Postmodern Government Budgets

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If President Bush’s bureaucracy were as capable as the bureaucracy in George Orwell’s great novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Lawrence Lindsey, the president’s former economic advisor, would have been airbrushed out of every photograph he appeared in while holding that post, and every reference to his estimate of the cost of the coming Iraq war would be wiped from every archive in the country. Today no one would know who Lawrence Lindsey is or that he once said that the war would cost $100 billion to $200 billion.

Alas, government is not quite as powerful as Orwell envisioned. So the Bush administration has to settle for simply firing Lindsey (or insisting he resign) and having the budget director dismiss and discredit Lindsey’s estimate and issue his own lower one.


Maybe that more transparent method will work just as well. After all, while $100 billion to $200 billion may strike some as a mite expensive for a war against a weak and toothless dictator, $50 billion to $60 billion is an absolute steal. It’s the Kmart blue-light special on wars. We can’t afford not to go to war.

Still, one has to chuckle at the way the administration has pulled this off. It’s not as far from Orwell as it looks at first sight. Through Orwellian “doublethink” people knew the past had been changed — they just didn’t acknowledge to themselves that they knew. Through Bushian “doublethink,” we all know that the economist whom Bush respected enough to make his chief economic advisor estimated an exorbitant cost for the war — but now we tell ourselves that he was wrong and had to go.

Did Budget Director Mitch Daniels, who presented the new, lower estimate, explain why his number is better than nonperson Lindsey’s? According to the New York Times, “Mr. Daniels declined to explain how budget officials had reached the $50 billion to $60 billion range for war costs, or why it was less in current dollars than the 43-day gulf war in 1991.”

In other words, trust us. Daniels’s estimate must be better than the
nonperson Lindsey’s because