The Easy Way to Cut the Federal Deficit

There is any easy way to reduce federal spending by $47 billion a year — it’s so easy, in fact, that no one can consider it.

One can debate the political pros and cons of President Obama’s proposed budget: Jonathan Chait does an excellent job here debating with — himself!  But in fact there is a quite simple way to reduce federal spending by $47 billion a year as a conservative estimate: that old public health care option.

Such things, however, cannot be discussed in polite company, so let’s just reduce Pell Grants, maternal and child health, and food safety inspections instead.  Whew!  Glad we dodged that bullet.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

22 thoughts on “The Easy Way to Cut the Federal Deficit”

  1. Just as other State-monopoly enterprises work so well, huh? Like government schools produce cheap, high-quality education and the Post Office delivers mail so cheaply that unsubsidized competitors cannot survive? Riiiight.

  2. Or we could just massively increase taxes on marginal incomes over $2 million a year, returning to rates we saw in more prosperous, egalitarian times. This way bankers and CEOs can do whatever they please, but at the end of the day expect to merely live like kings, while paying for the basic social services and infrastructure that every citizen should be entitled to enjoy, for the country that made them who they are.

    And maybe Malcolm might actually have the funds to pay for his privately contracted services.

  3. Attn: Malcolm Kirkpatrick and Other Interested Parties

    RFP: Please submit any bids by noon tomorrow, for the transport of my one ounce letter from Oakland, CA to Fargo, North Dakota, to be delivered no later than Saturday, February 19, 2011. No bids for >44¢ will be accepted. Thank you for your interest.

    Public School (Kindergarten through University) Graduate

  4. Fargo, schmargo. Letter to Plainsdorf, actually to my cousin’s farm on Rte 42, about half a mile after the road that goes up to Smithville and four miles out of town. Plainsdorf, well you go west from Fargo about fifty miles and then turn left where the elevator used to be…

  5. Eli: +1
    kathleen: +1
    Michael: +1
    Malcolm: -10

    Malcolm, you really need to work harder. Is that the best you can do? And please, if you so desire, have kathleen’s and Michael’s letters delivered by FedEx or UPS for a minimum of 25x their cost. Yeah, that’ll work.

  6. Like government schools produce cheap, high-quality education

    I can attest my UC and UW education was comparatively cheap and high-quality. And back in the day the public school was pretty good too, albeit with far fewer people Peter Principled to Admin jobs.

    And second the letter-delivery assertion.

  7. Why Jonathan you didn’t even touch a hair on the military-industrial complex’s shaggy head…
    Why is that? State-monopoly armies work so well, huh?

  8. Private schools aren’t any better than public schools at either the collegiate or the elementary level. Come on! What a laugh.

    For every sh*tty Fundamentalist Academy created to avoid de-segregation and the teaching of rudimentary biology, there’s a public university doing biomedical research. And for every extraordinarily expensive private college for mediocre upper-class twits who couldn’t get into Yale or St. Johns or Amherst, there’s a public elementary school with a great PTA great kids and great teachers.

    Or do I have that backwards? Anyway, give me a BREAK.

  9. If you choose to live away from people, you choose to live away from people. You want a government-subsidized emergency room surgeon to accompany you on your back-country hikes, too? Your subsidized mail delivery and schooling were not cheap. Other people paid the bills, that is all.

    Please read the introductory chapters in the Brookings study __Vouchers and the Provision of Public Services__.

  10. As I understand it, the “cuts in Pell grants” are in two forms: ending the highly-regressive subsidy embodied in charging zero interest while people are still in school, and eliminating the new two-grant system that the for-profit ripoff universities had figured out how to exploit. I don’t know the details about the other domestic-spending cuts, but as far as I can tell the Pell-grant changes are all to the good.

    Someday someone will explain to me how it came to be that some progressives started to assume that everything done by the Obama Administration was done in bad faith.

  11. Actually, Mark, I was talking about the Republicans plans. Someday someone will explain to me why knee-jerk defenders of the President assume everyone else is acting in bad faith.

    Then someone will explain to me why a public OPTION somehow grows into a government monopoly. Then someone will explain to me why the public is happier with Medicare than with private insurance — and also why Medicare has lower administrative costs. Perhaps they might even fly on horrid, inefficient, unprofitable government-owned Singapore Airlines to explain it to me.

  12. 44c first-class postage is subsidized? I had no idea. I thought the Post Office had to turn a profit or break even. Now you tell us.

  13. (Betsy): “Private schools aren’t any better than public schools at either the collegiate or the elementary level. Come on! What a laugh.

    Gerard Lassibile and Lucia Navarro Gomez,
    “Organization and Efficiency of Educational Systems: some empirical findings”
    Comparative Education

    Furthermore, the regression results indicate that countries where private education is more widespread perform significantly better than countries where it is more limited. The result showing the private sector to be more efficient is similar to those found in other contexts with individual data (see, for example, Psucharopoulos, 1987; Jiminez, et. al, 1991). This finding should convince countries to reconsider policies that reduce the role of the private sector in the field of education.

    Joshua Angrist
    “Randomized Trials and Quasi-Experiments in Education Research”
    NBER Reporter, summer, 2003.

    One of the most controversial innovations highlighted by NCLB is school choice. In a recently published paper,(5) my collaborators and I studied what appears to be the largest school voucher program to date. This program provided over 125,000 pupils from poor neighborhoods in the country of Colombia with vouchers that covered approximately half the cost of private secondary school. Colombia is an especially interesting setting for testing the voucher concept because private secondary schooling in Colombia is a widely available and often inexpensive alternative to crowded public schools. (In Bogota, over half of secondary school students are in private schools.) Moreover, governments in many poor countries are increasingly likely to experiment with demand-side education finance programs, including vouchers…Although not a randomized trial, a key feature of our Colombia study is the exploitation of voucher lotteries as the basis for a quasi-experimental research design. Because demand for vouchers exceeded supply, the available vouchers were allocated by lottery in large cities. Our study compares voucher applicants who won a voucher in the lottery to those who lost. Since the lotteries used random assignment, losers provide a good control group for winners. A comparison of voucher winners and losers shows that three years after the lotteries were held, winners were 15 percentage points more likely to have attended private school and were about 10 percentage points more likely to have finished eighth grade, primarily because they were less likely to repeat grades. Lottery winners also scored 0.2 standard deviations higher on standardized tests. A follow-up study in progress shows that voucher winners also were more likely to apply to college. On balance, our study provides some of the strongest evidence to date for the possible benefits of demand-side financing of secondary schooling, at least in a developing country setting.

    From State operation of what industries does society at large benefit? Why mail delivery and not retail groceries? Why schools and not barbershops?

    E.G. West
    “Education Vouchers in Principle and Practice: A Survey”
    The World Bank Research Observer, 1997-Feb.

    In economics the three most quoted normative reasons for state intervention in education are to protect children against negligent parents, to internalize beneficial “externalities,” and to ensure equality of opportunity. Compulsory education laws are generally regarded as satisfying the first argument for state intervention.

    The externalities argument, to be completely persuasive, needs the support of evidence that externalities really exist and are positive at the margin-that is, that people outside the family unit are willing to pay for extra units of education beyond what parents would purchase. In the absence of formal or systematic evidence, most writers simply assume, explicitly or implicitly, that positive marginal external benefits do exist.

    The third argument for intervention-the need to ensure equality of opportunity-reflects concern about the distributional implications of purely private provision. Richer parents are likely to spend more than poorer parents to educate their children, just as they spend more on cars, homes, and clothes. The view that children’s life chances should not depend on the wealth of their parents or the fortuitous circumstances of the community in which they live is widely accepted. The prospect of upward mobility, of ensuring that one’s children will be better off, has been a keystone of political support for the public school system in the past. This “equality” argument for intervention depends on the assumption that governments are best equipped to supply the appropriate institutions. But a public system that confines children to schools nearest their home or within administratively determined attendance zones can actually reduce mobility. And where the quality of public education is better in middle-class zones than elsewhere, upward mobility is obviously blocked. In other words, the public system can often narrow a child’s options, forcing the child to attend an inferior school when a superior one may be physically within reach. One of the arguments for vouchers is that they enable families to break through these obstacles to give equal opportunity a genuine chance.

    (Betsy): “Or do I have that backwards? Anyway, give me a BREAK.
    Give me a baseball bat.

  14. Oh those long block quotes are so convincing when accompanied by vague threats of violence … zzzzzzzzz

  15. Malcolm,

    So you are extrapolating data from a country that is 112th in Per Capita income and has is number 8 on the Gini index (most inequality.) Columbia is a country that ranks 111th in education spending. To use that data as a direct comparison to our public education system is absurd.

    As to your second link, it does have a valid point, but only to the way we presently fund euducation. Elementary/Secondary funding that is based on the property values of those living within that specific school district results in massive disparities that may be only a few miles apart. It isn’t an indictment of the education system.

    To quote Betsy, give me a break.

  16. Cut the insurance companies out- UNIVERSAL MEDICARE FOR ALL -give doctors a salary. Stop unessential treatments surgeries and procedures and tests on people about to die.
    NO MORE WARS like Bush arranged for his friends and we will be in better shape .
    Educate the masses to stop eating and drinking processed garbage and stop watching garbage movies and tv and tax really high junk in Food .We might get somet clarity in the brains of the kids so they can learn.
    Reconsider free speech. Spewing of ignrant lies and stories are not conducive to advancments in society. Get rid of junk tv and junk news and all the rot we have in our society called free speech.
    Remove mythology from the classroom and teach science. biology, environmetal studies and history facts.

  17. CBO estimates the public option would reduce the deficit by $68 billion THROUGH 2020. About $15 billion a year by the end of the budget window, not $47 billion. I certainly wouldn’t call $47 billion a “conservative estimate”

  18. @Marc: Like, read the, like, link provided by JZ. Actually, read what’s at the link. …Just want to make it clear for you.

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