Facts and Rhetoric: The Deficit

President Obama has turned some of his attention toward reducing the federal deficit, which is, in technical economic terms, gi-normous.

Well, at least he’s appointed a commission, which the GOPers originally endorsed but then later refused to help appoint members to.

Former GOP Senator Alan Simpson is the chair.  When he was still a senator, working on the deficit, and suggesting ways of addressing the cost of Social Security (tax benefits of those who are rich?), he ran into stiff opposition from AARP, to such an extent that, concerning the group, he quoted from The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas: “I didn’t know it was hungry until it ate me.”  So at least the chair of the commission has a sense of humor.

A problem with such issues as the deficit, in my opinion, is that it’s hard to establish facts that won’t be swept away by rhetoric.  For example, here are two pie-charts (representing federal expenditures) I found on the Web:

The first is from the Concord Coalition, the second from a War Resistors site.

I haven’t a clue whose pie-slices are more accurate.  My wild guess is that 22% may be a bit low for military spending but 36% + 18% may be too high.  I’m a humanist, and humanists specialize in wild guesses, which we often call “evidence” or “theory,” depending upon our mood.

When I tried to find a chart from the government itself, the site said I needed to wait while the data loaded.  It never loaded.  I got this sense Franz Kafka (or Gregor Mendel) was the web-master.

In any event, I would dearly love to see the President, members of Congress, and reputable economists agree first about the pie-chart before the debate begins.  Facts before persuasion.  Too much to hope for?  Yes, of course. Think of it: a pie chart on which we could all agree.  We could all carry wee laminated copies of it with us wherever we went.  Cool.

Two added notes: I love the “Everything Else” category in the first chart.  Second, if indeed “we” spend 40-50 % on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment Insurance, and housing assistance for the impoverished, I’m fine with that.  Money well spent.

I’d like less spent on the military, and I bet there’s a way to do it without “weakening our defenses,” especially if you compare the U.S.’s military spending with the rest of the world’s (combined).  But I suspect even discussing a reduction in military-spending remains politically taboo.  Yes, I want less spend on the military, but, like Alan Simpson, I immediately turn to cinema, specifically to the Patsy Cline biopic, in which Patsy’s future beau meets her and says he’d like to see more of her, to which Patsy responds, “People in Hell want ice-water, but that don’t mean they get it.”


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