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Have other countries figured out how to reduce the deficit?

The basic problem bedeviling deficit reduction is that the actual proposals to cut the deficit are unpopular with voters in the next election even though the potential effects of cutting the deficit may be popular with voters in elections that take place far in the future. Catherine Rampell has a smart piece exploring how other countries have solved this problem, and her answer, essentially, is that they haven't. Good to know.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 15, 2010; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

The answer to how to get the leaders of a country to think more long term is to reduce the volume of democracy.

If you never had to re-elect a President after spending two years deciding to elect him in the first place, he served one 6 or 8 year term and thats it, and if the members of the House werent being re-elected every other year, and if the Senate didnt exist or did in some meaningless form, then you'd have an environment for more policy-oriented decision making because tough votes and necessary but unpopular legislation could pass into law. Maybe you have other ideas, but clearly having the public breathing down the neck of elected officials with elections hovering over them every other year isnt going to create an environment for any profiles in courage on either side.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | February 15, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

We're not going to dissolve the senate, and I think that's a good thing. The senate can be a useful political body, only the super-majority requirement needs to be eliminated.

I don't think the problem is the volume of democracy, it's just that people, collectively, do not want to cut up the credit cards, and even a president who got in their for 8 years and done would not want to be the guy who takes away everybody's good times.

It would be lectures, and "no more!" and then, after a while, we'd all give big G our sad eyes and the government will smile sheepishly, shake its head, and hand us the credit card. "I can't say no to you."

Most folks in politics, no matter how often they are elected or for how long they are appointed, are going to fall in love with spending other people's money.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 15, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

This is the same problem with legislative action to deal with climate change: "...the actual proposals...are unpopular with voters in the next election even though the potential effects...may be popular with voters in elections that take place far in the future."

Posted by: tnoord | February 15, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Or, you could see it as the electorate saving politicians from their insane deficit hawk superstitions. Time for Krugman to re-post his deficits-don't-matter-as-much-as-you-think-they-do rant...

Posted by: vagueofgodalming | February 15, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

States struggle with their budgets every year because most states have a consitutional duty to balance the budget.

At the federal level, there is no such requirement so they just keep spending and raise the debt limit.[

Part of the answer to help the political types to cut spending is to have that duty.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | February 15, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Translation: Controlling spending is impossible, so we can now continue to spend with a clear conscience.

Posted by: cpurick | February 15, 2010 11:50 PM | Report abuse

That's completely ridiculous. There are really multiple equilibria here- one is that everyone compromises to spend money on everyone else's pet projects. Another is that everyone compromises to take cuts on their pet projects. We just need a President with the guts to veto every budget that comes across his desk until it's right.

What is happening to us is that we are spending ever increasing amounts of our budget on debt service. The end game is inflation as we print more money to make our debts worth less, hurting everyone that has or earns dollars. It won't happen for another year or so, but at some point our failed Treasury auctions come back to hurt us. It is going to cost us so much more to borrow money from other countries, that every dollar the government spends is going to cost it 1.10.

Let's not be one of the PIIGS. Let's not be Harrisburg, PA, about to default on their bond payments. It will cost us more than we imagine.

Posted by: staticvars | February 16, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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