Dan Mitchell article “The Debt Limit and Long-Overdue Spending Restraint”

The Debt Limit and Long-Overdue Spending Restraint

Regarding the debt ceiling, the hysterical headlinesabout default and an economic apocalypse are silly because the Treasury Department surely will “prioritize” if Republicans and Democrats don’t reach an agreement.

The above clip was taken from an interview last week with the Soul of Enterprise.

I wasn’t intending to write about this topic, but it’s getting a lot of attention now that the deadline is approaching.

If you want to understand the real issue, there is an excellent column in the Wall Street Journal by former Senator Phil Gramm and his long-time aide, Mike Solon.

They explain that the fight is between House Republicans, who want domestic discretionary spending to grow at a slower rate and Democrats in the Senate and White House who want it to grow at a faster rate.

Here’s some of what they wrote.

Of the $5 trillion of stimulus payments between 2020 and 2022, some $362 billion has yet to be spent. The House debt-limit bill proposes to claw back $30 billion—or some 8% of the unspent balance. Only in Mr. Biden’s White House and Mr. Schumer’s Senate Democratic Caucus could such a modest proposal be considered extreme. …The most recent CBO estimate projects that fiscal 2024 discretionary spending will clock in at $1.864 trillion—a 10% real increase from the pre-pandemic estimate. …This growth in nondefense discretionary spending is the post-pandemic bow wave that Mr. McCarthy’s debt-limit plan seeks to mitigate. Even if the House GOP’s proposed reductions in discretionary-spending growth took effect, total discretionary spending would still be 2.4% more in inflation-adjusted dollars than the CBO’s 2020 projection for fiscal 2024. …A clean debt-ceiling hike would give us more government spending, and the House GOP’s proposal would allow more private spending. Only in Washington is that a hard choice.

Needless to say, I disagree with both sides. There should be deep and genuine cuts in domestic discretionary spending.

But a slower increase is better than a faster increase. And I reckon any support for fiscal restraint by Republicans is welcome after the reckless profligacy of the Trump years.

The bottom line is that fights over the debt limit are messy, but if we actually got some good policy reforms, such battles could save us from something very bad in the future.

The best way to destroy the welfare trap is to put in Milton Friedman’s negative income tax.

A Picture of How Redistribution Programs Trap the Less Fortunate in Lives of Dependency

I wrote last year about the way in which welfare programs lead to very high implicit marginal tax rates on low-income people. More specifically, they lose handouts when they earn income. As such, it is not very advantageous for them to climb the economic ladder because hard work is comparatively unrewarding.

Thanks to the American Enterprise Institute, we now have a much more detailed picture showing the impact of redistribution programs on the incentive to earn more money.

It’s not a perfect analogy since people presumably prefer cash to in-kind handouts, but the vertical bars basically represent living standards for any given level of income that is earned (on the horizontal axis).

Needless to say, there’s not much reason to earn more income when living standards don’t improve. May as well stay home and good off rather than work hard and produce.

This is why income redistribution is so destructive, not just to taxpayers, but also to the people who get trapped into dependency. Which is exactly the point made in this video.

P.S. Most of you know that I’m not a fan of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development because the Paris-based bureaucracy has such statist impulses. But even the OECD has written about the negative impact of overly generous welfare programs on incentives for productive behavior.

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