The People Have Spoken: We Need to Spend More on Foreign Aid


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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71 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    In defense of the earnest, I wonder how many of them consider foreign bases to be foreign aid.Report

  2. Avatar Thoreau says:

    I cannot support cutting defense spending. We need a military budget as large as the combined military budget of Russia and China.


  3. Avatar Scott says:

    It may only be .6% but that would be as good a place to start as any.Report

  4. Avatar gregiank says:

    How dare you disparage the Avg Joe who feels the pain of money we spend on foreign aid and side with some expert fact. Why should this elitist fact be more important then what Joe the Unemployed Plumber thinks? Why are you biased towards actual reality then what people feel is true?Report

  5. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    I’m beginning to feel politically cynical enough when it comes to the budget, that yes, start cutting everything, no matter how small it is. Freeze Congressional pay, federal worker pay, get rid of ear marks, cut foreign aid, whatever.

    And then everyone will be forced to face the facts about our budget shortfall.Report

  6. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    I find your lack of faith disturbing.Report

  7. Avatar Boegiboe says:

    Has anyone ever thought of surveying the American public and asking them what percentage of the non-debt-servicing budget ought to go to the various things they want it to go to? You know, just to actually know what people’s inclinations are? I mean, NASA gets around 1% of the budget, and most people think it gets around 5-10% (others think it’s more than that) and are mostly OK with that.

    It really wouldn’t cost ALL that much money to send every American resident a summarized national budget each year after it’s voted on so they know what the money’s being spent on. Why does that not happen?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      It would be one of the more delicious recipes out there for anarchy, wouldn’t it? First, tell them what we really spend, then invite them to tinker with the percentages.

      If that happened, I might reconsider buying some gold. Also, guns and antibiotics.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Bullets. Much more fungible.Report

      • Avatar tom van dyke says:

        Jason, this is only tangential, but since it’s Cato and all, is aid good?

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          As I said above, I’d abolish all foreign aid if it were up to me. I don’t think it produces good incentives or really helps the most unfortunate in the long term, and everything I’ve read from my colleague Marian Tupy backs it up. Disaster relief on a one-time basis, sure — we could hardly do otherwise. Beyond that, nothing.

          I was being facetious in this post, which was making a point more about the ignorance of most voters than about whether aid is good or bad. I would not be in the least bit surprised if their 10%-of-the-budget average suggestion was likewise based on ignorance, and on assumptions I wouldn’t care to imagine.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill says:

      Makes me wonder… if you had a poll, one question at a time, asking “what percentage of the federal budget goes towards X,” what the sum of the percents would be. I am relatively educated on government affairs and I am positive my answer (unless I’m looking at everything at once, of course) would be well over 100%. Well over.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        I wonder if my answers would be substantially less than 100%. Maybe they would be. But then again, I’m onto the trick, so I’d give it a bit more thought now.Report

  8. Avatar Steve S. says:

    Not only is foreign aid a paltry slice of the budget, the biggest chunks of it go to Israel and other U.S. friendly regimes in the middle east. In other words, there isn’t a snowball’s chance of significant cuts in this area.Report

  9. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Let’s face it, the biggest slices of the budget are entitlements. The majority of people who get them are old, sick, or usually both. There will be no change till those damn do-gooders stop driving buses to the senior centers on election day.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      We could always make jokes about it. Or we could start talking about means-testing, raising the retirement age, and other cost-cutting measures. They won’t be cheap, but in the long term, I strongly suspect that something like them will be necessary.Report

      • Avatar James K says:

        Ultimately it’s a matter of mathematics. Your government can’t go on spending like it is, so barring something miraculous happening it will have to stop. It can cut back now and spread the pain across a many people and a long time, so it it felt left, or sometime in the 2030s it can engage in emergency austerity and hurt a lot of people. Furthermore when the crunch comes it will most likely happen in a recession because that’s when government revenues are under the most stress.Report

        • Avatar Simon K says:

          Its true that government revenues are under stress during a recession, but the governments ability to borrow is usually at its peak. Since cutting spending during a recession is contractionary, its not a great idea unless you have not choice. Thats only going to happen if you’ve lost control of your currency and/or most of your debt is owned by foreigners. Neither situation is ever likely to be true for the US.Report

          • Avatar James K says:

            But the more debt you have, the less control you have over your currency. The thing is that the scenario you outline only holds while the US is looked upon as the safe option for debt. But if your debt level gets high enough then sovereign default will start to look like a possibility, and once you get there the international response to a recession will be to flee away from the US, not flee toward it. It can happen very quickly, one moment everything looks fine, then suddenly you’re trying to find enough ice flows to put your old people out on, and working out if you can get your soldiers abroad home before you run out of fuel for the transport ships.

            At some point you run out of money to borrow, either because no one will lend it to you or because you can’t afford the interest. That day is coming, and within our lifetimes unless your government starts reforms.Report

            • Avatar Simon K says:

              On rereading your initial comment I’m not sure we actually disagree. The US should, and very likely will, reform its tax system and do at least something to control spending before the next presidential election. As Churchill said, you can trust the Americans to do the right thing once they’ve tried everything else … It shouldn’t make spending cuts right now, though, because a fall in the velocity of dollars is the very last thing the world needs. I would advocate spending cuts now if I thought the Fed was prepared to accommodate them by further expanding the money supply, but I don’t, sadly.

              On the larger point about whether the US deficit is a real concern, there are two specific considerations that make the US different from most other sovereign debtors. The first is that the current level of debt is actually quite low – what’s worrying is the projected future debt based on projected deficits. Those projected deficits rely on healthcare inflation continuing at its current rate, which is actually impossible. Instead, the pressured medicare and medicaid are already under will result in government action to really deal with the cost problem at its heart, either through the mechanisms is the HCR bill or elsewhere. The only question is when. Obviously sooner would be better, but I don’t think congress has yet exhausted all of the bad options …

              The second is that the US is basically acting as the world’s bank. The US economy is absorbing the capital account surpluses of all those wonderful export driven economies everyone thinks are so awesome, and there’s nowhere else for that money to go. In spite of the fact that this makes it incredibly cheap for US borrowers to borrow, its in the interests of the US to end this arrangement as quickly as possible, since its generally damaging for US-based businesses and workers. The first step in ending it, is for the US government to stop needing to borrow more money. In my view this is the best argument for dealing with the budget deficit.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                I’m OK with the government taking 12 months or so to get over the recession before starting austerity, and I don’t mind them taking it slow to begin with either. So I think we’re in agreement there.

                Where we disagree is:
                1) I don’t see any reason to be optimistic about your government’s behaviour. HCR in its current form won’t help and may actually do fiscal harm. I’ll believe austerity when I see it.

                2) While the US is the bank of the world to all those export driven countries (and just for the record I don’t think they’re all that awesome, trade is good no matter whether you’re a net exporter or a net importer), my contention is that status relies on a reputation for stability that the US will lose if its fiscal position continues to deteriorate. When that happens, interest rates will rise sharply, and then bad things start happening.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                We’ll have to agree to differ on (1). My insights into the US govt are far from perfect but I feel after 5 years of living here I’m starting to understand how it actually isn’t as disfunctional as it looks. Time will tell.

                On 2, I think the interesting question is what exactly comprises investor confidence when it comes to sovereign debt. As far as I can tell, the main driver is the proportion of the stock of debt that’s held domestically. Provided that remains high (and in the US its very high) the chances of a default or inflation remain small, so the marginal buyer, who may or may not be a US citizen remains happy. This partially explains why Portugal’s credit is in question and France’s is not – when speculators try to short French debt, the French just buy more of it.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                While how much of the debt is foreign doubtless matters, I think debt to income matters most of all. I can only see this ratio increasing for the US, and that will ultimately result in higher interest rates, leading to extreme fiscal stress.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                Of course US interest rates will rise. If they don’t we really are all in deep shi*t. Thats not really the question – the question is when they rise why will they rise? if they rise because the economy is growing its not a big deal because tax revenues will rise and other components of spending will fall. If they rise because of credit risk, that is a big deal.

                Which leads us to the question of what a debt to income ratio for a country actually is, or more exactly what constitutes income. Is is it real GDP? Or nominal GDP? Or tax income? Or tax income less spending? If so what spending? Because all of these variables apart from real GDP (and to some extent even that) are under the control of the political process. A state is not a price-taker like a household that has to accept that its labor and savings are worth X dollars per year and budget based on that. It can determine its own income, for most possible values of income.

                Which leads us back to the question of whether the political process is functional or not. Or to put it more baldly, whether the US population wakes up to the fact most of its its governments interest payments end up in their money market accounts, not the pockets of some largely mythical foreigner. I reckon they will, at least once they’ve tried everything else.Report

      • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

        It probably wouldn’t hurt to have a more reasonable immigration policy, either.Report

        • Avatar Scott says:

          If we had a reasonable immigration policy then where would Dems get their next generation of voters from? Also, a reasonable immigration policy might help the budgets of CA and AZ. Sadly, I don’t see the Dems as ever willing to cut social entitlements.Report

  10. Avatar dexter45 says:

    One of the ways you could get is serious is to start discussing things that are serious. Social security is a long way from being bankrupt. Why doesn’t someone ask about the procurement system? Why doesn’t someone ask why the buying power of the united states can’t get a discount from big pharma? Why doesn’t someone ask why americans are paying four hundred dollars a gallon for gas in afganistan? Why doesn’t someone really research why america has so many soldiers in Europe? Why doesn’t someone ask why so much money has been turned over to wall street galts who care nothing about america? Why doesn’t someone ask if it is really good for america to transfer so much money from the middle class and the poor to the rich? Or you can be glib. During my darker moments I wonder where Berkman is hiding. During my lighter moments I know that just because one can’t attain perfection in no way negates the necessity to try.Report

    • Avatar Heidegger says:

      dexter45 says: “Why doesn’t someone ask if it is really good for america to transfer so much money from the middle class and the poor to the rich?”

      Where and how, precisely, does this “transfer” occur. I’m assuming you’re referring to income taxes and the myth that lower and middle income earners shoulder an unfair tax burden compared to the rich, or some other similar variation of this theme. Not true. This theory only works if the tax cuts for the so-called rich create a substantially lower amount of tax revenue and consequently need to be made up by increasing the tax rates for lower and middle income earners. This NEVER happens. Lower inc0me earners are always below the threshold of when tax hikes kick in. Tax cuts for the rich, have ZERO effect on lower and middle income people because reducing marginal tax rates on higher income people ALWAYS makes people work more, harder, invest more, create more jobs, and—creates a larger and higher amount of money in the general tax pool that can be taxed. What’s that saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats” or something like that—that’s pretty much it, in a nutshell. And, just a few numbers to throw at you: top 1% of wealthiest pay 37%; top 10% pay 71%; How’s this one: the 50% and lower pay 3% of the total tax burden!! Please let know where this magical transfer of money from the poor to the rich occurs.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        “A rising tide lifts all boats,” also known as trickle down economics. But I couldn’t agree more. No transfer of money from poor to rich occurs in that tax code as far as I know. Where the poor are really robbed is in their hourly wages and annual salaries. The business owner can’t make money with out his workers, just as they can’t make money without the business. Of course “they” are easily replaceable by other workers, either abroad or in the next town over, or even among the even less fortunate who would gladly work for less pay.

        And so worker pay is the bare minimum the worker can bear (sometimes not even that), rather than the maximum that the market can bear. The transfer of wealth happens before the government even get’s involved. Though it often makes it easier once it does.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          E.C. “Where the poor are really robbed is in their hourly wages and annual salaries.” How so? And who’s doing the robbing? The free market dictates what someone is “worth”. Don’t forget, Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave. Doubt Britney Spears will. Or Brad Pit.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            Right, so it all hinges one whether one accepts the free market as the defacto decider of value. If you do, how ever things turn out is fair, moral, and desirable.

            Where I think a lot of liberals are coming from is that they see the market as a mechanism that hedges against individual bias, prejudice, and human corruptibility, but that also has excesses that must be accounted from in government transfers (redistribution).

            Maybe you think this is too simplistic or juvenile, but I see it as a game of monopoly. Things are great in the beginning, really good in the middle, but that towards the end you reach a steady state with wealth aggregated at the top, and stagnation in innovation and creativity, at which point things need to be reset. I mean, imagine if everyone were given a low interest business loan. You’d have tons of competition with everyone competing with their idea, creation, whatever. You’d have winners and losers. Eventually the winners would close up shop, and try to find jobs working for the winners on their “successes.” And at some point the those winners would aggregate so much wealth that you’d have to redistribute it downward in order to stimulate another round of mass competition.

            Lots of holes in all of that, but I think it illustrates a basic idea about whether the free market tends towards dynamism, or whether it tends toward stagnation and needs to be reset.

            And hey, I’d be all for low interest loans for individuals rather than handouts or entitlements. Give them the “hand up” that all the banks/corporations got.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            By winners closing up shop I meant the losers.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          “Trickle” down–that’s the word I was looking for. I guess this concept also represents the “Laffer Curve” in action, too, no?Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            Laughable Curve? No I don’t know it, could you point me in the direction of the data?

            I completely agree with where you’re coming from. The presupposition for my position was that the Market is amoral. So clearly according to the market no one is “robbed.” And yes, it does designate each individual a certain value, their labor, as well as their possessions.

            But in the normative sense, the market does not “value” things, or determine their “worth,” if by worth we mean anything relating to moral worth.Report

            • Avatar Heidegger says:

              EC—think you’ll find this interesting. Or “Laffable”.

              Laffer CurveWhat Does Laffer Curve Mean?
              Invented by Arthur Laffer, this curve shows the relationship between tax rates and tax revenue collected by governments. The chart below shows the Laffer Curve:

              The curve suggests that, as taxes increase from low levels, tax revenue collected by the government also increases. It also shows that tax rates increasing after a certain point (T*) would cause people not to work as hard or not at all, thereby reducing tax revenue. Eventually, if tax rates reached 100% (the far right of the curve), then all people would choose not to work because everything they earned would go to the government.Report

        • Avatar James K says:

          If that were true then all workers would be paid the minimum wage, which they aren’t. If there’s someone out there who can do your job and is willing to do it for half the pay, then you have no right to be paid more than that. Everything is worth what it’s purchaser will pay for it (just so long as someone is willing to sell it at that price), its true of commodities, and consumer goods, and labour.

          From what I’ve read, wage and salaries for middle and lower income people in the US may be static, but total compensation isn’t. In other words, what’s happening is that all of the salary gains accruing are being consumed by rising health care costs. If you want to see a return to rising wages in the US, I would recommend having someone in charge fix your healthcare system, and by fix I don’t mean “take all the problems and make them worse” like Obama just finished doing.Report

          • Avatar Heidegger says:

            JamesK–very happy you weighed in on this subject! Was hoping the economics Whiz Kid would stop in–do I have the general gist of this right? That is, there is absolutely no “transfer” of wealth from the middle/lower income earners to the rich?Report

            • Avatar Heidegger says:

              I mean, with regard to the current tax structure, there is no transfer.Report

            • Avatar AMW says:

              According to the late Milton Friedman, the majority of transfers in the tax code are from the rich and poor to the middle class.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                AMW–how do the poor earners transfer tax revenue to the middle class when they pay no taxes to begin with? I’m speaking of the earned-income tax credit cancelling out income tax already paid/withheld.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Dude, the democrats lied to you.

                Just because they called that money removed from the paycheck “a contribution” rather than “taxes”, doesn’t make it one iota less a tax.

                The poor are taxed too.

                We just pretend they aren’t. We pretend that they’re “contributing”.Report

            • Avatar James K says:

              Disentangling all the transfer effects is really quite difficult. Income tax is progressive but excise taxes on alcohol and tobacco are regressive, as is the Social Security tax and most tariffs. Plus, the mortgage income tax credit benefits home owners, who are wealthier than the average person, and Medicare benefits old people, who are richer than the average person too (though their wealth is disproportionally higher than their income). Then you have welfare which pushes back in the other direction. I wouldn’t care to speculate as to the effects of corporate tax breaks on income distribution.

              Since Friedman knew your system better than I do, I’ll go with him and say the middle class are net beneficiaries. This is not a good idea since the middle class are your revenue base, so you can’t make them net beneficiaries and balance the budget (at least not without great difficulty).Report

        • Avatar AMW says:

          E.C., I could tell that story exactly the other way around:

          The business owner can’t make money without his workers, and they can’t make money without the business. Of course, it’s easy to find another employer, either abroad or in the next town over, or among big fat corporations that are flush with cash and hiring willy-nilly.

          And so worker pay is the absolute maximum the firm can bear (sometimes more than that – GM, anyone?), rather than the minimum the market can bear.

          Of course, both the dynamics I listed and those you listed are at work in a marketplace. So the market wage tends to meet somewhere in the middle., where the marginal worker’s reservation wage equals the marginal employer’s willingness to pay.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

            So how does one address the whole area of profits? And square productivity gains with relative wage stagnation (

            What is an equitable distribution of the increased revenue obtained from increased productivity…just whatever the market decides?Report

            • Avatar James K says:

              As to the first point, my understanding is that healthcare costs and other benefits square the circle, wages aren’t rising because the non-wage parts of the benefits package are becoming more expensive.

              As to the second point, it depends on what you mean by fair. If you define fairness by outcomes, then there are an infinite number of possible definitions of fair, and the market can satisfy one of them at most. However, I would suggest that if you want to change the market’s allocation it would be better to use direct transfers rather than meddle with the market directly by imposing price or wage controls.

              If you’re talking about procedural equity, I’m willing to defend the market, subject to qualifications. In the absence of market failures the market will deliver allocatively efficient results, and that means the best outcomes. If there are market failures, I’m willing to consider market interventions, provided they are run through a robust policy process.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                That’s great stuff JamesK. Are you sure you’re not a medium for the late Milton Friedman? You’re darned good. In the meantime, I’m going to make a few calls. I want you, at the very least, to replace Bernanke-ASAP! If that doesn’t appeal to you, please consider stepping in for Tiny Tim (Geitner)–your knowledge of economics is vastly superior to his. Would you put the concept of free markets/capitalism among the top five greatest ideas to come from a human mind. E=mc2 is almost a given number one the list. Probably the invention of the round wheel a close second. While not perfect, capitalism seems the most fair and just concept for the distribution and allocation of resources within a given society. And socialism MUST surely be dead last on any list! I can’t think of an “idea” that has dealt more harm, misery and death on the human race than socialism. While fascism can be either of the Left or Right persuasion, Socialism is squarely and inalterably a Leftist concept and philosophy. And National SSocialism is Left to the core.Report

              • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

                I would be careful not to use capitalism and “free markets” interchangeably, as they are different.

                In addition, E=mc2, while not the easiest to understand (at least in its implications) is perhaps better agreed upon that the concepts of free markets and capitalism.

                For instance, how would either of you define a “free market”? I’m always unsure of what is necessary/sufficient for a “free market” to be the case, or is it just an ideal that not achievable?

                Also, I hear those socialists in Sweden are full of misery and death. I man just look at their happiness and infant mortality rates. A hellish place to be sure.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                Sweden is a capitalist country with a very large welfare state, not a socialist economy. Its important to be clear that these are different things.

                My personal definition of a free market is one that has freedom of contract – If I have something that you want and I have something that you want we can agree to swap. That leaves a great deal of leeway in deciding who owns what and can therefore enter into contracts with regard to it. For example, can I own radio spectrum? Or the rights to reproduce your comments? Or a revenue stream based on your promise to pay?

                Capitalism is a specific economic system where productive capital equipment is owned by limited liability companies controlled by some combination of wealthy individuals (initially) and financial institutions holding assets on behalf of households (in its later form), and both capital ownership and labour are exchanged on fairly free markets.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Much obliged for your edifying comment, Simon K. Couldn’t seem to remember seeing any Sweedish Gulags although, judging from physical appearances, the eugenics program seems to be working out quite well. Can we call Communism, Socialism on steroids? A mere stepping stone to total control and ownership of all resources–they both represent collectivist control over private property. Socialist stooges and nitwits like Chavez still say the “people” own ALL property! And Hollywood hearthrob, Fidel, even admits socialism doesn’t work and is an utter and complete failure. Oh well, better late than never…Report

              • Avatar Ethan.c.gach says:

                You are correct. I only meant to suggest that Sweden does have various sectors of the economy “socialized”. And in the same way that the U.S. is not a pure capitalist society, true, Sweden is not total socialist country. Would I still be wrong in proposing that Sweden has “socialized” more aspects of its economy than the U.S.?

                Also, how would you argue that constructs like limited liability square with a free market defined by only consisting of individual contractual agreements (or is the contractual part necessary but not sufficient?)?

                I’m still against saying that certain systems were a disaster, given that one could argue they were either never actually implemented or that no system can be purely one thing it appears.

                I mean, socialism without democracy is a clear disaster (at least usually, and can even be a disaster with it). Can we consider capitalism to be an equally disastrous system without democracy?Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                If by socialism we mean “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs”, its quite hard to relate this to a modern welfare state. I suppose “from each according to his ability to pay to each according to his entitlement” is about as close as you can get. Income isn’t that closely related to ability, and entitlement isn’t that closely related to need, including lots of other things like past employment status, legal circumstances and age, to name but three. Perhaps in Sweden need is slightly more closely related to entitlement than in the US – the US welfare state certainly has more people for whom it provides little or no entitlement in spite of possible need.

                There are plenty of schemes for trying to match abilities and needs within a free market. As far as I know none of these has really been tried, although you can argue that we match abilities and wants reasonably well. Certainly there’s no obvious reason why you can’t match needs and abilities on average, although obviously trying to do so specifically and directly violates freedom of contract. To my knowledge no-one forces Swedish medical school graduates to care for the sick instead of becoming commodity futures traders.

                Communism was an attempt to directly implement a socialist matching of needs and abilities, but it collapsed as such pretty quickly, for the obvious reason (documented then evaded on the very first page of “Capital” IIRC) that once you get past the obvious its hard to work out what people really need versus what they want versus what you think they ought to have. Turns out people want tractors rather less than was initially thought …

                I don’t know whether capitalism requires democracy or not. China appears to be conducting a gigantic natural experiment on this very topic, so ask me again in 50 years. Certainly it requires some kind of public consent, if only tacit, to the particular types of property rights to be enforced, which requires some kind of possibility at least in theory that regular people will profit from them. Without that those who do profit pretty rapidly take over the state and the public/private distinction breaks down and you can’t really call it capitalism any more.

                Limited liability is one of the tools for making sure ordinary people can profit, by making sure investors losses are limited. I’ve never quite understood the Howard Zim obsession with limited liability as some kind of great enabler of evil. Its just a way of saying that you’re a creditor of the entities you invest in, not a controller. That we call this “ownership” is just a historical artifact. As far as I know no-one claims bondholders or bank depositors should be liable for the losses of the entities they invest in. I think people think it allows some kind of impunity on the part of the management – while that may sometimes be true, it certainly isn’t necessarily true and should not be true.Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                Yes, size of government is not a one-dimensional variables. Will Wilkinson noted that if you take government spending out of the Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom, Denmark has the freest economy on Earth.

                Personally I consider central economic planning to be the defining characteristic of socialism. A country that partially directs its economy by balancing the demands of interest groups but doesn’t centrally plan, should more properly be referred to as corporatist, not socialist.Report

              • Avatar Simon K says:

                Is size even the interesting variable? I’m not sure it is. Predictable protection of property rights seems to be the important thing. Provided you have that, the actual level of redistribution isn’t a big factor. The big reason the “size” of the state is subject of debate in the US is that it changes so frequently. One day I don’t have unemployment benefits, the next day I do. One day I owe 20k in AMT, the next day I don’t. And all the whim of people who apparently can’t be trusted to pass an arms inspection treaty without turning into a game of chicken.Report

            • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

              Thanks. Off the top of your head do you know of any places where I could score some worker benefits data?Report

              • Avatar James K says:

                Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with American data sources. It’s one of those things I read a while back and I’m having difficulty finding it now.Report

      • Avatar AMW says:

        Heidegger, the Laffer Curve is real, but there’s no reason to believe we’re currently above the revenue-maximizing tax rate.Report

      • Avatar E.C. Gach says:

        And just to add, I’m fully ready to accept the free market as the only impartial, disinterested enough force worth allowing to distribute value, wealth, etc. Not saying I see any better alternatives, just questioning the “fairness” of it, since usually what people think of as fair is dependent on what would be the case in a free market.Report

  11. Avatar Matty says:

    I do seriously wonder why the US can’t cut government spending, much of Europe is doing so in the face of mass protests and surely our politicians have the same re-election fears. Is it that none of your politicians want to cut despite all the talk about it?Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      I’m pleasantly surprised by European austerity, I figured they wouldn’t do anything until their fiscal situation was totally untenable.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      The US political system at the Federal level is structurally unsuited to rapid changes of direction since it requires supermajorities and because the current two party system skews political incentives. Particularly difficult are changes of direction that command support that is wide spread but shallow like debt reduction is. People agree heartily that federal debt should be reduced but scream furiously and vote punitively the moment spending cuts touch something they benefit from.
      Europe by contrast is principally run by parliamentary majorities or coalitions between multiple parties (more than two) where the governments, once formed under an electoral mandate, suffer few hindrances in enacting their chosen agendas.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      My guess is that it has to do with the fact that Europeans run for re-election as parties, while Americans run as individuals. It’s easier for a party to beat back scurrilous campaign attacks because they can have a more coherent and focused message. And people may think, “well, I’m not thrilled with the party, but my MP’s ok.” In the U.S., the attacks are direct and personal, tarnishing the candidate’s character. That makes it harder to rebut effectively, and also makes candidates less willing to put themselves in that position because it’s just emotionally damaging.

      That’s almost certainly not the whole story, but it’s currently my preferred (but untested) hypothesis.Report

  12. Avatar Matty says:

    You might find this interesting.Report

  13. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I think it would be interesting to survey the public on different budget items to see their estimates of what percentage of the American budget those items make up. I’d bet the estimates would sum to well over 100%. I wonder if I can persuade one of my research methods students next term to take that on.Report