Alex Massie

Eliminating the US Deficit is Easy

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If you're a dictator, that is. The New York Times has a


silly thingy whereby you too can take a machete to the US budget deficit. It's easy! My Cunning Plan even produces surpluses in both 2015 and 2030. 65% of my proposals are achieved by cutting spending; 35% by taxes. And I didn't even use the Fantasy Catch-All of "capping Medicare growth". I even let the Congress peeps keep their earmarks. Just for fun.

So, yes, balancing the budget is easy. Provided you never need to run for election yourself. No-one would win if they promised my, or anyone else's, plan - at least not given the choices offered by the NYT.

It is, again, a problem of scale. In a continent-sized country of 300 million people, every interest is a powerful interest. We may agree that farm subsidies are a noxious boondoggle but it's hardly surprising that farm states quite like them and are determined to keep them. Simlarly, we may agree that the Pentagon's budget is ripe for trimming but (by design) a lot of jobs in a lot of Congressional districts rely upon defence industries. And let's not even begin talking about the pensioner lobby...

Every interest brings plenty of muscle to the game; no wonder so few are fought, let alone defeated. It's not in a politician's interest to do so, not when the consequences of taking on the "special interests" can be so severe. What they mean by "special interests" of course, are your special interests not those of their own district or pet projects. Other people's interests are a drain on society; mine are reasonable and, more than that, noble.

To the extent that Washington is "broken" (and I'd argue it's less broken than some suggest) it's because it suffers from being, unusually, both fat and musclebound. No wonder it finds it difficult to move or, once underway, to change direction.

I don't really see how it can be any other way. Not when you try and govern 300m people in a quasi-modern democracy. A new agenda of competitive federalism might be the best bet (conveniently it also accords with my own philosophical prejudices!) but getting from here to there will be difficult, not least because there's precious little evidence that either party has the wisdom to agree with me. Or, you will find, with you either.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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