The PJ Tatler

Actually, the budget cuts are enough.

More would be better, I agree.  But as I wrote back in 2008, the key here is that the rate of change in spending be reduced below the rate of change in GDP. Graphically, it looks like this:

This particular example was from the 2008 campaign, and I was showing that even if we had a one-time step up in spending — something the Obama administration has provided handily — and if spending still increases, but increases less quickly than GDP and therefore tax receipts, then eventually all the deficit and even all the debt will be paid off.

Now look at the Boehner compromise: not only does it reduce the rate of spending increase, it actually reduces spending: the red line would be going down.  By comparison, here’s the Obama administration’s proposed budget plans:

There’s no break-even point at all.  Just penury.  What’s more, their only real proposal to fix it is “soaking the rich,” and the arithmetic shows that just won’t work.  As I said then,

[N]o tax increase can keep this from happening. Tax the relatively few rich; you still can’t tax them more than 100 percent, and if spending grows faster than GDP, it will eventually overwhelm whatever taxes you can levy. Tax the many poor, and you get the same result — except you’ll be voted out of office first, because there are a lot more poor people than rich people. And it still won’t matter, because you cannot make revenues grow faster than the economy forever.

More cuts are better — the more you cut the rate of change in spending, the closer that magical break-even point comes.  But Boehner has managed to deliver an actual decrease in actual spending.  And that, continued, eventually will do the job.


So far, it appears that the lesson of the comments is that Republicans and too-conservative-to-be-Republicans don’t like arithmetic that disagrees with what they want a lot better than Democrats and too-liberal-etc.  The  key argument seems to come down something that several people have pithily summarized with the slogan “the debt went up $58 billion in the 8 days preceding the agreement.”

To which the only useful answer is “so what?”  C’mon, folks, get a grip: did you expect that an agreement reducing future spending would reduce what had been spent in the past?  And why eight days?  Is it better than the debt only went up $36 million in the five days preceding the agreement?

That whole line of argument is a rhetorical trick.  Let’s say Boehner had gotten $100 billion.  Well, that’d be no good either — after all, the debt went up $101 billion in the two weeks preceding the agreement. Hell, the debt went up $14 trillion since 1836. No amount of cuts could reduce the debt incurred before the agreement was made.

Similarly with the objection that projected total spending in 2011 is greater than 2010.  The fallacy is a little bit harder to see, but what it comes down to is “no point in crying over spilt milk.”  We’ve just spent six months under continuing resolutions, originally crafted by the Democrat-controlled Congress, that continued spending at the levels Nancy and Harry thought was appropriate.  What’s important is that under this agreement the spending for the rest of the year will be $38.5 billion less than it would have been under a continuing resolution for the rest of the fiscal year, and $70 billion less than it would have been if Obama/Harry/Nancy  had gotten the budget they asked for.