Cato Institute gives Bill Clinton credit

Cato Institute gives Bill Clinton credit

Spending Restraint, Part I: Lessons from Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton

Uploaded by on Feb 14, 2011

Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both reduced the relative burden of government, largely because they were able to restrain the growth of domestic spending. The mini-documentary from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity uses data from the Historical Tables of the Budget to show how Reagan and Clinton succeeded and compares their record to the fiscal profligacy of the Bush-Obama years.


Over the years the liberals keep on calling for more spending but our solution is to restrain government growth. The funny thing is that BILL CLINTON BALANCED THE BUDGET BY RESTRAINING SPENDING BUT NOW DEMOCRATS ACT LIKE THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN THE RECIPE FOR SUCCESS.

Real-World Cases Prove: Spending Restraint Works

by Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

Added to on March 4, 2011

This article appeared in Investor’s Business Daily on March 4, 2011.

Good fiscal policy doesn’t require miracles — or dramatic showdowns. All politicians have to do is limit the growth of the public sector. Combined with normal revenue growth, this approach eliminates red ink very quickly.

This is what happened in the U.S. during the Clinton-Gingrich years. Between 1994 and 1999, total government spending increased by an average of just 3% annually. The budget deficit, which was projected in early 1995 (18 months after the 1993 tax increase!) to remain above $200 billion for the rest of the century, quickly became a budget surplus once spending was restrained.

Fiscal discipline also works when it is tried in other nations. Data from the Economist Intelligence Unit reveal that four nations — Canada, Ireland, Slovakia and New Zealand — dramatically reduced budget deficits in recent decades by imposing strict limits on government spending.

Daniel Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

More by Daniel J. Mitchell

Interestingly, these data also reveal that the tax burden was stable or falling during these periods of fiscal progress.

Canada, for instance, was in deep fiscal trouble. The burden of government spending had climbed above 53% of gross domestic product in 1992 and the deficit was more than 9% of economic output. Then lawmakers embarked on a new course. Government was put on a diet, and between 1992 and 1997 Canada’s budget rose from $374 billion Canadian to $391 billion, an average annual increase of less than 1%.

This period of frugality paid big dividends. The burden of government spending dropped to 44% of GDP. The budget deficit, meanwhile, completely disappeared. After five years of fiscal discipline, record levels of red ink were transformed into a small budget surplus.

Ireland was in a tailspin by the mid-1980s. The burden of government spending had skyrocketed to more than 60% of GDP and the nation’s deficit was consuming more than 12% of economic output. To avoid a crisis, Irish policy froze the budget. The Irish budget was 14.7 billion euros in 1985, and it was only 14.7 billion euros in 1989.

This four-year spending freeze was enormously successful. The burden of government spending plunged to less than 43% of GDP. The budget deficit also fell dramatically, consuming just 2.7% of economic output at the end of this period.

Slovakia, like many other nations that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet empire, was saddled with a large public sector. To solve the problem, policymakers restrained government. From 2000-03, the Slovakian budget grew from 11.5 billion euros to 11.8 billion euros, an average increase of 1.3%.

This modest period of fiscal discipline had a big impact. The burden of the public sector dropped from 36.9% of GDP down to 29.2% of economic output. During this time, the deficit fell from 8.7% of GDP to 2.0%. Combined with pro-growth policies such as the flat tax and personal retirement accounts, the nation has enjoyed robust growth.

Last but not least, let’s look at New Zealand. The burden of the public sector by the end of the 1980s had climbed to more than one-half of economic output. The Kiwis staged a turnaround by putting a clamp on public-sector spending. Between 1990 and 1995, the New Zealand Budget actually dropped from $39.3 billion New Zealand to $38.8 billion.

This five-year spending freeze put the nation in a much stronger position. The burden of government spending plummeted by more than 10 percentage points of GDP in New Zealand, dropping from 53.5% of economic output down to 43.1%. And a deficit of 4.5% of GDP was transformed during those five years to a surplus of 2.8% of GDP.

This pattern should not be a surprise. Restraining government spending generates good results because the private sector grows faster than the public sector.

Many self-proclaimed deficit hawks in Washington argue that deficit reduction is impossible without substantial tax increases. But American policymakers implemented a big tax cut, in 1997, during the period when the deficit became a surplus.

In other nations, the tax burden actually dropped by significant amounts during the relevant periods — falling by 8.1 percentage points of GDP in Ireland, 1.1 percentage points of GDP in Slovakia, and 3.1 percentage points of GDP in New Zealand. The overall tax burden did rise in Canada, but only by 0.3 percentage point of GDP.

The moral of the story is that limiting the growth of government spending is the right recipe. If the politicians in Washington replicated the spending discipline of these other nations, we would enjoy similar results.

Two percent annual spending increases would lead to fiscal balance by 2021. Limiting spending growth to 1% annually would balance the budget by 2019. A spending freeze would balance the budget by 2017.

Spending Restraint, Part II: Lessons from Canada, Ireland, Slovakia, and New Zealand

Uploaded by on Feb 22, 2011

Nations can make remarkable fiscal progress if policy makers simply limit the growth of government spending. This video, which is Part II of a series, uses examples from recent history in Canada, Ireland, Slovakia, and New Zealand to demonstrate how it is possible to achieve rapid improvements in fiscal policy by restraining the burden of government spending. Part I of the series examined how Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were successful in controlling government outlays — particularly the burden of domestic spending programs.

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