"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Two Data Points on Government Spending

We keep hearing from the left that we can't cut government spending enough to balance the budget, we have to raise taxes on "the wealthy."   Putting aside the fact that there aren't enough "wealthy" to tax even at confiscatory rates to balance the budget, here are two data points that put the lie to the notion that we can't cut government spending.

First, did you know that we are now spending more than $1 trillion on means-tested welfare programs, nearly double what we spend on defense?   This is not including Social Security and Medicare, but does include as the five largest line items:
  • $296 billion for Medicaid
  • $75 billion in SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) food stamps
  • $59 billion in Supplemental Security Income
  • $55 billion in earned income tax credits
  • $41 billion in Pell grants for higher education
We have an obligation as Christians to help the poor.   That includes helping them when they are sick, when they are hungry, when they are disabled.   The question is whether those obligations are best discharged through massive government programs, filled with waste and susceptible to fraud, or whether they would be better discharged locally, with local oversight.   I think that it has been an enormous mistake to take charity out of the hands of churches and local communities, and federalize it.   Can we unwind the federal programs without massive social dislocation?   Perhaps not.   But we are going to find out, because we can't afford this to go on much longer.

Second, Senator Tom Coburn annually does a report on the most egregious wasteful expenditures of taxpayer money in the federal budget.   Here are some of the items:
  • "More than $2 billion of beverages sweetened with sugar are purchased with food stamps every year, according to a study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.58 "Fifty-eight percent of all refreshment beverages purchased by SNAP participants were for sugar-sweetened beverages," such as soda pop and sports drinks." 
  • In 2009, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) began pursuing a four-year plan to improve the economic competitiveness of Morocco. A review by the agency’s Inspector General (IG) found the $27-million project "was not on track to achieve its goals."  A key part of the project involved training Moroccans to create and design pottery to sell in domestic and international markets.   To accomplish this, an American pottery instructor was contracted to provide several weeks of training classes to local artists to improve their methods and teach them how to successfully make pottery that could be brought to market. Unfortunately, the translator hired for the sessions was not fluent in English and was unable to transmit large portions of the lectures to the participants. 
  • $9 million in federal money was earmarked to a failing for-profit ferry verging on bankruptcy, which very few people benefitted from and a small town in Alaska did not want.  To make matters worse, this project is threatening the economic health of once vibrant local tour and ferry operator businesses. Operating about one hundred miles south of Anchorage, the federally funded ferry duplicates and threatens services offered by existing private businesses and the state’s own ferry service.  The ferry, Kachemak Voyager – which is managed by the Seldovia Village Tribe – runs between Seldovia and Homer, towns 16 miles apart from one another across the bay.  Since 2010, the $3.3 million Kachemak Voyager has frustrated Seldovia’s two other private tour and ferry operators who had run successful businesses for years.149 The companies are unable to compete with the ferry’s millions in taxpayer support, which lowers Voyager’s ticket prices. "The tribe was supposed to build a ferry for moving people, cars and freight. Instead they took that money and bought a tour boat," said Tim Cashman, owner of Alaska Coastal Marine Services, one of Seldovia’s two private tour operators. "It has taken a 30-40 percent bite out of my business - our losses are in the hundreds of thousands. The federal government has actually borrowed money from my children to put me out of business."

The Regular Guy will now impart some common sense.  

Don't borrow money from one foreign country to pay foreign aid to another foreign country.  

Don't borrow money to subsidize businesses in America that compete with other American businesses. 

Don't borrow money to buy soda when you can drink water.

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