My beef with the term “fiscal conservatives”

The term “fiscal conservatives” is back with a vengeance.

The phrase is often delivered by the Republican party although many “centrist” Democrats sing the song as well and know the lyrics by heart.

Here’s Mayor Bloomberg’s definition of the label (via wikipedia):

To me, fiscal conservatism means balancing budgets – not running deficits that the next generation can’t afford. It means improving the efficiency of delivering services by finding innovative ways to do more with less. It means cutting taxes when possible and prudent to do so, raising them overall only when necessary to balance the budget, and only in combination with spending cuts. It means when you run a surplus, you save it; you don’t squander it

The idea is noble – don’t spend more than we make and save any surplus for a rainy day.

That’s how I was taught to deal with my personal finances. The government should do the same, right?

But I’ve got a big beef with the term “fiscal conservatives”.

It’s ambiguous at best and misleading at worst. It sounds objective but its not.

What conservatives will tell you is that we have to cut government programs, reduce benefits (for those in our society that need it the most) and reduce the deficit.

At the same time they want to cut taxes and cut capital gains (keep in mind the poorest in our country don’t pay any capital gains tax). In essence we should spend less and decrease revenue at the same time. That’s pretty hard when you are in debt. That’s like a person with huge credit card bills and then gets their salary cut or a company with debt and then makes less revenue. Just spending less is better, we dont’ have to cut taxes as well. (i’m okay cutting taxes when we have a big honking surplus).

Anyway, the noble point is not the bad part. There is a ton of waste in this country and we need to fix that.

The bad part is when each “special interest” decides what is mandatory and what isn’t mandatory. When they try to define what we need.

There are many ways to balance the budget. I may choose to emphasize education, domestic infrastructure, protecting the environment and healthcare. Others may emphasize military spending.

So, we hear things like “we can’t pay support healthcare for our poor because we don’t have the money”

But where is the money going? It’s going to a lot of places that are open for debate. Like wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

When you do your personal budget you consider all of your annual expenses at once. You decide what is mandatory and what is optional and then you prioritize. The same is true for a startup or any company really.

But that’s not how our choices are presented. Washington DC decides what is mandatory and then they tell us they can’t afford things that most of us want.

This is backwards.

I don’t believe the label “fiscal conservatives” is objective.

It’s subjective because there are many ways to balance the budget. It all comes down to a philosophical difference of opinion about what’s most important for our country and our people.

And that’s my beef.