Efficiency won't cut it


Over at Cato-at-Liberty, Tad DeHaven gives us a taste of his recent testimony before a Senate committee:

Most Americans agree that waste, fraud, and abuse in government programs is a problem. A recent poll of likely voters found that those surveyed believe an average of 42 percent of every dollar spent by the federal government is wasted. The same poll also found that 60 percent of those surveyed believe that problems with the federal budget can be solved by simply eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse. In fact, 40 percent strongly agreed with this position…

However, most people know very little about the breakdown of the federal government’s $3.8 trillion budget, and many don’t accept that huge deficits are caused by programs that benefit them. For example, the same poll found that 49 percent disagreed that Social Security and Medicare are a major source of problems for the federal budget. Attempting to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse is fine, but it won’t solve our deficit-spending problem.

I don’t know what the numbers would be in a UK poll, but I suspect they wouldn’t prove too dissimilar. At the very least, British respondents would likely echo the same basic sentiment: that government is wasteful, and that all the spending cuts you need can be delivered through simple ‘efficiency savings’.

Unfortunately, it just isn’t true: yes, there is significant scope for cutting government waste, but in the end waste is an inherent part of government. It’s in the nature of the beast, and there’s only so much you can do to stop it. More importantly, however much waste you find is going to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things: compared with, say, providing universal cradle-to-the-grave welfare, a lack of efficiency really isn’t costing us that much.

Ultimately, there’s one surefire way to cut spending and restore fiscal sanity, and that’s to shrink the state. Put simply, government should do less, individuals should do more. There’s no way around that fact.