Friday, January 29, 2010

Budgetary Boondoggle Madness

The headline reads "Senate permits gov't to borrow an additional $1.9T."

That "T" stands for trillion. For once, a modern cliché has it right. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insane, by definition.

In this case, of course, the madness can't continue indefinitely. No one can predict exactly when the whole house of cards — to use another well-worn, but useful cliché — will come tumbling down. I predict within the next five years. Luckily, since I have a very bad track record of picking stocks, that time frame could be woefully far off the mark.

In any case, there's no escape from the laws of economics any more than there are those of physics. Sooner or later the Chinese will stop buying, either because they'll have to or they'll no longer believe the U.S. will (or will be able to) pay the interest. When that happens, it's game over. Unfortunately, we'll be the ones looking for a chair when the music stops and the only ones available will be electrified.

But, for a moment — as a useful exercise — let's take the perspective of the utilitarian collectivist and ask what we got (or could get) for that huge sum of money.

A trillion dollars is 1,000 billion. At a (rough) cost of $10 billion each, 'the U.S.' could build 100 new nuclear power plants. Is even a single one likely to start in the next five years? Doubtful.*

Is the banking system more stable than it was two years ago? Opinions are all over the place, but even at the height of the 'crisis' few worried about Wells Fargo, BB&T or any of a dozen other major banks going under. (Wells Fargo was actually in buying mode, scooping up failed WaMu from a Fed-backed BofA without a single week of disruption to WaMu's customer base.)

Is food cheaper? No, it's gone up by about 20%.

Are there a large number of individuals who have collectively received a trillion dollars of additional free medical care (above and beyond the norm)? Will they in the next year?

Are there a $1T worth of new or improved roads or bridges? Will there be five years from now, paid for by this (1 year's worth of) spending?

No. No to all of the above (and a thousand other examples one could, with sufficient patience, list off the top of the head). The Federal government, unsurprisingly, has not — will not because it can not — deliver any such benefits. It does, however, have the world's most well-oiled machine for pumping out excuses, which will prove as useful as ever once things don't work out as promised.

In the end, this will be simply another $1.9 trillion dollars poured down a rathole to benefit almost no one — except the politicians themselves and a few cronies, of course, who get
  1. an undeserved, and temporary salve to a guilty conscience by regarding themselves as 'benefactors of the downtrodden' (and even that based on an illusion),
  2. a slightly improved chance of re-election if, as is almost certain, some chunk of that money goes to pay off union leaders and other ACORN or OFA-like vote-arrangers, and
  3. to defer (for a time) some measure of the unpleasant consequences from bad policies of the past four decades.
When will the madness end? When the majority of American citizens put a stop to it. When will that be? Your guess is almost certainly better than mine.

*Update: Apparently, there is one.

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