Many of you asked that I reopen my offer to interview (okay, mock) yet another proponent of balancing the U.S. budget with budget cuts alone. And so I will. Qualified volunteers are invited to nominate themselves in the comment section. State your qualifications and a thumbnail sketch of your plan for budget cuts.
Meanwhile, allow me to toss out some “bad versions” of how to balance the budget with cuts alone. I doubt any of these ideas are practical, but it might help you imagine how we can get there.
When businesses face large financial problems they don’t simply cut existing budget categories. They often change the very way they do business. They might offshore some types of work, close physical stores in favor of Internet sales, merge with competitors or suppliers, form strategic partnerships, sell off assets, and more. My point is that our government is thinking small. It should be thinking in terms of entirely new ways of doing things.
For example, old people are actually quite inexpensive if you don’t count healthcare, which I’ll discuss later. Old people (75 years old and more) eat like birds, have inexpensive hobbies, and generally have little interest in consuming. Suppose I offered you a deal: Take one old person into your home and pay no Social Security taxes as long as it lasts. You would provide shelter, food, cable TV, and perhaps some spending money for little stuff. The old person, if able, might do some house sitting, pet care, maybe some babysitting, and generally help out.
Now suppose you don’t have enough room in your home for an extra person but you still want in on this deal. You can volunteer as a driver for the elderly. You’re on call for a certain period each day to make doctor runs and any other local driving. And imagine a similar deal for people who are willing to assist the elderly in a variety of, well, icky duties.
At the same time perhaps we phase out Social Security for future generations. Ponzi schemes can’t last forever, especially if the population starts leveling off, which might happen here as it has in Italy. That would give us a few decades to reengineer society enough to figure out what to do with all of the oldsters.
Healthcare is the next hurdle. Imagine attacking the problem at the cause, where it costs the least. I’ve written about this before, but allow me to describe it again in this context. We begin by getting far more aggressive about eliminating cigarette smoking. I would characterize the government’s current activity in that area as hardly trying. With a little effort we could brainwash the next generation to believe smoking is like the Holocaust.
Obama’s plan to bring high speed Internet to 98% of the nation probably has a big healthcare advantage too. My healthcare company, Kaiser, already lets me email my doctor and avoid over half of my potential visits. I can even include a digital photo in my email. My guess is that half of all routine visits will be eliminated as this approach catches on. And perhaps if people still need some hands-on work, such as a bandage, or some stitches, your doctor sends you to a nurse practitioner. I see the Internet taking 10% off of healthcare costs.
There’s a school of thought that many drugs on the market actually cause more problems than they fix. I think we could reduce drug expenses by another 10% by being smarter about what is prescribed.
Next, we legalize doctor assisted suicide. We already do that, in a practical sense, because it is perfectly legal to give a suffering patient enough morphine to shut down his mind until the body catches up. But the way we do it now is expensive. If our country isn’t willing to sanction doctor assisted suicide on moral grounds, perhaps a nearby nation would be more flexible. That accomplishes the same thing. I’m frankly surprised it isn’t already happening. (Or is it?)
Now imagine a subprogram of a national healthcare plan that caters only to people who have healthy lifestyles and are willing to prove it. I could imagine a number of ways your lifestyle could be tracked. Annual hair and blood tests could check for nicotine and, indirectly, your diet. A motion sensor with GPS could be attached to your running shoes. Maybe your gym could keep track of the number of visits. And obviously your weight could be monitored. In return for this government intrusion on your privacy, which is entirely optional, your income taxes would be lowered. As a bonus, you’d be healthier too.
How about the military budget? NATO seems obsolete. Maybe we should explore some defense mergers and strategic partnerships that make more sense in our modern day. For example, wouldn’t it make more sense to have a military partnership with China and Russia and charge the rest of the world for “protection”? Together we could reduce our combined arsenals by a third and just maybe make a profit. Australia and Canada could disband their militaries entirely and pay some reasonable membership fees to the new Super Triumvirate for protection. Everyone wins. Except Taiwan. And Tibet. But maybe something could be worked out there too.
I suppose none of my ideas are practical. But I stand by my assumption that simply cutting existing budgets won’t get the job done. We need some major reengineering of how we do things.