Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We have met the enemy and it is us

I've seen numerous editorials,op-eds and letters criticizing the politicians for not taking the debt seriously. It's easy to bash politicians--I've certainly done so at this blog many times--but they're not the cause of the problem. It is the sacred "American people" who are at fault. (The politicians know this but don't dare say it, since it's harder to get reelected if you bash your constituents). The American public claims to want smaller government but opposes specific cuts in the programs that actually have led to the debt problems we have. Since the public is ignorant of the true size of various government programs, the politicians pander to them by making cuts in discretionary spending that are a miniscule part of the budget. Examples of the public ignorance are numerous, but let's focus on one: foreign aid. According to a November 2010 poll:

Just based on what you know, please tell me your hunch about what percentage of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. You can answer in fractions of percentage points as well as whole percentage points.
Mean.....................................................................27%
Median...................................................................25
In fiscal year 2009, bilateral foreign aid totaled $22.5 billion: 0.6 percent of federal outlays.

Link to source is here.

Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank, summed it up well on a talk show: The American people want to have their cake and eat it too. The next time you hear a politician defending spending cuts say we're doing what the people want, turn off the TV. The people don't want spending cuts, at least in areas that actually would affect the debt (e.g. Medicare, Social Security, military). As a previous post of mine said, there are large majorities against reductions in Medicare or Social Security. The national debt cannot be significantly reduced without cuts in these programs. Period.

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