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Taxation Without Cessation

Jan 21, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 18 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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In fact, from 1962 to 2012, real per-capita defense spending actually dropped—by 1.5 percent (from $2,194 in 1962 to $2,161 in 2012). If all federal spending had followed the same trajectory as defense spending, then total federal spending in 2012 would have been $1.385 trillion, and we would have run a surplus of more than a trillion dollars—$1.064 trillion, to be exact. Unfortunately, while real per-capita defense spending fell by 1.5 percent, real per-capita federal spending aside from defense rose by a whopping 298 percent (from $2,284 in 1962 to $9,098 in 2012). Thus, instead of a $1 trillion surplus, we ran a $1 trillion deficit.

The chart below shows how much the federal government has spent, in real per-capita dollars, on defense programs and on nondefense programs—from Kennedy to Obama. Over the past 50 years, defense spending has essentially flatlined, taxation has nearly doubled, total federal spending has far more than doubled, and nondefense spending has quadrupled. In that light, only the most stubborn ideologue could blame our mind-boggling deficits on insufficient taxation or excessive defense spending.

Just days after the 40th-anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “private fortunes are destroyed by public as well as private extravagance.” He warned that “public debt” is the “fore horse” of the “frightful team” of public mismanagement that leads to the “misery,” “suffering,” “wretchedness,” and “oppression” of private citizens. As we begin 2013, we would do well to start heeding Jefferson’s warning. The only way to escape our worsening fiscal calamity is by substantially reforming Medicare and Medicaid to make them affordable, replacing Obamacare (which will require having a 2016 Republican presidential candidate who can persuasively advance a replacement), enacting pro-growth policies, and—most simply—cutting federal spending almost across the board. A half-century during which we’ve nearly doubled our taxes and quadrupled our nondefense spending is a sufficiently lengthy experiment in gross fiscal mismanagement. It’s time for overdue leadership and meaningful reform.

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