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Deficit Fraud

In case any Gentle Readers are distantly following politics—that is, enough to have heard a few things but not enough to have heard more than a few—let me pass along the info that Paul Ryan is a fraud. That shouldn’t be a surprise, of course. I mean, it shouldn’t be a surprise that YHB thinks a member of the Other Party is a fraud; they aren’t all frauds, but they come pretty thick on the ground over there.

But Rep. Ryan is claiming to be serious about long-term planning to reduce the federal deficit. This is not so.

[Your Humble Blogger wrote a lengthy and completely accurate argument ad hominem but eventually, reluctantly, removed it from the draft of this note. The burden was, essentially, the man has always been a fraud, so it’s fair to assume he is still a fraud, without some evidence to the contrary.]

OK, so much for the argument ad hominem. How about the actual Path to Prosperity? Well, as Jonathan Bernstein points out when he asks But are Paul Ryan’s numbers real? the numbers in that document are, well, transparently phony. The Economist chortles over a claim that unemployment will be at 4% in 2015, which they describe as “laughably overoptimistic”, and for good reason. It’s not like Rep. Ryan proposes going out and actually hiring people until we reach that goal; it’s just a straightforward fantasy.

Furthermore, the policy document has no ill effects from the drastic budget cuts, mostly because there aren’t actually any drastic budget cuts. The document simply assumes that come benchmark time future legislators will come up with perfectly obvious ways to cut the budget without laying off anyone, diminishing demand, cutting services, or otherwise having any intercourse with reality whatsoever. The major specific proposal in the document appears to be a plan to reduce the health care costs of seniors in the future by simply refusing to pay for them. This would transfer the burden of the government into society, which as they are pretty much the same thing, wouldn’t solve any actual problems. It would create some, sure. But solve? No.

Look—if you are worried about future deficits in the federal budget (and you’ll notice that nobody is seriously making the claim that the current deficit is a crisis, just that somehow we must Act Now or future deficits will be an unsolvable crisis), the problem you are worried about is health care costs for a surprisingly large number of millions of people who will be productive members of society and the economy if and only if they receive incredibly expensive medical care.

Once again: there will be millions upon millions of people who will be able to work, produce, teach, consume, innovate, garden, drive, read, etc, etc, etc, on the sole condition that they get medical help which they will not be able to afford individually. I believe this is true, and I think this is largely new, or at least new on that scale, as that proportion of the population.

From the point of view of the federal deficit, it matters who is going to pay for that care. From the point of view of society, it matters whether all those endoscopies and CAT scans and MRIs and joint replacements and prescriptions and laparoscopic cystectomies are going to happen. If they are going to happen, and we haven’t found some way to make them cheap, then they are going to be a tremendous drain on the economy, whether they are a direct drain on the government treasures or not. And if those costs are a tremendous drain, then that will affect the revenues collectible, and if they aren’t and instead all those millions of people either die or become relatively cheap invalids then they aren’t producing at the rate we would otherwise predict, and that will affect the revenues collectible. What I’m saying is that if you don’t touch the fundamental issue, then even if your numbers aren’t transparently phony, they are still phony.

Now, keep in mind that I don’t actually care about the budget deficit. I do care about people getting health care. So my take on this is different from a lot of people’s takes, and presumably is different from Paul Ryan’s. I try to be aware of that. I wouldn’t say he was a fraud if he simply disagreed with me on those two preferences. I am saying he is a fraud because he claims to care about the budget deficit, but has and is doing things that will make it much larger, and has done and is doing nothing that will make it smaller. That seems… fraudulent somehow.

And before I shut up about this: while it is true that federal budget projections show that over the next half-century the only serious problem is health care costs, that is because the projections do not show anything that we don’t currently predict as part of the budget. So, for instance, a dramatic increase in the scarcity of resources—water, oil, coal, zinc, rare earths, etc, would have a tremendous effect on the federal budget and the deficit thereof, but since we don’t know if they are going to happen, they aren’t in the projection. A dramatic decrease in the scarcity of those resources similarly would affect the numbers. If oil were to triple in price in the next decade, that would drive the budget enormously. But that’s crazy! How could the price of a barrel of crude triple in a decade? That’s absurd, and clearly not worth talking about, right? And we can all assume that potable water demand and supply will remain entirely entirely stable for, oh, fifty years at least. Right? There’s no possibility that large-scale desalinization will suddenly make much, much more water available; and of course no chance that there will be less. So let’s focus on health care.

Oh, and refugees. Certainly nobody is predicting that global climate change will result in an extra two hundred million refugees within that fifty year period, and if it did, how could that possibly have any effect on our budget?

And of course even without participating in the invasion of some sovereign nation overseas, which certainly isn’t going to happen, there’s the entirely predictable costs of national security such as enforcing a no-fly zone in Libya, or the Ivory Coast, or Madagascar or Venezuela—no, we can safely predict our military budget for fifty years out and our refugee budget and our resource budget and our health care budget and then cut services and benefits and eschew stimulus and most importantly allow the wealthiest people to keep hold of what they have without fear of needing to share that wealth. And claim that it all is a serious attack on a serious deficit crisis.

Or we can claim to. If we are frauds.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.