LATTE ECONOMICS

Posted in Rants on November 3rd, 2009 by Ed

So while we're on the topic of Doug Hoffman, who appears to be on his way to victory in the NY-23 special election, let's familiarize ourselves with exactly what kind of genius we're dealing with here.

The economy still isn't great, right? I hope Doug has a plan to fix it. His website states:

Would you vote for higher taxes to help pay for the deficit?

President Ronald Reagan said it best: “The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much.” Before we even consider raising taxes we must first bring spending under control.

What spending would you cut?

I would cut the pork and wasteful earmarks.

Sure you would, cubby. Let's grab the knife and start slicing at something that amounts to 1% of the Federal budget. That'll straighten things out!

This fallacy has been rampant since the economy took a nosedive just over a year ago – the idea, applicable to micro- and macroeconomics, that all we need to do to right the ship is trim a little waste. For individuals who are struggling economically, the cure is simply to stop pampering themselves with unnecessary spending. In other words, stop buying that $3 latte every morning, stop seeing first-run movies on Fridays, and voila! The bank won't take your house after all. This same prescription is scaled up to the national level. If only we'd cut out our national latte – we call them "earmarks" or "pork" to obscure the fact that we have absolutely no goddamn clue what specific items should be excised – the budget would be balanced so fast our heads would spin.

In reality this makes no sense whatsoever. The problem with individuals in dire financial straits is not that they need to trim a little bit from the margins; it is that their fixed costs are too high. Real wages haven't gone up in 25 years and the paycheck barely covers the mortgage and car payment, so any shock, any unexpected expense, brings the house of cards crashing down. In the macroeconomic context our expenses aren't quite as "fixed" (unless we have to spend $341,000,000 per day in Iraq!) but the fundamental problem is the same. By the time we pay for Social Security, Medicare, Iraq, the standing military, interest on the national debt, and eight years of Bush tax cuts, we're already in the red. That coming in on the back end and taking the $1 million project to re-pave a highway in Congressman Smith's district will change that is idiotic.

This brand of economics is the conservative obsession with personal responsibility taken to the nth degree. We are weak, selfish, and we spend frivolously. If only we'd buckle down, pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, and limit ourselves to "necessary" expenditures we would be fine. Yes, we can cherry pick an example here or there of a person who blows all his money on plasma screen TVs and can't pay his mortgage just like we can find earmarks that are pure waste. Neither example is evidence that our problems as people and as a nation have to do with priorities. Our problems are systemic and deeply rooted. We are at a crisis point not because we are choosing between the mortgage and a mall shopping spree. Instead, we are choosing between the mortgage and college tuition, Medicare or the military. If only our choices were as simple as Doug Hoffman thinks they are. That sentence works just as well with a period after "Hoffman."