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A Society of Fear?

09/25/2011

My frustration with the Tea Party has been their simplistic focus on spending, without making the critical distinction between entitlements (which consume the vast majority of government spending) and discretionary spending (which is a far smaller problem).  I’ve discussed in this space before that a 100% elimination of discretionary spending would not eliminate our deficit problem.  There is no mathematical way to solve the deficit problem without solving the entitlement problem first.

If the Super-Committee doesn’t reach agreement by Thanksgiving and if Congress doesn’t approve it by Christmas, then automatic cuts become effective . . . all to discretionary spending and none to entitlement spending.

Playing the Tea Party game of ignoring the 800-pound gorilla in the room that is entitlements, let’s look at just one problem in discretionary spending, i.e., prisons, which consume a “mere” $200 billion of taxpayer dollars each year . . . to house, feed, clothe, and provide free medical care to 2.3 million Americans.  (In 1980, it was only 500 thousand.)

The median incarceration rate for all countries is 125 prisoners for every 100 thousand people.  In Japan, it is only 63.  In Germany, it is only 89.  In England, it is 153.  However, in the United States of America, it is a staggering 743!  Are we twelve times more evil than Japan and five times worse than England?  Shouldn’t the Tea Party also ask why we are so much more evil than the rest of the world?

The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but has 25% of the prisoners . . . at a cost of $200 billion every year!

There are at least two problems in cutting this discretionary spending item.  First, we are bombarded with fear.  We spend unlimited dollars to reduce risk only a minimal amount.  There is no cost-benefit analysis for safety . . . but maybe, there should be.  Mankind has always lived with some degree of risk.  Why are we willing to bankrupt ourselves to eliminate it now.  Again, we are bombarded with fear!

Second, the elected cowards in Congress and state capitals also live in fear . . . fear of being called “soft on crime.”  It is too easy to pass legislation increasing the number of punishable crimes or increasing the length of sentences and then let another generation of elected cowards pay for it.  If they could think beyond warehousing people to fixing people, it would help.  If the objective is to reduce costs, we can stop sending so many people to prison or make their sentences more “token” or we can try to fix them, and if that doesn’t work, we can execute them more quickly.  What is the Tea Party position on this?

Perhaps, I am too skeptical of the Tea Party.  After all, it is not the duty of the Republican party members nor the Democratic party members to design legislation.  That is the role of the elected cowards.  But, maybe the Tea Party could focus their understandable ire toward the real spending problem, which is entitlements.

The Tea Party could help enormously if they would send a message to “Cut my Social Security check” or “I’ll pay for my own health care, thank you.”  It is cowardly to merely increase the bombardment of fear.  We have enough of that already!

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