Wednesday, July 18, 2012

As we stand up, we stand down

While I respect and share many of the goals of the libertarian movement, I'm legitimately frightened by the speed with which they propose to overhaul our economic system.  Ron Paul's budget calls for huge cuts, totaling $1 trillion in the first year, to programs which provide fundamentally important services, like food stamps and children's health insurance and the entire Department of Housing and Urban Development.  I'd worry for the health and well-being of people in poverty if it were ever enacted.  It's not that I don't think it's possible, through a combination of private and personal charity and motivating people to get jobs, for poor people to do just fine under such an economic structure.  But I think it would be irresponsible to just assume that a $1 trillion-sized chunk of the economy can reorganize seamlessly enough to avoid a non-zero amount of hunger/disease/etc.  It takes time to train pediatricians, brainwashed by insurance companies, to treat kids more cost-effectively.  Employers need time to hire new employees.  Private soup kitchens need to work out logistics for getting food and people to their expanded operations.  A more gradual path to libertarianism would allow time for the prescribed massive changes to work themselves out.

A more measured approach might mean spreading the $1 trillion of cuts over at least a few years.  To ensure that we aren't making things worse, we could strike a deal with ourselves; we cut however many tens/hundreds of billions could reasonably be accomplished in one year from the budget, but the cut would be conditional on not causing significant drops in important things like child health or people with homes.  Perhaps temporary tax incentives could be involved, if that wouldn't be too icky.  Depending on how well the goals are met, the next year's cuts are considered.

I understand that this all might seem rather centrally-planned to a libertarian.  It also lacks the moral clarity of cutting $1 trillion immediately and eliminating five Cabinet departments in the first year.  But it would keep from scaring away potential converts like me.  

1 comment:

NWest said...

In general, I am in agreement, and I think many more pragmatic libertarians (is that an oxymoron?) would agree with you. We can't just end the welfare state tomorrow. I think we advocate for such large cuts with the hope that any compromise that is reached will be on the side of reducing the scope and size of the programs, instead of the current "compromises" made in congress, where a program is "cut" when it gets a smaller increase than budgeted for.

There is something to be said for radical cuts in some areas, however. For example, everything but the federal student loan program is ripe for complete removal from the Department of Education. Student loans are one of those things which we will have to incrementally draw down - colleges, both for and non-profit (who get paid directly) & big business (who no longer train employees, instead just requiring a "degree") have been getting rich of the backs of poor students for far too long, turning generations of students into debt slaves.

I would be fully on board with measuring outcomes - but good luck getting the bureaucracy to agree to it. The only thing the US civil service measures is input - how much money was spent, government jobs created, etc etc. *effectiveness* does not enter into it...