15,000 pages

It was mentioned in an article that the deregulation of the CDS mechanism was in a rider written by Phil Gram some years back. This rider was placed on the budget, which that year was about 15,000 pages long.

Hold it right there.

Never mind the CDS or Phil Gram.

15,000 pages?

Now imagine if you were some big business. Something like Bechtel, Exxon, IBM, or GE. And you ran it by producing a budget each year. That budget runs to thousands of pages, each page written carefully to specify exactly how much money is to be spent where by whom on what for how long. And the board gets this sent to them for one long meeting, during which they add riders and occasionally subtract things, then they vote it up or down, as a whole. And then you pretty much have to live with just that until next year, except for really big things like war and rescuing the banking system.

How long would such a company be in business? Unthinkable. Even the most hardened bureaucrat in the business world would know that such a process is ridiculous. And yet, in the last 40 years, our government has grown the size of the budget document by about 200 times what it was in the late 1960s. It has created a monster in which billions of dollars may be hidden in plain sight, a rigid centralized system that would have been the envy of Stalin.

It simply cannot work. It is not even within an order of magnitude of size and complexity of any process that can work. Even if every representative we send to Washington is both a saint and a genius, they cannot succeed with such a process.

It needs to be cut down and decentralized. The force that inflated the 1960's budgets, the desire for more open government, can be met by putting the budget and accounts of individual agencies directly on the web. The central government should just balance the big-picture budget: so much for transport, so much for health, so much for education. Maybe with some guidelines for how much may be spent redeeming bonds, how much on current costs, and how much on investments in people and infrastructure. Then the agencies can internally decide how to split that into various projects. Congress can act as a board of directors, like committees, and the plan can be visible in blogs, published budgets projected and actual, as well as reports on results.

Sure, there will still be a lot of paper. But the big picture will be clearer and the agency budgets will of necessity be more practical. Less places to stick the pork and more abiltity to match budgets to priorities.

If you are electing a representative who thinks the status quo makes sense, ask them to explain why. And get them to work to fix it. This is no way to run a country. Democracy does not need to be implemented stupidly or by accidental overgrowth of paper.