Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Fiscal Cliff and Opportunity Cost

I keep seeing conservative laments about the fiscal cliff deal, like this one, which sums up a bunch from Twitter. There are far too many to link to, but so far, every single one that I have seen has ignored the economic principle of opportunity cost.

Conservatives are upset that taxes are going up and spending won't be seriously cut. But when we look at the opportunity cost for this fiscal cliff deal, we can't just look at some pie-in-the-sky "deal" where the Democrats roll over and give conservatives everything we want. We have to look at the reality of what would have happened without the deal. And the reality is, without the deal, taxes would have gone up twice as much ($478 billion compared to $220 billion), and we would've seen a spending cut that's a measly 0.3% of federal outlays.

I know this isn't how the deal is being portrayed in the media, but these are the facts. Republicans gave the Democrats $9 billion in higher spending, and got $250 billion in lower taxes, compared to what would have happened without the deal. To me, that looks like a win.

A final note on the sequester: Most of the supposed sequester cuts would not have happened for years in the future anyway. If you believe future Congresses would have abided by the sequester, then you're in luck. The sequester is still going to happen, just two months later. If you think that two month delay is a sign that the sequester will never happen anyway, I think you're right. It was never going to happen in the first place, and we lose nothing by delaying it.

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