"Deficit" or "Overspending":
the Difference One Word Makes
by Michael Cloud
Does the Federal Government have a Deficit Problem or an Overspending Problem?
Your answer to this question makes a profound difference in how you think about, talk about, and deal with government revenue and expenditures.
Almost all politicians, news outlets, and political commentators agree that it's a deficit problem.
Here are the words and phrases they use to describe the gap between government income and spending: "deficit," "budget deficit," "expanding budget deficit," "face a large deficit," "solve the deficit problem," "bridge the deficit gap," "close the deficit," "cut the deficit," "projected deficits," "deficit reduction," "running a deficit," and even "deficits as far as the eye can see."
"What can we do about the federal deficit?" they ask.
"Deficit" is defined as "the amount by which a sum of money falls short of the required amount." It indicates a lack, a shortage, or deficiency. Not enough money.
"Deficit" rests on the premise that the proposed budget is the standard of judgment.
"Deficit" means that proposed government spending is right, but income is too low.
"Deficit" assumes and takes for granted that the proposed government budget is necessary, and that we have a tax shortfall.
"Deficit" implies that we are under-taxed. That perhaps taxpayers are stingy, selfish - and not paying their fair share.
"Overspending" is defined as "spending in excess of one's income." It indicates unwarranted, unnecessary, or too much spending.
"Overspending" rests on the premise that income is the standard of judgment.
"Overspending" means that government is trying to live beyond its means.
"Overspending" assumes and takes for granted that government has a spending problem, not an income problem.
"Overspending" implies that the elected officials are irresponsible, reckless, extravagant money wasters.
Deficit VS Overspending Questions
"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about the answers," wrote Thomas Pynchon.
But what if we can get Americans asking the right questions?
Compare deficit questions to overspending questions.
"How do we solve the federal deficit problem?" VS
"How do we solve the federal overspending problem?"
"What should we do about this year's federal deficit?" VS
"What should we do about this year's federal overspending?"
"How can we resolve the budget shortfall?" VS
"Where should we cut back the government overspending?"
"How can we make up the $XXX Billion revenue deficiency?" VS
"Where can we best reduce and remove these $XXX Billions in overspending?"
From "Deficit" to "Overspending"
Suppose you're in a political conversation with someone. She brings up this year's federal "deficit". Just say, "Before we get too far into this conversation, can we get clear on the difference between government 'deficits' and government 'overspending'?"
Most people will ask: "What's the difference?"
Tell her the Deficit Assumptions and Overspending Assumptions. Then ask, "Which word best describes the way you think we should think about, talk about, and deal with government revenue and expenditures - 'deficit' or 'overspending'?"
Many people will stop and think about it. Some will ask questions. Some won't. Some will be receptive. Some won't.
You can use the "overspending" questions above with receptive listeners. Have a lively discussion!
Whether your conversation is short or long, you've just planted these new questions in your listener's mind. And if we can get people asking the right questions, we don't have to worry about the answers.
That's all it takes to set the process in motion.
The Impact of One Word
As long as the word "deficit" dominates and monopolizes the way that Americans think about and talk about government budgets, Big Government will keep growing.
But once we introduce the distinction between "deficit" and "overspending," Americans have a choice in how they think about, talk about, and deal with government revenue and expenditures.
As more and more Americans insist that we think about, talk about, and act on the basis of the "overspending" distinction, more of us will choose to reduce government spending.
And that's one crucial step toward small government.
Copyright 2005 by Michael Cloud