Binge Dieting

October 7th, 2012


Some voters think that when the government gets too large,

It’s a good idea to put Republicans in charge.


If they then cut unduly

Or a little too cruelly,

Just fix that then

By bringing Dems back again.


That way, voters don’t really have to decide:

They just switch back and forth, and let it ride.

The problem is, binge dieting and weight fluctuation aren’t healthy,

Especially if your diet guru just cares about feeding the wealthy.


If we all agree that government spending needs to be cut, doesn’t it make sense to elect people who are fanatically committed to the goal, and who want a lot to cut spending a lot? Then, even if they don’t completely get their way, at least they’ll keep trying and force some cuts. And if they do get their way and cut too much, we can always add more spending back later as necessary. Right?

Maybe, or maybe not. Say you’re a person who’s had problems with weight fluctuation, which itself is damaging to your health. You’ve finally stabilized your weight and have what you think is a pretty healthy diet. Sure, maybe you’re five pounds above your lifetime low, but that’s natural as we get older.

Then you start watching a new diet and exercise guru on TV who says that Americans now weigh 50 pounds more than in the Founding Fathers’ days, and so you therefore need to lose 50 pounds right away. The statistic might be at least approximately true, but it ignores the fact that Americans were half a foot shorter back then and much younger on average, since people died so much earlier, and anyway: averages are just averages, and have no relationship to whether and how much you are overweight as an individual. But you decide to try the GOP diet anyway, which consists of eating as much as you want of one type of food (military spending) but nothing else, and no food at all for your kids or elderly parents.

Guess what? It works, in that the average weight in your family drops precipitously, as does your own. What’s more, as you eat less and less, your reptile brain takes over and you start to steal food from your family members, and they lose even more weight. Your parents eventually die, your spouse divorces you, and you’re up on charges for child abuse, but you did lose more weight than you’ve ever lost before.

In spite of those successes, you can’t keep the GOP diet up forever, and when you start eating again, you don’t stop until you gain back all the weight you lost, then gain an additional 50 pounds.

That’s exactly what’s happened with public spending in the last few years, particularly at the state level. Do we really have too many teachers, cops, and firefighters? Some cities have now been forced to go to 4 day school weeks due to lack of funds; others are jamming 40+ kids into a class, and cutting anything (phys ed, shop, art, music, AP classes, etc.) that isn’t on the test. Towns all over America have been forced to shut down their entire police force.

Even if we all agreed that state and local governments are spending too much and that maybe we do have 5% too many public sector employees, what happens when you elect people who think we have 50% too many? And if it’s true that state and local education spending is rising too fast, is that because we have too many teachers, or because we weren’t setting aside enough money for pensions for the last 20 years, and those bills are now coming due?

And even if were true that public sector budgets are 5% over some ideal “fighting weight,” if we put the extreme dieters in charge and they painfully cut spending by too much, when the economy rebounds and that demand for pent-up spending is released, how likely is it that it will end up exactly on that ideal amount? I’d say the chances for that are about 0%, with the far more likely outcome that we’ll then err in the opposite direction.

The other issue is how we measure and evaluate spending. Over the last 4 hour period, I consumed 700 calories and burned about 350, for a net calorie-burning deficit  of 350. During the previous 4 hour period, I consumed 500 calories and burned 500, thus attaining perfect calorie-burning balanced. Does that mean I should dramatically cut my caloric intake? Maybe, but not if the difference is because I ate dinner and then read the paper during the past 4 hours, versus working out and eating a snack during the previous 4. (Funny thing about average hourly caloric intake: it goes up sharply during meals.)

Similarly, it makes no sense to compare deficits during a severe economic downturn, when spending naturally and inevitably goes up and revenue naturally and inevitably goes down, to deficits during good times. It’s economic policy negligence (not to mention morally wrong and inhumane) not to run deficits during a downturn, just as it’s bad policy to not run surpluses (or at least much smaller deficits) during good times. Yet here’s the GOP running massive deficits during good times, then violently attacking Dems when deficits go up slightly during the economic crash that resulted from Republican policies?

Mitt Romney may have looked good in the debate last week, but that doesn’t mean that the GOP diet will work any better this time than it did under George Bush.


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One Response to “Binge Dieting”

  1. Newsericks » Blog Archive » Lie-namic Scoring Says:

    […] Dynamic scoring is true in theory, to an extent, but the impact on growth is proportionate to the pre- and post-reform tax efficiency gap, and the size of the tax cut. For example, a two-thirds cut in a top 99% marginal tax rate that drives investment to economically unproductive tax shelters will have far greater impact than, say, reducing a 30% tax rate to 24%. That distinction is inherent in the Laffer Curve itself: at some point, you hit the other side of the curve, and further tax cuts revenues result in decreased revenues. Maintaining the contrary, as many Republicans do, is like claiming that since liposuction reduced your weight from 200 to 150 pounds, doing it again will automatically reduce your weight another 50 pounds. […]

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