Sunday, August 28, 2011

Accountants vs Philosophers?

The great divide that defines discussions on federal debt is not between liberals and conservatives, but between those who approach issues of government from the mindset of an accountant and those who approach it as a philosopher. The latter speaks about what government "should do," whereas the former calculates what government "can afford to do." For example, Nancy Pelosi Pelosi stated that cuts to seniors' benefits are "absolutely" off the table in the ongoing deficit reduction negotiations, yet entitlement spending compose 57% of the budget and face serious unfunded liabilities. A philosophically oriented commentator may defend the status quo of entitlements, whereas those who look at the issue with the eyes of an accountant see that there is no way to balance the budget without substantially reforming entitlements. This clash of visions is seen in a host of other debates. For example, Luis Gutierrez (D - IL) and other members of the Congressional Hispanic held out support for Obamacare, because undocumented immigrants were not eligible for the full array of federal subsidies. While their position that "all residents, documented or otherwise, have a right to government funded health care," may be philosophically sound, it completely ignores the fiscal reality that the United States faces. An astute accountant might respond "of course we can grant free health care to everyone, but given our level of debt, what other programs are you willing to cut to make it possible?"

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