Public Choice: Why Politicians Don’t Cut Spending


Let’s say you design a policy that takes
one penny from a million people, and it gives that $10,000 to one person. Who’s going
to know about this policy? Are any of the million going to even notice? I bet you the
guy who gets $10,000 will. I’m Ben Powell, Professor of Economics at
Suffolk University. Here we have politicians promising to cut spending, which voters generally
want. But that’s a dispersed benefit. When they actually pick the specific programs,
that’s a concentrated cost. Let’s do some real back of the envelope calculations here.
There’s roughly 300 million people in the United States. Roughly half of them are registered
to vote. That’s 150 million. If half of them show up in any given national election,
that’s about 75 million. For your vote to change the outcome of an election, it would
have to be exactly 37,500,000 to 37,500,000. And you showing up at the polls makes it 37,500,001
to tip the outcome so that you actually get a different result. What’s the likelihood
of that happening? Near zero. In fact, economists have figured out you’re more likely to die
in a car accident on the way to the polling place than to change the outcome of a major
national election. As a result, voters are massively ignorant
of the policies and their politicians. And it makes sense. But a lot of interest groups
are very well informed about policies, not all of the politician’s policies, but those
policies that specifically affect them. Farmers who get farm subsidies have a big incentive
to know which politicians support their subsidies and how much they’re getting. As a result,
they not only know about it but give money to the campaigns to help these people get
elected to make sure they stay in favor of the favored subsidies. Meanwhile, spread across
the food cost of an average American, it’s a trivial amount of money. So most Americans
don’t even know or feel this cost. And if they do, they hear some general ad on television
that talks about how farmers are good for America, and they feel good about this inefficient
policy. These same interest groups that lobbied to
get their benefits lobby to keep their benefits. This is the logic of politics, and this is
why we end up with more spending than the average voter usually wants.

Maurice Vega

100 Responses

  1. "one of the primary responsibilities of government[ is] to defend individuals from both foreign and domestic threats"

    That's the American definition of "government"; there is nothing about the classic definition that says we have to socialize world defense and/or that we have to spend preposterous amounts while doing it.

    BTW: cutting the military budget by half would save $0.35 TRILLION, far more than all cuts Rom/Ryan would produce by killing tons of decent government programs and seniors. =/

  2. I don't know who told you it would be "peachy" but the country currently has a 900 billion dollar deficit in the budget. If the DoD had their budget cut it half, it would save 336.5 billion dollars. So the deficit would be lowered to "only" 563.5 billion dollars, but there would be a lot more unemployed when you have to consider not only military personnel but people who work for companies that depend on military spending. With all those unemployed I think some of that 336 is going to be spent.

  3. "If the DoD had their budget cut it half, it would save 336.5 billion dollars."

    That's actually the first fair criticism I got; I didn't say anything about the tax changes that would also have to be made. Assuming the tax rates go back up to what they were pre-Bush-Era-Tax-Cuts, indeed that would be enough $.

    Google "the-three-best-charts-on-how-clintons-surpluses-became-bush-and-obamas-deficits", or hell I guess just look around for any stats on what the changing tax rates did to the deficit.

  4. The two wars combined have so far costed $1.3t. Had neither of them occurred it would barely have effected the national debt. Cut all military spending, fire all soldiers etc… and you still aren't even half way towards a budget surplus. Nice idea, too bad it doesn't hold up against reality.

  5. You're bad at math, aren't you? That's a very good-sized chunk of our debt; about a year's deficit, even.

    Please look over some of my other posts: I mentioned what we could CUT to save money; I didn't say it would fix the deficit, it's plainly obvious to me (and I suspect you're smart enough to see it too) that we have to raise taxes now and fairly drastically to reverse the damage Bush-cuts did to the economy if we still want to keep Medicare/Medicaid (ie if we still want to keep the elderly).

  6. True, but that debt is still a drop in the ocean. Raising taxes will not work, google the "laffer curve". You can only tax the rich so much. Medicare/Medicaid are $52t in debt in unfunded liabilities. There is no way to pay for it other than more debt. Why should the unborn be forced to pay for the entitlement programs of older generations? Why should they work into their 80s because their great-grandparents wanted free healthcare when they retired in their 60s?

  7. Roughly 10% of the entire national debt is a drop in the ocean?

    It was that thinking which lead to my first sentence in the last post…

  8. Okay, back on topic…
    I've seen a lot of people complain about how money in campaigns is corrupting government. But I think as long as the government has the ability to redistribute wealth (pick programs/projects, entitlements, etc), the problem will persist. A cure would be to deny the government/politicians the ability to direct significant funding (law or policy).

    I think the best way to do that is to constrain the ROLE of GOVERNMENT to those functions that cannot be handled privately.

  9. Seen it already, but thanks ^.^

    In case you were confused by my post (which was at character limit, so I couldn't exactly cover every single contingency in that one post), I did post addendums to that post that covered the fact that we will still have to raise taxes to fix the deficit no matter what we could all agree to cut; we currently have a bunch of services the majority of Americans want to keep; we'll have to reverse the Bush tax cuts to be able to afford them, or sadly cut them anyway.

  10. This video points out a huge problem with our system, that people need voting "blocks" how do you win a voting block? Give them the most free shit. (or policies that benefit them)

  11. I support not being interventionalist, but a strong military is one of the few things that a government can better provide for me than I can myself. The military budget is quite small, and although it's true that we spend more on our military than any other country, we should take into consideration that most of the military spending isn't "true" military spending. We have US military building bridges and schools on our dime, so if we look at the actual expenses, we see that it is still small.

  12. the broken window fallacy is about the money spent fixing the window not the money you pay someone to break it. and it isn't our window being broken.

  13. yes but defense spending is a very small part of our spending we need to cut entitlements because they are almost equal to the amount the government has in revenue every year.

  14. Look at that budget again: almost 700 billion is spent before we even get to Defense or the Spending portions. Cuts need to be made everywhere, and dead weight programs like the DOE (which is redundant when education is normally done as locally as possible anyway) and "medical" (I'm guessing you're looking at the DOH, which yes, at the very least, the HS can come off the tail end of that).

    If we don't make cuts Everywhere, Now, this country will collapse as all the others that overspent did.

  15. I agree with you. It is stupid when people, especially politicians, will say that something will create jobs. But you have one, large flaw in your math.
    We spend $600 billion on defense, at least in 2010. We spend $1 trillion more than we gain every year. So even if we cut all spending to military, and another half of what we spend on military, we won't fix the deficit. That being said, military is a good place to cut spending, and we should get out of wars and spend more on defense.

  16. Nice thought, but Obama will never stop killing "brown people" anymore than Bush would, and black people kill multitudes of White people annually for free.

  17. Maybe we/they could cut Congressional retirements, raises and perks, abolish the welfare state, foreign aid and the war budjet?

  18. You're quite possibly right (at least about the first thing; that second thing you mentioned just sounds racist, as I have no statistics showing that black people kill white people disproportionately to whites killing blacks, and if I had to guess I'd suspect it's probably the opposite).

    Also gratz to you being the only person to respond to that so far that didn't point out that no matter what we cut we still would have to raise taxes (even though we would, and I was wrong in my original post).

  19. Blacks are 39 times more likely to commit a violent crime against whites then vice versa, and 136 times more likely to commit a robbery.

    Forty-five percent of black crime is against whites, 43 against other blacks, and 10 percent against Hispanic.

    Blacks are seven times more likely to go to prison, Hispanics three times, and the reason is clear, because from 1980 to 2003 the US incarceration rate has tripled. (National Crime Victimization Survey, DOJ)

  20. Let's pretend that there were no socio-economic differences between races, that blacks aren't persecuted more and are found guilty of convictions at higher rates, or that there weren't times in this country (which was used in those stats you referred to) where it was socially approved to kill a black and not call it murder.

    Your "statistic" comes from The Color of Crime, which has been debunked numerous times as the author is ignorant of how to use statistics; he leads evidence, not follows it.

  21. Go to Google and type "RACE WAR, BLACK AGAINST WHITE", by Paul Sheehan of the Sydney Morning Herald. Sheehan is a respected journalist known the world over. The article is well documented. This situation is far, far worse now than when originally written.

    And, yes…you would have to play "pretend" to paint any other picture of this miserable and factual reality than what it surely is. Live in a world of make-believe and "let's pretend", if you wish. The rest of us must face reality.

  22. Afraid you're now trying for an appeal to authority… =/

    I'd highly suggest actually doing some study on statistics and how to use them; the people you keep choosing to represent your argument are terrible at it and could use the help. =/ (I particularly challenge you to look at the math for the stats you were talking about 1 post back, and look at it with the percentages of racial groups in mind; feministcritics(d0t)org/blog/2007/05/13/the-color-of-confusion has the math laid out)

  23. examiner (.) co m /article/federal-statistics-of-black-on-white-violence-with-links-and-mathematical-extrapolation-formulas

  24. Seek help. If you thought you did your viewpoint any good.. to put it softly: I'm just going to start referring less insane people of your persuasion to your post, just so they can see where such madness leads…

  25. Good video, LearnLiberty. I liked the farm subsidies example. What I want to know now is who the interest groups are that lobby for military spending.

  26. In the UK a small number of votes can make a huge difference as we have marginal seats which can determine elections .. So your individual vote might matter

  27. So it's more likely to die in a car accident than to change the outcome of a mayor poll?
    That makes sense when you only look at the 1 guy you animated there… But, see those 37,500,000 red and blue people on the scale? Yeah… those are also individual votes dude. I don´t think 37,500,000+ people die of car accidents on election day. It is together that we are strong. Besides, what you say about cutting spending is irrelevant when considering your country spends half its budget on the military.

  28. The channel Learn Liberty is owned by an organization called "Institute for Humane Studies" which is chaired by the Koch brothers. "Learn Liberty" contributors are paid to produce right-wing propaganda following the corporate agenda of the Koch brothers et al, who have also contributed millions to fascist organizations in the US.

    You can find this information on their website and their wikipedia page, though someone in IHS seems to keep a close eye on the wiki page to control its content.

  29. I've noticed a direct correlation between how much a video uses stylized graphics like this to explain concepts and how much bullshit is in it.

  30. This video doesn't apply to Ron Paul. They called him Dr. No in congress because he would never approve spending bills.

  31. Here's a plan: Cut appropriations for interest on required reserves for the banks as it has nothing to do with goods and services and start reducing the amount of reserves. If a business does have a shortfall, give them a loan at 0% or let them get the interest back as a tax break. Cut the 70 million dollars of appropriations to NASCAR in half and require them to use the remaining money to build electric race cars. Cut the 430 million appropriation to Hollywood by 75%.

  32. Here's a solution: Cut the whole government.
    That's craziness!!! It's not like private individuals would make groups and hire companies to do all the work that the bureaucratic government does…. Yep, everything: Defense, roads, security, fire, regulation, courts… Everything.

  33. Yup, and the average person loses a nickel here and a dime there, until suddenly it's added up to a huge chunk of their income, and the road to hell has been fully paved.

  34. Except that you're forcibly diverting resources from the sectors the market concludes to be the most efficient use. How can you possibly know that green energy is the most efficient usage? Along with that, how do you know which type of green energy is the best? And how much should you give that particular sector? And what companies?

    Fact is, these systems divert resources from productive activity into highly speculative and notably less productive activity, and will always devolve into (cont)

  35. various interest groups and companies lobbying and receiving subsidies and grants, not because their company is the best or because their particular brand of green energy is the best, but because they can lobby easier.

  36. Who is paying these people? Where are they getting their data? Fact check. The last major Presidential candidate that received about 37,500,000 votes or less was Mondale in 1984 (slightly more actually). The 2012 election had 60 million for the loser (Romney). It's been nearly 30 years and 3 census checks later. And I cannot believe a channel called Learn Liberty seems to be discouraging voting. That's what our democracy is based upon, no matter how screwed up it seems.

  37. so he seems to be saying if the gov would stop subsidizing people, companies etc, then they would use their resources to innovate and solve problems and earn their money instead they would just rather gamble with their money with a 100% chance of making a big hit, just read a pdf file called iron mountain report it explains the importance of wasting money, does't explain clearly why, why green energy is not working? why corp are paid not to produce wealth but extract it instead?

  38. Even if you are lucky enough to be the tie-breaker, you'll likely still be trumped by the electoral college! lol

  39. I don't know why, but when i see red headed people, i go into a stupor. I physically shut down, be it a man or a woman. I had to pause the video to type this. I would not be able to take his class. mind you, i also believe in ESP, so my viewpoint might be a little strange to most people, but red headed people's auras emanate weird vibes to me. i'm not saying they're evil, just …. strange. for example: it's like seeing a child covered in orange paint. it's not bad or good, just odd.

  40. And with no standards to judge the companies by, thousands would die from profit hungry groups who don't care that their products are harmful, so long as they make money off of them.

  41. Why would people buy products that are going to kill them? Individuals have the capacity to pick the best choices on things that impact them, much better than a few fat old men in Washington. This is the biggest lie and logical fallacy in statism: That people can't take care of themselves, and need some better *chosen* people to take care of them.
    So the standards would still exist, but people would just have to think for themselves what impacts their bodies, the environment etc. least harmfully

  42. Actually, the US spends WAY too much on military, social security, and medicare/medicaid. Over 65% of the budget on those three things alone.

  43. But it's more then lobbyists who are aware. The voters take part in the tragedy of the commons. The folks living in flood plains want the federal insurance. The folks who watch the dairy commission ads want the "high quality less expensive milk" I think (sadly) individuals at the base are very much involved in this tragedy and pushing it downhill. Sure, they may not notice the penny, but they really want the promised bene and that's part of this cycle too IMO. -BoydK

  44. Technically the term would be democratic republic. Majority rule of people will elect a group of representatives to lead their nation for x amount of years allotted. The dangers of democracy is it simply means majority rule. The majority does not always want freedom or liberty they may demand a tough leader sometimes the people so they can stop their perceived or realistic enemy. Liberty or freedom should be preserved at all costs even if the majority think it is overrated!

  45. There is a problem here too, the people who lobby/pay off these leaders can cause bailouts/welfare programs.
    The only way out is a pure capitalistic meritocracy, where tests determine if you can lead or not.

  46. as an account no;however, if you create a second account you could as a person. not much reason too though

  47. Great video. Keep it up. If more people see this channel's videos we can continue to raise awareness of how great libertarianism is

  48. I wish they would've expanded a little more on this one. This is a hugely important topic that warrants at least twice the time as many of the other videos Learn Liberty publishes. Particularly on the political backlash of cutting spending, the public's ignorance/perception of certain programs, and the communal incentive to bankrupt the country by putting individual interests over national interest. All of these, to a varied extent, are cultural issues. We need to wake up.

  49. If we had a Constitutional Amendment banning lobbying, this would solve MOST of our problems. The debates that PEOPLE have would actually similar to the ones our politicians would have.

  50. Of course people would attempt it! The purpose of having law is to act as a deterrent. By imposing real consequences relative to the crime, people will avoid that activity. Criminalization and strong enforcement aren't the only things which help prevent bad activity. An entire system of openness, accountability, results and yes, even goals, has to be implemented on government.
    It's complex but an Amendment would represent a strong stance toward creating a more ideal form of government.

  51. That's because overwhelming amount of clearly understandable scientific data demonstrates that global warming due to climate change is caused by manmade production of CO2 and other contaminants. The Keystone represents a way of processing tar sands oil which would pollute our air system at a rate even faster than current models, and we've already passed the dangerous 400 ppm mark which the earth hasn't seen in over 3 million years.
    Everyone should be against Keystone.

  52. We haven't legalised corruption in Europe so we still recognise it. South Europe does have problems such corruption but at least it's still illegal there. Do you think that there's no point in criminalising political corruption because some politicians may accept bribes after it’s been criminalised? The more America assimilates (Northern) Europe the better the whole world will be.

  53. This is a very good explanation of why Washington does not like to approach spending cuts. No one wants "their" program to receive fewer dollars.

  54. It is totally false to say your vote can swing a presidential election. The popular votes does not select the president – the votes of the electoral college do that. Hell, I know that and I am a New Zealander.

    Most states award ALL the votes of their college members to the person who wins in that state – meaning if you vote for the other guy, your vote doesn't count at all.

    At the college the voters are free to vote for whoever they like, by law.

    The popular vote therefore, means diddly squat

  55. True. In fact, our first couple Presidents never even had a popular election put them in, it was all the college. The occasion you are talking about is called faithless electors. Thirty states have laws punishing them. Also, they have never changed an entire election's outcome from the popular election.

  56. It would be nice to have a follow-up video explaining why Republicans are not really interested in cutting spending despite their rhetoric.

  57. Tax is like having each individual cell in your body picked off one at a time. You don't notice, but it costs you in the long run.

  58. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have nothing to do with gov't, but people still use them. The advantage of money to the average person is liquidity, and that is true regardless of its history of development or gov't involvement.

  59. The problem is women. They take more out of the system than men and have far more public sector jobs. They also vote more in a pack so they will vote for the politicians who will bribe them with free goodies.

  60. a contemporary version of  "Vois sur ton chemin" from Les Chorus in the background!! and liberals assume that conservatives are uncultured bigots…

  61. Actually, the government does not cut spending, only to ensure that there will be enough money in the money supply to pay the previous debt ( +interest) and mass defaults could be delayed

  62. The current monetary system was designed for ever increasing levels of borrowing. This current situation we're experiencing was guaranteed from day 1. It was just a matter of when.

  63. This is because nobody wants people to mess with the people who make their food and when we think of farmers we tend to think of sharecroppers working the land whereas the average farmer owns like 500 or even more acres.

  64. The electoral collage makes this voting animation pointless and untrue.

    You can win an election with only 24% of american's voting for you, though that is only possible in theory.

  65. This may forever be the best video introduction to public choice theory.

    Dispersed costs and concentrated benefits. This is the core of why government grows and always caves to special interests. The only effective way to fight it is to reverse the equation:

    Concentrated benefits need to go towards people who challenge bad laws (Uber/Lyft employees and users benefit directly in the process of challenging taxi cartels) while the costs of keeping the status quo have to become relatively higher.

    That's largely why the NRA has (thankfully) been successful. There are tangible benefits for gun owners to defend what they have: they don't go to jail over something they paid for, while the material benefits for people who support gun control are basically nothing.

  66. Uh 300 mil is not the eligible to vote population at the time of this video 237+ mil is census estimate. Now more sckeptical than usual about all videos by channel

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