Spending cuts are easy in the abstract

We’ve been hearing a lot about cuts to “domestic discretionary spending,” but what, exactly?  These cuts are really easy in the abstract, but as Chait points out, specifics are hard:

The larger question here is, what level of domestic discretionary spending do Republicans find appropriate? I’m familiar with the party’s thinking on defense spending (more!), Social Security and Medicare (privatize and cut!), as well as taxes and regulation. But, despite following conservative thought quite closely, I’m fairly unclear as to whether the party thinks we’re spending way too much on non-entitlement programs — whether there’s any defined endpoint, or simply a goal of cutting as much as politically feasible forever.   [emphasis mine]  The actual impact of Republican budgets here is things like slashing funding on transportation infrastructure or food inspectors.  Yet you almost never see conservative argue for slashing those programs.

I’m surprised that Chait is unclear– I’m not.  The answer is “a goal of cutting as much as politically feasible forever.”  To actually have a position on what should be cut– other than the classic “waste, fraud, and abuse,” you’d have to think seriously about policy.  I’ve not seen one iota of evidence that the modern Republican party, at least those in Congress, pretty much ever thinks seriously and honestly about policy.

Social class and hostility

Mike Barr hasn’t commented on my blog in a while.  Perhaps its because I ignored the cool research he sent me.  Anyway, here’s a really cool experiment about how social class affects threat vigilance (i.e., chip-on-the-shoulder-ness) and hostility:

In Study 1, participants engaged in a teasing interaction with a close friend. Lower-class participants—measured in terms of social class rank in society and within the friendship—more accurately tracked the hostile emotions of their friend. As a result, lower-class individuals experienced more hostile emotion contagion relative to upper-class participants. In Study 2, lower-class participants manipulated to experience lower subjective socioeconomic rank showed more hostile reactivity to ambiguous social scenarios relative to upper-class participants and to lower-class participants experiencing elevated socioeconomic rank. The results suggest that class affects expectations, perception, and experience of hostile emotion, particularly in situations in which lower-class individuals perceive their subordinate rank.

Mike comments:

The article below seems to provide additional evidence of the impact of social class on a multitude of behaviors.  In addition to the outcomes described below, I bet that the way people deal with authority, roles, and rules in the workplace is also related to the dynamics described below.  I have seen first-hand the way people from low SES backgrounds (sometimes AAs, but frequently low SES southern whites) reacted to being told what to do by a foreman, boss, or whatever – they often took this as a personal affront to their pride or social status rather than recognizing this as part of the role of being an employee.   I observed this time and again in the New Orleans area (as a busboy, general laborer, and tree trimmer, and general roofer), Tennessee, rural south Georgia, and Philadelphia.   The folks who had problems dealing with the roles and responsibilities off the workplace were often resentful of being told what to do, combative, quick to feel insulted, blustered about kicking people’s asses, and would often express their frustration by working more slowly, sloppily, or complaining, being late, loafing, etc.  Basically, anything they could do to express autonomy and try to bolster their standing.

This is the kind of research that ought to inform a lot more of our public debates about class, race, academic performance, social mobility, and employment.

Indeed.  Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to encounter a lot less of this than Mike.  I was intrigued of the idea of social rank “within the friendship,” though.  Not quite sure how that’s defined, but I had a good friend growing up who was clearly a lower “social rank” than the rest of our group of friends and it certainly led to a fair amount of hostility– though generally manifested in a very passive-aggressive style.

Infographic of the day

Looks like it’s a visual day (and I already had a “chart of the day”).  Via the White House:

U.S. National Debt


Don’t know when this came from, but I just came across it and I know my social-science readers will love this:


Solving the long-term deficit issue

So, I was thinking about the debt in this shower this morning (yep, that’s the sort of thing I think about in the shower) and it was just annoying to realize how straightforward this all is while we’re pretending otherwise.  We don’t have a spending problem right now– we have a revenue problem.  What’s the best way to increase revenue?  Actually get Americans working again.   I’m not original in this thought, but damnit, that’s what we should be working on.  And you know what, it may cost some money to do it– look at all the government workers laid off in states around the country.  Some federal stimulus aid directly to states, like the first time around, could put those people back to work, and, of course, have spillover effects as those people would be spending money that would help keep other people working.  And, don’t even give me, “but the stimulus didn’t work” (cue whiny voice).  It did.  Just not enough because the mistake was to under-estimate the size of the economic difficulties we were facing.  Unemployment would’ve gotten a lot worse without the stimulus.

It’s crazy, we know what needs to be done, but we’re pretending otherwise, because we’ve in thrall to the economic Know-Nothingism of the Tea Party.  Here’s my analogy.  Okay, so you need a car to be able to drive to a decent paying job.  We bought a car, but it was cheap, and it overheats.  We can only drive to the Wal-Mart 5 miles away.  If we spent more money to get the engine fixed, we could drive to a much more lucrative job 12 miles away.  Alas, we’ve got a bunch of people telling us we just cannot afford to fix the engine and get a better job– we’ve got to live with the Wal-Mart wages.

And, of course, when it comes to government revenue, I didn’t even mention the Bush tax cuts.

Chart of the day

Via Drum:

What’s pretty clear is that the real growth is in health care.  You want to rein in long-term  spending, then you should want to rein in health care spending– especially Medicare.  Interestingly, only one political party has made any serious attempts to do this (I said serious, not the Paul Ryan plan).  It’s not perfect, but it’s a little something called the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.”  Or as Drum concludes:

Generally speaking, defense, discretionary, and interest expenses aren’t an issue and don’t really need any special attention. Social Security is basically fine and needs only a few small tweaks. The only thing we should be seriously concerned about is healthcare spending. Period. That’s the whole story. Anything else is just partisan showmanship.

Those are the facts. Pass ’em along.

I believe I just did.

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