No. But this compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need, and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year.”

President Obama, 2 August 2011

“It’s just dumb. And it’s going to hurt. It’s going to hurt individual people and it’s going to hurt the economy over all,”

President Obama, 1 March 2013

The $85 billion in the initial round of sequestration represents a whopping 2% of the FY2013 Federal budget. For comparison, the Federal budget grew by 5% between FY2011 and FY2012, and by 190% over the last ten fiscal years. In fairness, managers have only had 18 months to plan for this.

The striking feature of the current brouhaha is how one-sided the reporting is. Every single news item I’ve seen, across a variety of media, speaks of how bad cuts in government spending are: both for people individually and for the country at large. Huh? No media outlet could find a single person who thinks cuts in Federal spending is a good thing? This homogenous narrative gives rise to some thoughts.

Any society impacted to this extent by government spending is a society where government is way too large.

It wasn’t so long ago that most people’s contact with the Federal government was pretty much limited to the Postal Service and paying income tax. Now it’s hard to turn around without running into some Federal program or law. Note the increase in the size of the Federal budget over the last ten years referenced above. There are many reasons for this, but mostly they boil down to politicians buying votes, giving us a Federal Government nearly twice the size we had in 2002.

Many, perhaps most, Americans have little idea how government get its money.

If asked, most people would probably say that government raises revenue through taxes; some might mention debt. Given the hue and cry over the minimal spending cuts mandated under sequestration, a disturbing percentage of the population seems to think that government has its own pile of money in a warehouse somewhere. Politicians reinforce this idea by presenting the opposition as evil gatekeepers preventing people from getting ‘their’ money. Given that nearly half of Americans pay no Federal income tax, and that same group represents most of the government assistance demographic, it’s easy to see why there’s such a disconnect. For those of us paying taxes, especially those paying taxes quarterly, we’re all too aware of how government raises money.

The percentage of the population dependent on government programs is far too high.

In the process of using the people’s money to buy votes, politicians have created a dependent underclass that effectively has no future, because to have a future, they’d have to give up their government benefits. The 2012 election marked an inflection point in American society where more people were interested in voting for things than for freedom. The flip side of ‘help’ is ‘control’, and if you’re dependent on government welfare for some or all of your livelihood, you cannot be free. Yet politicians continue to sell the idea that assistance beneficiaries are free people while controlling their lives. This is politically useful, as any cuts to government programs will unleash a predictable fury from those who might possibly maybe be affected.

Short-term pain will lead to long-term gain.

It’s entirely true that budget cuts will cause short-term economic problems, but like any dynamic system, the economy will adjust. Or it would, if the politicians and bureaucrats would let it. But as soon as people start screaming, politicians will feel duty-bound to ‘fix’ the problems, thus leading to a situation worse than the original. Unfortunately, but predictably, politicians are using this situation to feed their constituents base impulses rather than as an educational and leadership opportunity.

There has been a complete and utter failure of leadership.

The whole purpose of the Budget Control Act was to force the very action that lawmakers don’t have the guts to do themselves. They even gave themselves 18 months to pass a budget that wouldn’t trigger the Act, and failed to do so. It’s a recurring and fatal pattern that the candidate will speak of cutting the Federal budget, but the officeholder will seek ways to curry favor with constituents by perpetuating the status quo. There seems to be an operating perception among the elected that just because there has always been money, there always will be. This mindset is either willfully ignorant, or willfully duplicitous. History is replete with examples of failed states doomed by financial overreach; indeed, one need look no further than contemporary Europe.

Not only have politicians and bureaucrats failed to lead, they’ve often acted in the most petty, vindictive ways possible. Whether at the local or national level, the first items offered up for cuts are core services. This is complete bullshit. Heads should roll over these types of actions. It has been slightly amusing to watch politicians backtrack their rhetoric as their scare tactics have failed to produce the desired results.

We finally get some actual reductions in Federal spending, and all anyone can talk about is how various victim groups are going to be affected. I’d like to see some representation from those of us paying the bills.

Calling 911

I was walking around downtown Portland last night when I came upon a man laying on the street bleeding from the mouth and head. It looked like he’d been in a fight. He wasn’t making any noise, just hunched over and bleeding while holding his mouth. I asked the two other guys there if he was with them, and they said no. I asked if they’d called 911. No. OK. So I called 911. I could have rendered aid, but I didn’t know anything about this guy, or what was swimming in his blood.

While I was on the phone, the guy got up and started washing himself off in the bubbler (public water fountain). By this time about a half-dozen people had gathered around, just watching this guy. Just before I got off the phone, he started walking off, still without making a sound, and leaving a fair amount of blood on the sidewalk. I gave the operator a description and direction of travel, and hung up.

About ten minutes later, I got a call from the responding police, informing me they couldn’t find the person. I don’t know what happened to him, but I did wonder why I was the first person to call in. Did everyone else think that staring at the man was somehow going to help him? “But, I was really empathetic.” Please.

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