Hey everyone, let's talk about the government's money, the tons of it spent every day, the slightly less tons of money generated though revenue, and the ever important difference of the two, known as the deficit. Aside from the middle east being on fire, this seems like the most popular topic talked about in the news recently. The US government budget problem is huge, and it's almost intractable. Some of you have seen this before, but here's a pretty awesome graphic of the recently proposed 2012 budget by the Obama administration.
One thing that should leap out to you immediately, or at least it did to me, is that the budget is almost completely dominated by a few large cost items (also, note that they are all still growing): Social Security, Medicare, Defense and Interest (a relative newcomer if you look at how big it was a few years ago). Everything else the federal government does can be lumped into a block that's slightly larger than a quarter of the total budget (I'm eyeballing it). Here's the funny part, the projected deficit for 2012 is 1.1 trillion dollars. 1.1 out of the 3.7 trillion dollars of the budget is ~30%. So...maybe it's just me, but my impression is that if we cut out EVERYTHING ELSE the federal government does except for the 4 largest programs we STILL probably wouldn't cover the deficit.
See, this is funny, because that's all anyone in the political leadership talks about, how much money can we squeeze out of everything else. My opinion is that this is because the American electorate punishes anyone who even thinks of touching Social Security and Medicare (See Bush privatization plan, Obama health care plan), but the sad reality is that these programs in their current state are unsustainable. The defense department and the industries built around it are another issue unto themselves, with their jobs and the economic growth that comes along with them intertwined with congressional districting, which translates into votes.
Also, let's not forget the other side of the coin on the deficit issue, raising government revenue. This means creating new taxes or raising existing ones, in some shape or form. This is problematic because half of the government (you know who you are) has made it clear that they intend to run the government without raising taxes, and possibly cutting them more. Honestly, I don't see how this is possible, given the huge scope of the problem before us, but the American electorate will reward this because hey, who likes taxes?
So, let's have a discussion about how to solve the budget deficit, I propose we do it with a twist though. Most rhetoric out there abut the deficit is mostly of the form "Oh man if only we cut out money for X, it's such a waste of money! That would help solve the deficit!". In my opinion this is problematic, because cuts talked about in such discussions are often inconsequential to the scale of the budget problem, and do more harm than good because a) they distract from the larger issues and b) cause more harm to functions that the federal government serves than the benefit is usually worth. So in this thread, how about trying to format discussions like this in order to help keep things in the proper scope: "Oh man if only we cut out money for X (saving X million/billion dollars / X% of the budget), it's such a waste of money!". Just a suggestion.
Also, we can play this fun little game by the NYTimes: Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget
Here's my solution: www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/13/weekinreview/deficits-graphic.html?choices=02bpd5kb