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June 13, 2003

against "starving the beast"

A letter in yesterday's New York Times says:

"Yes to no new services, and let's get rid of some of the old ones while we're at it. We have had way more than enough "services" for decades! It's about time that somebody finally understands!

"I hope to see those bumper stickers in 2004. Of course, I hope that people would realize what the slogan means: a cut in services means a cut in expenses means a cut in government intrusion into our daily lives!

"Isn't it about time that we rewarded ourselves with freebdom again?

"Disclaimer: the government has likely refined its methods of intrusion, so it could feasibly cut back and still intrude more. So let's cut the budget even more and not let that happen."

I think the writer is making a mistake, even granting his own basic values. His argument is: Quite apart from the pain of paying taxes, government spending is bad because it buys "intrusion." The parts of the government that he presumably finds "intrusive" are the offices involved in regulation and law-enforcement: the FBI, OSHA, EPA, etc. He wants to starve these agencies as a way to increase personal freedom. But they are not expensive. All of the discretionary programs outside the Department of Defense, put together, consumed just 19% of the Federal Budget in 2002, and that included entirely non-"intrusive" programs like the Weather Service and medical research. Therefore, deep cuts in federal spending will have to come out of Social Security (23% of the budget), Medicare (12%), Medicaid (7%), and other means-tested entitlements (6%). (I assume that Defense, at 16%, is untouchable; and the remaining 17% is interest payments and other madatory spending.) If anything, a cash-starved government might resort to more regulation, because it would need/want to respond to social problems and it would find regulatory mandates cheaper than spending programs.

Posted by peterlevine at June 13, 2003 03:21 PM


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