Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Turning Things Upside Down on Purpose

Ah, my friend - you understand why I chose to run in a different direction!

Yes, the Professor's challenge was well constructed and you are most accurate when you point out the exercise of attempting to 're-work' the existing budget - not the task of actually doing it - was the lesson itself. Another subtle aspect of the lesson to be learned - which I admit I inadvertently stumbled upon - was to recognize the need to step back from the details of trying to corral the Budget Monster and look and the situation with fresh eyes.

My radical(!) percentage-based approach to managing the budget is novel (I hope). It certainly has the attractiveness of having never been tried. But, IMHO, your charge that it requires 'no work' for conservatives is hardly appropriate. (To address this challenge to my Honor and Integrity, I'll meet you at dawn, Suh, with coffee and pistols for two...) I respectfully suggest it is equally troublesome to all bureaucrats, regardless of ideology.

First of all, the concept as presented is by no means complete. The first stage is to establish categories of spending at the highest point, which I started. Within each upper-level category will be sub-categories, which are yet to be assigned and percentages allocated. Is NASA part of R&D or Defense? Homeland security? The FBI? Defining the upper categories alone is a most tricky job and by no means easy... and it's way too early to start talking about “How Much do we have?” at the lower levels.

As with the Professor's diabolical spinning-wheel of an almost-impossible task, the Lesson of my alternate approach is *not* in the definition of categories and percentages for this-and-that. Instead, it is quite difficult and requires much soul-searching to (re)define the proper role of government when it comes to taxation and spending. And, YES, I admit that - on the surface - this task is easier for me than you, simply because of our difference of opinion on More or Less government being a Goal. It all starts at the top, and the devil-in-the-details becomes increasingly apparent.

I am not immune to the quandary that arises when long-cherished programs must fall under the ax, as simply paying for ANYTHING requires an honest and hard look at whether or not specific departments, programs, and tasks are *appropriate* for the federal government to handle. Then, once accepted, figuring out how which category it belongs to and much of much of THAT defined category's budget will be consumed becomes even more challenging. How much of Defense is spent on military bases? Weapons systems? How much of Entitlements is to be consumed by Medicare? Social Security? And so on. Remember – the percentages of the available funding are predefined. Thus, spending for the sake of spending at the detail is strongly discouraged if not eliminated outright.

Note that the problem of future deficits are non-existent, and a mechanism is put in place to handle re-payment of current deficits (albeit slowly, but it will eventually get done). 'Emergency' spending – if funds haven't been saved for such an event – can only be allocated by *immediate* changes in existing spending WITHIN THAT CATEGORY (and you can't borrow from next year's revenue!). Another not-so-easy task. Further, the effect of government action (or inaction) will most certainly affect the tax revenue stream, FORCING the legislative branch to adapt their policies based on their direct impact to the economy and thereby to tax revenues. Congress cannot pretend policies don't have an effect! If the federal government enacts a policy – no matter how well-intentioned – that makes available revenues for spending go DOWN, they *have* to fix it!... Another desirable side-effect.

Note also, that a STATE government is free to follow these objectives according to its own judgment. Categories and percentages will be different by region and by the direction of the citizenry. However, my proposal is limited (at this time) to discussing the role of spending by the FEDERAL government.

I guess I am more Jeffersonian and you appear to be somewhat Hamiltonian when it comes to federal power and responsibility. I see increased local control to address local issues - as defined by the wants, needs, and desires of those directly affected - to be a Good Thing. The separation of powers, duties and accountability/responsibility between Federal and State levels is a founding principle we should revisit - it was put there for a Reason.

All this to say... I am sure the Professor is smiling at both of us now. At You, for spotting the Real Purpose of the exercise. And at me, for turning the spending process itself on its ear to propose a new mechanism which forces government bureaucrats to learn how things work in the Real World.

It is easy to appeal to the Professor's anarchist tendencies. After all, he once said, something like, "all impediments to legislation are desirable”. I am sure he feels the same way about establishing hard limits taxation and reckless, unrestrained spending...

Limits are a Good Thing - it's putting them in place that is hard.

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