Jeb Hensarling’s performance: a new experience.

I’ve heard dogs snarling.
I’ve heard wolves snarling.
I’ve even heard bears snarling.

I’ve heard hens clucking.
I’ve heard hens chirping.
I’ve heard hens cackling.

But never before have I heard a hen … snarling.

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:

9 thoughts on “Jeb Hensarling’s performance: a new experience.”

  1. Hensarling says ONE thing (at around 0:47) that I applaud him for. He says that "interest payments alone on [the national debt] will set us back around $6 trillion over the next decade. That's about $50,000 per household."

    Never mind whether the $6 trillion figure is correct, and never mind the implication that the national debt is all Obama's fault. What I applaud him for is the "$50,000 per household". That is, I applaud the fact that he translates a national aggregate number into a per-household number. All politicians should be REQUIRED to do that every time they open their yaps about budget numbers.

    Naturally Hensarling is pulling a fast one, even here. To do his (laudable) translation, he simply divides the (projected, possibly accurate) $6 trillion aggregate by 120 million, which sounds about right as the number of households in the US during this next decade. Well, Bill and Melinda Gates are a household; so is a young couple in Lowell MA trying to survive by working three minimum-wage jobs between them. In taking the MEAN when he does his translation, Ole Jeb is implying that each couple is responsible for servicing the same share of the national debt.

    I know that scam well, for I have been whimsically proposing that we "privatize the national debt" since 2003 or so. Tongue only half in cheek, I've been suggesting that we split the check: assign each American his or her fair share of the national debt to service or pay down as he or she sees fit. No more "national" debt; just 300 million or so individual debts. Back in those halcyon days, the per-capita number was around $25,000. My modest proposal was of course meant as a taunt to the privatize-everything, deficits-don't-matter Republicans. It was a taunt because I would have liked to see them try to explain why a flat per-capita division of the debt would be either unfair or unworkable. (It would be both, of course.) Alternatively, I'd have been happy to hear them explain why tax cuts for the rich ought to be financed by adding a flat per-capita charge to every American's "privatized" share of the national debt.

    So now Jeb Hensarling is trying to play the same game as I was: use the mean, not the median, to try to scare people. The difference is, he's an elected member of the House of Representatives, which I'm not; he seems to take himself seriously, which I don't; and he's trying to hide, rather than reveal, the difference between the mean and the median.

    Look for this scam to become a staple GOP talking point. Unlike Democrats, who are too wonky and too timid, Republicans will shamelessly translate budget numbers into scary-sounding per-capita or per-household numbers by simple-mindedly taking the mean every time. (Possible exception: you won't hear John McCain rail against some unconscionable earmark by explaining that it costs every American household 2 cents. He will definitely call it a $2.4 million earmark in that case.) The GOP will endlessly harp on the "average" household's share of the national debt.

    We need to counter this sort of talking point. I don't believe that trying to educate a largely innumerate electorate about the difference between mean and median will work. I think a more visceral approach is necessary. Nothing hits people in the gut like actual, personal debt. So maybe I ought to revive my call to "privatize the national debt", and challenge the likes of Hensarling to explain WHY each household should be assigned an equal share of it.


  2. Your privatize the national debt proposal was one I thought up, too. The obvious problem, after I thought about it for a few seconds, was that even after you paid off your share of it, the damn government would just run some more debt up in your name, all over again. You can't get out of debt when it's somebody ELSE incurring the debt on your behalf.

  3. I'm pretty sure that making fun of someone's surname betrays the highest levels of erudition and good breeding, Kleiman.

  4. "I’m pretty sure that making fun of someone’s surname betrays the highest levels of erudition and good breeding, Kleiman."

    Yeaah, its on the same level as mouthing "Barack HUSSEIN Obama" …. Beck was on TV last week claiming that the President "took the name Barack" to emphasize his Kenyan (non-American) identity

  5. "So maybe I ought to revive my call to “privatize the national debt”, and challenge the likes of Hensarling to explain WHY each household should be assigned an equal share of it."

    Because the government is supposed to be spending that money for the "general" welfare, leaving you with no basis to assign more of it to one person than another?

  6. Brett,

    To your first comment: yes, "the damn government would just run some more debt up in your name". Also in mine. Also in every other voter's. The voters, looking at their own "privatized" debt statements from the IRS, would soon enough vote "the damn government" out of office — if they really objected to extra debt instead of, say, extra taxes or fewer services. If your worry is that the majority of voters will NOT vote to change the damn government after we privatize the national debt, then you must believe that the majority of voters are basically content with the national debt we have now. I don't know what to tell you if that's what you really believe.

    To your second comment: if you can think of "no basis to assign more of it to one person than another", then I suppose you'd assign the same share of the national debt to yourself as you would assign to Bill Gates. Per-capita, that number is around $40K right now. Gates could pay his share off with his lunch money. You might just be able to keep up with the interest payments on your share, and let your kids inherit your debt balance. Your kids might ask why you don't vote to raise Bill's taxes so as to keep your (and ultimately, their) debt balance from growing, but I suppose you'd have a good libertarian answer to that.

    In general: my modest proposal would secure for you an individual liberty that you emphatically do not have now. The IRS makes all of us, collectivelly, service the national debt. If X% of the government budget goes to pay interest on the national debt, then X% of every dollar YOU pay to the IRS is debt service. You don't get to make an individual decision to pay down your own debt balance, now. Under my modest proposal, you would have that choice. Neither you nor I can predict how people's voting patterns would change if we "privatize the national debt". Maybe they'd vote to slash government spending. Maybe they'd vote to raise taxes. Maybe both; maybe neither. But YOU, personally, would have a choice you don't have now. As a libertarian, do you actually oppose more choice for yourself?


  7. That Hen seemed more "Smarming" than "Snarling": Watch me smile faintly while reading the words 'more Democrat debt' off the (shhh) teleprompter, while stifling any recollection of my votes on Bush's tax cuts, the endless series of Supplementals for Afpaghanistaq, Medicare Part D(onation to PhRMA), etc.

    Tony P. — you're only proposing to privatize the national debt so you can make your bones on Wall Street by inventing ways to securitize it. Think of all the subprime taxpayers' whose junk-level Federal debts could be turned into AAA 'super senior tranches' and sold to dumb pension fund managers!

  8. Seth,


    Alas, YOUR modest proposal was thunk up long ago. It was in 2005, I think, that Senator Man-on-Dog Santorum was touting Dubya's proposal to privatize Social Security, on Face the Nation. Asked how the government could fund the transition cost of letting people switch from paying FICA to funding private retirement accounts, then-still-Senator Santorum replied with a straight face that many people would invest their private money in government bonds, and the government could use that money to keep paying existing retirees. I kid you not.


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