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      03-23-2013, 06:21 PM   #10
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Bulldog CFP,

OK, for sh!ts and giggles and because I have some time, I'll bite. For the record, I feel I represent a largely unrepresented swath of the country and operate not from liberal nor conservative dogma. I think there are points people could agree on if they would just step away from their respective dogmas.

Also for the record, I live in liberal San Francisco, but have done quite well in my career.

The problem with your argument is you are dogmatic in the opposite direction of what you are lambasting, in, imo, an equally unrealistic manner.

I think everyone agrees, including the President, that in an ideal world we would have no budget deficit and would in fact be paying down the debt. I think even the progressive caucus believes this, they are just out there on how.

When you throw actual dollar amounts into your argument, you weaken it. Debt is measured by "honest economists" as a % of GDP, and you take into account inflation. Suggesting that the real dollar amount historically is some relatively absurd value is not actually helpful. It's true, it just isn't really what matters. Similar "biggest spending president in history". Guess what? Odds are the next one will be even bigger, regardless of party. The bipartisan budget commission suggested we cut about $4T from the budget deficit through spending and taxes over 10 years and guess what? We're pretty much at that amount of cutting/taxes over the past two years or so.

Anyone can quote absurd federal spending as an argument against waste. I can also claim you should turn off lights in rooms you aren't in in your home - this has about the same % effect on the problem as the programs you describe. One could also quote massive tax giveaways we are giving to hedge fund managers and energy companies that are equally appalling on the other end of the spectrum. This is also not really helpful.

Taxes as a % of GDP are at an all-time low, so that is also not really relevant.

The amount of spending that isn't the military and entitlements could be cut to ZERO and it would not get rid of the deficit. And there's lots of good stuff in that category like medical research that no one would agree we should cut.

The progressive caucus is equally wrong. I live in a city where progressives have gone relatively mad, and it sucks as bad as it would if right-wing people were in charge, just in different ways.

My point is this: Both sides are unclean in this argument. Neither side actually owns a public opinion mandate - americans like smaller government in the abstract, but also like all of the individual programs it provides in the specific, silly edge cases you describe excepted.

So what do I think? I guess here is where I potentially need to put on a flame suit because both sides will dislike what I say. I do have some principles though:

1. The tax code should be progressive to some degree. People who can afford to pay more, myself included, should pay relatively more. The argument is about how much more. The biggest problem here is people who make a lot more than me actually pay a lower effective tax rate than I do, and that is wrong. The graph of effective tax rate by income peaks in my range, and then falls back down for the even-wealthier. I should not be relatively punished because most of my income comes from *working* as opposed to *investing*.

2. People shouldn't go bankrupt because they get sick. We also shouldn't jeopardize the financial incentive for medical companies to invest in new technology. My suggestion for threading this needle is:

2a. The government should provide a base level of medical coverage. Nothing fancy, nothing extreme. All preventative care because this costs less than it saves. Highish caps on out of pocket for catastrophic problems like cancer. This isn't a "market" in the normal sense because people have no chance of not participating. If you pass out in the street you will be taken to an ER and given care.

2b. The private health insurance market should continue to exist but focus on care above that base level. Shorter waits, more exotic and experimental care, non-preventative care.

2c. Note that this is somewhat of a "public option", which actually decreases cost. And by not including the more expensive stuff in the public part, it stops the massive increase in spending in medicare/medicaid, and would replace both of those programs.

3. Free markets are the ideal, but in extreme cases intervention is required. Monopolies. Banks that are so big if they failed they would destroy the economy. Etc. Regulation is a tool that should be used only on these extremes, but is a tool that should be used. For silly things, like airbag warning stickers on sun visors, the government should stay the hell out. One interesting idea here is limiting the # of laws per session of congress. Make em count.

This means no subsidies for farmers. This means if a kid dies from a defective product, the market should sort that out not the government. Again, both sides have faults here.

4. A base level of education should be free - primary, secondary, and university. We should be tracking kids into more university-track and technical vocational school track earlier on, like Europe does. This should all be free. Advanced degrees probably should stay private. Let the private market handle everything above this base level, ala my healthcare position above. While we are towards the top of education spending per capita, we aren't actually at the top despite what you say, and an *extremely small* percentage of that comes from the federal government. Most comes from local property taxes and then state funding, and is horrifically inequitable and inefficient.

5. Massively more spending on R&D - medical, computers, biology, and yes, NASA - this is stuff that makes us better and more money in the end, and again, is a pittance of the total. All of NASA = 1% of the total budget.

6. Increased spending on infrastructure. Not stupid high speed rail. But highways, bridges, tunnels, mass transit to keep cars off the road, etc. Again, this is all good and gains us more money than it costs.

7. Decreased spending on the military. Here I get more controversial I bet. We spend more than the next 13 countries combined on defense, including on unnecessary programs the military doesn't even want but are in congressional home districts so pork keeps them around. We spend nearly 2.5x China as a % of GDP. These are many *many* times the spending program amounts you list, and again, the military doesn't even want them. We need to stay ahead of china, and have effective ways to defeat guerilla-style terrorist groups in various countries. We don't need anything more than that.

I am not saying we need to avoid conflict like libertarians - we have a duty as the richest people in the world to be the world's cop where required. But we are doing like 5x that right now.

8. Social Security. Despite what some like to say, Social Security is *mostly* financially solvent and just needs some minor adjustments based on eligibility age based on the fact that people live longer. Once we get through the baby boomers retiring, it becomes solvent again. People don't save for retirement - this is why this was invented in the first place. Old people were destitute. That shouldn't happen and I don't see a better way to stop it than social security.

9. The gov't should stay the hell out of social issues and people's lives and religions. This again goes both ways. People should marry whom they choose. Priests shouldn't have to be forced to marry anyone.

If you object to something here, please try and be specific about it. *Both* sides are being vague and it is unhelpful. Tell me which program that totals more than 1% of the budget you would cut and how. Don't just repeat Fox News talking points, and don't just use the other extreme to try and make your point.

We need to trim the big programs - medicare, medicaid, social security, and the military. We also need to tax fairly, by which I mean progressively.

If we did all of this, our deficits would be solved. If you have an alternative that would actually work, by all means illustrate it. But please learn about what you are discussing in a way that depends on facts and not talking points.
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