Sunday, February 19, 2006

MINDING THE FEDERAL PURSE

Michael Kinsley over at Slate shares his hobby - Federal Budget number crunching:

“The Spreadsheet - Numbers don't lie, but sometimes they mislead.”

http://www.slate.com/id/2136481/

The goal? “My goal is to reach an objective, scientific conclusion about which party governs better.”

Kinsley nebulously defines “better” as effectiveness in meeting the oft contradictory goals of meeting the needs and expectations of the citizens while operating in the black.

An interesting read if only for the obvious amount of work Mr. Kinsley has put into it. The data are arranged according to various contexts of political control: Who is President, which party controls Congress, etc. Five spreadsheets are provided: A summary, and two sets; 1930-2006 and 1981-2006, both repeated with a one-year lag for policy effect. The rationales for his choices are fully explained in the article. I recommend the two spreadsheets 1981-2006:

http://slate.com/kinsley/2006-02-17/kinsley_chart3.html

http://slate.com/kinsley/2006-02-17/kinsley_chart4.html

Kinsley notes “There are also some who believe fervently that the world began in 1981, and that the performance of Republican politicians before Ronald Reagan is about as relevant as the performance of the old Roman Senate in judging Republicans today.” While remembering there was life before Ronald, I agree Reagan rewrote the book – these spreadsheets are therefore more relevant.

Kinsley’s conclusions are as nebulous as his definitions but to his credit he does not interject political motivations – his or others’ - into the analysis. In short, the author thinks Democrats are better money managers but Republicans are improving.

That, of course, relies on defining “better”…

Looking at the two “post-Reagan” charts, I see a pattern and can’t help but also see the political machinations Kinsley avoids. Basically, it goes like this:

Republicans and Democrats, irrespective of who is in control, spend whatever is required to meet the social “needs” of “we the people.” In general, both parties are spending a smaller % of a bigger pie on non-defense outlays – and in the process, spending more all the time, although you have to crunch that # yourself. Interestingly, GWB is seen breaking both the trend and the bank in this category…

The real differences are in taxes, defense spending and deficit spending. Republicans clearly tax less of the total GDP, but they spend far more on defense. That, coupled with the entitlements trough, drives the Republicans into deficit spending far more than Democrats.

So…

Both parties hand out the goodies to Joe Citizen.

Republicans also pander to the tax-cut lobby and the defense lobby, in the process screwing the children – not today, but tomorrow, when the little darlings are grown taxpayers coping with Grandpa’s debts.

Democrats on the other hand tax today, slight defense, and balance the budget – the kids won’t have a debt, but they may not have a free country, either, if slighting defense compromises security…

Political conclusion:

Republicans protect two key Republican voting blocks: The military-industrial complex and high-income taxpayers. Republican “concerns” about the deficit are largely a smokescreen.

Democrats, who consider the aforementioned voters a lost cause, try to make generic points by balancing the budget, in the process shafting predominately Republican interests, “taxing the rich” and slashing defense.

Both parties will spend whatever it takes to keep Joe Citizen comfortable today. They just get the money from different places.

Neither party is conservative. Caveat Emptor…

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