I suppose it’s possible to take this recurring melodrama seriously, but there’s no reason to. The problem facing the United States government is that it spends over a trillion dollars a year that it doesn’t have. If you want to make that number go away, you need either to reduce spending or increase revenue. With the best will in the world, you can’t interpret the election result as a spectacular victory for less spending. Indeed, if nothing else, the unfortunate events of Nov. 6 should have performed the useful task of disabusing us poor conservatives that America is any kind of “center-right nation.” A few months ago, I dined with a (pardon my English) French intellectual who, apropos Mitt Romney’s stump-speech warnings that we were on a one-way ticket to Continental-sized dependency, chortled to me, “Americans love Big Government as much as Europeans. The only difference is that Americans refuse to admit it.”
My Gallic charmer is on to something. According to the most recent (2009) OECD statistics: Government expenditures per person in France, $18,866.00; in the United States, $19,266.00. That’s adjusted for purchasing-power parity, and, yes, no comparison is perfect, but did you ever think the difference between America and the cheese-eating surrender monkeys would come down to quibbling over the fine print? In that sense, the federal debt might be better understood as an American Self-Delusion Index, measuring the ever-widening gap between the national mythology (a republic of limited government and self-reliant citizens) and the reality (a 21st century cradle-to-grave nanny state in which, as the Democrats’ Convention boasted, “government is the only thing we do together.”).
Generally speaking, functioning societies make good-faith efforts to raise what they spend, subject to fluctuations in economic fortune: Government spending in Australia is 33.1 percent of GDP, and tax revenues are 27.1 percent. Likewise, government spending in Norway is 46.4 percent, and revenues are 41 percent – a shortfall but in the ballpark. Government spending in the United States is 42.2 percent, but revenues are 24 percent – the widest spending/taxing gulf in any major economy.
So all the agonizing over our annual trillion-plus deficits overlooks the obvious solution: Given that we’re spending like Norwegians, why don’t we just pay Norwegian tax rates?
So, given that the ruling party will not permit spending cuts, what should Republicans do? If I were John Boehner, I’d say: “Clearly there’s no mandate for small government in the election results. So, if you milquetoast pantywaist sad-sack excuses for the sorriest bunch of so-called Americans who ever lived want to vote for Swede-sized statism, it’s time to pony up.”
OK, he might want to focus-group it first. But that fundamental dishonesty is the heart of the crisis. You cannot simultaneously enjoy American-sized taxes and European-sized government. One or the other has to go.
As I have said many times before, there are only three ways to reduce the deficit – raise taxes, cut spending, or a combination of both. Lately we can’t even control the rate at which we are going deeper into debt – it has been accelerating.
On the other hand, read this letter to the editor of Barron’s:
To the Editor:
This 50-something, white, conservative Republican wishes to thank America’s youth for sacrificing their financial futures and standard of living so that boomers, such as my wife and I, can look forward to a long and comfy retirement, which we could easily have afforded on our own. Now we have the youth as our guarantors and providers of a little something extra.
As reported by the national exit poll conducted by Edison Research, Americans aged 18 to 29 voted 60% to 36% for Barack Obama. Prior to Obama’s re-election, I believed that it was morally wrong for my generation to pass a crushing national debt on to the next one.
The debt will top $20 trillion before Obama moves out of the White House, and it will include spiraling retirement-related costs that the administration has shown zero interest in bringing under control, largely driven by baby boomers piling into the Social Security and Medicare systems.
With the president’s electoral crushing of Mitt Romney, my overriding sense of morality and guilt have vanished. Thank you, kids!
Edwin D. Schindler
And here I used to feel guilty about spending my kids’ inheritance.