Repeal Sequestration

Chris HayesYesterday’s Up with Chris Hayes was really interesting. It was good in the way the show usually is, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Through much of the show, Hayes was pleading to the world—including his panel—to have congress pass a “one sentence law saying no sequestration.” I share his exasperation.

The economics of this are very clear. Our economy has spent the last four years crawling very slowly out of recession. The government should be spending more. Now is not the time for austerity. We’ve already cut one and a half trillion dollars in the disastrous 2011 Debt Ceiling deal. Then we increased taxes by roughly $600 billion in the Fiscal Cliff deal. The deficit has been reduced every year that Obama has been president. Where is the fucking fire?!

Meanwhile, Greg Sargent reports this morning that Republican governors are starting to push for a Sequester deal. This isn’t that surprising. Congressional Republicans can obstruct and delay, looking toward a time when they are again in the White House. But Republican governors actually have to govern. As crazy as they are, they know if the trains stop running or the schools close down, they will be blamed.

Of course, all these people calling for a deal are missing the main point. While it is true that raising the taxes of rich people doesn’t hurt the economy as much as taking food stamps away from poor people, it does still hurt the economy. I was none too happy with the Fiscal Cliff deal. Yes, I think that the rich should pay more in taxes. (Of course, as usual, the administration didn’t even do a very good job at that goal.) But many liberals celebrated like it was some great blow for the people. Passing card check would have been infinitely better for the people.

Republicans aren’t the only problem in this Sequester fight. I find myself very frustrated with liberals who seem to think that the critical issue is between good and bad government spending. Sure, it is best that the government spend wisely. But in a depressed economy, spending is a good thing. There are no caveats. Howard Dean has been going around saying that the Sequester, while unfortunate, is a winner. At first, he was just making the same specious arguments about debt and “certainty.” Now he seems to be claiming that this is a once in a generation opportunity to cut defense spending. While this new argument may be better than the old argument, the economy can ill afford these cuts right now.

I almost dread a deal for the way liberals will act—pretending it is on par with the second coming of Christ. As it is, the administration isn’t even asking for half revenue. It is more like one-third revenue. So you can imagine, if a deal is struck, it is likely to be one-quarter revenue. I’m not saying that would be terrible, but I will be galled to hear people claim it is a liberal victory. A true liberal victory would be a “one sentence law saying no sequestration.”

Update (25 February 2013 9:05 am)

The Washington Post has an excellent table that runs down how the Sequester will affect education funding in each state. Even if you want to (and you shouldn’t, because it is a canard), this isn’t about “waste, fraud, and abuse.”

Update (25 February 2013 9:27 am)

What do you know! The Pew Charitable Trust has put together an interactive map that shows how big the cuts will be to state budgets. It turns out that the non-defense Sequester hurts red states a lot more than blue states. Part of this is just that red states (The real America!) are the “takers” and the blue states (The anti-American bastards!) are the “makers.” But don’t think this will cause a ground swelling of Republican opposition to the Sequester. Most conservatives believe they don’t have their hands out to the government. In fact, I am constantly amazed at how many Fox News quoting conservatives live off SSI. They are for cutting programs because they just know that Rush, Sean, and the whole gang understand that Mr. Conservative SSI Recipient is one of the “deserving.” They would never cut funding for such loyal conservative media consumers!

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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 “Repeal Sequestration

  1. FM this is only tangentially related to your post, but do you think it is a contradiction to be economically progressive while being socially libertarian. For example you probably already know my opinion on our drug laws from my comments on HH, (government has no right to tell people what drugs they may or may not consume, ect). And for marriage, I do not care if people marry others of the same sex or if one man wants 3 wives or one woman wants 6 husbands (as long as the polygamy is consensual). I think people are generally the best judge of how to lives their lives. I absolutely detest the "Nanny state" that some liberals seem to love (I’m looking at you Mayor Bloomberg).

    But economically I simply cannot get with the pull yourself up by the bootstraps, end welfare platform of many libertarians. When Ron Paul said legalize heroin during the primaries I cheered, then when he suggested ending medicare/public hospitals and suggested poor people rely on charities I groaned. Without some social safety net you are left with "let them die/starve/freeze/whatever if they can’t pay the bill."

    Perfect example: at another blog someone left comments bitching about how someone used their foodstamps to buy $30 worth of medicine, return it for cash and then buy booze and lotto tickets. Now people probably shouldn’t be buying those things with their benefits, but really it would cost more money to implement a monitoring system then they would save by curbing "abuse." The thing is I really don’t care about "welfare cheats." Even if "abuse" was rampant, which it is not, it’s so insignificant compared to HSBC laundering billions in drug profits for cartels and terrorists and they don’t even get criminally charged. Corporate welfare is a much bigger problem, both in absolute numbers and for the ideology of "free" markets.

    Maybe in a more egalitarian society there would be no need for welfare. Perhaps the very poor could truly live off of charitable donations. But we are nowhere close to that society. It seems to me that ending welfare (just one example) would bring us back to bread lines and soup kitchens.

    So to summarize this rant, I would describe myself politically as socially libertarian, economically progressive. Is that a contradiction?

  2. @Andy – I’m right with you. Even when I called myself a libertarian, I had a real problem with the economic side of it. I will have to give your question some serious thought. It is in the back of my mind much of the time, but I haven’t given it the kind of direct thought that it deserves.

    Off hand, the issue is the cost and benefit of living in a society. There really is a great economic benefit to living in say San Francisco that you don’t get living alone in the middle of some wilderness. For one thing, in that kind of situation, one man could never be worth 1000 other men. For that kind of leverage, you need a society. (I don’t believe that one man is ever worth 1000 men, but our society allows it. Bill Gates made $20 million today; how much did you make?)

    The question is what value the society gets in constraining the behaviors of individuals. Clearly, society has a compelling interest to take some money in the form of taxes to pay for things that we all use like roads. (A good example of libertarian silliness: their belief in private roads. Creating public roads and paying for them with a gas tax is an infinitely more efficient system, even if your primary concern is individual freedom.)

    Does the society has a compelling interest to feed and cloth the poor? I think it does. The vast majority of a person’s economic position is environmental: if your parents were poor, you are probably poor. But a case can be made that there isn’t such an interest. Such arguments are (whether acknowledged or not) social Darwinian arguments. They are anti-science, despite the name. They are the same arguments that supported the monarchy in the past. Social science research has shown that it is better to be born rich and stupid than poor and smart.

    To these, I would offer up an argument I’ve made in bits and pieces about property rights. In a world with scarce property (you can’t just homestead to Utah), the government has a duty to support the poor because they can’t hunt and gather given that all the property around them is private.

    (Another thing about libertarians: they are easy to confuse. Most of my conversations with them end with a head scratch and a, "I’ll have to think about that." The reason is that they create a very simple model of the world. When you introduce reality into it–like the fact that society itself constrains personal liberty–the model collapses on itself. But it was always silly to assume that that there is some simple system that can cure all the ills of society. But I appreciate the idealism of it.)

    What is the compelling interest in limiting marriage to one man and one woman? I have no idea. I’m with Mrs. Campbell, "Does it really matter what these affectionate people do–so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses!" The arguments all seem to come down to the typical "War on Christmas" special pleading. You may have noticed this: people who claim there is a war on Christmas are really saying that everyone should hold Christmas above all other holidays. This is why "Happy Holidays!" is no good; it doesn’t say, "Yes! But Jesus Christ really [i]is[/i] God and all those other religions are wrong!" And so it is with marriage equality.

    I am fine with multiple member marriages. I do, however, think that the society has a compelling interest to see that young women (or men, but currently the problem would most apply to women) are not being forced into marriage arrangements they do not want. This is the same compelling interests that says that 9-year-olds can’t marry.

    Drug laws are the most bizarre. In other areas we are moving forward, but with drugs we move backwards. I don’t see how the state can have a compelling interest in stopping people from using opioids in the privacy of their homes while allowing people to use alcohol in public houses where they often drive home in an impaired state…

  3. The fundamental problem with libertarianism is that it claims that the state never has interests that are more compelling than those of individuals. Except when it does, as they always admit when it comes to public safety and courts and wars. But isn’t it strange that the functions of government that are most likely to deprive you of liberty are the only ones that the libertarians claim are essential? And then, companies can oppress you but the government doesn’t have any rights regarding that because… Liberty! (Note: I’ve also written a lot about how libertarianism tends to create a system where everyone is suing everyone. That’s bad enough. But then we know that courts are not all that fair–usually yielding to the rich and powerful. This is especially true with poorly funded judicial systems. Again: isn’t some form of regulation more efficient than requiring a thousand people to sue when the local chemical company "accidentally" pours Chromium into the ground water?)

    That ought to give you some idea about my thinking. As I get older, I get more pragmatic. But most all of my thinking is based upon balancing interests. Drug laws aren’t wrong because the government never has interests that trump the individual’s. They are wrong because the government has never shown that it has a compelling interest in this regard. And I doubt they can. Especially after decades of the Drug War.

  4. @Andy — the case you mention of a blogger being annoyed that someone gamed the system for $30 is a great example of anecdotal evidence. Someone misused their food stamps (this is incidentally impossible to do in states where food money for the poor comes in the form of a debit card), therefore most dollars spent on food stamps are wasted.

    The thing is we all have seen people who abuse social programs, take advantage of workplace protections for injured employees, and so on. Few of us personally know Citigroup executives who got muti-millions in bonuses while their company was taking bailout money so as to not collapse because of its colossal mismanagement.

    I have a libertarian brother who works for Travelers’ Insurance (a Citigroup subsidiary) and he assures me Travelers’ did not get any bailout money. Well, it did (its parent corporation did.) But he doesn’t know any corrupt CEOs himself, so he’s reluctant to believe that financial institutions took taxpayer money and handed it out in bonuses to corrupt CEOs. He never saw it. He’s happy to believe that all liberals are pretentious twits and all people on assistance are duplicitous schemers, because he’s seen examples of those things occurring. (I’m simplifying his views, yet not by very much.)

    Anecdotal evidence is hard to dismiss. We can make a mental effort not to rely on it ourselves, and still have a difficult time trying to convince others they shouldn’t rely on it. I’m not sure how to counter it; it’s very effective.

  5. @JMF – In arguing with anyone, but conservatives especially, I find that they make broad generalizations based upon nothing but prejudice. But then when you counter them with facts, suddenly they want to form a commission for you to prove it is true. "I’d have to read that paper!" they say, as though they’ve ever read an academic paper in their lives. The most dangerous beliefs are the ones you don’t know you hold.

    I’ve heard this same kind of thing with Obama’s birthplace. More reasonable conservatives will say, "I just don’t know where Obama was born." The reply that such people never questioned the birthplaces of Bush or Clinton doesn’t seem to mean anything to these people. It just makes sense that until they are given proof that Obama was born in the US (being there at the birth presumably), they just can’t know. And in a narrow sense they are right: I can’t know that there is an objective reality outside my brain; it could be all a kind of dream; maybe Obama doesn’t even exist! (In which case he [i]definitely[/i] doesn’t have the constitutional right to be president!)

    Libertarians mostly live in the land of fairies and elves. They don’t like to think of the real world of Bernard Madoff. When you get right down to it, libertarianism is the most simplistic kind of moral reasoning. But I don’t think libertarians realize that.

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