Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Spending Crisis

Breathe a sigh of relief – the debt ceiling has been raised. 

By and large, it’s pointless. Both parties have raised the debt ceiling time after time.  Its purpose is to limit the national debt, but since it always gets raised, it limits nothing. Often it has been merely a procedural vote – little debate, no Pomp and Circumstance, just a couple of votes, a quick signature, and more debt. 

Let’s talk about the real crisis – spending. The runaway federal spending is cause for concern from both parties. It’s a concern for everyone except President Obama, who wants to raise the debt ceiling so he can continue buying votes with our money, and the money of generations that have yet to exist. Obama wants to raise the limit by $2.7 trillion dollars.  He’s calculating that $2.7 trillion in new debt will last until after the 2012 elections. He doesn’t want to have this debate again before asking for your vote. 

Think about that. It’s 15 months until the election. From 1776 until now, our nation has accumulated $14.3 trillion in debt.  Obama wants authority to borrow and spend 1/5 of that in 15 months. Despite his rhetoric, he has offered no plan to reduce the debt or deficit. Republicans insist that the additional debt limit be matched by spending cuts over the next 10 years. The federal government will be borrowing something like $180 billion each month, and reducing spending only $22.5 billion per month. The spending cuts may not happen at all or may be reversed by future congresses. 

The debt ceiling will be raised. Even so, we still face the very real possibility that our debt will be downgraded. It was threatened before the debt limit debate, not because of a possibility of immediate default, but because of a potential future default. If our economy collapses under the extraordinary spending and debt, America will not be able to pay its obligations. That is the real crisis.

The Strawman Cometh 

I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left. Margaret Thatcher 

I am honored that Senator Lois Tochtrop responded to my columns about unemployment insurance (UI) (go here and here for my articles). Although she called my writings inaccurate, she never actually refuted anything I wrote. She prefers to mislead us with strawman arguments.

She tells us that employers would not forego hiring to avoid paying a payroll tax of $3.29 per week. But that’s per employee. $3.29 times 95 employees is enough to provide a job that’s substantially more than the average $125 per week unemployment benefit. One in five youths (who might like to work for minimum wage) is unemployed. They are sitting by idly while others accrue unemployment benefits. 

Tochtrop states that the Federal Reserve Board says “unemployment benefits are not important factors in the increase of unemployment or the length of unemployment.” I never argued that it does. Quite the contrary, UI is a disincentive to layoffs. If there are additional costs for layoffs, an employer thinks twice before hiring. 

She tells us that unemployment benefits creates more economic stimulus than tax credits for corporations. I’m not certain where tax credits came in to this discussion. I fear that Tochtrop believes that money is something government allows individuals and businesses to keep. She also seems unaware of what truly drives economic expansion and creates jobs – capital investment. An entrepreneur nearly always has to invest money to start or expand a business. This comes from some sort of savings. 

Tochtrop and her colleagues passed a law last year (HB 1128) that “will guarantee the long-term solvency of the Unemployment Insurance program.” Tochtrop is at best misleading. 1128 merely alters the manner in which higher unemployment taxes will be confiscated. Government programs will always be solvent as long as government is willing to extract money from citizens by force.

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