Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Solving the Budget Crisis - Anywhere.

The first rule of budgeting is to look at your costs and priorities. It's as true for governments as it is for people. You look at the various things you spend time and money on and you decide if they actually bring the benefit you once thought.

This is one very dramatic example.

Watch the whole thing, and then realize the overwhelming truth. A positive budget shift of more than 2 billion dollars more or less immediately upon stopping the drug war. In California. Alone. 2 BILLION dollars.

I don't have to be an advocate of recreational drug use or medical marijuana to make that argument. I just have to point out that flushing two billion bucks down the crapper in return for no good outcome, much less anything like the intended outcomes (other than getting politicians elected) is really very stupid.

Let's look at a few other things going on in society. Currently, the majority of incomes are static or going down. This is due mostly to pressure from right wing groups (social and fiscal) who see the solution to everything to be cutting taxes and defunding "entitlement programs" like social services, medicare, etc.

On occasion, I do wonder if they ever think about consequences - at all. For some number of persons denied affordable health care for a loved one or a shot at a decent job will certainly cook methamphetamine to cover expenses. They will certainly consider stealing a BMW to pay the rent.  That is to say, you increase the statistical motivation for crime while at the same time decreasing the ability of  government to statistically decrease and prevent crime. Well-educated people, for instance, tend to have more lawful options, so are less likely to resort to violent crime. At the worst, they are less likely to blow their apartment building up because they couldn't read instructions for cooking  a drug.

Let us also remember that every usage of government comes at the price of something else it could be doing. This is a point Judge Grey makes above; that drug wars come at the price of investigating and prosecuting other crimes which, obviously, should take priority - basic things like murder, rape and robbery.

But it's also less obvious that many things government does are best done because they have diffuse, widespread benefits. Things like public health and welfare; universal, affordable heath care, vaccinations, sewage treatment, even direct welfare programs. These have many diffuse benefits that are obvious only in their absence; allowing ourselves to be ideologically blinded to the macro benefits because the "wrong people" will benefit on the micro level is breathtakingly stupid. Karl Smith illustrates this point.

If we want to build a model of what the government spends money on we would be best to start this way: ask people what social obligations do they believe “society” has. Look around for the cheapest – though not necessarily most efficient – programs that could credibly – though not necessarily effectively– address those obligations. Sum the cost of those programs. That will be government spending.

Contrary to Jonah Goldberg and others who see Canada and the United States as examples of two clashing ideologies, they are actually examples of two different ethic distributions.  The United States is not Canada because there is ethnic strife between Southern Blacks and Southern Whites. That strife reduces the sense of moral obligation on the part of the white majority and so reduces government spending.

I want to be very clear that I don’t say this to paint those against social spending as racists. From where I sit I am betting that most of the intellectuals lined up against expanding the welfare state are naively unaware that their support rests upon racial strife. Otherwise they would realize that as America integrates they are doomed. They are fighting as if they believe they have a chance of winning. Given the strong secular trend in racial harmony, they do not.
I point this out also to show why the major Republican strategy for limiting government was doomed from the start and why I am also not particularly worried about Americas fiscal future per se.
Now, it's becoming increasingly clear - to me at least - that people tend to discount the price they are willing to see other people pay to create the sort of society they would prefer to live in. I'd like you to try and look at this objectively - of course, I would be expecting rather a lot of you to do that. But try to look at the following and say, hm, supposing this actually was a sane idea that could arguably accomplish something positive, how much would it cost, and would it actually make more sense than, say, taking a third of that money and opening drug rehab beds, while blowing the rest on - oh, I dunno, something silly, like flood control?

Dick Morris calls Ron Paul ‘horrific’

If only Dick Morris would tell us how he really feels about libertarians.

During a radio interview with Peter Schiff, a former economic adviser to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, Dick Morris thought he’d be talking about his new book, and seemed annoyed when he found himself discussing trends within the Republican Party.

Schiff, who said he noticed that nearly a third of the people he met at CPAC came from the “Ron Paul/Gary Johnson wing” of the GOP, with the rest in the more traditional conservative camp of Mitt Romney, asked Morris how he thought this would play out in the presidential race.
“I strongly oppose Ron Paul,” Morris said. “I think he’s horrific. He wants us to end the War on Drugs. He wants us to end the War on Terror.”

“Do you think we’re winning the war on drugs?” Schiff interjected.
“No, because we’re not fighting it,” Morris replied.

“We’re not fighting it?” Schiff asked. “We don’t have enough laws against drugs?”

“No,” Morris replied. “We should drug test every high school student. We should drug test everybody that gets a student loan. Anybody that’s using drugs should not get a government student loan.”

Schiff argued that there was something vaguely socialist about the government giving out student loans in the first place, but Morris disagreed, and became increasingly annoyed.

“Peter, I’d like to talk about my book, which is ‘Revolt: How to Defeat Obama and Repeal his Socialist Programs,” Morris complained. “You know what, Peter? You talk to yourself for the next 15 minutes. That seems to be what you want to do.”

And with that, he hung up.

Morris’s feelings about Ron Paul are not a secret, as he called him “crazy” in a column in 2007. But the drug testing for all high school students is new, as far as I can tell. Morris did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE: Morris emails to clarify: "Yes, I support drug testing for all high school students with those who fail getting rehab. I support drug testing for all recipients of student loans and those that fail should be tested again and, if they fail, the loan should be terminated."
Let me get this straight here. Socialism is bad, because it presumes that some central planner, some "bureaucrat" has inappropriate power over you, and of course, the obvious objection and argument, that such immense, overreaching structures with their arbitrary rules and institutional mentalities are woefully inefficient at doing anything cheaply or well... but collecting pee in cups along with SAT tests is somehow an exception to that rule? Derisive laughter is the only possible response!

Government is best done when it's focused on what people actually do need and how they actually will behave. It makes a terrible nanny. It does well when it does what it absent-mindedly can to make resources, information and spaces available so that people can most effectively help themselves. Oh, and the best reason for it to do that is because people will help themselves and those who they approve of, regardless of what any particular government might think of that proposition, or who they feel has the "God-Given right" to determine the fate of the majority of people.


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