The Federal Budget, Part V

Before I move on to my final principle of fiscally responsible governance, allow me to summarize the guidelines which have been discussed so far:

  • Subsidiarity. Many public goods can be achieved at the local level without getting the federal government involved. Thus, when evaluating the merits of a particular federal program, we should always ask ourselves whether it would be wiser to allow a community group or local government to assume responsibility instead.
  • Accountability. Each and every government bureaucracy must be required to demonstrate – on a regular basis – that it is getting results — and that it is doing so at the minimum ethical cost. It is irresponsible in the extreme to shield some federal programs from this kind of scrutiny on the basis of their intended missions.
  • An Absence of Favoritism. The federal government should refrain from awarding subsidies to politically active businesses. These subsidies and special favors have wide ranging effects on the economy which, in many cases, disproportionately hurt the poor (corn subsidies being the most egregious example).

Now let’s add to this list the principle of sustainability:

  • Sustainability. When designing a new government program – or when evaluating an old one – we have a moral duty to ensure that, barring complete civilizational collapse, future generations will be able to enjoy, at the very least, the standard of living that we enjoy. This means that we have to be flexible enough to accept reform when circumstances change.

Obviously, this last principle is especially relevant when we’re discussing things like Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, welfare, public pensions, etc. As I stated in the first post of this series, I believe the federal government does have a responsibility to maintain a minimum social safety net — but it certainly won’t be able to do so if our politicians continue to insist upon pissing money away instead of exercising their common sense.

When the Social Security program was first created in 1935, the average life expectancy was about 60 years for men and 64 years for women. Indeed, many people failed to reach the age at which they would begin to receive Social Security benefits. But as we all know, that is no longer true today. Thanks to medical advancements, many Americans are living until they are 80 and beyond. Thus, many receive Social Security benefits for fifteen to twenty years before they finally pass on. Moreover, we are just about to experience a huge spike in Social Security pay-outs as the “Baby Boom” cohort finally reaches retirement age.

The upshot? While we Americans are fecund enough that we are not quite in the same boat as the rest of the developed world, we are still facing a genuine entitlement crisis. Those of us who are in our 20’s and 30’s and are aware of what is happening are pretty damned skeptical that we will see a single cent of the funds we are currently pouring into Social Security if the program isn’t reformed now. At the very least, the retirement age needs to be incrementally raised to a level that is more commensurate with the current life expectancy.

Additionally, our social programs need to be streamlined across the board. Just as there is a lot of duplication and redundancy in, say, the NOAA, our safety net is remarkably inefficient. The GAO recently reported, for example, that there are 80 separate programs within the government just to help the poor see to their transportation needs. Good gravy! Think about how much we must be wasting paying for the office space and staff expenses! We must find some way to gradually consolidate these entities so our nation doesn’t collapse under the weight of her own debt:

Thanks, Iowahawk. You’re a genius.

Throughout this series, I don’t think I’ve ever proposed a change in policy that is unreasonably harsh. No — the only radicals in this debate are the leftists who would have us ignore intergenerational justice in favor of keeping the spending party going for those of us who happen to be walking about. Such policies may sound wonderful to voters in the short term, but given that money does not grow on trees – not even in Obama’s rainbow and unicorn garden – they will almost certainly end up screwing our children. We shouldn’t cede the moral high ground to the Democrats’ prodigality.

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