Saturday, April 23, 2011

Waste and the Budget

I suspect that Paul Ryan's infamous budget proposal will be voted down, or at least vetoed, considering the public outrage against it, but that will leave Congress stuck with the same jolly problem: how to cut spending without royally p!ssing off the voters.

It’s grimly amusing to watch the Republicans and Democrats fight over how to reduce the budget by goring each other’s oxen. Which program, they argue, shall we cut? Social Security or the military? Planned Parenthood or tax cuts for the rich? And it’s all pointless!

The single biggest expense of government is waste. I’ve worked for government in two states and I’ve seen this for myself. It was Senator McCain who noted, in public, that the Bureau of Indian Affairs spends 90% of its budget on its own bureaucracy and only 10% on the Indians. I can tell you from observation that the Welfare departments of the states spend 50% of their income on their own bureaucracies and the remainder on the poor. If we could just eliminate government bureaucratic waste we could save at least 40% of the budget, right there. And that’s saying nothing about waste caused by deliberate corruption.

Bureaucratic waste begins with the very language in which bills are written. The impenetrable legalese by itself creates excessive regulations. The excessive regulations create excessive paperwork to keep track of them. The excessive paperwork creates excessive numbers of clerks to deal with the paperwork. The excessive numbers of clerks create excessive numbers of managers to keep track of the clerks. That’s how bureaucracies are created, and grow, and gobble up our tax money.

Corruptive waste is caused by legislators and bureaucratic managers who create unnecessary departments and projects for the express purpose of spending money on their cronies. Who was it that made the Bradley Fighting Vehicle into a 17-year and multimillion-dollar boondoggle? Who votes for construction of unnecessary bridges while our existing bridges degrade? Whose idea was it to bail out the very same CEOs of banks and mortgage companies who created the current Depression? Who was it that looted the Social Security system, which was paying for itself before then, so that Social Security is running bankrupt now? This is how politicians themselves waste our money.

Yes, there’s much that can be done to prevent this.

1) Let every government – municipal, state and federal – in the United States go out and hire a lean, mean, clean and completely private forensic accounting company. Let them give those companies complete authority to go anywhere, question anyone and look at everything, with no complaints about “national security” to stop them. Order those companies to look specifically for both bureaucratic and corruptive waste, and bring reports and recommendations for reducing that waste back to the local, state or federal legislature – and then make the legislatures act on those recommendations.

2) Pass a simple law stating that no government agency, department, bureau, etc. shall print, use, maintain, etc. more than ten (10) separate and distinct bureaucratic forms. I’ve seen for myself that all the services performed by, say, the Welfare system could be performed for no more than ten forms, rather than the hundreds it currently employs. Less paperwork means fewer clerks, and therefore fewer managers. If we don’t want to fire those clerks and managers outright, let’s transfer them to more necessary and productive work – say, the Border Patrol – with reduced salaries.

3) Cut the salaries of all elected and appointed officials by 15%. It’s rather unfair to cut the numbers and incomes of the government’s foot-soldiers without asking the generals to share the sacrifice.

4) Pass a simple law which restricts government departments to no more than three levels of management. With the exception of the military, which has seven levels of officers, there is no organization which needs more than three levels of management to function efficiently. To eliminate waste we must stop having too many chiefs per Indian.

5) Do not allow legislators to pass regulations regarding any industry until those proposed regulations have been examined and approved by relevant civilian engineers. Most legislators know nothing about, for example, nuclear reactors; they should not write safety regulations for such reactors based on the glib claims of power-company managers rather than nuclear engineers.

6) Eliminate an old injustice by abolishing all laws restricting the possession of marijuana, or any other products of the hemp plant, and then tax all such products 5% at the point of sale. Also, “influence” all those “financial institutions” which are “friends” of government to “assist and encourage” start-up businesses processing and selling all the products of the hemp plant. Marijuana was made illegal in the first place precisely to stop hemp-industry development which otherwise would have created serious rivals to existing chemical, timber and pharmaceutical companies. We need those rivals now to restart our floundering economy.

7) Overhaul our tax system so that the poor are not taxed more than the rich. End the tax exemptions which allow the richest 1% of our population to pay no taxes at all, and raise the minimum-income level which obliges to poor to pay 15% of their income in taxes.

8) Close those 100+ overseas military bases that we no longer need, bring the troops home and put them to guarding our borders against illegal immigrants from anywhere.

Following these policies would cut at least 40% out of the governments’ budget, create new industries and new sources of income, without destroying any necessary programs.

Now, will any of our squabbling legislators support them?

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(


Anonymous said...

Oh, aMEN! I would dearly love to send this list to Governor Martinez, a cost-cutting Republican, and to the administration of the University of New Mexico (high spenders with their heads in the 90s.)

I should also, for completeness' sake, send it to Mayor Berry, except I think he's on the right track already.

Sending it to our Congresscritter is a waste of time; he's one voice out of 435.

Pat in Albuquerque

Pat in Albuquerque.

Anonymous said...

In 2008, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 38.0 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 20.0 percent of adjusted gross income. I'd hardly say they "pay no taxes at all"

if you're talking about wealth not income, Are you advocating a tax on wealth? the government coming in and taking people's STUFF? Their possessions? just because they have too much?

I feel the same way about government enforced charity that I do about government enforced military service. A country that has lost it's instinct of self defence or charity deserves to fall. Luckily, America is still one of the most charitable countries in the world when it comes to private donations.

Mark Horning said...

Rand Paul would.

The first thing to do with military procurement is to end "cost plus fee".

Cost plus fee was supposed to save money. People were appalled by the profits that the .mil contractors made so they adopted cost plus fee. The problem is, if you tell a company you will pay it all of it's expenses plus 5% profit, that company is going to raise expenses.

Those $600 toilet seats? They actually cost $580 to make. Would a $20 seat with a $20 markup do just as well, of course it would, but then the company would have made an unseemly 100% profit instead of a measly 3.5%.

Cost plus fee is also why programs take 10-20 years to make something, there is no longer any incentive to beat the competition by being faster to market.

Ori Pomerantz said...

Mark Horning: Those $600 toilet seats? They actually cost $580 to make.

Ori: According to Tom Kratman, those toilet seats are for installation in airplanes that have to perform evasive maneuvers. They have to be the kind that won't fly off in the middle of such maneuvers and hit somebody, which requires them to be a lot sturdier than the normal kind.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Grrl. Yes, by all means, feel free to send this to whoever you think will read it.

Hi, Doragoon. There are sites all over the Internet which will show you that the top-profiting 10 corporations in the US paid no taxes at all last year. In fact, a couple of them got money from the govt. Since the courts have determined that corporations are legally "persons", they should damn-well pay the same tax-rates (and, if they commit crimes, go to jail) as regular citizens.

Hi, Mark. Just why did those toilet-seats cost $580 to make in the first place? What kind of mil-spec is necessary for a toilet-seat? Agreed, cost-plus-fee has got to go. And maybe a "reasonable time-limit" should be included in govt. contracts.

Hi, Ori. I'm still working on those tunes, BTW. I can see the need for a sturdy toilet seat on a plane that has to perform high-G evasive maneuvers, but how much $$ (or sense) does it take to just drive a thicker bolt through the seat-hinge?

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Mark Horning said...

Ori, You are thinking of the toilets on the B-1 bomber. Those have to maintain "integrety" when flying upside down. The $600 seats I am thinking of were the ones NG made for the Navy.

Les, they cost that much to make because Northrop machined them to the nearest thousandth of an inch rather than a more standard tolerance.

You also wouldn't believe how much money we wasted when I worked for the USAF inventorying stuff. Anything we bought became .gov property, so it had to be accounted for at the end of each year. Ever count a drawer full of 1-cent resistors (by hand) you spend $10 in labor to count 78 cents worth of parts. We usually just threw everything out, wrote "zero" in the column, and then reordered more when we needed more.

Leslie Fish said...

Okay, Mark, drop the other shoe; why did those toilet seats need to be machined within a thousandth of an inch?

Also, which wasted more -- counting 1-cent resisters for $10 an hour, or throwing out all that stuff just to shorten the paperwork? ...Did anybody come collect and recycle that stuff that was thrown out?

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Anonymous said...

I'd also get rid of agricultural subsidies...those things mainly enrich agricorporations, and distort the market in a lot of ways.

My rellies in Florida say it would be cheaper by far (and let us have cheaper sugar) if we stopped paying people to grow the stuff in Southern Florida...and it would also stop them wrecking the Everglades.

Aya Katz said...

Instead of listing ways to make the welfare state more efficient, why don't we just get rid of government intervention in all and any parts of the economy? Isn't that the most efficient, as well as the only moral solution?

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Raven. Agreed, those farming subsidies have to go. Likewise, the current soil-bank policies that are keeping something like 30% of our farm-land out of production. Hell, I'm only an organic gardener as a hobby, but I can think of ways to make even "inarable" land yield. I saw some desert land which my publishers own, and I saw two ways to get some decent $$ out of it: 1) For minimal set-up and maintenance costs, run dairy-goats on it and sell the milk to cheese-makers; 2) Since the soil is all sandy clay, dig it up and sell it to ceramics companies as "red porcelain". If I could think of that, I expect that any halfway competent farmer could do the same.

Hi, Aya. As an Anarchist myself, of course I'd prefer to bring down the whole state and set the people free to run the country themselves. However, I've learned through much observation that disassembling a govt. is a tricky and dangerous as dismantling a Hayden Barricade; you have to do it in just the right order, or the whole thing comes crashing down and crushes you.

When cutting down on govt. bloat, you have to protect the people who are least able to protect themselves in an economic war: people too sick or injured or old to do heavy work or move easily, single mothers with no salable skills and no resources, and so on. You can't just boot these people out into the street to save the budget, because they won't politely disappear; they'll form armies of desperation that will make the numbers of the homeless look trivial.

How do I know? As I said, I've worked for govt. -- as a Welfare Case-worker, in Detroit and Chicago. I've seen those so-called "welfare bums" lining up at 4 in the morning for a chance at a factory job, and I've seen them throw riots that burned big chunks of cities. I've seen them turn into heroes in an emergency, and I've seen them start up businesses of their own when given half a chance. We need to give them all that chance before we pull away the govt.-funded (and hideously inefficient) safety-net.

That's why the one thing I didn't put on that list was abolishing Social Security, or Medicare, or any of the welfare programs.

--Leslie <;)))><

Anonymous said...

Sure those people won't just disappear, but neither will the money that was going to help them. I like to wonder how many people wouldn't need government assistance if their families or themselves had had more of their income. How many more jobs would there be if owners could afford to hire more workers? how many more hospitals, or shelters, or training centers might have been built.

people used to invest in government bonds. they were seen as a safe investment. today we have social security which is seen as an even safer investment, even though it can be taken away from you by the government at any time and at best yields a return of less than government bonds.

I also don't like the idea of the government having to pay the people to keep them calm and from rebelling against the government.

Anonymous said...

Getting rid of a lot of the government regs that make it harder to hire a "marginal" worker would do a lot to ease the lot of a good few welfare recipients, or so it seems to me. I've never been in a position to do much hiring, but people who are have told me that they have to be very careful...once someone's hired, particularly after the first few months, getting rid of them can be extremely difficult. And this goes double or triple for members of groups "protected" by the government.

So one result is that when making hiring decisions, they go with the "safer" choice, and someone with, say, a spotty work history (don't I know all about THAT), or with mistakes in his past, even ones he's overcome and won't make again, is left out in the cold.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Raven. Agreed, getting rid of a lot of those stupid regs would make it easier to hire qualified people. More, if govt. regs on creating businesses were cut down, it would be easier for even poor people to start a business of their own -- which is the real solution to poverty.

--Leslie <;)))><

Ori Pomerantz said...

Thank you for working on those tunes.

Bear Helms said...

Oh please yes! Can you run for President next election? Let me know when your fund-raiser is going to be held, and I'll try to sock away my $1000 for your dinner plate...

Allow me the indulgence of commenting point by point:

1) Oh, don't I wish, and haven't I wanted that since the meltdown. I want them to stick their nose in these "derivatives" traded on Wall Street, too - because they have obviously required auditing. We tried to let Wall St be hands-off, but it seems as if they are being given too much opportunity to hide fraudulent and/or non-existent commodity that has a direct effect on the WORLD'S economy, because foreign and domestic assets are invested in these "instruments." You know, a musician plays an instrument, and a surgeon uses one. In the wrong hands, an instrument can deliver either a sour note or butchery to murder...

2) If you give them a 4-year reduction plan to cut back from their bloated staff to their svelte team, with bonuses for early compliance, I think it could be done. But when you're talking laying off 10,000 people from the Medicare system nationwide (I'm just guessing - no idea), this is a lot of unemployment in the civil service sector. Their unions will really fight it.

3) About damn time those guys started feeling what we've been going through - frozen wages for years, or added workload WITH wage decreases, e.g.

4) I agree. This definitely stinks of Pork Barrel accumulation over the centuries of Government operation... and it is ripe!

5) These engineers must be independent, not selected by the petitioner, nor retained by government, lest you establish your 3 levels of bureaucracy for them.

6) Yes, this will free the police, justice, and penal systems too. A lot fewer cases to prosecute; a lot fewer suspects to nab; a lot fewer relatively ordinary people to throw in with hardened criminals in jail. Marijuana is singular in being the only herb that has something like 47 valid medicinal applications (iirc), yet is only approved for use in a very few states of the US. I need not preach to you on it, however.

7) Absolutely agree with first sentence. I really want flat tax, simple exemption/deductible rules. I want it so you can do it with a pocket calculator and using the instructions that can be easily read on 8.5x11" paper (single sided), which has the entirety of how to calculate taxes for all individuals. A corporation is a legal person, so should it be taxed like a plural marriage of the count of people in the corporation? Or just as one person with one hell of an income? It should be fairly simple, too...

8) I'd love that. Aside from officers enjoying a relatively cushy post, I think the troops in those bases would appreciate that initiative too.

So then - do I tweet your URL, send it to my Congressman...? How best to repeat your message in a progressive manner?

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Bear. Best I can think of is to copy this and paste it into emails you can send to every politician and news medium you know. Also, see if you can find a site that makes and circulates petitions. If this list goes viral, enough people may choose to sign the petition that it gets onto the ballot in at least one state. If the petition passes, then we'll see a real explosion. Good luck.

--Leslie <;)))><

Anonymous said...

Historian David Kaiser's suggestion: "Cut all aid to Pakistan to zero."

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Grrl. I'd go further: cut all foreign aid to all Arab countries to zero. Their governments have been corrupt and untrustworthy clean back to the days of ancient Babylon, and they're nothing but a hindrance to us. Let's cut them all loose, shift to home-made renewable fuels, and let those benighted countries sink back into the sands from which they rose.

--Leslie <;)))><

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'd go farther still and cut off all foreign aid across the board. Friends of mine with experience of, e.g., Africa tell me that the vast majority of our aid is wasted.

The rationale was originally to help people recover from WWII or to help them against the Soviets. WWII's been over these sixty-six years as of this year, and the Soviets have been gone for over a decade. Time to zip the purse strings shut. Better to have no friends than friends whose friendship is bought.

Antongarou said...

eric, between countries the only friendship that will hold is one that is bought- either directly or in kind(i.e. trade agreements etc). That's because high order abstractions simply do not have any meaningful analog of social nets.

Bear Helms said...

The banks have 9% (at least) of their assets on deposit from foreign (meaning arab in this case) investors, so if you'd like to see a repeat of the depression-era run on cash at the banks, just upset the arabs enough to make them withdraw their deposits... in cash.

This is nothing of course compared to companies whose board of directors and equity ownership is 9-51% arab owned.

The problems started of course when we became friends with nations we knew were unstable and untrustworthy because of a resource we wanted. Deal with the devil, eh?