Saturday, April 9, 2011

One-Half of One-Half

     All around the media these days we are hearing—especially from apologists for compromising with the fiscal irresponsibility crowd—the formula, “after all, we only control one-half of one-third of the government.” Of course, of the three branches of government, only two are involved in legislation. True, activist judges routinely make law as they supposedly interpret it, but the courts have no part of the process of passing a bill. It might be better to say, “after all, we only control one-half of one-half of the government.” Fair enough, only a fifth grade fractions teacher would appreciate the difference between one-sixth and one-quarter, but it’s nonetheless irritating to see a strictly inaccurate comment gain so much momentum.

     The main point ought to be that the acolytes of fiscal responsibility (no matter how recently converted to that faith) need once more to be handed both law-making branches of government to be sure they can enact their agenda. It’s a fair point, but one that begs the question, why didn’t they balance the budget in 2002? Or 2003? Or 2004, 2005, or 2006? The usual answer, that we were fighting two wars, raises the second question whether the war funding accounted for the whole of the budget deficit. Somehow that seems unlikely.

     This is not to say that the new zeal for budget cutting is a bad thing. In fact, it is the best thing to happen in the federal government in many a year. Ideally, frugality would indeed become the law of the land. Government cannot solve every problem, and even if it could, in doing so it would fatally diminish the moral fiber of the citizen body. Eventually, dependent populations succumb to tyranny. In time, the corn dole at Rome helped transform the world’s freest people into just another subject population. Let us hope we avoid history repeating itself, and doing so may in fact require more than a quarter of the government.


  1. As I have said lately, at least the debate in congress has been reframed. No longer are we debating about spending, but rather how much to cut in our spending. We have a long way to go but it also takes five miles distance to turn an aircraft carrier! We are at least beginning to head in the right direction now.

  2. Well said. At least we're talking about how much to cut, not how much more to spend that we don't have.

  3. Funny story... as I've written other comments and posts highlighting the responsibility that congress has in various areas (national debt, unemployment, etc.), I've made the argument that the White House is 1/3 responsible and congress is 2/3 responsible.

    For example, when Dems say that Republicans drove up the debt, I like to counter that the debt went up only after Dems took over congress. At this point they tell me how powerful the presidency is and they make the same argument you are about one-half of one-half. So I disagree with you on the amount of responsibility.

    Now that the House is doing such a good job, and those same Dems are complaining about how powerful the Republicans have become, I wonder if they would stick to the idea that the presidency is all powerful.

    And I'll echo T. Paine: at least we've succeeded in changing the discussion to focus on government cuts.

  4. THR, I get your point about influence. However, the "one-half of one-third" comment refers to the three branches of government: executive (1/3), legislative (1/3), and judicial (1/3). Since only two of the three branches make laws, we should re-write the fractions executive (1/2) and legislative (1/2). Since the fiscally responsible folks control only half of the legislature, that amounts to half of a half.

    But back to your point about influence, with which I agree, it may be useful to remember that it was the Congress that forced a balanced budget in the 1990s, not the executive...