CHICAGO — Across-the-board budget cuts like those imposed under a pending sequestration are inefficient and often impact critical rather than wasteful spending, said Michael Miller, associate professor of economics at DePaul University.
Miller was one of three DePaul faculty members who shared their thoughts on sequestration, including the meaning of the word.
“I cannot believe for one second that any budget manager in a successful firm that was facing hard times would cut the budget in the manner that sequestration does,” Miller said. “Across-the-board cuts are inefficient, possibly cutting where spending is key and cutting too little where there is waste and fat in the budget.”
Despite this, taxpayers seem to be supportive of the idea. “If polls are to be believed, the American people love the idea of cutting government spending,” Miller said.
Overall, sequestration will not have a big impact on the U.S. economy, said Tom Mondschean, professor of economics in DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business. “I hope that it will be modified by Congress in the next couple months to allow more flexibility about where to cut. The overall effect on the economy will not be that great, but it could have a significant effect on certain sectors or groups.”
Linguist Craig Sirles, associate chair of DePaul’s Department of English, said “sequester” is an old French word meaning “to put in a place for protection or safekeeping.”
The word sequester entered the English language in the late 14th or early 15th century with the “place of protection” meaning. “This, of course, is how most people today understand and use the word, as in sequestering a jury, or shielding jury members from outside influences that might affect or alter their deliberations,” said Sirles, who also is an associate professor in DePaul’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
Another meaning of the word is “to seize or confiscate,” Sirles said. “Sequestration law deals with the legal seizing of property to pay off creditors or taxes owed to the government,” Sirles explained.
“Before all this fiscal-cliff hoopla, I had never heard of ‘sequester’ and ‘sequestration’ to denote automatic and mandatory cuts in the budget. In a sense, though, you can see that if your budget is automatically reduced by 10 percent, the practical effect is that 10 percent of your budget has been confiscated from you,” Sirles said.