Who’s Ignorant on Spending? Voters or “Experts”?

The new Republican-led Congress is trying to get started on it’s campaign promise cut spending. Apparently it’s not as easy as they thought.  Part of the problem is their ignorance about the federal budget and budget process (see GOP Cuts Budget with Axe).  But not understanding the difference between an appropriation bill and an authorization bill isn’t their big challenge. I’m confident that even the slow learners will pick that up eventually.

The bigger problem in cutting spending has the econ-blogosphere all atwitter.  It seems that Americans only really want cuts to some big, non-specific, generic “government spending”.  When it comes to actually cutting what the government spends in on particular programs, they sing a different tune. They don’t want cuts to Medicare, or to Social Security, or to the military (if it affects the base/contractor near them), or to education, or to WIC, or most anything else except maybe foreign aid. My guess is they will also oppose cuts to foreign aid once they figure out that much U.S. foreign aid actually subsidizes our sale tanks/planes/corn produced just down the street. Conservative columnists like Bruce Bartlett have described it as “Voter Ignorance Threatens Deficit Reduction”. Catherine Rampell of the NYTimes weighs in similarly with “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Government Programs!”, which documents how large numbers of government spending-beneficiaries don’t think they get any benefits from the government, including 40-44% of Medicare and Social Security beneficiaries. Even Krugman has weighed in on the topic.

Most of this commentary has adopted a tone of “it’s hard to cut spending and the deficit when voters are so ignorant”.  But I wonder if the the ignorant part isn’t the voters, but rather the self-styled pundits and politicians who are the ignorant ones.  Voters are going along with the generic “cut spending in concept” because they’ve been repeatedly sold and preached propaganda claiming that we have a “deficit crisis”.  (We don’t have a deficit or debt crisis in the U.S. –see here, here, and here.) Voters, when polled, go along with saying they want to cut spending because that’s what’s popular – it’s what we’re told over and over. It’s a popular thing to say that government is all waste. Our culture is built around the idea that only private-profit seeking is “productive” or “valuable”.  But when voters are asked about specific programs, they do see  the value. They know that Social Security is necessary. Medicare is necessary. Government spending on education, infrastructure, basic research, science, and the like are all necessary government services. The private sector will not provide those services in the proper quantity or at an efficient price.  Hence they oppose specific proposed cuts in polls. It may be the voters, who depend on the value of those government services, know the value better than the pundits, experts, and politicians who aren’t personally familiar with these programs because they’re in the elite, higher income group.

One thought on “Who’s Ignorant on Spending? Voters or “Experts”?

  1. The point you are making is particularly appropriate as regards information/propaganda which is broadcast/presented in the MSM. I have spent quite a bit of time reading comments at various blog sites, particularly, those which emphasize utilization of modern money concepts such as those utilized by W G (Bill) Mitchell, L R Wray, W Mosler, etc. Invariably, the neo liberals, precious metal believers, and those who simply pay attention to the MSM have difficulty trying to understand MMT as a concept which could permit dealing directly with unemployment problems. Several sites (billy blog, center of the universe, the pragmatic capitalist, etc) provide written summaries which may enable the enthusiast to understand the updated modifications of chartalism; unfortunately, most of the financial ‘experts’ who appear regularly on the MSM don’t bother to learn. It is my opinion that the proponents of MMT concepts should develop better communication strategies. I noted that Peter C posted some results of his experiences as blog commentator/writer in which he emphasized similar points; following, is a comment I left at his site the other day:


    ‘7 February 2011 at 8:20 PM
    It is good to read that one of the MMT-proponents recognizes several of the major stumbling blocks which appear to impede communication of MMT ideas to others who profess interest in, or familiarity with, finance/economics. I had seen the Mike Norman/S Varney shouting match shortly after it appeared and found it puzzling that Mike was not better prepared to deal with Varney’s predictable behaviors. I also have followed comments on most of the blog sites dealing with MMT and have frequently noticed arguments similar to those mentioned by Peter C. Unfortunately, only a few commenters appear to have both the understanding, familiarity with a wide range of economics sources, and the ability to communicate in an effective manner.

    Although I am neither a financial or economics expert, I have an interest in the ideas promoted by the various teachers/practitioners of MMT who think/claim that they actually understand what is going on in the world today. If one wishes to influence popular opinion today and has lots of wealth to expend in such an effort, one can always try to use the MSM, however, that does not strike me as a prudent path for obvious reasons. On the other hand, if you were to pitch your arguments in a way/using a technique that has the possibility of facilitating conveyance of information to a broader audience, such an effort might prove a winner. In this context, I have left comments at several (5-6) blog sites to indicate that visual techniques (especially, animation, cartoons or comic strips) will be noticed and, if done well, will convince; example comments at W Mosler’s site:


    There have been only a few indications of agreement; however, these types of effort would require background information, time and talent which neither I nor you may possess. On the other hand, should this be read by someone who knows of a suitable candidate, this could be a useful challenge.’

    In looking around at other sites for possible models, I recently came across one designed by Brendan McCooney which is devoted to presentation of ideas of K Marx in an easily understandable form: his website url is kapitalism101.wordpress.com and I left a message there the other day:


    I am a retired biochemist who has been attempting to understand economics as it relates to our current economic condition. Over the past few years, it has become clear that no one among the current economic elite seeems to understand how economics in a sovereign country/nation should work; on the other hand, there are several academics and financial practitioners who are able to understand a concept which the Australian economist – Wm G Mitchell, calls modern money theory (MMT). Drs Wm Mitchell and L Randall Wray (UM at KC) have developed these concepts which focus on how fiat currency should work and are apparently working on writing a textbook which is supposed to go to press sometime this year or next. Meanwhile, others are attempting to communicate with the their peers via various blogs and one finanical expert (Warren Mosler) has recently tried his hand at politics by running as a third party candidate for the US senate seat in CT. As I followed the various discussions at their favored blog sites, it has become clear that they are sort of stumbling around and are unable to get the attention of their peers. The other day, I left a comment at Peter C’s site – heteconomist.com:


    to the effect that they might be able to communicate more effectively if they were able to use visual media such as you employ. I know the names of many of the principals, but have no personal contacts; on the other hand, there is a fellow named Tom Hickey who frequently comments and who has a unique background which might enable him to collaborate in such a project as he always offers explanations with which the economists seem to agree. I have no idea how/whether a discussion of MMT might fit into your efforts at kapitalism101, but I thought I would make an attempt to communicate some information which might be of interest.

    Brendan McC’s YouTube.com site is nicely done and from the comments, one can see that his videos are conveying information which is of wide interest; his design, involving provision of a written transcript, is especially helpful for those who might have more than a transitory interest in a particular aspect of the subject. I realize the presumptive nature of a comment which suggests that another individual do something useful, however, I do not have the requisite talents/background to a job which definitely needs to be done.

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