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Contradictions of Fiscal Conservatism

Contradictions in Fiscal Conservatism
(Flickr/Eric Kilby) Exhibit Sign

President Donald Trump’s first eight months have revealed the contradictions of his expected fiscal conservatism.

Fiscal restraint is one of the key principles of conservatism. Yet, in matters small and large, Trump’s policies have, and will lead to, unwise spending.

Of course, events like Harvey can alter policy goals. Politicians cannot ignore people affected by this disaster.

However, well before Harvey, Trump’s actions reveal the contradictions between his praised fiscal conservatism and actual foolish frittering of taxpayer money.

Here are some small and big examples.

Contradictions, Small-Time

On Friday, the government announced that it would again prosecute a woman who had been arrested for laughing during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing. A judge had thrown out a previous guilty verdict.

Is laughing such a serious crime? Doesn’t the Justice Department have better things to do with taxpayer dollars? It’s as if the US has no serious crime.

Another way in which the Justice Department is wasting money is to emphasize prison, even for low-level and non-violent offenses.

The Economist — no bastion of liberalism —  recently pointed out that imprisoning someone in the US can cost as eight times as much as putting them on probation. And the low-level prisoners learn bad habits from the experienced prisoners. Talk about the cure being worse than the disease.

The State Department is yet another area where Trump is penny-wise and pound-foolish. In 2016, the department budget of about $46 billion was about four percent of the US discretionary budget. Trump has cut this down by more than a third.

Even if this is just an opening gambit on Trump’s part, the message it sends is bonkers. Diplomacy costs less than military invasion.

For example, one estimate in 2015 put the costs of a war with Iran at over five trillion dollars in direct costs. Indirect costs could range even higher. By comparison, the Iran negotiations probably cost a few million dollars.

Indeed, I wonder if the negotiations cost as much as Trump’s weekend trips. In May, Fortune reported that the costs amounted to over $20 million in taxpayer money.

Contradictions, Bigly

Two big-ticket items of government spending are in health care and defense. Both are preventive measures for the internal and external security of our country.

Almost 23 percent of government spending goes towards health care. President Obama tried to rein in the costs through Obamacare.

Republicans and Trump have railed against and tried to repeal Obamacare. They have been unsuccessful, so far.

From a fiscal conservative standpoint, a single-payer system could be cheaper. In July, an economics professor made a compelling case for how such a system would cut costs.

Defense is yet another area of conservative contradictions. Nearly 11 percent of government spending goes towards defense. Far from cutting expenses, the Republicans in both the Senate and House want to spend more money in this category.

Finally, Hurricane Harvey has revealed the contradictions of fiscal conservatives. A cartoon in the Salt Lake Tribune aptly pointed out the blindness of these conservatives.

Fiscal conservatives in the House and Senate know that blocking aid to Harvey victims would be politically unwise. Survival will subjugate contradictions.