Supercommittee Super Stumped

A good friend of mine is fond of gigging me about my limited-government views by saying in response to a problem–any problem– “Can’t the government do something?” I don’t think he fully appreciates the irony. Yes, government can do something–for most any problem–but usually shouldn’t. And we are vastly better off when they don’t.

This is as true for Congress’s supercommittee on deficit reduction as it is for any other world-saving plan conjured up by 535 largely economics-impaired dufuses. The press is starting to tell us that this august body is about to blow it and that we will face “draconian” cuts through mandatory sequestering of funds mechanisms set up when the committee was formed. Draco would be insulted.

Sequestering the funds will do the following things, none of which are even stern, much less the calamity predicted by pundits.

  • Annual spending from 2013 to 2021 will rise from below $4 trillion to more than $5 trillion.
  • Without the sequester, spending will increase $1.7 trillion; with it, $1.6 trillion.

The following graph, courtesy of Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, vividly shows the overwhelming lack of difference between life with and life without the dreaded sequester.

Yes, folks, there are two lines there, though people my age and above may need to fetch the cheaters in order to see them. For this, we endured a summer of posturing and bloviating from both sides of the aisle.

As cynicism oft begets cynicism, let me bring to the fore a little-known but important distinction between the way you and I talk and the way Congress talks. When you and I say we are “cutting” our budget, we mean that we plan to spend less. When Congress “cuts” a budget, they mean for spending to increase at a lesser rate. The cuts are not really cuts at all.

And so we can expect Congress to make a great show of working out some fabulous deal for us all over the next few days. They will go on and on about how painful it was to have to make these dreadful decisions and how wonderfully bipartisan they all became when push came to shove.

In the meantime, absolutely nothing of consequence will have occurred to stem the rising tide of debt we face as unfunded obligations and government programs grow, then grow some more. The supercommittee will have been one more sideshow distracting us from the real problem–how to club government into submission and eventually responsible spending behavior.


About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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