Friday, November 30, 2012

Suppose the Actuarial Code of Conduct Applied to Congress

Suppose the Code of Conduct that applies to the actuarial profession in the US applied to Congress. Just suppose. What would happen?

Let's consider Precept 8. Quoting directly,
An Actuary who performs Actuarial Services shall take reasonable steps to ensure that such services are not used to mislead other parties.
I guess that, in theory, anyway, Congress does provide services to its constituency.

Today, I am going back to an old target of mine, the rules under which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is required to operate. Now, understand, I don't hate the CBO. It's made up of some pretty smart people. And, as far as I know, they are also very honest people.

But, they don't set their own rules. You see, when the CBO "scores" a bill, that is when the CBO determines the cost of a bill that is introduced into a house of Congress, it is required by Congress to determine that cost over a 10-year period without regard to a dynamic economy. In other words, there is to be no inflation considered, no growth -- just whatever we have right now is what we are assumed to continue to have.

Quoting directly from President Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg Address:
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. 
Surely, it's not what the President intended, but the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations going on right now feel like some sort of great civil war. People are not perishing from it, but jobs may. And, leaders of both parties are acting like babies.

From what I have read in major print media and heard on major broadcast media, proposals include

  • no increases in tax rates for anyone
  • increases in tax rates only for the "wealthiest 2%"
  • no spending cuts for the first 4 years of the 10-year period that the CBO would be considering (this is to be balanced by generally as yet undetermined spending cuts to occur beginning in 2017)
  • continued reductions in FICA taxes
People, we have an 'official federal debt' of approximately $16.3 trillion. Through the magic of the way the CBO is required to do its calculations, the bulk of the savings from these proposals is not likely to ever come about. If a credentialed US actuary performed calculations in the manner that Congress requires, he or she would be required to also do the calculations on a reasonable basis or to at the very least estimate the difference in results if the calculations were done on a reasonable basis. Failure to do so might subject said actuary to any number of disciplinary options including expulsion from actuarial organizations.

What would it take to discipline most of Congress in such a manner.

FULL DISCLOSURE: If the actuary disclosed that calculations were being performed using assumptions chosen by the Principal (Congress in this case with respect to the CBO) and that the actuary did not agree with the assumptions and further disclosed that said calculations could only be used for the specific purpose for which they were intended, the actuary would likely be compliant. But in that case, at least the user would know that the actuary disavowed the results.

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