Guest Post: Battle of the Budget Bulge: Living Within Our Means?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Omer Rosen

Battle of the Budget Bulge: Living Within Our Means?

Over the past few weeks I have followed, with something oscillating between frustrated interest and frustrated apathy, what now passes for political theater. Or, I should say, budget-minded theater, for never has a topic of debate so fitted its mode.

What bothers me most is not that the show contains thousands of actors and critics performing on thousands of stages, making coherent debate impossible, relegating revues of Simpson's Bowels to off-off-Broadway matinees, and leaving each potentially useful turn -- first a soliloquy by Ryan and then one by Obama -- quickly clouded with the dust kicked up by its champion's clumsy steps;

Nor that the scripts are staid and timid, relying on platitudes such as "this is difficult," "we have to face facts," and "we have to live within our means;"

Nor that the actors are disingenuous, dancing around truth or refusing to dance with it at all (and, just to keep this overdone metaphor consistent, I'll drop this aside: characters can lie (i.e. ideas can be wrong); actors shouldn't).

One need only listen to Brian Lehrer's April 6th interview of Marsha Blackburn on his public radio (read: Death Star) show to get the idea. The host repeatedly queries the Congresswoman about the Ryan plan's effect on class inequality and repeatedly receives long-winded much ados about nothing. Note to politicians regarding a position: If you don't know, you shouldn't be talking; if you know and don't want to say, you shouldn't be taking (the position).

Nor are what bothered me most those items straddling the past two categories; duck-billed platitudes that aren't actually mammalian at all, such as "closing loopholes." Who can argue with closing loopholes? And why argue at all with a misused phrase?

Namely, a tax loophole is not equivalent to a tax deduction. A tax loophole is a method used to game the tax code in a way the law did not intend. As such, eliminating a tax deduction used as the law intended isn't closing a loophole -- it's just changing the tax code. Not that there's anything wrong with changing the tax code, but it should be referred to as that and not as a marsupial.

Nor is it the fascinating ability of politicians to discuss tax cuts in a mathematical vacuum, as if tax rates interact with nothing else on stage. For example, while the wisdom of a tax cut/hike in the midst of a period of growth/recession is discussed, the differences between a tax change's effects on a period of growth and its effects on a recession are ignored.

Also left out is that cutting taxes from 35% to 25% is nothing like cutting taxes from 75% to 65%. I am surprised, with the never-ending bounty that tax cuts (especially on the wealthy) are said to provide, that we have not yet pushed them down to zero. Or better yet, decided that the wealthy, rather than pay any taxes, should be given "business starting incentives." You know, like the handouts we give the oil and gas industries (with the bonus of the zero tax rate we give G.E.).

I have heard serious suggestions that people will not start small businesses if there is a tax hike. Really? They'll just fold up tent and sulk? Move their families abroad to the hundreds of better business environments with lower tax rates that apparently exist and suit their specific business plans? I understand suggestions that a tax hike would reduce money in the private sector available to start/expand a business, but to suggest that people will say it isn't worth it to start a small business at all because of a tax hike, while perhaps true at the margins, is rabble-rousing. I know many people starting and expanding small businesses and a tax hike on the wealthy is the last thing they fear -- in fact, they aspire to succeed enough for a hike to affect them.

Nor is it the pettiness of it all, squabbling to keep the government open over an amount that could be overshadowed by a minute increase in the government's borrowing rates. An increase the debate itself, if it leads to trepidation regarding Congress's ability to ever balance the budget or its willingness to raise debt ceilings as needed, could cause.

What bothers me most... wait for it... is that the debate is about entirely something else than it claims to be. Return to the revolutionary, insightful phrase we were recently taught: "live within our means." What are our means, really? Are they numbers in congressional bills? Numbers our online bank accounts display? Pieces of paper? These are but (poor) representations of our true means: the resources the planet affords us and that we waste -- err consume -- and are encouraged to waste by the government in order to grow our economy like some chart-shaped chia pet.

And so we are told to live within our monetary means, yet, rather than being told to also live within our environmental means, we are encouraged to live outside of them -- as if there is an outside to this planet, as if an economy would even be possible without the environment. How can an entire debate be held about our means without any sort of acknowledgment of, let alone a reckoning with, what our true means are? The only references to resources come in attempts to defund the EPA or in oil mantras, (un)naturally, such as: "we have to reduce our dependence on foreign (read: middle eastern) sources of oil."

I am not saying that debate about our nation's budget is a waste of time, just that we cannot have it without at least acknowledging what balancing our true budget entails. To do otherwise only works to distance us from reality -- to obscure our environmental responsibilities with yet another layer of human exceptionalism; the debate becomes, to quote the famous line, "just some stuff, said by some politician, full of bluster and angry stuff, signifying squat."


As I have jumped into the deep end of fantasy I might as well drown. Imagine a debate where it is assumed our planet's resources are limited (I know, a stretch), and have to be rationed somehow ("oh wait," you are thinking, "that's crazy talk," you say, as you clutch your iPad with one hand and hide your iPhone with the other).

Say we assume that each person is born with the right to consume the same amount and pollute the same amount and has the same responsibilities to recycle as much as possible -- so that we arrive at some sort of allowed net planetary usage per person. If one has accumulated paper wealth, then one can purchase some planetary usage credits from the less monetarily prosperous.

Sound familiar? It's cap and trade for individuals, expanded to include all resources and pollutants, with the added benefit of income redistribution -- two for one! And, while at this point in our continued planetary despoiling individual cap and trade is not logistically feasible, and the end is too distant for anything remotely resembling it to even seem necessary, the ideas inherent in this plan, that our planet is limited and our environmental means, the means which should need no specifying modifier, must be lived within, should at least inform our budget-balancing battle.

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Sock Puppet's picture

As another ZHer said the other day, better start fasting 2 or 3 times a week to prepare for the colapse.

Sudden Debt's picture

I think Americans are alreday well prepared for a comming crisis.

Most have fat reserves that will last them for 2 years without food.

The only problem they'll  have will be the surplus skin after those 2 years...




Tail Dogging The Wag's picture

"Investors need to diversify, they need to own some real estate, they need to own some farmland, they need to own some equities, some cash, and some precious metals..."   Marc Faber —Investment analyst

Got real estate and farmland outside your home country yet?

FOC 1183's picture

Perfect monologue for PS122

Bent Nail's picture

Reduce the world population to about 500 million and everything will be okie dokie . . . so long as I am one of the 500 million.

topcallingtroll's picture

Your humor flies over at least one person.

lincolnsteffens's picture

Sounds like that is from Helen Caldicot? No one can say you are wrong. But how many

is too much. I can ga ron tee 1Bil. would be ok too. One thing that is for sure is the concept of "If you don't grow, you die". is part of the problem. Think of humanity like yeast. If you have a nice big bucket of sugar water and only a few yeast multiplying slowly it is no problem. The problem with yeast and people is they have no concept of finite food. They just keep multiplying at their programmed rate until there is nothing left. Then they all die. So far it would appear we are no smarter and have no more control over ourselves than yeast.

Any way you cut it, we have too many using too much and we are shitting all over the place we live


Ident 7777 economy's picture

Sounds like that is from Helen Caldicot?

- - - - - -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  - 

The 'Physicians for Social Responsibility' are into population control too?

ibjamming's picture

So then you admit that Stalin, Mao, Hitler...were all RIGHT?  You DO need to kill off a bunch of people every so often.

css1971's picture

300 million Americans. 5% of the world population of ~6billion. 25% of world resources consumed by 300 million Americans.

Methinks 300 million americans are going to see their resource consumption drop dramatically. In fact seems to be already in progress.

tomster0126's picture

It definitely is in progress already...people are scared to spend, and literally don't have money to spend on anything.  we consume so goddamn much it's not even funny, all the hippies that told us to recycle in the 80s are crying now or rolling in their graves.

Debtless's picture

We'll be eating one another soon enough bitchez.

Long-John-Silver's picture

Stay away from the brain and spinal cord or you'll get the shakes.

Andrew G's picture

Fortunately there's lots of vegetarians and vegans on this planet - I'll only eat them. Eating carnivores is not healthy.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

that's it.  he drowned.  he's gone.  fabulous!

Goldenballs's picture

Sod this Austerity,time to go into the only growth industry left - Crime.

Long-John-Silver's picture

If they catch you all they do is give you free health care, 3 meals a day, a bed, and conjugal visits.

Newsboy's picture

I think "getting conjugal visits" happens from the bigger, stronger prisoners, many of whom have AIDS. I don't think it is experienced as a good thing.

granolageek's picture

Dude, you're way too rational for ZH. Around here we believe in infinite growth on a finite planet and that no one making more than 200% of the median income should pay any income taxes at all.

billwilson's picture

Yup! It's "morning in America" again. Time to throw off all those artificial socialist limits imposed by governments. Consume, consume, consume, consume and just STFU about limits.

Pretty much sums up why we are screwed.


BORT's picture

We're fucked, Bitchez

tomster0126's picture

Yupp.  the infrastructure is collapsing from within, and there's no way around it.  We need to invest as much as we possibly can in wind and solar, now.

RockyRacoon's picture

Well, one does wonder about that "tax on the rich" thingy.  If lower taxes on the "small business" end of the spectrum is all that effective, let's just say it's ZERO.  That should do wonders for "growth" and we'll be out of this mess in no time.   The Bush tax cuts have proven this thesis... right?

(I've not been junked in a while and I'm feeling unloved...)

Hulk's picture

junked you RR. Can you just feel the love now???

InconvenientCounterParty's picture

I have an idea... Let's set up a system whereby the upper 1 % amass huge disproportionate wealth and then they will choose to do what's best for the rest of us because they are so smart and noble. We'll call it "tinkle down"

Please give it a chance though. It might take a few decades to really kick in.

Sudden Debt's picture

Anybody who has a job is deemed rich and will be taxed.







New_Meat's picture

RR, Cal Coolidge handled something similar quite a bit better than Hoover, Rosie, 43, and O. - Ned

hardcleareye's picture

RR you cute furry little varmint, this post is not up to your normal "posting standard", feeling unloved must be affecting your grammar and sentence structure (or maybe your just tired and need to get laid) <"good natured busting of chops">...... but your point is spot on. 

You got 8 junks, got a ways to go to beat Trav's 50 plus junks the other day, now that's a man (at least I think he's male) that's "loved".....

RockyRacoon's picture

I ain't go no posting standards, but you could be right about the burn-out.

honestann's picture

Yes, huge numbers of creative, inventive, productive people ARE "shrugging"... and not starting a business in the USSA.  Huge numbers, and I am one of them.

The appropriate size of government is ZERO, at least as people understand "government" today.  ZERO budget, ZERO services, ZERO actions.

If somebody wants to offer services that we can voluntarily decide to subscribe-to or not, then fine, they can call themself "government" if they want, as long as they understand that doesn't give "them DBA government" any more power than "others DBA government" (namely ZERO).

Wake up!  Stop supporting FICTIONs.  All organizations are FICTIONs.  FICTIONs.  FICTIONs.  Get that into your heads.  Why do you keep taking these FICTIONAL aka NON-EXISTENT ENTITIES as the most utterly central aspects of reality?  Get real.

Why should any of us support...

predators DBA government
   ... or ...
predators DBA central banks
   ... or ...
predators DBA large financial corporations
   ... or ...
predators DBA large corporations of any kind


Answer: This must stop, and damn soon too.  Otherwise the predators-that-be and predator-class will take full advantage of technologies that did not exist before today and make this planet a permanent slave planet.

How much theft is ethical?  ZERO.

How much abuse is ethical?  ZERO.

How much enslavement is ethical?  ZERO.

Wake up.  Get real.  Advocate what is real, and ethical, even if you are one in a million... for now.

slewie the pi-rat's picture

we have great respect, here, for unethical abuse.

RockyRacoon's picture

So, Mr. Rat, what's your take on today's news that McCain is in Libya?  He says that the rebels are "his heroes".   Gag.   This means that we are IN the fight.  The 3rd front on the war on a strategy (terrorism) will soon be in full bloom.   (I kinda like the correlation between war and flowers -- reminds me of my youth in the 1960s.)   The entree into this thing was assured from the first round fired, but now it's clenched with Republican support.   This economic mess can be overshadowed with some newly trumped up froth of war.   What say ye, matey?

tomster0126's picture

Ethics?  I don't think that word is in Bernutty's vocab.  To beat em, you gotta join em.

jplotinus's picture

I would 'unjunk' the post, all the while disagreeing with it. Here's why: We live in an era of 'empire' where the norms of civilization are largely dominated by 'the West' in general and 'the USA' in particular. This period of empire has been characterized by a heavy dependence upon the use of warring against hapless foes, but not against foes who are at or above a certain minimum level of military capability, with few exceptions. The bombing of Serbia might be at the outer limit of nations that are subject to arbitrary military attack by 'the West.' Iran appears to be just ahead of Serbia and, therefore, immune to attack.  Ditto North Korea.

Empires are often replaced by periods of lower levels of organization, as in the 'Dark Ages' that might not have been 'dark' by any measure other than the lack of empire. In dark age periods, it may well be that the level of warring is less destructive than it is in ages of empire.

The question is this: Does humanity advance more in periods of empire; or, does humanity advance more in 'dark ages'?

Zedge Hero's picture

Predators of Religion- Don't forget them sleazy bastards.

Misean's picture

Nice sermon, oh great priest of gaia.

Such a deep thinker. Any deeper and he be suffocating in his own horseshit. Or compost.

css1971's picture

And you claim to be Misean?

You must recognise the requirement for credit to grow exponentially to pay interest on the previous generation of debt. It's where the religion of growth comes from. The debtors need more money to pay the debts on their marginal enterprises. It's a subsidy of failure.

Replace the word "environment" in the article with "all the stuff around you". Is it infinite? No. Only the (fiat) money and debt are infinite.


Seer's picture

Another reality denier, someone else who doesn't understand something as SIMPLE as exponential functions!

css1971 is spot-on.  But you won't be responding because you're trolling here...

nodoctor's picture

Manifest destiny bitch.

Our dependence on foreign oil is one of the few coherent long term strategies that we have - buy everybody else's first.

Don't fret so much about the rest of it, though. Gaia will kill us off when Gaia is good and ready, and not a moment sooner. She has myriad ways. So does Helios. You're just scared the rapture will happen first and you won't get to experience that supreme schadenfreude of seeing starving first-worlders gnash their teeth and curse their sprawling ways.

Seer's picture

You're confusing WARNINGS with CHEERINGS.

Why is it that people think that those who forsee something are necessarily proponents?  Or is this just another (masked) denial mechanism?

Moe Howard's picture

I agree with nodoctor. Don't pay attention to the noise; pay attention to the actions. Since at least 1972, the policy of TPTB has been to use as little of the United State's energy [oil, NG] resources as possible and buy the rest from everyone else. Nothing has been done to reduce consumption to any meaningful degree, in fact, they have been busy taking other power sources out of commission whenever they could, including hydro, wind farms run by the Tennessee Valley Authority since the 1930's, no new nukes, no new nuke tech put into production. TPTB seem to want to run everyone else out of oil and gas, while reducing alternatives within the US and setting up fake programs for alternative energy that never go anywhere.

That is the reality. They talk a different game, but those are the actions.  Actions speak louder than words.

topcallingtroll's picture

I agree the effects of progressive taxes on business formation and productivity are at the margin, but that might be a lot.

Unfortunately the loss of it is mostly of bastiat's unseen.

I am right at that margin of my work desire in a high demand industry. I could work extra hours and reduce waiting times for my widgets. Waiting sometimes results in harm in my industry. How much harm could be reduced if i were incented to produce more widgets?

The biggest drag on productivity that no one talks about is zero hedge which alone shaved a full percentage point from last quarter's productivity numbers.

bonddude's picture

Milk spat on that one. Really fu#kin funny. Nice.

hardcleareye's picture

TCT, you are NO troll......

I had to look up Bastiat, which led me to "The Candle Stick Makers Petition", oh what a good read....

I'm still laughing...

Seasmoke's picture

flag as junk (101)

blunderdog's picture

This guy watches too much teevee and doesn't write well.

I think there's a good thought in that heap, but it could've been expressed in about two sentences.

Poor writing isn't a good substitute for poetry.

Calculated_Risk's picture

'if we don't live within our means, we'll be forced to live below them!' Ron Paul

Seer's picture

And I reckon that most will interpret this to mean that govt is going to be doing the forcing, which is true in a sense, but the real "forcer" is Mother Nature.  We either choose how we're going to go forward, or Mother Nature will choose for us.  And we'll continue to blame some entity as we look away from the mirror...

Seer's picture

Matt's always a fun read.  The first paragraph is fun name-calling, the rest is hypocrisy-shredding.

I don't know what's worse, folks like Ryan, or the folks who support him: I tend to get more worked up by the party hacks, as they're the ones who are blindly ignorant, and WANTING to be that way (like being lied to).