â€œWith the 2015 budget request,â€ The Washington Post reported last week, â€œObama will call for an end to the era of austerity that has dogged much of his presidency.â€
Well, itâ€™s about time! 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. Itâ€™s now $597 billion. Back in 2001 it was almost $300 billion. Even if you adjust for inflation, itâ€™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 thatâ€™s after it went from $20 billion to $40 billion under Obamaâ€™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 wonâ€™t have any federal government left! No wonder the economy has been so sluggish: We obviously need more stimulus.
Clearly, trends like these cannot go on. You canâ€™t cut your way to prosperity; America needs to be building up, not tearing down. We need more investment in basic research â€" research like an important new project being funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is giving $175,000 to a grant recipient who will use the money to study â€œthe Swimming Abilities of Native Stream Fishes in the Northern Rockies-Upper Great Plains Regions of Montana.â€
Studying the swimming abilities of fish is precisely the sort of research the federal government is best at. But if we donâ€™t wise up and start spending money faster, we might have to do without it. Then where will we be?
Itâ€™s not just America. There has been a lot of austerity in Europe, too. Just ask Paul Krugman, the great economist who writes for The New York Times. â€œYou see,â€ he patiently explained last week, â€œsome but not all members of the euro area â€¦ were forced into imposing Draconian fiscal austerityâ€ during the recent economic downturn â€" the results of which were â€œnasty, in some cases catastrophic, declines in output and unemployment.â€ (Krugman has been explaining this patiently for some time. In his 2012 piece on â€œEuropeâ€™s Austerity Madness,â€ he pointed out that â€œwith erstwhile middle-class workers reduced to picking through garbage in search of food, austerity has already gone too far.â€)
Just how bad has the European austerity been? According to a piece in the Financial Post last May, in 2007 government spending consumed 45.6 percent of the GDP of countries in the European Union. By 2012, that percentage had shrunk to a shockingly low 49.4 percent. No wonder the economy over there stinks.
Clearly, we cannot allow any more of those darn foreigners to enter America and bring any of that austerity nonsense with them. Unfortunately, we are going in the wrong direction on border control, too. A decade ago, we had almost 10,000 border-patrol agents. Now we have more than 21,000. Border fencing, meanwhile, has increased 370 percent. Deportations are at an all-time high. Itâ€™s like we donâ€™t even care about sealing the border any more.
One more data point should clinch the case: In January 2013, The Washington Post reported that â€œCongress funded Customs and Border Protection at $11.7 billion â€" 64 percent more than FY 2006 and $262 million more than in FY 2011, despite the new climate of austerity.â€
Yes, the new climate of austerity. Thank heavens weâ€™re putting an end to that.
This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.