Go back to the first question of spending.

Like it or not, we’re all tangled up with each other, so in some degree, the choices we make and the value we create or destroy affect everybody.  How we structure society is a decision about how we utilize “our” resources.  That doesn’t mean maximizing efficiency or economic advancement or anything else must be the highest purpose; we just need to remember that we’re acting at that level.

With that in mind, I can’t for the life of me understand why we apparently just assume that politicians in public office are the best stewards for the money that winds up in their hands:

Rhode Island’s official revenue estimators anticipate a $610-million year-end surplus, and hundreds of millions more from other pots of federal money that is not yet spent.

What’s a Rhode Island legislator to do with all this one-time money? Spend it? Return it to taxpayers? Salt it away in the state’s rainy-day fund for the next inevitable downturn? We asked Rhode Island’s part-time lawmakers and lawmakers-elect.

Whether they fritter it away to special interests, put it to shared productive use, or “give it back” to taxpayers, why should the use of so much of our collective wealth in their hands?  Do people assume that politicians are particularly smart or moral?  Does everybody have such faith in the processes of politics, with its lobbyists, corruption, and propaganda that we can trust it produces the best outcomes ideal (or even reasonably competent) outcomes?

My suspicion is that people don’t really think about it.  How things are done is simply how they are done; somehow “we” must have decided to do it this way long ago, or maybe it’s the natural state of nature.  Perhaps the first step toward better results is simply to prompt people to think a bit about these matters.

 

Featured image by Justin Katz.

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CC Reed
CC Reed
30 days ago

The Projo published a pitch for “Medicare for all” penned by a young fella with a fine career as a health care policy analyst ahead of him. Long on rhetoric, short on fact. Overlooked was the fact that meeting existing obligations will push the trust fund into insolvency as soon as 2026, according to the trustees. This would be sort of like the lookout on the Titanic overlooking that chunk of ice ahead. 

The truly intractable fact is that, unlike State and Muni pensions and other obligations which can be more-or-less funded by purchasing actual assets, the Federal unfunded liabilities are “funded” out of current revenues, which in turn, are “funded” by — get this, you’ll fall off your chair laughing — borrowing! Yes! We fund future obligations by acquiring — more obligations! Effing brilliant. 

To update Maggie Thatcher, “Sooner or later the Chinese will run out of money to buy our debt instruments.”

Our congresscritters maintain an inscrutable silence on the subject, preferring to screech about “climate”.

Rhett Hardwick
Rhett Hardwick
28 days ago

First, I have to say that Rhode Islanders seem mostly satisfied with the situation as it is. Otherwise more would be voting with their feet.

Many years ago, I read a book titled “The Report From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace”. In discussing government spending it made an interesting point. Huge programs, such as the Space Race, can be pared down as needed without anyone really noticing. The same cannot be said of a partially completed hospital or school program. I think that is what we are going to be facing with Medicare. Not to mention the creeping costs of free health care provided to low income people and immigrants.

CC Reed
CC Reed
Reply to  Rhett Hardwick
23 days ago

Imagine a government program that everyone agrees is a great idea, or, from the standpoint of our reps, great for their re-election prospects. And so a budget is proposed and seconded and passed into law. And the cost of the program is known and fixed, at least for this fiscal year. And so we can all go home fat, dumb and happy, knowing that we have labored mightily and brought forth something great. At a known cost, or, at least, quantified. 

Now imagine a program that has passed into law, and has no fixed budget. It is an open-ended obligation, and a growing one at that. Imagine a program adding 10,000 new users every day, each of whom drawing $14,000 in annual expenditure. That program would be, you guessed it, Medicare. I worked up a spreadsheet on this, but I will leave the math as an exercise for the reader. 

And Medicare is only one of the four horsemen of the fiscal apocalypse. How long before it’s Granny vs. the Admirals? Does Granny get her check, or the squids their shiny new missile magnet?

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