It’s what passes for high drama in America’s most parasitic city: Washington, D.C., home of the takers, not the makers, lair of the folks that make dependency this country’s biggest growth industry. “Government shutdown averted at the 11th hour!” (Make that “shutdown,” in quote marks, since nothing would have, you know, actually shut down, more's the pity.)
The president, right on cue, was out there beaming, praising himself: “Americans of different beliefs came together. . . .” Thanks to me, B. Obama, we just worked out the “biggest annual spending cut in history.”
How big? $38.5 billion trimmed out of government operations through September. $38.5 billion out of — remind me, what’s the total budget? In 2010, U.S. federal spending was about $3.5 trillion.
This is what $38.5 billion looks like written out:
This is $3.5 trillion:
In other words, this “historic” spending cut is a little over 1 percent of federal spending. Lunch money. Not even lunch money: it's the change, without hope, that you get back after paying for lunch. Pathetic. It is just a couple percent of the nearly $1.5 trillion deficit forecast for this year, which turns out to be $414 billion higher than its previous estimate, which came last August. (Feeling dizzy? The national debt at the end of December 2010 was $14 trillion.)
$38.5 billion in spending cuts. “White House, Congress Cheer Deal,” read the headline. Who would doubt it? Hey, we’re pretty good guys, aren’t we? Three cheers for us!
$38.5 billion. John Boehner wanted $61 billion, but settled for $38.5. In Washington, that’s called a “compromise” and is hailed as “visionary” and “historic” (Harry Reid’s phrase, so you know it must be a joke).
This is a breakdown of federal spending in 2010, courtesy Wikipedia:
Notice anything? Social Security and Medicare/Medcaid account for more than 40 percent of federal spending. The former came into being as a temporary emergency measure during the Depression. It is now the largest government program in the world. The latter was one of Lyndon Johnson’s gifts to the nation: a species of government-funded health care that accomplished two things: 1) the institution of a metastatic and almost comically inefficient government bureaucracy and 2) the dependence of huge swathes of the American public on government, i.e., taxpayer largess. We’re told that nothing can be done about either program — they’re sacrosanct, meaning, of course, that the politicians who might do something about them are too timid to try.
$38.5 billion in spending cuts and Harry Reid declares an “historic” occasion. In fact, the “deal” was not so much a compromise as a capitulation on the part of the Republicans, but what else is new?
The only serious budget proposal I have seen is Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap for America” budget proposal which manages to save taxpayers $6.2 trillion over the next decade. Naturally, Ryan’s dose of fiscal sanity sent the left-wing commentariat into a tizzy: “Ludicrous and Cruel,” squeaked Paul Krugman in The New York Times. ("Cruel" -- ah, that hurts, Paul.)
But in fact, Paul Ryan’s budget is the only systematic proposal on the table that provides a serious, global economic plan: it’s not just a bandage that aims to stanch the incontinent flow of money out of Washington. It also understands that a national budget is only one piece of a larger economic reality, i.e., a mechanism for the production of wealth.
In the end, that is what an economy is about — the production of wealth — not entitlements, not “serving the poor,” or the old, or the maimed, halt, or feckless. It is about deploying in the most efficient way the engines of wealth creation — also known as “growth” — because it is by unleashing those energies that society survives, prospers, and thus finds itself the happy recipient of a rising tide in which all boats float and generous impulses can be cultivated and indulged.
It does not sound as lofty and kindhearted as those who pretend that fiscal reality is a welfare program. People like Paul Krugman talk about helping the poor. But Paul Ryan has gone to the trouble of showing us the way out of fiscal catastrophe, release from which is the conditio sine qua non of recovered prosperity and, at the end of the day, the means of helping anyone, ourselves first of all, but also the poor and disadvantaged that Paul Krugman, from his Princeton-New York Times eyrie, pretends to care about.
(Read another view from Roger L. Simon: "Is Boehner our Sun Tzu?")