In a discussion on a Facebook thread, where I (again) pointed to the excessive size of our state government, a Republican former speaker of the Wyoming State House asked me:
Sven, you propose lots of abstract cuts without being specific. Which teachers, nurses and prison guards do you propose to reduce to make your $1.8 billion in statistical cuts? The devil is always in the details. What are your detailed proposed cuts. Otherwise, it is the old story about the chemist, physicist, and economist talking about a can of beans.
This is the oldest liberal, welfare-statist card in the deck. Every run-of-the-mill leftist from Scandinavia to California knows how to use it as their go-to political emoticon. If I had a dollar for every time someone has thrown it at me...
First of all, the former speaker has obviously not been reading my blog. If he had, he would know that I have presented numerous actual, concrete reforms to permanently reduce government spending, with careful fiscal calculations and macroeconomic estimates.
A quick recap:
- Comprehensive K-12 school choice, which would allow parents to choose schools, and for competition to bring down the cost of government;
- A voucher system in Medicaid, coupled with interstate insurance-plan purchases;
- Privatization of I-80;
- Block-grant reform of welfare programs, coupled with private, charitable organizations to supplement or replace tax-paid programs.
The speaker's question about "what teachers" we should fire is of course completely wrong. It is based on the false notion that government by default is always filling essential functions in our lives and our economy. His question presupposes that every teacher, every education administrator, every person working for the state and our local governments is completely indispensable.
That is, of course, not the case. How do we know?
The easiest way to answer this question is to point to every other state in the union. Our Government Employment Ratio is more than 300 - it was at 305 the last time I reported on it - which is the highest GER in the country. No other state has as many state and local government employees per 1,000 private-sector employees as we do. Therefore, the question to the speaker is: what actual services do we get here in Wyoming for the 30-50 percent extra government employees we have, compared to states with an average GER? What actual difference do those extra employees make in our lives?
Another way to approach this is - as I have done several times before - to point to the difference between the size of the government workforce in Wyoming and in Nebraska. If we had the same GER as Nebraska, we would have 18,500 fewer state and local government employees.
What essential functions do those 18,500 government employees fill that we get but the Nebraskans apparently have to do without?
This is not just an abstract numbers game. It is an applied question with direct reference to actual government services. It is incumbent upon those who demand our tax dollars - and soon even more of it - to explain why we need 18,500 more government workers, relatively speaking, than Nebraskans do. If they cannot explain what essential functions those employees fill, then they should not ask for our tax dollars to pay those workers and the services they apparently perform.
Another answer to the statist question is to point to the rapid - not to say rabid - rise in government spending between 2003 and 2009. As I reported on Monday, state spending almost doubled during that period of time. What essential government functions did those extra $3 billion provide us with?
If government spending had grown between 2005 and 2014 at the same rate as it did in 1993-98, the state would have spent $1-1.5 billion less during 2011-2014, the years when the structural deficit problems emerged.
What absolutely indispensable government functions did those extra $1-1.5 billion pay for, that we had to do without before the rapid growth in spending - functions that are now so indispensable that we simply cannot live without them?
I'm sorry, Mr. former speaker, but you do not have the privilege to define the debate. We the taxpayers have that privilege. The money you are asking for is not yours to begin with. It is ours. We work for it, we produce the value from which you slice your government share. If you want more of it, because you have voted to grow spending beyond what we the taxpayers can afford, then it is your duty to explain to us what indispensable services your spending is for. It is your duty to account for how you use every single dollar in tax revenue.
Most important of all, it is your duty to explain why you want us to continue to have a bigger government than every other state in the union.
If you have a compelling, detailed answer that can motivate every tax dollar we currently pay, and every new dollar that many legislators want us to pay, then I will gladly give you all the room you need on this blog to present your case. My thousands of weekly readers look forward to your contribution.