Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Thursday, November 12, 2015


It seems that every election, a candidate in the Republican presidential primary says that he wants to abolish several federal departments.  As everyone knows, Rick Perry effectively ended his career when he couldn't remember which departments needed to go (he quickly named the Department of Commerce and the Department of Education, but struggled to remember the third:  the Department of Energy).  In the November 10, 2015 debate, Ted Cruz named five agencies that should be abolished:  the IRS, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

So Ted Cruz wants to abolish the Department of Commerce twice.  I regard that as a much bigger "oops" than Perry's lapse in memory.  The Department of Commerce runs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which itself runs the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center.  I have no idea why Ted Cruz thinks that the government should get out of the weather forecasting business.  It is a crucial service that helps the government predict natural disasters and respond effectively to them, and of course on a day-to-day level it makes life better for almost everyone.  Weather forecasting is also a public good that is unlikely to be adequately supplied by the private sector.  (Bear in mind that most private weather forecasters rely heavily on government data, so it's not as though the private sector would necessarily be able to take up the slack if the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center were abolished.)  Ted Cruz is a monster whose preferred policies would lead to vastly more preventable deaths from hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The Department of Commerce also runs the United States Census Bureau.  If eliminating the National Weather Service would be a disaster, eliminating the census would be a total calamity.  The Constitutional allocation of representatives is based on census data.  I have no idea how Ted Cruz would allocate congressional seats in accordance with the Constitution in the absence of census data.  But on a more basic level, what objection could anyone possible have to the census?  I'm sure there are improvements that could be made around the edges, but on the whole it seems extremely valuable and uncontroversial to collect comprehensive data about the people who live here.  Census data isn't just used by the government, it is available to academia and the private sector, allowing them to get a better understanding of our society.  I doubt even 1% of social scientists think it would be a good idea to abolish the census, as Ted Cruz is eager to do.

Now maybe I'm being unfair.  Maybe Ted Cruz wants to abolish the Department of Commerce while moving its services to other departments.  But what would that accomplish?  Programs don't become cheaper when you move them from one department to another.  And I can't imagine voters would attach much importance to abolishing the Department of Commerce and then redistributing its duties among other departments.  That's a bureaucratic detail, not a fundamental reimagination of the role of government.  If Bernie Sanders suggested abolishing the Department of Defense, there would be a huge outcry, because everyone understands that it would involve eliminating the activities currently assigned to it.  If Sanders said, "No, no, we'll just establish a new Department of War to handle those duties," no one would believe that was what he originally meant.  Why use the term "abolish" if you really mean "rename"?

So Ted Cruz is either  highly dishonest or totally insane.  (That "or" is inclusive.)  Anyone who believes that the government has a role to play in taking the census or predicting the weather should be appalled by Ted Cruz's rhetoric, and the media should hold him accountable for it.


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