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(Huffington Post)   Amidst all the doom and gloom over "out-of-control" government spending, the Treasury Department notes that in January, the U.S. had a $3 billion surplus. No, that is not a typo   (huffingtonpost.com) divider line 326
    More: Spiffy, Treasury Department, Uncle Sam, government spending, Dean Baker, federal government, Inside the Beltway  
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8643 clicks; posted to Main » on 13 Feb 2013 at 10:09 AM (2 years ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2013-02-13 04:52:35 PM  

jaybeezey: Big Man On Campus: This is because every federal agency with a budget had no idea how much they could spend in the first quarter, so they cut back on overhead spending like it was going out of style.

Obama =/= Clinton

Clinton knew what to do when congress shirked its responsibility to pass a budget, he shut down the federal government. Obama is an idealistic weakling.

The president doesn't shut down the federal gov't. Congress does, it controls spending. And both parties have been OK with spending like drunken sailors for the last 2 decades and we have been cuplable by re-electing these people.


You really believe our votes count and we elect these assholes? How quaint.
 
2013-02-13 05:12:54 PM  

No Such Agency: You ARE a weird libertarian; you virtually admit to the existence of a "common good", which seems anathema to most standard libertarians who believe you should have to pay the fire department to come to your house.


Fire departments are a public good, especially in cities.  The problem I have is that if my neighbor's stuff catches fire it might lead to MY stuff catching fire, and he might not have enough insurance to cover my stuff.  Not to mention the fact that I'd rather not lose my stuff in the first place.  One can argue that I could simply build a fireproof building, put in proper firewalls and all that, but in the end, it's mostly cheaper to pay the fire department.

Basically, I understand that the standard extreme-libertarian idea of 'sue the one who caused the damage for relief' isn't always realistic.  Sometimes proactive prevention is cheaper.

I've been labeled as being more a 'practical minarchist' at times.  For all my ramblings and 'socialist' policies; it's because I believe that those programs would ultimately lead to a smaller government.  IE if you can prevent criminal actions through good public schools, and said criminal actions would cost more than the schools, then have schools*.  Now, I DO support a voucher for private school system as well, but as a practical matter I think that every child should have access to a good education.  My libertarian leanings grant maximum freedom and responsibility to 'competent adults'.  Kids deserve extra protection because they aren't adults yet, nor are they generally sufficiently competent.  A good education leads to competent adults, which is the point.

Anyways - as long as we aren't willing to let them starve in the street or simply shoot them when they become a problem, I've read that each homeless person costs the government around $250k/year.  At which point I can't help but think that, given that such a high proportion of homeless in the USA are mentally ill, Asylums would be cheaper.  Properly treated, at least some of them could become productive members of society(again), which would reduce their ongoing maintenance costs even more.

*Public schools do quite a bit more, I know,
 
2013-02-13 05:33:13 PM  

ReverendJynxed: You really believe our votes count and we elect these assholes? How quaint.


The 2010 mid term elections are making a huge difference to our economy. So, yeah....keep electing the jesus freaks
 
2013-02-13 05:34:31 PM  

untaken_name: Oh, good. I thought we had a 16 TRILLION dollar national debt. Good to know we paid that off.


Why are you glad now?  You certainly didn't give a damn about it from 2001-2008.
 
2013-02-13 05:35:34 PM  
WSJ: The 'Obama phones' scam cost taxpayers over $2.2 billion. No, that is not a typo
 
2013-02-13 05:44:31 PM  

bmr68: WSJ: The 'Obama phones' scam cost taxpayers over $2.2 billion. No, that is not a typo


Editorial page or main news section? The 2 are not quite the same you know.
 
2013-02-13 05:48:54 PM  

DamnYankees: It's literally impossible.


I don't think you understand those words, or the principle. The currency only has perceived value. Regardless of how much toilet paper you print or how rare it is, it's a simple "no" away from being a valued currency.
 
2013-02-13 06:01:00 PM  

Jack9: DamnYankees: It's literally impossible.

I don't think you understand those words, or the principle. The currency only has perceived value. Regardless of how much toilet paper you print or how rare it is, it's a simple "no" away from being a valued currency.


None the less, we are still several trillion dollars away from carrying the same debt load we carried as a nation coming out of WWII.
To suggest were in the depths of a debt crisis now is disingenuous.

But we are facing several very real crises right now. To wit...

We have an unemployment crisis
We have an infrastructure crisis
We have a healthcare crisis

We (The USA) could borrow 2 trillion dollars right now, and apply it to the above crises, and it would actually improve our bottom line.

Significantly.
 
2013-02-13 06:06:49 PM  

X-boxershorts: bmr68: WSJ: The 'Obama phones' scam cost taxpayers over $2.2 billion. No, that is not a typo

Editorial page or main news section? The 2 are not quite the same you know.


http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732351180457829600136812 2 888.html
 
2013-02-13 06:13:14 PM  
DO NOT TELL CONGRESS.

Or they'll break out the checkbook.
 
2013-02-13 06:32:42 PM  
The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that the deficit will total $845 billion when the budget year ends on Sept. 30. If correct, that would be first time the government has run annual deficit below $1 trillion since 2008. The annual deficit is projected to be smaller this year because the government is collecting more revenue this year, mainly because of faster job growth and higher taxes.
Business as usual, nothing to see here, carry on.
 
2013-02-13 06:42:33 PM  
untaken_name: Oh, good. I thought we had a 16 TRILLION dollar national debt. Good to know we paid that off.

DamnYankees: Is there a reason you put trillion in capital letters?


To spend a trillion dollars, you'd have to spend $1,000,000 every day for over 2,700 years.

The US national debt is 16 times that much. By the time Obama leaves office, it'll be 20 times.

If the entire population of the US contributed $1,000 per person every year, we'd pay off the national debt in 42 years.
 
2013-02-13 07:15:38 PM  

DamnYankees: Anybody concerned with out of control spending is basically an idiot. Since WII we have literally never reduced government spending as much as we have in the last couple years.

[www.slate.com image 568x346]


That graph demonstrates that you are an idiot.  If you had stated that "Anybody concerned with out of control increases in spending is basically an idiot", then maybe you would have a valid point.
 
2013-02-13 09:58:30 PM  

Loadmaster: untaken_name: Oh, good. I thought we had a 16 TRILLION dollar national debt. Good to know we paid that off.

DamnYankees: Is there a reason you put trillion in capital letters?

To spend a trillion dollars, you'd have to spend $1,000,000 every day for over 2,700 years.

The US national debt is 16 times that much. By the time Obama leaves office, it'll be 20 times.

If the entire population of the US contributed $1,000 per person every year, we'd pay off the national debt in 42 years.




War could be cheaper.
 
2013-02-13 10:48:13 PM  

DamnYankees: Phinn: DamnYankees: I also don't put an arbitrary cap on spending. You go policy by policy - if its a good idea, fund it. If not, don't. Pretty simple.

By what criteria do you distinguish between a "good idea" from a "bad idea"?

Or is it arbitrary?

Would human happiness and utility be net improved or decreased by enacting the policy. Yes, its a broad standard, but it's really the only one you can apply across a broad spectrum of human activity, IMO.


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

Utility is not a quantity.  It cannot be used as a metric for, say, evaluating the aggregate costs and benefits of a reform of the health insurance industry, or any macroeconomic effect of a new law.

"Human happiness" is subjective, and therefore varies from person to person.  It's also not observable except through choice and action, but the implementation of governmental "policies" removes various choices from being a legal possibility.  As a result, you cannot measure the extent to which, for example, people do not want to buy health insurance, and how unhappy it makes them to be forced to do so, because that option has been taken from them.  They only way to measure their unhappiness is to incrementally increase the penalty for defiance, and the point at which they comply to avoid pain will measure of how far they are willing to go to exercise their preferences, and thus to attain their happiness.  (That's why governmental penalties tend to be a perfect map of the extent to which people do not want to do what the government forces them to do.)

There is only one way to objectively measure utility and happiness -- by observing people's behavior in the exchange of their property in a free market.  That's the only way to reveal what people are willing to give up in order to obtain what they get. (The value of every such exchange is, of course, asymmetric, which is why both parties in a voluntary transaction are able to profit by the trade.)

But the implementation of "governmental policies," even if it's just the forced spending of other people's money, removes voluntary choice in the use and trade of property, by definition.  It therefore destroys very same information -- utility and happiness -- that you claim is so important.

In any event, neither of your so-called criteria speaks to the ethics of a governmental action, which features nowhere in your calculus, vague and disingenuous as it is.

It's patently obvious that you have no objective criteria for determining what is a "good policy" and what is a "bad policy."  You simply applaud the governmental decrees that mirror your preferences, and hiss at the ones that don't.

And then you pretend that the forced implementation of your preferences is good for everyone.  Because that makes you feel important.

Which is a typical Leftist/asshole attitude.
 
2013-02-14 12:53:04 AM  

miss diminutive: So, that's enough to by a single B-2 stealth bomber?

/or 429 million slinkies


That's enough for everyone in the country to get a slinky.  I vote yes!
 
2013-02-14 12:56:34 AM  

DamnYankees: Anybody concerned with out of control spending is basically an idiot. Since WII we have literally never reduced government spending as much as we have in the last couple years.

[www.slate.com image 568x346]


The pro-austerity budget hawks only show up during Democratic administrations.

"Reagan proved deficits don't matter" - Penis Cheney
 
2013-02-14 01:13:11 AM  

untaken_name: Oh, good. I thought we had a 16 TRILLION dollar national debt. Good to know we paid that off.


You do know the different between the budget deficit and the debt, right?
 
2013-02-14 10:14:05 AM  

Phinn: In any event, neither of your so-called criteria speaks to the ethics of a governmental action, which features nowhere in your calculus, vague and disingenuous as it is.


Ethics is, by definition, the measure of the utility of human being. It's not some separate category of action. If something increases human utility (and I'll use that phrase for now due to a paucity of good alternatives), it is by definition ethical.

Phinn: You simply applaud the governmental decrees that mirror your preferences, and hiss at the ones that don't.


Of course. EVERYONE does. That's how we make judgments. I'd like to know how we differ in this respect.
 
2013-02-14 10:52:05 AM  

Bucky Katt: DamnYankees: Anybody concerned with out of control spending is basically an idiot. Since WII we have literally never reduced government spending as much as we have in the last couple years.

[www.slate.com image 568x346]

The pro-austerity budget hawks only show up during Democratic administrations.

"Reagan proved deficits don't matter" - Penis Cheney


As the math works our, deficits of 2% or 3% of GDP are not a big issue.  Sustained deficits that are 6% to 10% and upward are much larger issues and can become real problems.  Size does matter in this regard.
 
2013-02-14 10:56:50 AM  

X-boxershorts: master_dman: The idiots that think Obama is god will certainly think this story means we are free and clear as a nation.

Republicans? I mean, jeebus, just look at all the crap they're blaming him for, They MUST think he's some kind of God...


Nice try.. but no.. the idiots I speak of are people exactly like you.
 
2013-02-14 01:06:44 PM  

Fool_Marquis: DamnYankees: Anybody concerned with out of control spending is basically an idiot. Since WII we have literally never reduced government spending as much as we have in the last couple years.

[www.slate.com image 568x346]

Yankee, your chart shows that, since WWII, we have never reduced government spending.  Period.



Not much for reading graphs, are ya?
 
2013-02-14 01:35:54 PM  

master_dman: X-boxershorts: master_dman: The idiots that think Obama is god will certainly think this story means we are free and clear as a nation.

Republicans? I mean, jeebus, just look at all the crap they're blaming him for, They MUST think he's some kind of God...

Nice try.. but no.. the idiots I speak of are people exactly like you.


Citation please.

Or should we continue to defund Planned Parenthood and Sesame Street for the good of the plebes, which is precisely the entire legislative record of the 112th congress.
 
2013-02-14 02:01:13 PM  

DamnYankees: Ethics is, by definition, the measure of the utility of human being. It's not some separate category of action. If something increases human utility (and I'll use that phrase for now due to a paucity of good alternatives), it is by definition ethical.


That's just garden variety utilitarianism.

Whatever utilitarianism's faults in terms of guiding a person's daily life and his choices of behavior (and there are many such faults), it's worthless as a philosophy when it comes to evaluating what "the government" can ethically do (or not do) to an entire populace.

DamnYankees: Of course. EVERYONE does. That's how we make judgments. I'd like to know how we differ in this respect.


Oh, so you're an individualist now.  When it suits you, you appeal to aggregate en masse estimates of social happiness and utility (even though these estimates are wholly imaginary and incalculable), but when you decide to approve or disapprove of some action in question, you have no trouble validating your own preferences.

As an initial matter, there is no way to measure aggregate or group happiness.  Groups are not happy or unhappy.  Only individuals feel happiness.  Only individuals choose their behavior.  Only individuals act.  We can each choose to act in concert with other individuals (i.e., cooperate), when doing so is advantageous to those individuals, or individuals can choose not to so cooperate whenever coordinated action is disadvantageous.

But groups are abstractions, and have no mind of their own.  They do not choose, do not act, and thus cannot experience happiness or measure utility as a group.

See, individuals have unique preferences, which are entirely subjective.  There is no logical basis whatsoever to conclude that any one person's preferences are more ethically important, weighty, just or valuable than any other person's preferences.

In contrast, an ethical proposition is, by definition, an appeal to some principle of universality.

Let's take thievery, for example.  You take control of some object that I want to control.  I can say, "I prefer that you let me control that thing."  You can respond, "I prefer that I control it."

Or, let's make the conflict even more stark -- let's say we meet each other on the plains of Africa.  I say, "I'm hungry.  I prefer that I eat the flesh off your bones."  You say, "I prefer that you don't, and you eat something else instead."

Someone's preferences are not going to be fulfilled, either one or the other of us.

This is a stalemate, as all conflicts of mere preference are.  Your utility function dictates that you have control of the object (or that you survive my cannibalistic assault), but your preference to control the object (or continue to keep your beating heart in your chest) is rivalrous with my intended use of these things, and vice versa.  Each of our preferences is ethically equivalent to the other person's preference.

One way of resolving this stalemate of rivalrous preferences is to say that the stronger person gets to prevail.  This is not ethics at all.  This is just a contest of power.  This is just a fight to the death.  It's what animals do. If you take an object that I want to control, and I consider you to be a threat to my use of valuable resources, you get a rock to the head.  If I am really hungry, and decide you are the best meal I'm probably going to get in the next few hours, you get a rock to the head.  There's really no ethical dimension to this mode of resolving social conflict.

But there is a very different way of resolving social conflict -- by appeal to some universalized principle of ethics.  An ethical principle is an abstraction which divides the universe of all possible human behavior into two categories -- ethical and unethical.  The heuristic to be used to draw the line between them, and thereby sort decisions and actions into one of these two categories, is the normative rule (i.e., an ethical proposition). It posits that some types of behavior are right, and some types are wrong.

Let's go back to the two men facing each other on the African plain.  In the "Thievery" example, one possible ethical proposition is that whoever first controlled the object in question gets to retain control over it.  This clearly works as a universal principle.  It can be applied universally (i.e., to both men, and indeed to all humans at all times).  If you have first control of an object that I want, it is unethical for me to bash you over the head in order to gain control over it.  If I controlled it first, then it is unethical for you do bash in my head to get it.  This ethical proposition is universal -- we get equal protection of this law.  It is identity-neutral.

Or, let's do the same thing with the cannibalism example.  One ethical proposition that can be universalized is that "no one eats anyone else."  That, too, can be mutually fulfilled -- applied to both you and to me (and everyone) at the same time.  Like the "no stealing" rule, the "no killing because you're hungry" rule is identity-neutral.

Instead of saying, "I don't want you to take my stuff," an ethical proposition is, "stealing is wrong."  Or "cannibalism is wrong."  The former is an expression of preference, but the latter is an appeal to principle.  Moreover, it's an appeal to universal principle -- applicable to all people, at all times, who may consider the ethical properties of stealing or cannibalism.

Utilitarianism is not capable of formulating ethical propositions, because nothing in utilitarianism is susceptible to universalization.

Let's take slavery, as another example.  Let's say there are 99 people in a hypothetical society.  50 of these people decide that the other 49 really ought to be their slaves for life.  Here we have another conflict of preferences -- exercising the preferences of the 50 people (i.e., the "majority") is somehow considered more just and "ethical" than the preferences of the other 49 (who think that being slaves sucks).  But what if only one individual member of this group of 50 switches sides?  Suddenly, the preferences of the original 50 (now reduced to being only 49) are now considered to be unjust, and now they get to be made into slaves for life.

It's nonsense to suggest that the same action (enslaving people) can be both just and unjust. Remember, ethics is, by definition, the separation of types of actions into two categories -- ethical and unethical.  Its nonsense to suggest that some act (e.g., enslaving others) is ethical for me but not for thee.  That's not identity-neutral.

If an ethical proposition cannot be universalized (expressed in a way that is identity-neutral), then it's just an expression of someone's preference, disguised as a normative principle.
 
2013-02-14 02:10:24 PM  

Phinn: That's just garden variety utilitarianism.


I'm a utilitarian.

Phinn: it's worthless as a philosophy when it comes to evaluating what "the government" can ethically do (or not do) to an entire populace.


And yet it works for me.
 
2013-02-14 02:19:31 PM  

Phinn: There is no logical basis whatsoever to conclude that any one person's preferences are more ethically important, weighty, just or valuable than any other person's preferences.


I agree. It's a numbers game. Hence democracy. Yay!

Phinn: Utilitarianism is not capable of formulating ethical propositions, because nothing in utilitarianism is susceptible to universalization.


First - I want to thank you for your posts. Genuinely, you write well, and your ideas are well thought out. I hope we can continue this discussion.

Here's where I think you lose your argument though. Everything you said about the 2 men in the plains of Africa is correct. The problem is you don't seem to make any connection between principle and utility, whereas I see the connection very clearly. Utilitarianism is not capable of not  forming ethical propositions, but  measuring them. Any sentence with a subject, verb and predicate can be an ethical proposition. The question is how do we know which ones to choose to live by. The proposition that "to the stronger go the spoils" is, for example, a perfectly valid ethical proposition. It's coherent and you can imagine a philosophy behind it. So now that the proposition is out there, I need to decide whether I actually think its a good one. Well, my basis for ethics is utilitarianism - maximization of human utility. It seems to me that applying the "strength" proposition to human interaction would be a really bad way of getting to maximum human utility. Most people are not the strongest, they wouldn't win these battles, they don't want to battle in the first place and they don't like living in fear of a battle. So that's a bad proposition.

I fail to see what's wrong with my method of thinking this way.

Phinn: But what if only one individual member of this group of 50 switches sides?  Suddenly, the preferences of the original 50 (now reduced to being only 49) are now considered to be unjust, and now they get to be made into slaves for life.


This confuses me. Justice isn't decided democratically. Justice is for every man to decide for himself. Something doesn't become just if most people support it. I don't believe in that idea.

Don't confuse my notions of how government should work with my notions of what the content of morality is. Two different, though related, things.

Phinn: Remember, ethics is, by definition, the separation of types of actions into two categories -- ethical and unethical.


I disagree with this - ethic is not binary in that way.

Phinn: If an ethical proposition cannot be universalized (expressed in a way that is identity-neutral), then it's just an expression of someone's preference, disguised as a normative principle.


I would venture to say that every ethical proposition can be universalized, and that ultimately when you universalize largely enough you end up with utilitarianism. And yes, all ethics does ultimately tie to the normative principles that humans tend to not like suffering.
 
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