A Modest Fiscal Proposal
How to stop the government from devouring the economy


Jim Lacey

Do you have an infant? If you do, her share of the government debt is now $45,000. By the time she can read this article, it will have grown to at least $70,000. Worse, when she becomes a tax-paying adult, her share of the debt will far exceed her first mortgage, assuming the government leaves any money on the table for others to borrow.

In A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift advocated eating Irish children, both to relieve a raging famine and to keep them from becoming a future burden on the state. Today, rather than trying to save the state from the children, I propose a method of saving the children from being devoured by the state.

The Obama administration’s budget proposal will add over $1.5 trillion in debt this year alone. If further deficits persist in line with projections, this administration will add more to the national debt than all previous presidents combined. Every congressman knows that adding $1.5 trillion a year to the nation’s debt cannot be long sustained. Yet congressional Republicans’ budget proposal, which would trim a mere 5 percent off the projected deficit and just 1 percent off the total budget, is meeting a firestorm of political protest from Democrats. And even Republicans are apparently willing to let the remaining $1.44 trillion in deficit spending stand, and have shown very little backbone in addressing entitlements.

It is time to face facts. Congress is addicted to spending. For too many lawmakers, the main reason for being in Congress is to spend other folks’ money. But the problem is deeper. For thousands of entities, congressional largesse is as necessary as oxygen. Each and every one of them will fight to the death for every possible cent. Put simply, they want the money more than the average American wants to keep it from them.  

If we are to believe the evidence before our eyes, Congress is incapable of bringing an end to the nation’s fiscal hemorrhaging. Neither Congress nor the executive will ever marshal the courage to do what is necessary, at least before the final catastrophic fiscal collapse arrives.  

Unfortunately, the root cause of our fiscal dilemma lies within our Constitution. In one of the Founding Fathers’ rare errors, they failed to place any practical checks on the federal government’s spending or taxing powers. With fresh memories of the government’s penury during the Revolution and under the Articles of Confederation, the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that the new United States government would never lack the necessary funds to “provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare.” Since then, as long as Congress could plausibly claim that a tax or spending measure served to improve the “general welfare,” the courts have been reluctant to interfere. In fact, if the last Congress had implemented a single-payer health-care system, supported by taxes, instead of the individual mandate, it is doubtful that any court in the land would question Obamacare’s constitutionality.

But taxes are a a dual-edged sword. As Daniel Webster argued in one of the Supreme Court’s most famous cases, “An unlimited power to tax involves, necessarily, a power to destroy.” Of course, Webster never foresaw that the federal government would one day turn its taxing powers against the nation’s economy. But that is exactly what is happening today. In its never-ending quest for revenues to support runaway spending, Congress is draining the economy of its very lifeblood — capital.

Despite agreeing that economic growth is the cure for unemployment and our only guarantee of future prosperity, Congress and the administration continue to add burdens onto a struggling economy. Propelled by the Keynesian fantasy that every dollar the government spends is adding half as much again to the economy, Congress is spending trillions to pull us out of economic stagnation. They persist in this belief despite recent research demonstrating that every dollar Congress spends destroys 40 cents of wealth. After close to $10 trillion in federal spending in just a bit over two years, unemployment remains stubbornly high and economic growth is anemic.