Stop the Spending! Time to Cut Government Down to Size

Stop the Spending! Time to Cut Government Down to Size

By Jack Kelly - April 9, 2012

The economy's been growing at a rate less than half the average for the recoveries following the nine previous postwar recessions. Accompanying the worst recovery ever is the longest period of sustained high unemployment since the Great Depression, the Congressional Budget Office has noted.

Real average hourly earnings fell 1.1 percent between February of last year and this February, said the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Americans are being squeezed more than these data indicate. The Consumer Price Index rose just 2.9 percent last year, but the American Institute for Economic Research compiles an "Everyday Price Index," which includes only things the typical consumer buys at least once a month, and it rose 7.2 percent.

High unemployment, slow growth and soaring gasoline prices are the product chiefly of government policies. They can be ameliorated, swiftly and substantially, if those policies are changed. But it's too late to vote our way out of our biggest economic problem.

Our national debt is $15.6 trillion. It doesn't include the promises made to Social Security and Medicare recipients, or the pensions of federal workers ($50.5 trillion); unfunded pensions for state and local government workers ($4.4 trillion), or the $11.4 trillion we owe on home mortgages, credit cards and auto and student loans.

Add it all up, and each American owes about $261,000. Per capita income is about $27,000.

Big trouble looms once national government debt exceeds 90 percent of the gross domestic product, economists Carmen Reinhardt and Kenneth Rogoff said after studying financial crises in 66 countries for their 2009 book, "This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly." U.S. debt already exceeds 100 percent of GDP.

Trouble starts with sluggish growth, but ends, typically, with a spectacular crash, hyperinflation and depression.

The collapse of the dollar is a mathematical certainty if we keep running large deficits, and the Federal Reserve keeps printing money to paper them over, the head of the world's largest hedge fund said last July. The crash will come late this year or early next, Ray Dalio predicted.

So it may be too late to defuse the debt bomb. But (to mix metaphors) if we know a tsunami's coming, we should get off the beach.

Private household debt has declined each year since the recession started. But politicians borrow and spend faster than ever. Debt has increased more in less than four years under President Barack Obama than in eight under George W. Bush.

Federal spending has gone up almost every year since 1969. Since 1970, federal spending per household has risen 100 percent while median household income has risen only 20 percent.

During the Obama administration, spending has soared but real per capita disposable income has been flat since the "recovery" began, data collected by the Bureau of Economic Affairs indicate. In the private sector, the real incomes of workers have declined for a decade.

This is not coincidence. Government does more to hurt than to foster economic growth. The annual cost to comply with federal regulations rose to $1.75 trillion in 2008, a 3 percent real increase over five years, according to a Small Business Administration study. The Obama administration has added 106 new regulations with a compliance cost of $46 billion since, the Heritage Foundation estimates. For each federal regulator eliminated, the private sector would, on average, create 98 jobs, the Phoenix Center has calculated.

The nations which recover fastest after a crash are those which sharply restrict government interference in the economy. The "economic miracle" in post-WWII Germany is the most spectacular example, but history is replete with others.

The federal government will spend about 31 percent more in the current fiscal year than was spent in 2008. The president's cronies will benefit. Most Americans won't.

Yet when times are tough, few propose that government tighten its belt. The budget that House Republicans passed last week is "thinly veiled social Darwinism," Mr. Obama said. But even under the GOP budget, federal spending rises year after year.

More Americans have been harmed than helped by the enormous growth of government. Growing it more slowly won't make things better. It's time to give Leviathan a haircut. 

Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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