The trouble with a government (or any big organization) running a budget surplus and hoarding a big pile of cash is that people start asking questions like, “Why don’t we do something with all that money, especially when there’s so much to fix?”
At government scale, having cash for a rainy day is not an excuse people will generally accept, particularly when the figure is quoted in terms of billions of dollars.
Currently, we’re suffering the effects of not being watchful over the public purse. In hindsight, it’s easy and obvious to rail against profligacy in our budgets. What I’m proposing for the next time around is something that can help us avoid this same problem in the future.
We’ve been told that it’s wise to save up for the future, to have some cash on hand just in case – folk wisdom that was reinforced by the big collapses in the years following 2008. Intuitively, it makes sense that most people would find it conceptually difficult to hear about a surplus in the billions of dollars without wanting to spend it on something.
If an even moderately sized government were wise and careful in its spending, it would quickly accumulate a large surplus. That large surplus would then get people dreaming about capital improvements, social services, and other goodies that drain the public purse.
Those who advocate for smaller governments would say that the problem could be solved by striking the problem at the root – shrinking the government and therefore its potential to accumulate large sums of money. But large pools of capital have undeniable advantages.
Whether by conscious choice or mere political expediency a large government must stay large, it would do well to quote the figures based on the population of the governed – that is, on a per-person basis.
This would make billion-dollar surpluses more acceptable to voters, and give us a more readily grasped, more accurate picture of our government’s fiscal health.