Cut Smaller Spending Anyway

This article appeared in USA Today.

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 areSocial Security, Medicare and the Pentagon. So what? All of thesedeserve to be cut. But that doesn’t mean smaller programs shouldescape the ax. Consider foreign assistance, between $12 billionand $18 billion, depending upon how you define it. That may bepocket change compared to the deficit, but it represents thecollective earnings of as many as 490,000 U.S. families. SurelyUncle Sam needs a better reason for squandering their money thanthe fact that it is only a small part of the deficit.

Indeed, the public rightly dislikes foreign aidbecause its record has been dismal. Money has been stolen andwasted; many recipients of U.S. largess are worse off afterdecades on the international dole. In fact, foreign “aid”has often hurt, subsidizing the worst authoritarian andcollectivist regimes.

Similar is the case against welfare. Thiscategory of programs is much more costly than foreign aid, but itremains less expensive than Social Security. Again, however, sowhat?

Public officials have no right to divestworkers of their earnings only to toss the money to the wind. Inthe case of welfare, initiatives intended to assist the poor havebackfired, undermining families, promoting illegitimacy andfostering dependency.

In short, the worst problem with welfare is notthat it is wasted and abused, though it is, but that it hurts themost vulnerable members of society. For this reason alone itshould 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

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