PREVENTING FISCAL MELTDOWNS WITH A SPENDING CAP by Dan Mitchell

Preventing Fiscal Meltdowns with a Spending Cap

As part of my recent interview about European economic policy with Gunther Fehlinger, I pontificated on issues such as Convergence and Wagner’s Law.

I also explained why a Swiss-style spending cap could have saved Greece and Italy from fiscal crisis. Here’s that part of the discussion.

For those not familiar with spending caps, this six-minute videotells you everything you need to know.

Simply stated, this policy requires politicians to abide by fiscal policy’s Golden Rule, meaning that – on average – government spending grows slower than the private economy.

And that’s a very effective recipe for a lower burden of spending and falling levels of red ink.

One of the points I made in the video is that spending caps would prevented the fiscal mess in Greece and Italy.

To show what I mean, I went to the International Monetary Funds World Economic Outlook database and downloaded the historical budget data for those two nations. I then created charts showing actual spending starting in 1988 compared to how much spending would have grown if there was a requirement that the budget could only increase by 2 percent each year.

Here are the shocking numbers for Greece.

The obvious takeaway is that there never would have been a fiscal crisis if Greece had a spending cap.

That also would be true even if the spending cap allowed 3-percent budget increases starting in 1998.

And it would be true if the 2-percent spending cap didn’t start until 2000.

There are all sorts of ways of adjusting the numbers. The bottom line is that any reasonable level of spending restraint could have prevented the horrible misery Greece has suffered.

Here are the numbers for Italy.

As you can see, the government budget has not increased nearly as fast in Italy as it did in Greece, but the burden of spending nonetheless has become more onerous – particularly when compared to what would have happened if there was a 2-percent spending cap.

I’ve written many times (here, here, here, and here) about Italy’s looming fiscal crisis. As I said in the interview, I don’t know when the house of cards will collapse, but it won’t be pretty.

And tax reform, while very desirable, is not going to avert that crisis. At least not unless it is combined with very serious spending restraint.

P.S. For those who want information about real-world success stories, I shared three short video presentations back in 2015 about the spending caps in Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Colorado.

P.P.S. It’s also worth noting that the United States would be in a much stronger position today if we had enacted a spending capa couple of decades ago.

March 31, 2021

President Biden  c/o The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

Please explain to me if you ever do plan to balance the budget while you are President? I have written these things below about you and I really do think that you don’t want to cut spending in order to balance the budget. It seems you ever are daring the Congress to stop you from spending more.

President Barack Obama speaks about the debt limit in the East Room of the White House in Washington. | AP Photo

“The credit of the United States ‘is not a bargaining chip,’ Obama said on 1-14-13. However, President Obama keeps getting our country’s credit rating downgraded as he raises the debt ceiling higher and higher!!!!

Washington Could Learn a Lot from a Drug Addict

Just spend more, don’t know how to cut!!! Really!!! That is not living in the real world is it?

Making more dependent on government is not the way to go!!

Why is our government in over 16 trillion dollars in debt? There are many reasons for this but the biggest reason is people say “Let’s spend someone else’s money to solve our problems.” Liberals like Max Brantley have talked this way for years. Brantley will say that conservatives are being harsh when they don’t want the government out encouraging people to be dependent on the government. The Obama adminstration has even promoted a plan for young people to follow like Julia the Moocher.  

David Ramsey demonstrates in his Arkansas Times Blog post of 1-14-13 that very point:

Arkansas Politics / Health Care Arkansas’s share of Medicaid expansion and the national debt

Posted by on Mon, Jan 14, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Baby carrot Arkansas Medicaid expansion image

Imagine standing a baby carrot up next to the 25-story Stephens building in Little Rock. That gives you a picture of the impact on the national debt that federal spending in Arkansas on Medicaid expansion would have, while here at home expansion would give coverage to more than 200,000 of our neediest citizens, create jobs, and save money for the state.

Here’s the thing: while more than a billion dollars a year in federal spending would represent a big-time stimulus for Arkansas, it’s not even a drop in the bucket when it comes to the national debt.

Currently, the national debt is around $16.4 trillion. In fiscal year 2015, the federal government would spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion to fund Medicaid expansion in Arkansas if we say yes. That’s about 1/13,700th of the debt.

It’s hard to get a handle on numbers that big, so to put that in perspective, let’s get back to the baby carrot. Imagine that the height of the Stephens building (365 feet) is the $16 trillion national debt. That $1.2 billion would be the length of a ladybug. Of course, we’re not just talking about one year if we expand. Between now and 2021, the federal government projects to contribute around $10 billion. The federal debt is projected to be around $25 trillion by then, so we’re talking about 1/2,500th of the debt. Compared to the Stephens building? That’s a baby carrot.

______________

Here is how it will all end if everyone feels they should be allowed to have their “baby carrot.”

How sad it is that liberals just don’t get this reality.

Here is what the Founding Fathers had to say about welfare. David Weinberger noted:

While living in Europe in the 1760s, Franklin observed: “in different countries … the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee (15 October 1747 – 5 January 1813) was a Scottish lawyer, writer, and professor. Tytler was also a historian, and he noted, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.”

Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Milligan

April 6, 1816

[Jefferson affirms that the main purpose of society is to enable human beings to keep the fruits of their labor. — TGW]

To take from one, because it is thought that his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, “the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry, and the fruits acquired by it.” If the overgrown wealth of an individual be deemed dangerous to the State, the best corrective is the law of equal inheritance to all in equal degree; and the better, as this enforces a law of nature, while extra taxation violates it.

[From Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Albert E. Bergh (Washington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), 14:466.]

_______

Jefferson pointed out that to take from the rich and give to the poor through government is just wrong. Franklin knew the poor would have a better path upward without government welfare coming their way. Milton Friedman’s negative income tax is the best method for doing that and by taking away all welfare programs and letting them go to the churches for charity.

_____________

_________

Thank you so much for your time. I know how valuable it is. I also appreciate the fine family that you have and your commitment as a father and a husband.

Sincerely,

Everette Hatcher III, 13900 Cottontail Lane, Alexander, AR 72002, ph 501-920-5733

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