Friday, February 18, 2011

Scott Adams Unconsciously Becomes the Pot Calling the Kettle Black

This is funny... A cartoonist, who is paid to make people laugh, writes a serious post on his blog and doesn't realize how funny he is. He thinks he is being reasonable and serious, but he is laughable because he falls into the very trap he accuses others of falling into...

Here is the Dilbert cartoonist, Scott Adams, complaining that politicians and a lot of talking heads don't realize that their political "sound bites", their "talking points", and their political slogans are not plans but a philosophical position:
If you think government should reduce spending, that's a philosophy, not a plan.

If you think small government is good, that's a philosophy, not a plan.

If you think the government should provide a safety net for the poor, that's a philosophy, not a plan.

Somehow we elected a bunch of philosophers to run the country. I hope they find out how many angels are dancing on the head of the pin before the country goes broke.

Sometimes people think they have a plan when in reality they have half a plan. For example, a number of you forwarded me links to John Stossel's article in Reason that has specific suggestions for cutting the budget. I'm going to assume his numbers add up if you ignore wind-down costs and such. I'll even accept the notion that a number of government functions he suggests eliminating might work better in the private sector. But where he recommends elimination of the Energy Department (which I assume means the Department of Energy) I'm left wondering who would take over the job of radioactive waste disposal. That sounds kind of important. That's just one of the things they do.

Stossel also recommends eliminations of the Department of Education to save money. Admittedly, when I read a description of that department's function, I can't tell why they exist. But it doesn't pass the sniff test that you can eliminate a $94 billion per year function (per Stossel) without some sort of impact. Is there no downside whatsoever?

Some folks suggest simply reducing the rate of growth in social programs as an easy fix. But if the population of retirees is ballooning, a flat budget turns into a huge reduction of funds per person in a decade or two. It's not a plan unless you can describe what happens then. If your answer is "not my problem" you have a philosophy and not a plan. A plan is more along the lines of "25% of poor senior citizens will become homeless by 2030. The rest will move in with relatives and suck up the family's funds that would have gone toward leisure in some cases and educating the next generation in others." You might prefer that outcome over the alternative of government spending, but you don't have a plan until you acknowledge it.

Our Republican leaders have a philosophy and no plan that makes the math work. Obama and the Democrats have a philosophy and no plan that makes the math work. Stossel and the folks in the Libertarian camp have half a plan.

If you can describe your political position with one word, you're part of the problem. Political groups confuse philosophies with plans. When you identify with a group, you become a philosopher. I suppose everyone assumes the plan is someone else's job.

I'd like to see a Constitutional Amendment that makes anyone in federal office ineligible for another elected term if the budget isn't balanced during the current term.

I wonder how hard it is to amend the Constitution in the Internet age. Isn't that sort of thing easier now?
I read that and I end up rolling on the floor laughing. Why? Scott Adams' call to "balance the budget" isn't a plan. It is a philosophy! He is doing exactly what he accuses others of doing.

If you want a very simple plan. Here's one:

Raise taxes back to what they were under Eisenhower's Republican administration. From Wikipedia:

Balancing the budget is not a plan because it leaves open what to cut. Raising taxes is a plan because if you revive the tax rates in effect in the early 1950s you will have a surplus. Deficit gone! Debt will quickly shrink.

What I find wondrously strange is that nobody in the US ever mentions raising taxes. Presumably because everybody is convinced they are already so onerous that even a teeny tiny increase will collapse the economy. But the US is the lowest taxed developed country in the world. There is ample room to raise taxes. But nobody talks about it. That shows you all the hoopla about deficits and debt is just a bunch of hot air. Serious people have serious proposals and raising taxes is not only serious, it is the obvious thing to do.

In the part of the world where I come from, you expect to have to pay for what you get. But I guess Americans have been so inundated by their advertising media about "free this" and "free that" and "new lower cost" and "new and improved (at no extra cost)" that they really believe there is such a thing as a "free lunch".

Taxes are the cost of civil society. If you want to live in the "nasty, brutish, and short" life of Hobbes' war of all against all, then constantly demand tax cuts, complain about government being "the problem" and not the solution, shrink government, refuse to do serious political compromise. Then one day you will wake up to mayhem in the streets.

Oh... and another point. While taxes were high in the 1950s, most of that tax money went into spending for the Cold War. But you didn't hear all the moaning and groaning about "burdensome government" and the need to "shrink government" or that "government is the problem, not the solution":

I would love to have a time machine to whisk all those fat cats who have benefited from cutting their tax rate from 92% down to 35% back to 1953 and let them live in that era. They would be apoplectic! But they would learn the meaning of citizenship.

These anti-tax crazies have no idea what a paradise they are living in today. Not only are their tax rates low, their taxes are used for socially meaningful stuff like supported the aged, the incompetent, support education to bring up a more competent future generation, providing research grants to grow the economy, etc. Back in the 1950s all that money went into building doomsday weapons that -- if they had been used -- would have destroyed all life on earth. Monies spent today mostly do good. Back then, the money was like the payoff to the Mafia to keep them from burning down your business. It was an expense, but a useless one compared to taking money from the till to give to your grandma to help her with her medical bill or to put a niece through college.

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