Saturday, July 16, 2011

Waste, the Budget, and the Debt Ceiling

I've posted parts of this before, but given Obama's ultimatum to Congress yesterday, I think the expanded version should be shown again. I happily encourage everyone to copy this and mail it on to your congresscritters. If they get bombarded with enough repetitions, they might even listen.

There’s a simple way to deal with Obama’s ultimatum about the Debt Ceiling. Yes, vote to raise the Debt Ceiling right now, but make it clear that this raise is temporary; it will end within a year. Then pay our various debts to other countries, particularly China. Then, call in all our war-debts from World War Two, particularly from China. World Opinion can’t complain if we claim: “Fair is fair. We’ve paid our debts, now you pay yours.” As I recall, the only country which has ever completely paid us back for all the money, arms and supplies we loaned them in WWII is Estonia – which paid up in 1975. All the rest seem to have conveniently forgotten that they owe us anything. Best remind them.

Then we can get down to seriously trimming our federal budget, and that will be quite a show. 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, complete with canny lawyers who can translate Legalese and tell what enabling bills really say. 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 – including corporations – to pay no taxes at all, and raise the minimum-income level which obliges to poor to pay 15% of their income in taxes. Don’t raise taxes; just close the loopholes.

8) Close those 80+ overseas military bases that we no longer need, bring the troops home and put them to guarding our borders against illegal immigrants from anywhere.

9) Abolish the Federal Reserve and base our currency on federal government property – of which the government has plenty – as well as precious metals.

10) End all subsidies, to everybody. Period.

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?


Aya Katz said...

Leslie, waste is a natural consequence of plenty. Give people a lot of food on their plate, and they will only eat the choice tidbits. The rest will go to waste. Feed them a small serving every day, and they will be hungry enough to eat everything, even the bones and the gristle. This is human nature.

The way to trim waste is to cut spending. It's never going to work the other way around.

Antongarou said...

Leslie, I'm not sure your #2 and #4 are feasible and/or possible.

as to #2: I served as quartermaster's in the IDF. Part of my work was ordering forms for the rather big rear-echelon base I served in, we had about 20 forms that were regularly used(from disciplinary trial forms to quartermaster's forms for ordering stuff) about 10-20 others that were more rarely used. None of them, including the rarer forms were useless- they were necessary, at the very least for record-keeping.And I know for a fact that there were dozens of forms we didn't need and other bases(say, fuel depots) needed.Considering that the IDF has less then 200K people on active duty at any given moment.some of your federal bodies are way bigger

As to #4, from what I know "levels of management" is just a demarcation line between general levels of power- a branch manager and a PR manager may have similar scope of power and responsibilities in totally different areas while the PR director has much more of both and the team leaders and shift managers have less.Every organization chart, including the army, can be divided into these levels.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Aya. I suspect that, after the forensic bookkeepers have gone through the system, the survivors will be *very* careful about waste. At that point you can cut the spending with nobody daring to complain. And once the new structure and budget are set, it'll take years to barnacle them again.

Hi, 'Garou. I used to work for the Welfare department, in Chicago and Detroit, and I saw that all the necessary information the bureau ran on could be done within ten forms -- including the inter-office memo. Thanks to computers, nowadays you wouldn't have to rewrite a whole file to add new information to it. As for levels of managers, seeing how much of the departments' actual work those layers of managers did is what decided me on no more than three levels: local, county and state. (I had good reason to suspect that the reason the state govt. kept adding new layers of management was to provide sinecures for their brothers-in-law.) Yes, your specialist-managers would be the lowest level -- the equivalents of sergeants in the army -- but above the specialists, all you'd need is the regional coordinator to link them all together. The best way to manage is *not* to micro-manage, but to explain the work to your workers and then stand back, watch them for competence, but otherwise leave them alone. "That governs best which governs least", as we've had reason to say about other things.

--Leslie <;)))>< Fish

Anonymous said...

"Nice little country youse have here. Be a shame if it had an accident...and accidents happen to them who don't pay their bills, capiche?"

"Ever since we had Tony Soprano as Secretary of State, the loans have been being repaid incredibly fast!"

Aya Katz said...

Ravenclaw Eric, if only!