It wouldn’t be much of an answer to say that the movie is better than the very worst show on television at home. Rather you should focus on comparing the movie to the next best thing you might do, like watching your favorite TV show or going to a new restaurant you want to try. The upshot is that we should compare anti-poverty programs to other anti-poverty programs, and favor only the prioritized ones. But just how much of a priority does a program need to be? One way to proceed is to ask: If we expand some programs, what is the most likely political response? It could be either lower spending in some other program or, in fact, raising taxes on the wealthy. But the evidence on the “fiscal gap” -- the space between what the government owes and what it collects -- suggests that the opportunity cost of expanding one transfer program is likely some government spending elsewhere, rather than expensive handbags for the wealthy. If we look at the overall fiscal position of the U.S. federal government, we are spending beyond our means and the future will require some mix of spending cuts and tax increases. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office: “To close the gap solely by raising revenues would require a revenue increase of about 33 percent, and maintaining that level of revenue, on average, each year over the next 75 years.” I would submit that revenue increases of such magnitude are unlikely or perhaps even impossible, and thus any new spending will have to come out of other government spending.
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