March 10, 2013

The Sequester and the Congress Are a Disgrace

After the American Century                                                                                                                                                      

The current deadlock in Washington is the result of a failed political process. In particular, the United States Senate has created rules that prevent it from getting anything done. The House is little better. The public watches with a mixture of amusement, anger, and despair. The poll ratings for Congress are so low one might think the United States had a legislature made up of appointed political hacks. Could intelligent and dedicated politicians really produce anything as inane as the Sequester?

Neither Americans nor the rest of the world can respect such legislative incompetence. A Chinese cartoonist depicted the situation this way in The China Daily:

In Britain, The Economist concluded, "The rather camp-themed scenario in which Congress tries to force itself into behaving with the spectre of whips and cattle prods ends with the US economy handcuffed to the bed and no immediate prospect of escape."  The Economist makes the spectacle sound a bit kinky, but I find it just sad. What investor or voter can be inspired by such intransigence and incompetence? The economy is improving, and the unemployment rate is falling, but the sequester threatens to undermine the recovery. European nations have tried austerity measures based on analysis, perhaps mistaken analysis, but some thought went into it, and they have failed. The US now has embraced mindless, robotic austerity measures, which one assumes are certain to fail, though the American economy is actually doing better than it should, under the circumstances.

The automatic across the board cutbacks that are imposed by the Sequester Agreement are literally mindless. Rather than take a hard look at Federal spending, the cutbacks make no distinction between programs that are working and useful, those that are pork, or those that have outlived their original purpose. Uniform cuts, in the end do not make any sense. Should the government build half an aircraft carrier or half a fighter plane? Should school children get lunch some days but not others? To put it another way: are all the things the government does of equal value? Are all of them of equal urgency? Do all of them stimulate job creation to the same degree? Do all of the government's programs have an equally beneficial effect on the environment? Clearly the answer to all of these questions is "NO."  Some programs create jobs and have a multiplier effect, and others retard economic growth. Some prevent pollution, others create it.  

The job of the legislature is to make intelligent choices between programs. Which ones should be funded, and to what extent? But Congress is in dereliction of its duty. It has ceased to function intelligently. It avoids choices. It does not engage in intelligent debate followed by compromise. It has abdicated responsibility and allowed uniform, mindless cuts in every program. 
The current US Congress is a disgrace.