28 February 2013

Sequester Stuff

Reason #1 to support the sequester: everyone in DC who's opposed to it is being a dishonest, whiny bitch about it.

Do you really need more reasons than that? Fine.

I heard someone oppose the sequester on the grounds that "The value of the sword is not that it falls, but rather, that it hangs." This is true. But the Sword of Damocles has no value at all if every time you get uncomfortable with it hanging over your throne you take it down and put it on the floor.

Congress and the White House hung the sword over their heads because no one trusted them to fulfill their perennial promises of being profligate now but responsible later. Now they're all running around in a tizzy, pointing fingers at each other and trying to assign blame for dangling this sword from the rafters and screaming about how dangerous it is. (And it is: I wouldn't trust a congresscritter with a pair of kindergarten scissors, to say nothing of a xyphos.)

The whole damn point of this thing is that it's dangerous and it has non-trivial consequences for the budget. That was supposed to be the incentive to get them to knuckle down and take their medicine. Instead they end up bellowing about how dangerous it is and how they can't honestly be expected to
cut spending increase spending less than they had planned now.

The entire reason the sequester exists is because Washington responds to every budget problem by kicking the can down the road. Now that their own self-imposed restraint is coming due the only response they can muster is to pitch a fit about the guys in the other party not cooperating in kicking the can again. If we didn't trust them to make the hard decisions before (and we didn't — which is why we have the sequester in the first place!) why the hell would we trust them now, seeing how they've responded in the last few months?

Via @radleybalko:

Would you prefer that in tabular form? I am nothing if not accommodating!

KPC | Mike Munger | Sequester This
The sequester doesn't actually cut federal spending, episode 113. This one comes from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Outlays/Spending are recorded in the second line of the table, and yes this includes the sequester! [...] If this level of "cutting" is not politically possible, then we are all doomed.

KPC | Mike Munger | défenestrer le sequester?

I had to link to this one too, for two simple reasons.

(1) I can't not think of the word "defenstration" whenever I heard "sequestration." I'm glad I'm not the only one.

(2) "Federal spending is over 3 trillion dollars. We are talking about cutting 85 billion from its growth. That's like a pimple on your pimple." That's the single best simile.

The Big Questions | Steve Landsburg | Deficit Attention Disorder


I am totally on board with the Shave Krugman's Beard plan. Count me in.

Coyote Blog | Warren Meyer | Sequester Fear-Mongering, State Version
The extent to which the media is aiding and abetting, with absolutely no skepticism, the sky-is-falling sequester reaction of pro-big-government forces is just sickening. I have never seen so many absurd numbers published so credulously by so much of the media. Reporters who are often completely unwilling to accept any complaints from corporations as valid when it comes to over-taxation or over-regulation are willing to print their sequester complaints without a whiff of challenge.
I hadn't even considered this angle, but he's totally right.

Uncredulously accepting doom-and-gloom numbers here plays on a trifecta of journalist biases: the liberal/statist political bias, the laziness bias, and the "Apocalypse Sells" or "You Can Panic Now" bias.

Meyer also makes a second good point:
The ugliness of this process is made worse by the hypocrisy of Republicans, who suddenly become hard core Keynesians when it comes to spending on the military.
More people need to call the GOP out on this.

HBR | Francesca Gino | The Strange Behavioral Logic of the Sequester Stalemate

I'm all for looking into the psychology of law-makers. I think things like behavioral economics and choice architecture are interesting, but they too often treat customers/citizens as psychologically complex, lacking in perfect information or rationaility, but simultaneously assume the law-makers have that that very same rationality and information.

This is a good post, and I don't want to come down too hard on it. Never the less...
One example [of using deadline to motivate], ironically, comes from government: In 1961, president John F. Kennedy gave a speech that set the goal of getting people to the moon and safely back within a decade. At the time, the U.S. had only launched an astronaut 115 miles above the earth. Going to the moon was a much more difficult goal: astronauts would travel 270,000 miles from home.
I have had it up to here with this example. First of all, the Apollo Program took a massive chunk of America's economic output to achieve, and an even bigger chunk of our intellectual output. Secondly, this was a straight-up engineering challenge. Not a scientific one (there's a difference!) and definitely not a social one. It's a complete non sequitur to say "we put a man on the Moon in a decade, therefore we can get Congress and the President to agree to voluntarily reduce their own power."

Strapping a trio of zoomies onto a Saturn V and tossing them a quarter of a million miles away is hard, but it's not nearly as hard as getting stationary bandits to cut back on the brigandry.
With this in mind, it is likely that the March 1 deadline may have been demotivating rather than motivating. Knowing that avoiding the sequester is nearly inevitable, or is going to include a lot of work, may have led to resignation rather than high motivation. And such resignation led us to the current stalemate in negotiations.
Totally possible. But if congressmen can't be relied to set useful deadlines, why can they be trusted to spend several trillions of other people's dollars?

Even if this deadline was a mistake once it's made it needs to be treated seriously. Cognitive failings of politicians not withstanding, there's no do-overs or take-backs when this much is at stake.

EconLog | David Henderson | Sequester: This is Supposed to be Scary?

Hit & Run | Matt Welch | Sequester Cuts Will Steal Your Meat, Ground Your Air Force, Make Women Shut Down Their Small Businesses
The Senate Appropriations Committee has helpfully collated all of the executive branch's official Sequester Hysteria into one hilarious document of bureaucratic pants-wetting. Let's watch how politicians and bureaucrats are spending your tax money to scare the bejeebus out of you about the consequences of not spending more of your tax money for this one year!

Hit & Run | Matt Welch | Sequester Desperation: The Gold Watch Trick vs. Washington Monument Syndrome vs. Firemen First

Hit & Run | Peter Suderman | What Scares Sequester Opponents the Most? That Spending Reductions Won’t Hurt At All

The Onion | Obama, Congress Must Reach Deal On Budget By March 1, And Then April 1, And Then April 20, And Then April 28, And Then May 1
Other experts noted that even in the event of a deal, a clause in the Budget Control Act would inevitably lead to a total of 64 additional meetings between June and July, as well as a potential deadline creation deadline that would automatically kick in on Oct. 4 and would create 20 more deadlines that must be agreed upon by a Nov. 5 deadline.

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