Thursday, October 8, 2015

Ben Carson and the Budget

I have been seeing a few chuckles over a recent interview of Ben Carson which makes clear that he does not know what the debt ceiling is.

To be fair to Carson, he does some idea of the budget.  He says that if we run a fiscal gap, even a small one, it will build up greater and greater debt over time.  And he has a plan for balancing the budget -- two plans, actually.  First, he will cut fat and make government more efficient.  Second, he will cut spending by 3-4% across the board for a few years to narrow the fiscal gap and balance the budget.  Somewhat unclear -- whether that means cutting everything 3-4% by reducing administrative overhead, or simply cutting everything 3-4%.  (Social Security, for instance, has an administrative overhead of pretty close to zero, but is our biggest ticket item).  And there is the fact that he expects balancing the budget to take several years, but a refusal to raise the debt ceiling requires balancing the budget over night.  (Latest estimate, cannot find link, is that balancing the budget overnight means a 20% o immediate cut.  That is a definite improvement over the 40% cut that was necessary at the time of the first debt ceiling crisis, but still traumatic).  And there is his vision of what he would do as President:
We need to maximize the potential of every single one of our people. You know, we need to understand that education is the great divide in our nation. There’s going to be a much more emphasis on educational choice. Also, recognizing that if we get defense wrong, nothing else matters, because we live in a hostile world. So you’re going to see our military capabilities improve quite substantially. You’re going to see us really taking care of our veterans rather than just talking about it. Recognizing that we have a 14 percent decrease in people applying for our volunteer military. That’s going to hurt us badly in the long run. You’re going to see us concentrating on our vulnerabilities, like our electrical grid, which is woefully vulnerable right now, from a number of possibilities. You’re going to see us beef up our cyber capabilities substantially, you’re going to see us respond to people who attack us in a way that they will never forget. You're going to see us get back into space, understanding that so many inventions came out of the space program. We cannot get behind in innovation, and in the future, he who controls space controls the Earth. 
You're going to see much more proactive stance towards someone like Putin, you know, we're going to be much more active throughout the whole Baltic basin area, Eastern Europe, we're going to reestablish missile defense program, we're going to have more than one or two armored brigades in that area. We're gonna stand up to him, every place in the Middle East, we're not gonna back down. .
At this point, the interviewer skeptically asks, "And just so I'm clear, you're going to do this while balancing the budget, not raising the debt and cutting the size of the government?"  Carson answers, "Exactly!"  And questioned whether such a thing is possible he answers that he has done a lot of things that people thought were impossible.  Arithmetic is just a state of mind!

Just as an afterthought, he also says that he has a system to replace Obamacare with something that will give everyone much better health insurance.  "It will provide much better coverage than they have right now, and they will not be second-class citizens. Everybody will be of equal value under the system that I propose and it will cost us less money. . . . With the system that I've proposed, everybody is of equal value and you have choice."  Of course, he does not provide the faintest clue of what this system is.  In short, Ben Carson sounds a lot like Donald Trump -- a lot of hot air and empty promises with no specifics whatever to back it up.

Jonathan Chait seems to imply that Carson is stupid, as evidenced by his disbelief in evolution.  This is clearly false, as his resume makes clear.  The youngest major division director in Johns Hopkins' history, perfecter of the hemispherectomy, and first surgeon to separate twins conjoined at the head is obviously not stupid.  But intelligence is not indivisible.  There is no reason to believe that a brilliant neurosurgeon knows the first thing about the federal budget.

If I were choosing a surgeon to separate conjoined twins, I would not care in the slightest whether he knew anything about the federal budget or policy making.  And in choosing a President, until very recently no one though it the least bit important whether he could perform neurosurgery.  Granted, a first class neurosurgeon might also be a policy wonk, or a  President might be a brilliant surgeon.  But that would simply be an incidental bonus.  But choosing a President because he separated conjoined twins would be sort of like -- well, choosing a surgeon for his knowledge of the federal budget.

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