Americans finally will start working for themselves today rather than for their government masters. This milestone arrives two days later than in 2007, clearly proving that the era of big government is back with a vengeance. May 19 is Friedman Day, when the Massachusetts-based American Institute for Economic Research calculates that citizens finally will have toiled long enough to fund local, state, and federal spending.
Freidman Day is not to be confused with the Tax Foundation’s Tax Freedom Day, when Americans’ aggregate annual income collectively finances each year’s municipal, state, and national taxes. This year’s Tax Freedom Day fell on April 23, three days earlier than in 2007. “Tax Freedom Day shows that Americans are working fewer days to pay their taxes now than they did in 2000,” AIER’s Kerry Lynch wrote last April 15. Tax Freedom Day peaked on May 3, 2000, near the end of President Bill Clinton’s administration but before President G. W. Bush signed multiple tax cuts.
Lynch added: “Friedman Day shows that it is not because the government is spending less, but because it is borrowing more, in the name of tomorrow’s taxpayers.”
The late, great Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman would be pleased to see Americans devoting less wealth to paying taxes. However, the man for whom Friedman Day is named would be saddened, but probably not surprised, to see Americans dedicating more blood, sweat, and tears to finance government spending.
“I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible,” Friedman told writer John Hawkins in September 2003. “I believe the big problem is not taxes,” Friedman continued. “The big problem is spending. The question is, ‘How do you hold down government spending?’ Government spending now amounts to close to 40 percent of national income, not counting indirect spending through regulation and the like. If you include that, you get up to roughly half. The real danger we face is that number will creep up and up and up. The only effective way I think to hold it down, is to hold down the amount of income the government has. The way to do that is to cut taxes.”
Up and up and up perfectly describes the path of federal spending, which constantly rises, as if gravity were reversed. In good times, Washington politicians spend the revenues that economic growth generates. In bad times, bailouts and handouts abound. Entitlements flow, no matter what. Between fiscal year 2001 and FY 2009, the federal budget has soared 66.8 percent, from $1.86 trillion to $3.1 trillion. These 8.35 percent average annual spending increases have cascaded from a Republican presidency and a mainly GOP Congress.
Today’s Democrat-controlled House of Representatives continues this fiasco. It approved a $307-billion farm bill on May 14, by a vote of 318 to 106. The Senate endorsed this largesse the following day, 81 to 15. Among other damage, this legislative monster gives $3.8 billion in disaster assistance to those who already have received $5.2 billion in direct payments for their “historical planting average,” even if they have stopped farming. While typical GIs in Iraq and Afghanistan (unmarried E-4s with four years’ service) dodge and, too often, catch bullets for just $41,591 annually, couples with yearly incomes up to $1.5 million still can receive agricultural subsidies. Democrats consider these wealthy growers rich enough to slam with tax hikes, yet poor enough to soothe with farm welfare. Which is it?
Meanwhile, calamitous ethanol assistance survives, dreadful sugar supports expand, and those who cultivate lentils, chick peas, salmon, and even race horses join the dole. Want a new tractor? Uncle Sam will help you buy one.
Greedy politicians who use taxpayers’ money to buy the votes of equally greedy farmers collectively soil common decency. Furthermore, they are an international embarrassment to a nation that still claims to be Earth’s chief repository of limited government and free-market capitalism.
These trade-distorting subsidies likely will encourage foreign countries to erect retaliatory barriers. Perhaps America’s already porcine farmers will balloon into morbid obesity by wolfing down the wheat, soybeans, and rice they soon may have trouble exporting.
While record-high agricultural prices cause belt-tightening at home and food riots overseas, this farm bill cruelly demonstrates that most Washington politicians don’t give a damn about anything but their reelection prospects.
“Pain at the grocery checkout line? Starvation abroad? Whatever. Just keep me inside the Beltway.”
Republicans are supposed to squelch such rubbish. And yet 100 House Republicans approved it. GOP voters, already disgusted by Republican profligacy, will find this betrayal of their party’s core principles enervating. Democratic voters will back their party’s genetic big spenders, rather than the GOP’s hypocritical posers. In an effort to “save” farmers who never had it so good, congressional Republicans have put themselves in mortal danger on Election Day.
Until then, Americans should consider a question as relevant now as when Milton Friedman asked it in 1962’s Capitalism and Freedom: “How do we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect?”
– NRO contributing editor Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution. © 2008 Scripps Howard News Service