The sequestration cuts required by the budget control act of 2011 are about to go into effect. The press, much of congress, business, and many governors have gone into hysterics about the effects of the cuts. Republicans and conservative Democrats have in particular been keen to avoid defense cuts. As though you could come anywhere close to balancing the budget with domestic spending cuts alone. The reactions to these cuts tell us several things about the role of the federal government and the real way to cut the deficit going forward.
While most members of congress talk about cutting waste by some odd coincidence the money wasted by the federal government never seem to be the money spent in their district. Even the most conservative congressmen will defend spending that is stupidly wasteful if it’s in their district. In Congressman Paul Ryan’s hometown of Janesville the airport will close because of the sequestration, Ryan has mentioned this, but Janesville is within an hour’s drive of two far larger airports. Why was it ever funded in the first place? It just serves as a convenience for a small number of local notables who charter private jets, like Paul Ryan. In fairness Paul Ryan doesn’t pay for his jets; the Koch Brothers do. Still the Koch brother’s jet could easily fly into Madison, and the Koch brothers could hire a limo to drive down and fetch Paul.
The other Element of this is the fact that every American is dependent on the government to some degree, and thus will be hurt by some degree by the cuts. This is not a sign of a weak nation that needs to be babied; it’s the sign of a busy hardworking nation with other things to do. Take roads for instance; in the frontier days a farmer who wanted a road just built one, he had the time, and the skills. Today a software engineer has neither the time nor the skills to build his own road. He pays taxes to get the government to do it. He is not weak; he is highly trained specialist. We have federal meat inspectors because the average American doesn’t know how to inspect the meat themselves. To learn how to do so means the opportunity loss of learn more economically rewarding skills. The reality is that many of the functions government provides are things that we can’t do for ourselves because we are economically specialized.
The other major spending on government programs provide a safety net, which is really just working people paying insurance in case they are unable to work. The reality is that this safety net allows people to take risks they would not take otherwise. If we eliminate social security disability, and Americans had to take out the far more expensive private disability insurance it would eliminate billions in retail spending.
The reality is if we are going to cut the size of government we would have redesign the American economy. It would be an economy where Americans would stop learning economically vital skills in order to do things that the government does now.