April 6th, 2011

A Fictional Path to Prosperity


photo credit: republicanconference

With great fanfare, Rep. Paul Ryan this week introduced a budget proposal in which he has invested significant time and effort. Meant to serve as an alternative to the staggering 10-year budget introduced by Obama, Ryan’s proposal certainly looks better in comparison. Titled “The Path to Prosperity,” Ryan’s budget proposal is being widely touted as “cutting $6 trillion in spending over the next ten years.”

What is rarely noted, or little emphasized, is that this is an action relative to Obama’s proposal. Whereas Obama’s budget would have the federal government spending $46 trillion over the next decade, Ryan’s shaves that down to a meager $40 trillion. But Ryan’s proposal doesn’t balance the budget for at least another two decades, and piles on $14 trillion in new debt during that time. This supposed path to prosperity adds nearly $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade alone! (So much for “cutting $6 trillion”…)

It makes you wonder how individuals might follow this lead and pursue a similar path to prosperity. Would an individual who buys three homes instead of four, maxes out all but one of his credit cards, and spends only 90% of his retirement money and his children’s college fund be considered prosperous? Sure, it’s better than buying and spending everything in sight, but barely. The end result won’t be different, but it may be realized a little later.

This is no path to prosperity, nor is it fiscal conservatism in the slightest. It’s still kicking the fiscal can down the road, only doing so with a little less muscular exertion than the next guy. It’s as much an attempt to pursue prosperity as is a prostitute’s effort to be chaste by not servicing customers on the Sabbath. Sure, it’s “a start,” as many of Ryan’s supporters argue, but would a gradual, one-degree turn have helped the Titanic?

It’s important to note that this supposed path to prosperity also leaves untouched the Republican sacred cow: the military industrial complex. Ryan’s proposal to bring spending in line does nothing—absolutely nothing—in regards to the massive increase in “defense” spending. The Pentagon’s base budget has nearly doubled over the past ten years, and when that number is rightly augmented with all the spending done on our numerous military interventions abroad, the total amount spent on the military per year is roughly $700 billion. With roughly $6.5 trillion projected spending on the military over the next decade, one would think that an individual truly serious about this country’s fiscal health would tackle the highly-weaponized elephant in the room.

Any and all efforts to restore fiscal sanity to the federal government should be applauded. This praise should be tempered with reality, however, and properly placed into context so as not to give effusive praise for something that simply makes the current problem worse. Ryan’s goal to bring spending to pre-2008 (but post-2007) levels is absolutely better than Obama’s proposal, but fails to note that the 2007-08 levels were astronomically high to begin with! If anybody in Congress is truly serious about fixing these problems, they need to scrap 2008 as a benchmark and instead move us back towards 1908 levels.

Rep. Ryan’s budget is not a path to prosperity. It takes the current precarious situation and pushes it further down the road, adding on new debt, playing fiscal gymnastics with a few programs, and justifying its existence by saying “hey, it could have been worse…” America needs surgery and possible amputation to remedy its spreading, gangrenous infection; applying ointment and a band-aid simply will not help in the long run.

The real solution is a bitter pill to swallow, and being thus unpalatable, few are willing to comply. We need entire departments abolished outright, military adventurism terminated forthwith, social welfare programs quickly dismantled, and an across-the-board reduction in the size and scope of government, with a focus on constitutional justification for everything government does. It’ll hurt, the effects will take some time to recover from, and few will be happy about it. But if we’re really serious about fixing the problem and putting America on a path to prosperity, it’s the only way.

Anything short of that is political posturing and fiscal fantasy. Placebos, like this “Plan to Prosperity,” don’t solve anything.

19 Responses to “A Fictional Path to Prosperity”

  1. JasonThe
    April 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

    Odd that we agree on Ryan’s budget being a bad idea, but for vastly differently reasons.

    I don’t believe “household” analogies are an accurate way to understand federal budgeting, but sticking with your example, there is a missing piece in your picture:

    Householders don’t simply seek to cut costs to meet a budget, we all also seek to increase our revenue. If you’re going to use the analogy, that has to be included in the frame.

  2. April 6, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    I think with Pres. Obama in office the idea is to stop the budget from growing more and maybe even shrink it a little bit. Get a more fiscally conscious president in there, and Senate, and then maybe you’ll see some real change. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, at least not for this year. They can always cut more next year or the year after.

  3. THOMAS DYCHES
    April 7, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    JasonThe: I think it’s completely accurate to use “household analogies” to understand federal budgeting from the standpoint that the Feds lived beyond its means and is going bankrupt. Just as a family that lives beyond its means. AND you can also apply the analogy to your “revenue” argument. A family can leverage themselves and build-up debt with the expectation of increasing revenue. This is exactly what our Federal/State governments have done. So the analogy seems very apropos to this discussion. Principles apply to families just as they do to a nation – who is just a collective of families.

  4. April 7, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    Not to mention that Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal only works if you believe the made-up numbers, like 2.8 percent unemployment. When has the USA ever had 2.8 percent unemployment?

    There may be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but not at the end of the Laffer Curve. Tax cuts for the rich are the principal cause of deficits, followed by military spending and wars.

  5. April 7, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    As long as TSA gets cut, it’s an improvement. You’ve got to start somewhere. EPA, privatize education, whatever. I’m sure he’s put some goodies in there.

  6. April 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Buncha whiners. Someone wants to finally make a move, and he gets flack.

  7. April 7, 2011 at 4:49 pm #

    It’s like telling the fat kid that comes out for the track team – go run a mile in 5 minutes flat, when he’s never done one under 12 minutes before in his life. Sure, if you want to kill him. No doubt it needs to be done if he wants to be competitive, but you might kill him. There are other ways, you know. I’d be happy at this point if the fat kid runs a 10 minute mile. Then tomorrow is a new day.

  8. April 7, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    “Tomorrow, fat kid, you’ll only eat FOUR half-gallon containers of triple fudge ice cream, then in ten years you’ll only eat THREE a day. Finally in twenty years you’ll only be eating one and you can start to lose weight.”

    Yup, looks like a good plan.

  9. April 9, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    REAL change will never happen in this country, until we have legislators with enough backbone to tell unions to SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, and GET OUT OF THE WAY.

    We can thank the unions in Wisconsin for showing us their true colors. Thank you, unions, for making it clear that you are more concerned with yourselves (and securing legislative protection from the free market forces the rest of us face), than you are with affecting meaningful change for society at large.

    Once we’ve successfully dealt with the cancerous unions, THEN we can sit down and put together an effective budget.

  10. April 9, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    Clumpy, I guess your analogy is better. Not very positive people though, are you.

    Poor sweet Boehner. I guess he drinks too much, but there is something likeable about him.

  11. April 10, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    Liz, how would you define “positive”? I definitely feel that life in the United States is still pretty good for most, though there are some real problems that we have to address in a pretty strict manner in order to expect any sort of resolution. Corrupt interests and money control so much of the process that only a return to real principle and an end to pragmatic “business as usual” and gratuitous dealings can even hope to solve things. So it’s pretty frustrating to see politicians talk about stopping the runaway train of gratuitous spending while refusing to do anything but drag one foot on the tracks, and NEVER touch the enormous spending holes like our war spending. I would be ecstatic at a budget that was merely EQUAL to the previous year’s.

    I would define positivity as trying to do the best you can with what you have and be happy, but certainly not the adoption of blinders that results in more graft.

  12. April 13, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    Romney’s in. Leadership vacuum filled.

  13. April 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    JasonThe,

    I assume you are alluding to tax increases. Actually the government should act in an opposite manner to households when it comes to revenues and spending. Government (at all levels) should provide the minimum essential services that just justify having a government in the first place. And then there is no need for any complicated tax system. Just charge the users the amount it takes to provide the service. No need to monkey with tax increases and cuts to try to centrally control the economy.

    In your example, families should strive to bring in maximum revenues, then budget to spend less than they bring in. Governments should strive to spend as little as possible to provide just the minimum essential services, then bring in just enouhg revenues to cover that.

    I do have a general response for Connor as well. Are you familiar with the Serenity Prayer? God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference?

    America came about as the result of the American War for Independence. Good men pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Many of them died. It was worth it.

    Returning America to what it was when they gave birth to it simply means restoring adherence to the Constitution, and to the principles upon which it was founded. How can this happen? Will it take the blood of so many patriots again? It might.

    I personally believe that the only alternative is a slow turning of the ship back to the course it was originally on. It took 200 years to get us this far away from that original course. It might take 200 years to get back. My general standard is that anything that moves us in the right direction is a good thing.

    Should we fight for an immediate return to correct principles? Sure. But if we can’t win that war today, shouldn’t we try to win a few battles when we can, and attempt to turn the tide and start the ball rolling in the right direction? I think we should.

  14. April 27, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

    So I guess Ron Paul is in. If he thought a little more highly of this country I might consider him. Bummer is, he thinks the U S of A is just like any other country. Sigh*

  15. April 27, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    The “AS IF” principle, Ron! Act AS IF America is better and it will be! Try it! Believe!

  16. April 28, 2011 at 1:12 am #

    Liz, I don’t really think that ignoring your country’s flaws is a way of improving it. I’m sure you’ve seen the parents who refuse to hold their children accountable for their actions and constantly talk about how “my son would never do something like that!”

    How do those kids turn out?

  17. Jim Davis
    April 28, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    Liz,

    Read the following words of Ezra Taft Benson and let me know if you still believe the pseudo-patriotic, head-in-the-sand, “America can do no wrong” rhetoric you just regurgitated here…

    And anyone who tries to equate this love of Constitutional principles as meaning hatred of our national leaders is using Goebbels-style deception. History has already demonstrated that conservative opposition to national leaders was not “hate” but an attempt to do them a favor. -Ezra Taft Benson (Stand Up For Freedom)

    I think Ron Paul cares more about America and its citizen’s rights than any other power-seeking candidate pretending to love this country. And that is why he speaks out for liberty and against tyranny. Not out of hate but out of love. Believing America is “better” while saying/doing nothing to correct its faults is ridiculous.

  18. Brint Baggaley
    May 23, 2011 at 11:32 am #

    Great post! I wondered if there were two people out there who agreed with me that the Paul Ryan budget was nowhere near the cuts needed to return to fiscal sanity. Calling Ryan’s budget what it is is not letting ‘perfect be the enemy of good,’ it is revealing that terrible is not as bad as the current plan. We need to quit supporting terrible. We need real fiscal change.

  19. June 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    A co-worker suggest walking the budget back year by year for each year they fail to pass a budget. We’re two years without already, so we can start with 2007 levels and work back from there

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