Symptom and Disease

Rand Paul is a doctor. Surely he understands the difference between the symptoms of a disease and the cause. Surely he knows that the only way to cure a disease is to treat the cause and not simply address the symptoms.

In a speech before the Kentucky Farm Bureau on July 22, 2010, Dr. Paul said that the budget deficit is the most important issue facing the nation. Specifically he said that the deficit was his “number one concern.”

Hopefully the fact that the deficit is Dr. Paul’s number one concern means he will address the cause of the problem and not just the symptom. But if you look at his stated positions, (see his web site: www.randpaul2010.com) he is focused almost entirely on reducing the deficit, and doesn’t even seem to grasp that it is part of a larger problem.

Make no mistake, the deficit is a symptom of a larger disease. The current national budget deficit is a product of the changing economy, it is not the cause of the changing economy. The deficit is the symptom, the disease is the changing world and national economy. The world economy has been changing dramatically for the last 20 to 30 years, and the pace of change just keeps getting faster. Computers have dramatically altered the marketplace in many ways, including my eliminating entire career fields. Secretaries, draftsmen, and bookkeepers are largely a thing of the past. When I first started practicing law about 15 years ago, most law firms, even sole practitioners, had at least one secretary for each lawyer. Today most solos don’t have a secretary, and the ratio of lawyer to legal secretary at big firms is one secretary for every three lawyers. Computers and word processing software have made legal secretaries obsolete. Automation has similarly changed manufacturing. Robots and computers have replaced workers in factories. Because of automation, most companies produce more manufactured goods with fewer employees, and make more money doing it. This is good for a company’s bottom line (and good for their investors) but it is bad for employees and bad for national employment. Foreign competition is also cutting into domestic manufacturing, and in many cases preventing domestic companies from raising prices or wages. All of this has led to a general economic slowdown. The overall economy was slower in the first decade of this century than at any time since the end of the Second World War. And the last ten years have seen almost no job growth.

The national economy has slowed and this means that government revenue has slowed. But unfortunately the size and scope of government has not slowed. If you chart the growth of the economy since the sixties and the growth of government during the same period you will notice that the two roughly parallel each other. But the line for the economy essentially flat-lined during the Bush Administration, but unfortunately the line for the government continued up on about the same slope as in previous years. And the difference between these two curves is partly responsible for the budget deficit. During the flush economic times we – government and business – made commitments that made sense at the time (health care benefits, retirement benefits) but that are no longer economically feasible.

Solving the budget deficit is definitely important, but it won’t bring back jobs lost to computerization and automation. Lawyers are not going to start rehiring legal secretaries and factories are not going replace robots with laborers if the federal budget is balanced. The Chinese economy is not going to stop growing if the Congress passes a balanced budget amendment. Certainly fiscal restraint will mean that more money can go into the private sector than the public sector, but that alone will not solve the larger systemic changes to the economy.

If Rand Paul’s prescription for the ailing economy is nothing more than ending the deficit, he is treating the symptom and ignoring the disease.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *