‘Tyranny of Mathematics’ collides with power of government employees

With politicians from either side of the aisle complaining about the other being controlled by extremist factions, it’s hard to take it all in. But soon it won’t matter, as we’re about to be ruled by a more ruthless force: the Tyranny of Mathematics.

We have arrived at a point in our economic circumstances where politics of left and right pale into insignificance when compared to the monetary freight train bearing down on the country from an ever-nearer future. Significantly, no matter how much some would like to think we can bridge the distance between what we have and what we spend by seizing more from the rich, the numbers are frankly, just too big.

It has been pointed out that if we seized the profits of the Fortune 500 companies for one year, we would only be able to fund government operations for a small portion of that year and chances are pretty good the next year there would be a lot less profit to seize. The sheer size of the spending and the deficit created has reached a nearly incomprehensible magnitude.

Consider the budget deal reached between the White House and congressional Republicans that totaled almost $39 billion in cuts, which amounts to roughly 1 percent of the budget. Then consider the federal debt reportedly increased $54 billion in the eight days before the deal was made. So this event, trumpeted by some and bemoaned by others, is not even a tap on the brake of spending, but is more a momentary decrease in pressure on the accelerator.

The problem with cutting spending in government is not just political, but also one of human nature. Each department or program carries with it an embedded constituency of government employees, who react as anyone would when faced with changes in their jobs — by supporting candidates and policies that will keep them safe.

Eventually, a tipping point is reached when enough voters are captive, in one way or another, to the need for a government system to continue. Then there is no political will to address the problem. Voters may not even like the system themselves, but they are bound to it.

Looking a bit ahead to America’s possible future, we can examine the British National Health System, which we seem to be in the process of emulating.

Over the last 10 years, the British press and public have regularly called for reform of what has become a wasteful and often dangerous system. Yet it never seems to happen.

Part of the reason probably lies in the fact that Britain’s NHS is the third-largest employer in the world. The London Times reported in 2004 that it had moved into position behind the Chinese Army and the Indian State Railway system.

Last year, the NHS employed about 1.4 million of the approximately 31 million working age people in Britain.

Thus the system lumbers forward, overweight with consultants, whose numbers grew by more than 50 percent over the last decade, and manager positions, which shot up 66 percent, compared with a 25 percent increase in physicians and a 20 percent increase for nurses.

Problems abound: Waiting lists increase and British citizens bolt to countries like Malaysia, Turkey and India for care. Yet truly meaningful changes that would result in the reorganization of jobs or removal of redundant overseers never materialize.

Such is the outcome of patronage government as it grows increasingly dependent on a constituency dominated by its own employees.

The immediate collateral damage from such a system usually falls on the poor, disabled and those in need, who are forced to navigate an ever- more-complex system as they wait for a burgeoning class of decision-makers to determine their fate.

On Wednesday, the president presented his plan for the nation’s spending.  In examining it, consider these facts pointed out by Stephen Moore in the Wall Street Journal: “Today in America there are nearly twice as many people working for the government (22.5 million) than in all of manufacturing (11.5 million) ... More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined.”

Now, put yourself in the president’s position and ask: What would you do?

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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