We always hear our politicians tell us how they will cut unnecessary spending in government and rein in waste. Whether it is cutting military spending or cutting “earmarks”, we are constantly reminded how much money our politicians will save us. Have any of them every actually delivered on that promise? You should not be surprised to hear that the answer is decidedly “NO!”
Government spending in the United States has decreased significantly only TWICE in the last century. Even in these two circumstances it was not the politicians cut spending, it was that the country no longer had to build tanks and aircraft carriers. The only two times in the last century that the United States cut spending in a significant fashion was after World War I and after World War II. Under every administration, government spending has increased dramatically.
From 1902 (the earliest year for which I have comprehensive data) to 2008, annual government spending in year 2000 dollars (to extract the effect of inflation) has increased from about $29 billion to $4.503 trillion, or $4,503 billion. That constitutes a 15,269% increase in spending over the period, or about 154 times more spending in 2008 than in 1902. Keep in mind, we are utilizing year 2000 dollar figures, so inflation has no effect on the value of the dollar figures. To put it another way, the government spent less than 7% of the total GDP in 1902 and spent more than 36% than the total GDP in 2008. To put it yet another way, the government spent about $370 per person in the United States in 1902, compared to $14,882 per person in 2008 (again in year 2000 dollars). Even at the highest point of spending during World War II, 1944, when the country was entrenched in wars in Asia, Africa, and Europe, government spending only amounted to $6,456 per person, well shy of what it is today. In 2008 the government spent far more on interest on its debt than it spent every year up to World War II.
I wanted to add this in: total government spending for 2008 totaled just under 37% of GDP for the United States. Conversely, the declared socialist government of Venezuela’s spending totaled 26% of GDP. The United States government is spending far more, in total and relative terms, than declared socialist societies. The United States also spent relatively more than Russia, (32% of its GDP), Iran (22%), and a number of other countries that one would not expect to be more frugal than the United States. Luckily, the United States does still spend less than some countries, including communist Cuba (72%).
Despite these absurd levels of spending by our government today, the people of this nation and the politicians still demand more and more. It is not just democrats, but republicans as well. Both parties are guilty of being addicted to the level of spending that is seen in our government today.
What are the consequences of all this spending? Waste, inefficiency, apathy, and control. Waste in that the government acts as a middle man in spending tens of thousands dollars for each of us. For their services they take a large fee that will never be distributed back to the taxpayers. Inefficiency in that the government feels it is far more qualified to spend your money than you are. Unfortunately they are wrong. The government never has and never will spend other people’s money as efficiently and effectively as people that are spending their own money. Apathy in that the people of these United States will inevitably lose some motivation to produce as they are further taxed. It is a natural event that if a person’s reward is diminished that person’s motivation to obtain that reward becomes diminished as well. Control in that as the government spends more and more of our money we depend on them more and more. If the government controls the means of production then they control the people. When a government has total control of its people things never end in prosperity and happiness. To borrow from the movie V for Vendetta, “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
What can be done to turn back the dial on spending and return to a state of liberty and free markets in the United States? This is a question that I believe only has one answer. An amendment to the Constitution will have to be presented. The amendment would have to limit government spending in any given year to some percentage of the previous year’s GDP. I believe this percentage should be somewhere around 5-10%. The amendment will have to include a clause to allow for a higher percentage of spending during times of declared war by the House of Representatives and the Senate. To prevent constant war, this percentage should only increase to around 30% and last for a maximum period of time, perhaps four years. The federal legislative branch will have to pass by a two-thirds majority the amendment. This amendment will then have to be passed by at least three-fourths of the legislative branches of the 50 states. Having this amendment passed by both the federal legislative branch and the states is difficult because of all the money each of these states receives from the federal government. If federal spending is cut then these states will, of course, receive less money. As such, it is extraordinarily unlikely that such an amendment would be feasible. As such, there are really only two events that I can foresee leading to such an amendment: federal bankruptcy or a revolution. Hopefully I am wrong.
Government spending is a direct threat to liberty in any nation. At the end of the day, however, if we are trying to find someone to blame for the incredible advances of government control over the last century we need only blame ourselves. After all, it is our votes that determine our politicians and it is our politicians that restrict liberty. The government’s power to restrict its people’s liberty depends on ignorance amongst the people. Liberty is your right as a human being and is what makes life worth living. Fight for it by staying informed and informing others.