11 June 2012

It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it.

George W. Bush

At the head of a large company, the CEO is about to retire. The board of directors is interviewing two of the VP's to replace the CEO.

The first VP gets up to make a presentation, "I want a bigger budget to do more. If we are able to get a bigger budget, we will be able to make more profit, and return more money to the shareholders."

The second VP gets up and says: "No, the first VP is crazy. We already have way too much bloated bureaucracy in the company. We need to cut down the budget, make operations leaner, and in this way we will be able to make a bigger profit and return more money to the shareholders."

The board is impressed with both presentations. They ask each VP how much of a budget each would need to execute their plan.

Crickets. Neither has an answer.

If this were a real job interview, neither would get the position, and they would probably both be fired. However, every four years, we elect one of these people to be the president of the United States.

When it comes to the operation of our government, there are really only a couple of numbers that matter: how much we're taking in, how much we're spending, what we're spending it on.

Unfortunately, candidates and political parties never talk about numbers. Democrats say, "We need more taxes, and more services!" Republicans say, "We need lower taxes and smaller government!" Neither says we need $2 trillion to provide the following services.

The problem is, you can't constructively debate an idea like "we need more" or "we need less," because both are true. There are more than enough examples in our society where democrats can point to and say "we need more." There are also more than enough examples where the republicans can point to and say "we need less."

What we should be doing instead is debating the details of the numbers. The cold hard numbers are something we can have a constructive debate on. The percentage of money that is allocated to the various federal activities is something we can have a legitimate discussion about.

We can't have a legitimate discussion about how the government does too much (it does) or the government does too little (it does). The ideas are too abstract and trivially true.

So, to all the democrats who think there should be more taxes and more services, and to all the republicans who think there should be less taxes and smaller government, I am begging you to stop the rhetoric and start engaging in a productive conversation. Pick a number that you think is appropriate for taxes and spending. Think about where that money should be going. Now we can talk.