Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Fool's Argument for the Debt Issue

Here is an argument you are going to hear a lot as the government works on a plan to try to bring our federal budget under control. Somebody will bring up an option (call it "Option A") that will help close the deficit. This will have to be either a plan to cut spending, or to increase revenue. Either way, there are people currently benefitting from the spending that is cut, or who will have to pay the revenue that will be collected. Advocates for those people will then tell us:

"Option A will do too little good. You should focus on Options B, C, D, E, F, G, and H, among others, instead."

This, from the point of view of somebody who benefits or who has an ideological attachment to taking Option A off the list.

Somebody with an ideological or financial commitment that is threatened by Option B will tell us something slightly different.

"Option B will do too little good. You should focus on Options A, C, D, E, F, G, and H, among others, instead."

And, of course, from the special interest or advocates of the dogma threatened by Option C, we can expect to hear:

"Option C will do too little good. You should focus on Options A, B, D, E, F, G, and H, among others, instead."

The end result will be the rejection of Options A through H among others. When, in fact, the problem requires the acceptance of Options A through H among others. The acceptance of these options is the very essence of “shared sacrifice” and “fair play”.

Here’s an example:

Warren Buffett, one of the mega-rich, wrote an article about taxing the mega-rich to help balance the government's budget.

Jeffrey Miron wrote the following response:

Why Warren Buffett is Wrong

Miron tells us that Buffett is wrong because Buffett's "Option A" will do too little (raising only $73 billion per year), and that we should focus on Options B (regulatory barriers to entry in starting a business), C (eliminating government favors to particular industry such as the oil and automobile industries), and D (eliminating the expense and excessive risk taking that are the moral hazard created by government bail-outs) instead.


Of course, talk to the people whose business is being protected from competition by these "barriers to entry" regulations, and they will tell you, "This option will do too little. You should focus on taxing the rich, eliminating corporate welfare, and not bailing out Wall Street instead."

And the recipients of corporate welfare will tell us, "You should focus on taxing the rich, eliminating regulatory barriers to starting a new business, and not bailing out Wall Street instead."

To be fair, Miron offers a few other points that this objection does not apply to. This is not all that Miron says on the matter. But he does say this, and it is to this that my comments apply.

My point here is that - this is a foolish argument.

But, we can expect to be surrounded by this stupid argument everywhere we turn during the next three months.

Well, we actually see it all the time, but it is going to be particularly common in the next three months as the legislature tries to find either $1.5 trillion it can cut (harming those who will not get the money they would otherwise get), or in additional revenue it can acquire (harming those who will then pay this revenue).

My complaint is both with the people who make this argument, and the people who promote this type of demagoguery by giving it a prominent place in the public debate.

Anybody who makes this argument is either exceptionally selfish or ideologically blind. This is not somebody who cares about the country or the welfare of its people. This is somebody who cares about their own welfare regardless of what its cost is to others, or arrogantly insists on his own infallibility in adopting a particular dogma.

A person who actually cared about making a meaningful contribution to the debate would take a different path. That person would say, "I am not going to use stupid arguments like this to defend my position. If my position actually makes sense, then there should be reasonable and logical arguments I can make to defend it. If I cannot find a decent argument to defend my position, I am going to substitute foolish arguments such as this. I will, instead, use it as reason to believe my position is not as defensible as I thought it was.

The same is true of those who give space, respect, and support to those who make this kind of argument. They would say, "I want to give my space, respect, and support to those who are eager to make substantive contributions to the debate, not those who clutter the debate with foolish nonsense such as this."

With a few more people like that in the world, maybe we can clear away some of this muck and get down to having some intelligent discussions.


mojo.rhythm said...


Both parties have lost it. I would bet many dollars that there is not going to be a cent of revenue increases as part of the DRS. Every member of the Republican party in the SC would rather eat broken glass with AIDS-infected blood on it than vote for new revenues.

On the Democratic side, you have Max Baucus, a man more than willing to accede to the GOP demands.

So the GOP has won already. There will be no tax increases. Nor will there be a nickle stripped from the military budget.

Incidentally, most of the population favours a millionaire tax, and increased spending on certain social programs.

Which just goes to show you the disastrous shape that the American political system is in.

Anonymous said...

Psychadelicfuse81 is right. The Super Congress is already an open and shut case. The Republicans will be a cut-cut-cut monolyth, and Max Baucus alone renders the entity of the other five Democrats moot.

Alonzo: Good post. I've already seen similar stuff playing out. I'm thinking of how Republicans, at different points, have argued that taxing the rich is pointless because it'll make hardly any difference. But they'll then favour social program cuts that will make a difference that is a merely fraction of what a small tax hike to the rich would have made.