Today we finally stopped paying for government. Soon we’ll be paying for it into December.
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Indeed, it is hard not to grow nostalgic for the Clinton years. The recent COGD peak was July 20 in 1982, after which Ronald Reagan brought COGD down to July 2 in 1988. President George H.W. Bush — he of “Read my lips” fame — then gaily pushed the burden up again, to July 18 in 1992. COGD started coming down under President Bill Clinton; the GOP’s 1994 takeover of Congress accelerated the drop. By 2000 Americans worked “only” until June 29 to pay for America’s still wastrel public sector.
Now, thanks to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and Congresses under Republican and Democratic control, COGD has skyrocketed to August 19. We are working an incredible 51 days longer for government today than just a decade ago.
There is no silver lining in this financial cloud. We are paying more for more government, not for better government. The Orwellian “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” will waste trillions of dollars and impose trillions of dollars more in wasteful regulations while reducing patient control over health care made more expensive.
Uncle Sam is not the only culprit. Writes Pacini: This year’s “late date is driven by continued government spending on all levels and a further increase in the regulatory burden which, taken in combination with a struggling economy, have made the cost of government equal to 63.41 percent of national income.” There is more than enough blame to go around.
Still, the federal government, as always, accounts for the bulk of the cost of government. Explains Pacini, “The average American worker will have to labor 104 days just to pay for federal spending, which consumes 28.6 percent of national income.” The good news, such as it is, is that last year federal spending required 108 days of toil. But we have regained only four days of the 18 day jump from 2008 to 2009. A year after the tsunami of bailouts, stimuli packages, and more, federal spending remains dramatically higher than the historic average. Uncle Sam’s outlays may continue to recede in the future, but probably only slowly, leaving federal outlays at a permanently higher level. At least, unless there is a serious political revolution in Washington.
Thank goodness state and local governments cannot deficit spend. Obviously, balanced budget requirements do not prevent determinedly irresponsible politicians from wrecking their states’ finances — just look at California, America’s version of Greece. Nevertheless, there is a limit to the amount of budgetary legerdemain possible even for the most foolish state officials.
Even so, states and localities account for the next big block of the cost of government. Notes Pacini: “Despite a declining economy, state and local spending has increased since last year: in 2010 the average American has to work 52 days just to pay for state and local government expenditures.” That’s an increase of four days over last year — wiping out the small drop in federal spending. Indeed, over the last decade state and local outlays have jumped 22 percent compared to national income.
Regulation accounts for another big increase, landing at 74 days, up seven from 2009. Explains Pacini: “This year, regulation is estimated to consume 20.5 percent of national income which, compared to 16.1 percent in 1999, is a drastic increase.” Again, the Feds come out at number one. Washington’s rules consume 48 days of our labor, almost as much as total state and local spending. State and local regulations come in at 26 days.
Of course, these rules theoretically are promulgated for our good and are supposed to generate greater benefits than costs. But that is rarely the case in practice. Much economic regulation is a form of looting, simply a bit better disguised than direct government subsidies. Lobbying is rarely more intense than when companies push legal requirements to disadvantage or even disable their competitors and mulct the public in the name of the public interest.
Many other controls, such as the incoming flood of health care rules, are meant to short circuit consumer choice and allow our betters to engage in social engineering. Thus, there are beneficiaries of health care “reform,” but few among the general public.
Elsewhere obnoxious paternalism lives. People unable to govern themselves feel an irresistible impulse to seize control of the state to govern others. Every day the nanny state grows more intrusive and obnoxious. Even when regulations really do promote some laudable health or safety end, they often are unnecessarily rigid, inefficient, and costly.
AUGUST 19 IS MERELY the national average. The news is worse in some states.
At the bottom is Connecticut, always Connecticut. Residents there won’t stop paying for government until September 17. That’s up ten days over 2009. New Jersey is next. People there have to work until September 14. COGD was “only” September 6 last year. Next comes New York, where residents have to work until September 10. That’s a ten-day increase. Maryland’s population also suffers from the “September distinction,” being stuck paying for their public overlords until September 4. Last year the state’s COGD was August 21. At least the remaining wastrel states stop charging their citizens for government in August.
Of course, when averages are involved, some parties do better than average. In this case, Alaskans finished paying for government on July 28. Still, that’s up 17 days from last year. Louisiana residents share July 28 as COGD, having jumped ten days from 2009. Mississippians come in at July 31, almost two weeks later than last year. Next come South Dakota, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Tennessee, which finish out the first week of August.
It is ridiculous when working seven months for government appears to be a good deal. But such are the times in which we live. If the folks in Washington had their way, we would labor all year for government, with an occasional pittance doled back by our virtuous rulers to people for use on their own selfish, greedy pursuits.