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Deficit reduction in practice

You frequently hear people talk about deficit reduction. But you don't hear nearly as much about how to reduce the deficit. Harvard economist Jeff Frankel, however, has 10 ideas for putting the budget on a better path. Five of them would raise taxes. Five of them would cut spending. All of them would be worth implementing. Few of them are attracting serious consideration, even from the most vocal of deficit hawks. But this is what deficit reduction looks like.

By Ezra Klein  |  December 2, 2009; 5:48 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Instead of ending manned space exploration, we should be refocusing NASA on reducing the cost to get a pound of matter into orbit. The unmanned science can come later.

Posted by: adamiani | December 2, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

All of these are good except we shouldn't end manned space exploration, we should try to get people to Mars in the next 10 years. The unmanned missions are mostly pretty cool and should be continued, but I'd hate to see us give up the idea of going into space.

Posted by: Mimikatz | December 2, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

That was a good laugh. In reality they (the Weimar Democrats) will mostly do it by inflating away workers' wages. The rich will be protected by their investments. They may raise taxes / cut benefits on working families a little too, just for spite.

Posted by: bmull | December 2, 2009 7:40 PM | Report abuse

So Ezra Klein says it's a worthwhile to end the manned space program. I'll remember that.

Posted by: Hopeful9 | December 2, 2009 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Many economists seem to want to raise gas taxes. Of course, most economists receive higher than median or average salaries and are able to live closer to their workplaces, usually in ivory towers or virtually useless "think" tanks, than the masses. So they will not pay much in higher gas taxes.

But ordinary people who often cannot afford to live in nice communities close to their jobs will pay more. Typical suggestion from economists, who usually have no clue as to how ordinary people live.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | December 2, 2009 9:39 PM | Report abuse

Most scientists think that NASA should pursue the track that does the best science. That is without a doubt unmanned space programs.
We already have numerous robots on Mars doing better science than a human could do. Why do we need to send someone there?

Posted by: mschol17 | December 2, 2009 10:24 PM | Report abuse

Why do we need men in space?

Well, right now there's a little rover on Mars that is fully functional. The only problem is that it's stuck in the sand and can't move. We need to send someone there to give it a little push. (I am kidding, just trying to show that robots have limits.)

The space program isn't all about science. It's also about the long-term survival of mankind. The dinosaurs weren't able to slip the surly bonds of Earth, and we know what happened to them.

Posted by: Lomillialor | December 2, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Oh, come on. NASA's total budget is 1/2 of 1% of the federal budget. Whether you like the idea or not, manned space exploration doesn't have any material effect on the deficit. Anything that doesn't amount to at least tens of billions of dollars per annum is just noise.

Posted by: tl_houston | December 3, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Jeff Frankels' blog is interesting, but leaves me wondering about the details. What's the net budget impact of each of these ten ideas? Do these ideas provide good bang for the buck, or are they just a collection of economist hobby horses?

Posted by: billkarwin | December 3, 2009 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Good lord. Why doesn't he just ask for people to be able to poop solid gold? Seems about as likely.

Posted by: AZProgressive | December 3, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

Aprogressiveindependent: "Many economists seem to want to raise gas taxes. Of course, most economists receive higher than median or average salaries and are able to live closer to their workplaces, usually in ivory towers or virtually useless 'think' tanks, than the masses."

Most proposals to raise the gas tax recognize that it is regressive and so also include some kind of rebate program for lower-income households. That way, everyone has the incentive to cut back on consumption without harming those who don't have the luxury of being in a think tank.

So yes, that proviso wasn't included in Frankel's article. But it's feasible to have a gas tax that's fair to "ordinary people." If we were serious about reducing our dependence on foreign oil (for all sorts of policy reasons), we'd be asking for a higher gas tax instead of running away from it.

And I agree with some other posters that while ending manned space flight may be a good policy idea, its effect on the budget is trivial. Some of the other proposals--agriculture subsidies, the home mortgage interest deduction, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, the military budget, and Social Security adjustments--really do matter.

Posted by: dasimon | December 3, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

One problem with the energy piece is that Democrats really want to reduce dependence on foreign oil about as much as corporate Republicans really want to eliminate illegal immigration. Cheap imported oil makes it possible to say "yes" to a lot of constituencies.

Posted by: tl_houston | December 3, 2009 9:51 AM | Report abuse

What is it about the left and manned space exploration? Its costs are lost in the noise compared to transfer payments and all the other things the left dearly loves; why the hate?

Posted by: Vizcacha | December 3, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

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