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Archive for March 5th, 2013

Public finance experts are quite familiar with the budgetary shenanigans of cossetted government bureaucracies.

They even have terms to describe how agencies and departments try to manipulate outcomes by claiming that any requirement for fiscal restraint will necessitate cuts to the most politically popular parts of the budget.

  • The “fireman first principle” – Describes how local government bodies (often coordinating with local politicians) will claim that firemen will have to be laid off and/or firehouses will have to close if there is any budgetary discipline. You can replace firefighters with cops or teachers if you want. The key point is to divert attention from the countless ways that local governments waste money by focusing on the few things that voters actually care about.
  • The “Washington Monument syndrome” – Based on a real-world example during the 1970s of the National Park Service claiming it would have to shut down tourist access to popular Washington-area sites if it was subject to fiscal restraint, the modern-day equivalent is President Obama scaring people with hysterical assertions about threats to food safety and airline operations.

Thomas Sowell clearly understands this racket.

Back in my teaching days, many years ago, one of the things I liked to ask the class to consider was this: Imagine a government agency with only two tasks: (1) building statues of Benedict Arnold and (2) providing life-saving medications to children. If this agency’s budget were cut, what would it do? The answer, of course, is that it would cut back on the medications for children. Why? Because that would be what was most likely to get the budget cuts restored. If they cut back on building statues of Benedict Arnold, people might ask why they were building statues of Benedict Arnold in the first place.

Bingo. Bulls-eye. A perfect analysis of bureaucratic incentives and public-choice economics.

Sowell then describes what’s now happening in Washington.

The Obama administration is following the same pattern. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, released thousands of illegal aliens from prisons to save money — and create alarm. The Federal Aviation Administration says it is planning to cut back on the number of air traffic controllers, which would, at a minimum, create delays for airline passengers, in addition to fears for safety that can create more public alarm. …it serves Obama’s interest to maximize the damage and the public alarm, which he can direct against Republicans. President Obama has said that he would veto legislation to let him choose what to cut. That should tell us everything we need to know about the utter cynicism of this glib man.

The political cartoonists also are having a field day making fun of Obama’s silly demagoguery.

Let’s start with Michael Ramirez. You can see why he’s currently leading in the best-cartoonist poll.

Sequester Cartoon Ramirez 4

Nate Beeler also has a good contribution to the debate. The President is acting like the world is going to end because spending is going to be “slashed” by 1.2 percent, which means – gasp! – that spending will “only” grow by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years.

Yet somehow Armageddon has not occurred.

Sequester Cartoon Beeler 4

Indeed, the worst possible outcome for Obama and the other statists is that people notice zero negative impact when spending is restrained.

This Steve Kelley cartoon is very appealing to me because it shows the President going after the sequester when the real problem is an excessive burden of government spending.

Sequester Cartoon Kelley 4

Last but not least, we have a very good Scott Stantis cartoon.

Sequester Cartoon Stantis 4

The Stantis cartoon is particularly insightful because the GOP has won the battle, but the war is not over.

As I noted yesterday, Obama will have several additional opportunities to undo the sequester savings.

Thomas Jefferson was right when he warned that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

P.S. You can enjoy more sequester cartoons here, here, and here.

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In this appearance on Canadian TV, IĀ  debunk anti-sequester hysteria, pointing out that “automatic budget cuts” merely restrain government so that it grows $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years rather than $2.5 trillion.

I also point out that we shouldn’t worry about government employees getting a slight haircut since federal bureaucrats are overcompensated. Moreover, I warn that some agencies may deliberately try to inconvenience people in an attempt to extort more tax revenue.

But I think the most important point in the interview was the discussion of what happened in Canada in the 1990s.

This example is important because the Obama White House is making the Keynesian argument that a smaller burden of government spending somehow will translate into less growth and fewer jobs.

Nobody should believe them, of course, since they used this same discredited theory to justify the so-called stimulus and all their predictions were wildly wrong.

But the failed 2009 stimulus showed the bad things that happen when government spending rises. Maybe the big spenders want us to think the relationship doesn’t hold when government gets put on a diet?

Well, here’s some data from the International Monetary Fund showing that the Canadian economy enjoyed very strong growth when policymakers imposed a near-freeze on government outlays between 1992 and 1997.

Canada - Less Spending = More Growth

For more information on this remarkable period of fiscal restraint, as well as evidence of what happened in other nations that curtailed government spending, here’s a video with lots of additional information.

By the way, we also have a more recent example of successful budget reductions. Estonia and the other Baltic nations ignored Keynesian snake-oil when the financial crisis hit and instead imposed genuine spending cuts.

The result? Growth has recovered and these nations are doing much better than the European countries that decided that big tax hikes and/or Keynesian spending binges were the right approach.

Paul Krugman, not surprisingly, got this wrong.

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