Tests of Ideology

So, the sequester is definitely a thing that's going to happen now. And I suppose the messaging from the Republican Party is at least acquiring a new consistency; from what I can see, they're starting to adopt the idea that from their point of view, the sequester is a flat-out win for them. Smaller government is going to happen, and it's going to happen through spending cuts. Aside from the defense cuts, what is there to dislike from the conservative side of the argument?

Anyone familiar with the things I usually write here on this blog could probably guess, then, that I absolutely despise this entire idea. To me, this is going to mean a reduction in the government's ability to function. And in all honesty, that's not really up for debate! Of course less money is going to mean that the government can't do as much.

The question is whether that's desirable. In the article I linked, Speaker Boehner characterized the dispute thusly: that the debate was "how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government." That's not how I view the matter.

I look at what the government does with its money - with the majority of the federal budget going to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Cuts to these programs reduce the resources available to members of "the American people". These are the people least able to make up for the shortfall. These are the people who we've made commitments to when these programs were created. And the programs that help them are solvent for at least the next several decades.

Then there's defense. I think there are very definite benefits to continuing military development, ensuring that the United States has the most powerful military force in the world. I think that the presence of weapons does not imply their use, and I think it's a very good idea to be prepared for the case (however unlikely) that someone in the world decides to use force against us. I don't think it's in the interests of "the American people" to have a substantially weaker military thanks to defense cuts.

The last category of government spending? Discretionary spending. If people really think it's productive or useful to go through that list item by item, picking individual bits out as unnecessary, be my guest, I suppose? But I don't see how it will produce a smaller government to pull out million-dollar line items from a federal budget in the trillions... and this is the category that includes things like infrastructure and education, things that are absolutely essential to any semblance of a comfortable life for "the American people".

And you know what? Then there's the personal level. I see people lined up for furloughs and layoffs, as the government is forced to cut back on budgets everywhere, including personnel. That's members of "the American people" that now have less money, that are forced to find new jobs (or forced to do less of the jobs they have) because this sequester is going through. I'm sure those people are quite pleased that the government is... now denying them the money they otherwise could have had...?

If there's a simple way to sum this up: every cent of government spending is designed to be a benefit to the American people.

I'm open to having a discussion on that! Perhaps some government spending doesn't actually provide any benefit. Perhaps in six months we'll find that very little harm has actually been caused to the American people as a result of the sequester (although heaven only knows how we'll even make that determination). If that actually comes to pass, I'll definitely need to do some rethinking on how much government spending is necessary or desirable.

I just wish there was a way to have that discussion and conduct that test of ideology without actually screwing people over if things end the way I expect them to.

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