Monday, February 21, 2011

Bruce Bartlett on the budget

Bruce Bartlett is one of the few sane conservaitves still around. (See his bio at the bottom of this post.) He has a nice post on Obama's budget, which he finds useful mainly for its statistical data.
The budget also contains a chapter on federal regulation because the Office of Management and Budget, which compiles the budget, oversees federal regulatory policy. One of the things OMB strives to do is ensure that regulations meet a cost-benefit test. If at all possible, the benefits should exceed the costs.

Of course, conservatives routinely deny that there are any benefits whatsoever to federal regulation; they simply impose unnecessary costs. However, it is obvious that many health and safety regulations confer enormous benefits, and we also know from experience that corporate America often cuts corners in pursuit of profits. Consequently, there are many cases where the benefits of a regulation exceed the costs.

Lastly, the budget contains a chapter on social indicators, a laundry list of various statistics that tell us how well we are going as a society in improving living conditions. Many of these indicators, such as the unemployment rate and real median family income, are fairly well known. Others are more obscure.
For example, we see that the share of total income going to the lower 60 percent of households has fallen from 32.3 percent in 1970 to 26.6 percent in 2009. At the same time, the share going to just the top one percent of taxpayers has risen from 7.8 percent in 1970 to 17.7 percent in 2008. Obviously, if the benefits of growth are not widely shared and are going disproportionately to the well-to-do, it’s something people ought to care about.

We also see that air pollution has fallen sharply over the last 30 years according to a variety of indicators in the budget, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions per capita are trending downward, infant mortality has fallen from 26 per 1000 live births in 1960 to 6.6 in 2008, life expectancy at birth has risen from 69.7 years in 1960 to 77.8 in 2008, the percentage of the population that smokes has fallen from 37.4 percent in 1970 to 20.6 percent in 2009, the violent crime rate has fallen from almost 5 percent to just 1.7 percent in 2009, and so on.

There are, of course, many other things in the budget document worth calling attention to. The point I would like to leave is that the budget is much more than just some proposals relating to taxes and spending; it’s a resource that tells us a great deal about how the government operates and its impact on society. Sometimes that impact is for ill, but often for the good. Those looking for good ammunition to counter the relentless disparagement of government that comes from Republican politicians and right-wing think tanks can find it here.
Here's a paragraph from his bio.
Bartlett’s work is informed by many years in government, including service on the staffs of Congressmen Ron Paul and Jack Kemp and Senator Roger Jepsen; as staff director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress; senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House; and deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush administration.

No comments: