State Spending Machine Keeps on Rolling during Recession

While other matters dominate the headlines, American governments continue to spend more money, despite the presumed effects of the Great Recession. Washington Post reporter Abha Bhattarai lays out the latest details:

State and local governments in Maryland, Virginia and the District spent $7.82 billion more than they collected in revenue between 2007 and 2012, during the throes of the economic downturn, according to data released from the U.S. Census Bureau last month….

State and local governments in Virginia spent $1.03 billion more than they took in between 2007 and 2012, while expenditures in Maryland outpaced earnings by $6.07 billion….

Nationally, state and local governments spent $118.15 billion more than they collected between 2007 and 2012. Total expenditures during that period increased by 18.2 percent, from $2.7 trillion to $3.2 trillion, while total revenue declined 3.2 percent over the same five-year period, from $3.1 trillion to $3.0 trillion.

Over that five-year period, plenty of businesses, families, and nonprofits found their revenue declining by more than three percent, and most responded by spending less.

Of course, it’s often said that governments spend when times are good and the tax revenue is rolling in, then find themselves over-extended and facing painful cuts when growth slows down. But the evidence above suggests that governments just keep spending even as the money stops rolling in. It’s exceedingly difficult to get governments to spend less, especially when every government dollar helps to create pro-spending constituencies who will resist cuts. Spending interests never rest; taxpayer groups have to work twice as hard just to hold the line.

One side note: The online headline for this article is

State, local governments continue to spend more than they earn

Actually, I don’t think governments “earn” money. Merriam-Webster defines “earn” as “to receive as return for effort and especially for work done or services rendered.” Governments don’t earn, they take. Just try saying “I don’t find your services worth the money, and I won’t be renewing my contract.”

For more on state government spending, see Cato’s latest “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.”

 

Posted on January 7, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the 114th Congress on NPR Radio

Posted on January 6, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the 114th Congress on PBS Newshour

Posted on January 5, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz and John Maniscalco on what to expect from the new Congress

Posted on January 1, 2015  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Happy New Year: A Time to Celebrate Human Progress

The media are full of headlines about war, sexual assault, inequality, obesity, cancer risk, environmental destruction, economic crisis, and other disasters. It’s enough to make people think that the world of their children and grandchildren will be worse than today’s world.

But the real story, which rarely makes headlines, is that, to paraphrase Indur Goklany’s book title, we are living longer, healthier, more comfortable lives on a cleaner and more peaceful planet. (Allister Heath summed up his argument in a cover story for the Spectator of London, without all the charts and tables.) Fortunately, beyond the headlines, more people do seem to be recognizing this.

The Cato Institute, for instance, has created an ever-expanding website on human progress, known simply as HumanProgress.org.

Here’s Steven Pinker expanding on the information in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined in Slate:

The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable—homicide, rape, battering, child abuse—have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states—by far the most destructive of all conflicts—are all but obsolete. 

He has charts of the data in each of those areas. And here’s Pinker at the Cato Institute discussing why people are so pessimistic when the real trends are so good:

Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, writes that

2014 has been the best year ever – just as 2013 was, and just as 2015 will be. It is something that is, now, true every year but the point cannot be made enough. We’re living through a period of amazing progress – in medicine, prosperity, health and even conquering violence.

Nelson offers this brilliant graphic from the Lancet, a British medical journal:

Winning the war on disease

And just today we learn in a new report from the American Cancer Society that cancer rates have fallen 22 percent in two decades. At Spiked Online, editor Brendan O’Neill points out “10 Kickass Things Humanity Did in 2014.”

Andres Martinez at Zocalo Public Square:

The “good old days” are a figment of our imagination. Life–here, there, everywhere–has never been better than it is today. Our lives have certainly never been longer: Life expectancy in the U.S. is now 78.8 years, up from 47.3 years in 1900. We are also healthier by almost any imaginable measure, whether we mean that literally, by looking at health indices, or more expansively, by looking at a range of living-standard and social measures (teen pregnancy rates, smoking, air-conditioning penetration, water and air quality, take your pick).

Martinez notes:

I’ll concede, very grudgingly, that all this whining can be a good thing. As Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, has written, we’re hard-wired to be disgruntled. It’s the only way we achieve progress. Evolution requires us to demand more and better, all the time.

So on Monday let’s go back to demanding more and better. But for tonight, Happy New Year!

Posted on December 31, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Cato Scholars: Ahead of the Curve

Congratulations to former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, who has become concerned, as he writes in the Wall Street Journal, that

The U.S. rate of incarceration, with nearly one of every 100 adults in prison or jail, is five to 10 times higher than the rates in Western Europe and other democracies, according to a groundbreaking, 464-page report released this year by the National Academy of Sciences. America puts people in prison for crimes that other nations don’t, mostly minor drug offenses, and keeps them in prison much longer.

Of course, if he’d been following the work of the Cato Institute, he could have read about the problems of drug prohibition and mass incarceration in this 2009 symposium at Cato Unbound, this 2013 paper on incarceration rates in the United States and other countries, this Washington Post article by Tim Lynch in 2000 when the U.S. prison population first exceeded 2 million, or indeed my 1988 New York Times article on the excessive arrests and intrusions on freedom in the drug war.

Meanwhile, on the same page of Friday’s Wall Street Journal, former senator James L. Buckley calls for ending federal aid to the states, an idea central to his new book Saving Congress from Itself and inspired by the work of Cato’s Chris Edwards.

Posted on December 27, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz is quoted on police misconduct in the case of a pepper sprayed Missouri family on KTSA’s The Jack Riccardi Show

Posted on December 23, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

How Hawkish Are Republican Voters?

William Kristol tells the Washington Post that Sen. Rand Paul is a “lonely gadfly” on foreign policy:

“Rand Paul speaks for a genuine sentiment that’s always been in the Republican Party, but maybe it’s 10 percent? 15 percent? 20 percent? I don’t think he’s going to be a serious competitor for guiding Republican foreign policy.”

At the Huffington Post I suggest that Kristol read the polls. They show rising non-interventionist sentiment among Republicans and especially among independents. I argue:

Americans, including Republicans, are getting tired of policing the world with endless wars. Support for the Iraq war is almost as low as approval of Congress.

Posted on December 22, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Cuba, Rand Paul, and a 21st-Century Republican Foreign Policy

Philip Rucker writes in the Washington Post that presidential hopefuls Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Rand Paul “clashed sharply Friday over President Obama’s new Cuba policy, evidence of a growing GOP rift over foreign affairs that could shape the party’s 2016 presidential primaries.” The debate over U.S. foreign policy is often inflicted with false claims of “isolationism,” but in this instance Paul correctly called out Rubio as “acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat.”

Rucker notes that “the emerging, younger libertarian wing [of the GOP] represented by Paul” may want a different foreign policy from that established by George W. Bush. Neoconservatives and allies of other Republican presidential candidates insist that Republicans have no intention of rethinking the policy of promiscuous interventionism.

Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard tells Rucker that Sen. Rand Paul is “a lonely gadfly” on foreign policy:

“Rand Paul speaks for a genuine sentiment that’s always been in the Republican Party, but maybe it’s 10 percent? 15 percent? 20 percent? I don’t think he’s going to be a serious competitor for guiding Republican foreign policy.”

Well, let’s go to the tape. Kristol may need to read some polls. Here’s a CBS News/New York Times poll from June:

Republicans on the Iraq War 

Americans, including Republicans, are getting tired of policing the world with endless wars.”

As neoconservatives and Republican senators beat the drums for military action in Syria, Republicans turned sharply against the idea —  70 percent against in September 2013.

Perhaps most broadly, a massive Pew Research Center survey in December 2013 found that 52 percent of respondents said the United States “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” That was the most lopsided balance in favor of the U.S. “minding its own business” in the nearly 50-year history of the measure.

Pew Poll U.S. Should 'Mind Its Own Business'

And then there was the YouGov poll in March that showed that “the American public has little appetite for any involvement in Ukraine….Only 18% say that the US has any responsibility to protect Ukraine.” Republicans were barely more supportive: 28 percent yes, 46 percent no.

Janet Hook of the Wall Street Journal reported on that paper’s poll in April:

Americans in large numbers want the U.S. to reduce its role in world affairs even as a showdown with Russia over Ukraine preoccupies Washington, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.

In a marked change from past decades, nearly half of those surveyed want the U.S. to be less active on the global stage, with fewer than one-fifth calling for more active engagement — an anti-interventionist current that sweeps across party lines.

…The poll findings, combined with the results of prior Journal/NBC surveys this year, portray a public weary of foreign entanglements and disenchanted with a U.S. economic system that many believe is stacked against them. The 47% of respondents who called for a less-active role in world affairs marked a larger share than in similar polling in 2001, 1997 and 1995.

Americans, including Republicans, are getting tired of policing the world with endless wars. Support for the Iraq war is almost as low as approval of Congress. Interventionist sentiment ticked up in the summer of 2014 as Americans saw ISIS beheading journalists and aid workers on video. But even then most voters wanted air strikes, not more troops. Here’s a prediction: 13 months from now, when the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire begin voting for presidential candidates, Americans will be even more weary of nearly 15 years of war, and U.S. intervention will be even less popular than it is now. If it remains the case then, as Kristol says it is now, that the other presidential candidates are ”all in the same neighborhood” on interventionism and Paul is the only candidate calling for restraint, then don’t bet against him in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Of course, foreign policy isn’t often a priority for voters, and Paul has other pluses and minuses that will affect voters’ decisions. But after 15 years of war, being the only Republican who wants to avoid further military entanglements looks like a good position.

Posted on December 22, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

David Boaz discusses the 113th congress on Townhall Finance Radio’s Ransom Notes with Jon Ransom

Posted on December 22, 2014  Posted to Cato@Liberty

About David Boaz

Click here to learn more.

Commentator

Search