MUBI brings you a great new film every day.  Start your 7-day free trial today!
All Topics  » Off Topic  »

Is Paul Ryan's Budget Tantamount to Social Darwinism?

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

I’ve been reading some commentary about Rep. Paul Ryan’s federal budget proposals. I don’t know all the particulars and, at this point, I can’t remember all the details from the commentary I’ve read. So I’m going to be speaking from memory here, which may not be accurate and certainl isn’t based on thorough understanding of the budget or the criticisms against it. Now, let me be upfront and say that I’m don’t care for Ryan’s views and his slick approach. At the same time, I appreciate the fact that he offfers ideas that can be debated and discussed.

In this thread, I want to look at his budget and paint a picture of America that Ryan envisions based on the principles and ideas we can extrapolate from the budget. I also welcome any corrections to errors I may make regarding Ryan’s views. Indeed, I would love participation from supporters of Ryan’s plan—as long as they’re civil and thoughtful.

Here are a few key points of Ryan’s budget that stand out for me:

1. No increased taxes and taxes on wealthy kept low.
2. Most of the budget will cover entitlements, military, interest on debt and one other thing which I can’t remember right now—while discretionary spending will be dramatically cut—things like transportation, education, homeland security, weather service, etc.

The budget seems close to a libertarian vision of the federal government. The President has described the plan as “thinly veiled social Darwinism,” and I must admit I get the same impression. I suspect that Ryan would argue that this budget allows the country to have a more healthy and more thriving economy, while the President’s budget will doom the country to a very stagnant one and maybe even bankrupting the government. We can dispute the accuracy of these claims, but I think government doing too much can lead to a stagnant economy—as doing so can sap a lot of resources as well as stifle the productivity of citizens. (I’m not saying this will happen under the President’s budget, but I’m saying that a large federal government can have this effect.)

Having said that, making the cuts advocated by Ryan could not only hinder the effectiveness of the federal government for things like homeland security/border patrol, environmental protection, air traffic control and handling disasters, but it could severely hurt lower income citizens (e.g., cuts to head start, pell grants, etc.) So far I really haven’t heard a strong rebuttal against this claim, and personally I would strongly oppose draconian cuts to these type of services.

Probably the best rebuttal I’ve heard (briefly from Ryan) is the idea that the states should or could pick up the slack. So one might argue that the huge cuts to the federal government doesn’t indicate an opposition to many of the programs—instead, the cuts occur out of the belief that the state and local governments—and/or civic institutions should be providing these types of services. I think this is a legitimate claim, at least on the surface. The question, for me, then becomes, can states and municipal governments, as well as community organizations, pick up the slack? That seems fairly dubious given the way states have severe budget problems of their own. (Does Ryan favor increasing state and local taxes as a partial way to cover these costs?)

Can we make a legitimate case for pushing the burden to state and local governments and local community organizations, while drastically cutting government services, or is this just an excuse to cut out these services?

Polaris​DiB

about 2 years ago

" the states should or could pick up the slack."

Only two states have a budget surplus. No, they cannot pick up the slack. Here is a study of how much federal funding is received versus how much federal taxes are paid by state. If you look at it, you’ll notice that more typically ‘red’ states receive more than they pay. ‘Blue’ states are paying the federal taxes that keep ‘red’ states lights on. Red states are hypocrites, and would suffer the most from federal cuts.

Here is an article about how much federal support citizens receive versus their impression of what they receive. You will see that many people find themselves independent, government-free lifestyles that only use Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, student loans, and 529s.

A user on this site, I believe it was Jerry Johnson but I may be wrong so sorry Jerry if I’m misattributing you to something you didn’t say, pointed out once that if the federal government wants to balance the budget with cuts and not increased spending, it should cut healthcare and defense in half and remove pensions. I did the math thinking to disprove this argument and discovered that it was actually true, and you didn’t even have to cut pensions. Now, how to cut defense and healthcare in half (a substantial amount) is a different, more difficult issue. But the fact is that they are the two most unlikely to get cut because they are the pet projects of the Republicans and Democrats respectively. I know there are things we can look into and could probably easily do, such as ban non-bid contracts and enforce due dates on the defense sector to lower costs and cut off companies that never provide products, and tort reform and police insurance fraud in healthcare. These I feel are first steps and reasonable solutions.

Also, raising taxes is actually an exceptionally simple method of increasing government revenue, and all we could do to start is, um, letting those so-called ‘temporary tax cuts’ expire like they are supposed to.

Don’t get too hopeful about reduced costs from the rollback of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, because at this point it’s probably better to just expect that the US will go to war against Iran in the near future, whatever our personal opinions of whether or not we should. Maybe I’m wrong and that would be neat, but it’s feeling pretty likely.

Of the non ‘etc.’ things listed in number two, the thing I agree with the most is that we could cut funding to homeland security. First of all, the DHS is an additional ‘intelligence’ agency we didn’t properly need and one of the significant costs that increased our deficit during the Bush years. Secondly, all those pretty gewgaws and gadgets we walk through at airports and the like could easily be replaced by the Israeli model . The problem with that model is that it’ll get civil rights activists’ panties in a bundle because it includes profiling. But the general idea is that passengers are asked a series of questions designed to look at their psychological profile, see if they develop nervous tics or traits of anxiety. From there, they are screened further. There are no body scans. And for the huge target Israel is, there have been no attacks through that airport since 1972. We’re spending too much on products that don’t matter.

Those are my ideas. Obviously I have precisely zero political clout to enable them. I think there are relatively easy things to start out with to substantially help our economy and efficiency without pissing off very many people, and I think the focus on taxes fogs up that debate and, you know, turns our discourse into a circus. Speaking of the circus, have you heard about the $835000 of taxpayer money the GSA spent on clowns? I love the part where the GSA is in charge of monitoring and moderating government spending. Good times.

Edit: Oh, and the thing about social darwinism is that it’s a sociological theory and so things more or less can fit or not fit into that framework depending on your angle of approach.

—PolarisDiB

Polaris​DiB

about 2 years ago

Also, is it okay Jazz if I request of participants in this discussion to offer their ideas of where spending could be cut and how, with links if possible? Nothing too professional analyst style required, I’ve just found that finding out little ways here and there to make big changes in spending is actually sort of fun and helps lighten the discussion about budget. Of course there will always be problems with spending cuts and raising taxes. But this is something like the second or third time I’ve written out ideas of what I think could be done, and I keep supplementing my ideas with new ‘fixes’ as I find them.

—PolarisDiB

Jazzalo​ha

about 2 years ago

@DiB

(As I expected, I guess I have to play Devil’s Advocate…)

Only two states have a budget surplus. No, they cannot pick up the slack.

I know states and local government (not to mention non-profits) aren’t doing so well now, so “picking up the slack” seems untenable. But, for the sake of argument, in better economic times, could states pick up the slack—or better yet, should they pick up the slack. By the latter, I’m asking if people feel like more localized control of gov’t services like education, transportation, etc. is preferrable. Why or why not?

Imo, a fundamental issue we need to address is not only which services should government provide, but what level of government should provide them. Decentralized approach appeals to me in general, but I think you have to decide on a case-by-case basis.

…if the federal government wants to balance the budget with cuts and not increased spending, it should cut healthcare and defense in half and remove pensions. I did the math thinking to disprove this argument and discovered that it was actually true, and you didn’t even have to cut pensions. Now, how to cut defense and healthcare in half (a substantial amount) is a different, more difficult issue.

Difficult to the point of being impractical, I would say. We should remember that budgeting in a sustainable way (i.e., budgeting in a way to keep debt at a manageable level) doesn’t only have to involve cutting government services. If people believe in creating sustainable budgets via cuts only, they should demonstrate why this is preferable to other approaches—like a mixture of cuts and increasing revenues or revenues with no cuts.

I know there are things we can look into and could probably easily do, such as ban non-bid contracts and enforce due dates on the defense sector to lower costs and cut off companies that never provide products, and tort reform and police insurance fraud in healthcare. These I feel are first steps and reasonable solutions.

They may be reasonable, but that doesn’t mean they’re feasible. Basically, what you seem to be talking about is cutting “waste, fraud and abuse” as a way to addressing budget problems. My sense is that this is not only extremely difficult to accomplish, but the victories you do achieve won’t seriously address budget problems. (That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to cut waste, fraud and abuse, but this isn’t a serious solution, imo.)

Also, raising taxes is actually an exceptionally simple method of increasing government revenue, and all we could do to start is, um, letting those so-called ‘temporary tax cuts’ expire like they are supposed to.

Simple procedurally, perhaps, but not politically. I’m not saying we shouldn’t let the Bush tax cuts expire (right now, I lean towards letting them expire), but it’s not a slam-dunk; and I’m not one who believes that raising taxes will solve all of these problems.

Edit: Oh, and the thing about social darwinism is that it’s a sociological theory and so things more or less can fit or not fit into that framework depending on your angle of approach.

By social darwinism, I mean an America where besides some level of health care and social security for elderly and the poor, everyone else is on their own. So citizens that are not wealthy will have to largely depend on themselves or charitable organizations. I don’t know to what extent this fits Ryan’s vision, but my sense it pulls heavily in that direction.

Also, is it okay Jazz if I request of participants in this discussion to offer their ideas of where spending could be cut and how, with links if possible?

I don’t mind—only I would prefer if we talk more in general terms. For example, should the federal government be involved in education and to what extent, if so? Or at least mention cuts that would significantly address short and long term budget challenges.

Polaris​DiB

about 2 years ago

_"I know states and local government (not to mention non-profits) aren’t doing so well now, so “picking up the slack” seems untenable. But, for the sake of argument, in better economic times, could states pick up the slack—or better yet, should they pick up the slack. By the latter, I’m asking if people feel like more localized control of gov’t services like education, transportation, etc. is preferrable. Why or why not?

Imo, a fundamental issue we need to address is not only which services should government provide, but what level of government should provide them. Decentralized approach appeals to me in general, but I think you have to decide on a case-by-case basis."_

I agree and I think that’s largely the point I’m trying to make. Here’s the thing: states can pick up the slack in a sense by sponsoring currently federal-level benefits for themselves, and it may be more efficient since they apply directly to state citizens and nowhere else, but the two issues with that I can immediately think of are

1) Robbing from Peter to pay Paul: Okay, federal taxes are reduced. State taxes are increased. Overall ‘taxes’ citizens pay personally? Probably the same, or insignificantly more or less. I could see it substantially reducing red states’ taxes because their local governments would cut public benefits, and then I could see the red states suffering majorly for it within a few years and going back to Daddy Fed for some handouts. I mean, that’s actually exactly what they’re doing now — re: that link to federal monies paid versus received study in my response.

2) Students. Military. People whose jobs require them to be mobile and move from state to state. How do they pay for or receive benefits? My sister still votes in this state but has been living in North Carolina for almost a decade.

Nevertheless in theory I approve of the American value of state-level government versus federal-level government. We’re just too big for any centralized government to control efficiently, and a lot of states I feel can take care of themselves. I am just aware that some states cannot.

By the by, one of the reasons N. Dakota gets so much press about these state-level financial issues is that not only are they one of the two states that have a surplus, but a large part of that comes from the success of its state-level banking system which acts as sort of a “mini-Federal Reserve” or a credit union shared between a state financial system and its citizens.

“a mixture of cuts and increasing revenues or revenues with no cuts.”

This is my belief. Raising taxes isn’t just an option, but something we just simply fucking need to do, and the people who are trying literally every other approach, especially those assholes who say, “Government should be run like a business” need to remember that businesses make profits by raising revenue as well as cutting overhead. There’s only so much overhead you can cut before you’re closed down. I saw this in real-time when I worked at Hastings and they cut overhead so much, one single employee (cough me) was running the entire sales floor — which means that most customers were leaving in anger because I couldn’t get around to helping them find what they wanted to buy, something Hastings corporation couldn’t ‘see’ because zero-sum transactions of angry customers doesn’t create a receipt for the accounting department. One person cannot help customers in three different departments at the same time, that’s just physical impossibility, but that’s how Hastings attempted to raise profit margins. Now one of their locations has shut down completely. Hey, it’s less overhead, right?

But the reason why I focus on fraud, abuse, and waste is to make sure if we’re raising taxes, that we’re actually using it efficiently and productively. Some of it involves cutting bureaucracy, some of it involves creating bureaucracy: a bureau of ‘insurance fraud investigation’ would be a good investment, methinks. Some already exist at the state level, but again, lots of fraud manages success because it operates over state-lines. Hence, Florida has an insurance fraud department, and is also one of the most publicized areas of insurance fraud.

“Simple procedurally, perhaps, but not politically.”

Exactly. That’s the difference between politics and solutions. Solutions are never, ever no-cost. There’s always a cost. Politics is the job of finding the solution that pleases everybody, and as a result, it usually pleases nobody. But the reason it exists is so that we can debate the solution and find the better, lower cost solution (and cost in this case isn’t always financial, it could also be a labor cost or a health cost or a security cost or a rights cost or…), and the problem is that people sometimes value some things far beyond their actual value, such as low taxes. Financial savings from low taxes don’t mean jack shit if you’re making no money, and the issue right now is that lots of people aren’t making any money at all. So we need to focus on how to get them making money, and the ‘low taxes = job creation’ equation doesn’t add up, its missing qualifiers. It’s a literal rhetorical jump to conclusion.

Another way of saying this is a joke a friend of mine came up with recently: “You’re momma’s so dumb, she thinks Keynesian supply side economics is socialism.” The Republican’s rhetoric right now is typically political double-standard: “WHY ISN’T THE GOVERNMENT CREATING JOBS? WE HAVE TO CUT MONEY FROM THE GOVERNMENT!” Uhhhh… how can the government operate if it has no income? And why does cutting from the government rarely equate salary decreases for high-profile political offices?

—PolarisDiB

El hombre huevo

about 2 years ago

Shocker

“TPC looked only at the tax reductions in Ryan’s plan, which also included offsetting–but unidentified–cuts in tax credits, exclusions, and deductions. TPC found that in 2015, relative to today’s tax system, those making $1 million or more would enjoy an average tax cut of $265,000 and see their after-tax income increase by 12.5 percent. By contrast, half of those making between $20,000 and $30,000 would get no tax cut at all. On average, people in that income group would get a tax reduction of $129. Ryan would raise their after-tax income by 0.5 percent.

Nearly all middle-income households (those making between $50,000 and $75,000) would see their taxes fall, by an average of roughly $1,000. Ryan would increase their after-tax income by about 2 percent.

Ryan would extend all of the 2001/2003 tax cuts, and then consolidate individual rates to just two—10 and 25 percent. In addition, he’d repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, reduce the corporate rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, and kill the tax provisions of the 2010 health reform law.

Earlier this week, TPC projected the tax cuts in Ryan’s budget would add $4.6 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade, even after extending the 2001/2003 tax cuts, which would add another $5.4 trillion to the deficit."

Polaris​DiB

about 2 years ago

Yeah, not surprising analysis. Any information, however, on how well it’ll be able to pass? I mean Obama is against it but how much veto power does he have against it, are there other plans submitted against it, what will happen to it as its processed through the legislative branch?

—DiB

Polaris​DiB

almost 2 years ago

Death and Taxes 2012

A virtual poster (6ft x 6ft) showing the 2012 federal budget. I haven’t perused it just yet but what’s interesting is that it is designed with National Security (60% of federal spending) on the left side, which means I’m going to look at it to see if I can discern methods of cutting defense, and compare to cutting anything else.

—PolarisDiB

Matt Parks

almost 2 years ago

Does Ryan’s budget include an allocation for Soylent Green r&d?

Two Plus Two

almost 2 years ago

very funny

Jirin

almost 2 years ago

In general I do think power should be decentralized, but not in some of these cases. Education? Environment? Education is not ‘discretionary’, it is the most basic entitlement everybody in the country should get. And the environment? This is not a case where actions are insular: If you pollute the environment it affects everybody even outside the state.

Here’s the thing about taxes. Suppose you are the head of a department of the government. You are given $100 million, and you only spend $70 million. Do you: A) Give the extra $30 million back, or B) Find a way to spend it? If you give it back, guess what you’ll get next year. $70 million. But what if you need that $100 million next year? So, you spend that extra $30 million on something, anything. You expand your department and its overhead. Then next year you go back to the federal government and say you need more.

We have a fundamental flaw in the way we think of funding. If one year you get $100 million, and next year you get $95 million, you don’t think of it as receiving $95 million dollars, you think of it as a 5% cut. That is reactionary, and leads to the perpetually ballooning overhead described in the previous paragraph. Every single dollar should have to be newly justified every single year.

Given that is newly justified, yes, it is ridiculous that capital gains tax is 15% and regular income is 35%, and taxing should be done at a reasonable, progressive rate.

Also, we have a disturbing decreasing ratio of workforce to retired people and unsustainable systems that people have been planning their financial future based on. Social security was designed when there were 16 working people for every one retired person. Now there’s 2.5. It’s obvious this system is unsustainable if the cutoff and benefit stays the same, but touching it is political cyanide, so instead we’re just paying huge rates for a system that’s going to explode out from under us in a few decades, instead of making the sacrifices and compromises we need to stabilize a system that ensures the basic needs of elderly are met.

You know what happens when you cut funding to states? They raise property taxes and it becomes impossible for poor people to move into better neighborhoods.

But yeah, federal spending that is actually discretionary should be cut, and every department should have to publicly justify every penny they get every year.

Polaris​DiB

almost 2 years ago

“every department should have to publicly justify every penny they get every year.”

How much will that bureaucratic procedure cost?

(Half-joking. This is why politicians present these issues as “x amount over x years.” In order that that money can be more efficiently accounted for and running the government for a year isn’t six months of accounting and THEN six months of legislation. But of course this is not defending inefficient budgeting practices such as justifying budgetary futures instead of defending current budgetary needs.)

—PolarisDiB

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

Does Ryan’s budget include an allocation for Soylent Green r&d?

Since there seems to be little room for discretionary spending in his budget, it would have to fall under military spending? Or maybe he could somehow tie this into medicare and medicaid spending? (That sounds like a good movie idea. ;)

Polaris​DiB

almost 2 years ago

Everyone knows Ira’s death in that movie is a visualization of the dreaded death committees.

—PolarisDiB

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

DiB said, How much will that bureaucratic procedure cost?

This is a good point. I suspect that policymakers will resort to some bureaucratic procedures—which, generally take more time and therefore cost money—to justify expenditures. But I think the bigger problem is developing a rational budgeting process. Al Gore and Bill Clinton pushed for this when they were in office. (I believe it was called “performance based budgeting.”) And while the concept is really good, in practice it’s not as smooth or efficient as one may think.

Jirin said, But yeah, federal spending that is actually discretionary should be cut…

But you’re talking as if there is something that is actually discretionary in an objective sense. What is discretionary to the wealthy, may not be discretionary to the poor, etc.

Polaris​DiB

almost 2 years ago

In federal tax terminology, the budget is divided into mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), defense spending, non-defense discretionary spending, and interest. This means that roughly stated, all non-mandatory spending is ‘discretionary.’ It has little to do with frames of reference based on wealth and more to do with what sectors and services the government is providing.

—PolarisDiB

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

Well, I would probably include interest on debt as mandatory, as well. Of course, it’s not mandatory to pay back our debt (including the interest on debt), but we don’t really have to pay for entitlement programs, either. Technically, there isn’t an expenditure that is mandatory or discretionary for that matter. People (citizens via elected officials) determine what is mandatory and discretionary.

But even if we look at what falls under discretionary spending as DiB has defined above, there will be differences in opinion about what spending is crucial and what spending is not. For example, Jirin thinks that spending on eduction is not discretionary, but there are many others who do not feel that way (especially in terms of federal spending).

Jirin

almost 2 years ago

Democracy without education is not democracy at all: It’s the plutocracy that marxists accuse it of being.

The trouble with this poster is, is there much I look at and want to say “Yeah, axe that entire program?” Probably not. There’s some research budget there that could probably be accomplished just as or more efficiently by providing incentives to the private sector, there’s ‘favor for favor’ pork projects buried in there, and there’s a lot of funding people aren’t willing to cut for fear of the ‘job destroyer’ designation on the election resume.

But it’s all buried very cleverly: It’d take an objective expert to find out exactly what’s in there.

Or maybe, change the system so coming in under-budget doesn’t diminish your future funding? For instance, say, for every dollar you give back to the federal government, 50 cents of that dollar gets added onto next year’s budget.

Jazzalo​ha

almost 2 years ago

@Jirin

_Democracy without education is not democracy at all: It’s the plutocracy that marxists accuse it of being.

I think most people would agree that education is important, but not everyone agrees that the federal government should be funding education. Must the federal government fund education or provide educational services to its citizens (versus the state and local governments or even priviate/non-profit institutions)? Personally, I don’t think they MUST—hence, it’s a discretionary item.

But it’s all buried very cleverly: It’d take an objective expert to find out exactly what’s in there.

I hear what you’re saying, and I’m with you to some extent, but I’m not sure this objective expert exists. Are there objective answers to what the government should and should not do? Are there objective answers to the amount of money and resources should go into these services? I’d say no to both questions.

Or maybe, change the system so coming in under-budget doesn’t diminish your future funding? For instance, say, for every dollar you give back to the federal government, 50 cents of that dollar gets added onto next year’s budget.

I don’t know if that’s much more rational, but I know what you’re trying to get at. I would favor this more if this was contingent on reaching certain benchmarks set by policymakers—and if we could identify meaningful benchmarks. (I also like the idea of allowing agencies to create a “savings account” for these monies that can be carried over from year to year.)