Friday, April 02, 2010

What you don't understand about the Tea Partiers Part 2

What they are afraid of? Many things, but two concerns dwarf all others: big government and big deficits. Let's start with big government.

There are two ways one might define the size of government; the first is how much it costs. As a percentage of gross national product, the federal government has grown from 8.03% to 44.48% in the last hundred years. State governments' growth has kept pace; the combined burden is often expressed as "tax freedom day", or how long you have to work just to cover your taxes. In 1910, taxes took all your income earned through January 19th; this year it's April 9th. It should be noted that these numbers do not include deficits or fees, such as license plates, which can exceed $500.

Another way to measure the size of government is by power. The original form of the federal government was too weak to govern; it didn't even have the power to outlaw slavery- that required a Constitutional amendment. But today- proving the axiom that there is no happy medium in politics- the federal government can control such picayune minutia as whether you can turn right at a red light. But the provision in the new healthcare law that one must buy insurance is a whole new level of overreaching. As I noted before, the commerce clause in the Constitution has already been stretched to say that the federal government has the right to overturn state laws on the basis of an interstate market that has no legal existence. What this new law claims is that the federal government has a right to overturn state laws on the basis of an interstate market that does not exist at all, and cannot exist in the future unless that same federal government changes the law to make it so.

Conservatives fear that if this stands, it erases the 10th amendment altogether; one can always fantasize some hypothetical trade that would then need federal regulation- there would be no practical limits on federal power whatsoever. We will in fact have changed our very form of government from a union of sovereign states to a single state with some limited local autonomy without the democratic procedure of amending the Constitution. Now perhaps you think we should change the Constitution to make us "One Nation" in law as well as poetry; a good case for that can be made- through the democratic process. But the Tea Party type of conservative feels that one cannot "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States" by violating it. And they fear the mindset of a person or a party that thinks you can.

By the way, if you think that fear shows the right wingnut nature of the tea Partiers, then you are deeming 56% of the country to be wingnuts, according to this CNN poll. "Fifty-six percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday say they think the federal government's become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens." You will have also confirmed the diversity of the Tea Party; even 37% of Democrats agree with them in this.

Big Deficits

Ronald Reagan held the deficit record for 25 years at 6% of GDP in 1983; Bush was a piker by comparison- though his deficits looked big in dollars, they were scarcely 2% of GDP. But now, early in his first term, President Obama has succeeded in his ambition to be a transformative figure like Reagan was; 2009's deficit was 9.9% of GDP, more than half again bigger than Reagan's- in fact, the 2009 budget deficit is larger than all budget deficits from 2002 through 2007 combined. More than 43 cents of every dollar Washington spends in 2009 will have been borrowed.
What's this doing to the national debt? According to this Washington Times story, "The federal public debt, which was $6.3 trillion ($56,000 per household) when Mr. Obama entered office amid an economic crisis, totals $8.2 trillion ($72,000 per household) today, and it's headed toward $20.3 trillion (more than $170,000 per household) in 2020, according to CBO's deficit estimates.

That figure would equal 90 percent of the estimated gross domestic product in 2020, up from 40 percent at the end of fiscal 2008."
This puts our economic condition somewhere between Bulgaria and Greece.

More about deficits in part three, "Why now?"

9 comments:

Charlie Talbert said...

Universal healthcare coverage is a prerequisite of a just society. It’s long overdue here. It’s coming, and it gives us all more cause to be proud of our country. You don’t have to be a Tea Partier to be patriotic.

If it’s going to be funded fairly, then everyone should contribute, just like we do for universal police and fire protection. We pay taxes whether we need these services or not. When we need them, they’re there. You don’t hear much complaint about this, except from the death-to-all-taxes crowd.

The provision that one must purchase health insurance is just another way to make certain that everyone contributes to the cost of universal coverage. It’s ironic that, unlike a more direct tax, it gives you the freedom to choose your insurance plan (to placate the private insurance corporations), but it’s criticized as governmental intrusion.

Joel Monka said...

Had they created a universal healthcare system, it would have been on far firmer legal footing- Medicare/caid have already been found Constitutional. And it would have been cheaper and less corrosive to the economy.

Don't start with the tired old "patriotism" guff, either; I neither said nor implied anything of the sort. If you think there's a higher patriotism in ignoring the Constitution whenever it's inconvenient, fine and dandy. but you're scaring 56% of your countrymen. But are you willing to give the next administration the same latitude?

Bill Baar said...

A Just society is not necessarily egalitarian.

An egalitarian society is not necessarily Just.

Universal coverage at the cost of
Federal panels and commissons that will decide who gets care, at what price, and who will pay for it, will probably get you your Universal coverage but almost certainly at the cost of less care; probably for most of us.

When that bundled reimbursement system kicks in, figure out you'll lose access to specialist. I can promise you that...

Tim said...

Mr. Monka:

You are not doing your political cause any favors by the quality of the evidence you are providing.

In this post, you appear to claim that 44% is the federal government share of GDP, whereas it appears that this is actually the website you cite's "guesstimate" for the combined federal, state, and local government share. You also do not note that this share is unusually high right now because of the current severe recession.

In your previous post, as another commenter pointed out, you compared private sector wages, with benefits not included, to federal government wages, with benefits included. You also did not discuss issues such as whether workers are being paid more or less in the private versus federal sector relative to their education and the local cost of living, which might be relevant factors in a debate about this issue.

I think you weaken your political cause, and the potential for meaningful debate, by such misinterpretations of data that artificially exaggerate your concerns.

Joel Monka said...

"In this post, you appear to claim that 44% is the federal government share of GDP, whereas it appears that this is actually the website you cite's "guesstimate" for the combined federal, state, and local government share. You also do not note that this share is unusually high right now because of the current severe recession."

Yes, it's a guestimate, and a national average; each state differs; but as each year was calculated in the same way, they can be used to compare to each other, which was the point- 44% is larger than 8%. Yes, we are in a recession right now, so let's go to the 2007 numbers: 34.98% That's still bigger than 8%, I believe. Information is available from many sources, including the government itself, with detailed breakdown state-by-state, but I didn't bother bogging the post down with charts and graphs because you don't need the exact numbers to the third decimal point to get the point that the federal government is between five and six times the size it was a hundred years ago.

"In your previous post, as another commenter pointed out, you compared private sector wages, with benefits not included, to federal government wages, with benefits included. You also did not discuss issues such as whether workers are being paid more or less in the private versus federal sector relative to their education and the local cost of living, which might be relevant factors in a debate about this issue."

Ok, from the USA Today, "Harvard's Donahue, a former U.S. Labor Department official in the Clinton administration, said that's not true for most workers. He said studies have shown federal pay and benefits to be 3% to 15% higher than comparable positions in the private sector, where high pay is often limited to upper management, he said...
"The basic story is that government pays everybody the same, no matter their level of productivity," Donahue said. "But the private sector pays people differently. So the government employment becomes a safe harbor from a stormy private economy. It is a backwater."

That story is from 2007- so federal pay and benefits were 3% to 15% higher than comparable positions in the private sector even in good times, federal employment is a safe harbor no matter your level of productivity, and they continued to get raises and continued to hire while the private sector pay and benefits were declining

"I think you weaken your political cause, and the potential for meaningful debate, by such misinterpretations of data that artificially exaggerate your concerns."

That would have been a fair thing to say had you provided data showing that what I said was misinterpreted and artificially exaggerated.

Tim said...

Mr. Monka:

My point was that the figure you cited for FEDERAL government spending was actually the figure for TOTAL spending. Since much of your post is concerned with a perception of excessive power of the FEDERAL government, the distinction is highly relevant.

Let's use your preferred website for the moment to look at some figures for business cycle peaks. I will pick the following business cycle peak years: 2007, 2000, 1989, 1979, 1969, 1959, 1947, 1929, and, since you want to go that far back, 1909.

Here are the figures from your preferred website for TOTAL government spending as a percentage of GDP for those years:

1909, 7.84%
1929, 11.27%
1947, 23.65%
1959, 28.77%
1969, 30.08%
1979 31.58%
1989 34.94%
2000 32.56%
2007 34.99%

So, the first conclusion is that there has been very little overall growth in total government spending as a percent of GDP over the 20 years from the 1989 business cycle peak to the 2007 business cycle peak.

The second is that there really was only a modest increase in the total government share from 1959 or 1969 to 1989. I suppose one could argue about what "modest" is, but I don't think an increase from 28.77% in 1959 to 34.94% is dramatic. It would perhaps be more worrisome if this increase had continued from 1989 to 2007, but it didn't.

The really dramatic increases were from 1929 to 1947, and 1947 to 1959, with the increase particularly marked from 1929 to 1947.

But some of the concern you expressed appeared to be over the federal government share. What is the federal government spending share for these businss cycle peaks:

1909, 2.49%
1929, 3.68%
1947, 16.96%
1959, 18.46%
1969, 18.66%
1979, 19.67%
1989, 20.86%
2000, 17.98%,
2007, 19.38%

As this shows, and I am hardly the first to point this out, the federal government spending share of the economy, adjusted for economic recessions, has generally hovered within a fairly narrow band from 17% to 21% between 1947 on. So there really hasn't been much increase in the federal government share over this time period.

So, the big increase over the century from 1910 to the present that you are concerned about can be analyzed as follows:

(1) Some significant increase in the federal government share from 1909 or 1910 to 1947.

(2) Some increase in state and local government spending from 1947 to 1989, with most of this from 1947 to 1969.

My hypothesis is that the increase in the federal government share from 1909 to 1947 is mostly:

(1) The U.S. switching from being an isolationist country to a world power with a large military budget.

(2) The advent of Social Security.

More recently, I suspect the federal government has substituted some Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid spending for military spending.

The reasons for the growth in the state and local government share post World War II are more complex, but I suspect some combination of education, the state Medicaid share, and prisons.

Now, if what you are saying is that you would prefer to return to conditions in 1909 or 1910, then the only way to do so, it seems to me, is to:

(1) Dramatically downsize U.S. military spending;

(2) Eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

These two measures would downsize the federal government role, which seems to be your main concern.

If you also want to downsize the state and local role, then you might want to add:

(3) Significant cutbacks in K-12 spending and university and community college funding;

(4) Cutbacks in prison costs by shortening prison sentence lengths.

Now, while I think it might be possible to make some economies in these various areas, I don't think it desirable or possible to make anything close to the cutbacks required to return the U.S. to the percentage federal government share and total government share that prevailed in 1909 to 1910. Nor do I think a majority of the public prefers ANY of these cutbacks.


Regards,

Tim Bartik

Mark Cantu said...

Joel, I have to admire you for creating such a blog. You have your work cut out for you in being a conservative in UU. My experience with UU was that many of its members were just as zealous in their hatred for Conservative and Christians as the over zealous Christians were to non-Christians. I thought of the old adage, "Be careful what you hate, because that is what you will become." After two years of attendance, I left UU to practice liberal Christian theology.

Concerning the Tea Partiers, why do they not have a right to exist? What is so wrong with the belief that one has a right to their production? Finally, I think the real argument here, lies in individual motivation and its effect on society. What does an overtaxed society do to individual motivation, entrepreneurship and creation?

Joel Monka said...

Mark- It can be difficult at times. All too often, when I make the argument that X won't work, rather than addressing that argument, the response is not to address the arguments but to say "You just don't care about people", or "Any truly religious person would..."

Tim-
It's hard to argue that the military has any real effect in the growth of government today. It was true 50 years ago when the military budget was 50% or more of the federal budget; but today military spending is only 18.6% of the budget including Iraq and Afghanistan special appropriations. Assuming we pull out as the President promised, it would fall back to 12-14%... which means that you could totally eliminate both the military AND Social Security and it wouldn't even balance the budget, much less reduce the size of government. Or, if you wanted to eliminate the $1.17 Trillion deficit through the "discretionary" spending (and conservatives always ask why those functions actually mandated by the Constitution are discretionary, but the modern accretions are mandatory), you would have to eliminate:
$663.7 billion (+12.7%) – Department of Defense (including Overseas Contingency Operations)
$78.7 billion (−1.7%) – Department of Health and Human Services
$72.5 billion (+2.8%) – Department of Transportation
$52.5 billion (+10.3%) – Department of Veterans Affairs
$51.7 billion (+40.9%) – Department of State and Other International Programs
$47.5 billion (+18.5%) – Department of Housing and Urban Development
$46.7 billion (+12.8%) – Department of Education
$42.7 billion (+1.2%) – Department of Homeland Security
$26.3 billion (−0.4%) – Department of Energy
$26.0 billion (+8.8%) – Department of Agriculture
$23.9 billion (−6.3%) – Department of Justice
$18.7 billion (+5.1%) – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
$13.8 billion (+48.4%) – Department of Commerce
$13.3 billion (+4.7%) – Department of Labor
$13.3 billion (+4.7%) – Department of the Treasury
$12.0 billion (+6.2%) – Department of the Interior (numbers from Wiki )

There is a lot I would cut out of the military; for example, many (if not most) of our military bases have no military necessity; they exist only to provide jobs in important Congressional districts (This is also why NASA has operations in all 50 states, even though it no longer has a budget for manned spaceflight) or to buy good will in allied nations. I would also means-test SSI; why are we taxing poor 20 somethings trying to raise families to pay SSI to rich retiring Baby Boomers? But more about that in a later post.

As far as the local government situation, yes, they can be even worse than the feds- I just didn't feel like cramming fifty more paragraphs into the post. When you mentioned K-12 cutbacks, I was reminded of a situation here in Indy. There's a school system here suing the state for more money, saying they'll have to lay off 15-20 teachers. When a local talk show asked why they didn't start the layoffs with the 14 administrators making in excess of $160,000 each, he was told he just didn't understand. Well, that makes two of us.

Chalicechick said...

(((Concerning the Tea Partiers, why do they not have a right to exist? ))))

Has anyone said they don't?

I don't mind that they exist, I'm baffled by the amount of attention they get, but I don't mind.

No liberal should mind they exist either. If their campaign to get like-minded people not to answer the census pans out, they will cause major districting headaches for conservatives in office.

Of course, it will also mean that the tea partiers' areas will get fewer government benefits and less help paying for their schools and roads etc. I'm sure Sarah Palin will be all over how that's the federal government's fault.

CC