Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Mathiness is Key

Inspired by Libertarians for America's post on the public's budget priorities.

I come off as pretty as a pretty populist-majoritarian type of democrat (small d) in this blog. Like Winston Churchill saying “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”, it’s not a guaranteed form of legitimacy, but it’s the only one close to non-arbitrary and non-corrupt, in my eyes. So I’m generally against things that subvert interpretations of the will of the people. But this does not mean that the will of the people is always awesome. In particular, anything requiring hard logic or factual thinking can be subverted by a candidate who it willing to lie. “I can cut taxes/raise spending AND reduce the deficit” is a winning platform, possibly.

The public's lack of grasp of numbers, and also inability to do math, becomes very relevant here. Namely, people don't understand the budget at all.

If you polled "what should our foreign aid be" a majority gives a level higher than what it currently is

If you polled "should we cut or increase foreign aid", definitely cut wins. Why? Well partly the public believes our foreign aid is higher than it is. Although if you said "foreign aid is X. should it be raised or lowered", I doubt raised suddenly gets converts.

I think people's priorities, influence the budget in terms of what grows and what doesn't. If you took the existing budget, mapped those priorities for the study as instead growth rates, then you’d find an useful prediction for the next year.

But there's a huge difference of course between what's important and thus we spend a lot of money on it, and what's important and thus we should spend more money on it. Sadly our public and political system does not grasp that fact.

For instance, every time you hear studies of governmental growth, it's "non-defense spending rose 5% or such", why non-defense? Of course defense is important, that is why we spend a quarter of the federal budget on it. But why should we be less concerned about inflation and corruption and waste and the tax dollars it takes to pay that, in terms of it growing without check, than any other sector of government?

PS: But this does not lead me to believe that Constitutional limits are the solution to this problem. The Constitution does not teach citizens or legislators the difference between derivatives and integrals.


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