Monday, February 2, 2009

How Jim Cooper ruined my lesson plan

In my free time, I teach High School Economics, and for the past two weeks I have been prepping the students to hear Representative Jim Cooper. We did a benefit-cost analysis of the stimulus bill, and came up with the usual criticisms
  1. The multiplier is tiny
  2. It cannot be done quickly enough
  3. It is likely irreversible
  4. Congress stuffed the bill like a Turkey
  5. It is likely to start a protectionist trade war
  6. We have never been able to spend our way out of a recession
  7. Government bureaucrats, instead of consumers, decide where to spend our money
  8. Who pays for it?
On the last point, the students were smart enough to figure out that the stimulus represented future liabilities that their parents were passing on to them. I had the students ready to tear Cooper's head off, but then he ruined my lesson plan by voting against the stimulus. And now, George Will praises him as one of the few in Congress who is both smart enough to recognize the bigger problem (saddling our children with huge entitlement debt of about $200,000 for each person), and principled enough to try to do something about it:

Cooper, who has an unshakable appetite for unappetizing numbers, wishes more Americans were similarly eccentric and would read the 188-page 2008 Financial Report of the United States Government -- the only government document that calculates what deficit and debt numbers would be if the government practiced, as businesses must, accrual accounting.

Under such accounting, future outlays to which beneficiaries are entitled by existing law are acknowledged as expenditures before they are paid. Were the Social Security surplus sequestered for accounting purposes, reflecting the truth that it is already obligated, and were there similar treatment of the other entitlement programs' liabilities, the deficit for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 would have been $3 trillion rather than $454.8 billion. The report's numbers show that the true national debt is $56 trillion, not the widely reported $10 trillion.

Cooper is trying to make visible the true costs of our entitlement programs by forcing the Feds to use accrual accounting, that includes future liabilities.

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