No, the United States isn’t in an “era of austerity”

President Barack Obama has frequently complained that the United States is in an “age of austerity,” decrying modest cuts to the rate of spending increases he once supported. This, despite the fact that taxpayers have seen the national debt grow by nearly $6.8 trillion since the beginning of his presidency.

The idea that we’re living in some “age of austerity” is just mindboggling, as A. Barton Hinkle sarcastically explained in his latest column:

The end of austerity cannot come soon enough, as far as your humble correspondent is concerned. And a quick look at the historical budget tables shows why: In 2008, the federal government spent just a hair under $3 trillion. After six years of President Slash-and-Burn, spending has shrunk to almost $4 trillion. If we keep cutting like this, it will be down to $5 trillion before you know it.

These savage reductions have taken place in nearly every major federal program. Take defense spending: The year before Obama took office, it stood at $594 billion. It’s now $597 billion. Back in 2001 it was almost $300 billion. Even if you adjust for inflation, it’s clear that defense spending has shrunk at an alarming rate.

Same deal for food stamps: Under President Barack Obama, spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has gone from $40 billion to $78 billion, in constant dollars. And that’s after it went from $20 billion to $40 billion under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Spending cuts like that are simply barbaric.

But they are par for the course. Using inflation-adjusted, 2012 dollars, federal spending on K-12 and vocational education has gone from $41 billion in 2002 to $100 billion in 2012. During the same period, Medicare spending has gone from $293 billion to roughly $500 billion. Transportation spending? It went from $86 billion to $138 billion. Medicaid and related programs? $223 billion to $327 billion. Energy? Half a billion to $9 billion.

If we keep hacking away at federal spending like this, pretty soon we won’t have any federal government left! No wonder the economy has been so sluggish: We obviously need more stimulus.

Add the recently passed Farm Bill to that list. Packed with special interest giveaways and protectionist subsidies, the nearly $1 trillion package is more than double the inflation-adjusted $427 billion price tag for the 2008 measure.

In reality, the United States hasn’t experienced any real austerity, though we eventually will as our fiscal leviathans — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — become too difficult to ignore. That’s why an emphasis on economic growth by getting rid of hurdles put in place by government so that businesses can grow and expand and, by extension, create opportunities for Americans is so important.

The idea that increased government spending is going to drive economic growth has been dealt a significant blow due to failures of the 2009 stimulus bill. Reining in spending, even if limited the rate of growth, isn’t austerity. It’s common sense.


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