Augustinian fiscal discipline

House Republicans want to balance the budget … but not yet.

St. Augustine, after his conversion from rake to prig, reflected that while he had long prayed for self-control he hadn’t really meant it. His prayers, he said in retrospect, had amounted to “Make me chaste … but not yet.”

That seems to be the view of budget-balancing within the House Republican Conference. They’re eager to vote for it, as long as it’s not going to happen. When threatened with the real thing, they run away.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

7 thoughts on “Augustinian fiscal discipline”

  1. There’s a lot of theology out there. Nice line from the April 16 Economist: ‘Much like Paul Ryan, the congressman who drew up the Republican plan, Mr Obama seems to have embraced the supposedly bipartisan goal of deficit reduction, but by means calculated to reassure his base and outrage his opponents.’ All of us think our own views are calm and sensible (some of mine are: don’t borrow money for current expenses, only for long-term projects, high speed rail and fuel ethanol subsidies are silly, the best taxes to impose are Pigovian ones, Schelling’s proposal that abortions be paid for by private fundraising would remove a lot of distraction from public decision-making, tax expenditures hide their costs by not appearing on budgets, under current conditions this means we should raise taxes and cut spending at the same time) so we think that those who don’t share them are unserious in one way or another.

    Reep theology seems to be that income taxes are too high for high earners, that no taxes can be raised (including Norquist’s risible notion that you can’t remove ethanol subsidies???) and that the pre-Obamacare health system of the US was not problematic. The Demmies seem to believe that somehow you can pay for everything a modern state ought to provide by raising taxes on the rich and cutting the military, and that continued provision of abortions at public expense to women who want them is worth shutting down the government if you can’t get it. And that even in a time when most working people have iffy prospects, many are working for less than they were a few years ago, no public worker salaries or benefits can be cut back. There’s a certain amount of fake piety in both parties – many of the Reeps in power are happier to have abortion be something they publicly oppose than to actually stop it.

  2. Maybe more precisely, they aren’t eager to vote for it when they know it won’t pass, since any cut (or tax increase) has concentrated harms and diffuse benefits. (If you think the Senate would have passed either RSC or Ryan, can I interest you in some urban infrastructure?)

  3. that continued provision of abortions at public expense to women who want them is worth shutting down the government if you can’t get it

    I’m not holding my breath, but I await the day when such mendacity-as-received-wisdom no longer appears in public discourse. I know the day will come, but maybe not in my lifetime. Hopefully in our daughter’s lifetime.

  4. I sure look forward to the day when wars of choice are privately funded, and corrosive anti-science religions are fully privately funded instead of being maximally incentivized as they are by current tax policy. Then me and schutz can be best buddies.

  5. Voting “present” seems like it was a very clever strategy to defuse the majority’s ability to pose and posture. Why don’t we see more of that sort of thing when the majority goes off on symbolic tangents?

  6. Profs. Comden and Green elucidate this Neo-Augustinian theme: “Like you I once was wild, and shouted ‘Oh you kid!’/ a life of shame I led, and dirty doings did/Until one night I saw the light and heard salvation’s call/ I’m so glad I didn’t hear it until I did it all!” at about 4:04

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