Commentary

Cut Smaller Spending Anyway

One of the favorite arguments used by interest groups opposed to cuts in their programs is that the money is inconsequential. Why target the National Endowment for the Arts, for example, just because it subsidizes pornographic “art”? The money saved won’t balance the budget. The same contention is heard with regard to foreign aid and welfare. They aren’t nearly as big as the public thinks, so why focus on them?

It’s true that the biggest budget busters are Social Security, Medicare and the Pentagon. So what? All of these deserve to be cut. But that doesn’t mean smaller programs should escape the ax. Consider foreign assistance, between $12 billion and $18 billion, depending upon how you define it. That may be pocket change compared to the deficit, but it represents the collective earnings of as many as 490,000 U.S. families. Surely Uncle Sam needs a better reason for squandering their money than the fact that it is only a small part of the deficit.

Indeed, the public rightly dislikes foreign aid because its record has been dismal. Money has been stolen and wasted; many recipients of U.S. largess are worse off after decades on the international dole. In fact, foreign “aid” has often hurt, subsidizing the worst authoritarian and collectivist regimes.

Similar is the case against welfare. This category of programs is much more costly than foreign aid, but it remains less expensive than Social Security. Again, however, so what?

Public officials have no right to divest workers of their earnings only to toss the money to the wind. In the case of welfare, initiatives intended to assist the poor have backfired, undermining families, promoting illegitimacy and fostering dependency.

In short, the worst problem with welfare is not that it is wasted and abused, though it is, but that it hurts the most vulnerable members of society. For this reason alone it should be targeted by lawmakers.

Obviously we will be better off if citizens understand the true dimensions of the budget problem. But no program, least of all these, should be exempt from scrutiny, cutting or elimination - however small it may seem to editorial writers who’ve never met a tax they didn’t like.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He served as a special assistant to President Reagan.