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Posted by on Aug 30, 2011 in At TMV | 22 comments

Nutty Republican Logic Explained

In a recent post I used the term “nutty Republican logic” in regard to issues such as benefit programs and taxes. I didn’t really explain why this logic is “nutty,” however. So let me do so here, beginning with an allusion to a logical conclusion once reached by Aristotle.

The great Greek philosopher believed men had more teeth than women, and believed this for a very logical seeming reason — men generally have bigger jaws. Bigger jaws, more teeth. What could seem more logical? Except, of course, that had he bothered to go the empirical route and actually count teeth (something he doubtless considered beneath his dignity), he would have found that men and women have the same number.

Such pure logic, devoid of actual observation, resembles how present-day Republican political logicians approach many issues. One example of their approach can be seen in the food stamp issue I noted in my previous post.

These worthies begin with the perfectly logical (and correct) idea that there’s fraud and waste in a food stamp program that is currently tapped by one in seven Americans and an even larger percentage of the country’s children. This idea is certainly correct because any very large program, whether administered by a government or a private entity, has some waste and fraud.

Republican logicians then express a determination to eliminate this waste and fraud because of this country’s present fiscal difficulties. The reality of these fiscal difficulties is also not debatable. So far so good.

Next, however, they take another step that might seem valid in strictly logical terms, but is utterly silly in real world terms. This is the assumption that if we simply reduce food stamp funding by a reasonable estimate of fraud and waste in the program (5 percent, 10 percent, 20 percent, pick any number for this example), nutritional needs of the hungry will still be met while only the waste and fraud in the program would be eliminated.

Here, however, is what would really happen to the food stamp program in the real world were Republican logic applied. Part of that reduced funding would lead to staff lay offs, which would make finding and eliminating waste and fraud less likely. Even worse, because wasters and fraudsters are generally far more experienced and adept at gaming a system than ordinary program recipients are just using it, they would quickly sleaze new ways to game it no matter what steps are taken, while the real needy, the real hungry, the kids who only eat well once a day in school and eat macaroni and cheese for supper the last week of every month, take a hard nutritional hit.

This same kind of nutty logic is being employed again and again today by Republicans. They note a real problem, cite fiscal necessity, then come up with a solution that fits a logical model with no real world resonance.

And the solution they come up with is always the same — cut funding. Do this, they blandly assert, and market forces, innovation, or some other mechanism will automatically kick in and: Provide the same needed nutrition for the deserving for less; force the long-term unemployed to quickly find new jobs when their extended benefits run out; have undiminished educational standards after spending on education is slashed and teacher morale is trashed; and on and on.

Like some theologians whose proofs of God begin with the taken-for-granted fact that God exists, and only facts that lead to this conclusion are acceptable, Republican nutty logic users begin with the taken-for-granted fact that less spending on anything is good, and proceed to cite facts (or just plain made up suppositions) that lead naturally to this conclusion.

That nuttiness in some form has always been rampant within this country’s political circles is a well established fact. In many past situations it has even been entertaining and harmless. The fact that the present-day variant of such nuttiness actually is setting the national agenda is scary as hell.

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  • SteveK

    Excellent, non-aggressive and cogent article. I hope that someone on the “other side” will take the same approach in replying to your post.

    There are a lot of people who would like hear their (the rights) positions, in context to the point of this article, laid out as calmly and non-aggressively as you have done here.

  • Dr. J

    So where are the counted teeth, Michael–the empirical disproof of this Republican nuttiness?

  • DaGoat

    A link to the proposed GOP plan to cut waste and abuse in food stamps solely by reducing overall funding would be helpful.

    I would also take issue with the assumption that the main action an agency with reduced funding would take would be to fire the employees that track FWA. Frankly your analysis seems as slanted as the GOP plan you cite.

  • dduck

    So Socrates sent a note to Aristotle and asked: So you think men have more teeth than women?
    So you think all Reps look at each entitlement program individually and with malice of forethought prescribe a Solomonian cut it in half verdict and the hell with the consequences.
    So you think there is only one party with nutty ideas?
    Who knows what Plato thinks.

  • rudi

    Why not fix the problems instead of cutting funding. The US is near the bottom in “safety net”(social) and nutrition programs in the Industrial West. If we cut much we’ll just turn into a third world country.

  • TheMagicalSkyFather

    “Cutting funding” is the GOP knee jerk answer just as “increasing funding” is the default Dem answer. Neither address any problems that are actually what people are complaining about. Of course Dems havent really been into the entire “raise funding” knee jerk as a block since around the 80’s where as the GOP has recently morphed into a “cut funding” block. Either way if they are trying to get rid of fraud by removing X amount of funding it is either A. lunacy or B. a means to an ideological end(we like to ignore that the GOP does not believe a social safety net is a fed problem and that many believe it is unconstitutional but the reality is that we have the quotes/statements to support such a view).

    The “protect the gov from programs growing” GOP is not the modern GOP, the modern GOP as a block tends toward taking us back to the gilded age. But yea its all lefty conspiracy theory and all those comments are takin out of context whateva…

  • Dr. J

    Why not fix the problems instead of cutting funding.

    A great idea, but one has to presume they can’t. If they could have, they would have.

  • TMSF, I’m with ya on your logic, but I also tend to think waste, fraud and abuse will NEVER be found and corrected.

    I say this because there is no incentive to do so.

    In the private sector, employees either realize, or have it beat into them, that excessive spending is bad for their employer, and that could mean they lose their own job or have to forego raises, etc. There is a direct link between private-sector business spending and the welfare of its employees.

    In the public sector, there is no such link. Government employees have no motivation, other than their own sense of diligence, to remove waste, fraud & abuse. The boss also doesn’t have any skin in the game. Their job relies solely on who controls Congress at the time, and because Congress effects change so slowly (if at all), they are guaranteed employment regardless of waste.

    If there was a way to create that link between waste and government employee motivation, we’d have any waste problem licked.

    Of course, when constructing such a program, you’d have to make sure these agencies still actually deliver the services that is required of them. If you just gave bonuses for ‘saving money’, it is guaranteed that employees would save money by screwing over the public and not performing their duties.

  • Dr. J

    Yup, the private sector’s profit motive has a great track record at rooting out waste. The public sector’s loss motive has the opposite.

  • PJBFan

    Mr. Silverstein is absolutely correct that the logic employed in some quarters of the Republican Party is nutty, and he showed a good example of that nuttiness. Mere cutting of the budget, without massive reform of the bureaucratic structures, for these programs is going to do nothing but encourage waste and fraud.

    Further, Barky and Dr. J are quite correct that the private sector incentive to cut costs is quite effective, so long as properly managed.

    It would be wise to find ways to encourage people to find waste and fraud, and combat them.

  • Jim Satterfield

    Yeah, those monetary bonuses for government employees who make suggestions that save money can’t do a thing to motivate anyone. Do any of you even realize those programs exist? And when it comes to fraud in programs, nothing matches what businesses do in Medicare. But when it was proposed in Missouri that those people be investigated the Republicans blocked it.

  • Allen

    There are no examples of privatizing a government function becoming magically more efficient than government. This is because there is the good old American profit factor. The profit factor is merely legalized corruption extended to those whom now, at your request, take the load off your back for a “Profit”. In order to support the profit, you must pay more anyway. Then comes poor treatment of employees and embezzlement and/or payoffs for contracts which end up stealing/costing more than during government administration. BTW, privatization never eliminates the original problem or reason argued as better handled by privatization over government. Rather it creates bigger problems. Some duties are inherently the function of a well administered government body.

  • Dr. J

    Right Jim, so your position is that government programs aren’t wasteful, because they have effective bonus programs. And if they’re wasteful nevertheless, well, that’s the Republicans’ fault. I’m not sure how you can have it both ways.

    And it strikes me as absurd to excuse government shortcomings by trying to pin them on Republicans, as if we could separate the program from the contentious political process that oversees it. Sure, in theory everyone in the country could agree on how everything should be run, and then we wouldn’t have these awful people trying to steer our lovely programs off course. But that misses the point: the programs are inefficient precisely because we can’t agree on their goals.

  • dduck

    FNMA an FDMC, great examples of government tainted inefficiency, yielding a $160 billion hole.

  • The only reason that private industry can be more efficient, is because of competition. The advantage of government agencies is that they are supposed to be more transparent. Monopolized government funding of private companies is the worst of both worlds. For the same reason, a private industry that gets government protection is also a bad idea.

    Only when you understand the advantages of both competition and transparency can you set up a working public/private partnership, and it seems few people do.

    But back to the thread: maybe the Republicans are simply counting savings from a fraud detection system they have planned (we have no link to see what the real story is here). If so, then yes, it’s nuttiness, but it’s a nuttiness so common in DC that’s it’s hardly worth mentioning. Look at all the budget proposals ever made and you’ll see wildly optimistic assumptions like extended record growth, no downturns ever again, assumed returns on proposals, no other law will add more spending, no program will grow unexpectedly, no new tax loophole will cut into revenues … all pure fantasy.

    It seems that there’s a lot of this unmitigated bias coming out: if 3000 people riot in a town that’s evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, then Democrats report 1500 Republicans rioted (and vice versa).

  • StockBoyLA

    So Dr. J, we’ve all heard how the Republicans want to cut these programs because they believe these programs are wasteful. I have yet to see a proposal on how to reduce the waste in these programs.

    Yet cutting these programs was so high on their agenda that they were will to bring America to its knees and default on its debt…. Surely with such extreme measures they have a good plan to cut waste. Where is it?

  • dduck

    @Prof, YUP…………………….

  • Dr. J

    Like I said, Stockboy, neither Republicans nor Democrats know how to cut the waste.

  • Jim Satterfield

    I was pointing out that it is possible to have incentives for efficiency in government, not that they’ve necessarily achieved everything. I also pointed out that the Republicans whining here about it belong to a party that when presented with an opportunity to root out fraud committed by businesses on a government program they blocked it. This is not a disagreement on goals. This is covering up for their friends in the private sector. Dr. J ignores that fact on purpose.

  • Dr. J

    You’re welcome to post a link to whatever event you’re talking about, Jim, and we can discuss the specifics. They may well be covering up for their friends in the private sector; that sounds like a difference in goals.

  • dduck

    I think Jim may be thinking of the execs at FNMA, Dodd’s and Frank’s favorite bank.

  • EEllis

    A big factor that seems to be missed is the Feds can’t do much to increase the effectiveness of food stamp programs becaust they are not Fed programs. They are administered by the States. The only real way to make a change is to adjust the moneys paid and leave the rest to the States.

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