Boehner: Obama Must Reveal Mythic Bad Government

Hercules and the HydraPollsters are constantly asking Americans how much the government spends on foreign aid and how much it ought to spend on foreign aid. The numbers never really change in any substantial way. In a poll in 2010, Americans thought that the government spends about 25% of its budget on foreign aid and that it ought to only spend 10% of its budget on foreign aid. In fact, the government spends 1% on foreign aid.

I know: Americans are ignorant. Nothing to see here. Dog bites man. Now if our political elites thought such rubbish, that would be a story. Jonathan Chait wrote a really insightful column this afternoon that addresses this very issue, Why Republicans Can’t Propose Spending Cuts. Basically, his argument is that Republicans are vague on what it is they don’t like about government. But they are just certain that government is too damned big!

This, according the Chait, is why Boehner keeps yelling at Obama for not offering spending cuts. It isn’t a negotiating strategy. Rather, it is Boehner asking Obama to show him the hundreds of billions of dollars in government waste that Republicans just know is hidden in the budget. The problem, of course, is there is no such thing. By the standards of developed countries, we spend very little on social programs. We do, undoubtedly, spend too much on our military, but the Republicans wouldn’t think of cutting that. In fact, think back on Romney’s budget proposal: he wanted to cut taxes, spend more on military, and spend more on Medicare. What does that leave? Medicaid, basically.

How can we be surprised that Americans think our federal government throws away huge sums of money to help other countries who hate us? The Republican establishment thinks we throw away vast sums of money on… Something! Something bad. Something we certainly shouldn’t be doing. At least the public have an object for their concern. The Republican establishment has the vaguest of ideas. Chait:

When the only cuts on the table would inflict real harm on people with modest incomes and save small amounts of money, that is a sign that there’s just not much money to save. It’s not just that Republicans disagree with this; they don’t seem to understand it. The absence of a Republican spending proposal is not just a negotiating tactic but a howling void where a specific grasp of the role of government ought to be. And negotiating around that void is extremely hard to do. The spending cuts aren’t there because they can’t be found.

How do we move this country forward when one-half of the political spectrum is in an epic struggle with a mythical beast called “bad government” that not even they can see?

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Boehner: Obama Must Reveal Mythic Bad Government


    Approximate $$$ (USGS.C)

    Total 2013 Spending by Function

    Function -yr 2013 +yr

    Total Spending $6.3 trillion

    Pensions $1.1 trillion

    Health Care $1.2 trillion

    Education $0.8 trillion (800 billion)

    Defense $0.9 trillion (900 billion)

    Welfare $0.6 trillion (600 billion)

    Spending: guesstimated2

    Click chart for table of Spending
    or click: 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015

  2. @ThrashMikki – Use as many comments as you want! It’s free! But do tell me what your point is. I understand that the government does spend an almost unimaginable amount of money. But that isn’t the point of the article. Republicans have this idea that government is just too big in theory. But that doesn’t really mean anything. There isn’t a right size for the government other than it ought to be as big as it needs to be to do what the people want it to do.

    I think there is another way to look at the Republicans on this point. In fact, it is an argument that I have long been making here. The Republicans know that what they want to do is extremely unpopular. So it isn’t that they don’t know what they want to cut. It is that they don’t want to say it because it is poison.

    What’s your position on Republicans and the size of government?

  3. Everyone can point to examples of bad government, wasteful government, priorities they find ridiculous, and so forth. They’re innumerable, because every person has flaws and any organization made of of many people many flaws.

    Everyone can also make the same observations about any company they are a customer of or work with.

    What makes Republicans goofy on this is when government is apparently wasteful, they pounce — usefully so, we should pounce on government, we’re its owners and managers. But when private entities are wasteful/inefficient, they almost smile. "Exec A milked a golden parachute out of company B that he burned to the ground? That’s innovative, I want to do that!" Then they vote to have less oversight of those entities.

    As a result, government — despite its flaws, again inherent to any large organization — is far less inefficient than much of the private sector (and certainly less than most large/powerful companies.) Hence Medicare being better than market insurance, scandalous and wasteful privatization of city/state/federal functions, gross robbery by military contractors and so on.

    The anti-government logic is quite mad, but people often see what they want to see and ignore conflicting information — in Stiglitz’s "Price Of Inequality" (nice rec, BTW) it’s mentioned as "confirmatory bias" (p.150).

    I’d add to this the power of emulation/adoration. Right-wingers rarely cite private-sector successes involving companies that get more loyalty and creativity from employees by paying them well, since that is not how THEY want to achieve their goals. For one thing, creative and honest business owners are very smart people (which is why they are rare.)

    If I want to make it big, and I suspect I’m not all that bright, my heroes would be financial execs and oil CEOs, not someone who invented a brilliant new tool. Just like the average person enjoys stories of starlets "discovered" in Hollywood to actors that trained and honed their craft for years onstage. (Oddly, both the left and right worship Steve Jobs, who never invented anything.)

    Ideally citizens would be able to contribute ideas towards fixing flaws and encouraging genuine creativity in both the private and public sectors. But an ideology that worships the market (fine, some people have to worship things) is useless if it blinds acolytes to market failings. And blinds them to the best tool we have as a citizenry for correcting those failings — e.g., our participation in government oversight.

  4. @JMF – My experiences in corporate America has made me wonder how any of them make any money. They succeed despite their performance, not because of it. I know that the government isn’t that efficient. It is just that they are generally far more efficient than private enterprise while generally being much more fair to their employees.

    As for Jobs, I have ranted about him a lot around here. He did do some actual work in the early days. But you are right: what everyone loves about him is his marketing. Apple is a great company when it comes to sexing up technologies, but in the broader market, they are very bad. They’ve done as much or more than Microsoft to inhibit technological innovation.

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