Vandalism

Brad DeLong provides a picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words summary of what the Bush wrecking crew has been up to. The bottom line:

The numbers in the back of the 2004 Budget documents project that the budget year that began when Clinton was still President will be America’s last surplus year, ever. The policies proposed in the 2004 Budget are projected to see the deficit widen steadily to 17.5 percent of GDP by 2050. By that date debt held by the public is projected to be 229.4 percent of GDP–a debt and deficit level that no economy could possibly sustain.

What does this mean? It means that the (not very bad) economic news of the past year coupled with the provisions the Bush Administration has put into its 2004 Budget will, if enacted, put the U.S. once more on the path to national bankruptcy.

Brad’s headline, “I Really Cannot Understand Why Anyone Would Do This,” is no doubt ironic. Brad understands perfectly well. Someone would do this — someone, or rather a group of people, has done it — for the partisan advantage of being able to spend lots of money and cut taxes at the same time. (As the very senior Senator said to the freshman who asked him about the secret of political longevity, “Son, I never voted against an appropriation — or for a tax.”)

Yes, this approach has the side-effect of bankrupting the government.

But if you believe in the Reaganite mantra “Government is the problem,” that looks like a feature, not a bug. (Of course in order for that mantra to seem true, a conservative needs a mental map in which the military and the domestic-security apparatus and anything else he’s in favor of aren’t actually part of “government.” “Government” means the National Endowment for the Arts, IRS agents, OSHA inspectors, and checks to poor folks. That’s a pretty silly definition, if you think about it, but the whole point of being a true believer is that you don’t have to do a lot of reality-checking.)

The other way impending fiscal disaster looks good is if you fantasize about a game of “train wreck” in which you merely set up the threat of national bankruptcy and that forces your political opponents — who on this theory have to be much more patriotic than you are — to agree to butcher all their favorite programs in order to avoid the train wreck. (That’s what you get when you’re finished unpacking Mickey Kaus’s defense of Bush’s plans.)

The good news is that the bad news is finally getting through. I got a phone call last night from a hard-core conservative friend, now doing a non-political job in Washington that puts him face-to-face with the budget numbers. “I hate to say it,” he moaned, “but these people are completely out of control.”

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: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com