15 November 2010

NYTimes budget widget

EconLog | David Henderson | I Agree: Budget Cutting is Easy

Like Arnold and some of his commenters, I found it way easier than I thought it would be to cut the federal budget on the New York Times' interactive site.
Like Henderson, Kling, and many others, I also found fixing the budget extremely easy. Suspiciously easy, in fact.

Of course I have no sacred cows to spare, so perhaps that accounts for the ease.

This is also budgeting in a political vacuum.*  It's easy for me to tick the "Cut pay of civilian federal workers by 5%" check box on a website, it's a whole different story to make that actually happen in reality. (Difficulty remains a poor excuse for it not happening, obviously.)

(* Some of these exist in more than just a political vacuum.  How do you actually make "Cap Medicare growth" happen?  I mean beyond the unpopularity -- what mechanism are you going to use to do that?)

I have mixed feelings about Henderson's conclusion:
One of my objections to Tea Partiers is how uninformed some of them are about the numbers. Now, thanks to the New York Times, they don't have to be.
Here's a prediction: if the New York Times keeps this game up on its site, a whole lot of people are going to be more sympathetic to cutting government and more optimistic that it can be done.
I worry the opposite might happen. If people conclude this is easy they will be more willing to let it be pushed to a back burner.

Additionally the easier this seems to people the more they will be convinced that their sacred cow can be spared. If it's an easy problem then someone else can be expected to take on the sacrifices.

This is only an easy problem if you're willing to take a knife to everything, but the easier the problem seems, the more voluntary any particular cut will seem to people.

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