If you’re old enough to remember— think back to the year 1999.
Some of the year’s most popular movies included The Matrix, Fight Club, and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The euro made its international debut. Vladimir Putin became Prime Minister of Russia.
And over in the US, President Bill Clinton narrowly escaped conviction in the Senate for obstruction and perjury charges related to his sex scandal.
1999 was also one of the last years of an unprecedented economic boom in the United States; the economy was so strong, in fact, that the federal government managed to run a significant budget surplus of around $128 billion (worth roughly $230 billion today).
Total federal spending for FY99 was $1.7 trillion; that’s about $3.1 trillion in 2023 dollars. I bring that up because, recently, the guy who shakes hands with thin air released his latest budget proposal for the next fiscal year.
It calls for nearly SEVEN TRILLION DOLLARS in federal spending.
So, even after adjusting for inflation, the Big Guy’s budget is more than TWICE as big as the federal budget was in 1999.
What exactly are taxpayers receiving in exchange for all that extra spending?
You’d think that if the government is spending twice as much, that taxpayers would be receiving AT LEAST twice as much benefit… or would see twice as much government service.
Are there twice as many federal highways? Is the military twice as strong? Is Social Security twice as solvent?
Quite the contrary, actually. The highways are crumbling, the military has grown weaker, and Social Security is set to run out of money in a few years.
And this trend doesn’t just apply to 1999. If we fast forward to 2013— 10 years ago— we can see, for example, that Defense spending totaled roughly $520 billion. That’s around $650 billion in today’s money.
The Big Guy’s new budget proposal, however, calls for nearly $900 billion in Defense spending. And that doesn’t include all the money they’re shoveling out the door to Ukraine.
That’s an almost 40% difference in Defense spending, after adjusting for inflation. But is US national security 40% better than it was in 2013? Is the military 40% stronger today than it was 10 years ago?
In 2016, Obama’s last year in office, federal spending was $3.2 trillion… which was considered an outrageous sum at the time. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $4.1 trillion today. This means that the Big Guy is proposing to spend nearly 70% more than his former boss.
What’s really incredible is that if the government had merely held spending constant (in real terms, after adjusting for inflation) from 2016, the US would have had a $1 TRILLION SURPLUS last year.
This is nuts. The government was already way too big in 2016. And if they had done nothing else but kept it the same size, the US would already be on the road to fiscal recovery.
Yet somehow they can’t manage to do that. They can’t find anywhere to cut. They only know how to spend more… even though they having nothing positive or tangible to show for it.
All we know for sure is that they’ve created a lot more rules, regulations, and bureaucracy. In fact back in 1999, the entire Code of Federal Regulations consumed about 130,000 pages. Today it’s closing in near 200,000 pages.
That’s an almost 50% increase in the amount of regulations in the Land of the Free since 1999… which is pretty amazing when you think about it—
It’s not like the US was on the verge of anarchy in 1999; America wasn’t some lawless society full of criminals and vigilantes. Life was pretty orderly and civilized.
Now the rules that we all have to follow have increased by nearly 50%. Is society 50% better off? 50% safer? 50% more civilized?
It’s ironic that, out of the ~70,000 new pages of regulations since 1999, 849 of those pages came from the Dodd-Frank banking reform that was supposed to prevent another bank crisis. So, many of the regulations are clearly pointless and ineffective.
So is the excessive spending. However high and noble their intentions, these people just keep making things worse.
The good news is that the solutions shouldn’t be difficult. Again, all they have to do is go back to 2016-levels of government spending and there would be a big surplus. That’s hardly a radical proposal. But don’t hold your breath for them to figure it out.
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Author: Simon Black
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