Anything that is not granted is forbidden

As mentioned below, Jacob Levy is teetering on the edge of the precipice as far as voting for a Democrat this coming November, and gave a number of reasons why. Mostly, it was due to Bush exhibiting little-to-no leadership on the troubles in Iraq, having a feckless foreign policy outside of Iraq, and a domestic and fiscal policy of spending like a teenager let loose in a mall with Daddy's credit card.


Matthew Yglesias, looking a gift horse in the mouth, decides that he doesn't understand Jacob's politics. He thinks that since Jacob advocates policies, and since policies require spending, that there must be some sort of TANSTAAFL problem here since Jacob also wants the president to be pro-Tax Cuts.

The problem is that Matthew figures that all government spending, a priori is valid and that the burden of proof is on anyone who would want to say otherwise. One could say that Matthew's view on spending is that it is sticky-downwards; it can fly up all it wants (necessitating glorious tax increases!) but resists coming down.

This is not how Jacob, or really any actual liberal, views government and government spending. At the very least, I feel it is safe to assume that Jacob's starting point is that government spending is kept to as low a growth rate as possible (preferably zero or negative, in the aggregate). For those things that the government must do[1], you spend money, but overall you keep a tight rein on spending.

If Bush had kept non-defense discretionary spending growth to Clintonian levels, the budget deficit would be much smaller. By even that low bar, Bush has screwed the pooch.

What is worse is that Matthew, not just going beyond the pale (as is his usual wont) but really these days having no idea where the pale might be, goes right ahead and suggests[2] that because Jacob doesn't advocate tax hikes along with his spending that he's dishonest and then, after erecting a carefully trimmed straw man, declares that Jacob also wants the elderly to die because "obviously" the way to cut government spending is to eliminate Medicare entirely, immediately, and overnight.[3]

Contrary to the usual talking points of MY, Kevin Drum, et al., while 58.5% of the budget is either defense spending or The Welfare State (SocSec, Medicare, Medicaid), and 7.7% is debt service, the remaining 33.7% is "other" and, as the name says, "discretionary". (figures courtesy of Steve Verdon). Within that area, much can be done, and 33% of the federal budget is most certainly not a trivial area for savings to be had[4].

But I digress. The point is that the proper approach to government spending is that all spending is a priori suspect and the burden of proof is on the people who want it spent, especially if it is discretionary. Federal bureaucrats should have been pulling their hair out stressing about their budgets post 9/11 (save for the Defense Dept, State Dept, and Intelligence agencies). Matthew seems to think that both a recession and 9/11 didn't happen, or else that neither should have had an effect on federal budgeting[5], except to warrant ever yet still more taxes.

Now THAT's something I don't understand.

fn1. Note to radical anarcho-capitalists: the Standard Disclaimer applies here, too.

fn2. Ala Michael Moore- "I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin..."

fn3. Perhaps it was for lack of time that Matthew didn't ask his follow-up question, asking if Jacob had stopped beating his wife yet.

fn4. I see that cutting all of the "other" from the budget would free up $424 billion. That's about the size of the budget deficit now... Its just as likely to happen as cutting Medicare, but it doesn't have the extra smear effect of saying "you want to kill elderly people dontcha" to say "you just want Archer Daniels Midland to lose jobs" or "you want to deny rich white kids cheap student loans".

fn5. Which is extraordinarily odd for a New Yorker, I might add. Whats up with that?

Share this

Brian, I'm not an anarcho


I'm not an anarcho capitalist, but I think you aren't going far enough. Why not cut the military too? Do you really think we need 600+ bases throughout the world, stealth bombers and several thousand nuclear missles to defend this country against terrorists and other states? I mean we spend more than the next dozen or so biggest military spenders in the world combined on our military--do we really need to? Even "post 9-11"?

I think that having some sort of government is worthwhile, I just think that cutting 50-99% of nearly everything wouldn't hurt.


Jonathon, you are an an-cap,

Jonathon, you are an an-cap, you just don't realize it yet. :-)

Trimming the wings of the defense contractors wouldn't hurt one bit.

Oh, no doubt we could cut

Oh, no doubt we could cut defense spending back, too. The US military still, in many ways, has a capital structure built to fight the Cold War. Restructuring to be able to fight, say, just China in a one-theater conflict (conventionally) and tailor the rest of the military to "small war" type fighting would probably yield some savings. Unlike Kevin Carson, I don't believe a bipolar or multipolar world is a safer one. Unipolar/Hegemonic worlds = less conventional war. OTOH, when we start trying to occupy the world, we engender unconventional war. Post Iraq, I'm with Jim Henley- I want everyone to have the ever-loving fear of God & the US military, be intimidated from afar, and that the US military (like nuclear weapons) would never have to be used again. Probably a pipe dream, but I still prefer unipolar hegemony to the Cold War or the Imperial System of 19th Century Europe (multipolar).

As far as the budget goes, though, I'm just saying that even keeping the status quo ante in place for the Military-Welfare complex, there is still plenty of room in the "other" column to reduce spending to eliminate the deficit rather than rely on hiking tax rates. The best outcome, IMO, would be to cut spending and grow our way out of the deficit.

I think I've settled on my

I think I've settled on my voting strategy. In spite of only being at best a small-l libertarian, I'll probably vote Libertarian.

1) This is an abstention on the Republicans. They talk a good game about free trade, restricting government spending, and "liberty and justice for all", but the best predictor of their actions I have found is "do whatever it takes to stay in power". Bush connections and K-street manipulations set off all my 'political-machine' alarms.

2) Everything Kerry says raises my blood pressure.

3) It's not like I really have to worry about whether the Libertarian candidate would actually be an effective president.

4) The country can survive whichever major party candidate becomes president.

5) Whichever major party loses will look for where it could have picked up more votes. If the Libertarians get a respectable amount of the popular vote, some of their policies may get cribbed by a major party in the future.

6) Voting is cheap, though perhaps not very effective. Talking about how I will vote is just as cheap, but possibly more effective. Someone here might adopt the same strategy or help me improve on it.