The big budget line that Very Serious People refuse to cut

Annie Lowrey laments that the budget lines that are big are the ones people want to spare from cuts, and the ones they want to cut don’t make up much of the budget. But the big counterexample–from her own chart–goes unmentioned.

A feature by budget reporter Annie Lowrey in today’s New York Times (you have to scroll down a bit; it’s the post labeled “When Reality and Perception Part Ways” and seems to lack its own anchor) laments the fact that

“the biggest, fastest-growing expenses tend to be the ones Americans object most to cutting.”

“Fastest-growing” I’ll grant, in the sense that those items all have to do with health care programs—and not Social Security, which Lowrey lumps in with them. But restraining long-term growth in those will require not some sort of Nietzschean will to cruelty, as Very Serious People believe, but conceptually difficult policy changes, carefully crafted and iteratively tested. Moreover we should, frankly, get used to the inevitable growth of health care as a proportion of private and public budgets, given that health care is labor intensive; and journalists ought to help with our getting used to it.

In the meantime, since all that growth won’t happen right away, there’s an item that represents a huge part of the federal budget and that a very comfortable majority is happy to cut (.pdf)—according to Lowrey’s own chart. But she doesn’t mention cutting it as a proper goal of budget negotiations. In this she perfectly reflects the VSP consensus that allowing spending on it to decline substantially would be, you know, Inappropriate. Any guesses what it is? (Answer after the jump.)

Lowrey chart: "Where Americans Are Willing to Cut" (New York Times, 12/21/12)






















No prize for guessing: Defense.


Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.