What Is Real Government Waste?

I linked to it from Plum Line yesterday, but I want to make sure everyone sees a great survey from Emily Swanson and Mark Blumenthal about what “waste” means to those who want to get rid of wasteful government spending.

This all came out of a post I wrote a whole ago in which I wondered about exactly that; it seems Swanson and Blumenthal decided to find out the answer. Cool! It’s well worth reading the whole thing — the data are fascinating — but I’ll quote the key paragraph:

When it comes to fingering specific programs for government waste versus pointing more generally to inefficiency or foolish spending, the survey results find little variation by party. But a more detailed look at which programs were named by Democrats and by Republicans suggests that for many, waste is indeed defined as “money spent on some government program I don’t like.”

That’s about half of it. Interestingly enough, to me at any rate, the rest is split between two kinds of “real” waste — that is, stuff the government supposedly spends without getting anything at all to show for it. Of that, about half is basically about politicians and bureaucrats living high on the hog. The other half is Swanson and Blumenthal classify as “Inefficiency/Fraud/Foolishness,” but I’d note that a large chunk of that, such as unnecessary/ridiculous research, could easily be classified under programs, as well — although to be fair, it’s certainly possible that some of the objections to programs could be because of perceived inefficiency or fraud. Not criticizing the study or the analysis; it’s just that it’s hard to know exactly what people are thinking.

Fascinating stuff. And the emphasis on money wasted on salaries and “perks” of politicians certainly explains the latest round of lies from Michele Bachmann; there appears to be a receptive audience ready to believe that politicians are exploiting their positions for personal gain.

Anyway, it’s great stuff. Now if anyone would like to find out what people mean when they say “deficit”….

[Originally posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.